After vanquishing the British in the 1970s, the Japanese Big Four set their sights on the American market. Of course, Harley-Davidson dominated, so they needed to appeal to the cruiser crowd. Before committing to building what we now know as the metric cruiser, they tested the waters by tweaking some existing models into cruiser-like variants.  Suzuki's effort was the GS650L.

The "L" models of Suzuki's GS series followed a similar formula to Honda's "Custom" bikes. Take an existing model, replace some painted components with chrome, swap the flat seat for a stepped one, and see how it sells in the US.

The GS had one trick up its sleeve that Honda didn't, though: shaft drive. Harley owners accustomed to a low-maintenance belt-drive would never have to lube the chain like they would for the Honda, which was a point in Suzuki's favor. Other strong points were a gear indicator and a fuel gauge, neither of which were common on motorcycles until recently. It also had adjustable rear shocks and air forks in front so you could dial in the perfect ride.

Full disclosure: my first motorcycle was a 1981 Suzuki GS650L. It looked just like this, except worse. The carburetors were dirty after sitting in a friend's yard for three years. It leaked oil. It also leaked final drive fluid, which led to that bike's demise when I didn't realize it was a separate reservoir and let it run dry, chewing up the driveshaft. It was heavy and slow—with dirty carbs it made nowhere near the rated 73 horsepower—but I liked it so much, I replaced it with a 1980 GS550E, which I rode for years afterward.

Gallery: 1981 Suzuki GS650L

This particular example on Bring a Trailer is in far better condition. It looks great, though it shows its age slightly with minor scratches on the tank, oxidation on the engine covers, and a nearly invisible tear in the seat. It has a fresh stator, oil, spark plugs, air filter, and tires. It also has the clean carburetors that mine never did. The odometer shows just under 23,000 miles. At the time of writing, the current bid was $2,000 with one day left. That's $2,000 more than I got mine for, and the condition certainly reflects it. If I had space for it, I'd be tempted to buy it myself, for old time's sake.

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