Carole Nash
Content Writer
Published: 20th June 2008

suzuki tl1000sBack in 1997, Suzuki’s first attempt at building a V-twin-engaged superbike produced a fast and affordable performer, which looked as though it would match the champion of the class – Ducati’s 916.

But though the TL1000S almost became as famous as the Duke, it did so for all the wrong reasons. Instead of drawing praise for any styling or performance virtues, the TL gained a much less-enviable reputation for evil handling. Chris Moss looks back at a little bit of flawed Suzuki genius, that still has its fans today.

Some bikes are right first time, but the TL1000S definitely wasn´t one of `em.

Fair play, all the faults were eventually sorted, and Suzuki even introduced another sportier version of the bike a year later to limit the damage to its reputation. But none of that could save the two TLs from quickly developing also-ran status.

Neither the S or R versions of the bikes are still being made, with both now considered as being dated and unfashionable. But that´s actually good news for anyone who fancies a cheap and competent second-hand sportsbike – because that´s just what the TL1000s are.

The TLs´ infamy and lack of appeal, especially the S version, put most bikers off going anywhere near them. But those negatives did help to reduce their prices significantly. Good examples of either model can be had for around £3000 or less. And it has to be said, sorted versions do make decent enough backroad blasters.

The original S version has distinct styling with its bulbous half-fairing and alloy trellis frame. And within all the plastic and metal framework, a potent and punchy 996cc 90-degree V-twin motor provides more than enough stomp. Ram-air and fuel-injection help it kick out a claimed 120bhp, some five more than the 916, and the Suzuki can hit a top speed of over 160mph. However, although that power, and the fact that it was available to anyone on a normal income, made the TL an attractive proposition, other things about it definitely did not.

Soon after its press launch on a smooth American racetrack, where the journalists had sung the TL´s praises for page after page in their test reports, the bikes were ridden over here on bumpier stretches of tarmac. And some frightening tales of instability started filtering through. Owners complained of unscheduled lock-to-lock tankslappers ruining their rides, and they soon started to regret choosing a TL. The bad boy image developed from this misdemeanour made the TL1000S become one of the most controversial bikes on the market.

Suzuki took a while to react to the scares, at first saying only when the bike was being ridden to the absolute limit would it suffer any tantrums. But the firm eventually gave in to all the press and public pressure, recalling all the TLs to fit them with steering dampers.

All new bikes produced after the recall had them as standard. And from that point on, all the Suzuki’s went where you aimed them and did so as calmly as they should have in the beginning. Though it should be said that the official damper isn´t adjustable and makes the steering feel heavy at slower speeds. You´re far better off with a tuneable aftermarket one.

The Suzuki peace-keeping measures did give a chance for TL-riders to mix it a bit with other sportsbikes more safely though. And the bike´s comfy riding position and decent-sized half-fairing meant nipping off somewhere quite distant for the weekend was well within the TL´s capabilities too. It wasn´t the finest V-twin sportsbike ever made, but it was still pretty handy at most tasks. Though ownership did need a bit of patience at times.

Some Suzuki’s suffered from a few other little quirky faults including rough low-speed running because the fuel-injection system wasn´t mapped correctly, and engine warm-up problems due to faulty thermostats. There were a number of further recalls to get them sorted, all of which took a bit of time and effort. But it´s more than likely that any TL you´re interested in, should have all these bugs cured, so don´t worry too much about them. But do check the bike´s service record to make sure the work´s been done.

Give any TL you´re interested in a thorough visual check over too. The lack of any protection round the engine means it gets covered in road grime if you ride the bike in poor weather. And because Suzuki´s aren´t blessed with the strongest finishes, the build up of crud can soon start to cause corrosion, making the bike look really scruffy and second-hand.

While you´re having a good peek at the bike from closer quarters check out stuff like the brakes and whether they´re binding due to the pistons seizing in the calipers. And also check carefully that the radical rotary damper unit which forms the TL´s rear suspension is good shape.

The unit, which is connected to the swingarm by linkages, can fail completely. Check its action by bouncing the rear end up and down and making sure the movement is well damped and controlled. And give the lugs on the rotary damper body a close inspection, as they have been known to break off. It´s not the end of the world if this is the case as Maxton can fit a conventional damper unit and spring, which works much better than the rotary unit anyway.

Check round the clutch cover on the motor for oil leaks, and if possible get a test ride to check if the clutch is slipping. Apart from that, the motor is strong and dependable and isn´t likely to let you down in any way. It should be mechanically quiet from tickover up.
The best advice to anyone buying a TL1000S is to get the cleanest, well-looked after example you can. Provided it´s had a bit of TLC, there´s no reason why it can´t run well and reliably for miles.

Are sequels always inferior?

Following the first versions less than perfect entry to the market, Suzuki tried again in 1998 with its sportier R model. More conventionally styled and designed, it lacks some of the character of the S, and could almost be mistaken for a GSX-R.

The bulky but streamlined bodywork does offer pretty good weather protection for a bike in this class, and helps the TLR to get up to a very respectable near 170mph top speed. And thankfully there´s no fear of any weaves or wobbles en route to this rate of knots thanks to a stiff alloy twin-spar frame and standard-fitment steering damper. Though the harsh ride from the forks and modified rotary damper can reduce comfort on some roads.

It´s not a bad handler by any means, though the extra ten kilos the R carries makes it more of a handful to ride fast through lanes than the S, and compared to the latest bikes the R can only be described as a bit lardy. It will benefit from fitting a spacer under the rear ride height adjuster, and pulling the forks through the yokes to speed up the steering. Just don´t expect GP-style agility.

Whatever it loses out to in corners though, the TL1000R can go some way to clawing back the deficit down the straights thanks to its strong and rev-hungry engine. Yes, though the TLR´s motor is a V-twin, the extra horsepower it was given make it much more peaky than the TLS´s. And arguably more exciting.

Each of the 996cc lump´s twin cylinder features twin-injectors. And with a higher state of engine tune all round, the full strength of the engine can only be really sampled when the position of the tacho needle´s being kept high with plenty of keen and frequent gear changes. Keep the crank spinning at over 7000rpm though, and the rush is more than rewarding.

Uprated six-piston brake calipers provide plenty of stopping power, though like the S model, regular cleaning and maintenance is needed to keep them at their sharpest. Also, standard pads last longer than aftermarket ones.

Like the TL1000S, there were some faults which should have been sorted under warranty. A stronger spring and guard were fitted to stop the seat hump flying off accidentally. And mods were made to stop the hose blowing off the fuel pump and causing the engine to starve and stop.

Apart from that, check the clutch for slip. And make sure the fuelling is spot on. Some bikes can hunt, misfire and stall, especially at slow speed. Specialists Symtek can remap the system to make it run smoothly.

As well as those points make sure you checkout any TLR carefully looking for signs of crash damage and general abuse. Both models did tend to attract harder-riding hooligans. But in saying that, there´s enough on the market to give a buyer the advantage. And on that basis, you can afford to take your time and find a good example.

Get Suzuki motorbike insurance for the suzuki tl1000s.

Vital Statistics

TL1000S – 1997-2000
Engine liquid cooled, 4-stroke, 8-valve DOHC 90-degree V-twin
cc 996
Claimed power (bhp)
Power:120bhp @ 8000rpm
Torque:77ft/lbs @ 8000rpm
Compression ratio 11.3:1
Transmission 6-speed chain final drive

Cycle parts
Frame Alloy trellis
Tyres front 120/70-17, rear 180/55-17
Front suspension 43mm USD telescopic forks, adjustable for preload, compression and rebound damping
Rear suspension Rotary damper with remote spring, adjustable for preload, compression and rebound damping
Front brakes Twin 320mm discs, four-piston calipers
Rear brakes Single 220mm disc, twin-piston caliper
Wheelbase 1415mm
Dry weight 187kg
Seat height 835mm

Top speed 163mph
Fuel 30mpg
Fuel range 110-170 miles

Buying info Insurance group – 15
Current price £2000-£4000

Vital Statistics

TL1000R – 1998-2000
Engine liquid cooled, 4-stroke, 8-valve DOHC 90-degree V-twin
cc 996
Claimed power (bhp)
Power:135bhp @ 9500rpm
Torque:73ft/lbs @ 7500rpm
Compression ratio 11.7:1
Transmission 6-speed chain final drive

Cycle parts
Frame Alloy twin spar
Tyres front 120/70-17, rear 190/50-17
Front suspension 45mm USD telescopic forks, adjustable for preload, compression and rebound damping
Rear suspension Rotary damper with remote spring, adjustable for preload, compression and rebound damping
Front brakes Twin 320mm discs, six-piston calipers
Rear brakes Single 220mm disc, twin-piston caliper
Wheelbase 1405mm
Dry weight 187kg
Seat height 835mm

Top speed 168mph
Fuel 33mpg
Fuel range 130-190 miles

Buying info Insurance group – 16
Current price £3000-£4500