Torque is cheap - Aprilia Falco, Suzuki SV1000, Honda Firestorm

Just how much V-twin can you get for £3,500? We track down the best twin-cylinder sports bikes on the market

When Ducati started winning world championships, interest in twin cylinder sports bikes was rapidly ignited. Add to that a cocky Lancastrian in the sinewy shape of Carl Fogarty and all of a sudden the UK’s biking populous went mental for a configuration that had previously only ever enjoyed minor, sporadic bursts of commercial success.

Sadly, replicating the Foggy look complete with a 916 and all the exotic trimmings didn’t come cheap. It didn’t take too long for the competition to realise the value of having a sporting twin in its line-up. Suzuki and Honda cottoned on at around the same time, with the TL1000 and the VTR1000F Firestorm both hitting the UK in 1997. Both bikes were built to a budget, and were no match for the Ducati 916. But they were bloody good fun nonetheless. An affordable alternative to the common or garden across-the-frame four ensured that the TL1000 became a cult classic, and the Firestorm won an army of fans who remain loyal to this day.

You could say that thanks to Foggy there are more than a few mint twins on the market. We set out with a max spend of £3,500 and got our hands on three bargains: Suzuki’s SV1000S, an original VTR1000F Firestorm and a longforgotten hero, Aprilia’s quirky, RSV-derived SL1000 Falco.

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Firestorm 1


Possibly the biggest bargain on the used motorcycle market

Launched at the same time as Suzuki’s TL1000S, the Firestorm never achieved quite the same level of kudos as its wilder, angrier rival. While the TL scared the pants off the vast majority of its owners, the Honda went about things a little differently.

Not to be confused with the ultra-focused, Ducati-beating, World Superbike winning VTR1000 SP-1, which was launched in 2000, the Firestorm proved to be a huge hit with a wide range of riders.

And it’s not too difficult to see why. In typical Honda fashion, the Firestorm is one of those bikes that falls into the one-size-fits-all category. There’s little to get used to with the Honda – no crazy quirks to master or major foibles to counter. The total neutrality of the no-frills chassis and linear, smooth delivery of the carburettor-fed motor make it one of those bikes that’s incredibly easy and predictable to ride, no matter what the conditions.

The Firestorm is also one of only a handful of largecapacity twin-cylinder bikes that isn’t a complete pain in the arse to ride in town. Although on paper the power and torque figures are almost identical to the SV, the strong delivery of the Honda’s low to midrange torque makes it feel far more potent on all but the fastest of roads, where, once in the outer reaches of its rev-range, it will begin to run out of puff. Add to that a reasonably light clutch and a gear change almost on a par with the super-slick Suzuki, and you begin to realise why the Firestorm fully deserves its reputation as a decent, solid all-rounder.

It’s aged pretty well too. Even with some 24,000 miles showing on the venerable analogue clocks, there are very few indications of a hard life on this machine, and there are no signs of smoke on start-up. Worrying engine knocks and rattles also appear to be thankfully absent and the suspension still feels the same as it did when it was fresh out of the showroom.

The only problem with that is that the budget suspension system really wasn’t all that good when the bike was launched, so covering the equivalent of once around the world and running on ten year-old suspension oil is hardly likely to make things any better. The forks have always been sprung a little on the soft side, which makes the bike feel comfortable and assured in the wet, but press on a bit and you’ll soon find the limiting factor tends to be that the under-sprung and under-damped front end make life a little interesting through fast sweeping bends and quick direction changes, a problem that’s only exacerbated by skinny fork stanchions and the excellent Nissin brake calipers – not to mention the subsequent improvement in tyre technology that’s occurred over the past decade – making it easy to get the bike tied up in all manner of worrying knots.

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Firestorm 2

Many VTR owners got caught up in the never-ending, cash-burning cycle of trying to improve these fundamental problems, but the simple fact is that no matter what extra bits you bolt onto the Firestorm’s simple chassis, it will never be a full-on sportster. Personally, I love the fact that the Honda isn’t really meant to be a killer sports bike. In stark contrast to a bike that scored points in the cool club for being a bit of an animal, the Firestorm’s inherent stability, neutrality and general ease of use means that most riders can jump right on and thrash the knackers off it, right up to the point that the footpegs gouge the tarmac and the chassis starts to flex.

This is a bike that lets you know you’re pressing on a bit, and although it won’t ever make for a fantastic track bike, I defy anyone with a healthy respect for life to find it lacking on the hallowed Sunday blast through the countryside.

In fact, there’s only one real reason why you wouldn’t keep up on the road and that’s because while your mates are offering their patellas up to the tarmac, you’ll be racking up Nectar Points at the petrol station. Fuel economy isn’t great, a fact made worse by the dinky 16-litre tank fitted to pre-2001 bikes. The small tank does give the bike a slim feel though and, combined with the old school “sit in” rather than “perched on” riding position, the VTR is an involving ride that even ten years on still has plenty going for it.

If you’re feeling the pinch of the global cash crisis but still want a reliable bike that’s fun to ride and that makes sense in most situations, then you could do an awful lot worse than swing your leg over a Firestorm.

Living With...

Running Costs

The only well-documented problems are faulty cam chain tensioners and water pumps failing. Firestorms left out in storms are prone to corroded exhaust downpipes but generally it’s not too hard to find a mint bike that’s been well looked after. Servicing costs vary from £150 for a small service (4000 miles) up to £480 for a major service (16,000 miles). Fuel economy is one of the VTR’s biggest downfalls. Ridden hard expect around 28mpg, or 42mpg if you’re steadier.

Other Options

The Firestorm hardly changed until 2001 when it finally got a fuel tank big enough to satisfy its thirst. It also got slightly higher bars making it even better for long distance work. While the Firestorm was gaining weight and becoming increasingly practical, the focused VTR1000 SP-1, launched in 2000, became Honda’s exotic (and expensive) answer to Ducati’s 916/996.

Mint originals are best, but if you really must dress up like a racer, then the official Stars and Stripes Edwards replica is the one to go for.

How Much

First-generation models can be had for as little as £1,500, making the Firestorm one of the best secondhand buys. Post-2001 models are in plentiful supply and are without question the better option. With late bikes fetching between £2,600 for an ’02 bike and up to £3,500 for a pristine ’05 model, you get a lot for your money.

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SV 1

Suzuki SV1000S

A worthy successor to the legendary TL?

When your eyes begin to mimic the bulging headlights, your thumbs are battered and you’re parked at the side of the road, chest heaving while your brain struggles to compute the sensory overload that has left your adrenal gland a withered shadow of its former self, then you know you’ve spent a bit too long on your TL.

Life was often like this with a bike the press quickly dubbed “The Widowmaker” in view of its wayward tendencies. That’s when it was working, of course – safety recalls and reliability issues marred the TL’s copybook. The TL1000S became a massive hit in spite of these foibles though, and when Suzuki withdrew the machine from its range in 2001 the bike’s army of fans sighed while the insurance brokers and warranty companies collectively breathed a huge sigh of relief.

The SV1000 followed the form of the massively popular SV650, albeit with a refined version of the TL1000’s raucous, snorting 997cc motor. On paper then, a few years to have a rethink should have resulted in a bike with all the character but none of the problems of the TL.

And it very nearly did. “Sanitised” isn’t a word you’d usually associate with Suzuki, but after just a few minutes, any dreams you might harbour of a machine made more exciting with time all but evaporate. “Sensible” happens to be another word you wouldn’t generally expect to hear in the same sentence as “TL-derived motor”, but for the die-hards, sadly, it’s true.

What Suzuki has created is a bike that won’t explode before its first service, won’t shake your dentures into your chin-bar at the slightest whiff of throttle in first gear and won’t have you reaching for the piles cream after a two-hour stint on the motorway. What they’ve created is something technologically better and far more useful than a TL. But the whole thing is just that little bit more Steady Eddie.

The motor, once notorious for its low-down grunt and free revving feel has been refined over time to produce less power and, ultimately, less excitement. It won’t intermittently eject semi-synthetic all over your Hush Puppies anymore though, and you could say that the SV’s reputation for reliability and durability vindicates this engineering compromise.

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SV 2

But there’s no excuse for the riding position. The seat is reasonably low and, thanks to the bike’s tiny waistline, a narrow straddle, making it very handy for smaller riders. The flipside of this courtesy to the little folk, though, is that the otherwise absent Suzuki sportiness manifests itself by giving the bike plenty of ground clearance. This means the footpegs are suitably up and out of the way with the end result being an arse-to-ankle ratio that after riding either of the other bikes on test feels cramped and a little unnatural.

Happily the rest of the ergonomics feel about right. The clip-on bars aren’t a particularly low or far away, so there’s never a huge amount of weight on your wrists or that nagging in the small of your back screaming out for the next fuel stop. The angular bikini fairing does what it’s supposed to, and the overall feel is of a bike that’s light and manageable.

The handling is pretty neutral, too. As with the smaller SV650, the 1000 uses an aluminium lattice frame that works well both dynamically and visually and is certainly one area where the SV is a big stride forward over the TL. The suspension is well balanced and, for my twelve and a bit stones, almost perfectly sprung. On the patchy wet and dry country roads in cold conditions, the SV’s jack-of-all-trades mundanity actually works in its favour. The steady fore and aft weight transfer inspires confidence even with one of my least favourite road tyres of all time: Continental’s ironically labelled Sport Attack.

Something that Suzuki has always been pretty handy at is getting the fuel injection right and the SV is no exception. The delivery, although a little diluted, is smooth and progressive – even getting back on the gas clumsily from a closed throttle seldom causes a stutter – so if you’re new to the world of V-twins, the SV could be an easy introduction.

Looks are of course subjective, and I’m not going to start telling you what it looks like. What I will say, though, is that it’s a bike that goes as well as it looks. While there’s nothing sexy about the angular lines of the bike, there’s little to dislike about it either. And that pretty much sums up the SV1000S. It’ll do everything you want it to do reasonably well, it won’t cost you a fortune and it won’t try to kill you.

But then the fact of the matter is that it won’t do too much to make you fall in love with it, either. V twins are all about character, and the SV has had pretty much all of that beaten and battered out of it in a post-TL company knee-jerk. Such a shame, but entirely reflective of the way of things these days.

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Running Costs

After the issues suffered by the TL, the SV simply had to be reliable. Suzuki succeeded but be sure to look for any signs of abuse – despite being really good at wheelies, V-twin engines don’t particularly like them as quite often the front cylinder gets starved of oil, leading to expensive engine problems. Servicing costs from £166.75 for a small service (6000 miles) up to £345 for a major service (16,000 miles), and fuel economy should be between 37 and 44mpg.

Other Options

If you’re looking for something to cherish rather than use on a day-to-day basis then the TL1000S is still well worth a look. Sure, it has its problems, but it’s a modern icon and, with a bit of “TL”C (geddit?), it’ll be one of the most rewarding bikes you’ll ever own. Many will have had their issues sorted out by keen former owners anyway.

If touring is more your thing then the TL motor also lives on in the ugly but very capable V-Strom.

How Much

The SV1000S was officially imported into the UK from 2003 until 2007, so there are plenty of bikes out there to choose from. Older, high-mileage bikes can be snapped up for as little £2,200 while a 2007 “Final Edition” SVX model complete with sporty fairing lowers will set you back about £4,500 for a minter.

2008 bikes are available but you’ll need to check warranty details with the dealer, as it won’t be an official Suzuki GB import.

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Falco 1

Aprilia SL1000

Forgotten hero or just best forgotten?

“I’d forgotten how bloody good these things are!” gushes tester Jon Urry in an excited burst of froth and bluster. But then he’s not alone in his forgetfulness. At the turn of the millennium in sports bike obsessed Britain, the SL1000 Falco was overshadowed by its far sexier stable mate, the stunning RSV Mille. Ignored by many, the price of the Falco quickly plummeted.

But those who didn’t try the Falco may just have missed out on something a little bit special.

The Italians have always had a slightly different approach to model variants compared with the Japanese manufacturers. Rather than castrating a sports bike engine by narrowing the throttle bodies and then bolting it on an economy chassis along with some budget cycle components nicked from a commuter’s parts bin, the Italian philosophy has always been a little different. The key word here has always been “style”.

The frame uses a similar chassis geometry to the RSV, but it’s been redesigned to show off the engine and quite simply look good in a semi-naked bike. The suspension is proper kit too – fully adjustable Showa forks and a Sachs rear shock mean that the Falco can be tailored to suit the rider and how they want to ride it, while Brembo brakes gripping on huge vented discs mounted on blinging five-spoke wheels reek of quality – there’s no question that the Falco is the trick bike of this particular trio.

The 60 degree V-twin motor doesn’t feel massively detuned, with huge great big dollops of power all the way through the midrange tailing off just shy of 9,500rpm and 155mph, making it the fastest bike here by quite a margin. The powerband has been shifted though, making the spread of usable drive a touch broader than the RSV with what seems to be only a small sacrifice at the top end in terms of sheer horsepower.

Even in Falco mode, the motor begs to be thrashed, and I have to say that the noise produced with the throttle pinned as the bike surges through the gears is pure audio heaven, thanks to the aftermarket race cans that the previous owner had deemed it necessary to fit. Trust me, they sound way better than they look.

The riding position is well thought out, with a very relaxed and natural feel to it thanks to a lower seat height and higher bars than the RSV. Instrumentation is functional enough and reasonably clear with a centrally mounted analogue rev counter between the two digital displays, even if it does look remarkably similar to an old radio/alarm clock that my dad threw out at some point during the eighties. My biggest gripe with Aprilias of this vintage is the switchgear – why put the horn where the bloody indicators are supposed to be?

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Falco 2

As well as sharing its road-rage inducing switchgear, the Falco also shares many of the RSV’s dimensions, giving the bike a fairly high centre of gravity and a similar tendency to almost fall into corners. This isn’t a bad thing when pressing on a bit, and compared with either the Suzuki or the Honda, the Aprilia feels positively sprightly and well up for a bit of action. The suspension is a good deal firmer too and, as you’d expect from the high-quality suspension, the damping feels reassuringly controlled under heavy braking and through fast changes of direction. The Falco is easily the sportiest of the three bikes here and would trounce the other two bikes on any racetrack you care to mention. But, as ever, there’s a price to be paid for this performance.

At lower speeds, and particularly in town, the bike feels very much like a fish out of water. The clutch is heavy and at low revs the power delivery often feels woolly and at worst erratic. It’s quite easy to stall too – especially once your left hand has started spasming from the forearmpumping clutch – and it often feels as though the injection system isn’t quite sure what it’s supposed to be doing. In fact, several times while turning round in the road for the photoshoot, I was convinced that it thought it was part of an espresso machine.

The Aprilia isn’t Japanese, so if you’re after an all-season bike to use day in, day out, then perhaps this isn’t the bike for you. If, on the other hand, you want a plaything with plenty of character that on the right roads is an absolute joy to ride, then look no further. It looks ridiculously good, sounds great and could well be the bargain that everybody missed out on the first time around. Don’t miss out again.

Living with...

Running Costs

Many Aprilia owners were shocked when they were hit with the bill for their first service at 600 miles. What is normally a cheap and simple oil and filter change is a full top-end check of the valve clearances. Thankfully, after being stung for anything between £300-£400, the servicing begins to come in line with the competition, though with no fixed pricing across the dealer network, it pays to shop around.

Reliability and finish isn’t exactly terrible, just don’t expect Japanese durability.

Other Options

Aprilia used their V-twin fairly liberally if not always wisely. An obvious alternative is the RSV Mille if you’re after something more sporty and a lot prettier. The Futura is an option if you want a sports tourer that’s nowhere near as good as a Honda VFR or, if you’re a real masochist, you could treat yourself to a Caponord: an adventure bike that’ll more than likely make you wish you had never bothered to take your bike test in the first place.

How Much

The SL1000 Falco didn’t sell in huge numbers, so the used market is fairly limited. Tatty early bikes with more than 30,000 miles on the clock can be had for as little as £1,800. Unlike the bargain basement Honda though, Aprilias don’t age very well unless well looked after, so expect mechanical trouble. Opt for a bike with full Aprilia service history and don’t expect to pay much more than £3,250 for a low mileage minter.

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Conclusion and specs


Picking a winner isn’t that straightforward. If you’re after something that you can ride to work every day, take on holiday or simply use to blow away the cobwebs on a Sunday ride with your mates then it’s a no-brainer – the Honda wins hands down. It’s cheap, it’s versatile and come rain or shine, it’ll fire up every time you hit the starter button and it won’t dissolve after a couple of harsh winters. It might not be the most exciting bike on test, but it’s without doubt the most robust.

The SV1000S is a decent enough bike, but it’s also somewhat lacking in personality. Not nearly as naughty as the earlier TL1000S and nowhere near as much fun as the smaller SV650 that spawned it, the big SV has got something of an identity crisis. Despite being blessed with an engine derived from a motorcycling icon it just doesn’t quite translate into what you hope it might. It is, however, very cheap for such a low-mileage bike.

Which just leaves the Aprilia. Motorcycling often doesn’t make any sense, and although the two Japanese bikes are the safe bets, there’s a twinkle in the Falco’s eye that quite simply makes it irresistible. It’s got personality in spades and although it’s a bit agricultural in places, it’s got plenty of sex-appeal. It’s frustrating in town but a whole ton of fun out of it.

What the Aprilia offers is a full-bodied, espresso shot of the V-twin experience for Nescafé instant money. The Japanese may have cottoned on to the market’s thirst for V-twins, but it seems that it’s still only the Italians who truly understand why it became a phenomenon in the first place.


1998 Honda VTR1000F Firestorm
Price:: £2,295
Engine: 996cc, liquid-cooled, 8-valve V-twin
Power: 107bhp @ 8,750rpm
Torque: 67.1 LB.FT @ 8,100RPM
Front suspension: RWU, adjustable preload and rebound
Rear suspension: Monoshock, adjustable preload and rebound
Front brake: 296mm discs, four-piston calipers
Rear brake: 220mm disc, single-piston caliper
Dry weight: 193kg
Seat  height: 810mm
Fuel capacity: 16 litres
Top speed: 150mph
Colours: Silver, Blue, Black

Visordown rating: 3/5

2003 Suzuki SV1000S
Price: £3,199
Engine: 996cc, liquid-cooled, 8-valve V-twin
Power: 106.7bhp @ 9,000rpm
Torque: 66.8lb.ft @ 7,400rpm
Front suspension: RWU, fully adjustable
Rear suspension: Monoshock, fully adjustable
Front brake: 310mm discs, four-piston calipers
Rear brake: 220mm disc, single-piston caliper
Dry weight: 189kg (claimed)
Seat height: 810mm
Fuel capacity: 17 litres
Top speed: 147mph
Colours: Black, Silver, Blue

Visordown rating: 3/5

2005 Aprilia SL1000 Falco
Price: £3,495
Engine: 997cc, liquid-cooled, 8-valve V-twin
Power: 114bhp @ 9,250rpm
Torque: 71 lb.ft @ 5,500rpm
Front suspension: USD, fully adjustable
Rear suspension: Monoshock, preload and rebound
Front brake: 320mm discs, four-piston calipers
Rear brake: 220mm disc, two-piston caliper
Dry weight: 189kg (claimed)
Seat height: 815mm
Fuel capacity: 19 litres
Top speed: 155mph
Colours: Burgundy/Silver, Black, Blue

Visordown rating: 4/5