Suzuki TL1000S (1997 - 2001) review

A capable bike that was worthy of its bad-boy image, back in the day.
A TL is a workhorse of a classic, rather than a sunny day treat
The widow-maker! Awesome reputation for thrills.

Suzuki’s mental V-twin quickly gained a reputation as a fearsome, tank-slapping, beast, instantly gifting it cult status. Is it a well-founded reputation?

Click to read: 1997 Suzuki TL1000S

Reputations. Once you get one it sticks firmer than chain lube to a rear wheel. Launched in 1997 the TL1000S quickly gained a reputation as a tank-slapper and after a few rider fatalities Suzuki were forced to recall the bike and retro-fit a rather ugly steering damper. Bad news? Not really, this reputation as an animal cemented the TL’s place in history and it became the bike to be seen on, a man’s bike and one that only a proper rider could tame.

Oddly enough, despite a  limited four year production run, secondhand TLs are plentiful but getting a good one is tricky. In the 1990s Suzuki’s build quality was comparatively poor and exposing the TL’s engine to salt and road crud did it no favours. Secondhand ads are full of tatty TLs or ones that have been modified and abused, so it’s worth hanging out and getting a good one, like we found here.

With over 24,000 miles on the clock, a quick glance says although it’s not factory fresh, a good clean and a bit of polish would work wonders. But do you really buy a TL to keep it mint? A TL is a workhorse of a classic, rather than a sunny day treat. But can this so-called evil bike even be ridden?

Yes. In the late 1990s riders simply weren’t used to the explosive power of the TL’s engine, which goes a long way to explaining how it gained its reputation. Open the throttle and the 996cc twin kicks like a mule and gallops forward with real ferocity and a very abrupt and direct feel. A claimed power of 125bhp (realistically 110bhp at the rear) was a lot of grunt for a twin in 1999 and the TL delivers its power in a no-compromise fashion. But ten years ago it was something new. This is all part of the TL’s charm. Even compared to modern tackle the motor feels fast, exciting and gutsy. Yes it is a bit too direct at initial throttle openings, but that just makes it more thrilling and enhances the ride. You don’t have to change up and down the gearbox (which is beautifully slick, unlike the Triumph’s). The engine has stacks of V-twin midrange. It vibrates and pulsates, the bars tingle from two huge pistons slapping up and down in the cylinders below. And speaking of slapping…

Our TL has a replacement Öhlins rear damper, not the rotary unit. I’ve ridden my fair share of TLs and although they do wallow and wobble a bit in corners they’re a far cry from the sinister death-bike of repute. You can really hustle a TL down a twisty road and they don’t get THAT out of shape as long as you aren’t THAT aggressive with the throttle. Treat the twist grip as a switch and things can get a bit ‘interesting’. Keep it smooth and the TL will deliver a fun, fast and thrilling ride. Also, oddly enough, a relaxed one.

Many TL owners use their bikes as commuters or daily hacks. Engine layout makes the TL remarkably narrow, the seat’s very comfortable and bars reasonably relaxed. Throw a set of soft luggage over the pillion seat and away you go. Now, does this sound like some sort of widowmaker to you?

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The widow-maker! Awesome reputation for thrills.