Craigslist Project Bike: How Should We Build It?

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RideApart 1981 Suzuki GS750T

We have a blank canvas and now have to figure out what to paint. We snagged this Craigslist project, a 1981 Suzuki GS750T, for only $200 and in less than a day had it running and riding.

We picked it up out of a side garage in Salinas, California from Jeff Gillogly who bought it while stationed in Germany. An Airman took the bike on a test drive and dropped it, so he was forced to buy it. He later left Germany and gave it to Jeff. Immaculately maintained, the bike was stored in his parent’s garage for over six years. While he owned the Suzuki he had swapped front ends, wheels, exhaust and more, leaving a ton of extra parts for us, including a service manual.

RideApart 1981 Suzuki GS750T

We have an advantage with this Suzuki, it’s not a Honda 750, Norton, or Triumph, but rather a bike that’s old enough to be cheap, but not old enough to be valuable or represent a piece of motorcycling history. Tons of them were made so parts are easy to find and cheap, and no one will care if we mess it up. Now, we need to make sure the bike is worth the effort.

RideApart 1981 Suzuki GS750T

Cranking the Bike for the First Time
First we picked up a cheap battery for $40 to make sure the bike was salvageable and we didn’t have give-up problem, like a spun bearing or cracked block. First, we took the old-man remedy and put Marvel Mystery oil in an old glass-cleaner bottle and sprayed it inside the carbs and down into the cylinders. We replaced spark plugs and a fuel filter before adding gas and more Mystery Oil in the tank. We took WD-40 and sprayed all moving parts like throttle linkages and clutch cables. With no spark plugs in, we placed the bike in high gear and rolled it back and forth, slowly spinning the motor, spreading the oil on the cylinder walls.

We made sure we had good oil and plenty of it and make and then hit the start button. She fired right up, but when revving under load the bike fell on its face and struggled for fuel. As we guessed the carbs were clogged and gummed up.

RideApart 1981 Suzuki GS750T

Parts are still available for this bike like carb rebuild kits which retail for $14-$30 each from guys like PartsNMore.com. We didn’t want to crack them open if we didn’t have to. We found Marine De-Carb from a local Marine Supply store. It was pricey at $20 for the can, but worked wonders. Spraying in the carbs without air cleaners and the bike running, it foamed like shaving cream, fumigated the neighborhood, and cleaned the gummed up carbs. It still had some hesitation though. With aftermarket pop-on air cleaners the bike was getting too much air, leaning it out. We covered half the air cleaners–a trick we learned from an old 750 mechanic— and the bike runs great now, no major noises, and idles perfectly as the carbs appear to be synced.

Now the bike is ready to ride for only $260… well, almost ready. The turn signals are broken, seat doesn’t have a mounting bracket, and the wiring is a mess. But it’s mechanically sound and ready to go under the knife. How should we build it? Here are some options:

RideApart 1981 Suzuki GS750TComplete Restoration
This is the author’s least favorite idea. There were plenty Suzuki 750s made and it’s not old enough to be a classic yet. According to Craigslist and eBay the absolute max value of our bike fully restored would be $2,000 and that’s probably after investing $1,800 into it. The bike isn’t necessarily a piece of Suzuki history and no one will hate us for chopping it up.

RideApart 1981 Suzuki GS750T

Flip it
A Honda or smaller bike (because those are cooler at the moment) might make for a better project. A Honda would have more parts available and gain more street cred when completed. The plan would be get the Suzuki running, registered, and put it on Craigslist.

Ultimately, similar to the restoring it option, we risk making a few hundred bucks profit. And besides, we’re here for fun, riding, and experimentation, not money.

DirtBag Challenge

The DirtBag Challenge – 30-days, $1,000
Just the name peaks our interest. It’s a 30-day, $1,000 or less biker build off. Gentlemen’s honor, you cannot work on your bike but 30 days before the main event. When completed everyone meets at a San Francisco restaurant/bar and rides a 60-mile predetermined route to the event. You must make it there under your own power. Awards are given away and the end of the ride is basically one big burnouts and beer kind of party. We have $240 invested thus far, so this looks like a good option.

DirtBag Challenge

YouTube Preview Image

But, how would we build it? Guys build some of the most extreme import bikes we’ve seen, from cheapo hard tail conversions to over-the-top stretched and lowered contraptions. We would like to make something we can comfortably ride more than just once. Check out a new documentary about the event here.

Read more or participate yourself by going to Dirt Bag Challenge website or Facebook.

RideApart 1981 Suzuki GS750T
Suzuki Anvil Inspiration

Built by Anvil, an overseas café builders, our bike will never be as nice, but we like the inspiration. 

Traditional Cafe
What about a clean café bike? Tear it down, clean up the frame, remount the battery in a rear fender, replace the seat, and paint it black. Done. Well, it’s not quite that simple, but building a traditional bike would be fun. We can install the duel-disc front end or swap for a late-model rice rocket front forks using All Balls Racing bearing kits.

Cheap Café
What if we just got on and ride? Invest in some new handle bars, spend an afternoon rewiring the bike, and grabbing a few spray cans and ride. The traditional café bike would be awesome, but that’s more time and investment.

Flat Track
Yes, yes this is a big bike so maybe the whole dirt-bike, flat-track look wouldn’t work, but it might be fun to try. Take a dirt bike front end and rear swing arm and create a four-cylinder that sits high and handles jumps. Crazy?

Tell Us
What do you think? Comment in the comment section below and tell us what would be a fun, inexpensive project with this Suzuki.

  • Innis O’Rourke

    check out http://www.thegsresources.com/_forum/index.php
    very active board for the GS models. they have all the how to’s and tricks for the idiosyncrasies of the GS bikes and lots of members to help out. valve adjustments and a full carb cleaning ( strip and chemdip) can be a game changer for these bikes.

    • Armando Domingos

      You beat me to it! Are you on GS Resources?

      • Innis O’Rourke

        I am. I ride a gs 650L

        • Armando Domingos

          Nice. I have an 82 GS750T.

  • Armando Domingos

    Check out TheGSResources.com for more resources on the Suzuki GS. And don’t mess this bike up, after all, this is my current ride!

  • Armando Domingos

    Make it a street tracker. Flat seat, low bars (not clip ons), clean up the front end, and fork gaitors. The best of both worlds!

    • blackcayman

      Yes – The Street Tracker!

  • Dan Long

    I have an XS850, so not the same bike but it has a similar stance and stock look to it. I have always thought it has the bare bones for a great bobber look. I’d go that way if I had the inclination to stop riding long enough to do it. Since it is my only bike though, it remains stock(ish)

  • Beale

    Ratbike Dual Sport. Make a rule that all parts must come from a local military surplus store.

    • Beale

      Or Ace Hardware

    • MichaelEhrgott

      This.

    • Mister X

      This, low bucks, reliable, versatile, loses the stepped seat, bags cover ugly rear fender, little concern of theft, win!

  • Ken Lindsay

    I say scrambler with high pipes and a skid plate! The ADV angle would be interesting if you went with long suspension and honest paniers.

  • http://www.2wheelsandamotor.com William Connor

    Definitely like the scrambler idea. Way more comfortable to ride more than once and fun as well.

  • Scheffy

    Tear off anything not required for running and rolling. Throw in some Gold Valves and stiffer fork springs, aftermarket shocks, clipons, jet kit w/ pod filters and opened exhaust, and some new rubber. Be a backmarker in some historic races while tossing around an overweight and underpowered pig. Have a total blast doing it while documenting the whole thing for us suckers stuck in an office.

    You already have a dual disc front. It’s practically a racebike already.

  • kmac
    • Davidabl2

      Admit it some of the” Portland” bikes look better than they did new…

  • Gail

    Criminy. Leave that poor bike alone and just fix the worst part. The world does not need another rat/bob/cafe bike. <—Spoken as someone with a lovely '85 Magna.

  • Justin McClintock

    Put some kind of flat seat on it first. None of that stepped mess. Stepped seats on old bikes look horrible, and the cafe bump has been overdone. Then, throw some drag bars on it. Either do a smaller bikini-fairing or ditch it altogether and clean up the wiring. Trim the rear fender, but don’t get rid of it. Tidy up the tail by mounting two small tail/turn lights, one on either side and set them up as tail/brake/turn lights. Wiring for that is pretty straightforward and can be done with parts from Radio Shack. Paint the tank something absolutely ridiculous. Splatter paint it or something. Or do a crackle finish on it like many folks do with antique furniture….that’d be pretty unique on a bike. Find a much smaller battery that’ll work with it. Fab up a tray for it. Try to hide it as best you can. Clean up the wiring and ditch the airbox for some pods. Basically make it looks as light as possible.

    And if you wanna go REALLY out there and do something a little different…..dent the whole tank up. Small dents. All over it, but fairly consistent. Then paint “Top Flite” or “Pinnacle” or something on it. It’d save you from having to make it pretty.

    • Justin McClintock

      Crap, just noticed the airbox is already gone. So that solves that issue. Just clean up that mess they left behind. The best reason to get rid of the airbox is to get rid of parts, lighten the bike up, and clean up that area. They ditched the airbox and failed to do any of the rest. Get to work!

  • Paolo Asuncion

    Definitely enter the 2014 Dirtbag Challenge.

  • Gabe Cosarca

    Cheap Cafe with the 1,000$ budget. Something that the average motorcyclist can afford and build in their garage or backyard. Reuse, re purpose and modify as many original parts as possible. Keep the exhaust wrap for the “show” bikes.

  • Robert Horn

    Make it what it already is: A UJM. Fix what needs fixing, leave the rest alone. Don’t make it another reminder of how stupid motorcycle fads were in 2013.

    Time to stop playing dressup with motorcycles, quit cosplaying, identify as yourself in the present time, and do that one thing that motorcycles were really meant for: RIDING.

    (Forget) the dirtbag challenge. Get it ready for the other 364 days of the year without the stupid rules.

    Sorry – someone had to say it…

    • http://krtong.com/ Kr Tong

      let the preacher man preach!

  • Harvard J. Nasty, Esq.

    How about instead of making ugly and unrideable, you fix it up so it’s road legal and works well, then sell it to someone who can’t afford a bike for the amount of money you put into it. Then you could even write stories about their experience, instead of boring listicles!

    • http://motocynic.wordpress.com/ Scott Otte

      Something like this would be awesome.

  • Guzzto

    Why don’t you build a time machine and go back to 2003 and then make a cafe racer with clipons (but retaining the original footpeg position for noobness and reduced functionality) and maybe put some cool checker tape on it. In 2005 this may have been mildly interesting. Or just leave the poor thing alone.

  • Davidabl2

    For better or worse the Dirtbag’s a chopper build off, not a cafe,tracker, or UJM retro-mod build off. So it might be better to start with a really, really ugly donor bike.
    This one could be made into any of those others for just a few dozen to a few hundred dollars. The only thing I’d actually “chop up” would be the seat…

  • timuseravan

    Please not a cafe racer. Every other custom built bike is a cafe racer these days.
    Make it a blacked out scrambler.

    • Mister X

      I totally agree, I built my first custom cafe racer from a basket case Suzuki X6 in1970 or so, it’s definitely passé. Oh, and I had two sets of pipes, I used the high scrambler pipes much to all my friends dismay, it looked sooo cool man with the upside down clubman’s so it looked like clip-on’s.

  • Mister X

    So I was just perusing the Dirtbag Challenge website and inadvertently discovered their NSFW or young children 404 Error page, it’s a #%$#*% Hoot! http://thedirtbagchallenge.com/good-shit/2009-photos/

  • brian fleenor

    Is it weird that I really like that headlight faring?

    • chris ordanez

      Nope. It’s a quality fairing that is period-correct for bikes from that era.

      It’ll look even better when it’s color matched, assuming that they decide to keep it (which they should).

  • KC

    That looks more like an “L” with a “T” tank. I think – there’s parts of both on there. Actually there are parts from several different motorcycles on there.

    Make sure the forks are straight is step one. Without the fender, there’s no fork brace for the spindly fork and they tweak out of alignment easily. The cone filters are unfortunate. They can make a lean running engine like this run even leaner. A quick Stage 1 kit will do wonders. These Suzuki’s also tended to have dried out carb boots that leaked vacuum so replace those if/when you do the carb kit. Check that the alternator, points, condenser, rectifier (if it wasn’t upgraded) are all clean and grounded as necessary. It was a minor weak area.

    These “mild cafe” very well. I’ve done several of them. Lower, narrower, bars, gaiters, make a flat seat, trim the rear fender and replace the tail light, remove the crash bars, clean up the faded/peeling clear coat on the cases and aesthetically, it works.

    These were overbuilt motorcycles (except the forks) and could run forever with a little maintenance.

    • Michael Howard

      And the photo for the possible “Complete Restoration” is neither T nor L – it’s an E.

  • BobasBounty

    I think you should go purple rain with it. Or maybe a purple rain café…. THAT would really throw everyone for a loop!

  • runnermatt

    I realize this is a Suzuki, but a Scrambler Cafe Racer would be cool. Kinda of like the love child of Triumph’s Thruxton and Scrambler. Cafe Racer bars, fairing, tank and seat; Dual sport suspension and tires.

  • chris ordanez

    Pardon my pedantry, but you have a picture of a 1st gen (1977-1979) GS750 in the section for “Complete Restoration”. While, as KC says, you have a mish-mash of parts, you definitely have a 2nd gen GS750.

    Just didn’t want anyone to be confused.

    • KC

      If it is an ’81, my best guess is a GL, or at least part of a GL. From the seat back I see “L”, The exhaust is the short “L” exhaust. The foot-peg bracket is from an “L”. Whatever it is, these things were built like a tank. Once you clip the fenders back a bit, flatten out the lounge chair seating, remove the crash bars, and lower the handlebars, the overall look cleans up nicely.

      Of course, we’re only talking abut aesthetics here. The “bits” that always took me the most amount of time to restore were the brakes. Few people flush the lines and after a quarter of a century the system can be a mess.

      • chris ordanez

        “Once you clip the fenders back a bit, flatten out the lounge chair seating, remove the crash bars, and lower the handlebars, the overall look cleans up nicely.”

        Yep. Once they address those things, they’ll be well into “mild cafe” territory, so they might as well take that route.

        I would also suggest some decent shocks (Progressive or Hagon) out back. For the front they can get Progressive fork springs for <$100. If they want to go really cheap they could just cut some spacers from PVC pipe and install them between the springs and the fork tube end caps; that would stiffen up the front end a bit. At the very least, they should replace the fork oil. I wouldn't be surprised if the fork seals need to be replaced as well.

        While we're on the subject of forks, I believe the L models had leading axle forks, so it looks like they were swapped out at some point.

        Those pod filters are indeed unfortunate, especially since those appear to be the cheap EMGO filters which a) don't filter very well and b) don't have bell-shaped throats for proper air flow. I can all but guarantee that the previous owner threw those on without re-jetting the carburetors. If Ride Apart really wants this bike to run smoothly, they should just track down a stock air box and filter, install them and call it a day. Way less work than re-jetting the carbs for pods.

        I could be wrong, but those tires look like they've gotten old and hard and should probably be replaced ASAP. You can pick up a set of Shinko Tourmaster tires for around $200, probably less if you shop around. For the price, they can't be beat.

        After you pull the dent in the gas tank, it'll be time to think about paint. If you want to go super low budget with rattle cans, good results can be had with Rustoleum appliance epoxy. Seriously. It doesn't adhere well to other paints, so you have to make sure the tank is completely stripped. After that, just spray it directly on the bare tank (the instructions state that primer is not recommended). If you want more of a satin finish, wait about ten minutes after the first coat and spray again. After that it needs to cure for at least a week, no less. By that point it will have dried to a rock hard finish that is extremely resistant to gasoline spills. You can also wet sand and clear coat after curing. However, you'll be hard pressed to find a rattle can clear coat that is as tough as the appliance epoxy, unless you spend the money on 2K clear coat.

  • matt

    build it into a rad chopper

    • Harvard J. Nasty, Esq.

      Paul Sr? Is that you?

  • RyYYZ

    Of the options offered, “cheap cafe” is closest to what I’d do with this bike, assuming I wanted it to actually be useful as a motorcycle. It’s not worth restoring, and making it into the currently popular sort of cafe racer, or some sort of chopper, can only make it less rideable. Clean it up a little. Maybe try and find some sort of flat and/or solo seat that doesn’t look so stupid. If the stock mufflers are in good shape, for god’s sake don’t toss them – they’re really not bad looking, and the world doesn’t need another obnoxiously loud bike. It’ll also run better that way – even better if it still had the original airbox (and the sidecovers over them). Rejetting the carbs sounds like too much work. I’d keep that little cafe fairing – painted to match the tank it would probably look decent.

  • matt

    why not be different and build a chopper 16 inch apes straight pipes ext…..

    • Harvard J. Nasty, Esq.

      no. just no.

  • Timothy Gammey

    ADV bike. sure it’ll be big and heavy, but how many cafe racer/flat track replicas are out there already?

  • Innis O’Rourke

    Keep us updated with what gets done

  • Timothy Gray

    Build a sport touring bike out of it. The world has plenty of bar hopper bikes out there.