Guessing someone’s age can be a tricky thing. Pharell looks like a well dressed paperboy whereas Paul Gascoigne is so wizened you’d swear he’d been given a yellow card in the 1966 World Cup. Thankfully motorcycles make it a little easier. Fire up a two stroke and look around for the beaming faces of deep intakes of breath followed by a nostalgic “ahhhh, that takes me back.” You either grew up covering the clutch lever and chasing a super narrow power band, or you didn’t. I’d wager that the owner of this wonderful Suzuki GT550 at least has a few grey hairs in his beard.
This 1974 model was imported from America and sent to Mark Alder at Reverb Motorcycles down in Sussex. Mark was chosen for his OCD approach to mechanics and customisation. He’s the sort of bloke who’ll shorten a bolt and neatly file the end even though it’ll never be on show and he probably sieves paint through a pair of tights to ensure a perfect finish. He tells a good story too so over to Mark.
“The Suzuki’s owner contacted us and we were asked to find some potential in barn find of a bike. He very much wanted to keep the soul of the bike but make subtle changes to transform it into a new-wave café racer. Oh, it had to be comfortable too. A bizarre request but we understand that being stretched over the tank position isn’t for everyone. When we collected the bike, we found a rolling frame with half an engine in it. The rest of the parts were stuffed into cardboard boxes and an old pillowcase!”
“We assembled the parts and got it running, deciding we could indeed make something of it. Apart from the tank, which arrived ready painted, we stripped the bike into its component parts. What could be salvaged was set aside and either refurbished or modified. Quite surprisingly, we used around 90% on the new build and that’s always a good thing.”
“The engine was given a total rebuild so is effectively new. The original wheel rims were discarded and the salvaged hubs were vapour blasted, polished and laced onto new aluminium rims. Every bush, bearing, gasket and seal has been replaced to achieve, what effectively, is a new motorcycle.”
“Great lengths go into making the frame as clean and strong as possible. We blast off all the old paint (which allows us to check for rust or cracks), then carefully grind away the original ‘over’ welding and ‘spatter’, remove all unnecessary brackets, tabs and lugs before welding in new bracing to make the whole thing stiffer. The entire frame is then hand linished to ensure there are no imperfections before we hand it over for more blasting and a powder coat finish.”
“Being a 2-stroke motor – and wanting to ‘open up’ the look of the bike by making it more skeletal – we had to remove the original plastic oil tank and this now forms the hump of the custom fabricated aluminium seat. The seat also houses a high output lithium Ion battery and the majority of the bikes electrical system. The saddle itself is trimmed in finest automotive hide.
“To improve the engine’s performance we fitted a stainless steel expansion chamber exhaust system and tuned the carburetors to suit. The bike now also benefits from the addition of custom modified electronic ignition.”
“The modified wiring loom is made in-house and incorporates the latest LED lighting technology. The controls (handlebars, clutch, front and rear brake levers, gear shift etc) are all modified and located precisely to suit the rider. In much the same way a suit is made, we take the riders measurements and ensure that the bike fits them perfectly. The suspension is custom specified and built for us by UK company Hagon Shocks (they build our wheels too) to ensure that we optimise the bike’s handling.”
“Finally, and most importantly, the braking system was re-built and modified to perform at its absolute best. Coupled with new Avon tyres, ensuring that not only is the bike quick, it also handles well and, when necessary, it stops sharp.”
We are genuinely hoping to see this smokey Suzy down at Bike Shed London because if there’s one thing better than the ring-a-ding-ding of a two stroke, it’s a triple. But given the weather at the moment we’d hate to see Mark’s polishing undone.
Photography by Gun Hill Studios