Suzuki GS500R Overlander

The Other GS

Get on the scene
I’ve always fancied parallel twins, ever since my first decent bike aged 18 – a T140V Bonneville (below left, viewed with a suitably soft focus). When a GS500 overtook me on my GSX400 in the Pyrenees one afternoon in the late 1980s, I beheld one of the sexiest bikes in its class. And right up until 2009 they were still banging them out off the Suzuki steam press in Spain, a hefty, no-nonsense two-pint twin that returned 64mpg coming back from Cornwall where I bought this 2003 with 10k for £1500.

Being a Suzuki, for it’s own protection it was sprayed in oiland sat in the barn of my spannery mate for a year or two while he slowly adapted it into what they now call an ‘adventure motorcycle’ but I prefer to call an overlander or just ‘travel bike’.

Why a GS500…
Let me tell you why. What do we actually need of an overlander? We need simplicity, reliability, economy, comfort, lightness and a little dirt road utility. Although it’s nice, we don’t really need enough power to punch holes in autoroutes, or a bike we can barely pick up, or one that intimidates us on unmade roads, or one fit to take on a desert rally. Out in the adventure motorcycling world (as opposed to regular touring), 60mph is plenty to keep up with local traffic on rough roads. Alone out on the altiplano, the steppe or the sand sheets, riding speeds are even lower. It’s not a race, it’s about the long ride.

I also believe that now more than ever, a bike needs to be inexpensive (though I’d have said that any time you asked me). Half a litre gives you enough poke but won’t shred tyres and chains. And two cylinders avoid the chain-snatching lumpiness that an otherwise adequate single can’t always get round. A smooth bike is less tiring.

The GS’s modest power gives great economy on its twin carbs (although I’d take efi any day). With good economy there’s no need for giant tanks; with a 10-litre fuel bag I’ll have a potential autonomy of nearly 700km. Used spares for GSs are as cheap as chips, the online GS knowledgebase reaches up to your chin, and now they’ve finished with mine, it’s running a DR650 front end (left), an adapted SV650 shock (right) and identical 19-inch wheels and tyres (right – photoshoppery before suspension mods – see other posts); something you can re-shod in Nepal without calling on DHL.

So, with a few easy mods my ‘GS500R’ has become enough of an overlander for me to get the job done for the price of a set of ally luggage and a snazzy riding suit.

For more details on the GSR see the Project Bikes menu above.