Suzuki TL1000R (1998): Future Classic

Author: Bike Social Investment Specialist Posted: 15 May 2015

Claimed 136bhp, actual 115bhp

“The TL1000R concept is simple: Build a machine capable of setting new performance standards for a 1000cc V-Twin, with the potential to win superbike races.” These words, spoken by a very confident Suzuki man in 1998, went on to haunt the company because despite their very best efforts, the TL1000R was far from the ground breaking superbike they claimed it was. In fact it was an embarrassing flop, both in the showrooms and on the race track. The potential was certainly there, but fashion, technology and controversy all conspired against a machine that many are now viewing in a very different light. If you want a bike that encapsulates everything about biking in the late 1990s, look no further than the mighty TL-R.

In this period of two-wheeled history the world was going V-twin sportsbike crazy thanks to the success of Ducati in WSB and the TL-R was Japan’s first proper response to this trend. If a small factory in Bologna could build a world-beating V-twin, surely the might of Japan could make something pretty damn special? Unfortunately for Suzuki, it wasn’t quite that simple, despite the fact they went as far as releasing a £50,000 WSB-spec factory race kit.

Even before the R arrived in 1998, Suzuki’s new V-twin project had hit the skids. The TL1000S had become embroiled in a storm of controversy due to its handling issues and Suzuki were forced to issue an embarrassing recall to have a steering damper fitted. The firm’s new revolutionary rotary damper unit, which replaced a conventional shock absorber, was now being viewed with distrust and when it appeared again on the TL-R many were skeptical to say the least. But that wasn’t the TL-R’s main problem, where Ducati had built a race bike with lights, Suzuki had built a road bike with track potential and as such the TL-R was a big old beast.

Just 2,291 units sold in the UK between 98-01A V-twin sportsbike that will start on the button and never let you down

With a dry weight of 197kg and a claimed 136bhp, on paper the TL1000R should have been a match for the Ducati 996, however customers quickly discovered that,  irritatingly, Suzuki had lied about not only the bike’s weight, but also its power. Fat and bulky, the TL produced a genuine rear wheel power figure in the 115bhp area and handled like an oil tanker. This was far from the ‘racer with lights’ Ducati and instead of the promised aggressive V-twin superbike, Suzuki had delivered a soft, squishy and underwhelming motorcycle. And not only that, it had a ridiculously styled back end that looked like a duck’s beak. Then, as if it didn’t have enough against it, Yamaha chose the same year to launch the YZF-R1 and the world suddenly remembered how good inline fours were. The poor TL stood unloved and unsold on showroom floors until 2001 when the GSX-R1000 appeared and Suzuki withdrew the TL from their model line-up having sold just 2,291 units in the UK.

To be honest, in the context of what it was designed to do the TL1000R was a failure. It never competed in WSB (although its engine did in the Bimota and actually won a race), Suzuki didn’t sell a single ‘factory’ race kit and the bike was a sales disaster. However that isn’t the whole story. Us Brits love a loser and for  some strange reason the TL1000R is still remembered very fondly by the UK’s riders. The quirky styling is still oddly cool and you can’t argue with the fact that Suzuki built a cracking, and very reliable, V-twin engine. The TL is a V-twin sportsbike that will start on the button and never let you down, unlike an equivalent vintage Ducati…

Check the frame around the damper mounting points

As has been said before, a collectable bike needs to have something about it - a reason to make it stand out from the crowds - and the TL1000R’s perceived failure gives it this reason. Ignore the fact this bike was a disaster and instead relish the fact this was Suzuki trying to do something different, attempting to push boundaries, and while they got it wrong, that doesn’t stop the TL being a cool bike. And a cheap one. You can get a beautiful (blue and white) stock TL1000R for less than £3000 and while the rotary damper is crap, the frames can crack around the damper mounting point and the engine is underpowered, this is easily sorted. Keep all the original parts safe and sound in your loft, uprate the suspension, fit a Power Commander and race exhaust and this is a proper slice of 1990s nostalgia with a sting in its (ugly) tail…


Engine: Liquid-cooled, 8v, 996cc V-twin

Power: 136bhp @ 9,500rpm

Torque: 78lb.ft @ 7,500rpm

Weight: 197kg

Original price: £8299 


Ask the experts: - James Holland is the UK’s foremost TL expert and knows everything about them, including how to bog-bore and tune the hell out of the motor… If you want to chat TLs then this is the forum for you. Rammed full of passionate owners who have sorted, crashed, modified and  loved their TLs. Although no longer active, also has some good information.


Do you currently own or have you previously owned a TL1000R? What do you say?  or !