“Newbie riders should simply skip the TL and go straight to the morgue.”

Not sure why you can only pull up part of so many old MO stories, but the Lord works in mysterious ways. In any case, we’ve come a long way in 20 years. Not sure where the Ducati is that should be included here, but not being able to borrow those bikes seems to be a longstanding tradition. So here’s the Suzuki TL1000S versus the Honda VTR1000 SuperHawk (still a fave), tested by luminaries including MO’s founder Brent Plummer, the illustrious Chuck Graves, and the infamous Sean Higbee.


Specifications: Suzuki TL1000S
Manufacturer: Suzuki
Model: 1997 TL1000S
Price: $8,999
Engine: DOHC, 8-valve, liquid-cooled 90 degree V-twin
Bore x stroke: 98.0 x 66.0mm
Displacement: 996cc
Carburetion: Two stage fuel injection with 52mm throttle bodies
Transmission: 6-speed
Wheelbase:  55.7 in.
Seat height:  32.9 in.
Fuel capacity:  4.5 gal.
Claimed Dry Weight: 447 lbs
Peak Horsepower: 114.3 at 9,500 rpm
Peak Torque: 72.6 at 7,750 rpm
Quarter Mile: 10.53 seconds at 133.06 mph

Sport Twins #2: Honda’s VTR1000F 

 The VTR1000, out of its element at the racetrack, still impressed us with its neutral feel and good handling.
 Although not as large as the TL’s brakes, Super Hawk’s 296mm rotors and Nissin four-pot calipers offer plenty of force for even the aggressive street rider.
 Drag strip launches were hindered by an oddly chattering clutch that bounced in and out when the rear wheel spun.
 Gee, isn’t that pretty? (Feel free to send us a better caption.)
 Instrumentation is clean and simple. The white-faced tach and temp gauges are very legible and easy to read even at night.
 Limited ground clearance and soft suspension components hinder the Super Hawk when the going gets fast.


 Specifications: Honda’s VTR1000F 
 Manufacturer: Honda
Model: 1997 VTR1000F Super Hawk
Price: $8,999
Engine: DOHC, 8-valve, DOHC, Liquid-cooled 90-degree V-twin
Bore and Stroke: 98.0 x 66.0mm
Displacement: 996cc
Carburetion: (2) 48mm Keihin CV
Transmission: 6-speed
Wheelbase: 56.3 in.
Seat Height: 31.9 in.
Fuel Capacity: 4.2 gal.
Claimed Dry Weight: 452lbs
Peak Horsepower: 104.8 at 8,750 rpm
Peak Torque: 68.8 at 6,500 rpm
Quarter Mile: 10.83 seconds at 127.32 mph


Venue:Streets of Willow

We showed up at the Streets of Willow with a fistful of dollars to rent the place, a posse of eager testers and our two thoroughbred twins. After a full day of track testing we learned a lot about our two competitors, including (gulp!) how crash-worthy the Suzuki is.

 Editor-in-Chief Brent Plummer isn’t tubby anymore, but he’s still damn hard to get by at the track. Here fast-guy Chuck Graves gives him a knee to edge his way past.
 Bringing them to their knees! Suzuki’s TL and Honda’s VTR are both great track weapons, with the Suzuki holding a clear advantage.
 Cameras rolling, and… Action! This is a still-frame capture taken from our on-board camera footage mere seconds before Shawn “Highside” Higbee lost the rear end. Check out our mpeg videos from the shootout.
 Despite a ten horsepower deficit, Honda’s VTR was within a second of the sporty TL at the track.
 Another video frame from the TL’s cockpit. It does look better before we wadded it.
 The Suzuki won our Sport Twins shootout. Which one wins the battle for showroom sales remains to be seen.





Venue:Los Angeles County Raceway

The timing lights of Los Angeles County Raceway don’t lie. Here our combatants ripped up the quarter mile with times that were reached only by open-class sportbikes just a few years ago. In the picture above, you see Shawn Higbee riding a wheelie through the quarter mile while Chuck Graves uses a Honda CBR-XX equipped with an on-board video camera to record the stunt. Note the timing lights which clearly show his 12.8 second, 104 mph pass made on the previous run. On one wheel!

 Shawn Higbee set the fastest quarter-mile time ever recorded on one wheel by Motorcycle Online.
 Chuck Graves off on another wild ride down the strip on the bucking TL1000 bronco. His best time was a 10.53 @ 133.06 mph.
 The VTR1000 was much harder to launch than the TL because the clutch lever would chatter in and out when the rear wheel slipped. Shawn Higbee posted fastest time on the VTR, a 10.83 @ 127.32 mph.



Riding Impressions:

1. Brent Plummer, Editor-in-Chief
“Be afraid” was the first thing that came to my mind when a newbie rider recently asked me if I thought Suzuki’s TL1000 would be a good bike for first-time riders. The TL1000 is pure evil: It bucks, wiggles and wheelies under hard acceleration, shaking its head over bumps at top speed. And don’t you dare miss a first-to-second or second-to-third shift under full throttle — it’ll try and tankslap you off. Newbie riders should simply skip the TL and go straight to the morgue.
Each time I ride the TL1000, it’s an adventure, a conquest, and I feel I’ve overcome the beast one more time. Mind you, it’s not ugly, it’s menacing, and I can hear it taunting me now: “Come on, Plummer, go for that big wheelie, powerslide me, you haven’t come close to my limits yet, you ninny. So get off your ass and let’s go riding!” And for two weeks straight, that’s what I did, showing up late for work every day. Suzuki’s TL1000 is one of the few bikes that’ll make you waltz into your boss’ office and spout: “you can fire me, but I’m going riding!”
Oh yes, the other bike. Honda’s (yawn) VTR1000. Flaccid suspension, a slow-revving motor — admittedly, it’s easy to cure with faster-rising throttle slides — with ergonomics that really aren’t much more comfortable than the TL’s? I’ll pass.

2. Gord Mounce, Associate Editor
Choosing between a TL and VTR? Tough call. The TL is more fun with those 10 extra ponies, although the Honda doesn’t have anything to apologize for. Honda’s VTR has the edge in comfort, but the TL wins in the twisties. Mind you, the TL definitely needs a steering damper to tame its twitchy nature. Ground clearance of the VTR is less than I like, but I also hate the TL’s cheesy carbon-fiber stickers, ‘zit’ solo seat and Ducati rip-off styling.
Honda is rumored to be working on a sporty ‘R’ version of their VTR. With more ground clearance, more power and a fully adjustable fork it would rock. Suzuki is also said to be working on a race version of their TL, but I sure hope they make it prettier.
So which bike do I prefer? Neither. I’ll wait for a sportier VTR1000R. I want it all.

3. Chuck Graves, Racer, Graves Motorsports
I have to say that the Honda is a really nice, comfortable commuter bike, but it’s lack of ground clearance is a problem in sporting situations. Conversely, the Suzuki’s aggressive riding style was uncomfortable for long trips, but in canyon riding it is clearly superior to the Honda, and the reasons are that it has stout front forks, good brakes, very strong acceleration, amble ground clearance, and its back-torque limiter (a “slipper” clutch) is a big plus.
Dollar-for-dollar, the Suzuki is a better bike — for the same price, it comes with all the latest technology.

4. Shawn Higbee, Racer, Team Corbin Motorcycle Online
The TL rules.
That said, while the Honda was easier to go fast on, had a plush ride, and was a better street bike, I found it boring. The powerplant would probably respond well to some performance hop-ups, but I worry about the strength of the “pivotless” frame. The Ducati superbikes I used to race had their cases replaced on a regular basis.
Unlike the rest of our testers, I even like the hard-edged look of the bike. The TL has its problems, starting with the quirky rotary shock that can use some additional R&D, but I like a challenge.

5. Billy Bartels, Associate Editor
Just when you thought you could count on MO to be the sane magazine that picks the best street bike, along comes this test. I suppose you can forgive the TL for blatantly ripping off the 916 in more ways than I have space to mention here. You can probably forgive the stupid ergonomics in favor of superior full-lean control. And, I assume, our other testers forgave the Suzuki for its twitchiness in the corners (one mumbled something about getting a steering damper). Why all this forgiveness? The motor. Two words: It’s Awesome.

But for those of us not blinded by 114 screaming horses, the Honda delivers a better all-around package. Within one second of Suzuki’s brute at the track and three-tenths at the dragstrip, the extremely ridable and utterly stable VTR performs despite ten less ponies in the stable.

6. Mike Belcher, Mechanic, Graves Motorsports
At first, the Honda’s narrow tank and profile feels peculiar, but as you get used to it, it’s reassuring — especially when combined with the smooth, slow-revving motor. One thing that really bothered me during the test was Honda’s shifter design — the way it protrudes into the ankle area of your boot made you think something (like the kickstand) kept getting in the way. As for the swingarm being mounted to the engine cases, I will be interested to see how that holds up. Our test unit was already showing signs of an oil leak in this area, perhaps due to case flex.

The TL is quite a different bike. From the engine’s gear drive sounds to it’s exhaust note, this machine screams character and exudes personality. And it’s fast. The TL1000 does demand that you pay attention when you ride, and this is not a beginner’s bike, but the combination of power, handling and high-tech design made it the winner in my book.

7. John Slezak, Guest Tester
The new Honda and Suzuki twins will, without question, put a smile on your face, no matter which one you pick. They’ve got such an amazing amount of torque right from idle, it takes a lot of self-control (and practice) to keep the front wheel down. That goes double for the TL, which is simply a brute with no manners. It needs to get some, though, in order to compete with the SuperHawk for best street bike. The TL has an awkward riding position, reminiscent of a GSX-R, that makes you feel like you’re riding right over the front tire.

The Honda, on the other hand, goes through corners with a very neutral, lightweight feel, albeit not quite as quickly as the TL can, but so what? You shouldn’t be going that fast on the street anyway. Not really flickable, but easy to point in the right direction, with a comfortable seating position to boot. Add to that a beautiful look, and the choice becomes that much easier to make: The Honda will treat you with some manners, and deliver your day’s riding in style.


  • Craig Hoffman

    Had a ’97 TLS. rode it for 35K miles and survived. The biggest issue with that bike was the craptastic rotary rear suspension, but a Penske shock sort of fixed that (always felt the Bitubo shock, which went in place of the spring holder) was a better solution though) the forks also had way too soft spring also, but that was an easy fix with some 1.0 number to replace the flaccid .74 (if memory serves) springs. With braided lines, “HH” pads and the rear shock and stiffer fork springs, and a cool Hyperpro steering damper to replace the very heavy for our protection and ugly stock one, and the bike handled much better.

    Standard gearing was a very tall 17/38, keeping the 17 on the front (to keep the chain buffer alive) and putting a 42 rear sprocket on it worked wonders, and post gearing change, the already light in the front end and mid range power heavy TLS did wheelies for days and days. I waited a long time to change the gearing and, as Dr. Chanard, AKA Pinhead said in Hellbound: Hellraiser 2 after his rather unpleasant transformation – “and to think I hesitated…”

    Midway through my tenure with the TL, I replaced it’s Yosh slip ons with a Yosh full system. That was the pinnacle of cool back then and the bike’s car alarm setting off ridiculous and uncouth personality was fully realized.

    The TLS looked a bit like a guppy and it was a hot mess as delivered, but it responded really well to my tweaks. Post mods, the TLS was a bike that was alive and a bit unruly, and I had a shit ton of fun with it. it was the right bike at the right (young and dumb) time in my life, and I managed not to die in the process. That is about all one can ask really.

    They say you can’t go back and I suppose so. Perhaps I need a KTM 1290 Super Duke in my life, to rekindle my inner child. Part of me wants to be this guy again 😛


    • spiff

      If the coin is available buy the super duke. Ride it lazy or with aggregation. It really doesn’t care.

      • Sayyed Bashir

        Ditto on the KTM 1290 SDR. Loads of fun, yet safe when you want it to be. I can’t buy one because I will lose my license in three days.

        • spiff

          I disagree with the license thing. This bike is so docile if you don’t wring it’s neck it won’t encourage you. I am much more mature with this than my supermoto. I bet you could go a week or two.

          • Sayyed Bashir

            I had two tickets on the KTM 1190 R during a trip to AZ in 2015, two tickets on the Harley last year just coming home from work, and one on the Suzuki Bandit a few weeks ago. The SDR will be lethal. Why buy a bike that goes 165 mph when you can get a ticket at 80 mph?

          • spiff

            Cause it power wheelies at 80.

          • spiff

            I might be bullshitting. Give me a day or so, and I’ll test it.

          • Craig Hoffman

            Nah you are not BSing. Did plenty of 3 gear 80 mph wheelies on my TLS, I am sure they would be far easier on an SDR 🙂

          • spiff

            I know it comes up on power alone in 3rd, just not sure it is at 80. If there is a knoll in the road I know you have to be careful with the front coming up.

          • 12er

            somehow the front end almost slapped me in the chest at 130mph on a test ride. Uh did I say 130, I meant 65…

          • spiff

            Think of it more as a kiss.

        • Craig Hoffman

          I am an avid dirt bike rider and if a street bike encourages bad behavior I am a sucker for it. I like doing wheelies, I will not lie. The KTM 1290 would be trouble for sure, but what the Hell, life is short and I dig twins! Looking at that old photo, I had forgotten about the “Evil Twin Superbike” stickers I put on the tail. Good times…

          My current ride is a well set up ’06 FZ1 that I bought new after selling the TLS. The FZ1 is fast, comfy, bulletproof, handles well and it is now worth pizza and beer money at resale, so I just keep riding it! Really like the FZ1, but loved the TLS, but I suspect that is a time of life thing.

          That and the sound. The FZ1 has an Akra full system and sounds great on it’s screaming top end, but the TLS sounded so badass out that Yosh full system all the time, even while just idling in the driveway. Harley guys were like WTF is that thing, women and children cowered in fear 🙂

          I still ride too fast on the FZ1 though. Some things never change…

  • Sentinel

    I wish Suzuki would come out with a new SV1000, but I don’t think they will with the GSX-S1000 on the market.

  • spiff

    In retrospect if I knew someone looking for a cheap bike it would be a clean example of the Honda. That said I remember reading about the TL, and I was pretty excited about it at the time. Back then I wanted a Bandit. Fast forward. The current super nakeds are what I always wanted. In Cycleworld or Motorcyclist they ran an artist rendition of what the what would be the FZ1, and it could be the FZ-10’s original concept. I was so freakin ready for that bike.

  • Barry_Allen

    John Burns,
    I’m not sure why this works, but when you come across a blank page when trying to look at an old article just append “?page=1” to the end of the address:



    Way back in ’97 video was a cutting-edge luxury, even if it was the size of a postage stamp.

  • Mad4TheCrest

    “114 screaming horses!” That sounds anemic compared to today’s crazy bhp outputs.

    But at least back then there were more big twins to compare. Right now we are quickly losing our performance twins: Ducati is retiring the top Panigale in favor of a V4; Aprillia made a similar move 7 years ago; Suzuki hadn’t had a TLS, TLR, or non-ADV SV1000 for years; and Honda axed its RC-51 after 2006. Sure KTM has the 1290 but they’ve retired the RC8 superbike without replacement. And EBR is gone, for good this time I think.

    Makes me wistful for those good old days of “114 screaming horses” when twins were on the rise.

    • Craig Hoffman

      The TLS was a bit like a diesel truck. HP figures don’t tell the whole story. That bike felt like it was digging a trench in the asphalt when it was on the gas, like a 450cc MX bike on steroids. I can only imagine what a Panigale feels like, or an SDR for that matter.

      Been avoiding taking a test ride on the big KTM, as it would likely lead to an impulse purchase and the ensuing unpleasant marital discussions 😛

      • Mad4TheCrest

        I had a friend with a TLS who would not let me ride it because he thought it might get me in trouble – and at the time I rode a Ducati 1198 superbike with 153-odd rear wheel horses! But it’s true that how power is delivered makes as much or more difference than how much power is delivered.

      • Jeff S. Wiebe
      • spiff

        A guy I work with used a great technique to deal with the marital issue. He had a liter bike and a motocross bike.

        Step 1: Buy new plastic and graphics for your dirtbike, and let your wife see all the parts and process.

        Step 2: Talk about how nice the dirtbike came out, and that you want to do the same to the street bike.

        Step 3: Trade the ZX10 for a new CBR.

        He really did this, and she never realized it.

  • Kamohelo Mohudi

    These are really great bikes to ride, doddle and enjoy a relaxed and fast paced Sunday breakfast run, they hold their own though heavy and quite outdated they are still well respected here in South Africa by die-hard V-twin fans, you see many still been ridden daily, on my route to work i usually see a TLR…these are rock solid bikes if taken good care of and the TL/SV/VTR forums have plenty of gurus who can assist you with sorting out common issues and any other questions you might have

  • MFlanders

    I rode my TL 18 months before crashing in the TX hill country. It cornered insanely fast and easy and had the best motor I ever rode on. My early version had rough tuning and I dropped it a few times when the thing quit in a slow corner. Then a recall fixed that but also tamed the top end rush – that was unfortunate but made it easier to ride. The shock was a joke. It worked perfectly on a cold day but in the Texas summer if faded to zip and bounced you all over rough corners.Not easy to replace either, impossible, in fact. . I eventually crashed on a tight left hander and got hurt. My only crash in 40 years of riding fast baked. Totalled the TL. If only it had a good shock it would have been an excellent bike. It had a bad rep – guys I rode with were wary of it. Guess it was well deserved.
    Out of the hospital, I revoked my decision to never ride again and bought a Harley. Still have it – it’s loud (so was the TL) it’s slower than half the cars, but it is fun and good looking.

  • michaelfalke

    It is too bad we have moved on past the bikes that were truly good, not necessarily fast but good like the Honda Nighthawk 750 or the Suzuki Bandit 1200 or the Kawasaki 1000 street bikes. All good bikes but in this age of supersonic motorcycling are no longer acceptable in terms of sales. I miss motorcycles that look and ride like motorcycles. Cruiser bikes not withstanding, if you are a noobie you are often pressed into buying a sport adventure bike or a little single cylinder 500 as a first bike. I am now 65 years old, been riding motorcycles since 1966 and I have no interest anymore in walking through a dealership and trying to figure out the purpose of many of these gawd awful street bikes that look like refuges from a Transformer movie. I had a Suzuki GS1000 as my first big motorcycle. It was a good handling good performing street bike that I wish I had never sold. I also had a Honda Nighthawk 750 which I bought for my wife but found out due to an illness she couldn’t ride. I really enjoyed taking it out and riding the back roads and highways on it. It was tame by today’s standards but a thoroughly enjoyable machine. I had faster bikes later and now own a touring bike. Nice machines but you cannot just take a touring bike thorough town and enjoy it. It needs to be on a highway where it’s weight disappears and it feels comfortable. I really feel sorry for new riders today who missed the years of riding I enjoyed. Days when not only were bikes really beautiful but also were fun to enjoy. Today the choices may be more but the universal fun factor has become specialized.

    • spiff

      I think it is going full circle. The modern nakeds are a tribute to the UJMs of past. I bet a ride on a new Z900 and you would consider a two bike garage. It isn’t overly transformer like.

  • W Donald

    Had the VTR1000F and loved it , the mods were Hindle Slip on’s , K & N air filter , Factory Pro jet kit and suspension sorted with Race Tech Gold valve and springs , good enough to outrun my mate’s 916 and TL’s on an admittedly tight track when doing track day’s .
    I sold that bike and bought a TL1000R which worked really well for me once the rear shock had been binned for an Ohlins replacement unit .

  • Awesome! It sure doesn’t seem like 20 years ago since we did this! (I wrote the
    original and took a lot of these pics). We did the open class shootout at the same time, so it was amazing to chase (get dropped by) Chuck and Sean at the Streets on all those bikes. Brent and I had some good battles out there, which he might recall I always won! Lol

    I was right behind Sean, riding the GSXR1100, when he highsided the TL. I almost
    locked the front trying not to run him over and suffer the embarrassment of us
    wrecking two Suzukis in one crash!

    We didn’t have a Duke because MO couldn’t get test bikes from Ducati at that time.
    It was still fairly early days for an internet magazine, and they didn’t think
    enough of us to offer one up. Even Suzuki was a challenge to get bikes from.
    They’d only give us models after everyone else had tested them – even some car
    mags and other non-enthusiast print magazines. We couldn’t even sell them an ad
    anyway, because they didn’t have a website back then!

    Thanks for the throwback!

    Gord M

    • spiff

      Mo still can’t get a Ducati to test. Lol