This 1993 Suzuki GS500 was my first street bike and I started working on it the day after I brought it home. The first mod was a simple swap to a flat handlebar with bar end mirrors. I then learned the hard way that Suzuki applied their tank graphics underneath the clear coat when I tried to remove the pink squiggle graphic from the red tank. I’d love to have a chat with the guy that though that was a great color combination. The botched decal removal led to a series of custom rattle can paint jobs. Truth be told, the GS500 was one of my earliest projects and I learned on that bike. Mistakes are a part of that learning process, and the little Suzuki took its lumps.
Over time as my confidence and mechanical aptitude grew, the modifications became more ambitious. I replaced the rear shock with an adjustable GSX-R unit, and then swapped a late model GSX-R front end on for beefier, adjustable forks with big dual caliper brakes and billet triple clamps. There’s not much in the way of performance rubber available for the Suzuki GS500’s puny stock rear wheel, so I tossed it in favor of a wider wheel from a Bandit. The Suzuki Bandit wheel has an offset hub, so with the help of my wife’s grandfather and his lathe we made custom axle spacers to line up the sprockets and center the tire in the swingarm. With wider wheels installed at both end I mounted some sticky Michelin Pilot Sport tires, 120/70-17 up front and 160/70-17 in the rear. Then I adapted a pair of CBR900RR rearsets and modified the shift linkage with a cut off GS500 shift pedal, an R1 shift link, and a heim joint.
In search of more power I drilled the ignition rotor five degrees advanced, a home machinist trick for some free horsepower learned on the GSTwin forum, instead of buying an expensive aftermarket ignition advance. The Suzuki’s Mikuni carbs were jetted and capped with pod filters, and a full Vance & Hines Supersport exhaust system helped the little twin breath easier. Those simple mods were good for six horsepower, which is a decent jump when you’re starting out with 39.
By this point I had been riding and wrenching on the GS500 for years. It was on at least its second fuel tank and I’d experimented with a dozen handlebar and headlight/fairing combinations before landing on the GSX-R 600 front end with Vortex billet triples, clip-on bars, and an Acerbis Blitz headlight and fairing. A carbon kevlar solo seat also became a permanent fixture. It was finally time to tie everything together cosmetically. I dropped the tank and plastics off at Wicked Paint in Virginia Beach and let them do their thing.
At times people gave me a hard time about putting so much effort into a lowly Suzuki GS500. You can polish a turd, they’d say, but it’s still a turd. By the time it was done most of those same guys, now unable to recognize the bike for what it started as were mostly curious and complimentary. In the end, I accomplished what I set out to do – build an attractive, functional, inexpensive street legal track toy. I was able to take a bike that I built at home and thrash it on the track on Saturday, then ride it to work on Monday. That was pretty cool. I’m not overly sentimental about most of my vehicles, but this is one I definitely should have held onto.
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