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Suzuki GT380J Road Test

Suzuki GT380 GT380

Motorcyclist Illustrated June 1972

I trods the weary way to Beddington Lane, Croydon, Suzuki's new HQ, with distaste, venom even, in my heart. Bed­dington Lane is one of those places that has yet to come com­pletely under the ravaging hand of a glittering eyed urban developer; but it is, like so many of the outskirts of our loathsome city, slowly offering up its greenness to the inevitable spread of the brick, mortar and reinforced concrete rape. The process isn't complete, though - the voice of the country isn't yet stifled; there are still fields in which horses play at horse play and cows at cow play. But this indecision on the part of the surrounding countryside, not knowing which way to turn, wasn't the cause of my indigna­tion. No - the cause was the new Suzuki GT380. The story had begun about a month earlier.

You see, I had ridden the 380 before. It was to have been the steed to have borne me on The Very Important Holiday, a long and eagerly awaited jaunt over to Paris. We were to introduce, or at least try, a Continental flavour to our road test, i.e. pictures of myself scrabbling about in true blue fashion adjusting chains on the Route Nationale 1 or asking directions from a carefully posed and primed Gendarme. Suzuki had taken limitless trouble to procure the machine for me at the right time. They had reacted with cour­tesy and patience to my ever-increasing flood of begging tele­phone calls. They understood.

Green cards had arrived after heart-stopping doubts. We had loaded up the 'bike, sung our way to Dover and had the thing booked and pasted up for Calais. Three quarters of an hour to kill before the boat and the pub was 500 yards up the road.

And then.

A feeble croak from the horn and an ever-lengthening interval between the flash of the flashers struck icicles into our swelling excitement. Dover is a sleepy place on Sunday morning. So are its pedestrians. Another inhabit­ant flung himself beneath my front wheel. So - another blast on the horn. But this time, no so much a blast as silence. Deathly silence. The sort that cornes crashing down on you. Yes - you've guessed it, the engine was keeping its mouth shut as well. With a sagging burble we ground to our soggy halt. And that was it. We were left with a lifeless lump of advanced Japan­ese technology. Our disappoint­ment was bitter; my hatredf or that little green bicycle so tangible that you could cut it into neat little portions and send it to your dear old auntie in Alice Springs.

Descriptions of other people's mechanical failures are sometimes interesting, and sometimes boring. Mine are boring. Believe me. Suffice it to say that despite the efforts of an incredibly charming AA man, as well as those of Malcolm, the Honda Four who had scoured eastern Kent for help, the machine kept up its devastat­ing take-off of Lot's wife. Being about a diagnosis was the electrical con­trol box. Someone else said a flat battery. A flat battery after a 70 mile journey at a steady 80? Well. ... I, myself would opt for the control box, but I doubt if history will ever really relate what happened. It was one of those silly little things which are going to crop up with any bike, irrespective of marque, once in many hundreds of times. As one of our more astute readers put it - "one of the joys of motorcycling".

Suzuki (GB) were profuse and genuine in their apology and, gents that they are, whipped the 380 back to London for repair and for speedy re-offer of the test machine to MCI. So we took it again, but speaking personally, and without any of the logic or judgement that That it was a pretty 'bike, nobody can deny. Instantly appealing. Neatness and pro­portion were everywhere. It couldn't be argued that the styling department had worked hard on it.

But a medium haul Tourer De Luxe should be second nature to your actual ideal road tester, I was just itching to slate it. It wasn't any­thing to do with the conces­sionaires or the factory itself. It was something between me and the bicycle. A personal viewpoint, you might say. So throughout the six or seven hundred odd miles we had the Suzuki I was out to pounce gleefully on every possible fault or, indeed, anything that looked as though it could develop into a fault even after three or four years of hard ownership. And, of course, by way of petty vengeance, our own machine would be driven to the point of the mechanical Val­halla, to the point of disintegra­tion.

And that's where I came unstuck. Faults there were, but of the minor variety and none big enough and juicy enough to really grind into the pages of the magazine. The 'bike itself seemed to sense what I was after and gave of its considerable best as it could never have done before. So weeping into my grog, I was to be thwarted yet again.

The GT380J - one can but pon­der on what the J stands for - was seen by the great British public for the first time at the last Racing and Sporting Motorcycle Show. It seemed to be cast in the shadow of its bigger sister the GT750, and at the time I remember being doubt­ful of the 380's commercial suc­cess, if for no other reason than its capacity - neither me backside nor me elbow so to speak - and because of its selling price - identi­cal to the excellent and brutally underrated T500. Unlike Kawasaki, Suzuki had chosen to introduce the biggest and the smal­lest of its range of threes first, leaving a yawning gap to be filled later this year by the 550. (It's a point of conjecture as to when we will hear of a three-cylinder 250 from that factory.) Nevertheless, the little 'un was never left in peace at the show and was con­stantly "subjected to the prying hands and eyes of enthusiastic believers. The feature which led to most controversy was the Ram Air System - a remarkably simple answer to the problem of multi-cylinder two-stroke cooling by the expedient of a cowling raised above the cylinder head which swept and, by virtue of the increased overall height of the thing, amplified the cooling breeze onto the cylinders themselves; particularly the centre pot - the enfant terrible in many cooling problems.

The engine itself was a three-cylinder unit, each pot having square bore and stroke dimeii-sions, and producing a - by com­parison to its direct rivals, modest '•' - 38 bhp. The Kawasaki S2 is, of course, the rival that first comes to mind. But on reflection I think that it's doubtful whether any such rivalry does in fact exist. The S2 is a quivering, full blown, no-holes-barred sportster; the Suzuki, on the other hand, is a different bird-a relaxed, sweetly singing tourer with no pretensions to the land of blurring speed and sensuality. And comfortable with it; mentally and physically. You know the sort of thing - no hassle keeping within that ridiculously wide power band; no smack in the unsuspecting face wallop power delivery. That's not to say that the pulse of the thing couldn't be quickened, but the all pervading impression is of sedate gentlemanliness. But more of all this later.

So, as I've said, I returned to the 380 with undignified and biased hatred in my heart. I arrived at Beddington Lane and was immediately confronted by the offending object winking sheep­ishly at me in the sunlight. Yes - I had to admit that it looked nice. There was something pert - almost impudent - in the gently uptilted quartet of silencers and laughably huge tail light bobbing around on the rear. Ever been beating across rough ground and set up a rabbit from under your very feet? Reac­tions, if they are anything like mine, are too slow to snap the broken shotgun to your shoulder, so you just sit there and laugh at the furry ball of speed in despera­tion, as it bobs and bounds by zany routes to the farthest possible point on earth, but always pain­fully conspicuous by the glaring white of the tail. For reasons best known to a psychologist, that is exactly what the Suzuki reminded me of.

A fresh offside side panel had now been procured - the last time I had had the machine the panel had been strangely absent - as had the tool roll. But now Graham Mallion, the service manager, phoned round frantically and, bless him, came up with the neces­sary spanners, screwdrivers, etc. By now I had relaxed, and was secretly eager to get back on to the 'bike. Starting ritual is by far the simplest I have yet to come across: don't worry about turning the liquid on (they've got vacuum taps which don't let a drop out until the engine is turning), stuff the key into the keyhole situated twixt rev and speed meters and turn to the central positio'n. Pull the enrichen-ing^l&ver on the left 'bar towards you and then give a tentative prod to the necessary protrusion on the right hand side. Remembering my sceptism last month about "first kick starts" I now have to eat my words. With, I think, two excep­tions throughout the time we had the 'bike, one and only one deli­cate boot was all that was needed to start the unit burbling and clack­ing away. And that's the truth. Even worse - or better if you like -muscle man that you are, the thing could equally easily be prompted into life by hand. Immediately after starting, when the mixture was still rich, each detonation would be a subdued though quite definite crack. Give it two minutes at the very outside and then throw the rich lever back to the normal position. The tickover would set­tle down to a regular, off-beat and scarcely audible murmur, at around 1200 rpm (and this no matter how long or hard the engine had been thrashed beforehand).

Silencing was pure schizo­phrenia. Under y/i or possibly 4 all that could be heard was a grumbling, rumbling growl. A purr that was more electrical than inter­nal combustion, akin entirely to London Transport's tube trains (now believed to be gaining in rarity value). Above 4 and the air quivered to an animal scream as the power unit got down to the nitty gritty, accompanied by the usual yackety yack yack on the overrun or on light throttle loadings. Much as I personally dislike two-stroke noise, I've got to admit it can be neck-tingling on occasions.

Handlebar layout was typical Japanese - efficient, though, to my mind, biased towards the left-hand side. On that 'bar were the off/on switch for lights and a little (a conf usingly little) to left of that the dip switch. No pilot light is pro­vided. On the same end were the beautifully simple trafficator pushes as well as the horn push. Fumblesville in the cold, wet, gloved weather? On the other side, alone in solitary splendour, was the cut-out switch. Sitting directly in front of you and hanging (rubber mounted) over the headlight shell were speedo and rev counter -incidentally the latter was rather a lazy instrument. Both were of weight-saving plastic and hooded against reflection. And utterly readable.

The styling department had worked hard on the 380. That it's a pretty 'bike nobody can deny. Instantly appealing. But - and this applies to all Japanese motor­cycles - is it an appeal which will endure. I know it's all in the eye of the beholder, etc., but will you be able, after a year's, perhaps two years' ownership, to stand the thing out in back garden or gutter, be at peace with the world, and let your eyes trickle over its every nook and cranny, and still find a beauty, a satisfaction, or maybe even a slight tingle as you gawp reflectively at it. I wonder. . . Whereas I just don't wonder about machines like the immaculate Vin­cent I saw recently. VOC mem­bers can protest until they're blue in the face, but that sort of machine, along with perhaps, a glittering Rocket Goldie, should be in the National Gallery for the nation to look at and learn by. And blow Tutankamun.

Nevertheless ... the 380 is going to be sold a great deal on its looks. Neatness and proportion every­where. The engine itself looks four stroke-ish thanks to the Ram Air System. And futuristic – peering rearward through the forks and it's straight out of 2001. Someone, somewhere is not taking motor­cyclists seriously though if they believe we are going to be impres­sed by the moulded and airtight air intakes on the sidepanels. This is strictly Mickey Mouse and has no place on such a functional and no-nonsense 'bike as the Suzuki. Instrumentation is, again in com­mon with most Nip bicycles, good-looking and, well... very tasteful. I liked it. Even the chrome mud­guards and tail light (ah, that tail light!) didn't come over as too flashy. Just setting off the black and light metallic green to the right extent.

Framing is conventional - a duplex full loop cradle affair with an added top tube from the steer­ing head to rear down tubes. Inci­dentally, this frame looks virtually identical to that of the 750 - save for the obvious bowing of the latter's front down tubes to accommodate the fan. It's quite possible that there are differences between the two frames (there must be, come to think of it), but they weren't easily apparent to my naked as nature intended eye.

After I had taken the machine over from Suzuki it was used for unexciting town trips - the usual commute yawning and evening and more often than not with a pillion. It was only when a pillion was over ten stone that the perfor­mance suffered, and then only by a fraction. But, dammit all, you expect a 37Ice unit to suffer more than a fraction with two up. Because of the 'bike's eagerness and comparatively large size a lot of riders will be expecting com­paratively large performance from the thing. Illogical but true. I don't think they'll be let down a great deal, though.

Around town, where the routine mundanities of motorcycle riding are practised so much more fre­quently than on the open road, is the place where the thoughtful-ness of the overall design can be appreciated to a great extent. I don't mean roadholding, high speed line chopping and general thrashability. No - merely unex­citing consideration such as whether the stands raise the voice a couple of octaves, whether traffi­cators can be seen and appreciated more than ten feet away, whether the thing leaves the Mall under an impenetrable pall of two-stroke smog. Also - if you're in a hurry -the brakes, which will get a pound­ing equal to most cross country blinds. As to the Suzuki's front brake ... oh dear, oh dear. It's been damned heartily by every report I've come across - on both sides of the pond. I won't add wood to the fire, but merely say that if lighter than air sponge is your thing, try a few serious stops. It really is something the factory will have to cure, and it could be so easy. There is a comforting side to this; the rear brake is more than adequate. It has to be.

Horror of horrors

Then came the day when I tired of short runs, and longed for something that both the machine and I could get our teeth into, something that we would both enjoy and where I could discover whether the GT label glued on the side of the 'bike was fact or sublime publicity opti­mism. A combination of coun­tryside, long straights and well-, surfaced bends was- called for. And it could certainly not be less than 100 miles either way. For me there was but one answer - up through Baldock and Royston and along the All to Norwich. Anyway, as I've mentioned before, it is my favourite road.

The nice young gentleman on the weather forecast was trying to quell my spirits. Summoning the full and devastating resources of modern meteorology, and show­ing a precision which one can only admire, he said something about it all being "changeable". It didn't look too bad though, so spurning wellies and plastic pants, the 380 was tanked up, oiled up and tyre pressures checked to the last pound.

Something that I should like to mention is that the Suzuki is a machine which does not require British Steel Corporation nerves to wring the best from. Now this ain't derogatory by any means. It is just that there is a very definite satisfaction in being astride a machine and knowing that you have mastered every available pony beneath your seat. I'm by no means the fastest rider this side of Daytona - anything but. Nevertheless, I was using any and every revolution that would propel me that much faster through the atmosphere. The spread of power on that motor is, as I've men­tioned, monumental for that capacity. Anywhere between 2Vi (to be as uncharitable as possible) and an elastic catapult force, was at your beck and call any time the energy to twist that thing on the right 'bar came your way. With that kind of power band and six cogs to play the xylophone on, you would have to be in a sorry state not to enjoy yourself. It really is tremendous fun pootling along behind some trundling interconti­nental Behemoth, snorting and protesting its ungainly-way up a shallow incline, to spy your chance, to rev and snick down once, twice, thrice even should the mood so take you, and explode past"lhe creature in a yowl and scream of joyous energy, paying scant respect to clutch action or anything else, come to think of it, save for the one obsession of keeping that handle twisted as far towards you as it will go.

I was wearing the Bell Star helmet during the run. Every hel­met I've ever worn has excluded certain sound frequencies while admitting certain others. So it was on this occasion. The din of gen­eral two-stroke effort filtered up and filled my ears continuously. Continuously simply because the motor was seldom allowed to drop below 6000 rpm throughout the run. Cut off from sound I wasn't.

When you get down to it, the heart of the matter is those three little honey pots each singing its song of liquid power. Centre exhaust flows into a Y function, and thence rearward.

But insulated from the elements I was. Thus it was that I had to peer carefully into the visor to verify that those were raindrops that were doing the Sacha Distel on me. Nothing to put one off - they weren't even showing on the tar­mac beneath my wheels. But the thought was there.

It happened that I was trying tentatively for top speed when, with nostrils closer to front spindle than my normal riding position allows, I flickered a casual glance down at the forks. Horror of horrors - the spindle end of the fork was oscillating back­wards and forwards by about half an inch, possibly a little more. I was not amused. Instinct nudged me on the shoulder, telling me that this was really not as it should be. Blow it, said the motorcyclist part of me. If it was going to do anything interesting it would have done so before now. And, any­how, I've been in the region of 85-90 mph for the last ten minutes, so why stop now? So I didn't.

At the Royston Baldock turn-of I pulled up in a layby for a spit anc a drag, and to tussle with the forks in the forlorn hope that there might be something I could do to stop the oscillation. Incredible thing was that the shuddering of the forks didn't have any effect on straight line handling, nor on the corners, such as they are, which are found on M ways. I was, and still am, at a shameful loss to explain the entire phenomenon.

Softening up the rear suspension units amplified the resulting pulse which could be felt in the handlebars; beefing them up eradicated it - well, almost. There are more things in Heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy, Horatio ... or some­thing to that effect. A gentleman passed me on a 180 Yam, I think it was, while I was reflecting on the above mentioned vagaries. He passed, did a double take, and promptly stopped. No, for once I wasn't in trouble, but we stopped and chatted 'bike chat. The 380 was carefully scrutinised, care­fully tried for size, and inevitably, carefully driven up the road. That searchlight that passes for a stoplight beamed and winked at me over half a mile away. Then he returned, eyes bright, expression glowing. Yes, he did like it. He needn't have told me.

By now the "changeable" clouds had passed. I was deluding myself, but I thought summer was here. The sun poked its nose from behind a cloud, looked about and decided it might be an idea to stick around for a while. Traffic was as light as could be expected and the fields began to flatten out on either side of me. I could see round or ven at as near its maximum as is possible to get consistently. OK -so we all know that two-stroke consumption is all-dependent on the inclinations of the right wrist, but I somehow have an inkling that this 'bike will be driven rather hard wherever it goes. At one stage, several days earlier, a hectic blind down along the A40 and thence to London Airport, with a light pill­ion on the back, produced the staggering total of 29l/i mpg. I give this purely because you'll find it as hard to believe as I did. But it does show what can be done when you really try. So why on earth, with a thirst of that proportion, does the thing carry a 3.3 gallon tank? As one damn fool discovered when he forgot to switch back from reserve after filling up and was not appreciating the resultant mile-long push, 114 miles from the top Up along Thetford Chase I decided that spindle judder or not, time had come to make a serious effort at seeing just what could be coaxed out of the 'bike.

Harshly persuading the thing up through the gears - 7Vi, perhaps 8, though power fell off so drastically after the former figure that it seemed a wanton waste to try for more - and tucking away every conceivable ounce of my 11 and a considerable bulk, down to that time-honoured pastime of pancakes. And if you know Thetford Chase you'll know why they're used to people playing that sort of game round there. Squint-eyed and peering myopically twixt rev and over the gentle undulations in the road and, thankfully, past the trucks as they lolloped along like a train of tired camels. Suzuki had had the kindness to replace the original and, by now, worn Japan­ese tyres with good British stock -Avon Mk Us back and front. I hadn't tried the Japanese tyres in the wet, but the suspicion of them was continually at the back of my mind. Going down to Dover, heavily iaden with pack and pill­ion, I felt the sneakiest hint of wander on the curves. Perhaps it had been me and an exaggerated sense of self-preservation, but it had been a deterrent to complete enjoyment. On the other hand it could have resulted from the extra burden. . . . But on the Avons confidence was quickly returning. Most people who ride their Japan­ese 'bikes seriously seem to be fitting British tyres, usually TTlOOs, despite the admirable progress Japanese covers are making.

By now I had discovered just how thirsty a multi-cylinder two-stroke can get. On an unkind average the stuff would be slurped up at the rate of one gallon every 37 miles. And that was being dri- speed counters, the trees hurled themselves towards me, arcing up and over to disappear in a splinter second's worth of greens, yellows and browns. The howling cacophany of the engine and the fierce juggling of the instruments (rubber mounted, remember) combined with the jar and blur of the onrushing road to produce an exaggerated sense of speed. Flick­ing my eyes towards the fuzzing speedo - but I couldn't believe them. So, another frantic squint at the thing and a slight disappoint­ment. 94, perhaps, juuuust 95mph. Somehow it had felt a good 10 mph faster. And then I became aware of the rapidly approaching back­side of a Guinness tanker ... I tried again several times later but was never able to better 95 Perhaps racing leathers and nice low 'bars would tempt that extra 5 mph shyly from its hiding place. In retrospect I can see that I had been misled by the markedly brisk acceleration in the first three gears into expecting a commensurately brisk top speed. Don't forget -when all is said and done it is still only 371cc's worth of engine.

I carried on up to Norwich and the ever-beckoning spectre of a couple of pints of Norwich Bitter at the maximum average speed which I thought the 'bike comfort able at - 85 to 90 mph. This it continued in a relaxed manner, the only expenditure of energy being on the concentration of keeping the wire wound open. The engine was being worked hard but uttered never a second of protest. And I must admit that the seat was sup­remely comfortable. I covered, by routes most devious, over 300 miles that day. Not enough by many standards, but more than sufficient to gather the bum-numbing qualities of a saddle. Throughout most of the trip the dampers had been on the hardest of five positions. This, coupled with the reasonably stiff front end, had been suited my weight and our speed admirably. No complaints at all, blast it.

On the way back I stopped beside Snetterton and sat in the mellow afternoon sunshine on top of the shallow bank overlooking the Norwich Straight. Save for the occasional bellow of passing lorries the time and place were ripe for reflection. So I reflected. Everything about the machine was functional. Silly odds and bobs showed up, though, which spoke, I thought, of cost cutting. The unbacked mudguard stays, simply crying out for rust, were an exam­ple. It goes without saying that the chain remained despicably exposed, but worse than that the wheel was non-QD and the chain of the endless variety. And end­less amusement for some poor, punctured person. Manners of the engine, whether in town or in the country were impeccable, and at the end of the day's work the unit was scarcely more than happily warm. There must be something in this Ram Air business.

The 380 is a simple 'bike to ride, but there is enough power there to make your getaway from lights in the wet a matter to be treated with a certain amount of respect, espe­cially bearing in mind the peppi-ness of the first three cogs. In the dry a wheelie, if such torn-foolery takes your fancy, would require the backside to be placed well rearward in the saddle. Otherwise one does tend to waste rather a lot of rubber. The frame and damping combines to produce very useful roadholding, indeed the well ground away centre stand spoke of braver men than I who obviously achieved quite silly angles of lean. I, as mentioned previously, had the rear dampers jacked up to their hardest and consequently never came anywhere near touching down on either side.

During our last two days with the Suzuki, and much against my every intention, I thought that the 'bike might just, could possibly, begin to "grow" on me. I'm not making any definite statements mind; it's merely a sneaking and discomforting suspicion. It doesn't make it as a GT in the true sense of the word - inter­continental and all that, but as a medium haul tourer it's func­tional, fuss-free and. naturally, oh, so smooooth. I cannot and will not forgive that silly little tank (that is if the makers are trying to get us to believe in the GT label) nor the ludicrous non-detachable rear wheel. But apart from that it did what it was called upon to do without any hassle and with alarming reliability.

Which is a pity. I was looking forward to getting my own back.

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