My first motorcycle was a ’99 Kawasaki Ninja 500R, a 500cc sportbike that came with around 45 horsepower, timeless good looks, and fuel-sipping fuel economy. It was an excellent first bike and one that I flicked from corner to corner with glee.
But do you know what bike I often wish I had opted for instead? That’s right: a GS500F. It wasn’t until I upgraded to a “bigger” starter bike (I bought an ’08 Suzuki SV650 to replace the Ninja) that I started to realize just how good I had it with the 500cc Ninja. Bikes like the SV650, Ninja 650R, and – dare I say it – the Yamaha FZ6 (my current machine) are great and all, don’t get me wrong, but I’m glad I didn’t start there.
Why? Like the Ninja, the GS500 has a lot of the qualities that new riders will appreciate from a 500cc machine: it’s lighter than a bigger bike, still sporty looking, and more fun to ride slow. And riding slow, as it turns out, is where most of us spend our day to day.
Our Take: Why You Should Buy a GS500F
During its heydey, the GS500 (and its fully-faired cousin, the GS500F) only had one true competitor: the legendary Kawasaki Ninja 500R. Both bikes were powered by an efficient-but-also-lively 500cc parallel-twin engine, and both had sporty looks that never gave away their “beginner motorcycle” status. Unless you were a rider, you’d have no idea that the GS500F was meant for new riders.
And that is by design.
The GS500 disappeared from North American showrooms in 2008, but it still remains in production in other parts of the world (currently, South America is its main market). Model years 2004 – 2008 are easy to find across the United States and Canada, and those bikes tend to be found at great prices, too.
With 51 horsepower at the crank, 30 lb-ft of torque, and a low (LOW) four-figure pricetag, the GS500 is now one of the best values you can get in a new rider-friendly motorcycle… and it still looks great.
Bottom line: The GS500F is a good looking and affordable bike that is easily found on the used market. It provides plenty of power for a new rider to enjoy, with brakes and suspension that are up to the task of keeping the motorcycle rubber side down. It’s a great bike for a new rider; go test ride one today!
Reasons to buy the GS500:
51 hp is good power for most new riders (you won’t outgrow it too fast, you won’t find it too much)
The suspension is a great blend between comfort, compliance, and performance
The 500cc parallel-twin engine is great on gas
The more upright riding position (compared to most sportbikes) is much more comfortable on long rides
The stock banana seat is surprisingly comfortable for two-up riding
It stopped being sold in North America in the 2009 model year; some of its tech is getting dated
Can’t get one with ABS
Production Run & Notable Model-Year Changes
Production Run & Model Generations
Suzuki first introduced the GS500 to the North American market in 1988 as the naked GS-500E. In 2004, the fully-faired GS500F model was introduced to North America where it was sold until the model’s North American retirement for the 2009 model year.
First Generation (1988-2001)
This was the first version of the GS500 to use a parallel-twin engine (an earlier Suzuki model of the GS500E, in production from 1979-1982, used a four-cylinder engine)
In 1992 the front suspension was revised by adding spring preload adjusters to the forks, providing more sporty and compliant handling
In 1997, the GS500 received new front brake calipers
Second Generation (2002-2009)*
After 2002, the GS500E (naked) version of the bike was no longer sold in North America (there also was not a 2003 model year GS500 for North America)
In 2004, the GS500F is introduced to North America and it runs until the North American retirement of the GS500 line in 2009
An engine oil cooler was added to the GS500F to improve reliability
Aside from minor mechanical revisions, the GS500F was effectively the same bike as the GS500E but with fairings
*the GS500’s worldwide production run continued until 2016, but the model was retired in 2009 for North America so that’s why we’re saying the second generation ended in 2009 (chances are you’re in Canada or the United States if you’re reading this).
Owner Reviews of the Suzuki GS500E/GS500F
Press & Magazines
The Best Used Bike – Cycle World
“Here’s what we wrote at the time: “Consider the GS500F’s 5.3-gallon fuel tank and fuel-efficient engine, its comfortable ergonomics, supple suspension, and functional wind protection. What Suzuki has done is transform a city dweller into what may be the most economical sport-touring mount you can buy.”
“Everyone found the GS500 comfortable, its superbike-bend tubular handlebar, moderately rearset footpegs and plush saddle welcoming riders short and tall.”
– Brian Catterson, Cycle World (December 2002)
2006 Model Year Review
“This is my wife’s bike but I rode it on the freeway home after her purchase and got a good feel for it. I ride a Dl650. The 500 was rock solid at 70 mph and very comfortable for those 60 miles. The headlight gives good coverage. The gear shifting is very smooth. The brakes are good but I don’t like the position of the rear brake foot peg. I would like it higher. Power and acceleration are very good for a 500cc stock street bike. Wind protection was excellent with no buffeting at 70 mph and especially calm at head level. My wife loves the bike after just riding around the neighborhood. This will be an excellent starter bike for her.”
The power – 0 to 60 mph in 5.7 seconds, and the quarter-mile in 14.48 seconds. Fast? No. Sporty? Absolutely. For a new rider, this is a fun and balance bike that never crosses into uncontrollable.
Riding comfort – Speaking to more than just the riding position, part of what makes a motorcycle comfortable to ride is how it handles wind. With a windshield in place, the GS500F does an excellent job managing buffeting and keeping the ride smooth.
The price – You can easily find a good condition GS500F for around $3,000, and at that price it’s a no-brainer.
Fuel efficiency & range – North American GS500’s and a 20 L / 5.3 gallon tank. Thanks to its fuel-sipping parallel-twin engine (which sees as much as 55 mpg / 4.2 L/100 km), the range on a GS500F is around 180 miles / 291 kilometers.
What Owners Complain About
Old technology – You can’t get things like ABS, LED lights, Bluetooth connectivity… etc. Even the 2007+ model years lack this kind of technology, as the GS500F lived at the threshold between when motorcycles were effectively engines, brakes, and handlebars and today, where motorcycles are as much technology as they are tires.
Performance compared to the Ninja 500R -The bottom line is that, as good as the GS500 performed, the Kawasaki Ninja 500R (also called EX500) outperformed it in every meaningful way. From acceleration to braking, the GS500F was softer and less punchy.
The Bottom Line
The GS500F is not the motorcycle made for a new rider that intends to flog it often and ride aggressively. It has enough power to be fun, but it’s not likely to thrill someone looking to pop the front tire. It’s simply not that kind of bike.
What it is is a utilitarian motorcycle that is both robust and stylish. It gives its rider a bike that looks like a proper sportbike and rides like a sportbike, but doesn’t force on its owner many downsides that new riders might turn away from. If you like the spec sheet and performance numbers, you’ll really like the motorcycle itself.
There are faster beginner motorcycles out there. The Yamaha R3 is an excellent example of that- it outperforms the GS500F despite having 200 fewer cc’s. But very few, even among modern bikes, can compete with the combination of performance, reliability, and longevity offered by the GS500E/GS500F twins. Even a decade after it left the North American market, the Suzuki GS500F remains one of the most recommended motorcycles for new riders (and for good reason).