Reliable and cheap to run, the Suzuki GS500 offers many novice bikers’ an entry into the big-bike sector, writes CARtoday.com correspondent Patrick van Sleight.

Reliable and cheap to run, the Suzuki GS500 offers many novice bikers’ an entry into the big-bike sector, writes CARtoday.com correspondent Patrick van Sleight.


We see them daily, purring around the city with their load-boxes liveried in the names and colours of businesses of all types. They are the back-bone of the local delivery sector.


And it is easy to see why. Cheap (for Suzuki to manufacture, and for the customer to buy and run), reliable, yet big and powerful enough to cover long distances. The air-cooled twin is a model of simplicity. You can change the sparkplugs in your sleep!


An engine configuration that was once the preserve of the British performance bike makers, Suzuki’s parallel-twin dates from the late ‘Seventies. It started life as the GS400, and ended as the 450 in the mid-eighties. Suzuki revived the twin as a 500cc in 1989 to fill a gap in the “cheap and cheerful” market.


Affordability is obviously the GS500’s key attraction; especially second-hand. New the bike cost about R46 000, but that is the price of a decent second-hand superbike, tourer or trailie. Thus few people buy them new. Instead, they mostly get picked up as sell-offs when delivery companies upgrade. And for between R8 000 to R12 000 for a 1989 example, you can end up with a very decent machine.



It has a big-bike feel to it. This might sound hard to believe, but in a world of Ducati 916s, Fireblades and R1s, there are those of us whose dream bike was a GS500 at some point and - get this – weren’t disappointed by the experience of owning it.


The GS500 is also a rather good-looking bike. In fact, it looks very modern with that twin-beam steel frame, single rear-shock and decent sized rear tyre. Not being a grey-import means spares and part availability is never an issue. And good second-hand models are cheaper than the average grey-import.


It has good, sprightly handling (if a bit top-heavy), with decent performance. The GS actually has more torque than the average 400cc race-replica; produced low in the rev-range, it makes quick get-aways very easy.


And that is what swayed it for many of us. We were all impressed by that sudden, deep, yet unassuming roar as it shoots past you on the highway, seemingly coming out of nowhere. This is a bike that makes being quick look effortless, as long as you keep the revs in the very accessible powerband.


Overseas bike magazines criticise the GS500 for its basic suspension, brakes, and poor quality. But the GS500 gets the job done… It takes care of you and has no pretences.


Its competitors include the Honda CB500 and Kawasaki ER500. They are all a bit faster, more powerful and of better build quality, but more expensive and therefore not quite as common.