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Volusia Review for Prospective Buyers
Topic:  Product Reviews
Author:  BlairWitch
Date:  Jul 16, 2002

Suzuki VL800 Intruder Volusia
May 10 2001 at 05:44PM

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 low-down grunt.

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.

All 45-degree 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 shaftie.

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 brakes.

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 didn't.

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 braking.

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.

All this 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.

The combination 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 ant height.

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 rough weather.

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 paddling.