There is a case to be made for simplicity. Consider, for
example, the Suzuki GS450. It is a vertical Twin, dohc with two valves per
cylinder and plain bearing crankshaft. Since the GS450 was introduced three
model years ago, Suzuki has brought into production two other similiarly-sized
machines, an eight-valve Twin and a 16-valve Four.
The newer Twin and Four are sold in countries where the demand
for 400-450cc machines is intense—often because of displacement-related tax
and licensing breaks—and the purchase of one brand or another hinges not so
much on performance or price but rather on technological features. Eight
valves are more fashionable than four; 16 valves are better than eight; four
cylinders do more for the self-image than two.
There are limits to the more-is-better adage, especially in
terms of function, and especially in regards to mid-sized street bikes. Few
riders prefer narrow powerbands and the necessity of winding the engine beyond
10,500 rpm; most treasure mid-range torque and acceleration over sheer
high-rpm-induced speed. And at any engine speed below a shriek, a streetable
400-450cc eight-valve Twin or 16-valve Four is apt to simply use more parts to
achieve the same or less performance than a well-designed four-valve Twin of
the same displacement.
That is exactly the case with the GS450. Suzuki's newer
engines don't have a large performance advantage, and, because they're more
complicated to make, they carry a hefty price disadvantage.
Which is why the GS450 is still with us in the U.S., carrying
a suggested list price of $1999 and an actual retail price below $1500 in some
parts of the country.
There's nothing unusual about the GS. Bore and stroke are 71 x
56.6mm for an actual displacement of 448cc. Crank throws are spaced 180°
apart, so when one piston is at TDC (Top Dead Center), the other is at BDC
(Bottom Dead Center). The camshafts run in the cylinder head casting and are
driven by a roller chain off the center of the crankshaft, with an automatic,
spring-loaded cam chain tensioner. Valves are opened by cam lobes acting
directly on lash-adjustment shims carried on top of bucket-style tappets,
which fit over each valve stem and spring. Intake valves open 39° BTDC and
close 61° ABDC, with 8.5mm of lift. Exhaust valves open 65° BBDC and close 31°
ATDC, with 8.0mm of lift. The conventional combustion chambers lack high-tech,
swirl-inducing ridges or contours, and the cast pistons are slightly domed for
a c.r. of 9:1.
The transistorized electronic ignition uses a centrifugal
mechanical advance, with pickups and advance located on the right end of the
crankshaft. A 196w alternator is positioned on the left crankshaft end, and
the electric starter nestles into the crankcases on the left side, just behind
Primary drive is helical gear directly from crankshaft to
clutch basket, and the transmission has six gearsets on two shafts. Final
drive is O-ring sealed roller chain.
A single gear-driven balancer shaft is located just forward of
As the crank turns and the pistons move up and down, weights
on the balancer shaft counteract much of the high-pitched vibration common to
180° Twins. These days, balancer shafts aren't uncommon, being seen in certain
Hondas, Kawasakis and Yamahas and even some Mitsubishi and Porsche car
The GS has two 34mm Mikuni CV carburetors and a 2-into-2,
black-chrome exhaust system with a balance tube underneath the engine.
Any discussion of the GS450's performance must start with the
carburetors simply because carburetion was the Achilles heel of the first
Suzuki 450s. Carburetor jetting changes have eliminated the massive flat spots
and cold-start leanness that made the early GS450s impossible to ride smoothly
under certain conditions.
The GS450 is still cold blooded, that is, it demands full
choke for several minutes after starting on a cold morning. But while it is on
choke, it runs without staggering or missing or dying. The carburetor-mounted
choke has two click-indicated positions, full-on and about one-quarter-on.
Full choke is required for a few blocks after starting, and one-quarter choke
is required for a mile or two after that.
When the engine has warmed up and the choke has been turned
off, the GS450 carburetes well in normal riding, without flat spots and with
just a hint of surge at steady throttle at very low rpm. The GS wins the Most
Improved Carburetion Award.
No 450 Twin makes as much power across as broad a range as an
1100, and the Suzuki is no exception. But the 450 is perfectly happy cruising
around town and will accelerate away from traffic without ever topping 5500
rpm. There's a big jump in horsepower over 7000 rpm, however, and keeping the
GS450 revved up is the key to quick starts and maximum acceleration. The GS
turns 5300 rpm in sixth gear at 60 mph, and needs two downshifts to pass
traffic quickly. At the dragstrip, our test GS turned the standing start
quarter mile in 13.92 sec. with a terminal speed of 91.46 mph. While those are
respectable times for a 450, we expected better results, especially since the
1980 GS450S was three-tenths quicker and several mph faster in the quarter,
ridden at the same dragstrip by the same rider.
The problem lies in circumstances. The GS450E arrived between
unsea-sonal rainStroms, and headed off to the dragstrip on the first dry day
without the benefit of very many break-in miles. It's possible that the bike
would have performed better at the strip later in the test. Unfortunately,
things didn't work out and the GS didn't get a second shot at the clocks.
Maybe that's just as well. As delivered, the 450's clutch
worked fine. Shifting was not bad exactly, but was not up to Suzuki's usual
standards. After the drag strip sessions the clutch seemed harder to pull and
dragged, especially on down shifts. Aggravating that, the shift lever became
more stubborn, as in not wanting to go into gear unless jumped on. This was so
unlike recent Suzukis we reckon it was an individual case, but still a
Economy worked out about average; 60 mpg is good, but because
our test requires speeds that work a 450 Twin harder than maybe a 650 Four,
the 450's result can be matched by other bikes with larger engines, more
cylinders and more speed.
The 450E benefits from new styling for 1983, styling
influenced by both the GS1100 and the Katana, without going as far. The tank
and side panels blend together just ahead of and below the slightly-stepped
seat, and a tail section bridges the gap between the seat and the taillight.
Our test bike came finished in black, including black fork sliders and black
rear shock springs.
The frame has a built-up backbone consisting of three main
tubes and several gussets and gusset plates, with dual downtubes looping
underneath the engine. There are four rigid mounts on each side of the engine,
one at the front of the cases, one underneath the crankshaft, one at the
bottom rear of the cases, and one at the top rear of the cases.
The gas tank is steel, normal street bike practice, but the
side panels, seat base, fenders, tail section, taillight assembly, instrument
panel, turn signals, control pods, headlight shell and chain guard are
plastic. An aluminum styling panel covers the steel frame tubes which support
the rider and passenger footpegs, replacing a steel stamping used on earlier
The use of aluminum and plastic and the absence of a handlebar
fairing makes the GS450E 23 lb. lighter than the 1980 GS450S, weighed with
half a tank of gas, 399 lb. to 422 lb.
The wheels are cast aluminum, with black painted spokes,
polished spoke edges and rim sides. The front wheel carries a single hydraulic
disc brake and the rear has a single-leading-shoe drum brake.
The instruments include a hold-over 85 mph speedometer with
odometer and tripmeter, a 12,000-rpm tach (redline is 9500 rpm), a digital
gear readout, a fuel gauge, and warning lights for turn signals, neutral, oil
pressure and high beam. The ignition switch is located on the upper triple
clamp, in the instrument panel, and includes the fork lock. Control pods are
simple, the right pod carrying a rocker-type engine kill switch and the
electric starter button, the left pod carrying a large, well-positioned horn
button and one four-way switch which operates the turn signals and selects
Beyond the obvious details, there are nice touches. The
handlebar control levers, for example, are the easy-to-reach dogleg type
formerly seen only on larger, more expensive street bikes. The mirrors are
rectangular with black plastic cases and black-finished stalks. The headlight
is quartz-halogen, throwing a bright beam.
The horn is lacking. It isn't loud enough. Any argument that
louder horns or dual horns are too expensive for inexpensive motorcycles
doesn't impress anybody who has been unable to ward off a wayward motorist.
Equally unimpressive are the handlebar grips, being awful affairs with sharp
ridges that wear holes in gloves and raise blisters on hands. The same grips
have been standard on Suzukis for years. We would have thought that a whole
wretched warehouse of the things would have been exhausted by now, but they
keep showing up. Somebody at Suzuki must still be ordering these grips, and
the man should be sentenced to a cross-continental GS450 ride while wearing
While the grips are unchanged, the suspension has been
changed. There was a time when GS450 Suzukis handled vaguely in corners, with
mushy feel to the front end and uncertain rear damping. New damping rates,
compression and rebound, have changed that, making the Suzuki more stable and
still room for improvement, most notably under hard braking. Then, the forks
collapse and every little ripple and bump tries to deflect the
effectively-unsprung front tire. The forks do have provisions for adding air
pressure, in the form of fittings sticking straight out from the
spring-clip-secured lids located inside the top of the fork tubes, but it's
impossible to use a hand fork pump to add air to the fittings—the handlebars
are in the way. The combination of poorly-planned fitting angle and close
proximity to the bars rules out in-the-field adjustments.
No fault can be found with the braking distances—the GS needed
only 30 ft. to stop from 30 mph and 127 ft. to stop from 60 mph, both being
outstanding figures. Those stops were made with stock front fork air pressure
settings. Adding air to the forks—back at the shop where a 90° compressor
chuck was available—improved feel under braking, but the test wasn't re-done.
Suspension compliance on streets and highways is better than
average and seat padding and shape are good. The lack of vibration—the mirrors
are dead clear at 60 mph—adds to the rider's comfort, and the GS450 is a
motorcycle that can be ridden longer than an hour without the rider needing a
Knowing all that, just what is the Suzuki GS450E's niche?
The question brings to mind one of this magazine's staff
members. The year was 1970, and our man was 16 years old, in the market for
his first new motorcycle, a bike to replace an aging BSA 441 Victor. Counting
up his money—half saved from an after-school job and half borrowed at 3
percent from a benevolent grandmother—he set out to find the best motorcycle
he could buy for $1100.
Rifling newstands for magazines carrying tests of bikes in his
price range, he read that one particular 450 was a full-sized motorcycle, a
machine capable of carrying its rider reliably from coast to coast or from
home to school or from work to lunch. That bike, the magazines said, would do
anything a motorcycle needs to do, and do it well.
That in mind, our man plunked down $1020 for a brand new 450
and proceeded to pile up 40,000 mi. on the bike, riding it to school and work
and off to Illinois and Colorado and Yellowstone Park and points in between at
the drop of a hat. He had a wonderful time, and loved every minute.
Now it's 1983, and the motorcycle before us is the Suzuki
GS450E. It is quicker, faster, smoother than the machine our man bought in
1970, stops and handles better, gets more miles per gallon and weighs less.
It's better looking and, considering inflation, the GS450's suggested retail
price of $1995 is less than a CB450 sold for 13 years ago.
None of this will matter to the rider who can write a check
for whatever strikes his fancy this week, nor to those who insist on a
handmade Italian frame carrying the most powerful Four the Japanese can build.
Instead, Suzuki has remembered riders who don't know they are
supposed to want more than they need, who first figure how much they can spend
and then pick their bike.
They're going to have a wonderful time with the GS450E.