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2008 Motorcycle Fuel Economy Comparison

2008 Suzuki GZ250 action

Bill Stermer
September 15, 2008
Filed under Honda Motorcycle Road Tests: Reviews on Honda Motorcycles, Kawasaki Motorcycle Road Tests: Reviews on Kawasaki Motorcycles & Sportbikes, Other Motorycle Reviews, Road Tests, Suzuki Motorcycle Reviews, Yamaha Motorcycle Reviews

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Photography by Kevin Wing
[This review of nine fuel-efficient motorcycles was originally published in the October 2008 issue of Rider]

2008 Suzuki GZ250 action

2008 Suzuki GZ250

Motorcycles included in this review (2008 model year): Honda Nighthawk, Kawasaki Ninja 250R, Star V Star 250, Suzuki GZ250, Honda 750 Shadow Aero, Buell Blast, Kawasaki Versys, Star V Star 650 Custom and Suzuki GS500F.

As spring began, we were hearing that gas prices could reach $4 per gallon by summer. In California, gas had already hit $4.50 as summer began, having doubled in a few short years. Of course, as fuel prices increase people begin casting about for more fuel-efficient forms of transportation, and now we’re frequently asked, “What kinda mileage you get on that motorcycle?” Well, my 1100 sport tourer gets about 40-45 mpg, depending upon how I ride it, and we all know that smaller bikes can get better mileage than that–much better.

How much better? At Rider, we decided to find out. For all those who want to lower their fuel costs while having more fun, we have assembled a group of nine small-to-midsize motorcycles to evaluate for their fuel economy, practicality and fun factor. We divided our test bikes into two categories, four fuel-frugal (fuelgal, get it?) little 250cc machines that are light, inexpensive and easy to handle, and five midsized bikes in the 500-750cc category. The latter could not only be used for commuting, but also for travel, fun, sporting about and carrying a passenger. One would not tire of them quickly.

What do you gain as you go up in engine displacement? On a small bike like a 250cc (about 15 cubic inches), you’re always reacting to the road as your bike may have barely enough power to accelerate uphill or pass traffic. Ergonomics may be cramped, suspensions marginal and carrying a passenger will be an adventure at best. At freeway speeds the 250s’ engines are turning at a frenetic pace, so they will not be a relaxing ride. Their little engines are geared so high that you’ll be shifting gears constantly, and because they don’t have such refinements as adjustable levers and fuel injection you’ll be dealing with choke levers, less precise fuel delivery and some discomfort. A steel fuel tank allows the use of a magnetic tankbag, which is a convenience.

Here, we’re often questioned as to why the mileage figures on our test bikes are so low. It’s because we’re aggressive test riders, we ride hard for testing purposes, and we have a company gas card. To evaluate these nine machines I did things differently (except for the gas card). I started by topping up the fuel supply on each, adjusting tire pressures and then ran them on an identical 100-mile loop that included about 45 miles of back roads (at 35-55 mph), 10 miles of stop-and-go city traffic, and 45 miles of freeway (at 65-70 mph). To provide realistic results I rode the bikes not for maximum economy, but as I figured an owner would who had bought them to save gas, yet who also wanted to have fun. I cruised at about the speed limit to 5 mph over, and while I did not baby them I avoided full-throttle operation. I’m 6 feet, 165 pounds, which puts me at about average weight but slightly taller than average. When I gassed them at the end of the run I averaged the final odometer readings as all bikes had traveled the same distance. And here are my findings.

1980s Redux: 2008 Honda Nighthawk ($3,699 / 73.8 mpg)

2008 Honda Nighthawk right side

2008 Honda Nighthawk

One look, and the Honda Nighthawk 250 transports you back to the 1980s. Check out the air-cooled engine, the drum brake at each end, the choke knob and reserve petcock–it doesn’t even have push-to-cancel turn signals! It’s almost as if you can hear President Reagan exhorting, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”

Originally introduced as the CM200 and updated from there, the Nighthawk 250 is powered by a 234cc parallel twin engine with a single overhead cam and five-speed transmission. The 31mm fork tubes are spindly by today’s standards, and when combined with the dual shocks they deliver a ride that is imprecise and mushy. Seating is upright, and the pegs so high that they rotated my hips to the point I was sitting on the pointy rather than the soft parts of my gluteus. The seat is soft to the point of being squirmy, which becomes fatiguing after about 50 miles.

2008 Honda Nighthawk action

2008 Honda Nighthawk: High pegs rotate the hips as low bars place the rider’s torso in a crouch, resulting in a cramped seating position for taller riders.

Pull out the choke knob, and with its single 26mm carburetor the Nighthawk is very cold-blooded; it takes a couple minutes to warm up before it can be ridden off without stuttering and stalling. Once underway the five-speed with its cable-actuated clutch shifts easily with a very short throw, and can be trolled down to 30 mph in top gear. The engine makes a determined flutter, and takes a good deal of time and throttle twisting to wind it up to highway speeds. Acceleration was leisurely at best, and observed top speed was a doughty 75 mph.

The front drum brake is powerful enough, but requires a very firm squeeze to generate sufficient stopping power. The non-adjustable lever was positioned relatively far from the grip, and was a reach for my stubby fingers. The rear brake likewise lacked sensitivity, and was difficult to modulate precisely.

It’s the lightest bike here at just 318 pounds with a full tank, and on our mileage course the Nighthawk sipped gas at an impressive rate of 73.8 mpg. That means that its 4.3-gallon tank produces a theoretical range of 317 miles! The little Honda has no tachometer, fuel gauge or low-fuel warning light, but you can switch the tank to reserve when it begins to run dry. It’s only available in black for 2008. I do not recommend the little Honda for freeway droning and its long-distance comfort is suspect, but it’s a dandy local commuter.

Base Price: $3,699
Engine Type: Air-cooled, transverse parallel twin, SOHC, 2 valves per cyl.
Bore x Stroke: 53.0 x 53.0mm
Displacement: 234cc
Transmission: 5-speed, cable-actuated wet clutch
Final Drive: Chain
Wheelbase: 56.3 in.
Rake/Trail: 30 degrees/4.5 in.
Seat Height: 29.3 in.
Wet Weight: 318 lbs.
Fuel Capacity: 4.3 gals.
Average mpg: 73.8

The Sporty 250: 2008 Kawasaki Ninja 250R ($3,499 / 64.5 mpg)

2008 Kawasaki Ninja 250R right side

2008 Kawasaki Ninja 250R

The Ninja 250 was introduced in 1986, updated for 1988, and remained essentially unchanged for 20 years. For 2008, however, Kawasaki has finally introduced an updated 250R Ninja, and addressed the existing model’s shortcomings. To give it more low-end torque its liquid-cooled, 249cc, DOHC parallel twin engine was given new four-valve heads with reshaped intake and exhaust ports, new camshafts, radiator and 2-into-1 exhaust system. It inhales through a pair of 30mm carburetors. The sporty bodywork is all-new and includes dual headlights with a new solo seat and rear cowling; a passenger seat is a $99.95 option. The bike now rides on 17-inch (rather than 16-inch) wheels with bias-ply tires.

Seating is upright and comfortable, the fork firm, but rear suspension action is harsh and the seat becomes hard within 100 miles. The new 250R is a revvy little bugger, is the only small bike here with a tachometer, and is turning a howling 7,500 rpm in sixth gear at an indicated 65 mph. It’s redlined at 13,000 rpm, but the torquey little motor is very happy trolling along at 3,500 rpm (down to 35 mph) in sixth gear. First is geared so low that starts in second gear are easy. With a petal brake rotor at each end and a two-piston caliper, braking is first-rate.

2008 Kawasaki Ninja 250R action

2008 Kawasaki Ninja 250R: Knees bent and the torso placed in an easy lean result in sporty comfort.

The 250R offers the most modern styling and technology of the bikes in our small-displacement group, was the heaviest at 376 pounds, and turned 64.5 mpg when ridden conservatively on my mileage course. For comparison purposes I flogged it on my favorite mountain road, up over a 5,000-foot peak, redlined it often and pushed it hard; it still turned a respectable 48.2 mpg. Its steel tank holds 4.8 gallons, enough for an absurd range of more than 300 miles at my conservative pace.

With a seat height of 30.5 inches the 250R Ninja may be intimidating for short-inseam riders. Still, it is by far the most modern, sporty and technologically advanced bike among our 250s, yet its $3,499 price tag is in line with the others here (even when you add the rear seat). Colors include Lime Green, Candy Plasma Blue, Passion Red and Ebony.

Base Price: $3,699
Engine Type: Air-cooled, transverse parallel twin, SOHC, 2 valves per cyl.
Bore x Stroke: 53.0 x 53.0mm
Displacement: 234cc
Transmission: 5-speed, cable-actuated wet clutch
Final Drive: Chain
Wheelbase: 56.3 in.
Rake/Trail: 30 degrees/4.5 in.
Seat Height: 29.3 in.
Wet Weight: 318 lbs.
Fuel Capacity: 4.3 gals.
Average mpg: 73.8

The Thrifty Little Cruiser: 2008 Star V Star 250 ($3,599 / 77.0 mpg)

2008 Star V Star 250 right side

2008 Star V Star 250

V-twin cruisers have been hot for many years, no matter what their size. Yamaha’s Star division has offered variations of this bike to back in the 1980s, including one called the Virago 250. Today the littlest Star is powered by an air-cooled 249cc, 60-degree V-twin engine with a single 26mm carburetor. With its 49mm bore and relatively long 66mm stroke it offers a fair amount of low-end torque that helps to spirit the V Star away from stops; it certainly is the torque leader of our 250-class bikes. There’s a pleasant, mellow burble to its exhaust, and acceleration is spirited in comparison with the Honda Nighthawk. Like the Honda, it can run in fifth gear down to 30 mph.

The motor is uncommonly smooth, especially considering that it’s a V-twin. The pullback handlebar that seems relaxed at lower speeds has you pulling yourself into the wind at 65mph and above, which quickly becomes tiring. The seat is just 27 inches off the pavement, wide and heavily padded. Though initially soft, within 40 miles I was squirming and by the end of my nearly 100-mile loop I couldn’t wait to get off the thing. Overall I found the bike fatiguing and uncomfortable for higher speeds and distances above 50 miles, but suitable for around-town riding.

2008 Star V Star 250 action

2008 Star V Star 250: Pullback bars and an upright torso make the rider fight the wind at highway speeds.

Sure there’s a drum rear brake, but the front is a disc and delivers good stopping power and modulation. Our test bike weighed in at just 331 pounds, though with its 58.7-inch wheelbase it felt stable at speed. Star claims that the V Star 250 can turn 78 mpg, and the 77.0-mpg figure I recorded on my test loop verified that claim. That little fuel tank holds just 2.5 gallons, much less than other bikes here, yet that still results in a respectable range of “only” 192 miles on a tank. You can have the Star 250 in any color, so long as it’s Black Cherry.

Like the Honda 250, the Star won’t be much fun for long stretches on the freeway, but it turned the best mileage figure of the bikes in our test and produces an entertaining amount of torque. Again, I’d recommend it primarily for local commuting and only minimal highway use.

Base Price: $3,599
Engine Type: Air-cooled,
transverse 60-degree V-twin, SOHC, 2 valves per cyl.
Bore x Stroke: 49.0 x 66.0mm
Displacement: 249cc
Transmission: 5-speed, cable-actuated wet clutch
Final Drive: Chain
Wheelbase: 58.7 in.
Rake/Trail: N/A
Seat Height: 27.0 in.
Wet Weight: 331 lbs.
Fuel Capacity: 2.5 gals.
Average mpg: 77.0

The Simple Single: 2008 Suzuki GZ250 ($3,249 / 66.3 mpg)

2008 Suzuki GZ250 right side

2008 Suzuki GZ250

Like the Honda Nighthawk, the Suzuki GZ250 has a very ’80s look, but at least it has a disc front brake and push-to-cancel turn signals. Don’t be fooled by those twin header pipes–the GZ is powered by a single-cylinder engine that offers a bore and stroke of 72 x 61.2mm. It’s the only single among our quarter-liter bikes, is air-cooled, and its engine is fed by a 32mm carburetor.

Thumb the manual choke, hit the starter button and it comes to life with a low rumble. Chunk it into gear, release the clutch and handling is sparklingly easy. Start it rolling and this torquey thumper gets out of the hole quickly, but it soon runs out of steam and needs to be shifted. It does not have enough torque for long uphill runs, and needed to be downshifted in places that the other 250s did not. It has a 57.1-inch wheelbase, and I was impressed with how stable it felt in the turns, as if it were actually biting into them and holding a fine line. I was also impressed with how smooth the engine is, surprisingly so for a single.

2008 Suzuki GZ250 action

2008 Suzuki GZ250: Torso up and bars back—more fighting the wind, anyone?

At 27.8 inches the seat is low, the feet comfortably forward, but the buckhorn bars bring the grips so far back that my arms were bent more than I liked. At speed I constantly had to hold myself against the wind.

Most riders considering a single would expect that with its simplicity it would likely be the lightest bike and deliver the best fuel mileage, but here they would be mistaken on both counts.

The GZ250 weighs 336 pounds wet, which means it is heavier than the twin-cylinder Honda Nighthawk by 18 pounds, and it’s five pounds heavier than the Star, yet it feels light and sprightly. Also, it delivered 66.3 mpg on our mileage loop, barely better than the high-strung and sporty Ninja 250R. In short, the GZ250’s simplicity as a single does not return any noticeable advantage in terms of lightness or fuel mileage, but it does have the lowest price tag of just $3,249. Color? What’s your favorite, black or gray?

Base Price: $3,249
Engine Type: Air-cooled, OHC single w/ 2 valves
Bore x Stroke: 72.0 x 61.2mm
Displacement: 249cc
Transmission: 5-speed, cable-actuated wet clutch
Final Drive: Chain
Wheelbase: 57.1 in.
Rake/Trail: 32 degrees/ 5.6 in.
Seat Height: 27.8 in.
Wet Weight: 336 lbs.
Fuel Capacity: 3.4 gals.
Average mpg: 66.3

The Smoother Cruiser: 2008 Honda 750 Shadow Aero ($7,099 / 59.3 mpg)

2008 Honda Shadow Aero right side

2008 Honda Shadow Aero

The basic Shadow can trace its lineage back to 1983, but has been heavily updated over the years. It features a liquid-cooled, 52-degree V-twin engine with two spark plugs per cylinder, and single-overhead cams actuating three valves per cylinder. It sends power to the road via a five-speed transmission and driveshaft. Among the several Honda 750 Shadow models, the Aero is the one with heavily valanced (plastic) fenders and classic styling. Its engine just drips with chrome covers for that custom look. For 2008 the Aero features a revised tank logo, and 2-into-2 exhaust system.

Fire it up and it oozes a most satisfying cruiser rumble that helps give it a certain presence. The five-speed shifts very easily and cleanly, and its clutch and brake levers have a light pull. Up front is a perfectly adequate disc brake with a twin-piston caliper, which is assisted by an equally adequate rear drum.

2008 Honda Shadow Aero action

2008 Honda Shadow Aero: A quality seat and plush suspension enhance the Honda’s comfort.

With a 64.5-inch wheelbase, 34-degree rake and a seat just 25.9 inches high, it imparts a very long, low feeling of easy control. I found its seat and overall seating position to be very comfortable, its well-damped suspension was the most luxurious of our group, though as typical for a cruiser it could have used a bit more damping in the fork and greater cornering clearance; when ridden with spirit its footpegs are soon dragging the pavement. No surprise here, the largest-displacement bike in our comparison (745cc) is also the heaviest (560 pounds), yet it was far from the thirstiest. The big surprise was that, at the end of my loop, I found that the Aero had turned the best fuel mileage (59.3 mpg) of our big-bike group. With its 3.7-gallon fuel tank, it offers a theoretical range of 219 miles.

The Shadow Aero is available in a wide array of hues, and in any of its solid colors will set you back $6,799. If you prefer two-tones, such as the Candy Dark Red/White shown, you’ll have to dig deeper for $7,099.

Obviously, as you go up in displacement and price, the bikes should and will offer more. The Shadow offered not only exceptional fit and finish, but also comfort to match. Throw in its fuel mileage and you have a real winner.

Base Price: $6,799 (solid colors), $7,099 (two-tones)
Engine Type: Liquid-cooled,
transverse 52-degree V-twin, 3 valves per cyl.
Bore x Stroke: 79.0 x 76.0mm
Displacement: 745cc
Transmission: 5-speed, cable-actuated wet clutch
Final Drive: Shaft
Wheelbase: 64.5 in.
Rake/Trail: 34 degrees/3.0 in.
Seat Height: 25.9 in.
Wet Weight: 560 lbs.
Fuel Capacity: 3.7 gals.
Average mpg: 59.3

Low Price, Low Comfort: 2008 Buell Blast ($4,695 / 56.0 mpg)

2008 Buell Blast right side

2008 Buell Blast

If you were Harley-Davidson, wouldn’t you want one of your own bikes in your H-D/Buell motorcycle dealership rider training courses? Of course you would. Enter the Buell Blast, powered by an air-cooled, single-cylinder engine displacing 492cc, and having hydraulic valve adjusters that self-adjust and actuate the two valves per cylinder. It’s the only bike here with belt final drive, which offers the benefits of chain drive (directness, lightness, acceptable friction losses) without the drawbacks of needing frequent lubrication or adjustment.

With its clutch’s narrow friction point smooth starts take some practice, but the bike has so much torque that stalling isn’t likely. That big single produces some major shaking at low rpm, where it chugs like my buddy’s old Cushman scooter from the 1960s. On trailing throttle it’ll also jangle the front end and shudder the rubber-mounted turn signals and mirrors. In normal running the Blast is acceptably smooth, though you can feel the vibes in the grips and seat.

2008 Buell Blast action

2008 Buell Blast: Low bars, high pegs and a seat that puts your butt in a sling compromise the Blast’s comfort.

With its 55-inch wheelbase and 25 degrees of rake the Blast offers tight, quick steering–a rollerblade on two wheels. The rider is forced into a very compact, hunched-over seating position with the feet high and hips rotated forward to the point that my wrists were just 5 inches above my knees. Because the grips are quite far rearward, I had to hold myself into the wind. The seat forms a sling that slides the rider forward onto the narrow and initially soft front section that proves overly mushy, so there’s very little support and fatigue quickly sets in.

Though far from plush the suspension is well damped and controlled, absorbing most bumps rather than reacting to them. Steering is quick and precise, and the Pirelli tires bite into turns. There’s a disc brake at each end, featuring a two-piston and a one-piston caliper, and they provide good stopping power. The Surlyn plastic fuel tank won’t accept a magnetic tankbag.

For my 6-foot build the only way I could own a Blast is if I were to replace the seat and handlebar with something noticeably more comfortable. As a single the Buell was the lightest of our large bikes, and the least expensive, but its 56.0-mpg fuel mileage was middling.

Base Price: $4,695
Engine Type: Air-cooled, OHV single w/ 2 valves per cyl.
Bore x Stroke: 88.9 x 79.4mm
Displacement: 492cc
Transmission: 5-speed, cable-actuated wet clutch
Final Drive: Belt
Wheelbase: 55.0 in.
Rake/Trail: 25 degrees/3.4 in.
Seat Height: 27.5 in.
Wet Weight: 394 lbs.
Fuel Capacity: 2.8 gals.
Average mpg: 56.0

The Sporty Alternative: 2008 Kawasaki Versys ($6,899 / 55.7 mpg)

2008 Kawasaki Versys right side

2008 Kawasaki Versys

A good portion of the riding public prefers a bike that looks good, but doesn’t necessarily make a statement like “I cruise” or “I’m fast,” or that puts them in a box of some sort. Many of those riders will prefer the new-for-2008 Kawasaki Versys. With its cutting-edge styling and ground clearance the Versys offers the feel of a dual-sport combined with the best sports suspension of the bikes here. It’s powered by a liquid-cooled, DOHC four-valve-per-cylinder parallel twin displacing 649cc. It’s the only bike of our nine with fuel injection, two 38mm throttle bodies that simplify starting and clean up the running.

With a wheelbase of just 55.7 inches and a steep 25-degree rake with 4.3 inches of trail the bike is a quick handler, and power delivery is smooth. The Versys has a tach, likes to rev, its six-speed transmission offers low-effort shifting and power gets to the ground via chain final drive. Its 41mm fork doesn’t flex, and combined with that single rear shock it offers the most substantial sporting suspension of our gang of nine. Its only potential drawback is that with a seat height of 33.1 inches it’s very tall, and shorter riders may not feel comfortable if they have to tip-toe the bike.

2008 Kawasaki Versys action

2008 Kawasaki Versys: Combine a decent seat and suspension with wind protection and low bars, and you’ve got good overall comfort.

The Versys serves as a good example of what you get for your money as you pay more. It features triple disc brakes, adjustable levers, and its single shock absorber offers adjustable rebound damping; no other bike here offers these features. With its powerful brakes, quick steering, ample cornering clearance and decent suspension it’s the sportbike of choice in this group. Include uncommonly good wind protection from that little ‘screen and it’s also an effective traveler. Only the center portion of the tank is steel (the side portions are plastic covers), but it held our magnetic tankbag acceptably well. Passion Red is its only color this year.

You will have to decide how much you can spend and how important fuel mileage is to your equation, but to us the Versys is by far the most versatile and enjoyable bike here. You can use it for sporty riding and long-distance travel, commuting and pretty much everything else, and it returned respectable fuel mileage, too.

Base Price: $6,899
Engine Type: Liquid-cooled, transverse parallel twin, DOHC, 4 valves per cyl.
Bore x Stroke: 83.0 x 60.0mm
Displacement: 649cc
Transmission: 6-speed, cable-actuated wet clutch
Final Drive: Chain
Wheelbase: 55.7 in.
Rake/Trail: 25 degrees/4.3 in.
Seat Height: 33.1 in.
Wet Weight: 454 lbs.
Fuel Capacity: 5.0 gals.
Average mpg: 55.7

Flame Job: 2008 Star V Star Custom ($6,099 / 44.9 mpg)

2008 Star V Star 650 Custom right side

2008 Star V Star 650 Custom

Since their introduction in the late ’90s, the V Star 650s have been very popular small cruisers. Fit and finish is first-rate, the engine is adorned with chrome and those blacked-out, air-cooled, 70-degree vee cylinders sport polished fin edges. They displace 649cc and offer a single overhead cam and two valves per cylinder. Inhalation is via a pair of 28mm carburetors. The V Star 650 is available in three versions: the Classic, Silverado and Custom. The Classic has large fenders, a wide seat and 15- and 16-inch wheels; the Silverado is a Classic set up for travel with a windscreen and saddlebags. Our Custom here features 15- and 19-inch wheels, a gunfighter-style seat and bobbed, steel fenders.

The V Star 650 is one of only two bikes in this grouping (the other is the Honda Shadow 750) to have a driveshaft, which requires only an annual fluid change but never needs adjustment. On our mileage loop I found its suspension to be extremely well damped, especially for a cruiser, and its seat is nicely padded and unusually comfortable. I also liked the attractive Candy Red with Flames paint, which was impressive for a low-buck factory bike. The 2008 model sells for $6,099 in this color, or in the Midnight version which is Raven with Flames.

2008 Star V Star 650 Custom action

2008 Star V Star 650 Custom: With the feet relatively low and no excessive bend to the elbows, the Star offers acceptable cruiser comfort.

There’s a nice puttery rumble to the exhaust, and a good low-end torque hit that makes it easy to ride around town. The engine is very acceptably smooth, and its five-speed shifts easily with its light clutch pull. Seat height is a very acceptable 27.4 inches and I had to bend my elbows to ride it, but not to the point that it became uncomfortable at speed. Sure, it has a drum rear brake, but other than the fact that it’s not quite as easy to modulate as a disc brake (like the front), stopping power is acceptable.

I was concerned that the V Star 650 turned just under 45 mpg, the least in our test, yet Star’s website claims only 49 mpg for this model so I conclude that my figure is realistic. With its 4.2-gallon steel tank it has a practical range of about 189 miles.

The cruiser styling and paint are quite attractive, and the bike is very comfortable for other than taller riders. Expect a price increase of $200 and $300 for 2009, depending upon paint options.

Base Price: $6,099
Engine Type: Air-cooled, transverse 70-degree V-twin, SOHC, 2 valves per cyl.
Bore x Stroke: 81.0 x 63.0mm
Displacement: 649cc
Transmission: 5-speed, cable-actuated wet clutch
Final Drive: Shaft
Wheelbase: 63.4 in.
Rake/Trail: 35 degrees/5.8 in.
Seat Height: 27.4 in.
Wet Weight: 523 lbs.
Fuel Capacity: 4.2 gals.
Average mpg: 44.9

The Sporty Pretender: 2008 Suzuki GS500F ($5,199 / 57.1 mpg)

2008 Suzuki GS500F right side

2008 Suzuki GS500F

This bike’s ancestor debuted in the 1970s as a little standard-style bike with an air-cooled, 400cc parallel twin engine, five-speed transmission and very neutral seating. It eventually morphed into a 500, and today displaces 487cc with a six-speed transmission. For 2004 it was emotionally restyled and repositioned with a fairing that resembles a smaller version of Suzuki’s highly successful GSX-R sportbikes. An oil cooler helps give it sport cred, as do those cast wheels. Now its sporty fairing and bodywork will look good on the track or street, yet its seating position won’t likely leave you strung out and with a stiff neck as some sportbikes can.

Climb aboard and notice the 31-inch seat height, which could be problematic for shorter riders. The footpegs are higher than I would have liked, and put me into a semi-crouch. That seat is very firm, yet it’s a good firm and by the end of my ride did not bother me near as much as the seats on some bikes that initially felt cushy. The six-speed transmission shifts easily with a very short throw, and the fork is nicely compliant. Engine vibration is noticeable, yet never bothersome. The shock, like the rear suspension on most low-budget bikes, is firm but not compliant over the rough stuff, which beats the rider in the end…so to speak. A four-piston caliper on the front brake reins in the speed well, and the two-piston rear brake is likewise powerful and easy to modulate.

2008 Suzuki GS500F action

2008 Suzuki GS500F: A sporty crouch is good, but less knee bend would be better for taller riders.

With its 57.1-mpg figure and 5.3-gallon tank the GS500F will whisk you approximately 302 miles on a tank. At 440 pounds wet it’s much lighter than either of the big cruisers, and its price is quite attractive as it’s one of the least expensive bikes in this group. The GS500F would be a good, overall choice for the rider who wants a bike that looks sporty (though it really doesn’t make a lot of power), but will also be comfortable enough for commuting, touring and overall use, and can turn 55-60 mpg. Colors include the Blue/White shown, and Silver/Black.

Base Price: $5,199
Engine Type: Air-cooled, transverse parallel twin, DOHC, 2 valves per cyl.
Bore x Stroke: 74.0 x 56.6mm
Displacement: 487cc
Transmission: 6-speed, cable-actuated wet clutch
Final Drive: Chain
Wheelbase: 55.3 in.
Rake/Trail: 25 degrees/ 3.8 in.
Seat Height: 31.1 in.
Wet Weight: 440 lbs.
Fuel Capacity: 5.3 gals.
Average mpg: 57.1

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