An Affordable 1989 Custom Suzuki 800 Intruder

Flaming Femininity

800 Intruder
Jay Gershen reinvented this 800 Intruder for his wife, Annette.Mark Langello

This article was originally published in the April 2000 issue of Motorcycle Cruiser.

“Sometimes you pick up a piece of clay and you don’t know what to do with it until you get it in your hands,” says professional bike builder Jay Gershen about the 1989 Suzuki 800 Intruder he bought at a garage sale. “The bike was so clean I just decided to take it…what I was going to do with it I didn’t know.”

The Gershens, Annette and Jay, from Farmingdale, New York, weren't shopping for a bike, exactly. Annette had been taking hits on her husband's Harley-Davidson for years. She mainly rode minibikes and dirt bikes as a kid and his 1948 Panhead didn't intimidate her. Annette loved to ride, and when Jay brought the used Intruder home she was more than happy to tool around on that. The Suzuki remained entirely stock the first few years she rode it. There happened to be ­another metric cruiser in the garage receiving the star treatment at the time (see "Royal Flush").

Annette Gershen
Annette Gershen with her 1989 Suzuki 800 Intruder.Mark Langello

Low Drama

The applause and acceptance Jay received from his project Yamaha Royal Star is what eventually ignited his interest in recreating Annette’s Intruder. “It was an ugly duckling,” Jay says. “It had potential, but something radical had to be done.” That meant taking the whole bike down to the frame and starting over again. He didn’t have a mental blueprint for reconstruction when he started—the bike’s metamorphosis would be process inspired. Jay knew he ­wanted the Intruder to be drama­tically different—he wanted the bike low and wide and flamed from hub to fender.

Jay tended to the engine first and went through the tranny to make sure the drivetrain was working flawlessly. He traded the stock carburetors for protruding 34mm Mukunis, swapped Suzuki's standard airboxes with K&N air filters and added an ignition system from Accel Performance. Stock, the Intruder was very quick and responsive for its size, but Jay wanted to make sure the bike would cleanly blow away any Harley Sportster models (and he gleefully reports that it does).

Next Jay began refinishing the frame. He wanted the graphics to flow to the depth of the frame, so the scrupulous paint work had to begin before the body work was adapted. The bike—originally a maroon color—was sprayed with a base of “Shimrin Blue,” then topped with “Candy Purple”—both hues from House of Kolor. The flames would be pearl white with lavender and pale blue highlights which, when examined closely, are actually etchings of feathers.

House of Kolor
House of Kolor hues were sprayed on the bike and flame/feather designs were added. Gershen's good friend, Mike Terwilliger airbrushed the mural on the tank.Mark Langello

The flame and feather business was tricky, however. “I wanted her to have girly flames, so I needed to do the licks a little differently. These girly flames I designed aren’t connected like man flames—like macho flames—they’re kind of wispy.” The hand-painted feather details represent “motion and a sense of freedom…of floating.” The flame theme on Annette’s bike flows beautifully and delights the eye with its intricacy.

Jay wanted fenders that would give the bike a low, wide stance. Using an eight-inch blank from Arlen Ness, Jay spent two months molding the rear end to get the fender perfectly ­situated between the frame and swing­arm. "If you know what you want, you can make it fit," he says of his effort. Applying a front fender from Cobra was a "no-brainer" in comparison.

800 intruder details
Take a close look and you can see the flame and feather details.Mark Langello

Tank Top

Gershen’s good friend, Mike Terwil­liger, who airbrushed Jay’s Royal Star graphics, is responsible for Annette’s provocative tank mural also. Now, when­ you see a woman riding a bike with a naked lady painted on the tank ya gotta speculate. First, you wonder if it was her idea…then, well, you wonder if the rendering is of her. The flowing locks on the Amazon rising up through swirls of smoke sure look like Annette’s hair. When asked about the resemblance—which she often is—Annette loves to banter back about how under her motorcycle leathers there’s a “real woman,” while Jay relishes the “eat your heart out” aspect of the mural. Both agree there’s nothing gauche about the illustration, “It’s tasteful, artistic and a beautiful complement to the bike.” The mural wasn’t in­tended to be a portrait of Annette, but it does mirror her spirit. She’s a strong, free spirit with enough security and lack of inhibition not to be offended by the image of the painting—or her nickname, “Winch,” which adorns her license plate.

“Winch” was a nickname given to Annette by a girlfriend years back and it stuck like sap. “I’ve never taken it offensively,” she says. “It’s always been affectionate.” Since Jay procured the only New York “BIKER” plate some 30 years ago, the two tag lines compliment each other.

Annette and Jay are open, amusing and animated; and talking to them is as enjoyable as looking at their bikes. Their New York accents are infectious and their love of motorcycling is feverish. One of the most endearing qualities of the Gershens’ relationship is how they flatter each other. We interviewed them separately and would have guessed by the amount of raving they do about one another they were more of a new and unblemished item. Jay and Annette, however, have been together since they were teen­agers. They dated for ten years before getting married. Their children—boy/girl twins—are now teenagers. Jay, who says his wife is more beautiful today than when she was 18, admits it cost him a lot of effort and money to put the Intruder to­gether “but…she’s worth it” he says tenderly. “When a husband and wife do things together like [we do] it’s like dating again.”

Annette believes "a girl can't have enough leather and chrome" but the horde of gleaming metal on her Intruder must almost be enough. Jay applied chrome to the bike as vigorously as he painted flames. He installed braided lines from Goodridge and replaced all the nuts and bolts with stain­­­­­less chrome hardware from Gardner-Westcott. Forward controls came from Jardine, the front signals and mini-tach from Chrome Specialties and the fork caps and chrome oil filter from Cobra. There are a lot of Harley parts on the Intruder, including the louvered battery box—which Jay had to hand-tweak to fit the Suzuki. The flame headlamp (which features L.E.D. bulb replacement designed by Jay) was made by Headwinds, and the license plate bracket and lights are from Drag Specialties. Arlen Ness parts include the blinkers, grips, mirrors, pegs and rear lights.

Chrome and flames
Chrome and flames were applied vigorously to Annette's Intruder.Mark Langello

It took a lot of manipulation to get much of the Gershen’s chosen goodies to fit the Intruder. Other parts, such as the handlebar, spoiler and neon ground effects, were custom designed by Jay. Possibly the most striking feature on Annette’s bike is the circa-’60’s Speedo exhaust pipes which beautifully echo the flame licks.

At 5'8", Annette didn't really need the bike lowered, so it was done in the name of visual appeal. The seat height, originally 27.6 inches, is now 22.0 ­inches thanks to a Progressive Suspension lowering kit for the front tubes and application of 10.0-inch Progressive shocks on the rear. A Corbin Gunfighter saddle accentuates the bike's ready-to-pounce posture. Though the seat handily came with purple flame inserts, Jay wanted to take the design a step further, so he used leather paints to add detail inside the flames.

This is a bike your sensory system digests in stages because there is so much detail and depth. There are literally flames everywhere; they even lick up the sides of the chromed radiator. Thumbnail-sized flames are painted on either side of the spokes of the 21.0-inch front wheel, and the detailed 15.0-inch rear wheel had to be taken apart for access, then painstakingly laced and spoked again. “Everyone assumes you do a paint job once everything’s put together—especially your wheels—but I did the paint job when everything was apart, which is kind of different.” Annette runs Dunlops on her Wheel Works rims.

Warm Reception

To say the least, the Intruder has been well received. It’s already taken first place awards at various shows including Americade and The World’s Fair of Motorcycles. “People go crazy when they see this bike,” says Annette. “And then there’s the fact there’s a girl riding it.” And the Gershens do ride their show pieces every chance they get. The Gershens enjoy the fact that when they attend Harley events people are forced to question their choices. “Once in a while you get a little jabber about them being Japanese bikes, but we shrug it off because we know they’re jealous. We find people would rather be riding a bike that looks like ours than what they’re riding right now.” Sometimes flames speak louder than words.