• 1998 Suzuki GS500E Rider Review

    My first and only bike thus far is a 1998 Suzuki GS500E. The "E" stands for naked
    At the time of writing the review, I have owned it for just under 3 months and put 3,000 miles on it, in heavy traffic for my daily commute though town and on the freeway, and on moderate twisties in the foothills and mountains along the coast of California. It has replaced my car for almost everything; it's been used for camping, grocery shopping, you name it. The short of it, I LOVE this bike, hope to be riding it until it keels over.

    I have little experience working on bikes, and have only ridden a Honda Nighthawk 750, a smaller Nighthawk (250?), and a Kawasaki Eliminator in MSF. More experienced riders who've ridden a GS500, please feel free to chime in with comments below. I am a relative newbie, and don't have a lot to compare things to. End disclaimer...

    A picture of the newer, faired version of this bike can be seen here: GS500F
    Riding Position: Standard, meaning it's upright, with feet under you, and torso straight up and down.
    Rider Height: Short to average. I'm 5'4", and I can comfortably walk it around, though I can't quite get a true flatfoot on it. Not a big deal for me, but a tad extra forethought and care must be taken on uneven pavement. Seat height is 31".
    Weight: Around 370lbs dry; relatively light.
    Brakes: Single discs front and back. Nice, quick stops.
    Engine:: 500's a misnomer; it's a 487cc engine, inline twin.

    New Rider Friendliness: B+
    Its light weight makes recovering it from a near-drop easier, throttle is gentle, brakes aren't too touchy, and it's air-cooled and carbeurated, making it a pretty simple machine if you understand 4-stroke engines. If you don't, you can probably still wrench some with a Clymer manual. It does have enough power for the irresponsible to abuse around town, but responsible beginners won't accidentally stumble upon it. You whack open the throttle, you won't be going mach-3 instantly. And what're you whacking the throttle open for?

    Intermediate Rider Friendliness: A-; Once you grow into this bike I think it will keep you happy for a long time. It is a fully-capable bike when used reasonably, and is excellent for working on your riding form. The only things I would change about it are nitpicky, and would only be solved with a far more expensive, entirely un-beginner friendly bike. I'll break down the pro's and cons on the GS by mode of use, since not everyone needs a do-everything bike.


    Commuting: .
    It takes a few minutes to warm up in the mornings, and if you dwell somewhere colder you might want to give it a good 20 or so. In traffic, the profile is narrow enough to split lanes (where legal/applicable/safe). Brakes as I said are pretty good, and while accelleration can't compete with sportbikes, it has the cars beaten well enough to get out of bad situations if you must. The light weight of the bike and responsive steering makes it nimble enough to dance through the stop-and-go. The GS500E comes with no stock luggage, and with its larger size a scooter may be a more elegant solution to the commuting problem. Personally, I don't mind waiting a minute while the bike warms up; gives me time to load the saddlebags, put in earplugs, wake up, etc.. I think it's an awesome commuter, and it sure beats taking the cage.

    Maybe I'd rate its freeway ability higher than those who've been on larger displacement cruisers and sport-tourers would; most likely. But this is a fine enough tourer, especially for newer riders who aren't given to whining. Note that I have a windshield, and haven't pulled it off to see how it rides naked; wind buffeting with the windshield is nominal- I don't feel beaten up by it. Longest ride I've been on was about 10 hours with a few long breaks, and the stock seat did me no wrong- most of my soreness was from letting my posture go on the last leg and not riding such distances very often. I wasn't laying on the floor in agony, just a tad saddlesore. To be expected, really. Thing with standard riding positions is, there's no back support, but ideally you're keeping your head and torso upright and stacked on your hips. The posture you hold is what'll dictate how you feel at the end of the ride.
    Wind from the side has only made me pull over once, and those were some ridiculously high-speed sundowners coming from the mountains to the coast. Still, a little more weight would make me feel safer sometimes, particularly when cornering at higher speeds. The stock front suspension was very soft; I didn't have the pleasure of riding it on the freeway before throwing in some progressive shocks, so I don't know how much that hurts freeway handling.
    Gas tank is small; I fill up every 130 miles, though if you don't live in California your tank will have another gallon (worth another 60 highway miles).

    Speeds: At 55-65mph, the bike is very comfy (once you're used to what freeway motorcycling actually feels like, which doesn't take too long). At 65-75, she sings, and you have some room to play up until about 80mph. At that point, you don't really have much more juice and if something's barrelling down behind you, GET OUT OF THE WAY. You won't get that extra 10mph anytime fast. And you shouldn't go that fast anyway, fool. Really, the bike's suspension and light weight plus the road's imperfections all begin to get sketchy before you reach the engine's limits; it's still a ways from the redline at 85mph. The GS500 cruises fine, but it won't blast down the road.

    Good enough for a newbie, and then some. The narrow tires mean less traction than you'd get on a sportbike, so you have to be a little more conservative with your lean angles and speeds than you might on a modern sport. I'm not proficient enough with the real twisties to say much about this, but I've been on some pretty wendy mountain roads and was able to maintain a good safety margin while travelling near the speed limit; sometimes faster, sometimes slower. You can lean this bike over far enough to make the ride fun.

    My bike has been down twice, crashed once by me on the left side at about 10mph after arcing up and along a steep, rocky hill. The other, if the previous owner is to be believed, it fell on its right side in the garage from a standstill. The engine case shows some scratches, and the right mirror and handlegrip are a little scuffed, but what little plastic there is is intact and the bike doesn't really look much worse for it all. Nothing vital seems to have taken damage. So dropping a GS-twin is, at least in my experience, not as big a deal as it would be with a faired bike.

    Night Safety
    One complaint I have about the GS500E is its signal lights don't act as running-lights. This means that unless you're signalling, they're off. That makes the bike pretty invisible from the rear at night (I'm told), with only the single taillight running ahead of you. There are probably things you can do to fix this, with a little knowledge of electronics.

    Two things you'll probably want for a GS500e are a windshield and some stiffer front suspension. After throwing progressives in, the bike handles great and has yet to bottom out on me. Before that, steep driveway skirts would bottom it out, though I was losing fork oil at the time so it was bound to be a little softer. I can't speak to stock tires, though if you're buying used they're probably gone or due to be so that's irrelevant.
    Aftermarket doesn't really exist for the specific model, so if you're going for farkle either look elsewhere, have money for custom parts, or get creative with it. I've also added some sport saddlebags, a cargo net, and a milk-crate for when I need more space or a hardside conveyance. This has been plenty for some overnight trips, packed exorbitantly. And there's still room on the tank...

    I paid $2200 for the 1998 GS, 7 years old but with only 4,000 miles, just serviced, and from an arid climate where it was kept very clean. It came with the windshield and nothing else. Progressive shocks cost me $75 for the pair, and $120 for 2 hours labor installing them (at the same time they replaced my broken seals). There's a link below to a good comparison of the Ninja 500 to the GS500(f). While the ninja seems to win in most categories, if you're buying used you should let the deal dictate which bike you end up with. Buy a cheap and well-cared for GS500e, and you will not be disappointed.

    The 3,000 mile opinion
    I have melded with this bike. It is great fun to ride, it is safe at the speeds I should be riding at, it handles the speeds I actually ride at just fine, and its gentle inputs have spared me some injury and damages, particularly in the first 1,000 miles. With luggage, it's a beast of great utility, and looks beautiful if you ask me. I bought it as a beginner, and while I still have a lot to learn and practice, this bike has given me the time and gentle reminders needed to develop a strong base for those skills. It's taken me on many long and beautiful journeys. It's also bitten me in the ass a few times. Be careful out there, people!

    Notes That Occur to me Later
    - The GS500e's all like to burn oil; mine is relatively new but in the past 3,000 miles it's gone through a quart of Rotella. Some of that may be leaking, but if it is I haven't found out where yet and it doesn't happen at a standstill. She's a thirsty bike is all; hardly a deal-breaker.

    Links to More Info:

    Suzuki GS500E model history
    Comparison between GS500F and Ninja 500 from Motorcycle Consumer News
    GStwin GS500 owner's forum

    This article was originally published in forum thread: 1998 Suzuki GS500E Rider Review started by remy_marathe View original post
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