Tag Archives: Suzuki GS500R overlander

How to weigh your motorcycle

Unlike most riders, I am curious to know what my bikes actually weigh – especially before and after a makeover. For years I’ve used the bathroom scales trick; balancing the bike with the scales under one wheel, then the other then add the two figures.

You will find this old thread on Advrider with the usual mix of sneering, humour, muddled thinking and bare-faced logic. Read to the end and you’ll see the single bathroom scales technique has been proved to vary at just 1% over other methods weighkerblike recycling weigh stations or hanging scales. Also, the over-thought need to horizontally level one wheel to match the height of the other resting on the scales has proved not to be significant. But the ground surface must be horizontal and the actuating feet under the scales must all be in contact with the ground (or stick the scales on a board).

I went to a car park with lots of space and excellent horizontality. It can take a few goes to get consistency; eventually for my GS500R I got a reading:
Rear: 104kg
Front: 86kg
Total 190kg with half a tank of fuel or about the same as a BMW Sertao.

That is about what I expected: a few kilos added over the 186kg claimed stock weigh following the addition of a DR650 fork, crash bars, the pipe rack, SV shock, screen, bigger bars and a handful of other bits. Don’t know how the 19-inch SM Pro wheels with Tubliss compare to stock GS500 casts. You’d hope a small weight saving but cast wheels have a habit of being lighter

saltsaltbmSince then I got some Salter Razor (right), now only 14 quid off amazon. Who knows about actual accuracy but this one is much more consistent than the round one above and much easier to use.

xco-hebridesBMW X Country ABS, full tank, plastic handguards
Front wheel 73kg
Rear wheel 90kg
Total 163kg – a very good weight for a pokey 650, if I may say so myself.


Tenerising a TDM900

It all started back in the beginning of the nineties, when we wanted to create a bike, which would be ultimate fun on bumpy small roads…” [Link]

tddmI was recently reading an article by Brett Smith about a documentary on American dirt legend John Penton which included the line: ‘… studying his life will offer one key lesson: make your bike into what you need it to be…’

With something like that in mind, a couple of months ago I got myself a cheap TDM900 with a view to adapting it into a gravel and travel bike with my usual low-tech and inexpensive tricks. The word out there was that TDMs were a much under-rated road bikes, one of the many ‘sleepers’ which meet with high approval from actual owners but slip under the radar with most of the conservative buying public and performance-obsessed mags. ‘Only 86.2hp @ 7500rpm’  they scoff. Clearly not worth getting out of bed for then.

sweMine came with hand guards, hot grips plus a tall screen (√, √  and √) but also an ugly Givi clip-on top box and an annoying Datatool alarm which was as old as the bike and playing up. It cost me sixty quid to get it professionally extracted. DIY is not so easy but I made some back selling the reprogrammable key fobs.

Action with the project was initially slow, partly because with 50k on the clock, I wanted to ride it around a bit first to make sure everything went up and down and round and round like it should. I don’t recall ever owning a bike with such a high mileage but the word was that, especially with the low-stressed 900 motor and providing it had been looked after, there were at least as many miles and another decade left in it.

Another cause for hesitation was that in establishing the Yam was in surprisingly great shape, I discovered it was actually a very nice handling road bike of the kind I don’t recall ever owning. Is it the ‘small’ wide wheels; low-profile rubber; relative lowness; a Fibonacci-like trail/rake/fork angle combo? Who knows, but for a heavy bike it dropped into bends with no bar input required. Throttle and clutch were light and the gearbox was snickety-snick. Only the suspension felt a bit harsh on the knackered suburban roads round here, but had plenty of settings to meddle with.

yamaha-xtz-750Looking on the web it’s no surprise to find I’m not the first person to want to adapt their TDM into more of an all-roader (see gallery bottom of the page). After all, Yamaha’s TDM evolved from the original late 1980s, 21/17 wheeled 750 Super Tenere (left) which at  200-kilos and with a 26-litre tank was inspired by the Sonauto YZE 750T Paris-Dakar bikes (below).

Peterhansel in the ’89 Dak and quite possibly in the Tenere desert. Who wouldn’t want something like that in the garage?

In the early 90s the 750 Super Tenere was transformed into the TDM 850 (below left, in red), taking a regrettably big step away from the 75o’s desert racing aspirations towards what I suppose what they call sports tourers. It’s said the 850 was a solid hit in Europe and Australia, but a flop in the US where the 850 was dropped within a couple of years (quite possibly to the regret of this guy). 

tdm850By the mid-90s we got the MkII 850 with a few improvements, most of which I forget but which included a less lent-forward engine (reducing carb needle wear) and best of all, the crank offset by 90° to give the motor an uneven ‘Ducati’ beat and crossplane power characteristics. This pulse and sound remain one of the TDM’s main attractions, especially once you fit some fruity, free-breathing slip-ons.

In Europe alone over 60,000 850s were sold in the decade before the lighter, alloy-framed and fuel-injected 900 came on the scene in 2002 [good article]. And by all the accounts I scoured (and not least to due to the 850s’ age these days), the 900 seems to be the one to get. It’s still in Yamaha’s line-up today, at least in Australia. In  Europe it looks like the 900 may have been quietly dropped.

aussie yamaha tdmWhat would a TDM need to make it into more of an XTZ750? Would it be worthwhile simply extending the suspension, slapping on a bashplate and fitting some knobbly rubber before shoving it out the hatch over gnarly territory?

Wheels are 17 and 18-inchers but tall-sidewall tyres are an easy way to an inch or so of clearance. Some 4.10 x 18 or 120/90/18 tyres would actually be taller than a 19er and theoretically provide lots of  dirt cushioning for the rims while probably giving less secure roadholding on fast bumpy bends. The two Aussie bikes above left are running high-wall fronts.

tdm-underpipesEngineTDMA more lateral solution to increase clearance was to reroute the under-engine pipes (left). But a quick look proved there was no easy way of bend them round the sump and centre-stand. The whole TDM motor is packed in tight with a 5-litre oil tank jammed between the gearbox and EFI.
tdm-engine-barsOff-the-shelf crash bars do exist (right) and making a home-made bashplate wouldn’t be too hard. My 900 came with a kerb-mashed belly pan which I soon ditched but left the brackets in place for later. As it is, you can ding an exhaust without the sky falling in (plenty of used ones on ebay), but it only takes one rock with a mission to hole the cases, so it does need something down there which takes back the inch of clearance you gain from the high-wall tyres.

‘Better five inches of good, progressive suspension than eight inches of ill-sprung, underdamped movement’ you hear said, but I looked into lengthening it anyway. The back is easily done of course: find a used shock that’s a tad longer than the R1-type unit, buy an over-length aftermarket unit, or meddle with the dog bones.

forksliponsOn the front I had the idea of ‘fork extenders‘ before I realised they actually existed. Seems they’re a bodger’s hangover from the twilight years of the 70s chopper craze. You get either slip-on sleeves (far left) or screw-ins (left) to give your USU fork a few extra inches. You then either fill out the slack spring  with spacers (chopped off ‘bar ends between coins we used to use) or splash out on longer progressives.
Some claim these extenders were outlawed years ago or that they’re dangerous, and even I have to admit that on a hefty gravel roader like a TDM, creaking, wearing slip-ons might eventually strain the lower triple clamps under repeated hard braking. Screw-ons in a modest ≤ two-inches seemed a better solution. This guy on xrv.org got some made for ATs and a mate offered to lathe me a set.
tdm900fork-DIMSOne problem with the TDM forks was it wasn’t simply a matter of packing out or slipping in longer springs – the fork damper adjustment rods running down from the fork caps (top left) would need extending too.

Thant’s not too hard but it was all getting a little more complicated and pricey for my low-tech, low-budget resolve. The next step was to track down a longer used forks off something else. The TDM runs 43-mm tubes and the slider tubes are 621mm long. First I wondered about simply buying a same-diameter but slightly longer set of replacement fork tubes off tube makers Tarozzi, but wasn’t sure if the milled fork tube ends differed from bike to bike. Probably, so then with the help of this handy Tarozzi fork tube length / diametre webpage I found that the twin-disc forks off an XT660Z Tenere came closest with  an additional 90mm (3.5″) of exposed slider compared to the TDM. Like I said I wouldn’t want anything more than a two-inch rise which would leave 1.4 inches sticking out on top  so it might have needed bar risers. I soon found a near-new pair of used 660 Paiolis.


And that’s about as far as I got with the TDM Super Tenere project. The acquisition of the longer forks required a call to action, including a suitable wheel; a spoked wheel on a Tenere hub would have been easy enough, though I’d rather stick with native tubeless. But the more I rode the TDM the more I thought this was not some worthless old hack like my GS500R. It seemed a real shame to quite probably snuff out TDMs exceptional road manners by converting it into a top-heavy dirt tank which, without the investment of high-end suspension, would lack any real-world off-road agility. One thing I learned with the GS500R (and the Benele from 1984 come to that, above left) was that it’s easy to make a bike taller to add ground clearance. It’s less easy or more costly to gain good-quality suspension.

TDM overlaid on a XT660Z with key points marked to show just how much higher the XT is.

On top of that I suspected the height difference between footrest and bars was too small for easy standing up (see animated gif left) and a stack of bar-risers to dodge that would create cable-length issues. Plus early on the scales had revealed a rather shocking 230kgs fully fuelled which I wasn’t sure equated with the claimed 190kgs dry (though the handbook claims 221kg wet). And they say the 900 was lighter than the 850.

tdyumI enjoyed tooling around on my mid-winter TDM, but great road bike though it was, I think I’ve become too conditioned to trail bikes: the stance and the impression of go-anywhere agility. I couldn’t see the TDM ever delivering that on jacked-up suspension. Despite its qualities it’s too heavy for my sort of riding which I’m reminded wants a bike that’s <200kg wet.

Below, a few examples pinched from the web of what could have been (mostly from this advrider TDM thread). Some are 850s and some are based on the same-engined, trellis-framed TRM 850 road bike or XTZ750s with TRM / TDM 850 motors.

Meanwhile, I may have a better idea of how to ‘make a bike what I want it to be’.




GS500R – A Ride Across Britain

Index page

Since I rode the GS up to Scotland in June it’s received a few mods and the 700 mile ride back south (right) was a chance to put them to the test. Among other things I’d fitted K60 tyres on Tubliss liners with a splash of Slime. I made the back brake work, nearly finished my piperack, fitted flat track bars and an LED riding lamp.

Setting off for the first 250-mile stage to a mate’s near Stirling west of Edinburgh was a sparkling day (left), but already there were warnings that an incoming storm would wipe any traces of late summer warmth off the face of Britain. Any chance of enjoying a slow ride home would be better compressed into the usual dash. A day after I got back it was another ‘month’s rain in a day’ story we’ve been hearing all summer. Roads I’d ridden hours earlier were closed by flooding or high winds, the trains stopped running to Edinburgh and a coastal town near Aberdeen got caked in wind-borne sea foam (above).

Backing up, the ride over the Cairngorms proved I really should have remembered my Aero Kanetsu electric vest. Running it off the GS’s battery was one reason for fitting the SR-M LED lamp (to reduce the alternator load). Even in the sun the Trail Tech Voyager (to be reviewed) barely reached 9°C, so a hot soup in Aviemore spread a bit of warmth back into the limbs.

Day two was going to have to be a 10-hour, 450-mile haul right through to London if I was to miss the much forecast gales. Even then, I could’t bare the thought of the dreary but functional M6 and M1 motorways, with the statutory pile-up/hold-up somewhere in the Northamptonshire area. Instead, a more interesting line jumped off the map: A7 from Edinburgh to Galashields, hop over to the A68 which led over the border to Darlington, and from there slot onto the A1 to London. The variety made covering the necessary distance satisfying and I knew the run through Northumberland and County Durham would be fun.

The miles piled on and the GS got notably smoother, as engines do. The lightly loaded Magadans sat behind me, tucked well in and attached or resting on the piperack, while the Voyager kept tabs on various aspects of my progress as I rode up some sweepers to the English border strung across the Cheviot Hills (right).

It was a sunny Sunday and there seemed as many road bikes out as cars, but it has to be said cars do get in the way of enjoying a smooth ride, even on a GS500. I must have been stuck behind one of these or eyeing up the Voyager when the A68 took an sneaky right just before Otterburn while I blundered on along the A689 towards Newcastle. Didn’t want to go there so I turned right onto single track farming roads which I knew would lead to the A68 somehow. Without maps or a satnav, the Voyager’s compass proved a handy aid to negotiating the angular byways until I popped out back on track near Corbridge where the weekend throng were enjoying pub lunches. A fill up saw the mpg improve to 62mpg after yesterday’s all time low of 57 (conversion table here).

I was due for a feed myself but wanted to catch up on my error and find an ambient eatery for a quick and casual refill. That turned out to be a Sunday bakery in a place called Tow Law near Consett. Consett I’d heard of – your man Edmund Blackadder (right) was born there, and in 1980 its steel mill – one of the oldest in the country – was not so much closed down as eradicated. The inevitable social consequences became a byword for post-industrial collapse.

Sat at over 1000 feet in the east Pennines, nearby Tow Law was a smaller version of Consett, established after a Victorian era coal rush but now plateauing out following a steep decline at the end of the last century. But it had a Greggs (left) – the first I’d seen in months, so Tow Law is alright by me. Two hot pies, a cream cake and a coffee. I was primed for the next 6 hours.

Soon enough the A68 ran into the A1, the Great North Road built by the Romans. The better part of the day was over now, all that remained was to ride into the rain. That started somewhere in Lincolnshire, a light drizzle that the winds kicked up into a full-on lateral hosing. Like many bikers before and since, I sat on some Armco pulling my Rukka one-piece over my legs and wrapped the top half under the waxed Falstaff which was to be put to the test, along with the Magadans, the Rukka itself, the GS with it’s new K60 tyres and my X-Lite. I was also seeing how neoprene kayaking gloves worked as wet weather gloves (short answer: they don’t).

What rider isn’t familiar with that trance of concentration that envelopes you when riding a busy road in the wet. The bike is humming as you try to maintain momentum while knowing it takes just one slow- or too fast reaction by you or others to become the unwelcome filling in a pile-up sandwich. Meanwhile your gear slowly begins to succumb or resist the 70-mph onslaught. If I was looking at myself behind the cosy flip-flap, flip-flap of some wiper blades I’d be thinking ‘cripes, rather you than me, mate’. The temperature dropped to 6 degrees, not a long way from snow, and the rain washed off the bugs but started running down the inside of the X-Lite’s visor, further reducing visibility while I bored through the spray. It was the autumnal equinox and luckily some sort of daylight shone through the murk. The thin neoprene gloves were proving to be a fast track to rheumatism, but the PVC Rukka lowers and even my old Altberg boots stayed immune. So too were the Magadans it turned out later. The insides got damp (they don’t claim to be waterproof) but barely a drop licked the outside of the thick inner bags. And the K60 tyres never missed a beat on the motorway or while cutting across Sunday night traffic through the middle of London.

Using the Magadans
Although it was only a short ride, I got a bit more of a feel for using the Magadans. The buckle idea I mentioned is definitely the way to go to replace the over-seat velcro. As the bags sag or lift with different payloads you want to make small adjustments and doing that accurately with the double-sided velcro is a pain. With a ‘friction-bar’ buckle (right) a quick tug or release and you’re done.
Opening the bags for access is of course easy but the inner bags are rather stiff when cold and so difficult to roll up and clip while complying with the outer form. But it was a cold day and anyway, the are scores of roll-top dry bags available, either full-size singles, or smaller multiples to help compartmentalise. Though it’s much thinner coated taffeta nylon, Exped make a light blue XXL 40-litre rucksack liner dry bag (left) with taped seams and a white interior. As with the Kriega Overlanders, a white or light colour would make digging around to find stuff a little easier.
I lashed on my sewn on D-rings to  the rack rather crudely and with numb hands had to yank them off when I got home. Once I have the rack finished I’ll be able to make some permanent attachment points on it and figure out a quick clip-on system, probably a smaller, one-inch version of the black clips pictured right.

Not so amazing or surprising, was the Falstaff’s performance. After an hour I could feel the wet against my arms just as I’d done in Spain months earlier, but more so. It was only when I got home that I saw the entire lining bar a small patch on the back (right) was soaked. My wallet and phone in the inside pocket were on the way to saturation. What a shame. Design and construction wise it’s a great bit of kit, but it doesn’t do what it needs to so I won’t be wearing that again.

Still, now I know what works which so far still includes the Suzuki GS-R. I can’t say I notice any negative roadholding or handling issues from what might be seen as a thin rear tyre or indeed running identical tyres front and rear like an old Lambretta. Again I’m surprised how comfortable and endurable long days are on this bike, even in sub-optimal clothing. A big part of it must be the seat which engages well with the corresponding part of my anatomy, but I also wonder if it’s something to do with a modest engine and braking power which puts little stress on the body, while being enough not to feel vulnerable and under pressure in traffic. That was the reason for choosing and adapting an otherwise ordinary machine.

GS500R – rear wheel conversion

Index page

My 2004 GS runs a 2000 DR650 hub, rotor, calliper and just lately, a DR slave cylinder too, all fitted to a 19-inch Excel rim in the original swing arm. My non-bikey mechanic mate did the job, taking some suggestions from me.

The DR650 spindle is thicker than the GS so the swing arm slots and the spacers inside them were enlarged to take the DR size and a high tensile bolt was used. Can’t recall if this was because a used DR spindle was hard to find, a new one too expensive or the DR axle was just the wrong length so using a bolt was easier.

We considered lengthening the swing arm – apparently a DR650 will slot into the frame but is said to be rather long. Plus I thought the stresses on the already jacked up OE linkage with the SV650 shock might get too much and extending the GS5 swing arm a bit risky. But as it is, the bike handles normally within its limits. I can’t see myself skimming over the dune tops or powersliding like Gaston Rahier on his Marlboro BM.

As for spacers and alignment of chain and rotor, we focussed on getting the chain lined up first (the new rim was offset to fit, I recall) and sorted the rotor after. From the picture left, it looks like the OS DR spacers or a very similar tube spacer were used with just a couple of washers between the calliper and the swing arm to fill out, so it was a pretty close fit.

A custom sprocket was ordered to fit the DR’s sprocket carrier with a guesstimate that 42T (rather than OE 44) with the OE 16T would make the gearing near identical to the original GS500 but now with a 19-inch wheel; the guess proved spot on. The same chain is used with no length changes, but with a couple of extra links I could run the wheel at up to 1.5 inches further back to lengthen the wheelbase which is currently about 58” (as short as possible on the swing arm slots – original is 55.5″) and feels fine. There are no chain tensioners needed, but an idler might be an idea to stop the lower run rubbing on the pad which makes a bit of noise.

The OE GS slave cylinder didn’t work well with the DR rear calliper – mismatched hydraulic ratios meant weak braking, or so I thought. I eventually fitted a DR slave cylinder and rear braking improved to the point of being able to lock the wheel, but still requires a long throw of the pedal, even after replacing the linkage with a slightly longer item made from a bit of 3/4 inch tube (below right). I then found an image of a DR rear slave set up and the DR pedal pushes directly  up on the vertical cylinder, not leaning over at 45° like mine which effectively lengthens from the throw. The GS brake pedal mounting splines are rather coarse so moving it around one notch didn’t work either. Alignment of the DR slave on the GS mounts is a bit tight anyway as it is now, but now I know the brake is working better than it was, an adaptor plate can be made to verticalise the slave cylinder so hopefully making a shorter throw and snappier brake.

Building a rack – 2 of 3

Building a rack – Part 1 is here

Some 30 years ago, when it came to making a rack for my first Sahara bike, the design was fairly obvious: a platform (left).

Even though I’d been riding for a few years with fiberglass or PVC/cardboard panniers bolted or hung to side racks, or more commonly just a big top box on the back, when it came to carrying a big load to the desert, a platform was the way to go.

The execution using Dexion shelving was lame, although to be fair that slack-rack did carry the load (radically reduced once on the road, like every first-timer before and since…). And it did finish the trip, probably because there was so much flex, it was unable to summon up the tension to snap. The ‘L’ platform element was bolted onto a Craven rack – the ‘Jesse Luggage’ of its day, with plywood planks screwed on top.

Platform racks have been around for years of course, among other places used on ex-army BSAs from the 50s and 60s, like the one pictured right.

I’ve always like the principle there but these tinny, hinged trays were designed to take a specific, army issue pannier and then swivel up out of the way when not in use. It’s a logical and effective form of support, but this ‘one rack fits one box’ makes them of limited use. To me the benefits of a platform rack – hinged or fixed – is that within limits you can securely load anything on there; box, bag, sickly calf, bulging sack, but to do that the support arms would get in the way.

Same goes for this solid version on the right, spotted at a rally year ago (notice the nifty mini-inner platforms – just spotted those). A great placement for a certain sized box which would need next to nothing to keep it located in the tray, but although I’ve run racks in the Sahara very similar to that in the past (but using soft bags, below left) nowadays you can’t help worrying about that hard front edge on your legs. That never occurred to me until Desert Riders when we had big metal boxes behind us to remind you how they might hurt. It makes you think that that this formerly unremarked-upon anxiety becomes almost like an urban myth, a bit like the lethal risks of sealing spoked rims to run tubeless (don’t start me on that).

I suppose the reason platforms are not used these days is that they’re perceived to get in the way of the legs when not in use, though I must say on my ’82 Sahara trip on which I fell off and paddled in soft sand plenty of times, that never was an issue. Twenty years later on Desert Riders using alloy TT Zega boxes it certainly was when riding tough terrain off piste. When overlanding your gear is on there all the time and so a fixed platform rack is no different from the angular edge of a Zega box, except when it comes to removing baggage and wheeling a bike onto a building for safe keeping. Above left, Sean F made a neat job of limiting any shin-snapping risk with his ‘back bevelled’ fixed platform rack for his soft-bagged DR650. See his website for more images.

That’s a great idea for a rack, but lacking such welding skills or gear, another way of doing it could be to buy a pack frame off ebay for a few quid (left). I thought about that but in the end decided that the time spent in chopping off and plugging the unneeded sections plus adapting it to fit the flat side of a bike would not be worthwhile. As a load carrier it’s more suited to its intended purpose of portaging a radio on a soldier’s back.

Of course when you’re using a rigid container like an alloy box there’s no need to have a  full-width platform as above; an inch-wide lip of steel will support a metal box, as it did on our Desert Riders XRL racks (right) made by Overland Solutions. The quality and finish were superb, but that rack was an overweight solution – a common flaw in rudimentary engineering when slapping metal over


metal in search of strength but actually blinding the function adding damaging weight. We did carry very heavy loads at times (left), but two of the XRLs cracked their subframes.

I’d like to make a platform rack like Sean’s, but with a hinged element so as to carry anything that will fit on. The problem with this is that hinging without using the interfering suspended side struts of the ‘BSA’ racks (right) requires some sort of unsupported platform or cantilever. As always, you must imagine how such a rack will react when it slides down the road or endures corrugated tracks. with maximum loads

There are various ways of arranging this cantilever, but the only one I’ve seen so far was on these Chinese 125s (left) pictured in Angola on someone’s blog who’s name I’m sorry to say escapes me. The pivot is inboard of a shallow ‘L’ bar on which it rests when deployed. Providing all elements are chunky enough, the high leverage on the pivot and load on the bar can be met. A wider ‘L’ bar means less load on the pivot but you don’t want the fixed part too wide.

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

And here is another hinged plat-back made for this lightweight utility bike by Italian custom bike maker, Borile. Like the Angolan rack, when deployed as a platform it’s a bit on the wide side for overlanding duties rather than transporting your goods to market, but the principle is Angolan and on the right path for what I have in mind.

Introducing the Pipe Rack I don’t think one could describe my Suzuki’s chassis (right) as something that Brunel would have tipped his hat to. Thin bits of box section glued together with spit and stamped bits of plate. You get what you pay for and GS500s are not to be mistaken with the GSXR pocket rockets. The GS500 is more of a pocket.

Anything too clever or hefty, like the OS XRL rack above, 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 (left). I may get round to doing that.

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 on for a split second: 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 (right; £15 from Adv Spec) gave me the idea to make my own from a bit of 2 by 4 ally channel. On top of that screwed a layer of plywood on which rests the pannier. rkg-exclampThe 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 plan to add  a support from the silencer’s snout to the subframe (or the rest of the rack when complete), using a 2 1/2 inch exhaust clamp 9right).

Weighing in at about a kilo and costing £15 for the alloy and a quid for a pair of hose clips, it didn’t take long to drill, screw and hammer the pipe rack into place.

Narrowing it down I want my luggage to be as slim as possible, a far cry from the BMW with Monsoons on a M Mule rack set up I used earlier in the year (right), and many similar set-ups you’ll see around. The GS is a slim bike as it is, so if there’s no need for excessive width, why put up with it?

As mentioned, the silencer was lowered to hang/mount the bags low too, but the side panels (or whatever you’d call them) spoiled the party by bulging out needlessly (left, on the left).

In the end the simplest solution was to just saw the width out of them, so gaining at least 2 inches of slimness each side. The back light cowling wants to be kept, so the excised side section will be replaced by a bit of flat plastic (£5 flower trays off amazon, right). Unfortunately, being a pillock, I mistakenly drew two right-hand panels off my cardboard template, noticed it just in time and redrew a left side one – but then forgot to follow that outline in the thrill of angle grinding the plastic. Well, it’s another fiver. I did the rounds already looking for plastic flotsam on nearby shores.

Now, the pillion peg mounts stick out so they’ve been ground off to maintain the slim profile. The platforms can act as pillion footboards, when needed and the sawn off mounts have been drilled to take the front mounts of the rack

The mini H&B back rack got removed to get to the side panels/cowling (all one part of plastic) and I wondered if it was even worth refitting it. I’d like a wide sheep rack similar to that pictured right. Cycleracks sent me one years ago, but it seems Customs took a dislike to it so it got sent back before I got it. There’s a lot to be said for a good wide platform on the back, whether you use soft, firm or hard luggage. if nothing else it’s a handy thing to grab as you pull you bike out of a Vietnamese paddy field, or with a partial flat board, to use as a table if you’re lacking metal boxes.

Half Pipe
Were the GS a twin low-pipe bike like a Bonneville, I’d get away with the same pipe rack arrangement on the other side, but it isn’t so a proper rack has to be devised, probably with a hinged platform based on the Angolan model pictured above. More about that in part 3 of the thrilling series: ‘Building a rack’.pipe-2

Shopping with the Magadans

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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.

endostrapThe 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 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.

P1060310As 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.

P1060338I 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.

rodneyBy 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.

gmapFive 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.