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Bike Profile - Posted 15th June 2009

1983 Suzuki GSX1100ED
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Roger Prosper had money in his pocket and the urge to own a serious hunk of macho motorcycle. An old air-cooled four-cylinder Suzi fit the bill perfectly...

After suffering several years of XJ Turbo ownership, and having finished my definitely LAST return to school, I decided it was time to look for something a little more suited to my tastes. I knew I wanted a litre-sized bike, as I no longer felt the need to wring the neck of any bike I owned just to make acceptable progress. I was by now an old hand at scouring the local classified ads searching for exactly what I wanted, but Ottawa is known for having silly prices on used bikes, so it was taking a while. I knew, given my newly acquired student loan debt, that I couldn't hope to own anything terribly new (sounds familiar!) but that needn't prevent me from owning something enjoyable.

I remembered back to a few years earlier when I had bought my friend's all-black GS1000S in Edmonton, Alberta. I loved that bike. It wasn't stock, but my friend Mel had done a wonderful job bringing it back from the dead after its previous owner had flipped it. He had replaced the bodywork with an '81 tank, '83 mag wheels, and most importantly, replaced the motor with an '83 16-valve GSX1100 motor. I remember the first time I took it for a ride and gave it the gas across a bumpy intersection. The world went all blurry for a few seconds and the back stepped out disconcertingly. Clearly, this was a different kettle of fish than the GSX550E I had parted company with a few years earlier. It was everything I loved about Suzuki fours, turned up to 11. Sadly, I only owned that bike for seven months, as wobbly finances and job security forced its sale, but I still had the fond memories. I knew I'd own another some day.

Fast forward eight years, and an ad for an 83 GSX1100E appears on the web. Midnight blue, oh yes! Looked fine from the photos. Just 40 minutes drive out across the Quebec border. $2500. That seemed a bit rich for such an old bike, but I found myself coming back to the ad over and over again. The only other big fours routinely turning up were Yamaha XS1100s, either high mileage warriors kitted out for touring with horrendous Vetter fairings, or in otherwise really nasty condition. I was never a big fan of the frumpy Yamaha, despite its reputation for having fierce midrange power (something I really like in a bike).

Old enough to be black and white... Suzuki GSX1100ED - 1983

I loved those 83 GS/X bikes. They had that motor, along with a slightly subdued 'Katana-esque' styling that implied tastefully understated performance. They also had the built-up crankshaft welded at the factory, which solved the problem of twisting crankshafts which had blighted the reputation of the big GS somewhat from earlier years, although it usually occurred at power levels far from what Suzuki originally designed the motors for.

That was another thing I respected about these bikes, the legendary strength of the motor. You could beat them senseless with big bores, turbo, nitrous, whatever, they just took it and came back for more. Not that I was likely to do any of that, but there is a certain sense of security knowing your bike has that level of margin built into it. After hemming and hawing for a few weeks, I decided to go for a look.

I admit it, I'm hopeless at haggling when it comes to buying anything. Canny buyers would have used the fact that the bike had been up for sale for a few weeks to bring the price down a bit, but when I saw it, I knew I had to have it, despite the fact that it was leaking a fair bit of oil from a cracked crankcase breather cover. It had been down at one point as well, with some light scuffing on one pipe. I was hooked though. One trip down a muddy road, feeling that lovely GS torque, losing my ballcap in the wind... you all know what it's like.

Done! I paid what he wanted, which neatly coincided with what I was getting in tax return that year. One could argue it would have been better spent paying down my student debts, or my car loan on my new/old sedan which replaced my Mustang which had thrown a front wheel a few weeks earlier, but I would have been too busy riding my new bike to hear you.

...And this is one Roger bought earlier. Midnight blue bike photographed at midenight, apparently. Suzuki GSX1100ED - 1983

The GS was welcome relief from the XJ Turbo, which now sat next to it waiting for a buyer. It felt like a ballerina compared to the Yamaha. I'll give the XJ its due though, that turbo rush made even the GS seem slightly tame, although the big Suzuki would be off into the middle distance by the time the wick had lit on the XJ.

The only real damper on the fun was a set of front brake rotors warped enough to have the bike porpoising at every stop (they all do that sir), and replacement mirrors too short to show anything but the dead bugs on your jacket's sleeves. There were oil leaks, with valve cover leaks being the most common and recurring. At least one company offers a silicone gasket to solve the problem permanently. A broken instrument cluster (replaced courtesy of Ebay for $75), a squared-off rear tyre, cracked turn-signal housings, and a split seat cover rounded off the list of deficiencies, but I cared not a whit. Cranking the throttle was enough to make you forget such trivialities. The GS makes power from bottom to top, like the best Kawasaki motors did before they went all top-endy with the GPZ series.

The only fly in the ointment was a mid-range surge and pop caused by the criminally lean jetting Suzuki set them up with to meet emissions regs in the States. White plugs are to be expected, but judicious needle shimming seems to cure most of that problem. The motor runs hot, likely due to the jetting. The motor represents one of the last air-cooled designs made by the Japanese, and they were clearly reaching the limits of what air-cooling could handle. Suzuki thoughtfully supplied two oil ports on the front of the engine, even labelling them in and out for the fitment of an oil cooler, and it is highly recommended that one be installed. You must take precaution when installing an oil cooler, however, as the oil will not travel through it unless redirected by using an oil filter cover from the later 84-86 GSX1100EFE, which is slightly different internally for just this reason.

Day to day life with the big Suzuki is enjoyable. It requires about as much fettling as any bike of its age. If interested in purchasing one, it is important to keep an eye out for the usual problems, rotting rubber, corrosion, wheel bearings etc. I found out that mine had a rusty gas tank when I noticed the strong smell of gasoline one day. After that, it seemed like there was a new pinhole every other day or so, up to the point I began to take a small stick of tank sealer epoxy putty with me on every trip. I sourced an absolutely stunning NOS tank on Ebay, and must now decide if I let a bodyshop paint this perfect tank blue, or change the rest of the bike to red!

Keep an eye out for the dreaded GS charging system gremlins. They were known for burning out regulators and frying the charging system. Most owners run a ground wire directly from the negative terminal to the frame to help keep the electrics happy. Keep an eye out for batteries boiling dry, as it is an early sign of a regulator going off. There are numerous sources detailing the replacement with a Honda unit which solves the problem for good.

Handling is fair, as the skinny rubber clearly reaches its limits early in terms of lean angle and ability to lay down the power. The 19-inch front tyre is laughably out of date, and the bars require a fair tug at speed to change direction, although stability is the payoff. Triple disc brakes are strong enough for whatever the bike can dish out, but the weight and speed results in the aforementioned rotor warpage. Brake feel is compromised by the 1980's fashion-statement anti-dive. Many owners neuter it for better brake feel and ease of bleeding, if not removing it outright and blanking off the port on the fork leg.

Fuel consumption is irrelevant, as it is simply not the reason you buy a bike like this, but if you must know, the gas tank holds about five gallons and will get you just about 200 miles down the road if you aren't caning it. Near on 40mpg is hard to argue with for such an exhilarating ride. The huge 8-inch headlight cuts a broad, bright swath through the darkness, and you either love or hate the locomotive-like look. Personally, I love it, as I do on the naturally aspirated XJ650. Substance before style!

The seat has to rank as one of the most comfortable ever installed on any bike. Broad and flat, it will let you travel as far as you want in a day without compromising your nether regions. Layout is standard-upright, and the fitting of lower superbike style bars results in an aggressive stance which nicely complements the macho lines of the motorcycle.

1100 Suzukis on

Let us not forget that it was the absolute fire-breather of its day, and drag racers took to it with a passion. Even today, you can find parts for these machines to turn them into wild, pavement-ripping, barely civilized conveyances that will shred your license into confetti if caught running at anything above quarter throttle. They have a strong following, and lots of aftermarket support for stock or performance parts. Two enthusiastic websites dedicated to all things GS include the British website, and the US-based Consider either as your own personal Suzuki tech, as the knowledge base on either is vast, and the contributors friendly and helpful.

Buy one. You won't regret it for an instant.


One thing: depending on where you are in the world, the 16-valve 1100 was known as the GS (America, mainly) or the GSX (UK and Europe).


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