1979 GS550E review

by Shamin Mohamed

Bike: 1979 Suzuki GS550E (standard)

Specifications: Transverse inline 4-cyl. 4-stroke; 549 cc, air-cooled, chain drive

Description: Standard UJM in classic black, no fairings. Has front and back disk brakes, non-vented, non-drilled. Cast wheels. 6-speed gearbox. Tach, speedo, odo, tripmeter, oil light, gear indicator.

Pricing: Decent ones can be obtained for $500 - $900 depending on condition. I paid $750 for a bike in excellent shape, new shocks and tires. I still see quite a few GS550 models from the late-70s/early-80s.

History: I've had it now for more than 2 years. I've done 105 (DoD nominal) indicated, and seemed it would do more. Comfortable both in the city and on the highway. Gas mileage is between 40 and 60 mpg. I change the oil every 2500 miles, and a tune-up/valve check every 5000.

Modifications: Progressive shocks, ~$80; but I don't know what difference it made. A smaller rear sprocket would be nice - right now it goes into 6th at around 36mph. The stock handlebars were too high, replaced them with flatter bars ($30) which are much more comfortable for me (I'm 5' 11").

Opinion: This is my first bike, and it's cheap enough and reliable enough that I think it's a keeper. I've been on longish trips (200 mi) with ease (especially after I changed the handlebar). It fits me perfectly, and without a fairing the wind at highway speeds does a good job of talking the weight off my arms. Two-up is also fine, I haven't had any complaints. I dropped it quite a few times when I was learning, and is still ok, it's an excellent first bike.

Cautions: Everyone warns about the Suzuki stators. Nothing has happened to this one yet, although it only has 20 000 miles. The paint on the tank faded in the AZ sun. Turn signals are mounted on rigid stalks, so they *will* break if you drop the bike. The gas tank could be a little bigger - I get around 150 miles before hitting reserve, and there's no fuel gauge.