Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Trick or Treat: 1998-2003 Suzuki TL1000R

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The Suzuki TL1000R was pretty cool, we think. It didn't have the outright performance of a GSX-R1000, but the TL was certainly distinctive...

Based on the TL1000S, the Suzuki TL1000R was launched in 1998 – the bike was supposed to be Suzuki’s contender in World Superbikes and AMA Superbikes series. But though the bike was raced in 1998 and even took a solitary race win in World Superbikes (during the Japanese WSBK race at the Sugo circuit, in the hands of Japanese rider Keiichi Kitagawa…), Suzuki chose to go back to their beloved GSX-R750 in 1999.

In stock form, the TL1000R’s 996cc V-Twin produced 135 horsepower and with a racing kit that was available from Yoshimura, that could be increased to 150 horsepower. The racing kit also brought weight down to 160 kilos (depending on which source you choose to believe, the stock bike weighed 192-217kg dry), which meant performance wasn’t paltry at all. And sure enough, with bits like aluminium twin spar chassis, forged pistons, lightweight conrods, twin radiators, high-capacity airbox and exhaust system, twin-injector-per-throttle-body fuel injection system, 43mm USD forks, a supposedly revolutionary rotary damper rear suspension set-up and twin 320mm brake discs at the front with 6-piston calipers, the TL1000R was built like proper superbike that was meant to go fast around a circuit.

There probably isn’t a simple answer to why Suzuki chose to invest heavily in developing a V-Twin superbike, and then went back to their inline-four GSX-R after just one year of racing the TL1000R. But along with the other V-Twin superbikes of that era – most notably the Ducati 916/996 and the Honda RVT1000R RC51 – we’re a bit fond of the old TL. Sure, it didn’t fare very well on the track and didn’t sell well either, but we still think it’s charming old machine. So how was it, really, to ride? Let’s take a quick look at what some magazine road tests of that time had to say about the bike.

Back in June 2000, Sport Rider magazine did a twins vs triples vs fours comparison test and the TL1000R – which was the twin in this test – didn’t fare too badly. ‘The TL’s throttle response was no problem on the track. I thought it would be, but it was virtually transparent,’ said SR’s associate editor, Andrew Trevitt, who went on to post his fastest lap times around the 2.88km Streets of Willow circuit aboard the TL.

‘As with any big displacement V-Twin, the Suzuki TL1000R oozes soul and character. It has a brutish midrange but the TL’s power delivery is let down by its fuel injection, as the slightest throttle opening has the big twin firing with a lurch. Combine this with strong compression braking, even with the slipper clutch, and midcorner work is difficult at best, downright scary at worst. With its giant fuel injection bodies, the TL requires finesse to wind on the power when exiting turns,’ said the editors of Sport Rider.

‘The Suzuki TL1000R pays the penalty for being constructed for WSBK use – even if it never made it there – with its slight porkiness. But the extra weight is in a stout chassis that remains planted at speed and provides surefooted handling. I have a newfound appreciation for the TL after finally getting the suspension set up to my liking. When the pace gets hot, it’s definitely the bike – and the engine – to have,’ said Trevitt. ‘The TL has the most jerky on/off throttle I’ve ever ridden. In slow corners, needing first or second gear, the bike did a lot of lunging. Between that and the engine braking, the TL felt quirky and top heavy in tight turns. But on the straights, it was all love – I couldn’t wait to slam the throttle open. The TL is not my pick for the street but it is probably the most kick-ass for the track if you can make it work for you,’ added Sport Rider’s Dean Groover.

‘The engine’s broad, linear spread of power was absolutely wonderful. In fact, it had more juice than I cared to use. The dry, slipper-type clutch needed only a light pull at the lever and emitted a chattery sound and feel, very much like that of a Ducati 996,’ said Cycle World magazine’s Don Canet, who rode the 1998 Yoshimura Suzuki TL1000R World Superbikes racebike at the Willow Springs Raceway, after the end of the racing season in 1998.

‘Power picked up nicely right off the bottom with a throbbing vibration that smoothed out as the revs built into the meat of the midrange. Back torque on deceleration is adjustable and it was set so lightly that the big twin would freewheel like a two-stroke when the transmission was downshifted, entering corners. Exciting stuff,’ added Canet, who went on to say that he found the TL racebike’s suspension stiff and handling a bit unwieldy. ‘In the end, I found the Yoshimura TL1000R more pleasing to gaze at, than to ride,’ concluded Canet.

Back in 2003, when Suzuki stopped making the TL1000R, the bike was priced at US$10,000. Its 135bhp engine pushed the bike through the standing quarter-mile (400m) in a respectable 10.75 seconds and top speed was about 270km/h. The styling was a mix of quirky and cool and for those who wanted something that was a bit less common than Yamaha R1s and Honda Fireblades, we suppose the TL1000R was the bike to have, back then.


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