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-   -   Suzuki GS500-based budget overlander (http://www.horizonsunlimited.com/hubb/which-bike/suzuki-gs500-based-budget-overlander-66506)

Chris Scott 30 Sep 2012 15:32

Suzuki GS500-based budget overlander
2 Attachment(s)
Seeing as it's nearly finished and running fine, thought you might like to see my 'GS500R'. Cost ~£2500 all up. More on my www.
GS500 has been around unchanged for years with no big issues, cheap to buy, cheap and plentiful spares, heaps of online info, smoother than a carb single and as economical I’ve found. An SV or XS650 engine would be nicer but it gets you there. Seat is dead comfy too.
Basically a DR650 fork with clamps, an SV650 shock and same size 19-inch Excels on DR hubs front and rear. If you leave the OE 17” on the back the conversion is even easier. Not finished yet, but made my own weld-free rack (in case you can’t tell ;-).
Can’t see me getting a 21” travel bike again, unless it was for pure off road.


electric_monk 30 Sep 2012 17:58

Looks neat Chris, but it does seem to be re-inventing the wheel a little bit.

Huan 30 Sep 2012 20:09

I think the Budget part is the key to this conversion, if you consider other twins, like the BMW's then I doubt you'll get one for anything near 2500k all in.

pete3 30 Sep 2012 20:46

Sweet!! I like the homemade touch ....

Chris Scott 30 Sep 2012 21:15


.. it does seem to be re-inventing the wheel...
That's right, except that for my purposes I've managed to make it a little rounder ;-)

barothi 1 Oct 2012 08:23

I think you are on the right path to create a great overlander. I envy you and there is a chance that I will use some of your ideas. I like that front conversion for example.

I put more than 60k miles on mine in four years including a lot of commuting all year round in Ireland and a long trip to Europe and Africa. I didn't make it's life easy, took it off-road and forced it to carry all my belongings for more than a year. It only stopped a few times and always for the same two faults which I then found. The fuel petcock membrane was one. Solved by switching to PRI. The other was an electrical fault in heavy rain. The water got to the ignition coil. Solved with silica gel.
What I didn't like was that the valve clearance service was a PITA and the engine needed fresh oil every 4-6k miles. Also, my bike developed a knocking. It had that from almost "new" (I bought it with less than 7k miles) and it became very bad lately. There is more than 2mm play in the intake camshaft.
If you manage to keep the revs under 6k and change oil often the engine will last a long time. There is not much to go wrong on it. The carbs are perfect, I never opened mine and I wouldn't touch them.
Also, I guess I don't have to tell you but be careful with the exhaust retaining bolts and the oil filter housing bolts. They are made out of cheese.

What I think you may have problem with longer term is the clutch and the chain. If you put that 19" wheel on the back, the bike will struggle. I used a 130/80/17 rear tyre for a while and even the small increase in tyre diameter made it difficult to climb some hills. Did you compensate with different sprockets? How is steering with that rear wheel? Would a 17 or 18 not be better?

Here is my beauty:

Chris Scott 1 Oct 2012 10:50

Nice-looking mule. Point me to more pix and why not do a trip report here.

I've heard about the petcock problem though not had any. Looks like an unnecessarily complicated design for a carb-engine, with people talking about getting in the muddle with all the pipes when reassembling. I've half a mind to fit a basic 80s-era tap with a simple ON-OFF-RES and one pipe coming out. Why have anything else?

Came down from Scotland last weekend which became lashing rain and didn't miss a beat. I did give it a spray a few days earlier and the slightly longer DR mudguard may help. I think many front guards on modern bikes are too skimpy - 'function following form'. I intend to extend it still further with an inner-tube mudflap off the back.

Can't hear any knocking on mine - bought around 11 - now 13k but thanks for the oil change tip. I think along with gradual warming up on cold days, that's the best longevity insurance you can do to any engine - especially air-cooled. I suppose you head may be knackered but I'd expect that from a 60k-old GS engine.

Yes, there are a lot of dairy-based fittings - it is from the 'monkey metal' era after all and worse still - a Suzuki! Most have been replaced with Allens.

We modified the gearing as the motor has little low end grunt as it is, and our back-of-a-fag-packet guess at 42T (OE 44) was spot on, ie: same as standard. Front remains 16T, so scope for a 14 or 15 for gnarly stages.


Would a 17 or 18 not be better?
I specifically wanted to experiment with identical but bigger wheels. Maybe it's getting better as wealth spreads but 17s are hard to find out in the AMZ. 18s and 19s (in Asia) much easier. Also, my rationale was to carry one spare to fit both ends, and with the current Heidenaus I suspect that would give an OTT range of 25-30,000 miles while still benefitting from some dirt road bite. I've found 19 front an optimal size for dirt and road (conclusion from riding a BM '650' twin in Morocco last March - a great overlander, IMO, but £7-8k's worth...) so the back followed. Eighteen all round would have been the best for tyre availability but I like the 19" flat track look ;-)

No moto I know runs identical tyres, possibly some bikes from the 1930s and 40s? and I'm pretty sure Vespa-like scooters do. So do pushbikes and of course cars, so I concluded it's mostly to do with looks, low seat height or of course laying down 180hp between speed cams. GS is immune to these factors.
Same size clearly simplifies things on the road and I have to say that within the limits of what you can do on a GS5, I notice no difference in handling or roadholding with what would seem to appear a skinny back tyre.

barothi 1 Oct 2012 11:55

I have a few more pics and videos here: Flickr: RandomWay's Photostream zoltan's | Slow-paced motorcycle travel and art blog by Zoltan Barothi – a travel from Ireland to Japan and http://www.youtube.com/barothi

How do you manage off-road with the standard GS footrests? Are you not cramped on it?

Will you put a sump guard on the machine? And an oil cooler?

Chris Scott 1 Oct 2012 17:54

Looks like you had a nice relaxed tour. Nice basket rack too.

Originally I thought the pegs where too high even for road riding + my height, but I've got used to them. I can rest a leg on the engine bars when I need a stretch.
Haven't done long dirt road miles yet but to stand up is all wrong; higher bars still way too low, pegs way high. It was similar with the BMW in March - on that I just sat down most of the time and stood up only on reflex to regain control. I expect to do the same with the GS.

Not planning on a sump guard as it's too fiddly to do a proper, frame-supported job. I may hose-clip a plate onto the under-engine pipes to reduce denting or just ride slowly - that worked on the BM which has similar dirt road ability.

I used to do it to my desert bikes but do wonder how effective oil coolers actually are on regular road bikes (as opposed to racers) once the ambient temp is baking. Plus I'd guess a low comp/low power GS doesn't make much engine heat anyway.
I'd say much more useful on any air-cooled overland bike travelling to hot places is some kind of engine temp sensor so you know what's normal value and can see if it's exceeding it. I have a trail tech computer on the GS which among many other things reads temp off the spark plug - 145°C seems normal when road riding in the UK. I'd keep an eye in that on a very hot day, just a you'd watch a water temp gauge and adapt riding/speed as needed. Plus frequent oil changes as you say.


Kaos 11 Nov 2012 00:19

Having run an ex riding school GS500 for a few years there's a few things I'd suggest:

Keep an eye on the valve clearances, I usually needed to change a shim every 4000 miles or so. I ended up buying them new because the cost was about the same as a bus ticket plus shim exchange fee, plus I got a spare shim left over. I always checked cylinder head nut torque at the same time and never had head gasket trouble as so many other people on the web seem to have had.

The connections on the starter relay are prone to corrosion, and all electrical power to the bike passes through these. If you start getting charging faults this is the first thing to check. Keep ignition components clean otherwise wet weather results in tracking.

General build quality isn't great, most things corrode like mad. Fasteners into alloy components sometimes trouble even well below specified torque (I found 'feel' much more reliable for quite a few things).

Front wheel bearings on standard wheels prone to letting water in, life expectancy not great. Hopefully yours are better in this regard.

I used NGK DPR9EA-9 plugs, a grade colder than standard - the 8 heat range came out borderline overheated.

My example had a knock all the time I had it, which turned out to be a fault in the balancer shaft assembly, where the shaft is keyed to the drive gear. I reckon had I carried on using it the key would have sheared within a few weeks, which would have resulted in the balancer and crankshaft clouting each other. But it went on for about 33000 miles in my care, gradually getting worse until it sounded really sick. Knowing how bad they can be and carry on though it wouldn't worry me unduly.

After 55000 hard miles the bores were as good as unworn and with a new set of bearing shells in the bottom end, a fresh cam chain with guide blades and tensioner and another balancer shaft I reckon it could have happily done that again.

Considering the life it led I think the bike did well. I'm considering another once I gain useful employment. Given reasonable maintenance they're good bikes, cope well with being ridden hard, bounce fairly well and are cheap to run (70+mpg on road ridden sensibly). Plus they're pretty simple to work on. As you've done more riding and maintenance than I have I would think it'll do you proud.

floyd 21 Nov 2012 17:15

Sorry Chris BUT
tbh i cant see the point.
Why not just buy a Kwacker kle500?
Because basically thats similar spec.
And you get a bash plate lol.
£2500 cheap!
You can buy a good kle for £1500.
£1000 in your pocket for travelling.
Not knocking your special

Chris Scott 21 Nov 2012 17:38


Why not just buy a Kwacker kle500?
I'm sure I investigated them as well as CB500s - but compared to the ubiquitous GS and CB, the Kawa's reputation sounded terrible + has odd wheel sizes. Not sure I've ever even seen one.

Plus, all my biking years I've pined after a GS5 and saw my big chance - I just couldn't resist it ;-)

I do miss a bash plate though, but that's easily done.


floyd 21 Nov 2012 17:49

The kle had the venerable gpz500 lump detuned. This was said to be half a gpz100 lol. They should run to 60k with regular oil changes and perhaps a camchain.
As for always having a hankering for a gs500!!!!!! You need to get out more lol..
There is a kle on Adventure bike firum for £1395. 02 i think with 23k on the clocks
Nice to have a project though.
Anyways who the eck an i to advise a travelling hero!!

Chris Scott 21 Nov 2012 18:08


Nice to have a project though.
An 02 KLE with 23k would be a project all right!


floyd 21 Nov 2012 18:40

Just an example.
Jump on and go
No flffing about:scooter:

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