Suzuki GS1000G: Spannerman’s Staff Bike

Date 25.10.2011

Presented by
  • Motorcycle Trader

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Suzuki GS1000G

Life progressed in 1981. The first space shuttle, Columbia, was launched; Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer were married; Muhammad Ali retired from the boxing ring after 55 wins and five defeats; AIDS was identified; Britney Spears was born and Malcolm Fraser was Prime Minister of Australia.

Somewhere in New South Wales, a Suzuki GS1000G was pre-delivered and sold to a NSW rider who had read in the popular bike media that his mount was officially the world’s best shaft-drive touring bike.

It was a tough field. There were eight Japanese competitors and a handful of Europeans. If you wanted a shaftie, you could select from Honda’s CX500 and its early GL1000. Yamaha had its XJ650 and XJ750 fours and its XS750 and XS850 triples. It also had its Castrol 6-hour winning XS1100. Kawasaki had its massive Z1300 six and a Z1000 four. European shafties included Moto Guzzi models, MV Agustas and, of course, BMWs.

You could even buy an 850 version of the GS1000G, which was the basis of the GS1000G project. The 850 bottom end was modified to accept a longer-stroke crank and mated to the established cylinders, pistons and head of the GS1000 sportsbike. The result was a strong, reliable engine in a chassis that capitalised on the handling breakthrough of the 1977 Suzuki GS750 – arguably the first Japanese-manufactured bike with road manners comparable with the Europeans.

Australia’s motorcycle magazines queued up to test the GS1000G against its most obvious competitor and the conclusion to Col Miller’s Two Wheels article in the September 1981 issue was typical.

“We honestly feel the 1000G is the best one- or two-up tourer on the market, regardless of price. If you think we’re pointing at BMW with that comment, you’re damn right!”

The provenance of the GS1000G in the private Spannerman shed isn’t well-documented.

Its previous owner was MT’s Guy Allen and, between us, we’ve owned five of the models. My previous GS1000G was used as a commuter, road racer, workshop hack and lender until, after 400,000km, I realised there wasn’t much left on it worth saving. I valued it highly enough, though, to want another and took advantage of one of Allen’s regular shed shuffles to acquire the bike he’d named ‘Gerald’.

Guido bought it originally because the Lemmings MC had been on a weekend ‘with partner’ ride while I had my old GS and he realised that while everyone else’s kit owed them $20,000 or so (he had a Valkyrie), I got there at the same time they did, my wife was more comfortable and the GS only owed me a thousand bucks or so.

He complained about this in one of his columns and a bloke named Mick rang him from Orange with an example for sale for $1150. Actually, Guido isn’t sure now if Mick was from Orange or if the bike was orange. He remembers the year, though – 2000.

Gerald went to Staffords Motorcycles in Melbourne for a refresh and was then repainted silver and fitted with a Givi topbox. I acquired it eventually for a mates-rates price of $1500. Since then it’s spent time as an interstate ride and commuter for one of my kids in Sydney and doing for me pretty much what my old GS did but with a (relatively) fresher engine.

So what’s the attraction? To be in pretty much daily use it has to be one thing above all: comfortable. It’s still the most comfortable bike I’ve ever owned. This is partly to do with the big seat but mostly it’s about the riding position. It’s classic sportstourer and for my 188cm
(6ft 2in) frame, the bar/’pegs relationship is perfect. Because it’s from the era where exhausts ran low and parallel to the road, it’s also hyper-comfortable for the pillion passenger with no gymnastics necessary for them to get their feet on the pillion ‘pegs.

It also has to be reliable and impervious to the pain of having a variety of riders. It’s outstanding in this area too, with no obvious engineering faults. Gerald has probably done about 140,000km with the original top end although it’s been apart twice in an attempt to cure oil leaks, once from the head gasket and once from the base gasket. It doesn’t blow smoke still but, like many air-cooled engines of its generation, it uses a bit of oil – probably half a litre per 1000km.

Part of the secret of its success is a pressed up, roller-bearing bottom end. Its competitors used solid cranks with shell bearings. The bottom end of the GS is pretty much indestructible, which is why you see a disproportionate number of old Suzukis still on the road.

Despite being 30 years old now, it’s no slouch. In its day it was good for 12-second standing 400m times and had a claimed top speed of 217km/h. The cruelty of trying to recreate these figures now prevents me from confirming them, but it’s still faster away from the lights than all cars and I’ve seen 190km/h on the speedo. It’s particularly strong in the 70 to 150km/h range with plenty of grunt available in fifth gear, making it an easy bike to ride long distances.

Gerald has had the advantage of regular servicing (at least after Guido acquired it) but general maintenance holds no fears for the mechanically-minded. The shaft drive just requires a change of oil every year, as do most of the other fluids. The valve arrangement is shims-over-buckets so valve-clearance checks are relatively simple and access is good. The engine is a strong design and mostly stays in tune by itself. I haven’t had to balance the carbs or replace the camchain while I’ve owned the bike. One of the internet sites that supports the GS series engines, GS Resources, says failure of the voltage regulator and stator is more common than it should be but it also specifies the inexpensive fix. Guido is of the view that he had this done at some stage and I’ve never had any problems in this area. In fact, it’s one of the few bikes in the fleet that can be left for three or four weeks and still be expected to start.

So should you buy one? Because they were capable of going to the moon and back, that’s what happened to most of them. As with all things involving friction, they will eventually wear out. A good GS1000G (or the slightly faster GS1100G) will have done modest miles and have a documented history. “Modest” probably means less than 80,000km. Straight, clean and original are the words you’re looking for in the ads.

The GS is a big, heavy bike (around 270kg wet) and isn’t suitable for the weak-hearted. Years of experience have helped devise the best tyre combination: Avon Roadrider on the rear and Metzeler Lasertec on the front. On my last visit to Melbourne’s Pablos Motorcycle Tyres for a new rear, I ran into the Avon rep who has convinced me to try the matching Avon on the front next time I need one. We’ll see.

If you can find a good one, it will be a faithful servant and do for you everything motorcycles are supposed to. Importers are starting to bring them in now from England, where most examples have done far fewer kilometres than the Australian equivalents, although they aren’t cheap. Single-cam Honda 750 fours are now worth around $7000 to $10,000, so the more reliable and more practical GS1000G could be considered a steal for around half the price.

As for Gerald, he’s not for sale and will probably outlive me. When you eventually see the “Spannerman deceased estate auction” ad in MT, ignore the bling bikes and go for the genuine quality…

SPECIFICATIONS

Suzuki GS1000G

ENGINE

Type: 997cc, air-cooled, DOHC, four-valves-per-cylinder, in-line four-cylinder

Bore x stroke: 70mm x 64.8mm

Compression ratio: 9.2:1

Fuel system: 4 x Mikuni carbs

TRANSMISSION

Type: Five-speed, constant mesh

Final drive: Shaft

CHASSIS AND RUNNING GEAR

Frame type: Tubular-steel cradle

Front suspension: Telescopic fork, non-adjustable

Rear suspension: Twin shocks, adjustable for preload

Front brake: Twin discs, single-piston calipers

Rear brake: Single disc, single-piston caliper

DIMENSIONS AND CAPACITIES

Dry weight: 247kg

Seat height: 800mm

Fuel capacity: 22lt

PERFORMANCE

Max power: 66kW (89hp) at 8500rpm

Max torque: 78.5Nm (57.8ft-lb) at 7500rpm