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Review of the 1973 model Suzuki GT 550 Review of the 1973 Suzuki GT 550
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1973 Suzuki GT 550 photo
Picture credits - Erwin. Click to submit more pictures.

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I owned a 1973 GT550 from about 1976 to 1983. It was a reliable cheep motorcycle that was an average performer for the era. Its low cost, simplicity and reliability are what made it great.
Review of the GT 550 submitted on 2008-02-06.

I bought my 550 in February of 1976 for Dollars 500.00 Canadian. There was a warm break in the the weather at the time. I preferred the Honda 550 at the time but could not afford one. In hind sight I was better off with the Suzuki. Prior to that I had owned three smaller bikes and my family owned about 10 others bikes including a 1967 Honda 450 twin, two Yamaha 650 twins (1970 and 1972), a 1960 650 Triumph Bonniville and a 1970 Honda 750 Four so I had some experience with bikes in that range.

The acceleration,top speed and handling were similar to a Honda 500 four from the same era. I estimate the best top speed might have been 100 mph. The 550 I owned would never reach 109. The Kawasaki 500 Mach 111 was much faster. The fast riders felt the foot pegs on the Suzuki were a bit low for aggressive riding but they were not a problem for the riding I did.

At highway crusing speeds I averaged 50 to 60 miles per imperial gallon. The worst milage was when I tried to drive at 80 miles per hour into a 30 mile per hour head wind. I got something less than 20 miles per gallon at the time. My recollection is I would usually manage about 120-130 miles before I switched to reserve. I oftened wished I had a larger fuel tank.
Even though it was a two stroke the only time I saw much smoke from the exhaust was when the engine was cold or if I was climbing a long hill. Overall it used less oil in 2000 miles then most four strokes had to replace at oil change time every 2000 miles.

My brother owned a 1972 Yamaha 650 twin at the same time and we rode them together and traded back and forth. The Yamaha had a roomier riding position and a nicer sound but in every other respect the 550 was a better bike. On corners the Yamaha felt like it had a a two way hinge in the middle. It swayed and twisted until you were sure it was going to throw you off. The 550 was as steady as a rock in comparision. The 550 had a slight tingle from the engine while the Yamaha almost shook your fillings out. The brake on the 550 was stronger and the handling let you use all of the power. The front brake had a high stainless steel content so it was not good in the rain. When you first grabbed the brake it would feel as though nothing was happening so would grab harder, the water would dry off and the front wheel would lock. This was common on all Japanese bikes of that time. I fianlly solved the problem by drilling a pattern of holes in the disk. This also reduced wear on the pad and the disk. At the same time I switched the lower legs of the front forks left to right and right to left. This moved the caliper behind the forks which improved the feel of the bike a small amount.

At the time is was considered a mid sized bike. It was really too small for two people other than for short distances. With a passenger on the back the driver was forced forward and the leg position became too cramped (I am only 5´ 8´ tall). For a while I had a small back rest installed on the bike. If the passenger leaned against it the steering became too light. That was the only time I did not feel the handling was up to snuff.

The big issues with the bike were the chain, plugs and points. Like all chains from that era they did not last long and they threw oil all over the rear of the bike. The chain guard was designed to look nice not protect the chain or to contain oil. The chain on my 1965 Honda 55 was fully enclosed, it lasted longer and kept the rear of the bike clean. A set of spark plugs would last about 2000 miles ( My one brother had owned a 1965 Suzuki X6 250 Hustter that was fast but only managed about 200 miles between engine rebuilds so maybe I should not complain). I was lucky if I could get 500 miles out of a set of points. The OEM points lasted maybe 1500 miles but were about 3 times as much money. I would carefully adjust the new points and set the timing and the bike would run great. After 500 miles it would start to misfire. At that point they would be pitted and burned. A point file could make them last a while longer but it was a constant pain in the butt. I was commuting about 60 miles a day all year round in 1980-82)so I was going through point on a regular basis. The CDI electronic ignition on the Kawasaki 500 was a good solution but I never worked out how to fit one to the 550. There were never any aftermarket electronic ignitions systems that would work either. Some of the magazines suggested better ignition coils would reduce the problem but there was no easy way fit the after market units so I never bothered.

My next bike was a 1979 Suzuki GL850 4 cylinder four stroke. It had shaft drive, a larger fuel tank and a roomier riding position with a better saddle. I fitted an after market electronic igintion system so it cured all of the things I felt were wrong with the 550. I never liked it as much as the 550. It got worse milage and was not as handy around town.

In about 65,000 miles the only problems I had with the 550 was a short in the windings on the alternator, it had to be repalced. One ignition coil failed, they were a unit so all three had to be replaced. Eventually the electric start would no lnger start the bike. I could not figure out why. It always started on the second or third kick using the kickstarter so I did not try too hard to fix it. Kickstarting was extremely easy. There was not jumping in the air and no risk of kick back unlike British and American twins of the time. The instruments had plastic lenses that eventually clouded up until you could not read them. A few minutes with some tooth paste or a polishing compound would get them clear for a few hundred miles. The only other problem was once you took the baffles out of the exhaust system out to clean them they had a habit of falling out again. The screws used to hold them in were not up to the job. I did not have any other problems with the bike period.

The 500 Suzuki twin two stroke was not nearly as good of a bike. The Kawasaki 500 three was faster but more fragile. The Honda 550 four was very comparable but was more money and not as simple to maintain. The Yamaha 550 twin fourstroke from the era had far too many reliability problems.

When I sold it it was running great. I got Dollars 500.00 for it so I really only paid for a few repairs and normal replacement items. It is hard to beat that.

This review of the 1973 Suzuki GT 550
was submitted by:   
R. M. Powers

Motorcycle Reviews - 1973 Suzuki GT 550

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