GS550 Border run cafe racer;
Purpose Built Moto’s first bike build
It’s a dangerous thing when I get bored. Previous outcomes of my boredom over the past few years have resulted in taking a second job, quitting a job and heading overseas, tearing out rooms in my house to renovate, and starting a degree in engineering on the side. This particular attempt to further fill my time was one of my all time favorites to date, and came out of some rather odd circumstances. I was stuck out in the Pilbara desert, a beautiful part of Western Australia for what seemed like an eternity lived three weeks at a time.
Between work and study I would browse various classified sites looking for the right cafe racer parts or a cafe racer project when I stumbled on what seemed like a nice blank canvas. I had seen a few pictures through social media of bikes that guys had resurrected into a café racer and thought, with every ounce of arrogance I had,
“I can do better than that.”
I placed a bid on a 1981 GS550E Katana that I just so happened to win. My starting point was set.
Suzuki GS550E 1981 before
I picked up the bike in Brisbane and chatted to the owner; a postie/ bike mechanic that had plans to fit it with a turbo but just never got around to it. He even offered me the turbo he had… I declined respectfully, not having that much faith in my abilities at this point.
While loading the bike on the trailer I asked about the two huge dents in the top and side of the tank.
“So what happened here?”
He chuckled then replied, “I was fixing the electrics!”
I had a puzzled look on my face. He continued with “It can be a frustrating job on these old things”.
Turns out the dents were part of his functional problem solving, if step 5 doesn’t work, punch the tank and start again.
I got it back to the garage, got it running, rode it, checked the engine over and started with 3 points in my build book.
- Stripped bare
I wanted this bike to be my weekend rider, built to ride out over the Gold Coast Hinterland and down over the border on day trips. Having a unique modern look but giving a nod to the classic café racer style customs that influenced me to get the bike.
The Suzuki was stripped bare, all tabs cut off and the tail section removed. Pulling the front and rear ends off, I realized just how heavy early cast wheels are so I sourced a complete Suzuki GSXR front end, a Ducati Single sided rear and matching Marchesini wheel, both wrapped in Metzeler Rubber. The frame was widened and braced in the back to suit the new mono-shock setup and the standard Sachs spring was rebuilt to suit the removal of the linkage.
Rolling Chassis GS550E
The front guard and brace was fabricated to keep things legal and I actually really enjoy the bulk in the fork brace style bracket. The rear subframe was built with simplicity in mind, nothing special, it just had to work and give that cafe racer tank/seat line. The tank was modified to add some detail with cafe racer style knee dents and seat fiber-glassed, foamed, then covered in a copper tone buckskin. I utilized some Aprilia RSV4 rear sets to accommodate the Brembo Master cylinder and fabricated new mounts on the existing frame.
GS550E Border Run taking shape
The Mikuni Carbs were stripped and given a DynoJet Stage 3 kit and a set of K&N pod filters, the head was checked over by Palm Beach Racer and the engine given a coat of Gloss Black. Other mods included Custom Built Full Stainless steel 4-2-1 exhaust and Purpose Built Moto Shorty Missile muffler (will be on sale soon), hidden battery box and electrics hung under the swing arm, a nice LED headlight I got a hold of and copper coated with the rest of the parts, a complete re-wire utilizing A Motogadget M-unit at the heart of the electrical system and some CAD Designed Purpose Built Moto Slim Push button switches and LED indicators with hidden wiring. A gloss black paint job on the tins against matte black frame and wheels from Jason at The Panel Shop Mermaid finishing off the bike nicely.
Border Run assembly
After getting the bike off the dyno properly tuned and balanced it runs like a dream, with the engine only having 20,000km from new it was, for the most part, left alone. The exhaust system helps deliver a nice smooth power curve right through the range while the muffler keeps your ears from ringing and delivers a great note from a smaller capacity engine. Due to the suspension change out, it’s been given a more aggressive forward stance. Moving the pegs back and up slightly, and not shaving the seat too much gives a feeling of great control when you ride. Seated over the bike it feels like you’re grabbing it by the neck and telling it exactly what to do. There’s no guesswork while riding.
GS550 Border Run Cockpit
Taking the leap from dirt bikes to a street custom was a steep learning curve that resulted in a lot of lessons learned and the full product line up you can view in our online store. Each piece was designed and built out of a necessity for use on my GS550 cafe racer, with more to come as we keep on building!
Check out the full gallery of the GS550 Border Run completed
Check out the video of the Suzuki GS550 Border Run Cafe Racer build
Hello Tom my name its Carlos ill cjeck your project and believe me youre genious its a monster cafe one ,i got a 1978 suzuki gs 400x and ill try to put it disc ,front and rear,adicional put wide tires maybe less than yours what you recomended for the forks disc system and rear wide tire
I’m not familiar with your model bike so I couldn’t give advice sorry.
Best to do your own research and figure out what will be best for you!
have fun on your project
Hope your well.
I’m toying with which swing arm to use on my gs550e build.
Did you have to modify the frame to fit the ducati swing arm.
I only have 22inches to play with and apart from a gsf 600 swing can’t find many more to do the job
Without major modification.
The frame required some pretty extensive mods and the swing arm was shaved too.
Not for the feint of heart, I had to call in some help with it.
Good result though. I guess you juat have to weigh up what you want.
I’m purchasing a pristine garage find 1977 GS550, and plan to heavily modify the bike. The two items I’m having trouble finding are a slipper clutch and EFI Kit. Would you be able to point me in the direction of these two items? I’ve contacted Ecotrons for the EFI Kit, and hopefully, they’ll get back to me with good news. I like carbs too, but EFI would be just one more thing that would separate my bike from the others, and I like that individuality. Thanks for your time.
Always the Best,
Sorry I couldn’t help you with those things.
Your best option would be to talk with the guys at TheGSrescources.com they have a lot of specialists there with great knowledge on the GS specifically.
Good luck on the build
Looks like “TheGSresources.com” is no longer available. Is there any other good sources of info on the GS bikes? I’m building a ’81 GS550L right now. Thanks!
The website is still ,live, I just checked. Maybe search it through google and hit the link there.
Hey Tom love the bike, I’m building an ’83 zuki gs550, it’s kinda the bastard bike nobody has any parts for. I’m doing a ’04 gixxer 750 swingarm which I just bought at a vintage bike meet here in Ontario Canada and have found an ’06 gixxer 600 complete front forks with brakes and everything incl. I just found you guys and love what you do and all your parts are absolutely gorgeous, I’ll be buying some shortly any idea what shipping rates to Canada are?,Anyway I know you’re busy if you want I’ll send some pics to you as the mock up stage continues. Thanks for time and continue the awesome work you’re doing, I’m very much inspired to continue on.
Thanks for the kind words pete!
I work my fingers to the bone providing good parts and bikes to my customers so its nice to hear.
Shipping rates to canada aren’t all that bad as most of our parts are small/light.
Good luck with your build mate, I’m sure if you take the time and attention it needs it will turn out great!
i don’t see the copper accent pieces in your store, did you make them?
The copper pieces are electroplated original Suzuki parts.
We don’t sell those.
You did an amazing job and built yourself a beautiful bike. I’m in the middle of a build on a 1979 Suzuki GS1000 and trying to have a minimalist look with it. I have been looking for clutch and brake levers like yours and was wondering what the brand was? and where you had gotten them?
Thanks for reading our stuff!
Mate the levers were the standard set from a 2007 GSXR750.
Hope your build goes well mate!
@Tom, Did you use the GSXR lever mounting brackets and front master cylinder as well?
yes, Although the clutch didn’t have enough purchase for the GS550 set up. So it was modified.
That dash is super clean. Could you give any info on the parts? Specifically that speedometer. Thanks!
Back then I used an Acewell speedo, the pick ups are very touchy and I dont use them anymore.
I use Koso Gauges now, Far nicer and better quality
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HOW DID YOU COPPER THOSE COVERS?! It’s absolutely gorgeous and I’m looking to do something similar to mine but I couldn’t figure out how to get the covers done. Any direction you can point me would be greatly appreciated.
Any good electroplater can do this. Its just the same as having something chrome plated.
This bike is incredible. Can you provide more clarity on the ducati model you stole the single swing arm from? I’m modifying a 1990 GS500, and am going for a similar look. I see several swing arms I can buy, but am unsure what I should be looking for to properly offset the front end swap out like you did.
Also, you mentioned you widened the frame – did you just cut it down the middle, or how did you do that?
The GS500 is a completely different bike, none of our mods will be applicable to that frame set up.
Just check out our builder guides and get measuring on your own project.
hi where to you buy the mikuni carb set? tks
we buy our carbs from Mikuni OZ