Suzuki GT500 Cafe Racer – from eBay Daily Rider to Vintage Showpiece

1975 Suzuki GT500 cafe racer from Cycle Sports of Houston

1975 Suzuki GT500 cafe racer from Cycle Sports of Houston - a complete transformation from a functional daily rider into a real showpiece

Suzuki GT500 as it came from eBay

Suzuki GT500 as it came from eBay - functional and forgettable

How many times do you scan the motorcycle listings on eBay, but everything you can afford just seems so plain, not something you would be proud to show off on bike night? We've all done it, you see a bike and know it has potential, but what you're looking at practically fades from view, there's nothing to catch your eye. This Suzuki GT500 should change the way you look at bikes, it's a perfect example of a transformation, from wallflower to center stage, and like the CB160 we just showed you, it, too, comes from Cycle Sports of Houston. You can do this, too, with a lot of time, patience and skill. Of course, if you come up short in any of those areas, you can always give Ken Fontenot a call, he'll be happy to build something for you, too.

Suzuki GT500 with custom flip up tail section

Suzuki GT500 with custom flip up tail section

After looking at the before and after photos here, you might want to take another run through those motorcycle for sale listings, you might see them in a whole new light.

Once again, here's Ken with all of the details on this beauty:

We have a customer, Mr Terry Shields that really likes nice vintage motorcycles. He bought a used Suzuki GT500 on eBay in really good condition, rode it around for a while and felt he wanted to convert it into a cafe racer. He brought it in to us and we came up with a few ideas on how to make it all happen.

We stripped the bike down to the bare frame, sandblasted it and started removing unneeded tabs and modifying it to make it fit the part. We put the frame up on a lift and started construction. Everything that was put back on was either refurbished, refinished or replaced. All specialty hardware & fasteners that we reused were replated to look new.

Sometimes a little chrome makes a lot of difference

Sometimes a little chrome makes a lot of difference

We found an appropriate fiberglass tank, tail/seat, and Manx style front fender from Legendary Motorcycles out of New York. We went about getting all the mounting brackets made and installed these components. We custom built a hinge to tilt the seat up. Engine was cleaned, painted and all covers sent to the chrome shop. We had Jemco Exhaust Systems here in Houston build a set of expansion chambers to fit and they, as usual, did a remarkable job! We also sent the pipes to the chromers as well as many other parts. We modified a set of Yamaha R1 foot controls and Moto-Bits pedals to make the rearsets, then more chroming. Wheels were stripped after which hubs and assorted hardware was chromed. New chrome rims and stainless spokes were acquired, relaced and Dunlop K71 retro tires were installed & balanced.

A lot of detail work in the cockpit

A lot of detail work in the cockpit

For instruments we installed a Koso unit with analog tach, digital speedo, tripmeters, idiot lights, and shift light. All hand controls and bar-end mirrors are from Joker Machine mounted to a set of superbike bars. We got a Dunstall 1/4 fairing from Air-tech and made custom mounts for it. All suspension components were rebuilt and slightly longer piggyback gas shocks were installed. We sent all the cables to Barnett and had them all rebuilt and shortened, came back looking like new. We rebuilt the carbs, painted them to match the engine, rejetted them to the pipes and installed a set of K&N air filters.

Just a hint of blue under the right light

Just a hint of blue under the right light

Frame, tank, fairing, tail piece and several brackets were painted with House of Color Ice Blue which really comes alive under bright lighting or sunlight. Side covers were painted satin black to enhance the straight line under tank & Tailpiece.

The engine looks new and the custom pipes look exactly right

The engine looks new and the custom pipes look exactly right - go ahead, click on the photo and see what this really looks like

The bike runs great and handles very well, quite a bit lighter than the stock original and quite striking in appearance. Our thanks to all our vendors and friends that helped in the build!

Photography by: Michael Valdez

Link: Cycle Sports of Houston

Thanks Ken, for showing us this fantastic transformation that anyone would be proud to park in their garage. I think it's time to take another look at those eBay listings.

The proud build team at Cycle Sports - Ken Fontenot and Jeff Wisenbaker

The proud build team at Cycle Sports - Ken Fontenot and Jeff Wisenbaker


  1. OMMAG says

    I like it. It really does make a nice base for a custom and I like that fact that this one did not get the aftermarket clip-on or perfunctory clubman bar treatment.

    I believe the GT500 was an under appreciated bike back in the day.
    Of course it had to compete with a lot of very strong motorcycles. Especially in the later production years.

  2. todd says

    Awesome bike, the GT500. These were considered the “Japanese Norton” in the day. They were – and still are appreciated.


  3. JasonB says

    This is refreshing to see! I for one am totally burned out on rat bikes, rusty cafe racers, ugly for the sake of being in your face ugly and crude rides. All attitude and no real craftsmanship. We get it- you don’t have the time, money, or desire to make something enduringly beautiful. Enough. This effort shows real workmanship and taste. Well done guys- you’re the real rebels these days.

  4. says

    Your site has inspired me to pick up a few old bikes to redo next winter, have the shop, the time, and used to do this kind of work, but got away from it and I don’t know why.

  5. SKoo says

    In 1981, as an 18 year old GT380 owner, I used to look down on the GT500, primarely for it’s typical sound. I was wrong of course. The GT500 is now more of a classic than is the GT380. Would love to hear it run!

  6. B50 Jim says

    Very nice build! I notice, however, that most of the bike was assembled from parts that anyone can buy — most fabrication was brackets to mount the parts. In other words, this is a project that anyone with some skill and time (and a not-unreasonable amount of cash) can do. The boys at Cycle Sports lavished lots of time and money on chrome, which is expensive and cosmetic, so another builder might go with paint for a different look at reduced cost. There are plenty of old 1/2-liter bikes languishing in garages and sheds, just waiting for someone to pick them up at a bargain and turn into great rides like this. The beauty of it is that it can be done for relatively few bucks and look like a 5-figure custom build.

    • Paul Crowe says

      No small amount of skill goes into the very careful selection of the right parts, in fact, some of what makes those older bikes look so bad in the first place are the poor choices of parts over the years. Often, going back to stock can make a dramatic improvement in appearance and performance, but when you do what they did here, the change is far better.

      • B50 Jim says

        But it can be done. Our erstwhile builder doesn’t need massive fabricating skills, so he shouldn’t be put off by the idea of making his own custom bike. Sure, he should avoid Big Al’s Bargain Bike Bits, but by first doing a lot of mental design, making some sketches and searching on-line catalogs, a build like this is within reach of anyone with a decent shop and the skill to use it.

  7. Steve says

    I love this build. The Titan was always a great bike but never a thing of beauty. This bike is gorgeous.

    • Mark Apland says

      I feel sadness whenever what looks like a nice original bike gets converted – which isn’t to say that I don’t like the result. this is especially true as I have ridden a GT500 around the Western US for a month… long ago…

      However, if it is to be a daily rider, I hope he first puts on a longer front brake line.

  8. kenessex says

    I like the build, the only things that disappoint me are the selection of tires and the failure to upgrade the front brakes. The original single disc was marginal at the time and could so easily have been changed to a larger single disc with a more modern 4 piston caliper or to dual disks with better calipers.

    • says

      Mark Apland, there is nothing changed on this bike that would prevent removing all the parts we installed and making it completely stock again. All stock componets, which we still have by the way, would bolt right back up. We actually went through a lot of trouble to do the build this way. The only thing welded to the frame is one of the seat mounts and it is welded to the inside of the frame, under the seat and could easily be removed with no sign of it having ever been there. there is no problem with the front brake line….it was ordered the exact length and at full for extension its is still loose, works great!……..So it can be stock again and will continue to be ridden often. It does ride and handle much better than stock though so the owner has no intention of going back stock.

      Kenessex, Those tires are Dunlop K71 replicas still made by Dunlop with modern rubber compound. They handle great and since we are not racing the bike they work very well for street use. The single disc on the front with good SBS pads, the drilled rotor and stainless brake line work very well also, We notice no lack of braking whatsoever.

  9. B50 Jim says

    Aren’t those Dunlop K81 replicas? There are K70 replicas, the standard tire for English bikes; and K81, which was the high-performance tire for riders who wanted to scrape off the footpegs. They worked very well then, and with better compounds will work even better now, with a nice vintage appearance.

  10. wstarvingteacher says

    I think that these were great bikes and had the misfortune of coming out just before a lot of other really great bikes. BTW I live in Conroe just north of Houston and think we have a lot of really nice looking bikes here. It’s warm enough to make the riding season long. I’ll be looking for this one.

  11. Clark Schoonover says

    When the Titan came out, it was really pushing things as far as two stroke displacement. I owned two 1972 models and had a ball on them (recorded 38K miles on the second). Mine had double leading shoe front binders. What would really look sweet is one of the four leading shoe models from an early water buffalo. I always wanted to send my motor off to Ron Grant, he had three stages of tuning and could really wake these old buggers up!