Suzuki TL1000R (1998 - 2003) review

A great bike that really shines as a road bike
The R is a great road superbike and would make a fantastic tourer. Just get used to the look
Strong engine, a unique look and very comfortable.
Is seen as a bit of a flop and the handling is soggy.

The TL1000R was Suzuki’s homologation answer to the dominance of the Ducati 916 in WSB, but like an overweight Joe Bugner wobbling into the ring to get a thorough pasting by Frank Bruno the TL was never up to the job. Everything about the TL1000R was poorly timed. It appeared at the height of its TL-S brother’s handling uproar and was never the Ducati-whooping WSB bike that pre-launch hype hinted at. Sales ere poor, the racing never happened, and six years later R was dropped from Suzuki’s range. All of which culminated in the R becoming a black sheep in the two-wheeled flock.

Which is why, having never ridden one, I tended to snigger at TL1000R owners. Let’s be truthful here, it isn’t really a looker. The gigantic arse end is ridiculous and the front bulbous and ungainly. But, as I now have found out, it was the TL owners who had the last laugh. Because the R is a lovely bike.

Sitting on it the first thing you notice is the enormous and generously padded seat. It’s fantastically comfortable, as is the riding position and all encompassing fairing. The TL feels like a big bike, and sort of absorbs you into its folds, when you sit on it. It’s nothing like the sportsbikes of its day and feels more like a sports tourer. Which probably played a large part in its lack of success, but is this necessarily a bad thing?

Having sampled the TL1000R I’d say no. As a secondhand buy a good TL would be a great purchase for a day-to-day superbike. As well as being comfortable the TL has a fantastic engine. This V-twin lump is no stranger to the motorcycling world having found its way into various V-twins but these have all be ‘re-tuned’ versions, and the original is by far and away the best. From the moment you let the clutch out the twin surges forward with a flat and monotone drone.

The engine itself makes absolutely no noises, which is typical Japanese, and has a completely flat power delivery. Unlike Honda’s SP-2, which has a bit of a kick at the top, the TL just drones its way forward with no real noticeable powerband. It’s relaxing, easy and, in keeping with the rest of the bike, very user friendly. It may only make, by current 1,000cc standards, a fairly modest 120bhp but this is more than enough for road use.

It was the issues with the S that made Suzuki change its mind at the last minute about what it was planning to do with the R, because everything about this bike feels softened. From the power deliver to the slightly soggy suspension which gives a wallowy ride in corners the TL-R is a sportsbike that has been blunted. But for road riding this is no bad thing. The R is a great road superbike and would make a fantastic tourer. Just get used to the look.