Pity the siblings of race replica motorcycles. While the press-and the moto-public alike-froth at the mouth to throw a leg over the newest, greatest techno-finery, many competent motorcycles get overlooked in the melee. Imagine how a merely above-average athlete feels when compared to an Olympian family member. How many of us could hold up under such scrutiny?
Although the Aprilia SL1000, the Honda VTR1000 and Suzuki TL1000S weren't shod with sexy buns and tossed around the track, they don't exactly lead the lives of wallflowers either. Call 'em broad purpose sportbikes-mounts that are as at home in concrete canyons as granite ones or superslab-machines that wouldn't feel out of place during the occasional track day until eight-tenths speeds were approached. All of which made this trio the obvious choice for the SR gang of three's trip to Sears Point for the ill-fated second round of the 2000 AMA Superbike series.
Then again, things don't always work out the way you plan. Our plan (if you can call it anything so organized) was to leave the emap tower around noon and spend a glorious Friday tracing the twistiest line between two points. Unfortunately, the realities of the work day delayed our departure until peak traffic. Splitting lanes for more than an hour and a half through Los Angeles' worst immediately revealed the differences among theses motorcycles in low speed mode.
Ergonomically, the VTR is the gentleman of the bunch. With its upright riding position, ample leg room and good wind protection, the Honda felt at home on the long and non-winding road at both low and high speeds. The Falco leaned a little more toward a sporty upper body position, placing the bars a bit lower but slightly rearward preventing the interstate from being a painful proposition. The same can't be said of the Aprilia's footpeg location, which folded up longer riders' legs rather severely and somewhat too forward for some testers' tastes. While this isn't a problem in the twisties, SL riders felt the need to re-adjust their lower body position early and often on the highway. The TL-S had the raciest ergos of the bunch. The widely spaced bars were forward and low, making crawling in traffic a wrist stressing affair. The rearward pegs contributed to the racing crouch feel. Both the Falco and the TL-S offered decent wind protection, but the Suzook was a bit chillier when the temperature dropped. Riders on the upside of 5' 11" commented on the TL's blusteriness around the helmet.
But these bikes weren't designed for chasing horizons Gold Wing style. After a weekend of rain-drenched commuter duty, our sporting trio kicked up their heels for the trip home. Winding our way back to Los Angeles provided ample opportunity to put these bikes through their paces.
In the twisty stuff, the Aprilia steers the quickest, although it never felt hyperactive. The suspension consistently managed to soak up what the pavement threw its way, allowing spirited cornering on both smooth and bumpy tarmac. Though detuned from Mille duty for more midrange poop, the engine suffers from a few quirks. The Falco exhibits more than just a tendency toward cold-bloodedness. Often, several minutes of warm-up are necessary. The fuel injection mapping needs some refinement in the lower rpm range to fix some hiccups, too. Grab a handful of throttle at low rpm and the Falco chatters the chain as it struggles to overcome its tall gearing. Then there's the issue of whether the engine is derestricted or not. Although SL owners would undoubtedly uncork the air box and snip the appropriate wire, our test bike may not have been EPA legal and may have had an unfair power advantage over the other two unaltered bikes. That said, the Aprilia's engine still ranked second. The SL's styling, however, was the trendsetter.
The Super Hawk, in typical Honda fashion, scored well in nearly every category. Although we've said it before, the VTR's fuel range is a joke, forcing riders to plan their trips around the all-too-frequent fuel stops. On the gas at low rpm, the VTR also struggles to overcome tall gearing. The engine puts out good power throughout the rpm range but the revs didn't climb quickly enough for one tester. Vibration is a constant, annoying companion when riding the Super Hawk-particularly in the pegs, which rigidly mount to the engine. The VTR steers the most neutrally of the threesome, handling multiple transitions with ease. Similarly, the TK adjustable suspension effectively negotiated the transactions between the rubber and the road. Our testers were split on whether the VTR or the SL handled the best. The two bikes also shared top braking honors with strong manageable power.
The TL1000S cleaned up when it came to engine smoothness. We've always loved the Suzuki's motor for top end power. This bike was no exception. Unfortunately, the strongest motor was still hampered by now familiar off/on throttle fuel injection woes, but it also surged noticeably in the 3500 to 4000 rpm range. We suspect the surging was the result of Suzuki trying to improve the TL's fuel economy. In mountain mode, the TL-S required the most effort at the grips to turn in, though not enough to be bothersome. The suspension suffers from excessive compression damping to make up for the limp spring rates. In the bumpy stuff, the Suzook could be a handful. Although the brakes required a bit more effort, stopping power was only slightly behind the Aprilia and the Honda.
So, when we arrived back in the L.A. basin, the SR staff put its collective heads together to come up with a split decision. One staffer chose the TL, saying he'd simply put some money into the suspension to bring it on par with the Falco in handling and price. The other two selected the VTR for its all-around competence-despite its tiny tank.
Aprilia SL1000 Falco
Suggested retail price: $11,299
Type: Liquid-cooled, 60-degree, V-twin
Bore x stroke: 97.0 x 67.5mm
Carburetion: Indirect multipoint fuel injection, 51mm throttle bodies
Transmission: 6-speed Rake/trail: 24.5 deg./ 3.9 in. (99mm)
Wheelbase: 55.7 in. (1415mm)
Fuel capacity: 5.5 gal. (21L)
Claimed dry weight: 418 lb. (190kg)
Suggested retail price: $9049 Type:
Liquid-cooled, 90-degree V-twin
Bore x stroke: 98.0 x 66.0mm
Carburetion: Mikuni/Denso fuel injection, 52mm throttle bodies
Transmission: 6-speed Rake/trail: 23 degrees/ 3.7 in. (93.5mm) Wheelbase: 55.7 in. (1415mm) Fuel capacity: 4.5 gal. (17L) Claimed dry weight: 421 lb. (191kg)
Honda VTR1000 Super Hawk
Suggested retail price: $8999
Type: Liquid-cooled, 90-degree, V-twin
Bore x stroke: 98.0 x 66.0mm
Carburetion: 2, 48 mm flat-slide CV
Transmission: 6-speed Rake/trail: 24.8 deg./ 3.8 in. (97mm)
Wheelbase: 56.3 in. (1430mm)
Fuel capacity: 4.2 gal. (16L)
Dry weight: 423 lb. (192kg)
This article was originally published in the October 2000 issue of Sport Rider.