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Bike Review - Posted 23rd November 2012
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Suzuki T500

In the late 1960s, Suzuki made a decent stab at squeezing big bike performance into a middling motorcycle chassis. These days, the T500 makes for a pleasing practical classic...

Suzuki's 500cc parallel twin two-stroke was in production for almost a decade from 1967, with over 100,000 examples built. Riding one reveals why they were so popular, even in an age when Suzuki themselves built the rather more exciting 550cc triple strokers and while all around them four-strokes were taking over the whole world.

Known for a short while as the Cobra and then later as the Titan, the T500 proved to be a reliable, practical two-stroke which packaged the performance of a much bigger machine into compact dimensions of a middleweight. So while four-stroke UJMs went through an uncomfortably massive phase, and snortin' ported strokers headed into the realms of peakily unpleasant high performance, the T500 made the most of what became a touring-roadster role. Early pretensions towards joining the Seventies Superbike clan were a little over-stated, and although remarkable when introduced, the T500 was soon surpassed by bigger, faster and nastier rivals. So its merits are similarly often overlooked today…

Special Features: Tripmeter... 1975 Suzuki T500 Titan Brochure

The 492cc air-cooled engine adopted the layout of Suzuki's smaller twins which was enlarged to 70mm by 64mm, running 6.6:1 compression, to output initially 46bhp at 7000rpm. Max power later dropped to 44bhp at 6000rpm for the GT, reducing the rider's exposure to a band of harsh vibration which increased at engine speeds above 5000rpm, and meant that only truly dedicated riders pursued the top speed of 115mph. While it's beautifully smooth at 60mph, travelling at speeds much above 80 can be something of a chore, and two-up the T500 is pretty much limited to 85.

The T500 motor was built in unit with its five-speed constant mesh gearbox, then housed in a duplex loop frame with twin shocks. It took a couple of adjustments to the chassis to evict initial handling gremlins, while the 2LS drum front brake was and is barely adequate and prone to fading with prolonged use. Gear action was positive but heavy, and neutral can be hard to find when stationary. Suzuki's positive feed oil system proved to be rather more efficient than those incorporated into the T500's Kawasaki and Yamaha contemporaries. So the T500's lubrication, often a two-stroke weakness in earlier times, is not marginal at all, and modern two-stroke oils are fine pieces of engineering in themselves.

'Who live in a house like this?'... 1971 Suzuki T500R Brochure
GT Suzukis on

The last of them, the 1976-77 models were designated the GT500, and were as well developed as you would expect a model at the end of its design life to be, finally adopting a disc front brake, electronic ignition and a bigger petrol tank. Unusually, the GT was lighter than its predecessor, at 395lb to the T500's 415lb.

The T500's styling is like nothing else, as are the engine note and the riding experience. Large capacity strokers, even medium performers like these, offer an alternative riding experience, and it's good to be reminded of how things were before the UJM took over the mass market.

All T/GT500s need kick starting, and they should be easy to start providing you can cope with the lever being on the left. If they're not quick to fire up, if you kick away like a fool, then there will be a problem with the engine's internal seals, almost certainly. Expect to get 55mpg if you're gentle on the throttle; 40mpg if you're not.

PINK!... 1972 Suzuki T500 Sold at Bonhams for £2000

Suzuki claimed that the T500 was 'a touring machine with incredible stamina' which 'combines quickness with ease of maintenance'. They weren't wildly inaccurate, either - the T500 boasts a useful spread of torque and so pulls heartily from low revs. It's certainly not slow, and the T500 feels faster than the GT, although neither steered sharply enough to make the most of the motor. The flexible power delivery is matched to a rapid throttle response - it rarely bogs down and will tolerate a lazy gearchange foot - which makes it easier to ride around town than other 1970s two-strokes. Speaking of feet: the gearchange and brake levers can swap sides, so the T500 is one of those rare machines which will suit both Brit traditionalists and riders of more modern machines. In many ways, in fact, it bridges that gap with aplomb.

Prices for restored T500s have been rising so that a roadworthy GT in cracking condition, with around 20,000 miles on it, will sell for £3500 or so. A shockingly pink T500 sold at Bonhams auction in 2011 for £2000, in need of re-commissioning, while a 1969 T500 was offered by a trader in autumn 2012 at £3495. A fully restored 1975 machine, in blue with non-standard ace bars and stumpy seat, fetched £3450 at Bonhams auction despite having no UK paperwork (it was registered in Europe), while projects tend to sell on eBay for around the £750 to £1000 mark, depending on how many bits they are missing. Cobras are quicker than GTs, but the very first T500s did steer somewhat strangely…

Moody lighting, but it's still a 'project'... T500 Project Sold through

The T500 is strange enough to be interesting and flexible enough to be fun; mechanically robust and straightforward for the home mechanic to maintain, and accomplished enough to be considered a properly practical classic for today.

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Words: Rowena Hoseason and Frank Westworth
Photos: Bonhams.com / archive

Can't beat a chrome tank with rubber knee pads... 1969 Suzuki Cobra, sold through the trade at £3495

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