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2002 Suzuki TL1000R

Posted on January 17, 2015 by Scott in Café Racer. 40 comments

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Written by Marlon Slack.

Incredibly, in stock trim the Suzuki TL1000R is as ugly as it is torquey. With its rounded, fat fairing and ungainly looking seat, in the bike symbolizes much of what was wrong with the late 90s – along with Balkan ethnic cleansing, mass flooding deaths in China and the rise of ska music. Nick O’Kane – powersports sales manager at K&N air filters – saw the potential hidden underneath all the bulbous plastic of a 2002 model TL and put together this gorgeous custom that looks great, handles beautifully and has the powerplant to match.

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Powered by the extremely capable 996cc V-twin engine, the TL was released in 1998 to tackle the incredible Ducati 916. But, plagued by average race results and mediocre sales figures the heavy, awkwardly-handling TL was pulled from World Superbikes after just one year and Suzuki went back to what they did best – producing bland inline fours. Despite this less-than-stellar showing, over the years the TL has developed a dedicated fanbase who love the affordable, reliable horsepower that the Suzuki offers. But they’ll be the first people to admit the TL does have some problems.

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The main issue with the TL1000 is the much-vaunted rear rotary damper. The fat, square little unit combined spring and dampening functions, designed to make the best use of the limited space at the rear of the v-twin engine. A great concept – except the damper quickly overheated and heavy braking would lead to pretty serious cases of bucking, chattering and death. Nick was quick to replace the rotary damper with a Hyper-Pro unit that vastly improved the handling. To match the rear some GSXR1000 forks were installed in the stock triple clamps. R6 calipers, EBC pads and stainless Goodridge brake lines round out the impressive list of suspension modifications that will stop the curious sensation TL owners often experience – of the bike trying to spit its owner off around corners.

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And it sounds like that’s what happened to Nick’s 2002 TL1000R. Picked up as a wreck for $800 the bike was in very rough condition. It had a busted frame, it was covered in dust and had scratched and broken plastics. To tidy it up the swingarm, wheels and frame were powdercoated and the gauge mount, seat pan and top triple tree were modified in a backyard workshop. Once the fairings were removed the wiring loom of the fuel-injected Suzuki had to be trimmed back – all 400 miles of it. After an agonizing few days of cutting and soldering Nick was able to fit most of the stock connectors into the Ducati Monster headlight and the remaining wires tucked up alongside the stock airbox.

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The gorgeous exhausts were provided by Roland Sands Design, air filter supplied by K&N, a power commander was fitted and the bike spent some time on the dyno to ensure the TL’s engine was drumming along comfortably. The Wes Cooley race replica paint scheme came to life through MotoGP Werks in California – and the matching patterns on the rims are a nice touch. The chequered solo seat was completed by Saddleman and there’s a myriad of aftermarket parts here too – RSD handlebars, PSR grips, gas cap and levers and VooDoo rearsets.

Nick’s created a modern, reliable bike that was affordable to build, looks tidy as hell and, with its excellent engine and new suspension, would be fantastic to ride.

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  • My first sport bike was a 1998 Honda Super Hawk powered by a very similar 996 V-Twin engine. I am a sucker for a good V-Twin sport bike. The biggest downside to the Suzuki is that it was arguably one of the ugliest bikes of the time period.

    From the looks of this, Nick O’Kane was able to add sex appeal and improved handling to a fantastically performing power plant. This bike looks like it is a blast to ride. I dig it.

    Well done.

  • Lorenzo

    Very very very nice job ans no doubt a great ride. And he even has round profile real motorcycle tires on it!!! (brat boys take notice!)

  • TwoSmoke

    Yea cool bike, WHAT THE FUCK IS THAT big ass engine in the back!?!?! Holy shit!

    • Sooty

      Probably a stationary Caterpillar GenSet block

      • arnold

        Now , That’s a lump that gets my juices flowing.

    • ethan

      Looks to an engine block from a freight liner

    • That is funny. thanks. I was reading through the comments waiting for someone to ask about the engine in the back….and then, ….

  • Gregory Steven Pinkowski

    “The fat, square little unit combined spring and dampening functions, designed to make the best use of the limited space at the rear of the v-twin engine” What utter nonsense from someone who obviously has no clue what he’s talking about.

    • Marlon

      Please, enlighten me! My understanding is that with a V-Twin unit on a motorcycle you’re battling a long wheelbase – which is fine on cruisers but not on something like an SP1 or TL. I was told, many years ago that that’s the reason the VTR has the radiator on the side and the TL went with the rotary damper, to save room. (Not much room at the front and little at the back.) I’d love to know if this is incorrect and why! If not, thank you for the incredibly helpful snide comment.

    • bikerferlife

      Well that is pretty much why they used it. On the motor the rear exhaust header ended up right where the shock would normally be and they chose the rotary instead of making it work with a piston style damper. Unfortunately this doomed the bike for racing as all the major suspension makers wanted nothing to do with it since it was different than anything they had experience with. Could have been a world beater if it had a conventional rear damper and lost 200 hundred pounds.

      • Marlon

        I think you’re right – the TL engine is absolutely fantastic. And people I have spoken to that haven ridden one say that when sorted they handle beautifully.

        But as far as Suzuki was concerned the inline four might have been the path of least resistance at the time? Kind of a shame, but it warms my heart that Suzuki stuck with the v-twin engine. The world is a better place for having the SV1000 and SV650 kicking about. (Not to mention the vstrom versions.)

        • bikerferlife

          To this day I still dream of a V twin as radical as the TL-R with 200 less pounds. I refuse to buy pork anymore, to the extent that I just build my own bikes now. But oh that thing could have been close enough out of the box for me to pull the trigger if not for the rotary damper and the heft. Needless to say I was very disappointed when rumor met reality.

          • Marlon

            Any pics of the bikes you’ve built?

  • RubberBiscuits

    Off the fucking charts beautiful. A refreshingly modern take on the cafe racer theme, with a nod to the Barry Sheene era. Well done.

  • Nic

    The TL was one of the sexist bikes of the 90s… This is a very nice build, but the article doesn’t have to down the bike I ride and love daily… If you wanna call something bulbous then go knock knock a gen 1 busa…

    • Marlon

      It’s harsh of me, I know. But you’re right about the ‘busa. An amazing bike but I could never get over it’s looks. More of a blackbird person myself.

    • Dave Trik

      Well said

  • Dave Trik

    Being a TL lover and still a owner, of two, allow me to open my big fat Greek mouth.

    The faults of the TL which are basically only two, one being it’s weight and the other it’s poor frame design, she is an incredible bike.

    You stating she’s ugly is really just a very opinionated remark and your in a pool of people that are few to none.. In today’s market there is not one bike that look anything remotely close to the the bikes of the 90’s when and where they should have stopped. From 2005 and on the designers have fell flat on there face.
    The whole Italian line up are exempt as the have held there executions to what a sports bike is and should look like.. The KTM RC8 is as far as anyone should go concerning body wear… The Japs have dropped the ball horrendously…

    Anyway, moving back on topic..

    The above build is very well done indeed but to laude it as exemplary is a overstament

    • Dave Trik

      Don’t get me wrong, it takes a lot to do something like this.. But just powder coating the frame swapping out the forks an a custom exhaust and subframe is what most of us multiple TL owners have done at some point… Rim stickers and a red bull can don’t up the custom factor at all.

      Like I sad it’s very well executed and the paint is is point on… But … Well there’s always that but…

    • Blake Proudfoot

      Really? Because every friend of mine thinks TL’s are ugly though great bikes to ride. There are more than a few people who don’t care for its lines. This bike, however, is lovely.

      • Marlon

        My circle of mates are the same – I know lots of TL fans but they’ll all, grudgingly, admit that it looks a little porky.

        But that 110 odd horsepower of reliable v-twin power? Oh man. That more than makes up for the looks.

      • Dave Trik

        Ok, fair enough… So you and your friends must have bad taste..

        Don’t get your panties in a bunch, I’m kidding.

        My self and ALL the TL owners world wide disagree.. We think thr TL-R does indeed have nice lines. It’s more of a profile bike .. I get the ugly. From dead on front she does have a “thing” if she is not dressed properly.. But over all she is a stunner, not just to me but to me AND the over 8000 TL- R & S owners world wide…

        I did not say that the above build is ugly, nor did I say it was an easy feat. It’s niether .. It is a lovely bike.. It’s very well executed .. I mearlly stated that I think the writer went a bit over board on eluding to the prowess of this build.., let me say it again – powder coating a frame and doing a one off hump is and has been done by plenty of TL owners, with out the corny redbull can as a resouvior … Regardless if it’s a joke mod or was done in seriousness.

        • Blake Proudfoot

          If you think 8000 puts you in the vast majority you really are in you own little world. And if you want to talk about panties in a bunch, one only has to look at the length of your posts and tireless defense of your plastic bubbled maggot to see who the sensitive one is.
          I love riding the sv1000 too but I could care less for its looks. If someone said my VF1000r was ugly, I could care less. I love it, and apparently you love yours. Enjoy the ride.

          • Dave Trik

            Oh my, really dude?
            Your reading comprehension sucks balls pal.. Go take some remedial English courses, cause you understood ZERO of what I wrote.

          • Blake Proudfoot

            Haha wow. Cheers

    • bikerferlife

      Hmmm, most everyone I’ve heard comment about them says they are ugly. It wouldn’t have stopped me though, it was the weight and the rear damper that kept me off one.

  • That the f*ck is this Red Bull Can doing there ?

    • Product placement?

      • Product placement is supposed to be done in a smart way…
        Not to spoil the experience by just throwing something in the frame.

    • Marlon

      Maybe that’s how it got fat?

  • thumpthump

    would love to ride a sorted TL like this. personally, wouldn’t have used the huge expanse of white on the tank that just emphasizes its hugeness. and the red bull catch can is silly, maybe an inside joke? otherwise, bingo.

  • Lorenzo
    • bikerferlife

      NO. GS1000 fairing, while absolutely perfect on anything Wes Cooley, would not be a good match for this bike. Clash of eras you would have there.

  • Don Fraser

    nice bike

  • think i saw the same seat padding in the blue oyster club

  • T Prior

    Fantastic bike !! Well done !! You had the wisdom to put regular bars on it so you can actually ride the bike on a daily basis ! Unfortunately if you ride this bike in the rain you will get too dirty.

  • Andrew Ramming

    I absolutely love this bike. Stunning build. Question is if you ride these bikes, a 2002 feels/rides pretty badly compared to a 09 or 2013 sportbike. i know there’s a huge difference between my 05 CBR600RR [sold] and my 09. These bikes have millions of dollars from the biggest bike manufactures spent in R/D to gain a half second. a 12 year old bike feels really crap compared to a new one.

    • Dave Trik

      I think your wrong on that one. I have a 98 and 2002. I’ve ridden newer models .. Even 2012. As long as you adjust the suspension the will all ride the same. Defendant on what you have done to the shock out back and the internals up front.

      As for those millions on R&D for that 1/2 second .. About $20 bucks trickles down to the showroom. The showroom is all about homologation and design.

      Yes, we average everyday rider do benefit from the expansive R&D but no where near what you might think.

  • JH

    I just found this build and I like it a lot, I have owned a -00 TLR for twelve years now and as much as I love the lines of the standard bike (when cleaned up a bit from a bunch of junk) about a year ago I decided to make my TL naked since Im more into naked bikes now. The first café style TLR I saw was the Ruleshaker one and its been an inspiration for me, also the Radical Ducati and the Icon Monsters bikes have been an inspiration for my build. Mine is about 85% done to get on the road now, I consider it a “beta” version for now, theres a lot of fine improvements to be made but she has a huge number of mods and handling/performance improvements already before I started taking the fairings off and she should weigh in at 200-205 kg fully wet and make around 125rwhp. You can see some pics on my instagram if you wish @joakimhedblom
    I will submit some nicer pics when she is finished. All the work is made in my one car garage with just common shed tools.

  • pennswoodsed

    Race team TLRs legal in AMA/superbike were no faster than also legal gsxr750s. Vtwin 1000s were why Rc51s were also developed . Articles states that “Suzuki went back to making boring(mundane} 4’s” .Wow.