Suzuki T500 Road Test 1974
Article borrowed from "Motorcycle
Sport" July 1974
Original article can be accessed at:
|It wasn't very long ago
that the Suzuki Cobra 500cc two stroke twin was being brandished
by Suzuki as the hottest thing on two wheels. By one of those
ironies of fate they are currently running a series of advertisements
on the latest version "running cool even in Death Valley"
just as we have the latest 1974 model on test as an example of
a mild cool, middleweight machine. It's funny how a few years
and a single model can transform a common view: the Honda 750-4
completely changed the face of motorcycling with the coming of
the technical masterpiece with civilised appurtenances. Now one
looks beyond a Honda 4 and seizes on the latest Italian nine-days
wonder; the Four is a part of every day motorcycling.
The Suzuki T500 arrived in a world that regarded a big twin two
stroke with great reserve, almost mirth. Yet after the horrific
fuel consumption of the first Cobras had registered, the reliability
moan vanishes, and now that the T500 is quiet economical and nice
to ride, it is almost a standard "it's solid, reliable, good
value and big enough to do most jobs well" motorcycle - much
to Suzuki's satisfaction, as well they keep on wheeling them out
in their thousands. But the T500 has been completely buried by
the tide of big and shiny motorcycles, and somehow takes a back
seat to the watercooled 750 or the 550 three twin with it's fancy
four pipes. Yet, take a look at the production racing results:
TT wins and 500 Miler victories have left their mark on the sales
figures, and after the TT victory the sales gave a mighty bound,
thereby directly influencing the decision to form the Suzuki GP
racing team. At club and national race meetings up and down the
country the Suzuki 500 is a surefire runner in the PR classes,
and in the absence of Yoshimura'd Hondas they tend to win, too....
and in very standard trim indeed.
The people T500's all seem to be very happy with them, and have
cretinaly kept them far longer than one would have expected. Why
The Suzuki is a big small machine: it does not have the height,
the mass, the width or the weight of the modern 750's or even
"500"s" like the 550 three. The handling of the
machine about the garage is of a small machine, and the slim seat
helps to retain this feel when on board. Once moving, the 500
has a quite remarkable ability to pull high gears at low r.p.m..
This is really a big bike feature - and is not adequately present
in the R75/5, and helps immeasurably to give a relaxed and controlled
feeling to the machine on the move. The carburetion and portingalteration
introduced as an almost immediate reaction to the reception of
the Cobra have given the Suzuki a delightful spread of torque:
2000rpm in top gear is quite acceptable to the motor and the engine
pulls sweetly up to about 3500rpm or 4000 before vibration set
in. When the vibration does start it is severe and becomes quite
remarkably uncomfortable above 5000. To use the 500 to full rpm
limits is an unrewarding experience as ones foot can be firmly
but steadily shaken off the footrest, as ones hands go to sleep
under the shaking.
The front brake is a twin leading shoe affair that works adequately,
but it is difficult to be enthusiastic about it as it simply works,
fading a bit as it's used, and always stopping, the machine with
a faintly tired air. The tyres front and back seem to fit the
vintage Japanese theme of the T500. They grip well enough in the
dry, although the squeals at mild brake pressure discourage one
from pressing the front too hard.
The rear tyre is fine in the dry except for the distinct tendency
to track along the lines of the road, but then once the wet weather
arrives..... I had two unnerving slides under very mild low speed
braking in the wet, and felt very wary from then on. On the race
track the T500 has proved itself over and over, once given the
advantage of a good set of tyres and damping.
1974 Suzuki T500. The picture's
from a Suzuki brochure. There's more images on the T500 brochure page!
|The front mudguard is
solid and works well, keeping much of the water from the rider
instead of ading it in it's progress onto the riders knees as
is done so successfully by certain other makes. The headlight
at one time might have been regarded as excellent but the presence
of 12V equipment on even Italian machines has now deprived the
Suzuki of any distinction in this quarter. The main beam was adequate
for the job, and the dip suffered from a strange pattern that
did not seem to be very sensible.
The handlebar controls for the lighting where very neat and easy
to use, and the well lit ans well marked tachometer and speedometer
are equally well designed. The handlebars are high wide and ugly.
They are rubber mounted in a vain attempt to hold vibration at
bay, and to rub in the hopeless attitude of the designers even
the handlebar mirrors have rubber isolation in the stem to make
the mirrors usable. The depressed engineer who decided to go to
these length might take some heart from the fact that both handlebar
and mirror isolation work well over a considerable range of rpm,
and it is hardly possible to carp when the vibration only gets
through outside the normal cruising range of rpm.
The tank looks a lot bigger than it is and, in spite of the great
improvement in fuel consumption over the Cobra tested about six
years ago, the 2.8 gallons that went in only produced between
38 & 42 mpg in mixed town and country use. The cruising speed
of an indicated 85 on motorways for 30 miles at a time required
full throttle and was in fact the top speed under these conditions
on many occasions, although once an indicated 95 - 100 crept up
under favourable conditions. The overall performance was closely
similar to the old Yamaha 350cc R5 model up to 80 mph, and rather
worse than the 380 Suzuki subsequently. Two up the T500 would
hold an indicated 80 with little if any to come, translating to
about 75 real mph. Not too different to any other 500 or good
350, really, and probably a bit more economical than any 350 could
manage at that sort of speed. On reflection, 80 two up sounds
so slow: the degree or exaggeration of modern "speedometers"
is such that one hears complaints that 350's won't hold 80 two
up on wide handlebars.......... which, when converted into straight
bars and a solo rider, equates to around 100mph in general for
bikes of a 350c.cc. styleof torque.
The Suzuki shows its strength here, and really eats up the distance
into wind and two-up. With the wind behind, the Suzuki was flogged
up to an indicated 90-93 mph and the attendant vibrations were
so severe that the passenger lost her grip on a sweater that she
was carrying when shifting around to try to escape the tooth grinding
tingle. Let the Suzuki drop back down to about 60 and it is mild
and smooth enough for comfort. The rate of oil consumption is
remarkably low: the level barely shifted over several hundred
miles. The Suzuki positive feed system is much more efficient
in its use of lubricant than the Yamaha or Kawasaki variants.
The oil pump assemblage is fitted to the top at the rear of the
crankcases, and the feed pipes can be seen twisting their way
to the crankshaft bearings.
The gearbox has five speeds and a very nice action. Switching
from a BMW to the Suzuki gave it a pretty easy mark to beat, but
the comparison with a Yamaha RD250 gearbox placed the Suzuki firmly
as a good gearbox by the standards a few years ago.
Positive, but heavy, with a long action, it was difficult to miss
a gear and engagement was commendably quiet. The wet clutch dragged
a little and made neutral selection difficult at a halt. Once
on the move the neutral selection was precise and easy to engage.
A dated feature was the lack of a primary gear kickstart engagement
point; one must find neutral to start the Suzuki, and had it been
easier to obtain neutral it would have seemed less of a fault.
The seating position was good, and a 40-mile trip led neither
to discomfort nor to fatigue on the part of machine or rider.
This was perhaps the best feature of the Suzuki: it could be caned
as hard as the rider could stand it, and not wilt. The Suzuki
really gets its own back on anyone who treats it so severely and
the discomfort at 6,500 r.p.m. is equalled only by the 650 c.c
parallel twins that are now nearly defunct.
The Suzuki was very much at home in congested traffic; the immediate
response to the throttle, the wide spread of torque, and the crisp
gearbox provided just the right set of characteristics for decisive
town manoeuvring. The Suzuki is lighter than most medium-sized
machines now sold, and weighs about 420lb or so. This is enough
to sustain strong gusting motorway winds with some stability,
and yet light enough to throw about with fair abandon when the
opportunity arises. The T500 was one of the nicest machines to
use to travel 40 miles each way each day to London on, and one
of the least fatiguing to drive in the heaviest traffic.
On back roads the Suzuki's suspension showed up rather better
than it did on main roads. On smooth motorways the odd bump seemed
to produce a painful jar, but once the suspension was working
on undulating and bumpy lanes the Suzuki was far more comfortable
to ride, and displayed a capacity for soaking up really nasty-looking
holes without passing the jolt to the rider.
The 500 Suzuki has remained virtually unchanged for most of its
six-year life, and probably owes its present existence solely
to the American AMA racing regulations. It has a very fine reputation
for reliability and strength, and a string of major Production
All this well proven product is worth a second look: the enviable
stability of the machine has ensured that all the results of the
"early sorting out" have been incorporated for years,
and the customer can purchase a really well proven all round machine
without the blandishments of instant redesign every year.
Unfortunately six years is a long time, and the new round of 350
machines have the T500 taped. Suzuki's own 380 undersells. out
accelerates and out handles the T500. Yamaha's RD 350 will do
the same, and Suzuki's 550 three concedes only too much weight
to the older twin.
Yet all these comparisons can do little to disguise the fact that
the T500 twin will do almost everything that one would want from
a motorcycle, and has been really well proved and not subjected
to yearly replacements like so many others from Japan. The simplicity
of the two stroke twin is a real advantage. Now that the T500
has sat back on it's laurels it will be shortly replaced by a
far more complicated and expensive beast that will require far
longer to deal with when something goes wrong. The T500 may well
be a visitor left over from the 60's but it fills a real slot
in the market. Dated now, but with a friendly rugged character,
the T500 is likely to continue to appeal to a sizeable group of
motorcyclists for quite a while yet.
T500 magazine articles
More: Lasse's 1969
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