An ’82 Suzuki GS1100G Returns to the Road after Decades-Long Slumber

Many motorcyclists dream of collecting a fleet of their favorite bikes, of traveling to interesting, obscure spots, following promising leads and carefully uncovering only the best, most desirable examples. We all want the machines that redefined the industry, revolutionized racing or altered popular culture — the seminal models.

But for most of us, motorcycles are more like pets than art objects. They find us. They turn up on our doorsteps in need of love. A friend tells us about a sad old ride that could use a new home. Sometimes we inherit them from departed relatives.

My black 1982 Suzuki’s story stems from a combination of friend-of-a-friend and willed-by-relatives scenarios. A mechanic acquaintance told me a guy he knew was decluttering and desperate to unload an old motorcycle. He had taken the liberty of mentioning my name and that I might be interested. Some friends know me too well.

“The sooner you can get over there, the better,” he added, as if to suggest the owner might be impatient enough to leave the bike at the curb on trash day later that week. That seemed unlikely but I erred on the side of caution, hitched the trailer and had the dusty machine in my garage that evening. Next came what amounted to a slow, gentle archaeological excavation.

What the bike needed most was at least 100 hours of cleaning, as decades of dirt and the sticky film of neglect covered just about every surface. Underneath it all, the nearly 40-year-old Suzuki looked almost new. But I worried about all of the things I couldn’t see, like inside the engine, the fuel system and electrical parts that hadn’t been energized since who-knows-when.

It can be difficult to tell which is harder on a motorcycle: accumulation of mileage or passage of time. But in this case, with about 2,800 miles on the odometer — which seems two zeros short of what it should be — time is the bigger culprit. The newest inspection sticker on the bike is from 1997 and I can only imagine the condition of fuel sitting in the carburetors since then.

In short, I changed all of the fluids, replaced the tires and found an expert at The Carb Shack to rebuild the four Mikuni carburetors. I also removed all of the touring gear the original owner had installed, including fiberglass saddlebags, chrome luggage rack, a tall backrest for a passenger and long, pullback handlebars. I prefer a clean, stock look with a hint of sportbike so I added a low, narrow tracker bar that sets the rider in a more streamlined crouch.   

So, does it run? Yes it does, and quite well. Fuel mixture is a bit rich but the engine hums smoothly, not too loud, and the overall ride and handling are lovely — a minor miracle for the long-dormant rig. The tachometer needle rises as high as 2,500 revs and hovers there no matter the engine’s actual speed, so I’ll need to look into that, but everything else works.

Visually the ‘82 GS could almost blend in among the many neo-retro models on sale for the 2022 model year, but not quite. The blatantly air-cooled engine blows its cover (almost every bike is liquid-cooled these days). So do the cartoonishly skinny tires and mechanical, analog gauges. There are no exhaust sensors or other electronic engine-control devices in sight either.

Riding the GS1100G reveals much about motorcycle evolution. An advanced design in its day, the bike is clearly a vintage novelty now. It feels old — pleasantly engaging, but old. The engine puts out lots of power but its response to the throttle is soft compared with many modern bikes.

More striking is the difference in braking. The GS’s slotted triple-disc brakes with single-piston calipers, which must have looked grand prix-ready 40 years ago, are effective at stopping the roughly 550-pound ride but utterly lack the urgency of today’s multi-piston setups. And of course, those old-style narrow tires are not helping, so it is almost a night-and-day comparison.

This is a big machine and feels like it. The seat is high, the steering a little heavy and the riding position gives the feeling of crouching atop the bike rather than being wrapped around it. The Suzuki’s size, weight and age also come through in its handling, which is, not surprisingly, relaxed. For that you can thank the 19-inch front wheel and a relatively soft suspension — no matter how you adjust it. With around 90 horsepower you can still get down the road at a seriously quick pace but doing so requires anticipation, finesse and patience.

Despite their apparent shortcomings, older bikes like the Suzuki are wonderful traveling machines as long as riders take the correct approach and have reasonable expectations. They generally are modern enough to be reliable and safe. But the real attraction is in the way they feel — and make the rider feel — on the road. Really, there’s nothing quite like the locomotive pull and authoritative roar the engine produces when you wind it out around sweeping backroad curves. 

I am not impartial as I have a strong affection — affliction, perhaps — for motorcycles from the 1970s and 1980s. To me, taking a trip on one feels like more of an adventure than riding a new bike. In a way it feels like time travel, going back 40 years to when bike manufacturers were waging a horsepower war, rapidly one-upping each other on engine size and overall performance. Design and technology advanced quickly in those years, and the 1982 GS1100G certainly is a milepost on the timeline.

When this bike rolled out of the factory in late 1981, the 1000cc motorcycle engines that seemed huge a year or two earlier were no longer big enough. Soon all of the Big Four Japanese bike makers were selling large roadsters and cruisers with 1100cc four-cylinder engines putting out at least 100 horsepower. 

Today these bikes can seem quaint. When I ride I regularly see new 600cc models that easily outmuscle the big Suzuki. But that doesn’t matter to me because I know, or at least I think, that older bikes are better conversation starters than new ones. I just find them more interesting.

Riders who feel the same way can still find classic rides like this at reasonable prices. If you take your time and put in the legwork needed to find the right bike, you can be on the road right away or after just a bit of work. There are also plenty of neglected bikes out there that require more time, like my Suzuki, if you feel like turning wrenches.

With winter getting close, wouldn’t it be nice to find a project that could be ready to ride on that first warm day of spring?

Watch a video about the Suzuki here.

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