I originally wrote this article for the second issue of Octane Magazine back in April 2003. At the time my 1993 Suzuki GS500E was just ten years old, and I was still printing Octane in black and white (so please excuse the photo quality).
These days the GS500 qualifies for classic status in the eyes of the DMV, but not in the used bike market. Suzuki produced tons of naked GS500 motorcycles beginning in 1989 running through today with little changed for the first ten years, and mostly cosmetic updates and a full fairing for the bikes that followed. The GS series has been Suzuki’s budget bike since its inception, and pre-owned GS500 prices reflect the bike’s modest origins. Check out Craigslist or your local Trading Post and you’ll likely find a forgotten Suzuki GS500 waiting to be rescued from someone’s shed for a pittance. If you’re not put off by the GS500’s humble roots, and you shouldn’t be, with some creative parts bin engineering you can build a fun, capable, cheap ride.
One of the first mods I made to my own GS500 was upgrading the rear suspension with a 1993 Suzuki GSX-R 750 shock. The GS500’s stock shock allows adjustment for preload only. The GSX-R shock, which shares very similar physical dimensions, adds the benefit of adjustable compression and rebound damping. Now let’s turn some wrenches.
First, secure the bike to a motorcycle lift with ratchet straps so it won’t tip. A bike lift or stands are a worthwhile investment if you plan to work on your bike. Once the wheels are off the ground and raised to a satisfactory work height, remove the chain guard and loosen the rear axle nut. Support the rear tire and slide the rear axle out. Unwrap the chain from the sprocket and remove the rear wheel. Now slide the alignment blocks out of the swingarm ends and mark them so they can be returned to their original positions.
With the wheel out of your way you’ll have easy access to all of the shock mounting bolts. Support the end of the swingarm with a jack stand to prevent it from dropping when it’s disconnected from the suspension linkage. Remove the bolt that secures the suspension links to the swingarm. Next, remove the lower shock mount bolt. The swingarm is now disconnected from the suspension and will drop if not supported. Finally, remove the top shock mount bolt and pull the shock out.
Prior to installation you’ll need to notch the lower mount tabs of the GSX-R shock so it will not interfere with the GS500 frame (see photo gallery). There is enough metal there to safely remove enough material to clear the frame without compromising the structural integrity of the shock.
Installation of the new unit is the opposite of removal, with the added step of mounting the GSX-R shock’s remote reservoir. Be sure to mount the reservoir away from excessive heat where the hose will be protected from kinks and abrasions.