Sport Twins 1997

Where's the Duck?

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.

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