Steve Bowyer’s Suzuki special is a clever match of old and new,
brought together with a serious dollop of military ingenuity
I just can't leave it alone. I’ve had so many comments from people saying, ‘That’s perfect – stop.’ And I agree with them... but then a few weeks later I’m thinking, ‘Actually, that’s not quite right.’ Or I’ll be at a bike meet and I’ll see something nice or clever and think, ‘Now that I like...’”
Steve Bowyer, an inveterate fiddler, is talking about his Suzuki GS1157 – at least that’s what we’re calling it, for want of a better name. Because Steve’s bike is part GS750, part 1200 Bandit, part GSX1400, part Fireblade – and a very large part of his own handiwork as well.
Steve, 55, is an armourer for the army by trade. “Basically I fix weapons,” he laughs. “And I just like doing stuff with my hands – I always have. If I can make it myself, I will: 20mm alloy plate, chop it up, file it, get someone else to weld it – because that’s one thing I’ve never found the time to learn properly – then put it together in my shed. Everything on the GS has been made by me, whether it’s a bracket, a plate or a holder. I’m not one of those people who just chucks money at something and gets someone else to build it. That’s not you – it’s your wallet.” Steve’s journey to his current GS started with a smaller GS, the 550, in the late ’70s. “It was back when no one modified bikes at street level,” he says. “You couldn’t just walk into a shop or go on the internet. The only stuff you could get was full race-spec kit, so me being me decided to do just that - a pair of Dymag wheels, 29mm smoothbores, oil-cooler kit, braided hoses, paint job... I just lavished everything on it. And then it got nicked. The police recovered the frame and engine cases when they busted a Birmingham bike gang for drugs; my 550 still had the steering lock on, they’d just stripped it.”
The Falklands conflict and general life would soon intervene in Steve’s two-wheeled career, although he managed to fit in a couple of GSX-R750s and a super-modified Hornet 900. But his affair with the current GS began two-and-a-half years ago.
“I always wanted a GS again,” he smiles, “so I thought I’d build a kind of homage to it – except with modern running gear so it’d look retro but handle and go as if you bought it in a dealership today.
“The frame came first – imported from America via eBay. Then I just started to accumulate other bits. I’d saved up a bit of money so I bought most of what I needed at once; I sat on eBay for two weeks finding the tank, seat and bodywork. Then I acquired the 1200 Bandit engine from a crashed bike – I knew people had put them in GS750 frames before, with a bit of fiddling.” Exactly what kind of fiddling? “I had to slightly stretch the frame... I widened it by about 5mm at the back to get the chain run to line up.”
So when you say ‘stretch’... “Literally, yes. I put a hydraulic ram in between the frame tubes and pushed them apart. You can’t do it by a lot; 5mm is about the limit. Then it was all about repositioning the engine mounting plates. The front pair are the same – you just make new plates – but the side ones had to be modified with new inserts. It wasn’t too bad; the big work was getting the GSX1400 swingarm to fit. I didn’t want to take much metal off the frame mounting points so it was a little bit here, a little bit there off either the swingarm or the frame, just to get it in.
“Once I’d got the engine and swingarm lined up, it was a case of fitting everything else,” adds Steve, completely understating the difficulty of the job. “I bought the loom, CDI and electrics from America. There seem to have been a lot of GSs over there. Parts are scarce here – and if you do find them they’re going for big cash.”
The hardest things to find are decent tanks. “This is the fifth one I’ve had,” says Steve, pointing at his bike. “It took that many to get one that was usable. The rest were like Swiss cheese. The worst thing was when I found a perfect tank – the English seller, based in America, normally used his own couriers but this time he used eBay’s new international shipping service. So the tank got to Delaware airport and they said, ‘We’re not shipping this, it’s not been certified clean...’ So eBay crushed the tank and gave us both our money back. Me and the seller were completely gutted.”
Steve squints at his GS special, glinting in the sunlight. “If you look closely even this tank’s not perfect; there’s a bleb on the side where it’s come through. So I’ve actually got another tank, with a quick-filler twin cap, away being sprayed at the moment. Soon as it’s back this one’s going on my next build; I’m making the same bike but with a 600 Bandit motor, for my girlfriend. We’ll have his ’n’ hers matching GSs – and the paint scheme on both bikes will be the same as the one I had done on my 550 back in the day.” But this one will be simpler, says Steve: “It’ll have a Bandit front-end, right-way-up forks and a Bandit monoshock.”
Yeah, right. Judging by Steve’s record for endless tinkering, what’s the betting the other GS will never truly be finished either?
Registering Steve’s GS hasn’t been easy. “Because the frame came from America, I spent £95 on a Suzuki build certificate. But the DVLA said it was already registered on their database. I phoned up Suzuki who said, ‘Oh, there were two
production lines, one for America and one for the rest of the world, and they used the same numbers.’ So the frame I got was the same number as one registered in the UK (any other country I’d have been okay). I had to get a DVLAnumber
stamped on the headstock.”
OVER THE FRONT-END
Sitting atop a complete 2007 Fireblade front-end is a Translogic race dash on Steve’s own mounting plate. “The dash comes with a loom and only a few wires need connecting: power, revs, rear wheel speed sensor, indicators, brake
lights.” The Renthal Street Low ’bars are held by Triumph risers bolted to the top yoke, then powdercoated as one to look integrated. Switchgear is 1200 Bandit – with a ZX-10R radial mastercylinder and CRG levers.
ENGINE & CARBS
The 1200 Bandit motor is smaller than a GS750’s. “When you fit the Bandit lump you can sit it forwards, but it creates a gap at the back,” says Steve. “So I put it at the back for better chain clearance, but had to fit header extenders
to get the exhaust on.” The Bandit motor has a GSX-R750 clutch, but next is a GSX-R750 head: “It bolts straight on – bigger valves, straighter inlets and hotter cams give 30bhp more. Carbs are Mikuni RS38mm smoothbores. I really like
the sound of open stacks
PICK ’N’ MIX
Forks are 2007 Honda Fireblade with a custom 1mm spacer for the top headstock bearing. 40mm fork top extenders supply the correct ride height. Headlight is Chinese GSX1400, with Steve’s own brackets.
CAUTION: WIDE LOAD
The GS750 frame is widened for the GSX1400 swingarm, with a cross-brace tube added above the pivot (below the side panel) for strengthening. Chinese rearsets are for a Kawasaki ZX-10R.
Subframe and swingarm shock mounts were extended outwards and inwards respectively, then welded in to keep the shocks lined between the narrow GS750 frame and wider GSX1400 swingarm.
ENGINE 2001 Suzuki 1200 Bandit engine, Mikuni RS38mm smoothbores, 2004 GSX-R750 clutch, Akrapovic stainless system with header extenders and cut-back carbon fibre can, 1200 Bandit harness and CDI, 19-row Torques.co.uk oil-cooler and
CHASSIS 1977 Suzuki GS750 frame with bracing, 2001 GSX1400 swingarm, 2007 CBR1000RR forks, yokes and front brakes, Öhlins shocks, 2000 Hayabusa rear wheel, Translogic dash, 2010 Kawasaki ZX-10R front brake mastercylinder, ZX-10R
aftermarket rearsets, 2001 1200 Bandit pillion footrests, Renthal flat ’bars, recovered Guiliari seat, 1977 GS750 tank, panels and tail unit, GSX1400 aftermarket headlight, 1977 GS750 tail light, CRG levers, R&G indicators, Motrax
THANKS Pro Kustom paint (search Facebook), The Dyno Centre, Northallerton (01609 760466), RNR powdercoating, Ripon (01677 470808), Torques. co.uk (oil-cooler and hoses), Halls Autos, Richmond for the welding (01748 810810), Ash for the
frame set-up and fitment, Taff for the machining