Suzuki TL1000S (1997-2001) – Tomorrow’s Classic Today

1998 Suzuki TL1000SSuzuki made itself a fine reputation of building bad-ass bikes during the 1980s and 1990s: the GSX-Rs especially were thought of as machines to be treated with some respect.

Come the 1990s and the GSX-R range had gotten bloated and suffered poor handling as a result and – if we’re honest – even the motors were left behind in the power stakes compared to some, more modern liquid-cooled lumps.

But then things changed at Suzuki and the GSX-R range was revitalised with liquid-cooled (not oil/air-cooled) motors and – from 1996’s SRAD – a beam frame to boot! GSX-Rs were cool again… well, apart from the fact that by 1997 lots of Brit bikers wanted a twin: mainly Italian twins.

It made sense then, that Suzuki would build themselves a V-twin sportsbike and they built a corker… a corker with all the bad-boy image of the early GSX-Rs and the scary feel of the behemoth GSX-R1100s of the late 1980s in particular.

The TL1000S was basically Suzuki’s response to Ducati’s V-twin range of 900SS air-cooled and 916 family of four-valve per cylinder liquid-cooled sports machines. At its heart was a 996cc, liquid-cooled 90-degree V-twin motor, pumping out around 125bhp (more than the 916) with the motor cradled in a quirky, lattice ally-frame which was half Jap beam frame and half Italian trellis. Front suspension was nothing weird for the time – 43mm upside-down telescopic forks – but it was the rear shock which was a little strange.

It wasn’t strange in the world of F1, as it had a ‘rotary’ damper, where rotary arms sloshed around in oil to provide damping, while the shock was mounted separately: this was supposed to make the whole bike shorter. Perhaps both these issues led to the problems…

1998-2001 Suzuki TL1000SYes, problems. On launch (at a track) nothing seemed too untoward, but back home on Blighty’s blighted highways, people were getting spat off their TL’s and one man – Simon Carolan-Evans – was killed after suffering a high-side off his TL. Awfully (and somewhat predictably) the image and fate of the TL was sealed. Was it that rotary damper? Or just the fact that the grunt (76-ft/lbs) in such a short chassis was pitching people off? Either way, for 1998 it came in with a steering damper and existing models were recalled for one, along with a replacement ECU. Some other issues also manifested themselves: some bikes suffered gearbox issues, some had leaking fuel tap seals and clutch covers, thermostat faults were reported and the rear suspension unit could also develop hairline cracks around its mounting points to the frame.

If this sounds like a horror show – it isn’t. Firstly, the bike itself is robust and reliable. Just make sure you OD on the TLC as it’s a Suzuki… And the TL1000S may no longer be the wild and scary bucking bronco the press reported on more than two decades ago, but it’s still capable of delivering mucho fun – just be careful with the chain adjustment as they are a little sensitive to it. Some owners leave a little more slack/play in the chain than you normally would.

Compared to its great rivals of the time, the TL is a more exciting proposition than the VTR1000 Honda FireStorm, but a different proposition to the Ducati 916… Go find a good one – some may have had extensive rear shock mods which help with the ride, even if it may not make them as desirable as original spec machines.

Prices start around £1000 for a basket case laden with tat, but you can still get a rough, but solid one for £500 more. £2000 is where decent ones start and some dealers are labelling the bike a ‘classic’ and asking around £4000+ for bikes with around 20k on the clocks.

Of course, if you wanted a saner home for that lovely motor, you could try Suzuki’s later SV1000 or even the 1000cc VStrom.

FOR: Amazing motor and a slice of biking history…

AGAINST: They don’t handle neglect well…

Make Suzuki
Model TL1000S-V up to S-X
Years available 1997-2001
Major changes Steering damper fitted, ECU modified, colour and graphic changes
Price new £7999 at launch
Values now £1000 up to £4000

VERDICT: A solid, funsome V-twin!