Suzuki VL800 Intruder Volusia
May 10 2001 at
By Dave Abrahams
Suzuki's 805cc V-twin
Intruder has been around, in various guises, for some years.
With the Volusia, Suzuki has gone the whole hog - an apt term
because few Japanese boulevard bolides copy the "low-rider"
look as closely as this. It even has some of the design faults
of the original.
For instance, Suzuki has gone back to
a single carburettor whose air-filter housing is offset to the
right of the motor where it interferes with the rider's right
leg - just like the real thing. The 45-degree V-twin motor has
overhead cams and four valves per cylinder but it's tuned to
liberate maximum torque at only 2500rpm so has impressive
It pulls like a steam locomotive from
anywhere above idle and will tolerate big handfuls of throttle
from walking pace upwards. The test bike - the first Volusia
in South Africa - was new when I rode it so I refrained from
full throttle but it pulled to 140 with authority at which
point ergonomics became more of a factor than performance as I
held on to the bars for dear life.
motors vibrate but this is a true V-twin in that the cylinders
fire on alternate revs and Suzuki has kept the shakes to a
minimum with offset crank pins that, it is claimed, give
perfect primary balance. The only parts that vibrate visibly
are those that are rubber-mounted though there's a mild
thumping through the footpegs above 90km/h; it helps convince
you that this is a real motorcycle.
It even has some
of the design faults of the original.
The VL motor is
liquid-cooled: a stable combustion-chamber temperature
improves fuel combustion. The water jacket also damps
mechanical clatter and, apart from intake roar, the bike is
almost too quiet. The motor, thanks to a 3D-mapped digital
ignition system, pulls evenly throughout its rev range despite
the primitive intake system
The rest of the drive
train is standard Suzuki, read superb. The clutch is light and
positive though with a rather sudden take-up; no matter, the
motor's low-down torque makes it difficult to stall. The
five-speed gearbox is slick and quick like a motocrosser and
has a commendably short throw despite the very remote linkage
to the forward-mounted footpegs.
There's some lash in
the shaft final-drive. It made the bike a little jerky in
heavy traffic and induced a loud clonk when changing gears at
low speeds but by the end of the test I was changing up
seamlessly without the clutch - a strong commendation for any
The brakes are as retro as the propulsion: a
single disc up front with a Tokico twin-piston floating
calliper and a remarkably wooden 180mm single leading-shoe
drum brake in the rear wheel. Neither felt very strong but
perceptions can be misleading; despite the bike's all-up heft
of well over 200kg I never felt as if I was running out of
That said, I did have to take to the shoulder
to avoid a slow-moving van that turned in front of the
Volusia. A top sports bike would have been able to stop in
time. Modern performance bikes have parts to match the
breathtaking power of their motors; they'd be lethal if they
The VL motor is liquid-cooled: a stable
combustion-chamber temperature improves fuel combustion.
The front suspension is genuine 1950s American - raked out
to 33 degrees for stability and that long, low look - with
polished alloy sliders and satin-finished stainless-steel
stanchion shrouds. Don't laugh, Cyril, they're almost as good
as gaiters and a whole lot prettier - although changing fork
seals will be a real mission. The forks have no adjustment but
work pretty well as they are; there's very little wallowing on
long bends despite the long wheelbase and almost no dive under
The "softail" rear is one of the Volusia's
few modern features; Suzuki, rather than laying the shocks
flat under the gearbox a la Milwaukee, has incorporated a
three-point linkage for genuine rising-rate rear suspension.
It works; it's firm without being harsh and manfully resists
the jacking-up under power that is inherent in all shaft
drives. It's also adjustable for preload, although the
adjustment is a pain. I left it on its softest setting all the
time I had the bike out of sheer laziness and it never
bottomed on the worst of Gauteng's roads.
heavy-duty stuff sits on big fat tackies - 130/90 -16 in front
and 170/80 -15 behind - with a truck-like 1645mm between their
axles. That's the longest wheelbase in its class, 25mm more
than Suzuki's own 1400cc Intruder. You'd think it would have a
turning circle like a bus but a carefully designed gooseneck
frame and front suspension geometry give the bike surprisingly
good lock and it will turn in the average suburban street.
The frame is a conventional, if very complex, tubular
steel effort with the lower right frame rail detachable to
facilitate engine removal. Theoretically that makes the bike
prone to frame flex but it's not an issue on an out-and-out
cruiser like this.
The frame has a lot of rather crude
bracketry around the rear suspension covered by clip-on black
plastic covers, as I found out when I cleaned the bike up for
the photos. In the end I just took them off, washed them, and
put them back; whether that's cheating depends on your point
of view. Turns out some of the beautifully chromed engine
covers are also plastic, concealing some fairly basic
engineering and rough finishes - just like a Harley, nothing
is quite what it seems.
However, with all that chrome
plating, the motor is easy to shine.
of small wheels and a long chassis lends itself to a low seat
height and at just 700mm this is one of the lowest. The saddle
is wide, flat and deeply padded, more comfortable than most
bikes of this genre. It's complemented by low, wide cowhorn
handlebars and a flat fuel tank that holds but 16 litres. The
whole plot feels very steady with its centre of gravity around
The pillion is a small bum-pad on the rear
mudguard with high-mounted and it's a fault shared by cruisers
and canyon carvers; they treat passengers very shabbily. This
one is at least decently padded and not too much higher than
the pilot's chair.
The instrumentation consists of a
neatly marked speedo with warning icons and a liquid-crystal
inset for mileage, the time of day and how many of those 16
litres remain. It's all in a neat chromed plastic nacelle on
the fuel tank, well out of eye line; you must take your eyes
off the road for an appreciable time to check anything.
The switchgear is made of chunky lacquered alloy, neat
and tidy with huge operating levers, easy to use with winter
gloves - ironic for a bike that is unlikely to be used in
The styling is all low rider: small,
round chromed headlight, deeply valanced mudguards, twin
shotgun pipes and a tombstone tail light disfigured by the
biggest number-plate holder I've yet seen. The detail work,
however, is superb; all the cables and hoses are neatly tucked
away, the plating is smooth and even, and the two-tone blue
paintwork is breathtaking.
If you want to tackle the
Motor Company on its own turf then fit and finish must be
world class; that on the Volusia is all of that. It's also
unexpectedly manoeuvrable and comfortable at legal speeds -
aside from that air-filter cover! It's a practical cruiser, is
fine for commuting, doesn't mind the rain and the low seat
gives the rider confidence when