It's a tough world out there in sportybike-land. In the time it takes for a rumor or spy shot of a supposedly quicker, tricker and faster future model to get published, your latest and greatest can quickly become relegated to yesterday's news. Even if its capabilities are right up there with the best, all it takes is the introduction of a flashier model with the promise of superior performance to push the previous bike into the shadows. Especially if the newer model comes from the same company and is trumpeted as a "racier" version of the original.
Such is the case with Suzuki's TL1000S. The all-new V-twin sportbike turned heads in '97 with its 113-horsepower, fuel-injected powerplant and aluminum trellis-style chassis. And its outright performance was a match for the competition at anything up to a ten-tenths, racetrack-scratching pace. Twin-cylinder sportbikes were all the rage and many of us were expecting the dawn of a new era in motorcycling, with narrow, lithe V-twins replacing the comparatively bulky in-line four as the dominant sporting-engine configuration.
Overlooked in all the excitement was a sportbike that was solid and capable in all respects. Sure, the R-model boasted a twin-spar aluminum frame and a hot-rodded motor-but it was also wider in the waistline and picked up 20-odd pounds in the transition. Was all this really worth an extra $500?
But once news of the TL-S's racier brother-the TL1000R-began to surface, everyone soon forgot about the S-model. With visions of a world-beating, V-twin sportbike dancing in their heads, many riders decided to stand pat and wait until the R-model's release. A somewhat sensationalized claim of a handling problem over in Europe, which forced a worldwide recall of S-models for retrofitment of a steering damper in order to quell a reputed tankslapping tendency (we never encountered this problem), definitely tainted the TL1000S as well.
The TL1000S's larger front...
The TL1000S's larger front fairing offers much better wind protection than the R-model's aerodynamically slanted windscreen. The mirrors offer a decent rearward view.
Not all riders like to be accordioned into a racer crouch, and the TL-S's ergonomics straddles the line between hard-core sport and sport-touring quite nicely. Without all the aerodynamic concerns that come with building an all-out sportbike, the S-model's fairing provides decent wind protection, unlike the TL-R's radically canted windscreen. And with electronic fuel injection, cold morning starts are a breeze. Simply nudge the bar-mounted "fast-idle" lever (it can't really be called a choke lever since it doesn't enrich the fuel mixture), warm it up for about 30 seconds and you're on your way.
One of our biggest gripes with the '97 TL1000S was its dismal fuel economy. We consistently averaged approximately 30 mpg during hard riding and were forced to refuel every 120 miles lest we end up pushing. Strangely, Suzuki isn't claiming any changes to the fuel-delivery maps on the '99 TL-S, yet we averaged about 33 mpg this time around. While this is not a huge improvement, it is a gain nonetheless. We did notice an increased tendency to surge a little at light-throttle (cruise) settings around town, which may be indicative of leaner fuel-mixture mapping.
Riding the TL-S on city streets reveals two major changes since we last tested this model. One is a slight alteration to the clutch's back-torque limiting ramp, and the addition of a sixth clutch spring. This significantly smooths out the TL's previous grabbiness during aggressive launches. The other is an unfortunate side effect of the steering damper. Although it may provide additional stability during spirited canyon sorties, the nonadjustable damper also causes the steering to be somewhat truckish at slower speeds. Maneuvering through traffic and tight confines is more of a chore. And while it's not lethargic by any means, steering response at higher velocities has been slowed, requiring a bit more muscle for those quick-flick turn entries.
One of the changes for '99...
One of the changes for '99 to the TL1000S is tighter clearance on the main bearing journals, reportedly to quell mechanical noises that are concealed by bodywork on the TL1000R.
Get the TL out among those undulating environs where quick turn entries are the name of the game, however, and its rider-friendly chassis and strong motor have a chance to shine. Although the steering requires more effort to initiate a turn, its overall manners are dead neutral at all lean angles with the stock Metzeler rubber. Ground clearance is abundant, so if you're scraping the nonfeeler-equipped pegs you're probably riding a bit too fast for the street.
The TL-S's 996cc, V-twin mill reminds us why we liked its overall performance traits back in '97. While it may not quite pack the midrange torque of some of its competition, the motor is clearly superior to the R-model in this category; this, combined with its revvy nature and strong top-end punch, makes wheelie-prone corner exits a breeze. And in cornering scenarios where most in-line four sportbikes are trying to spin the rear tire, the TL's smooth V-twin power pulses let the rider concentrate on subjects other than traction control. The abrupt on/off throttle transition of the Suzuki's fuel injection is still present though, so it's best to get your drive started as early and smoothly as possible.
Although not as impressive-looking...
Although not as impressive-looking as the TL1000R's twin-spar chassis, the TL1000S's trellis-style, oval-tube aluminum frame is more than up to the task of offering responsive handling while keeping things under control.
It may not look as stout as the TL-R's twin-spar chassis but the S-model's trellis-style oval-tube, frame is more than up to the task handlingwise, and it's far slimmer between the rider's knees than the R-model's rather bulky feel. Along with the aforementioned hospitable steering manners, the TL1000S's suspension does a very good job of absorbing the majority of pavement irregularities you're likely to encounter. Only at a very aggressive pace do any shortcomings appear: mainly softish spring rates that let the suspension nearly bottom-out in midcorner bumps, overpowering the rebound damping and causing the TL to weave a bit in protest. Nothing serious, but it does get your attention.
In this technological age of flash and speed, it's all too easy to overlook the good sportbikes that don't make a spectacle of themselves. The Suzuki TL1000S has always been a solid performer. It may have been forced to live in the TL-R's shadow but for those looking for a useful alternative to the all-out V-twin sportbikes currently making the rounds, at $8999, the Suzuki TL1000S remains a sensible choice.
Lindemann/Penske TL Shock Kit
The Suzuki TL1000S's suspension takes a fair bit of dialing in before you can get things right, and even then it leaves a little to be desired when the going gets rough. Jim Lindemann has been marketing a Penske replacement shock kit for the past year or so, and after experiencing his suspension magic on various bikes in the past, we decided to give it a try. The Lindemann kit replaces the stock rotary damper unit with a conventional, fully adjustable Penske shock absorber, sans spring. One of our complaints with the TL-S was overly soft spring rates; Lindemann has provided a choice of two springs with higher rates to replace the spring on the stocker's separate unit.
Replacing the spring was a chore, however. The spring unit is packed tightly into the right side, and requires some maneuvering to remove. You then need to grind off the peened-over shock shaft inside the clevis in order to loosen the bottom locknut so the accessory spring can be installed. (Or you can simply send your spring unit to Lindemann and have it converted for a small fee.) Once all the components are mounted (including the frame support block that fits in the space previously occupied by the rotary damper), dial-in is a snap. You'll need a very small Allen wrench to make rebound-damping adjustments on the shock, however.
Overall suspension action with the Lindemann kit was greatly improved. Damping was much more consistent across the suspension stroke, with a more supple movement over smaller ripples, while large midcorner bumps failed to upset the chassis. As a result, traction in the gnarlier corners was greatly enhanced, increasing corner speeds.
At $975, the Lindemann kit isn't exactly cheap, but for those looking to improve their TL1000S's handling to a point far beyond the stocker's capabilities, it's a sound investment.
Suggested retail price: $8999
Engine: Liquid-cooled, 90-degree
Bore x stroke: 98.0 x 66.0mm
Carburetion: EFI, two 52mm throttle bodies
Rake/trail: 23.7 deg./3.7 in. (94mm)
Wheelbase: 55.7 in. (1415mm)
Fuel capacity: 4.5 gal (17L)
Weight: 474 lb (215kg) dry