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Suzuki TS185ER

Our bikes - 1985 Suzuki TS185ER

(May 2020)

Ride pic by Ben Galli Photography

Suzuki TS185ER

Money well spent

by Guy 'Guido' Allen

Be it ever so humble, there’s no place like a TS185

It started out innocently enough. I was riding past young Don Stafford’s emporium in sunny Heidelberg Heights and spotted a bright red Suzuki TS185ER sitting out the front of the shop. Call me psychic, but there seemed a fair chance it was for sale. Now there’s an opportunity, thinks muggins.

With a couple of bike-savvy teenage daughters prowling around at home, who had out-grown a couple of motorcycles, including most lately a DT100, this looked like an opportunity.

The situation was that none of the family rode dirt bikes often enough to go out and spend a fortune buying new ones. Plus, the gals were about to transition to getting their licences. So the next step had to be road-legal and, since we were still paying off Chateau Despair, it couldn’t cost a lot. Hit the brakes, take off the helmet, stroll in and ask.

Don was a tiny bit cranky. He’d bought it for a young family member who apparently expressed a lack of gratitude, along the lines of the bike was (even then) old and its lack of cutting-edge fashion would hurt the scion’s self-esteem. So Don put it out on the footpath and hoped for the best.

How much? $900. I couldn’t get the money out of my wallet fast enough. What we had was a mid-eighties ER (so about 15 years old at the time), completely original, with a mere 9000km on the clock.

Suzuki TS185ER

Okay, so it wasn’t the sexiest or latest model, but this series had been around since Joseph played fullback for Jerusalem. Or so it seemed.

In fact, Suzuki’s happy single-pot TS185 series kicked off in 1971 and, so far as I can tell, was still being manufactured in some parts of the world (India seemed like the last hold-out) through to around 2005.

In a weird sort of way, I grew up with these things. Had ridden a mate’s version decades ago, and they were present in the local Suzuki catalogue until the mid nineties. As I moved on and got involved with bike magazines, they always seemed to be priced cheap. Several hundred dollars when I started in the mid-1980s, a figure which reached as much as $1200 (on the road) a decade later.

It became one of those constants in your motorcycle life – perhaps a fall-back bike if you wanted a cheap all-rounder. Calling a 185 two-stroke single an all-rounder might seem delusional, but that’s what they were.

With a whole 17-or-so horses, they could do an honest 130-ish-km/h when pressed, and could hold 100km/h (depending on wind direction and speed) with no drama. So freeway use was possible. Meanwhile they could flit through traffic, and be taken on a trail ride. Talk to motorcyclists about these things and you soon learn one or more generations learned to ride on them.

Suzuki TS185ER

Our mission started off simple: give the girls a full-size trail bike they could then use on the road. It didn’t quite work out that way, but we got close.

One of my lasting memories was taking Ms M Jnr and Ms A out for a weekend off-road session. One of them aviated the thing in a big way over a hump and then landed with a sickening clack, front wheel first. Not a scratch on her or the motorcycle.

The other looped it in a mud-bath, then somehow ended up standing off to one side, with not a drop of water or mud on her riding gear. The bike, meanwhile, was half-buried in the slime. Weird. Maybe the gods smile on the innocent.

If you or me had tried either feat, we would have ended up in hospital, covered in excrement.

Anyway, it got the job done. The gals picked up some riding skills and confidence and moved on to bigger and better toys. The thing is, we forgot to sell the TS. So, by my reckoning, it’s still in the shed nearing 15 years later. That’s a good thing.

There have been one or two dramas over time, but nothing serious. The first was with the electrics – with all of six volts in play. Somehow it stopped charging, which is no big deal because it has a magneto to keep the ignition going and so can run sans battery and pretty much everything else. But it is a pain in the arse, because the lighting system goes from feeble to non-existent.

Suzuki TS185ER

In the end, I pulled out the preferred international workshop translation tool, which is an iPad with internet connection, found a wiring diagram and patiently went through the possible problems. In the end, it turned out to be nothing more than a poor connection to the miniscule rectifier (which turns AC charge to DC). A toothbrush and some WD40 applied to the connections fixed it.

A much bigger drama was rust in the fuel tank. Any bike that sits as long as this one has is likely to suffer. Water weighs a kilo per litre, while fuel weighs around 710 grams. So what happens is any water sinks to the lowest point in the fuel tank and, inevitably, creates rust or corrosion.

If the bike is used regularly (which ours wasn’t) there’s no drama, as the fuel and water flows through. Also – here’s a tip - it can pay to put a little methylated spirits in the tank, as it’s hydroscopic (attracts water) and will aid in removing any moisture as the fuel is used.

Sadly, our tank rusted on the lower left-side seam. I used a tank cleaning/sealant kit (which involves chemicals that are better not thought about) and filled the holes with a two-part epoxy resin. Not a perfect result, but it did the job. And yes, I did order a new tank – which was put away in case of emergencies, as it was the wrong colour and the original red was no longer available.

So where are we? About 19 years down the track we still own the TS and it has all of 12,000km on the clock. Like any conventional road-going two-stroke, it’s running low compression and is dead easy to kick over. Full choke, no throttle, and it always fires into life – albeit with a lot of kicks if it’s been resting for a couple of months.

Suzuki TS185ER

Getting from fired up to mobile takes patience. The tiny air-cooled single likes plenty of warm-up time and you sometimes have to play with the choke and throttle to keep it firing. Even then you generally have to run it on half-choke for the first few kays, to get it fully warmed-up.

Though it has an obvious expansion chamber running off one side of the motor, it’s clearly been tuned for mid-range rather than top-end performance. That kind of blows one of the myths about two-strokes – while they can produce a lot of bang for the cubic centimetre of capacity, they’re not necessarily all about top-end. It depends on how they’re set up.

Once it’s warm, the little TS pulls off the line nicely and you rarely run it past 5000rpm. Okay, except on the freeway, when you have it nailed closer to 6000.

The suspension is basic, with no adjustment other than the ride height at the rear. And you have little drum brakes at both ends which, combined with the trials-uni tyres, mean that pulling up in a hurry takes a little planning. This is very basic motorcycling, and luxuries like instant response are for bikes designed decades later.

Weirdly enough, I’m pretty confident I could jump on it tomorrow and ride it the length or breadth of the country. It’s robust and, so long as you kept it a little under its max performance, it would get there. But I suspect we would be deeply over each other by the end of the exercise!

Its real talent is being simple and light. That’s it. Every time it fires up, you get a grin on your dial and it will flit along through traffic because it feels like it weighs nothing. But it will (with a little nerve and determination) beat the traffic away from the lights.

I’m not sure what price you put on that experience – a simple and light two-stroke trailie that just does what it’s told and gives you a lot of joy. Simple, honest fun. Whatever it is, it’s probably more than the $900 we paid all those years ago.

Suzuki TS185ER

Suzuki TS185ER circa 1985


TYPE: Air-cooled, two-stroke single

BORE & STROKE: 64 x 57mm


FUEL SYSTEM: Single direct slide carburettor


TYPE: Five-speed, constant-mesh, 



FRAME TYPE: Single downtube steel
FRONT SUSPENSION: Conventional telescopic fork
REAR SUSPENSION: Preload-adjustable twin shocks
FRONT BRAKE: Drum, cable-operated
REAR BRAKE: Drum, rod-operated





FRONT: 275 21-inch wire spoke
REAR: 410 18-inch wire spoke


POWER: 17hp

PRICE WHEN NEW (1985): $1299 + on-road costs

Minimal fuel range

Suzuki TS185ER

Suzuki TS185ER

Suzuki TS185ER

Suzuki TS185ER

Suzuki TS185ER

Suzuki TS185ER


Suzuki TS185ER


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