Suzuki GS850L

Pashnit Bike Stories

The year was 1993 and I was moving to California to go to school. I had recently come off active duty with the Marine Corps and it was time to go back to school.

I bought this motorcycle for a mere $600.


My tax return that year was $600.


I sold this motorcycle for $600.


It was a very good year.


I was moving to California.


I got the crazy idea to ride a motorcycle across the United States. My father thought it was nuts. 


There was still a foot of snow on the ground outside the window when I told him. 

It made sense to me.

Buying the GS850 was very exciting.  I found an ad in the paper and went out to look at the bike.  Until I actually saw the motorcycle- I had no idea what a GS850 even was.  Or what it would look like.   

The garage door opened and my first thought was- that thing is huge!  Compared to my Suzuki GS450, it was.  The guy rarely rode it anymore.  It was the first and only bike I looked at.  I rather blithely assumed the bike would be big enough to make the trip across the United States.  I told him right there I would take it.

I secured engine guards, added highway pegs, and put new Spitfire SE11's on the bike.  I borrowed the saddlebags my little sister used with her horses and someone gave me an old army sleeping bag. 


I went to the DMV, took the driving test and rode home with a smile.  I had hardly ridden the new motorcycle.

I figured I probably needed a shakedown run.  In preparation for my 5000 mile trek, I merely rode over to the next town, 15 miles away.  And promptly froze my kiester off.  It was April in Wisconsin. 


Somebody gave me a Dennis Kirk catalog and I bought the largest fairing available on National Cycles' product line.

It was snowing when I left Wisconsin for good and headed for California.  

I did no homework on the route, sights along the way, or much of anything.  A direction of west was the general idea and I had ten days until I had to check into my new unit. 


I headed south into Illinois to escape the snow.  Then into St. Louis, Missouri to escape the flattest land imaginable in northwestern Illinois.  Up into Kansas into my first intense downpour on the plains. 

It was exhilarating. I cried war into the sky as the winds and rain tossed the bike back and forth across the road.  Across Colorado until I rode up on the Rocky Mountains through Kiowa wondering what the early pioneers must have thought.  Above Denver is literally a wall straight up into the sky. 

 Past Mile High Stadium and up to Mount Evans to the highest road miles and miles.  Darn, it's still covered under piles of snow.  How about Guanella Pass?  That was opened only days earlier. I slip and slide up the dirt road to 14,665 feet up in the air.  The highest pass in North America and then over to Leadville- the highest town in America.  I attempted to reach Aspen but the road still had four feet of snow on it.  So that's why there was no traffic coming back the other way!  

Leaving Colorado, descending into the Utah desert and into Zion National Park on back roads.  South to Lake Mead and the Hoover Dam.  Hmm, the Grand Canyon is right over there...

I left Hoover Dam and headed for the Grand Canyon leaving the freeway as dusk fell.  I couldn't see anything beyond my headlight but the signs said it was just ahead.  I found the south rim and a campsite and settled into the coldest night of my life.  My ancient sleeping bag was made of paper mache' and  I shivered the hours away completely unaware of just how cold it really was.  

Before dawn, I awoke simply unable to sleep any longer. I was surprised to see a heavy layer of white frost covering everything, including my sleeping bag.  No wonder.  

A short distance away, the temperature read 19 degrees!  What I failed to take note of was the elevation markers. 


The south rim of the Grand Canyon was 6000 feet.  I was sleeping on a mountain top.

Down through Sedona, and toward California.  At the border was a sort of border crossing where everyone had to stop.  I had not encountered anything like this in all my travels.  Did I have any fruit?  Fruit?  Do I look like I a guy who's carrying fruit?  Does this thing look like a fruit truck? 


My first experience with the state border inspections.

Across the edge of Mexico on Interstate 8 into San Diego and then up the coastal highway.  The first of many trips along the Pacific Coast's Cabrillo Highway, aka Highway 1.

I checked into my reserve unit and worked the summer riding to work daily on the bike.  I didn't know anyone and work didn't offer much opportunity to develop friendships.  Instead I would hop on the bike and explore. 


Sometimes putting my rollarblades on the back and riding to some locale like Monterey- three hours away.

I started school and the luggage rack worked great to hold all my books.  The exhaust pipe rusted through (a common problem I am told) and I stuffed steel wool in through the hole which worked great.

One time I was headed to the night job I worked.  I would leave the house at 1 in the morning.  While turning into the last corner, I hit a patch of gravel kicked up from the heavy trucks pulling out and went down. 


The wipeout was fortunately at low speed and the bike merely slid a short distance and stopped there in the middle of the road.  My coworker behind me in his car saw the whole thing.  His eyes were as big as saucers when he hopped out of his car to see if I was alright.  I had ripped the knees out of my jeans pretty bad and scrapped some skin off.  Other than than, I was fine and rode into work and worked the shift.  

When I got home, I realized the left aluminum engine casing had actually been ground down to the point where I had put a tiny hole in the engine casing in which oil was seeping out.  Not good.  If you go to an auto parts store and they do not know what JB Weld is, then you are in the wrong store.  We whipped this up, slathered some on and plugged the hole.

 I had grown a little too attached to my M16A2 while on active duty and purchased a Colt Sporter- the civilian version of the M16A2.


I would split the rifle in half, bungee it to the back of the bike and ride up into the national forests, and hike around until I found a suitable makeshift firing range.  

I soon sold the rifle to garner some cash to buy the next motorcycle.

One of the things I failed to do as I began looking for a new motorcycle is figure out what the GS850 was worth.  I sold it to some kid for a measly $600 because my next 6000 mile trip was fast approaching and I wanted a bigger bike.  In California, my bike was worth twice what I paid in Wisconsin.  The mileage was still under 20K although it wasn't perfect, it was still in great shape.  

These 80's street bikes are fast becoming a memory but they will always be great starter bikes.  They're reliable, inexpensive to operate, and durable.  They'll always be my recommendation if some wants to get into motorcycling for minimal dollars.

In front of me lay 50,000 Miles over the next three years on an '83 Yamaha Venture XVZ1200.

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About Pashnit:

Tim Mayhew has devoted nearly 30 years to photographing and writing about California roads riding 300,000 miles across North America. His tireless efforts on the California Motorcycle Roads web site have spread across the globe becoming the encyclopedic guidebook for motorcycle travel in California. As of 2021, Tim has been designing & leading professional motorcycle tours across California, Oregon & Nevada for 18 years.
Learn more about riding with Tim on a  
Pashnit Motorcycle Tour in 2021.


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