Category Archives: Suzuki GS500R Overlander

GS500R Overlander – First Ride

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A little more than three years after I bought it, my GS-R got wheeled out of a Derbyshire hilltop hangar to prepare for it’s maiden flight – a run of a few hundred miles to far northern Scotland where development is set to continue.

Since my last brief ride round the lanes, the suspension got lowered a bit, the stands trimmed to fit and the pipe levelled off to make room for a rack and low/forward luggage, when that day comes.


As I pulled on my clobber Matt and Andy wired in a cig socket (left) to run a satnav, and with that done I set off into the rain to see how far I’d get that night.

There were small problems of course. The only way to securely load my gear was to pile most of it on the back – some 20kg right off the back; anathema to good loading and balanced handling. The GS is especially bad as it has a short back; I sit only just in front of the back axle. If I took my hands off the bars they flapped like a flag in the breeze. Then there was the limp back brake. As mentioned, I suspect it’s down to a too large GS master cylinder working the DR650 calliper so the ‘hydraulic advantage’ is cocked up (well explained here). Even extreme pedal pressure won’t lock the wheel. And besides that, the bike was long unused and untested – the new front end, wheels, the chain run and so on. With a lot of scope for something to go wrong, I initially kept off the motorways to simplify a recovery or roadside repair.


I splashed my way through the grim industrial conurbations between Sheffield and Leeds and spent the night at a mate’s in Shipley, trying to revive my Garmin Nuvi which either got wet or died of its own accord. Next day promised to be brighter before the next apocalyptic weather event (due to the displaced jet stream) bore down onto the UK. So I set off early to cross the Pennines I knew well as a walker, scooting up the A65 across the Yorkshire Dales before taking the A683 moorland backroad (left) to Kirkby Stephen for a snack in the Market Square (right). I knew this bench well too, having last sat on it at the end of a long day’s walk from Shap on the Coast to Coast path. The sun was out, but that was to be the last I’d see of it for another 10 hours.

I followed the A66 onto the M6 where the Suzuki held its own, stable enough up to around 80. I’d heard Halfords were doing specials on satnavs, but in the Carlisle branch there were no worthwhile deals. However, filling up gave here me a nice surprise: 176 miles on just 11.1 litres. That’s 25.35 kpl or 71.5 mpg (nearly 60US) – as good as the modern efi BMW I rode last March at about the same speeds. Not bad at all. With the GS’s 20-litre tank that’s 500 clicks or 300 miles to a tank. The rest of the ride got occasionally faster and fuel economy dipped by around 10%.

The weather was supposed to improve as I got further north but they got that wrong, and then I made a right mess of getting across Glasgow. I should have gone under and up the left side for Dumbarton and Loch Lomond, but with only the compass on the Voyager and not enough signs, I ploughed on northward and after an interlude in some suburbs, went back in and up on the A81 signed to Loch Lomond – but the wrong side.

Still, there was more daylight than I had energy to keep riding, so I stayed on the A81 over Dukes Pass (left). ‘It’s  a bikers’ road’ said the green-haired girl at the servo in Aberfoyle – but not in the rain with a balcony hanging off the back of your GS5. Like everywhere else, she had no map for me but said turn left at Callander, by which time I was back on roads I knew; the way to Glencoe and the Highlands.

Five pm. Nine hours on the road, I should have been starving and wilting, but was feeling OK. Fish and chips is one of the most over-rated Brit dishes, but I tell you what, a haddock supper at the Real Food Cafe in Tyndrum with their home-made tartare sauce might be a bit skimpy and pricey, but was just about the best I’ve ever eaten.

From here it was about another 200 miles – probably four hours with another fuel and snack break. Up over lonely Rannoch Moor, a tempting nod towards the cosy Kingshouse Hotel and down through the famous valley of Glencoe (right). In and out of Fort William – Scotland’s ugly but functional outdoor adventure capital, and then a route I’d not done for 30 years, up the side of Loch Ness.


By now roads were drying out and the ill-balanced GS and I had melded into one amorphous lump. You know that feeling at the end of a long day’s immersion on a bike; you’re shagged out but riding intuitively while the bike itself is warmed through and on song. But you’re not a machine and eventually you’ll get too tired to concentrate, so I pulled into a village servo for a chocolate injection and took a quick sit on a German bloke’s knee-high Harley Night Rod (top left) with a back tyre three times wider than mine.
On my near empty stomach the Star Bar the trick. I perked up and rode away from the uninspiring east coast farmland, west over the moors and down to the Hebridean shore. A moment’s rest on Ullapool waterfront to wipe the bug-splattered visor against the setting sun, followed by another hour’s ride into the mountains of Assynt and touchdown.


Five hundred and fifty miles or nearly 900km in 14 hours, with about 12 hours of actual riding rarely over 60mph. Nineteen hours of daylight helps of course, but this wasn’t like crossing the Montana prairie. I’ve not ridden anywhere near that far in the UK before, but was surprised to arrive with no single source of discomfort, be it back, butt, neck or knees.
That suggests that the GS is pretty comfortable overall, even tensed up riding an unfamiliar bike in wet weather. As on any bike, the over high footrests can be dealt with by stretching the legs forward once in a while, and I plan to fit some flat track bars off an American Bonnie. The screen needs to grow to a useful height, too but must have had some positive effect. And when I think how I suffered on that BMW in March, you got to give full marks to the Suzuki seat.

The DR front end brakes fine too; it’ll be great to have the back doing the same. Most of all I feel the 19-inch front wheel was worthwhile. On a 21-incher the wet bends and higher speeds would have been a little more edgy. As for the skinny back tyre, no moments there (a pretty worn Metz Tourance 110/80 radial marked ‘front’, plus a Chen Shin Hi-Max 110/90 on the actual front). I wonder if that back radial at 36 psi helped the mpg? Either way, I look forward to having the GS shod with new Heidi K60s on Tubliss.

Didn’t have a chance to test the headlight – it’s never fully dark up here at the moment – but I’m sure it’s terrible. And that light is on all the time, even when electric starting which seems dumb. A switch is needed. The indicators and back light are aftermarket LEDs, but some sort of HID will be in order to help light the path. A mate’s recommended the VisionX Solstice for nearly £100.

According to the Trail Tech Voyager’s wheel-sensor based data, the GS’s cable speedo reads 12% over with the 19-inch front wheel on a [21″] DR hub, but the odometre is only 2% over. The Trail Tech packed up towards the end of the ride – it wasn’t charging off the bike (loose at the battery, easily fixed) but while it worked I loved it. Engine temp, air temp, compass, speed and odo – all things I like to know. And it’s has a map page too, though aimed at short range trail riding it can only handle small maps. Looking forward to delving more into this gadget.

At 30-something hp, the GS doesn’t exactly crease tarmac on steep climbs. And it needs to be spun at over 4000 to respond. At 5300 it’s indicting 70 – a true 63mph. I rarely rev it higher through the gears, but that’s still only halfway to the rather far-fetched redline of 11,000 rpm. Compared to other things I’ve ridden there’s not much torque low down in this thing, so I suspect the GS-R would be unresponsive on the dirt. It’s still on the tall side and heavy for that too, plus the pegs as so high the bars would be at knee level when standing, but the suspension isn’t flabby or harsh, and there’s more than enough of it. I do wonder about the strength of the frame for overland travel. I know it’s only a cheap a Suzuki, but it doesn’t look especially robust close up. All the more reason then to keep the load light and low.

What’s it all cost me? The bike was £1500 (five years old and 11,000 miles at the time). The Talon wheels built onto DR hubs were £400. Back shock £40, DR front end £200 by the time I bought a spindle and speedo drive. Other bits £200. I got back a few hundred quid selling the original GS500 front end, wheels, shock and other bits which paid for the labour, so we’re looking at around £2500. Add the new tyres and Tubliss cores for £250 and whatever it will cost to fabricate a rack. Spread over the years that’s not had too much of an impact, and the great thing with the GS5 (less so the DR650) is that parts are dirt cheap. There are chassis on ebay now from £30. Once completed it ought not cost much to run the GS-R.

GS500R Overlander – progress report

GS500R Index page

The GS500R Overlander project bike is taking shape, although it’s not quite a fully set jelly. The critical mod: adapting the rear DR650 hub and brake to fit the donor bike’s swing arm and chain run has been completed pretty seamlessly by Matt and his team of farmyard engineers (see pic below).

I know what you’re thinking: why does the front tyre look fatter than the back – is it the camera angle? No, it’s just that at the time I didn’t want to waste money on new 19-inch tyres in case the GS turned into what the French would call, un piège de mort. So I bought used cheapies just to get the thing rolling, first for the front, and a while later another for the back which was not identical. Just as well really, as following my recent Morocco trip I’ve discovered that Heidenau K60s are the ‘bomb’, as the bloke on the right would say.

Half-built impressions of half-baked bike
It took a bit of firing up off Matt’s V8 Landrover offroader to get the GS running while whipping out a plug to dry and blowtorch. Even then the GS didn’t seem to run well. Was there a badger nest in the air filter? I could barely pull up the track to the road, and while slipping the clutch mistakenly thought it was because the gearing was way off. As with most things on this build, we took an educated guess here, but at 42/16 the gearing’s actually turned out to be in or around the ball park.

Running down to the village to top up on fuel I thought, jeez, this 500 really is a lot slower than the BMW FGS650 twin I’ve been riding lately. Of course that bike has got at least twice the horsepower and 20 years of development on the G. Heading back, the weight of that extra tenner of unleaded in the tank saw the bike struggle to escape the dale. Something was not right. I pulled over and pulled off the left plug cap – no difference. A ha! as the bloke on the right would say. A little bit of fiddling with the plug cap got past more cobwebs, the second barrel fired up like a Saturn V and suddenly the GS500 was running like… a GS500.

I tore off up the lane like a teenager on his first moped, awestruck at the feeling of raw power. Like Ogri’s beaky-nosed mate Malcolm (left) I was heading for a prang, so it was time to consider braking. The DR650 front end’s disc had been binding a bit as the pads off one scrapped DR got to know the disc rotor from another. A quick check at the fill up proved that the rotor wasn’t getting hot and causing the lame performance. In fact, yanking the lever did see the forks dip hard in response so it can get there if it has to. I guess it’s just not the quality of braking I’d got used to while running the 2012 BMW. The back brake was considerably slacker, partly we suspect because the DR650 calliper which had to be used to clear the Talon spokes, may not compliment the bore of the GS’s master cylinder. So the back brake is mushy and with a long throw. Maybe a bleed or a braided hose will bring it round, or a master cylinder off a DR.

Another problem. The main stand had to be extended by several inches (right) and it now takes an extreme heave to get the bike up; not something I could see myself being able to do with baggage at the and of a tough day on the road. The feet are now clearly too far back from the pivot point for the factory-set leverage. And yet it’s as long as it needs to be, lifting the back a couple of inches off the deck, like a normal stand. Curved stand feet could get round this.

But in fact when I think about it, the GS is a bit too high; I can’t get my feet flat on the ground. With the new suspension and the 19s it’s probably jumped up at least four inches judging by at the extended stand. I really appreciated the BMs low height on the dirt in Morocco and am not looking for masses of clearance on the GS-R. In fact this will be easy to modify: slide the forks up the clamps and back the shock off max preload where it is set now (left). Didn’t get a chance to do all that, as it was a flying visit to the Mattlabs.

Steering feels a bit slow too, but I think the height may have something to do with that. As it is I don’t think the steering of a regular GS500 would get a job in a bread slicing factory. Getting used to the bike and modulating suspension levels may fix all that, and anyway there are new tyres to come. The dirt bars too felt a bit narrow for my liking, or no wider than stock and maybe could do with a lift. Again, easily done.
It’s hard to tell if a thinner back tyre greatly affected the steering or ride, not having ridden a bike with back-to-front tyres before. My plan is to run identical-sized tyres front and back. One thing’s for sure, the seat feels great, although as mentioned earlier, the rear-set pegs could stitch the knees up on a long day – and that could be crippling. So maybe some sort of highway peg off the crash bars will work.
One good thing, even though it’s tall right now the GS feels pretty light for what it is and a good 20 kilos lighter than the BMW GS650 which was at least 200kg. Might try and weigh it one time.

What’s left to do
Once the above mods are seen to Matt the Mig or Andy the Arc are going to fabricate a rack, but not just another off-the-shelf, too-far-back, 18-mil loop jobbie like I used on Morocco on the BMW. Something as securely mounted, but with a hinged or somehow retractable platform plus a ‘sheep rack’ platform on the back – always handy. That way the pans can sit rather than hang – a much better arrangement for an overland load, IMHO.

I was going to fab’ some PVC pannier liners with a heat gun and roller, and a mate had offered to sew me up some Cordura outers. I would have kept the Monsoons I used in Morocco if only they had been my ‘Fibonnacci shape’: less wide, more long and bigger, but since writing this Adventure Spec have started selling a ‘Magadan bag‘ with input from Walter Colebatch and based on the Steel Pony Gascoyne he’s used in Russia and a bag whose dimensions I’ve admired myself, if not the canvas fabric. If all the hard work’s been I’m be happy to order me a pair.

One thing I was also thinking of is junking the fat OE pipe and fitting something like this (right). A cheap ‘one-size-fits-all’ mega can be bought of ebay for 30 quid but I’m not 17 anymore and couldn’t bear a loud pipe or unravelling all the jetting and valve-burning issues. It seems the GS muffler only weighs some 5 kilos anyway so if pannier space is so important why not just chop the regular pipe at the neck and drop the angle as in the gif below. It’ll be good to have the bags in close and the pipe underneath, and its an easy job, giving what, at least four inches more bag space. After my over-width Morocco experience and seeing how slim the GS is, it would be nice to keep it that way.

Anyway, I’m off to the Overland Expo in Arizona in a couple of weeks, a great chance to pick up some goodies in the US, including a pair of Tubliss liners (left) which enable you to run tyres tubelessly on spoked rims. As you may know, I tried doing that before without complete success.

I know Tubliss are said to be for off-road use only, but I’ve interpreted this to be an issue of legal liability on the pubic highway rather than anything to do function or real-world safety. Robin, with whom I rode in Morocco last month has run Tubliss on his TT250R all over the world for years (that’s him right with all his kit – including full camping gear).

A meekly powered GS500 with a modest payload isn’t going to tie the tyres in knots. I plan to fit the front 110/80B (59 T) K60 Scout (my review) I used on the BM in Morocco (left) and another new one for the back. The 100/90 57 H is a tempting 30% cheaper and still with a load index 230 kilos and a 130mph rating, neither of which the GS will see in its lifetime, but I’d need two so I’ll stick with the wider 110/80 at another 100 quid.

More news as it happens.

Heidenau K60 Scout tyre review


Ordinary looking but hard wearing dual sport tyres although there is some confusion over differing tread patterns on Heidenau tyres branded as ‘K60 Scouts’. The fourth tyre below might look to have less mud traction than the tyres to either side due to the solid central strip. As I understand it, it’s to do with the likely power and weight of the bigger bikes that a rear 17-inch K60 might get fitted to. I’m guessing the 150/70 B17 (tyre #4) suits powerful 1200+ adv bikes which would wear down and squirm the other K60s more readily.

The tyres I used in Morocco on the BMW F650GS twin were #1 and #3 in the line up below. On the GS500R I fitted #1 front and rear. In 2015 I fitted a K60 (#1) to the front of my CB500X RR run tubeless. Again, no complaints.

WHERE TESTED In Spain and Morocco; about 3800 miles including a few hundred off-road riding on a BMW F650GS SE. Also fitted 110/80 B-19 Tyre K60 (Enduro) Scout to both wheels of my own Suzuki GS500R. Then another 3000 miles with the front on the CB500X.

IN A LINE A dual sport tyre that works very well in dry dirt and on roads as wet as you like, but manages to last for thousands of miles.

PRO Works great from soft sand to wet roads. Wears very slowly.

CON The rear on the BMW took a good few hundred miles to bed in (on the Suzuki new rear felt fine). The sizes I needed for the BMW were expensive in the UK (but since found a much cheaper source from Germany, see below).

New Heidenau K60 rear F650GS SE

COST Heidenau 140/80 T-17 Tyre K60 (Catspaw) = £89.10 Heidenau 110/80 B-19 Tyre K60 (Enduro) Scout = £95.04 (better prices here

REVIEW On the BMW these tyres took a long time to bed in and feel predictable and secure. It’s something I put down what must be a hard compound that takes a while to adopt the bike’s profile. Since then they’ve just got better and better, be it on desert tracks, Moroccan back roads, storm-lashed motorways and even slick steel ferry ramps. They’re simply the best dual sport tyre I’ve used for years and might last a trans-continental trip. If you ride a big bike fast at home and rarely leave the road, you might prefer conventional Anakees and Tourances. Right from pulling away new they felt edgy and followed long lines and tarmac joins, or at times felt outright double punctured. At 30/35 psi they felt over inflated and on marbles; that feeling took several hundred miles to go away. Thereafter on the road they matched my moderate riding style and the bike’s ability very well while, like any self-respecting knobbly, still whining reassuringly on smooth roads. Even in the wet they never gave any heart stopping slips. I have to say they worked as well here as any Tourance-type road tyre I’ve used.

Heidenau 140/80 T-17 Tyre K60 (Catspaw) after 3800 miles.

On dry desert dirt was biggest surprise. Whether it’s the the digger-like chevron pattern, they were much better than expected, even with little meddling with pressures. On gnarly stony pistes and gravel dirt roads they tracked well and reacted predictably, bearing in mind the speeds you want to ride a 220-kilo GS alone in the desert. Even in deep sand, the bane of heavy trail bikes, something enabled the bike to track unnervingly straight, feet up at 5-10 mph, until I’d lose my nerve and say ‘this can’t be happening’, deploy my outriggers and start paddling.

New Heidenau K60 rear F650GS SE

You’ll notice the rear in the newer ‘Catspaw’ Scout for larger bikes with a sunken (when new) central ridge supporting the blocks, and the front is the original, more blocky K60 style ‘Enduro’ pattern which you can still get on the back in smaller sizes. They both worked well as a pair, even if they are clearly less aggressive than a Conti TKC, especially on the edges. But if you accelerate and brake smoothly from dirt bend to bend, they felt as good, even though they oughtn’t. And it looks like they’ll last at least twice as long. On the BMW the back wasn’t even a third worn after 3800 miles, so I’d guess 10,000 miles from the back and half as much again on the front. That alone makes them a great adventure biking tyre. Once set could see you across Africa, even on a heavy GS. No rock gouges, other damage or punctures. You do wonder if they’re so hard they’ll start cracking long before the tread wears out. Time will tell. I gave the bike back but kept the tyres for my own project bike. I fitted the part worn front to the front of my GS and the same tyre new on the back.

Heidenau 110/80 B-19 Tyre K60 (Enduro) Scout after 3800 miles

Pressures (with 20kg baggage, max speeds 75mph) Dropped from 35/30 when new to 32/25 in deep sand, and much later 25/21 when unloaded until ride back to Spain back up to 32/28 and then 34/30 for fast and wet Spain transit.

Update July 2012:
I’ve fitted a pair of 110/80 130/80-17 69 T £ 62 19″ Scouts to my GS-R with Tubliss liners and must say there’s no ‘edginess’ on either tyre, as I experienced on the BMW in the first few hundred miles. And so I do wonder if it was the rear ‘Catspaw’ pattern with the solid centre block which made the bike feel insecure for a while. I’ve been waiting for that same feeling on the Suzuki, but  they feel as normal as the preceding road tyres. Coming back 700 miles from Scotland, the tyres didn’t budge in hours of streaming rain on  the motorway or across London. For a hard-compound tyre with a blocky tread, that’s pretty unusual.

Update September 2014: Loosing pressure inexplicably? See this video.

Pictures below, new and after 3800 miles on the BMW. Compare with the TKC after similar mileage on a Tenere.

Update September 2018: Chose K60 for my XScrambleR 700 project bike (left) for Morocco. No regrets – still a brilliant and long lasting do-it-all tyre.

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