Simple, classy, light, and inexpensive.  Just like my first shotgun!

1980 Suzuki GN 400T:  A sure fire future cult classic!  In a nutshell, a single cylinder four stroke single overhead cam UCMJ.  Ok, the first two years that sold 1978-1979 (Not in America) were little more than Suzuki’s Interpretation of a modern classic British single abet 397cc’s to keep in line with the Japanese government regulations on engine size.  But in 1980 for $1,499 when the GN400 arrived to the Good Ol’ US of A…it gained the T option and the GN400T for 1980 was born.  Pull back handle bars, slightly stepped seat and star shaped mag rims. (Anybody else see a resemblance to Honda’s ComStar rims?) 

I picked myGN400 up two winters ago with just 2,407 miles on the meter.   Pretty good shape too for being 35 years old.    Two fork seals, a shock, a couple of inner tubes, a sparkplug, oil change and filter screen cleaned,  a carburetor clean, new air filter, petcock rebuild, finding and installing four blinkers, two mirrors, chain guard and passenger grab rail and the quest goes on.  Maybe I will find a set of crash bars and the coveted Suzuki luggage rack?

FYI a little Suzuki History: 

  • 1981 GN400TX  Oooow!, bold new graphics. Still only available in Black with those golden mag rims.  Look real hard and you might see some Midnight special!
  • 1982 GN400TZ  Different star shaped mag rims.
  • 1980 GN400X this being more in line with the 1978-1979 model with spoked rims, straighter handlebars and square master cylinder.  Color available:  Kinda a red or Maroon I guess.  Price:  $1,299 in 1980:  $200 cheaper than the GN400T
  • 1981 GN400XX bout the same

It should be mentioned that the Suzuki Management first used pretty much the exact same engine/transmission in their SP370/SP400 and DR370/DR400.  Little known fact:  The GN400T Suzuki maintenance manual is supplemental to the SP400 manual.

Starting the 1980 GN400T is pretty simple:   Pull choke out and turn on the fuel.  With the kick starter find compression stroke. Pull compression release.  Turn on key and give her a kick.   Too easy.  Easiest Kick starting four stroke motorcycle I have ever started.  Almost as easy as the new SR400.  Way easier to kick start than a friend’s  XT500 which Yamaha used essentially the same engine in the  SR500 and they are mostly interchangeable.

Amazingly, the Suzuki never back fires and my memory of the XT500 was that it was real good at back firing.

Riding is pretty much UCMJ.  Good breaks, Good clutch, with a great transmission. Low slightly stepped seat.  Pert near buck horn handle bars.   Fun to roll through the gears on.  In town and on back roads….45mph all day long and maybe even get a nap in.  65 mph and its buzzy.  I have run mine up to 85 mph and that is enough. Need to mention that gimmicky gear identification lamp on the top of the dash.  1 through 5 displayed in high technology LED red numbers!

Ease clutch, Full throttle, reduce throttle momentarily,  gingerly pull in clutch, snick shifter….Full Throttle, Repeat, Repeat, Repeat.   Oh what fun it is to row through the gears.   With a full 27 horse power at hand and a ton of thumper torque.  Shifting is a visceral experience.  Ya, five hp less than the SR500 for 1980 but amazingly identical to the 2015 SR400.  You would think in 35 years Yamaha could squeeze another couple of hp.  Speaking of which a carbureted Royal Enfield Bullet 500 makes about 23 hp, the Honda FT500 with four valves at 34hp, and the 1989-1991 Honda GB 500 with four valves produces ~33.3 hp.

You would think with the new technology of the new SR400 and the greater displacement of the 1980 SR500, the 1982 FT500 and the GB 500 the old Suzuki GN400T would be slower….But not significantly so…They all run about 15 seconds in the ¼ mile. My gut says because of weight.  The SR500 of old weighs in at 356lbs or 30-40 lbs heavier, the new SR400 at 384 lbs or 50-60lbs heavier, the portly  GB500 at 390 lbs or 55-65lbs heavier and an electric start 1982 FT500 at 378lbs or 44-54lbs heavier. 

Breaking distances from 60 – 0 are very similar too.  The GN400T reins in with a little less weight and naturally the least breaking distance at 128 foot.  The 1980 chubby SR500 comes to a stop at 143 ft.  Neither are anywhere close to a 2006 Speed triple at 106 feet but better than most.

My recorded fuel mileage for the GN400T  is consistently 70 mpg.  Magazine tests in the early 1980s indicated 60mpg and 71.3mpg.  You could do much worse.  What about the competition though?  New SR400 freaking 80+ mpg.  Older SR500 rated at 62mpg and the 1982 FT500 at 50mpg.

All is not perfect though.  The 6v electrical system of the GN400T is a bit wanting.  There is light on the road at night but don’t let the revs drop as the brilliance ahead of you will too.  The SR500 of old was 12 volt. So is the FT500.  Of course the new SR400 is….Does anyone even make 6v motorcycle anymore?

And kick starting.  If Suzuki had put an electric starter on the GN400s and made it 12volt they would have sold a lot more of them. FT sales reflect this with about eight thousand. Not the paltry two to four thousand of them (Estimated by great minds) The GN400T is a jewel.  But it is still a kick starter.  The new SR400 can be started with your hand…The GN not so.  Perhaps the 9.3 to 1 compression is a bit manlier than the SR400’s 8.5 to1.  Close but the new SR is easier and being human, easier is often the route many of us go.

To wrap things up:  So many cool old motorcycles out there.  All have pluses and minuses.  The GN400T is a hoot to ride.  Inexpensive, simple, not bad looking and performance is on par with its peers and better than most cars.  Find something cool.  Buy it.  Find something cool, fix it.  Find something cool and RIDE IT!

Cheers!

Drew W.