Saturday, October 24, 2009

In Praise of the Suzuki GR650 - a review

Fee and my ownership of the Suzuki GR650 is coming to an end. So it's time to write a review, or perhaps it's an elegy, because I'm sad to see the bike leave.

The GR is actually Fee's bike. When she was riding more than she does now, her Yamaha SR185 began to frustrate her for lack of power. I encouraged her to buy something before new learner laws came into effect allowing bigger bikes, which would raise their prices. Fee wanted a Yamaha XS750 because of a rather beautiful example she found on the net, without realising how big and heavy they are. I also know just how painful a 30 year old three or four cylinder bike can be. If you want to buy an old bike, buy a single or twin because something will need servicing or replacing at some point, and two carburettur rebuilds are cheaper than four. One cylinder hone is cheaper than three. So I encouraged Fee to look at this GR650 which I found for sale, advertised in the wrong section in eBay.

At the inspection Fee loved the bike, as did I. It blew a puff of smoke on start-up but none thereafter. It had power, but not too much - it was essentially sedate and comfortable, but would give you an adrenalin hit if you twisted the throttle accordingly. At which point it had a fiery sports rev, like an old Bonneville. Before it was registered (or insured), and before she had an open license for it, Fee would ride it late at night, burning off other bikes, and shouting as she did, "I love this bike!"

Some people criticise its looks, but I've always loved GR650s. They remind me of a Triumph Hurricane.

I fitted high cruiser bars and the bike looked and felt great. Frankly, given that it was the 80s and Suzuki were trying to sell the bike to contemporary tastes, I reckon they got things pretty right.

Our GR's after-market Staintune exhausts sound great. I once went to pick it up from Peter Stevens, in their boomey concrete workshop, and the mechanic started it out of view. I thought somebody else had started up a Harley, and was very pleased to see it was my own bike making that sound. It has got an off-beat low rumble. Riding this bike again after buying the Hornet I feel a little sad - it feels so comfortable at the speed limit, it feels good to hear and feel the engine combustion rather than that four cylinder hum. The riding position is upright and arm-chair like. It makes you cruise, and feel cruisie.

The GR650 has a dual-mass flywheel. Centrifugal forces disengage the heavier part at 3000rpm. On a warm engine you can idle in first and, with no hand on the throttle, smoothly release the clutch and not only will the bike not stall, it will smoothly pull you along down the road! With not the slightest throttle, snatch, or hint of stalling!

The fellow we bought the bike off included a history of it written by Derek, the previous owner. Then I joined the SR500 Club and met Derek! He recognised the bike straight off. Derek's an ex-mechanic and had the engine apart, simply for the sake of being a mechanical perfectionist. He said it was perfect and would see many more miles. The only problem was that he used the old valve seals, which meant they now leaked slightly, meaning smoke on start up in the morning. I was already aware of this, and suspected the cause which he confirmed, but it was good to hear that it was nothing more and that the GR would run for years. I had taken it on as my daily commuter - the SR just became too hard - and as a touring bike. Fee was riding it less and less and I was loving it! I was intending to buy a touring bike but we agreed we'd just share the GR.

The bike does highways well. At first I thought it strained, but I got used to it; it revs at about 4000rpm, and I think a bike should rev at 3500rpm on the highway (almost no bikes do! The Hornet does 5000rpm!). It could do with a sixth gear though Derek fitted a bigger front sprocket which lowers the revs a sufficiently. I've ridden the GR on some very long days in the last six months. It is a great bike. I find the seat a bit small, too far forward - or rather, on a long ride I like to slide back now and then. Also the foam is couch-like around town, but to soft for a ten hour day - you need something stiff for good muscle support on long rides. I was going to rebuild the seat but that's un-necessary now. Fee found it fine, except that she wanted a lower seat, so we bought another off eBay which has the foam scooped out as low as possible, and she was very happy with that. This seat purchase was preceded by her parking the bike badly in the city, so that she had to mount it and pull it backwards, which was too much for her. She had the bike running, with its tough growl and rumble, and each time she pulled backwards she unintentionally pulled the throttle, so that a crowd stared at the revving bikey and, with heads full of bikey stereotypes, heard her rev again and cry out: "This bike's too big for me! THIS BIKE'S TOO BIG FOR ME!" The seat fixed the bike problem, but I suspect their stereotyping was shattered!

In the last few months I've taken to riding the bike on dirt roads. Not muddy scrambling, just gentle meandering such as you see on this blog. The bike does this really well, because it is so sure of itself at very slow speed, and because of its big front wheel, and because of its upright riding position. This is probably why the army bought up most of these - it's a great all-rounder. I had thought of buying a dual-purpose bike, a KLR650 or KLE500, but decided the GR is a bike with as much capability and much better looks.

The bike has been trouble-free until. It needs some skillful choke on cold winter mornings as it's tuned lean from the factory (for fuel-efficiency; and yes, it's very efficient). When I say trouble-free, I am referring to daily commuting (my only transport for two years, besides the SR500) and big rides on the weekend. Like every bike I've ever owned it leaks some oil but it's not at all serious - if you're going to buy an old air-cooled bike then expect, and ignore, oil leaks, just so long as they're not from the head gasket or extreme in some way. The only trouble from this bike is lean running on a recent tour into the Mallee, and stalling on my last commute. I found the vacuum hose at the carb was cracked, fixed it, and the bike has run fine on my odd joyrides and summer night freeway cruises since.

The plan was to keep this bike for another two years (paying off another loan) and then get a Harley Sportster, but if you've read my "New Bike" post, you'll know that I was made an offer I couldn't refuse! So I bought a Honda Hornet and the GR has to go, to fund about a third of the wedding of Fee and I. But I'm turned on now to in-line-twin cruisers. The GR was a great all-rounder bike and, as you can see from other posts on here, I'll miss it. If we could afford it, I'd certainly keep it.

Here are some reviews from the day


  1. I have same lams bikes at my home.Me and my dad go for a ride whenever I come back to home.Even I find lam bikes have more advantages and they have more capability than other bikes with extraordinary powers.

  2. what a great bike....I have a GR650 that i recently sold to someone in QLD....{can you deliver the bike to my sisters in claremont}....sure I said and on route was nearly taken out by a with a damaged taco,front light and scratched up tank. I can't just write it off. But i cannot find the parts. Can anyone help?

  3. Check on gumtree. I just saw someone selling 3 gr650s for 2000 bucks. One working, one nearly working, and the other parts. You'd get three bikes out of that.

  4. i bought a an 83 gr650 last year ,turned it into a rat bike ,cafe racer style .I loved every ride on this bike .it's an unsung hero on two wheels.