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Suzuki GSX 550

1983 Suzuki GSX 550

Nov 1983

Sample of the hard life. On the second floor of the Link House emporium, the SuperBike staff are lounging in the Editor's office decid­ing which test bikes they should take to the Isle of Man for some serious road riding. They are hope­lessly spoilt for choice. On offer are three brand-new bikes, GPZ1100, a VF750 and a GSX550. The bid­ding is fast and furious and the spoils quickly divided. Tony takes the VF, Ben gets the GPZ, and yours truly lands the Suzuki. I am quietly pleased with this transaction and, as later events prove, my choice is well-reasoned. The GPZ is a bit too fast and heavy for Island fun. The VF I'd already ridden, it makes for a pretty ideal TT Mount once you've tuned the multi-option suspension, otherwise it's a trifle unnerving. Nope, transports of TT delight this year just had to be provided by the unknown quan­tity, the all-new 550 that Suzuki have been pushing as the real star of their '83 range.

It is a lovely little motorcycle. It is very similar to the civilised, comfortable GSX750 we tested in August though it obviously hasn't got the balls at the top end.

Suzuki have shown particular dedication this year to rider comfort — the seat, suspension, torque range, riding position — thereby satisfying ride fulfil­ment. It's so much easier to go fast on a motorcycle if you're comfortable and the bike is effortlessly con­trollable and predictable. Both the 550 and 750 are high-performance motorcycles that make great sports bikes, push-button commuters and ideal middleweight tourers. Relaxed riding even at a pace. All-rounders to a fault — and the fault is they don't really excel at anything. Swings and roundabouts, I guess. Personally I'd always trade a few mph for some easy, comfy riding.

The other good things about the 550 are its light weight, compactness, acceleration and torque. The disappointing things are the top end and its flat-out handling. Ours ran to a best of 119mph and dis­played good handling up to a definite point where the tyres no longer seemed up to the job. The Jap Dunlops don't slide around overmuch in general use. Force them a bit hard though and there's just no grip left. Alternative boots would almost certainly improve matters significantly.

The old two-valve and decidedly dated Suzuki GS550 doesn't even begin to compared with the performance of the new GSX. Similarly, the new bike will stomp many an old 650, even 750/four, in speed and handling. Though Suzuki are a late entry into the 550 sports stakes, their new bike has plenty of attractive qualities not found on the established class favourites, the CBX and GPZ. Heading the list is its compactness. The GSX has a dry weight of 406lb (184kg) compared to 418lb for the Honda and 424lb for the Kawasaki.

Its physical dimensions are tiny. It sits low and narrow. As does the rider. Big people can't really tuck in but it doesn't matter overmuch. Nobody will be too small to ride it. The seat height is a mere 30.7in yet the wheelbase is fairly long at 56.Sin. A shorter wheelbase would aid agility but make it less stable in a top speed straight line. On reflection, the chassis geometry is a strange mix. Despite a 16in front wheel, the bike doesn't steer as quickly as the 750, and why is the rear wheel an 1 Sincher (the 750 had a 17)?

It proved good through the fast bits, flat out, fourth or fifth gear bends and sweeps, hold it against the stop, and get it right. But through the slower turns it displayed a reluctance to be heeled over on a smooth line. Steering is neutral rather than quick. I couldn't in all honesty tell it had a small front wheel. The front end steers fairly lightly and the sus­pension runs soft. The non-adjustable front suspen­sion wears a non-adjustable hydraulic anti-dive, the effect of which seems as soft as the compression rates. A heavier fork oil may help. As standard, it's okay for hard road use most of the time but denies the bike sports-stiff control at maximum speeds. Good for the motorway, not so good for some of the Isle of Man's fabulous roads.

The rear suspension is fine. A square-section, swing-arm and a single Full-Floater shock with a wide range of pre-load adjustment effected by a remote dial with a wide range of tunability. Three and a bit proved the best setting.

So ... the GSX is a good handling bike with some limitations. The most likely culprit has to be the tyres. The OE rubber is tubeless, a Dunlop 100/90-16 front backed by a 110/90-18, a skinny, four play tread, two ply sidewall boot containing a lot of nylon and looking decidedly untrustworthy. Made in Japan and not a bad OE road tyre but not a wide one. Suzuki were wise in fitting Michelins to the 750, why not to the 550 as well? I heard tell of a report that said the front tyre width is the same as or bigger than the rear. This is nonsense.

There was not a lot of room for a pillion. Fine two-up on the motorway and on a fast cruise but increas­ingly cramped lapping the mountain course with the rider moving about in the saddle and the passenger moving about at the behest of physics.

It was most sensible and faster to ride solo. Through the quick wooded lanes and across open moor, it could hold its own. On the course proper, I was disappointed to find quite a few larger bikes had the legs on it up and down the mountain. But this is unreasonable, it is only a 550.

One thing characterised my affection and admir­ation for it. Nobody else got to ride it. I declined to swop it for more horsepower. Most of the time it could keep up with bikes twice its size, and it was small and compact, untiring and constantly relaxing to drive.

The new 572cc, 16-valve motor is a neat power unit. They've chopped 35lb (16kg) in engine weight compared to the old eight-valve GS motor. Despite more valve gear they've pruned 15lb from the motor proper, 3.5lb by the adoption of shorter and lighter mufflers, and another 3lb off the carbs and air cleaner by using only two 30mm twin-choke Mikunis.

Certainly those twin carbs help keep engine width down and they breathe perfectly. The 16-valve DOHC head has TSCC to swirl the intake and jetti­son the exhaust. The 60 x 56mm cylinders run 10:1 compression and make a maximum 61bhp at 9500rpm at the crankshaft feeding it back through a six-speed, constant mesh box to the chain-driven rear wheel.

There's a lot of torque, 34.8 ft/lb at SOOOrpm. The six gears are adequately spaced but because the real power lives in a screaming 7000 to 10 OOOrpm zone, you tend to drive around in top a lot, using the torque and winding it on in the lower gears as neces­sary. The digital gear indicator offers a visual remin­der of your incompetence every time you mistakenly leave it in second at the lights. It's fastish off the line but needs a lot of revs and right hand. The mid-range acceleration is particularly impressive — flat in third and fourth gears, it's well quick.

After the bike had been left in the rain overnight, it irregularly and inexplicably suffered some first-thing starting problems. No catch-a-fire, so something, either the coils, leads or caps, was; getting wet. Top speed as tested was a shade sort of 120mph in sixth gear but not pulling more than 8500rpm. A top whack just over 120mph would seem feasible.

Fuel consumption worked out at a pleasing aver­age of 47mpg over 2000 miles. The best return was 56mpg, the worst 40. The range of the 18lit (3.96gal) tank could top 175 miles if you're careful and considerate. At first it exhibited a big appetite for oil which settled down to a minimal topping-up when I kept a watch on it. There were no leaks ap­parent. It runs and needs a small oil cooler.

Containing the power is the "Grand Prix Tube Frame" much as on the 750, a pick'n'mix of round and square tubes. The double cradle's top tubes are round, as is the huge central spine and the top half of the rear sub-frame for seat and tail. Everything down below (and therefore not concealed by body­work) is definitely square or squarish. The welding is pretty conspicuous throughout.

At 406lb dry and 440lb gassed and rolling, the GSX550 is an agreeably light modern middleweight, balanced and contained, sharp in power, response and handling where it counts, on the sort of fast, twisty roads that Mona offers in rich abundance.

The brakes have opposed piston.calipers, even the rear. The front pair don't have a lot of feel, but given a handful, come on strong enough. The back has a lovely action and can't be locked without a big boot. The anti-dive definitely does affect the com­pression damping. What is luxuriously soft on the move, stiffens up, resisting nose-dive when the brakes are on. But not by much.

The snappy half fairing looks jolly smart extern­ally. Inside, there's a black and blank plastic housing between the instruments and headlights, it looks a bit empty. The fairing is one piece with separate lowers, frame mounted off the square section down-tubes by a meaty bracket. In the rain, sitting above the screen, it chucked nothing wet or windy at the rider, so it must be doing something positive. Flat out, it didn't weave or wobble uncontrollably in a straight line. It's very stable at speed, sitting up straight and making furious rpm.

The rectangular, halogen, 60/55w headlight issues a powerful main beam and nicely scattered dipped illumination. One night I hit a rabbit. Next day, after dozens of close encounters I caught a bird. I actually hit the brakes as it flew across me, but it brushed my knee and . . . bye, bye birdie. I stopped to remove it from the road. Smashed wings, blood welling up in the eye *. . . birds are really fragile creatures, but beautifully engineered.

Expect to collect quite a dead zoo of insects, birds and small animals, if you ride the Suzuki the way it's meant to be ridden. Available in red/silver and blue/white, the GSX550ES retails at £2099 but is available discounted to 1850 and less. For that sort of money you'd think they'd include a 28mm ring spanner for the rear axle, but they don't. Nor do Suzuki promote the excellence of the toolkit in their advertising. They say the GSX550 is a high-perform­ing, sports bike offering fuel economy and ease of maintenance at a good price. I'd agree with that and add only that it's a seductive and attractive little motorcycle. It's a long time since I've ridden a CBX or a GPZ550,1 suspect both may be a little faster but the Suzuki's all-round abilities are certainly capable of splitting the two. For £400 more, I'd take the 750 but if you're committed to one of the hot Jap 550s and like your fast thrills tempered with comfort and grace, the Suzuki may be your only man. The light­est 550/4 on the market and a welcome addition to the sporting ranks.

Suzuki GSX550ESD

  • £2099 including all taxes
  • Maximum Speed — 119mph
  • Fuel Consumption — Hard Riding — 42mpg— Cruising — 55mpg
  • Air-cooled, DOHC, 16-valve, four with TSCC.
  • Maximum power - 61bhp at 9500rpm
  • Maximum torque - 34.3ft/lb at 5000rpm.
  • Bore x stroke - 60 x 50.66mm
  • Compression ratio - 9.8:1.
  • Induction by two x 30mm twin-choke Mikunis, four-into-two exhaust.
  • Wet sump lubrication.
  • Electronic ignition.
  • Wet multi-plate clutch.
  • Six-speed, constant mesh gearbox.
  • Primary drive by gear.
  • Final drive by chain.


Tubular double cradle frame, telehydraulic forks, box sec­tion swing-arm with single Full-Floater shock adjustable for pre-load. Wheelbase 55.9in, ground clearance 6. tin, seat height 30.9in. Dry weight 406lb. Fuel capacity 3.9gallons. Brakes, triple discs with dual piston calipers. Tyres: Dunlop 100/90-16 front, 110/90-18 rear, tube-less.

All prices include VAT. Fairing £163.19, Indicator assembly £18.22, Indicator lens £2.93, Forks £195.67, Front Mudguard £43.10, Front Wheel £85.77, Tank £145.41, Seat £100.19, Exhaust £133.58 complete, Gearlever £8.94, Brake pedal £19.24, Footpeg £12.65 (front), £5.06 (rear). Headlight assembly £60.39, Brake/clutch lever £5.23, Sidepanel £29.70, Piston £11.48, Con rod £24.97, Head gasket £14.51, Crankshaft £236.14, CD) Ignition unit £132.91. Drivechain £56.50, Oil filter £1.59, Battery £29.70.