Not so evil twin
EVEN 20 YEARS on it’s difficult to approach the Suzukitl1000r with an open mind. Few machines have so much baggage, so tainted a reputation or have generated such strong opinions.the simple facts that the R was derived from Suzuki’s quickly recalled, ‘widowmaker’tl1000s and was conceived as Suzuki’swsb-contender yet, in reality, never even turned up, are indictments that are too damning to shed.
Which is also something of a shame as here, today, standing in front of Dave Hicks’ immaculate R-reg example in the crisp but cold winter sun, it’s also immediately obvious thetl-r remains a top drawer sportster.
Dave’s had his baby virtually since new. It’s a Spanish example bought during the height of the ‘parallel import’ boom (the giveaways being the headlamp dip corrector sticker and, for the even more eagle-eyed, the speedo’s ‘mph’ overlay skillfully applied under the glass) and, going by its condition, it is now probably as good as they come.
Resplendent and gleaming in classic Suzuki blue and white, everything, including the signature seat hump, is present and correct.with the exception of a couple of replacement front discs (an MOT turned up some cracking on the originals), Dave’s bike is stock right down to its shock and twin silencers.and, with 12,000-odd kilometres logged on its LCD odometer (around 8000 miles to you and me), it’s barely run-in, too. Which makes it all the sweeter to ride.
Partly due to inactivity (one of the reasons Dave’s finally decided to sell, see page 64) and partly, too, to the cold, the bigv-twin labours a little when trying to start on the button, but that’s fairly normal as well. But start it does before settling into a gruff, rumbling, fast idle. My time has come.
The immediate impression is one of substance – of size and stature.thetl-r is certainly no waif.you conspicuously crank your right leg up quite high to clear ‘that’ seat hump and from there on in everything’s slightly larger, broader and heftier than you might normally expect a so-called twin cylinder ‘race’ bike to be.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing.the Suzuki’s seat is wide and comfortable.the tank, though narrow at the rear, quickly broadens into something substantial.the reach forward to the clip-ons, while sporty, is nowhere near as extreme and cramped as, say, an SP-1 or 996.While the view ahead, over lavish, twin analogue dials with the tacho white-faced, and through the generously bulbous front cowl, is all more refined sportster than out-and-out racer. Being the ‘racer’ version, the R is slightly more extreme than its ‘S’ sibling, as you’d expect, slightly more enclosed, too.
The details compound this sense that the TL-R is every inch the ‘classy superbike’. Chunky alloy abounds: frame spars, yokes and more; both levers are span adjustable; switchgear (including fast idle lever on the left) is state of the art for the late-’90s.
Then the refinement of the ride impresses, too. First gear is engaged with the merest prod of left boot (distinctly different to most clunkyv-twins), the clutch is light, the pull from the motor is, of course, instant and all of it is far smoother and easier than you might expect from a bigvee. It’s an experience SV andv-strom owners know well.
THETL-R copes with our exit from the urban sprawl as well as any big sportsbike, my wrists less so. But that’s to be expected.
Out in the countryside around East Midlands airport for the pictures the big Suzuki starts to come into its own.wind the throttle wide and the peachytl twin just climbs and booms and prepares for take-off. Dave’s put the stock pipes back on but has plenty of tales, as have other owners, of the simply addictive cacophony thetl is capable of on more open cans. Better yet there are no glitches, gripes or hiccups anywhere in its delivery, something matched by the slick gearbox.thetl powertrain is rightly regarded as a classic and although damp roads preclude thrashing it to the max today, it gives plenty of hints at what it’s capable of.
The chassis, too, is actually far better than TL-R legend would suggest. Dave’s bike is set up for the track (it’s mostly been used on track days) with firm suspension settings front and rear and the yokes dropped a few mill to sharpen the steering, but it’s still, clearly, a ‘proper’ sportster, albeit a slightly bulky, hefty one. But despite feeling a little as if a bag of sand has been put inside the fairing, thetl-r’s balance is pleasingly neutral, the steering precise, the sense of security ample and the brakes are instant. It’s enough, in fact, when all added together, to be a corner-carving joy once lined up if the surface is decent. On some bumpier turns, on these settings, it was less reassuring.
That’s not a criticism, nor, I doubt, a reflection on the TL-R’S much-maligned rotary rear damper. Unlike many owners Dave’s not bothered to change it claiming he’s ‘probably not fast enough’ to appreciate the difference. On this experience I can see where he’s coming from. Sure, it’s immediately obvious that thetl-r was never going to cut it as a racer. It’s too big and (apparently) untunable for that. But with that glorious 135bhp motor, impressive refinement and roomy, RSV Mille-alike proportions, it does make a great, evocative and different road sportster that’s more than fast enough for most.and, again similar to theaprilia, withtl-r prices still stunted compared to some (although now rising) the big Suzuki also represents, still, fabulous value for money.
Thanks to Dave Hicks for the loan of his immaculate TL1000R, which he’s now looking to sell. He’s asking for around £4500. Call him on: 07930 345779.
DA backend remains a matter of taste Don’t be fooled, ‘R’ should stand for ‘road’ Gauze prevents small mammals becoming the TL’S lunch
A far better road bike than it ever was a racer