Life on the frozen tundra of South Dakota Life on the frozen tundra of South Dakota

I purchased this bike in April of 1996 and rode it for eight years before selling it in the spring of 2004. I picked it up at a garage sale for $1100 and wound up selling it for $1500, so those of you who say that Japanese bikes don't hold their value, I beg to differ!

This was a good bike for what it was. The classic GS Suzukis have some what of a nostalgic cult following as back when they were being produced they were among the fastest production bikes being made. Mine was the "GL" model, which meant it was more of a "cruiser" type vs. the more racing oriented "G" models.

For an 850, it was a very heavy bike, tipping the scales at around 600 pounds before adding my fat hiney. The four-carbed 850 had plenty of power, though, so it never felt like it's weight was holding it back. Most of the weight was noticed in the cornering, as it wasn't as nimble as a smaller bike would be. This bike was designed to go real fast, in a straight line.

You had to really wind 'er up to make her go, however. The low-end torque just wasn't there, as most of the power came on above 5000 RPM. From 5k to 10k, though, you'd better be holding on!

I never did add much in the way of accessories, as being 15 years old when I bought it, few were available. Saddle bags were about it. The previous owner had added crash bars and highway pegs, along with a throttle lock and a windshield.

1982 Suzuki GS850GL

In August of 2001, I took this bike on a business trip. Coming back, I was about 7 miles south of Marshall, MN when I had an accident. Exact details of the cause are still sketchy, but this is what I think happened. It's interesting how one can remember events like this. I think the actual amount of time it took from the moment I first realized there was a problem until I came to a stop was about three seconds. Yet, I can still replay the whole crash in my mind and it seems like it took 10 minutes. For those of you into morbid crash accounts, here's how it transpired:

I had stopped in Marshall for supper. As I left town, it started to rain so I stopped at a turn-off to put on my rain gear. When I got back on the bike, apparently the kick stand didn't retract all the way (a problem I had with this bike) and after I got up to speed, it dropped back down. I didn't notice that this happened (the bike was made prior to the goverment mandating that the kickstand kill the engine if the bike is in gear) and rode several miles until I came to a left curve and the bike wouldn't lean over. Witnesses say I was leaving an impressive trail of sparks behind me. At this time I was moving approximately 65 mph.

With the bike unable to lean, I couldn't get the bike to turn sharp enough to make the curve. I immediately got off the throttle, but I was reluctant to hit the brakes too hard as the pavement was wet and with the bike not leaning correctly, I was afraid that I'd lock up the wheels and cause myself to spill.

The bike was heading towards the right ditch. As I crossed over the shoulder, I remember thinking to myself, "Oh no! Maybe I can ride it to a stop in the ditch."

I went into the ditch, and discovered how slick wet grass can be. I managed to keep the bike upright for about 20 feet (which at the speed I was going was just a blink of an eye), but in the grass, the little pressure I was applying to the brakes caused the rear wheel to lock up. Thankfully, I'd let up on the front brake slightly, because if that had also locked up I may not have been here to type this. Anyway, with the rear wheel locked, I began to fish tail. There wasn't enough time for me to get off the rear brake and try to recover before the bike went down on it's left side. My left leg was trapped under the bike, but thankfully the engine guards were doing their job and kept my leg from getting crushed.

I don't remember how fast I was going at this point, but I don't think I was able to slow down significantly before the bike went over. In any event, I was still moving pretty fast.

I can remember thinking, "Okay, I'm sliding. Maybe I can just ride this slide to a stop." Ironically, I had no sooner thought this when the wheels caught something in the ditch, and the bike began to flip. As the bike suddenly righted itself on it's way through it's first revolution, I was thrown through the windshield.

I'm not sure how many times the bike went over, but I know it made at least one complete revolution because when it came to a stop it was back on it's left side.

I was thrown out in front of the bike, which thankfully came to a stop much quicker than I did. Had it not, I probably would have had the bike flip over on top of me and kill me. I remember the facemask on my helmet hitting the ground three times, which means I must have done three sommersaults. I do remember thinking, "Boy, I'm glad I have this helmet on!" each time my head hit the ground.

When everything came to a stand still, it was a surreal moment. My first thought was, "Well, I think I'm still alive." I laid there for a moment, completely still, trying to get my bearings about what just happened. Then I decided to try and move. There was pain, but I slowly rolled over and managed to stand up. "Nothing's broken," I thought to myself.

Two high-school age girls had been driving the other direction in a pickup truck when they saw the crash. Thankfully, they turned around and came back. They pulled up just as I had stood up. They asked if I was OK, and I replied that I thought I was. Then they asked me if I needed help. I remember saying "yes", and when they asked what they could do, I remember replying "I'm not sure... I think I need to sit back down for a minute." Apparently at this point I passed out for a few seconds.

The girls called 911 on their cell phone as I was coming back around. They put me on the phone with the 911 operator, who asked if she should send an ambulance. Me being the cheap (and sometimes stupid) person I am immediately thought of the cost of an ambulance and emegency room visit, and began arguing with the operator as to whether or not I should see a doctor. I blame the fact that I was still pretty loopy from the accident for all this.

The operator asked me what I was going to do if I don't go to the hospital, and I remember telling her that I wasn't sure because getting in motorcycle accidents was a new experience to me, so I hadn't yet established a routine. She didn't find that amusing at all. I finally agreed to meet a highway patrolman at the headquarters a few miles down the road. The girls graciously gave me a ride there.

At the headquarters, I called my wife. Being a Wednesday night, she was out with the youth of our church at an activity, and wouldn't be home until late. So, I then called my parents. I told my dad what had happened and asked if he'd drive to Marshall to pick me up (a little more than two hour drive, the way he took.) My mom took care of tracking down my wife and explaining to her the situation.

The highway patrolman was pretty cool. He filled out an accident report and asked a lot of questions. He said it's not often he gets to talk to the victim of a motorcycle accident. I was in for a wait before my ride would show up, so the highway patrolman asked if I wanted to go back and assess the damages on my bike. I didn't have anything else to do, so I said sure. We went back to the accident scene, and found that some kind soul had propped the bike back up and rolled it up onto the shoulder. In retrospect, I wonder how much time they spent looking for a body before giving up?

The bike looked like it'd been through a war. There was still chunks of turf clinging to the engine. Anything protruding from the bike (i.e. signals, pegs, etc.) was bent. The windshield was a jagged shard. The seat was ripped, and all the painted surfaces were scratched. The handlebars were visibly twisted.

The highway patrolman looked at the bike, then said "Well, you've got to find out if it'll still run!" I turned the key (still in the ignition) and hit the starter. Miraculously, it roared to life. We both found this kind of funny and started laughing.

Then the patrolman asked what I was going to do with the bike. I told him that my father was going to come get me, but I'd have to leave the bike in Marshall and figure out how to get it back home later. He said that I probably didn't want to just leave it on the side of the road, and said that if I could I should try and ride it back to headquarters where it will be a little safer to leave it for a few days.

I wasn't real jazzed about getting back on the bike, especially since I'd left my helmet and eye protection back a at headquarters, and the roadworthiness of the bike was understandably in question. The patrolman told me that if I ever wanted to ride again, I should get back on the horse now. Otherwise, I may chicken out later.

With fear and trepidation, I got on the bike. After slowly pulling forward to make sure the brakes still worked and the shifter wasn't so bent it was unusable, I pulled out onto the highway. I didn't go over 40 (no goggles and the wind made seeing difficult) all the way back to headquarters. The patrolman followed me there. The bike was a little wobbly, but made the trip.

I sat for a few hours waiting for my dad to arrive. There's not much to do in an empty highway patrol office. By the time my dad pulled up, the pain of my accident was really starting to catch up with me, and walking was becoming difficult. Heck, sitting was difficult!

We came back to town, and after my wife and I had a little celebration that I was still alive, I went to bed. The next morning I was so sore I could barely move, so I called the doctor.

I didn't have broken bones, but I wasn't injury free. My left knee, right ankle and right wrist was sprained. My left shoulder had dislocated, but reset itself in the midst of tumbling around. I was a solid bruise from head to toe, and had a few little abrasions. Still, the doctor said I was in the best condition he'd ever seen for someone who had a motorcycle accident going 65 mph. I an extremely grateful that I came out of it alive, let alone with no broken bones!

1982 Suzuki GS850GL

Several days later I borrowed a trailer and my father and I returned to Marshall to bring the bike home. It was in rough shape, and I wasn't much better myself, so I didn't do much with the bike the rest of that riding season.

The next spring, I decided that it was time to try and repair the damage. I straightened what I could of the existing components. I wound up having to purchase new handlebars, grips, windshield, highway pegs, mirrors and seat upholstry.

After some wrenching and tweaking, I had most everything back to normal, functionality wise. The paint still showed evidence of the destruction, so I decided that I needed to repaint. The side panels were cracked and broken. Replacement side panels for Suzuki GSs are nearly impossible to find (because they aren't made any more, and the old ones tend to crack and break!) so I wound up repairing them by gluing in plastic pieces and using auto body filler.

Amazingly, the paint on the tank had been scratched up, but the tank itself was completely dent free! That is until I dropped it while doing the repair work and put a big dent in the nose. Arrrrgh!

I followed the do-it-yourself paint job procedure outlined at the Suzuki GS Resources web site. The paint and supplies came from Wal-Mart, and cost about $50 total.

I'd never done a repaint like this, but regardless of my ignorance and Wal-Mart supplies, I thought it turned out very well. Most people who saw it couldn't believe it was a spray can job. It looked factory.

All of the pictures shown on this page were taken after the rebuild and repaint.

1982 Suzuki GS850GL

I sold this bike in the spring of 2004 after buying my Road Star. Part of me still misses it, but the bigger part of me loves my new bike!

Return To The Main Motorcycle Gallery

This page last updated on 06/28/2018