1980 GS450S / 1981 GS450L review

by Alex Matthews

Bike: 1981 GS 450 L (cruiser) and 1980 GS 450 S (sport)

Specifications:  Two-cylinder, air-cooled, four-stroke, two valves per cylinder, shim-over-bucket adjusters. Chain drive.

 (** most of this review is of the L model. Comments on the S model are included where there are significant differences)

Description: Twin-shock rear w/5 preload adjustments, no front suspension adjustments, wheels front/rear 18"/18"(S) and 19"/16"(L), front single-disk single-piston disk brake, rear drum brake weight: About 380 lbs., Gas mileage: 55-70 MPG.

Description: The S and L models, as well as the E (standard) and T (tour) models, all shared the same basic engine and frame layout. Major differences were cosmetic and ergonomic. The S model was Italian red but styled suspiciously like the then-popular BMW R90S, with rounded 1/4 cafe fairing, squarish gas tank, low handlebars, and boat-tail rear bodywork. The black L model was popped from the Japanese cruiser mold, with teardrop tank, apehanger handlebars, stepped bucket seat, and a touch more chrome. Students of oddities will be happy to know about the GS450GA, a shaft-drive, automatic-transmission version of the L model; it was only produced for a few years.

Pricing: L: (new $1849) (used $400-$1000, depending on condition)
S: (new ?) (used $400-$1000, depending on condition)
The popular L model is commonly available; the short-lived S model is rare.

History: I have owned an L model and ridden two S models extensively. I bought the L used at 14k miles and rode it to 30k miles in all conditions. Most of the miles were commutes in all weather, from 10-100 deg F; rain was common and snow occasional. I toured the northeast US and eastern Canada on this bike (~2k miles), and made numerous day- and weekend trips in Maryland and Virginia. The bike had been clumsily tinkered with by its first owner, and possibly abused. I made some modifications to make the bike nicer on the open road.

Maintenance: The now-discontinued Continental TK22/44 tires I installed were perfect for the bike, and still have tread after 16k miles. The engine and carburetors are stone reliable if left stock, and the modified versions I've seen have been temperamental, to say the least. Regular oil changes (Castrol 10W40 is okay, but Golden Spectro 10W40 really quiets things down and smoothes the transmission) help keep the engine quiet and help the rider find neutral more easily. I got about 8k miles from a DID chain and PJ1 Black Label chain lube. It still has the original rear brake pads, and I replaced the stock fronts with EBC pads at 16k miles; the EBC pads require high effort and are dangerously slippery in the wet, but they are only 1/2 worn after 14k miles. The clutch pushrod, shift shaft, and countershaft oil seals only last about 15k miles, and cost about $50 plus labor to replace. The front brake light switch is susceptible to corrosion and arcing and lasts about 20k miles. Fork seals lasted 15k miles but might have lasted longer with better protection from the elements. (Everything applies to the S model, too, except for tires. The Metzeler ME77/77F tires work very well on the S model.)

Modifications: Lower handlebars (Answer Superbike bend, $20) allow more normal seating position. Russell braided-stainless/Teflon brake line ($30) made no noticeable difference. J.C. Whitney generic black cafe fairing ($40) gives good protection from wind and rain, and looks sporty. Shoei wing sport fairing gives okay protection, looks ugly on this bike, and is expensive ($120). Dual Fiamm horns ($30) are a necessity. Eclipse Standard Saddlepacks ($100) make excellent luggage. NEP throttle lock ($10) is a wrist-saver. I lowered the triple clamps on the fork tubes to improve handling and suspension response. (One S model had a Telefix fork brace ($60) which greatly improved chassis rigidity. ProMan rear shocks ($100) made the ride more compliant. A MAC 2-into-1 exhaust system ($150) was a good replacement for a damaged stock unit.)

Opinion: I like these bikes - they're light, reliable, and versatile. The suspensions are pretty basic, though, and aftermarket rear shocks make a big difference, as does a fork brace. Maintenance is easier than on many bikes because of the engine's simplicity. I like the useable power below 5k rpm, and the alternator puts out enough juice for an electric vest. The seating positions are not perfect, but swapping handlebars and modifying seats is relatively easy. Vibration increases linearly with speed, tolerable below 65 mph and vibrating the mirrors above 65. The large front wheel on the L makes for great stability, but requires muscle to turn at super- legal speeds. The seat on the L is thinly-padded, and the passenger perch is awful. I hate having to unbolt the seat just to access the air filter and tank mounting bolt. Parking lot tipovers net some inconsequential scratches on the tailpipe and footpegs.

Cautions: Most '80s-era Suzuki's burn their alternators out eventually - I haven't seen this to be a problem with well-maintained GS450s. S models were often raced - stay away from ones with modified carbs (a clue is if the pilot jet screws are visible; they should be factory sealed). If you ever need to remove one of the engine sidecovers, use an impact driver on the screws - it's too easy to strip their heads.