1983 GS550ES


Uh Oh, I did it again. I swear, I never really meant to buy this bike. One of my regular RetroTours clients brought it to me for some carb work over the winter of 2018-2019. I was very impressed by the low mileage and excellent cosmetic condition of the bike; it had barely been ridden 3,000 miles in 37 years! That’s under 100 miles per year; a true bone-stock survivor. I had 2 GS550’s back in the late 70’s, and I thought they were great bikes on the road or on the middleweight production road-race track. A rev-y engine with a heart of gold, decent brakes, reliable, and good handling too. That was my recollection of the 1977, twin-shock, single disc front brake, double overhead cam, shim over bucket engine machine, and this lovely GS550ES was like a blast from the past. The 1983 -ES model shares a lot of DNA with the original GS, but with 4, as opposed to 2, valves per cylinder, actuated by forked rocker arms (“Twin-Swirl Combustion Chambers”), anti-dive front forks, a mono-shock rear suspension, a smaller front wheel, a bit of bodywork, and mildly rear-set foot pegs. It also uses 2 unusual twin-barrel carbs instead of 4 individual vergassers like the older models. Style-wise, the ES is very much a child of the 80’s, while the pre-83 models look more 70s-ish.

I want to rotate bikes in and out of the fleet from time to time, to keep things relatively fresh and interesting. Also, it has been suggested that as the RetroTours ridership ages, there will be more demand for bikes from the 80’s: some fans of the earlier bikes may be getting too old to ride them! The RetroTours fleet up to now has largely been defined as “Big Twins from the Seventies”, but last year the GL1000 was the first departure from that theme, and it has been a massive hit with riders. Time to ease into the 80’s, perhaps? I let slip to the owner of this GS550ES that if he ever wanted to sell it, I might be interested.

Fast forward to summer 2019. The owner reached out and let me know that his garage was too crowded, and the GS had to go. We negotiated a little bit, and after his listing on ebay went nowhere, we were able to strike a deal. Another thought behind acquiring this bike is that it may appeal to riders who are short in stature; the seating position is low, and the weight is not excessive. Middleweights retain a connection to motorcycles’ bicycle roots that heavy equipment lacks. There is something to be said for a bike that one person can pick up in the event of a tip over, and the nimble handling of a middleweight machine is certainly a joyous thing. This bike is the perfect size for a human!
It’s only been on one tour so far, but it promises to be popular. To be perfectly honest, after riding it for a few hundred miles, I have begun to look for a 1977-1982 model with the earlier style engine and seating position. The low seat and high footrests of the -ES make my knees bend more than I would like. If I can find a decent earlier model, I may swap this one out. Still, the engine is as solid as a rock and so is the handling, and it’s hard not to like the additional stopping power. The plastic body work and styling? A matter of taste, I suppose. In any case, earlier versions seem scarce, so for the time being, we’ll give this one a chance to accumulate some miles, as the original builders surely intended. I do believe that it will appeal to fans of the 80’s, and to smaller riders, and it does remind me of my two 1977 GS550’s, which I enjoyed fully, some 43 years ago. Holy Sh…, am I really that old? How did that happen???