Thursday, 16 March 2017
The police car had been following for a few minutes It had probably been attracted by the Marshall four-into-one exhaust that was a little, er, loud. I had the gearbox stuck in top, with the minimum of revs to quiet things down. Somewhere in amongst the battered bodywork and grimy engine there was a valid tax disc and save for indicators that didn't work everything was just about legal, so I wasn't about to try to shake the law off my tail.
They stopped me and insisted I had been doing 70mph down some city streets. Natch, I denied this, as l was exactly aware of when the police car had started to tail me. One officer of the law tweaked the throttle until the revs were in the red. The bike was shaking almost as much as myself at the thought of the possible damage to a 70000 mile old engine still on most of its original components.
The noise was enough to shatter milk bottles at a hundred yards. The other pig tried to pull the seat off, then the tank, then the wheels and the forks. He didn't have much luck. I showed them my documents it always helps as they can get away with the minimum paperwork if you don't have to take them to the police station at a later date. They didn't bother with the lights or indicators and gave me a stern warning about fixing the exhaust.
I listened to the engine trying to ascertain the amount of damage caused by the brutal revving of the engine. There was the usual rattle from out of balance carbs and a worn clutch body, the noisy valvegear I couldn't be bothered to adjust and a bit of piston slap from worn out bores. The engine seemed to have survived another bout of thrashing.
When I first bought the '79 bike three years ago it was a nice clean runner with 35000 miles on the clock and still capable of putting 140mph on the speedo. These days it is unhappy going beyond 120mph, a graunching vibration set in and smoke started pouring out of the exhaust; something that also happened on the overrun. It used a pint of oil every 250 miles - it was leaking out of the head/barrel joint and from between the crankcase halves. But I didn't really care, the big old straight four still had bags of torque at low revs and could run along at the ton.
Fuel consumption had dropped from 44mpg when I first had the bike to 33mpg, which with the oil consumption did make it rather expensive to run.
The handling had been improved by Girling rear shocks and heavier springs and oil in the forks. This left the bike with 550lbs to hurl through the bends, which the poor old swinging arm just couldn't cope with at high speeds. The thing wallows in a straight line above 75mph, twists and bounces all over the road in bumpy curves and throws a total wobbler above 90mph if the thing is leant over. Worn out Dunlops don't help here, but the tread doesn't last for more than 3500 miles, so just what am I supposed to do?
The steering's naturally heavy and town riding needs plenty of muscle, especially as the front wheel falls into curves at low speeds. This takes a few miles to get used to, and I've been burned off by any number of flash 250s in London traffic.
I don't like the riding position, I always feel perched on the bike — combined with little feedback from the road, gives the chassis a very dead feel. Despite this the bike feels secure on wet roads and as long as reasonable throttle openings are used nothing nasty develops. Whacking open the throttle in wet bends makes the back wheel slide away, but shutting down again brings the rear wheel back to where it should be. For a 1000cc bike, it's reasonably easy to leap onto and speed off into the distance for the first time rider.
I've had two consistent problems — the clutch and the alternator. The clutch plates buckle (due to a warped clutch body, among other things) and the alternator keeps on burning out. The latter lasts about eight thousand miles (£25 to rewind) and the former go around ten grand before clutch slip occurs - but it does drag all the time in traffic. Alternator problems also burn out the rectifier and battery and I've taken the hint from an earlier issue of the UMG, fitting cheapo car components. I expect they will still burn out, but at least it's only a few quid to replace.
The GS doesn't like starting from cold. The bushes in the electric starter must be worn out because there's not enough power to turn the engine from cold, so I'm stuck with leaping up and down on the kickstart about six times to get the engine to grumble into life. Once warm I can usually use the electric starter. It takes about five minutes warming up to stop the bike cutting out below 2000rpm.
After a long fast ride the engine sounds like a bucketfull of nails poured into a concrete mixer and oil drips on to the floor, just like an old British twin. But it keeps on going (unlike many Brit twins - Ed.) and doesn't lose power. I've ridden six hundred miles in one day on the bike without any major problems, except for a sore bum and shoulders.
The most exciting moment was when it went into a speed wobble at 100mph on a fast curve. The damn thing sat up straight and went right across the wrong side of the road, leaping back and forth as if someone had removed the swinging arm spindle. I held on and it eventually died down. The car driver behind gave me a very odd looked as he sped past after I pulled over to give myself a chance to stop shaking - it took about half an hour.
Then there was the time I was running down the motorway with 120mph on the clock and the bike suddenly turned a mild weave into another speed wobble that felt like both tyres had simultaneously deflated. They hadn't, it was just that weak swinging arm and worn out tyres.
Then there was... but why go on, you've gotten the picture by now - the GS1000 is an old style seventies Jap four with too much mass, too much power, not enough chassis and inadequate suspension - put it alongside one of the new low slung heroes and the poor old thing would be left far, far behind - but then I paid hundreds rather than thousands for the GS, so can't really complain.
The twin disc brakes worked but required to be fed with copious supplies of new pads and demanded the occasional strip down (15000 miles) ,to clean up the calipers. The rear SLS drum also worked but hasn't been fitted with new shoes since I bought the bike and hasn't given any trouble. Can't say the same for the poor old chain drive (or rather chains) which are eaten up in 1000 miles - I eke out another two grand, suffering a poor gear change (it's a bit clonky now with a new chain). The sprockets are changed on every second chain.
Despite its high mileage, I hope to get away with just a rebore and valve regrind when I get around to taking it apart. The crankshaft, primary drive and gearbox have an ultra tough reputation. A new clutch body is all I expect to buy for the rest of the engine.
I could spend hundreds of pounds uprating the suspension - particularly a beefier swinging arm, but I'm really not that bothered. I still enjoy riding the old heap — and would rather spend money on travelling more miles than on renovating the bike.
I'll just hang on in there until either the engine noises or performance indicate that the engine needs its rebuild - and I don't expect to spend more than two hundred quid on it.
What more can I say? If you can find one in good condition then buy it — it's bound to increase in value.