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Your first bike is always something special, yet many experienced bikers soon turn their noses up at basic standard machines like the Suzuki GS500, Kawasaki ER500 and the Yamaha Diversion 600 four..

What makes these motorcycles special is the fun you can have on them whilst you learn a little of the craft of riding; speed, handling, braking, don´t come naturally - you have to develop such skills and forgiving motorbikes like these make the job that bit easier, and safer.

Once, there was a bike called a GS400. It grew into a GS425, then a GS450. Finally, in the late 1980s, it became the GS500, gaining a new frame, bigger carbs and some groovy little three spoke wheels. Basically, the bike has hardly changed since then, which the reason why this is still a good learner bike, yet a bit disappointing once you get some biking experience.

The GS500 is physically small machine, just like the ER5 and this makes it a good choice for anyone who is short in the leg. You feel confidence building as you move it around, as the bike weighs in at 169kgs dry, or about 370lbs in old money, which is the same as many of the old 250cc machines I sometimes admit to riding in my youth. The Suzuki is supposed to be about 10kgs lighter than the Kawasaki, but there´s no detectable difference when pushing the twins around for photos. What is very obvious, is that both twins weigh a lot less than the Diversion, with the Yamaha also feeling an extremely long, and `top heavy´ motorcycle too.

Once on the move, the Suzuki feels a little harsher, cruder in its road manners than the more modern ER5 Kawasaki. It isn´t a massive difference, but the Kawasaki seems to change direction that bit faster, or brake a touch later into a turn. Not vital ingredients to your average novice, but the Suzy could certainly use a stiffer set of forks, a more supple shock at the back and a tweaked front brake. Of course, all those features cost money and we´re talking about a bike which retails for under three grand in the year 2001, which is barely a few hundred quid what it cost new back in 1989. Value for money ? You couldn´t ask for a cheaper introduction to middleweight motorcycling.

But the biggest weakness for the Suzuki is its engine, which simply out of date. If you cane it (which we journos on the Metzeler 330 tyre launch inevitably did) then the bike soon starts to smell of hot oil. That´s generally not a good sign. It also runs out of steam rapidly when attacking hills, needing a shift down to fourth gear to maintain anything above 70mph.

By contrast, the ER5 can pull 80 up the same mountain pass (OK, your commute to work might not include a 3500 mountain crossing) and has a good 10mph top speed advantage once you get on a long, long bit of straight. None of these three machines is sold as a performance package, but the truth is that the Suzy is (marginally) the weakest link in this respect. You can still have a mad blast on the bike, but it just doesn´t have the same appeal as the ER5 for me.

For more sedate riding, the GS500 will fit the bill just fine. Solo trips are OK on the fairly narrow saddle, the brakes are predictably adequate, if no unreasonable demands are put upon them, and the bike seems able to eke out a fair number of miles from each expensive gallon. As a commuter alternative to a 250cc class scooter, the GS500 wins hands down in my book - mainly because it is a proper motorbike, something you can learn motorcycling skills on.

Nitpicking? Well, the white wheels look like a pair of early Nike air pump trainers, well dodgy, plus the paint schemes lack any hint of style, or long term durability about them. The yellow option looked really rancid. I´m not entirely convinced that the back brake was working 100% either.

So it is ultimately, the look of thing, not the riding experience, which really knocks the GS500 out of the frame for me. It isn´t that bad compared to the ER5, or the super bouncy Diversion 600, but both rivals look like 1990s bikes, compared to the 80s Suzy. Styling shouldn´t matter, but it does and the dated, slab-sided look of the GS500 simply leaves me cold. If you can live with it, then the Suzy is an undoubted bargain, but I can´t settle for second best anymore - the winner here is the ER5, no question.

Get Suzuki motorbike insurance for the suzuki gs500.

Vital Statistics
Engine Four stroke, twin cylinder, watercooled
cc 498cc
Claimed power (bhp) 51bhp
Compression ratio 9:1
Transmission 6 speed
Cycle parts
Front suspension 37mm forks, non adjustable.
Rear suspension Monoshock, adjustments for preload only.
Front brake Single 310mm disc, twin piston caliper.
Rear brake Single 250mm disc, twin piston caliper
Front wheel/tyre 110/80 H17 inch
Rear wheel/tyre 130/80 H17 inch;
Wheelbase 1405mm
Seat height 785mm
Dry weight 169kgs
Fuel capacity 17 litres
Buying Info
Current price £3,000 (plus OTR)

960 x 200 endingsoon