SUZIE

1980 Suzuki GS1000G
air-cooled vertical inline DOHC four, shaft drive

This was the one I had the longest: twenty years, over eighty thousand miles, and more memories than I can remember....

You see her above as she was toward the end, big and sleek and gorgeous. She didn't look like that, though, back in March of '87 when I brought her home:

I wasn't quite sure about her myself. It had been only a few weeks since a moron in a pickup truck had destroyed my beloved Honda 750K on a Little Rock street; I was still in mourning, as you might say, and not really ready for a new bike....

And this wasn't what I'd had in mind. To tell the truth, I had decided I wanted a BMW; I knew a lot of people who rode them, and I had even lined one up, a well-used but clean R90, over in Memphis, which I planned to go get as soon as I got the insurance money for the 750. But then I saw an ad for this one, with an asking price about $500 less than the Beemer; and suddenly I got the idea to buy the GS and use the difference to go back to Mexico.

So I bought her, and very quickly realized that I had myself a hell of a lot of bike here - but one that was going to need some attention. The owner hadn't put many miles on her, but he'd fixed her up with a lot of mostly shit-quality accessories, mostly from J.C. Whitney - butt-ugly chopped-fiber saddlebags and topbox, cheap 4-into-1 exhaust system, hideous and uncomfortable seat, though the fairing at least was an excellent Vetter Windjammer - and had managed to strip a couple of important bolts in the process of mounting them. And a really bad spray-can paint job which, when I finally got around to stripping it off for a repaint, turned out to conceal a big tank dent camouflaged with fiber filler.

All that was detail, though, and not hard to fix, though fixing it took me a good many years because I never had the money to do more than a little at a time....but even as she came, she was a great, great bike. All the knowledgeable bike people assured me I'd gotten a hell of a deal; the GS1000 and GS1100 Suzukis are regarded by aficionados as possibly the finest all-around heavy general-purpose motorcycles ever marketed. One pro Suzuki racing mechanic, in California, told me, "Keep it as long as you can and do whatever you have to to keep it running, because you'll never find a new one that will give you as much satisfaction."

Eventually she wound up with a full set of later-model Vetter luggage (with replacement fairing), Lockhart oil cooler, Koni shocks, Progressive Magnum fork springs, Accel ignition coils, even braided-stainless-steel-and-teflon brake lines. The awful seat came off and was replaced by an original GS1000 saddle, easily the best stock bike seat ever made, from a salvage dealer and the whole bike painted black.

But the years and the miles went by and began to take their toll on both of us; and then there came a time of great horror in my personal life, when it was all I could do just to get through without losing my mind - and didn't entirely succeed in that, for a while there - and nothing left over for more than the most basic and hasty bike maintenance; and neither of us was ever the same again, but flesh and bone and nerves can recover better than metal....

And then there was a period, after I lost the use of my right eye, when I wasn't sure I ought to be riding at all, so Suzie sat in the garage and waited for me to quit feeling sorry for myself.

Still, the time came when I gave myself a kick in the ass and decided it was time to start taking some things back, starting with fixing up the old bike and getting back on the road. And I was working on it, making a list of the stuff I was going to have to order -

Then one afternoon I heard strange sounds out front and went to the door to see a fire truck pulling up and Suzie in flames. By the time I got out onto the porch it was already obvious that the destruction was total; the heat was so intense that it killed a tree several yards away. All the firemen could do was hose down the blazing wreckage and stop the fire from spreading.

(Somebody had at least thought to call the fire department; nobody, including the firemen, had bothered to knock on my door and tell me my bike was on fire. That's the kind of town I live in and the kind of neighbors I've got.)

The cause of the fire was never determined. Malicious human activity was very much a possibility - there is a long and still-lively arson tradition in these parts, and I am not without local enemies - but there was never any chance of proving it, nor was any effort made.

It was a hell of a thing to deal with; the relationship between bike and rider, when they have put in that many years and miles together, becomes almost symbiotic, so that it goes beyond the loss of a possession or even a friend. A piece of me went up in that fire...and these pictures and these memories are all that's left.

The following accounts cover only a few of the trips I took with Suzie - the ones I thought interesting enough to photograph. I rode to New York and back in '93, for example, but it was mainly a family visit and I didn't even bother taking a camera - though I wished I had; I went through some really beautiful country - and for that matter while my daughter was in school, at the University of Chicago, I used to occasionally ride up there to see her, either alone or with my wife, but the trip itself wasn't very interesting.

R.I.P, Suzie. We had some good times.

* * * * * * *

South Of The Border Again: Down Into Tropical Mexico

Two For The Road: Once More Southwest, This Time With Company

Up In The UP: It Seemed Like A Good Idea At The Time

Back East: Southeast For A Change

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