When you talk about Suzuki’s GS1100 series, motorcyclists *of a certain age* will get all glassy-eyed, and maybe even uncontrollably drool. Some of Suzuki’s best bikes of the early ’80s came with the 16-valve 1100 engine, and they’re truly collectible.
And then there’s this thing: The 1983 Suzuki GS1100L, a cruiser with shaft drive. Was it Suzuki’s first balls-to-the-wall muscle bike, or was it a stop-gap measure while the company worked on more exotic machinery, like the Madura? That depends on how you look at it.
GS1100L—Does the “L” stand for Lame?
The standard GS1100 superbike model made a lot of horsepower, for the early 1980s. Suzuki claimed 105 horsepower at 8,500 rpm, and 67 pound-feet of torque at 6,500 rpm. While modern litrebikes make twice that much horsepower today, that would still be enough jam to put a smile on most riders’ faces.
Even better, a competent tuner could push that 1100 engine even further. The four-valve head allowed for all sorts of trickery, the bottom end was solid as a rock, and the aftermarket soon jumped on board, making all sorts of go-fast bits for this motor. To this day, you’ll still see bikes at drag strips based on Suzuki’s early-’80s 1100 four-cylinder.
So, this GS1100L should have been pretty hot stuff, right? Especially for an early-’80s cruiser?
Uh, kind of. When Suzuki built its shaft-drive GS1100L, it used a different head than the standard chain-drive 1100 models. With two valves per cylinder, the L model didn’t have anywhere near as much muscle as the superbike, and that’s before you factor in the power loss from the shaft drive. I’ve seen power ratings for the 1100 cruiser as low as 86 horsepower, down almost 20 percent from the superbike version.
That’s a big difference. Even though cruiser riders typically don’t want a high-revving engine with sporty powerband, I’m sure some buyers were a bit disappointed when their L model proved considerably less muscular than chain-drive machines.
Still, there’s lots to like with the four-cylinder cruiser. Like all GS fours, it has a good rep for toughness. The five-speed gearbox was tough. The shim-and-bucket valve system is more of a pain to adjust than screw-type valves, but tends to stay set once broken in. The 1100L still made plenty of torque, which would keep many cruiser riders happy. And, let’s be honest: Do you really want 105 horsepower in a sketchy ’80s cruiser chassis?
If you did want that, you might wonder: Is it possible to transplant a 16-valve top end onto the GS1100L bottom end? Far as I know, that doesn’t work. It’s surprising, because Suzuki’s old four-cylinders often had excellent mix-and-match compatibility for top end parts, but I can’t find anyone who switched an eight-valve head for a 16-valve. You probably could install some performance parts intended for the Suzuki GS1000 series, though, but I’d certainly do the research before attempting.
The rest of the bike
Aside from that oddball shaft-drive four-cylinder engine, there were no real special features on the 1100L. The chassis has steel tube frame, with twin shocks in back and telescopic forks. Like most ’80s cruisers, you get a set of buckhorn handlebars. Depending who you ask, that’s a comfortable arrangement, or they limit your handling.
The bike for sale here also comes with chromed mini crash bars, a pretty standard add-on for an ’80s cruiser. Cast wheels came standard.
The seat? Standard stepped two-up configuration, a toned-down version of the king-and-queen chopper saddles that were popular in the 1970s. That’s really what these bikes were aimed at, the kind of spendy customer who wanted a custom-style bike but with reliability and performance. Even with 86 horsepower, this machine well eclipsed an early-’80s Shovelhead. AMF-era 80-inch Shovels were making low-60s horsepower back then, and they had a reputation for breaking down constantly.
The GS1100L today
In current times, the GS1100L might have that same reputation, for being maintenance-needy. The reality is that any 30-year-old bike is going to have bits worn out, although constant use would lessen some of the danger. A vintage bike that’s ridden appropriately and regularly will usually be a better buy than a machine that sits unused, with ethanol eating away at the carbs and corrosion eating away at everything else.
As this is a GS-series Suzuki, there’s another danger to beware of. These bikes had reputations for bomb-proof engines (at least, the four-cylinders did). However, their electric bits are generally considered to be absolute crap.
However, the ad for this bike (on Facebook Marketplace) says “bike runs like brand new.” Good! Then it also mentions a new battery—um, you’d probably want to check the charging system, then. The good news is that even if the electric bits are shot, you can replace them with aftermarket parts, or swapping in components from other motorcycles. After 40 years of usage, the GS owner base has generally figured out all the tricks to keeping these machines running.
As always, the ADVrider forum userbase is always a good spot for information on machines like this (poke around down in Road Warriors, and you’ll find lots of former GS owners). Otherwise, the definitive source for info on these old bikes is The GS Resources, a long-running forum that contains piles of helpful information.
This particular machine is located in New Brunswick, on Canada’s east coast, with a $1,500 asking price. That’s about $1,200 US, and if the ad is accurate, that sounds like a fair price, decent enough to even tempt me. Good thing I have no storage space currently … the last thing I need is another bike around that “just needs a little work.”