Tuesday, 22 August 2017

Suzuki GSX550

I never really intended to buy a GSX550, originally I’d been looking for a Kawasaki GPz550 when I saw the advert. The seller had added that he might take a smaller bike in part exchange, which solved the problem of getting rid of a dodgy GPz305. I went to see the bike and at first glance it looked absolutely immaculate.

A closer inspection revealed that it was merely in very good condition. A cracked side panel, and evidence of the owner overbalancing while pushing it were the only blemishes.

The paint was all there, and even the bottom of the sump seemed to have been polished. The clock read 23017 miles, and the engine sounded as fresh and crisp as a new one. He trusted me to take it round the block, asking me to avoid any puddles. I came back wanting it even more. Then the bomb dropped. The GSX was worth the asking price of £1100, but he would only give me £300 for my GPz305. l apologised for wasting his time and left.

I then called at a nearby bike shop where I was offered a much better deal on a CX650. But a test ride only made me want the Suzuki even more. The Honda felt like an overweight blancmange compared with the GSX, so half an hour later I was reluctantly agreeing to part with £800 and my GPz.

A deposit was paid, and I was to return with the cash the following Monday. On the way home I called at several dealers, telling them that I’d been offered £500 for the Kawasaki and could they do better. After the third attempt, I walked out into the February sunshine and hitched home with £600 in my back pocket. Two nights later I took possession of A523NKX [died in 1990 according to DVLA - Ed]. The only non standard parts were the Micralloy exhaust and a leather seat.

A week later I was setting off from Winchester for a cheap skiing holiday in Aviemore. I left on the evening of the worst gales since October 87's little breeze. On the twisty bit of the A34 between Oxford and Stratford the bike felt glued to the road, and I can honestly say I’ve never felt more confident on strange roads in the dark.

The 16” front wheel gave the steering a wonderful lightness, pleasantly similar to the bicycle I race on. I owned a CBX750 in ’87, and the GSX only loses out on top end power. It’s lighter, lower, better handling, more comfortable and, surprisingly, has more bottom end power. Anyway, back to the story , and as I rode up the M6 and A74, after spending the night in Stoke on Trent, I lost count of the number of artics laying down for a rest at the side of the road. The rest of the journey was uneventful, and the I further I went the more grateful I was for the Oxford Hotgrips I’d fitted.

While I was up there I decided to take a very scenic photo of the bike in a car park with a frozen lake and snow covered mountain in the background. It took me 20 minutes afterwards to get the bike 20 yards uphill, over rutted ice and slush, back onto the road.

The only other worrying moment was when I was doing 60 through the town centre and realised I was just about to pass the police station. The trip home took in 570 miles in nine and a half hours with five petrol stops and a search for a cash point in the centre of Coventry. I kept the speed below 90mph most of the way as I like to try and make my tyres, engine and petrol last as long as possible. The ride was made more pleasant by the February afternoon feeling more like an early May evening — for the last 150 miles I even turned the Hotgrips off.

The engine had loads of torque from 3000 to 5000rpm with a big flat spot before taking off again at seven grand. The plugs showed it was running weak but bigger main jets took the edge off the top end. Raising the needles narrowed the flat spot to between 6000 and 7000rpm. Whilst waiting for a new air filter I went for a spin without one and found a further improvement. I cut the paper away from the element, and replaced it with kitchen scouring pad for higher flow. Trial and error resulted in the outer needles being raised two notches and the inners one. When the engine is well warmed the flat spot all but disappears.

The fuel tap is hidden behind a hinged lid and is impossible to turn with gloved fingers, changed on later models. I also suspect that later models are not quite so fast to comply with noise regulations. An indicated 125mph is possible in neutral conditions. My five year old silver and red paint in perfect condition beneath what looks like a half millimetre of lacquer. Compare that to the state of things like Kawasaki GT550s after just, three years. The frame is almost as good, despite the bike being ridden in all weathers.

Doesn’t it make a change to read a report that doesn’t consist of problem after problem? Well, all is not entirely a bed of roses. Soon after buying the GSX I noticed that the damping of the rear shock left a lot to be desired — it was totally knackered. Thirty quid secured a second hand replacement but engine bolts had to be removed and the motor wriggled about in the frame to locate the remote pre-Ioad adjuster.

The only other problem can be put down to previous owners stripped threads securing the cam cover causing small oil leaks. To give the previous owner credit where due, he did such an excellent job of bleeding the brakes that in 10000 miles I have not been able to pull the lever far enough back in the wet to activate the brake light.

To get seriously factual for a moment. Tyres — Roadrunners F2 rear and Metzeler front — last about 9000 and 12000 miles respectively. O-ring chains go 8000 miles and petrol vanished at between 40 and 55mpg. I’ve not had to adjust the valves, and despite only changing the oil every 5000 miles, the engine still sounds as good as when I bought it, and the oil never needs topping.

As always, it’s the little things that endear a bike to you, like the seat being just the right shape to support the throw-overs. Before I got married, I had a GPz550, and on the way home from an extremely wet holiday in Devon, the bleed nipple on the rear caliper rubbed its way though the pannier and was starting on the tin of chain lube when we arrived. The possible consequences for the girl's nighties do not bear thinking about.

Other niceties include pose value — it impresses the stuffing out of non-bikers. It’s such fun to ride that before arriving home soaked to the skin after a 25 mile ride, I’ve been known to do another lap of the estate just because I enjoy riding it so much. You do need fairly large muscles to hold onto the bars at 80mph, as the blast is just like being on the sea front during a Force 10. But I don’t care, I'm happy.

Sometimes, I think I’d like a single, but the GSX pulls just as well low down and then some more as the throttle’s whacked open. It’s only 15mph slower than a CBR600, but I got it for a third of the price. If I could get my commuting distance down to under 15 miles I might consider a 350 YPVS Yam  - not as durable but even more of a rider's machine. Or I may keep my GSX550 for ever and ever... who mentioned electrics?

Keith Whitten

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