Category Archives: Suzuki GS500R Overlander

Pipe Rack

GS500R Overlander Index Page
Normal & Platform racks

I don’t think you could describe a GS500’s chassis (left) as something that Brunel would have tipped his hat to. Thin bits of box section glued together with spit and braced with stamped bits of plate. You get what you pay for and GS500s are not to be mistaken with the GSX-R pocket rockets.

Anything too clever or hefty would merely see the GS’s subframe wilt like the late summer corn. Up to a point a beam could be added from the pillion mounts down towards the footrests to help support the back end (right).

Trying to work out how to make the platform (or get it made), it occurred to me that a metal support tube as strong as any on the machine was staring me in the face: the silencer. By chance I’d had the pipe lowered to make room for my planned DIY panniers (which eventually became a set of Magadans) until a light bulb flickered momentarily: use the pipe.


All that had to be done was separate the pipe’s heat (not that much on the pre-catalyzed GS5) from the bag’s base and possibly add support at the back. A mention of Giant Loop’s good-but-too-short stainless pipe guard (above right; £15) gave me the idea to make my own from a bit of 2 by 4 ally off-cut.

On top of that screwed a layer of plywood on which rests the pannier. The good thing is that my Mags are throwovers so the full weight need not be taken on the platforms. But there’ll come a time when that needs to be done so I added a support from the silencer’s snout to the subframe using a 2 1/2 inch exhaust clamp (left).

Shopping with the Magadans

Index page

Supplies were getting low so it was time to saddle up and head to town, a good opportunity to try out the Magadans and also see how the bike managed with a heavy load.

I’m still dithering about exactly what sort of rack to make but did have a bit of a brainwave the other day – I promise you you won’t have seen a rack like this before!  So for the moment I taped on a couple of sticks (left) to keep the swinging bags out of the wheel and chain. If I got lost I could rub them together to make a fire.


The Mags are intended to use straps to wrap it around a rack, and have a couple of loops to enable that, but they could also do with some regular fixing straps, additional loops or D-rings on the back edges (as on the Enduristan Monsoons, right, or most other throwovers), to stop an empty bags flying about. That’s easy enough to sew on by hand, especially as the outer bag isn’t the main waterproof element.

And here on the left is a picture of one I made later. The sewing was easy enough providing the needle was thin, but poking a red-hot rivet shaft through the pannier fabric to make a hole for the rivet took a couple of goes which makes me wonder if there’s more to that ballistic Twaron fabric than meets the eye. Maybe it really is stab proof, or certainly very resistant. The hot shaft sailed through the nylon strap like it wasn’t there.

For the moment I looped the bags’ pocket-tightening straps round the pillion mounts and set off. It’s got to be said the Suzuki motor’s characteristics aren’t exactly in the 900SS- or even SV650 category, with a pre-watershed power deliver that’s flat enough to host a roller disco on Friday nights. Is it still restricted, I wonder some times. I’m sure the previous owner supplied the constriction washers for the carbs loose in a bag. But, it gets you there and has yet to drop below 60mpg, and the seating position with the flat track bars is just great.

With supermarkets an infrequent treat these days, you can get a bit over-excited and after an hour’s drooling I trollied out of Tescos wondering how a hundred quid’s worth- and a good 30-kilos of tucker would actually fit on the bike. It took about 20 minutes to pack correctly, with the heavily loaded bags now swinging into the wheel, – like post-twinshock throwovers do. It’s made worse by the GS’s ‘aero’ side panels with their fake bulge. The sticks helped a little but I hoiked the bags up high and over a box of spinach and polenta ragu on the back seat as the velcro overlap was otherwise too short to take that kind of load, even though the straps are innovatively velcroed on both sides for extra grip.

As mentioned in the review, I’d prefer a more versatile, ordinary buckle relying on fiction, or even the same q/d clips used on the roll top straps. Maybe velcro (also on the Monsoons) is more pillion-butt friendly but I doubt they’d take the weight of an unsupported bouncing throwover for long (hence AS’s advice for straps round a rack). However, I plan to sit my bags on a rack so the back seat strap arrangement won’t be weight bearing. I’ve ordered a few likely buckles as well as some brass D-rings to sew onto the bottom corners to help locate the bags.

On the road the loaded GS-R still felt well balanced. It seems a happy coincidence that my guessed at suspension mods – DR front end and a longer SV650 shock have worked out so well, especially on the back end which so far feels just right, though that might all change when it gets hot, or the over-levered GS linkage snaps.

At a guess I’d say the fortnight’s shopping added up to the same as a maximum overland load, but the back end didn’t droop and the bike rode through the bends well enough. I’ve still got to change the back brake master cylinder for a DR unit to match the caliper to regain full braking, so I can’t tear around with impunity just yet. As it was I stopped a couple of times to make sure nothing was melting or rubbing. It was all just about hanging together on the back, but reminds me I’ve really must get on the case with this rack. Oh, here it is, nearly.

GS500R – tyres and bars

Index page

The GS-R has now shed it’s used road tyres and taken on a pair of 110/80 B 19 Heidenau K60, the tyres that impressed me on the Morocco ride I took in March on the 650GS. At the same time I fitted Tubliss liners. I’m not completely set on these until they’ve proved they’ll hold air reliably – that will take a few days.

At the same time I inspected the front sprocket against a new one and found them near identical so will leave the current chain – age unknown – on the bike, even with the new back sprocket. In my experience o-ring chains last ages but then go quickly as the seals begin to fail. If I can catch the chain just before that, I might get more miles out of the sprox.

I also fitted a pair of taller, wider ‘flat track‘ handlebars, the sort of bars American street scramblers ran in the 60s and 70s, and the same price as a set of bar risers. What a great pair of bars, just as I knew they would be. The even looked good just lying on the floor.

Fitting was of course far from simple. Oh no. One crosshead on the LHS switch cluster turned into plastic at the sight of a screwdriver, cables needed re-routing rond the back of the triple clamp, but luckily the switch cluster wires – potentially the most complicated to modify – had plenty of slack tucked inside the headlamp. Anyway, much pissing about, dropped nuts, shorts cuts costing hours, but I got some bars, high and wide. Took the GS out for a lap and it feels so much more comfortable and confidence inspiring – just like a trail bike in fact. The front Heidi is worn in and normal, but I’m not keen about having to nurse an edgy back tyre while the new K60 on the back wears in. Without the weight, speed, power and breaking of the F650, it will take hundreds of miles, but I must say, so far it feels quite normal. Perhaps it was the bigger ‘Catspaw’ type K60 for bigger bikes that for a while felt odd on the BMW.

Anyway, here’s a cool film. Dave Aldana talking but shot in the UK of all places.

Fitting Tubliss liners (GS500R; Himalayan)

Updated 2020
Tubeless Conversion Index Page
GS500R Index Page Himalayan Index Page

Tubliss Generation 2 is now widely available in 18, 19 and 21-inch sizes for WM3 (2.15”) or slimmer rims. I fitted one to the front of my Himalayan


My Suzuki GS-R ran 19-inch SM Pros and the plan was always to have them running tubeless, hopefully doing a more successful job than I did on my Tenere’s wheels a couple of years earlier. On that bike the sealed-up rear never missed a beat, but the 21-inch front leaked off-road and as I failed to monitor it, it got soft enough to ding a rim on a gnarly Moroccan climb and with that lose all pressure.
Back then I wanted to try Tubliss but they weren’t sold in Tenere sizes in the UK. I picked some up in the US for around £55 each. The vid below explains it all very loudly. Man that guy can talk!

I was expecting a hard time fitting them in my Heidenau K60s – it’s a stiff tyre and you’d imagine the bulk or shape of the red plastic core and rim-lock might make tyre mounting even harder. When a sunny afternoon came by, I left the 4000-mile old K60 out against a wall to warm up a bit and then followed the clear instructions carefully. Off with the old Cheng Shin without too much difficulty, clean off the duct tape/rim tape residue and the drill an 11mm hole a few spokes up from the regular valve hole. I then talc’ed the inside of the red liner to slide better against its mini tube, lined up the rim lock clamp/tyre inflation valve and the nearby core inflator valve with the two holes in the rim (pic above; the instructions stress this is critical) and then mounted the core onto the rim.

tubli-dual-airHow it works
Tubliss works by using a small but extra thick bicycle-sized inner tube at very high pressure to expand the red casing onto the tyre’s bead, sealing it against the rim (see image below). By doing so it isolates the tyre’s main air chamber from the spoke nipples where air would otherwise slowly leak out.
This can be an odd concept to get your head around; a high-pressure mini-tube is still used to press and seal the tyre bead against the rim, but the tyre chamber itself is effectively tubeless. An additional hole for a rim lock is required so as to pin down the red
casing and completely eliminate tyre slip and valve lean at low pressures (as happens with regular tubes at low psi). Because the thick Tubliss mini tube isn’t anywhere near the flexing tyre carcass and is inside the red casing, it would take an exceedingly long and sharp spike to puncture it. Plus everything remains cooler; the benefit of all tubeless tyres. You can still tune spokes, something not be so easily done with other spoke nipple-sealing methods. The rim lock uses a ‘hollow bolt’ which is also a valve to inflate the tyre chamber to a regular pressure. The original valve hole is used to inflate the red casing tube to 100 psi.


The core went onto the rim easily. Just follow normal bike tyre mounting techniques: make sure the red core is right down in the well of the rim as you lever the other end on.
Usually I use diluted washing-up liquid but that tends to dry up quickly. This time I used more slimy 303 Protectorant; it’s the same as Armor All that Tubliss recommend. Use lots so it’s lubed forever inside. The core slipped on with no levers. WD40 will do, if stuck.

Next came the tyre. This was going to be hard, or so I thought. I double checked I had the direction arrow in the right orientation, then pushed the wheel down into the tyre using the folded metal plate which Tubliss supply, rim-lock down. Following the instructions closely (and having changed a few tyres in my time), the plate did genuinely help the core-fitted wheel slide into the tyre with less effort than normal. And if you kept pushing down as they advise, with a bit of multi-armed Vishnu-ing I got the wheel inside the tyre walls.

The rest – levering the tyre bead back onto the rim – was like regular tyre mounting: minimal lever force where possible combined with maximum lube, while always making sure the tyre bead opposite the levers is being kicked and crammed into the tyre’s well (central dip) so as to free up vital slack when levering to reduce the effort which is when mistakes are made and tubes get pinched.
Like they say on the leaflet, lube is the key to this. In the end the last bit of tyre went on without the final lever. This used Heidi was not so hard to mount after all. The same-sized new K60 for the back was a bit more effort shoving inside the wheel, even with the Tubliss plate, but with slack and lube, it got there.


With all this done the next step was to see if the system held air once everything’s pumped up. There’s no reason to think the mini tube got pinched, protected as it is inside the red plastic core. The key is the red liner sealing against the bead of the tyre to keep the tyre at the right pressure. You need to put 100 psi into the mini tube to make sure it seals: You want to check your average mini compressor will have the power to do that, but because the volume is tiny it may be easier than you think – it’s not like pumping up a full sized moto tyre to 100 psi.


Testing, testing
You may read complaints that fitting Tubliss doesn’t work first time round or doesn’t work at all – the tyre goes down – but so far overnight both tyres have held their pressure. Checking the tyre and core pressures after 10 days, I found both cores down by about 10%. I think that’s acceptable and can’t be sure everything was at the right or equal pressures to start with so I topped it all up to 100 psi and 33 for the tyres and will check again in a while. Tubliss do say to check pressures before each ride. Unfortunately, checking the high pressure cores blew the brains out of my digital tyre gauge (right) and those metal sliding rod types only go up to 50 psi. I have a bulky Cycle Pump gauge (left) that’s sat around for years and whose moment may have come. As mentioned, a mini-compressor able to deliver 100 psi without fatal results will be needed. Not sure my Cycle Pump (below) or anything like it can manage – we’ll see on the Himalayan. Anyway, there are always roadside garages.


Should you have a flat on the road it’s only the tyre chamber that loses pressure, not the small sealing tube of course. Once quickly plugged (left), the tyre can be reinflated with a regular bike compressor to normal road pressures.
Initially Tubliss didn’t claim to be suited to road riding let alone overlanding, but that seems to be changing as the system has proved itself. What is important is making sure the tyre sealing tube is kept at around 100psi. That may take more frequent checking than you’re used to, at least until you get a feel for the rate of loss, if any. On the road and out in the world a reliable mini-compressor is a vital tool.


A mate with Tubliss in his TTR has had no probs, including air freighting it around the world. He’s reminded me that, as the video above mentions, injecting sealant like Slime/Oko/Ultraseal (right) is a good idea and over time helps seal the tyre right up. I did the same to the Tenere when I sealed those wheels (right) and if nothing else it helped highlight leaks oozing out of the front.

More impressions to come with the Himalayan.


Motorcycle Luggage Racks

Originally written 2012, overhauled 2020
There are 24 pages on luggage and racks in AMH8
See also MYO racks on this sticky HUBB thread

The problem with off the shelf pannier racks like the classic ‘racktangle’, above left and right, is that they:

• may not make them for your bike
• may cost more than you’d like
• are too wide
• are often too far back

Those are some of the reasons I made my own rack for my first travel bike, an XT 500 (below), way back in 1982. It was rubbish but it did the job.

On the next couple of trips I used no rack. People do manage – usually on smaller bikes with lighter loads – but for overland travel, classic, strap-over throwovers are a throwback to a twin-shock era. The problem is usually with the high pipe of a trail bike. The bag presses on the panel which melts and – on a hot day on the south side of the Sahara (below) – the plastic catches fire soon followed by the ex-army canvas panniers and your favourite pyjamas.

Small baggage fire near Arlit, Niger.

What is wanted is a rear rack that attaches to the subframe and other key points as low, forward and close to the bike as possible so the mass follows suit, while allowing for those instinctive corrective dabs when losing control, as well as paddling in soft terrain.

I first saw a ventura rack in the early 1990s on the Tanami Track in northern Australia (left) and was so staggered that dirt touring bikes (admittedly, possibly two-up?) could be loaded like this that that I put a picture in the first AMHandbook and nearly every edition since. Ventura’s idea is that you can reverse the upright bar to point forward to load your sack forward to improve ‘weight distribution’. Tell me about it.

In a nutshell the mass wants to be as close to the bike’s supposed centre of gravity as possible which, with a load and rider aboard, is in the region of the injectors (right).
‘Mass centralisation’ became a buzz word with Honda bike design a few years ago, and was a concept applied by bike makers like Buell. 

It makes sense, especially on a loaded motorcycle traversing less than perfect roads. The more central the mass the more predictably the overland-loaded machine responds to the forces of its own inertia as the suspension moves the sprung weight up and down over rough terrain. That adds up to better control, no freaky handling vagaries like tank-slappers, smoother riding and so less fatigue. All up, the key to surviving a long day on the road in the AM Zone.
Above left: mass decentralisation. Think of the leverage!

Platform racks

As mentioned, when it came to making a rack for my XT500, the idea was fairly obvious: make platforms (left).
Even though I’d been despatching for a few years with throwovers or more commonly just a big top box, when it came to carrying a big load to the desert, a low platform down on the sides made intuitive sense.

The execution using Dexion shelving was poor, although that slack-rack did carry the load to the desert and back – albeit with a radically reduced once I came to my senses. It probably survived because there was so much jelly-like flex it was unable to summon up the tension to snap outright. The mld steel ‘L’ platform element was bolted onto a Craven rack – the ‘Jesse Luggage’ of its day, with plywood planks screwed on and sharp corners trimmed

Platform racks have been around for years, among other places used on army BSAs in the 50s and 60s (left). I’ve always liked the principle but these tinny, hinged trays were designed to take a specific panniers or to swivel up out of the way when not in use. It’s a logical and effective form of support. Within limits you can securely load anything on there; box, bag, sickly calf, bulging sack, except the sliding support arms get in the way of bigger loads.

Same goes for the solid (unhinging) version, left (notice the nifty mini inner platforms too). A secure placement for alloy boxes which would need next to nothing to stay in place.
I had similar racks made for the Sahara, but using soft bags (below), but you can’t help worrying about that hard front edge on your lower legs. This never occurred to me until Desert Riders when we added big metal boxes to remind us how they might hurt.

When using a rigid container like an alloy box there’s no need to have a full-width shelf; an inch-wide ledge will support a metal box, as it did on our Desert Riders XRL racks (below). The welding was superb but that rack was over-built, slapping metal over metal in search of strength but actually blinding the function by adding excessive weight. We did carry very heavy loads at times (left), but two of the XRLs cracked their subframes.

The reason platforms are not used these days is that sticking out looks inelegant, injury inducing and damage-prone in a fall. But when overlanding, your gear is on there all the time and so a fixed platform rack is no different from the angular edge of an ally box, except when it comes to removing baggage and wheeling a bike indoors overnight.
Below, Sean F’s very neat fixed platform rack addressing some of the issues for his soft-bagged DR650. if you get platform racks, this would be an idea to copy.

I still like the idea a platform rack with a hinged element so as to carry anything that fits while being slim when unloaded. The problem is without using the BSA sliding struts requires some sort of unsupported platform or cantilever. As always, you need to visualise how it will respond to slides down the road or hours of corrugations with maximum loads

There are various ways of arranging this cantilever, but the only one I’ve seen was on these Chinese 125s (left) pictured in Angola. If you look closely you’ll see the pivoting platform swings out to rest on a shallow ‘L’ bar. Providing it’s chunky enough, the leverage on the pivot and load on the bar ought to be met. A wider ‘L’ rest bar means less stress but you don’t want the fixed part being too wide.

A search on Google Images most probably identified that ‘Angolan’ rack (right) as one produced by none other than The Chongqing Meihuan Machine Manufacturing Company.
With a closer look you can see the pivot/support works by lowering on a spring to rest horizontally on the pillion footplate. Note the sub-racklets at the back, too.

And here is another hinged plat-rack made for this lightweight utility bike by former Italian custom bike maker, Borile. Like the Angolan rack, it’s a bit on the wide side for overlanding duties rather than transporting your goods to market, but the principle is the same.

There loads more on racks and baggage in the book.