Suzuki GSX 550
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
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
- £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
- 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.