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Suzuki VS 1400GL Intruder
A Conejo grade stretches two and a half miles, rising nearly 1000 feet from sea level to the northern ridge of California's Santa Monica Mountains. Early-morning commuter traffic, pressing over the hill at 45 miles per hour, will clog the pass by seven a.m., but in the gray winter dawn the 1400 Intruder is alone on the road, powering toward the crest at 60 miles per hour in fourth— top gear.
Your ears tell you this 1400cc V-twin engine spins slowly at cruising speed slumbers, really—even while heaving up this endless incline of earth. Most motorcycle succumb half a mile up engines bog, speedo needles sag and signal for more throttle, But the big Suzuki clears the top with unbroken response, the throttle held steady just a crack above idle. As it crests the hill, the Intruder lights up in the first cold rays of day, creating its own warmth in the chromed and polished surfaces. The sun catches in the clutch and brake master cylinders, illuminates the speedometer case, arcs over the flat bar seems to rise there between the grips.
An early morning trip up the Conejo grade captures the 1400's vitality, its style and power. Suzuki's big Intruder follows closely the style-cruiser formula first established in the VS700, a model which topped Suzuki's American sales charts in 1986 for the second straight season, exemplifying the sales appeal of a mainstream idea deftly executed. In its technology the 1400 offers little new; rather it extends and amplifies the basic Intruder formula by sizing the VS-format upward and doubling the original machine's displacement. In the matter of V-twin style-cruisers, there's still no substitute for big engines. For highway hauling or curbside crawling, the bigger the engine, the better the wallop.
With a bore and stroke of 94 x 98mm, the new Intruder displaces an impressive 1360cc, yet the drag strip doesn't reveal the magic of its engine Honda's 1100 Shadow and Yamaha's 1000 Virago both run quicker and faster than the big VS, which posted a 13.1-second quarter-mile with a terminal speed of 99.3 miles per hour.
Road torque is the 1400's preserve. According to Suzuki, the big Intruder pumps out a whopping 88.2 pounds/ feet at 3000 rpm, and that's a figure the seat of your pants will corroborate. In full-throttle top-gear roll-ons from 45-75 mph, the 1400 Intruder chugs away from both the Shadow and Virago. This bike's mid-range acceleration puts it in league with motorcycling's big-bore power elite—Suzuki's own GSX-R1100, Yamaha's FJ1200 and the mighty V-Max—machines all driven by five-speed, four-cylinder engines. Despite its relatively tall, wide-ratio, four-speed gearbox, the Intruder's massive torque and crisp throttle response have it lunging ahead with an immediacy that snaps heads and leaves big-bore sport bikes lagging behind.
Every inch of the 1400 honors that great American folk bias: bigger is better. Every specification seems proportioned to that monstrous engine. Wet weight hovers at 573 pounds. A 36-degree rake and a massive 170/80-15 rear tire help stretch the wheelbase to 63.8 inches. The seating position has riders under six feet feeling short. Even the dimensions of the 1400's price tag are huge: $5898 is a hefty chunk of cash in a class where the competition's style-cruisers sell for hundreds less.
Like the 700 Intruder, however, the VS1400 also trades on stark elegance; it offers real steel uncluttered by gratuitous hardware—no tachometer, no centerstand, only basic indicator and warning lights under tinted plastic. On the 1400, the ignition sits under the tank on the left, the fork lock on the port side of the steering neck. The 1400 carries a single-disc brake at the front and another at the rear. Unlike the 700, there's no cast-wheel option on this big, wire-spoked Suzuki.
The bike's clear, uncluttered look encompasses more than basic form—the 1400's designers turned to details as well. Look for nuts and bolts; you won't find many, and those left exposed are polished, plated, or capped with chromed inserts. Try to find a dangling wire or cable; all the switch wires run inside the handlebar, down through 5.5-inch chromed risers, and disappear into hoops under the tank. Hydraulic lines for the clutch and brake master cylinders run between the risers, dropping through holes in the polished aluminum triple clamps. The taillight, located atop the fender on the 700, tucks under a bobbed rear fender, Milwaukee style. The spark plugs and lead wires disappear behind chromed covers. And where are the carburetors? The 36mm Mikunis vanish, the front mixer under the fuel tank, the rear under the seat. With its great hulking engine and fine detail work, the Intruder finds a way to blend ruggedness and elegance.
Riders should have plenty of time to spit-shine the 1400's bright exterior, because the VS needs about as much servicing as a fountain pen. The V-twin has a long list of low-maintenance features: shaft drive, hydraulic valve adjusters, automatic cam-chain tensioners, CD ignition, and a sealed battery buried behind the engine and below the swing-arm pivot. An automotive-type spin-on filter simplifies oil/filter changes.
Like the 700 Intruder, the 1400 disposes its towering cylinders at 45 degrees atop narrow aluminum cases with plated sidecovers, and runs the drive shaft outside the main frame tubes for a trim waist. Though the big V-twin appears similar to the water-cooled 700 engine, the 1400 is actually quite different.
According to Suzuki, water-cooling would have enlarged the 1400cc engine, increased complexity, and required a radiator too huge to hide. The 1400's front cylinder is air-cooled, the rear oil-cooled through a system similar to the SACS fitted on the GSX-R750 and 1100 super sport bikes. A high-pressure jet at the base of the rear cylinder directs oil from the VS's sump up a passage cast in the cylinder to a small "sump" area atop the combustion chamber. This rear-cylinder cooling system relies on a large volume of oil flow and on an oil cooler mounted below the steering neck. The 1400's sump holds 5.3 quarts of oil (most big-bore engines carry about four quarts), and pumps its entire oil supply through the rear cylinder head fives time per minute at 6000 rpm.
From below, jets in the main-bearing journals squirt the undersides of both pistons, a practice now used in almost all Suzuki four-stroke engines. Separate passages direct the slippery stuff upstairs to single overhead cams (the rear cam is chain-driven off the right side of the crank, the front from the left) and hydraulic valve gear. Hollow rocker arms supply oil to the hydraulic lifters, which bear directly on the valve stems. Clearance is regulated by a check-valve and plunger system.
Unlike the four-valve 700, the 1400 uses a three-valve design, with a single spark plug centrally located in a shallow multi-pocket combustion chamber. The 3.7-inch pistons provide room for valves the size of poker chips: a pair of 33mm intakes, and a single, 40mm exhaust valve. Suzuki engineers experimented with two-, three- and four-valve versions of the 1400 engine, and settled on the three-valve desjgn which produced more peak torque at lower rpm and a smoother power delivery thanks to mild camming and relatively low (9.3:1) compression. There's little point in revving the 1400 past 5000 rpm; the engine reaches peak torque at 3000 rpm, peak horsepower at 4500.
The sheer thudding force of two huge pistons has the potential to hammer the Intruder's driveline. Consequently, Suzuki engineers have taken steps to manage the power pulses. A new torque-limiting clutch smooths engagement and reduces wheel hop under hard engine braking; dampers in the drive shaft take up slop and reduce stress in the transfer case and third member. Suzuki designers eased the starter's load as well, fitting the 1400 with an automatic compression release similar to that used in the Savage single. The starter button activates an electronic solenoid that lifts the exhaust valves off their seats via cables. After a few seconds, the valves close and the starter works against full compression.
Continuous cranking of the starter, as we discovered courtesy of a recalcitrant fuel petcock, can quickly drain the 1400's battery. Under normal circumstances, riders should never have to face the prospect of bump-starting this beast. The torque-limiting clutch prevents wheel hop on trailing throttle in the top three gears, but the wide-ratio, four-speed transmission puts first gear a long way from second, and downshifting at speeds over 30 mph chirps the Intruder's rear tire, especially if the rear brake is applied at the same time. To its credit, the Intruder's driveline feels tight; the gearbox shifts easily and no annoying lash disrupts the smooth power delivery.
Considering the efforts that went into minimizing the pounding in the Intruder's driveline, Suzuki did little elaborate engineering to control engine vibration itself. The 1400 uses no counterbalancing weights, and rubber bushings only in the front engine mounts. Like the 700 Intruder, the 1400 has staggered crank-pins disposed 45 degrees apart. This arrangement doesn't produce perfect primary balance, and the VS also has an uncompensated rocking couple caused by connecting rods running on widely spaced pins.
Consequently, the VS1400 isn't as smooth as Honda's 1100 Shadow, which has 90-degree pins and perfect primary balance. The VS's pleasant and subdued shaking at low rpm intensifies as engine speeds increase, blurring the mirrors at highway speed and charging the seat, pegs, handlebar and fuel tank with a numbing buzz at speeds over 65 mph. One inescapable conclusion: Suzuki deliberately engineered this level of shake into the VS1400. Vibration governs road speed, and the company is clearly doing its part to make Intruder riders solid, 55-mph citizens.
At this speed, the engine is smooth, loafing along at its massive torque peak. Merely roll on the throttle, and the big VS lunges past traffic, then settles back into its easy, relaxed highway rhythm. From the 1400's bologna-cut mufflers comes an unmistakable Milwaukee beat—raw, rowdy, and intentionally loud. Bounced off city traffic or a canyon wall, the VS's booming exhaust note is conspicuous. And annoying. Furthermore, our 1400 backfired vociferously enough on trailing throttle to attract a SWAT team. At 60 mph, however, the VS rider hears only mellow notes.
Highway droning squeezes 130 miles out of the Intruder's 3.4-gallon peanut tank, a distance easily covered in one sitting. The 1400's plush ride and hammock ergonomics guarantee that. At first glance, the Intruder's seating position looks uncompromising: Your legs stretch 27 inches to footpegs set directly below a flat, stubby handlebar. This feet-and-fists-forward riding position works remarkably well on the open road; arms slightly bent, the rider cants forward, relaxed against the wind, and the long-reach pegs offer room to stretch. The seat is comfortable, and passengers report a pleasant pillion.
Understand, however, that the 1400 Intruder is a huge motorcycle; riders under six feet will likely find the handlebar reach excessive and the seat step too far rearward to offer support. For them, Suzuki offers an optional pull-back handlebar that cuts the reach in half and provides more steering leverage. With the shorter (by four inches), narrower (by two inches) drag bar, steering the 1400 at parking-lot speeds is a hand-and-armful. A low, 28.3-inch seat height helps riders steady the Intruder on creep-speed maneuvers. Steering heaviness subsides at about 15 mph.
Weight and basic frame geometry work against the Intruder rider at low speeds, and contribute nothing to the bike's sporting competence. A rake of 36 degrees, 6.5 inches of trail, and 63.8 inches of wheelbase add up to the most radical geometry yet in a Japanese cruiser. At 572.5 pounds, the 1400 occupies middle ground by big-bore cruiser standards. Yamaha's 1000 Virago is 50 pounds lighter, but the 1100 Shadow and Harley's Low Rider Custom are both heavier than the Intruder. Still, almost 600 pounds of motorcycle aimed by lazy steering geometry and following a 19-inch front wheel builds little confidence on backroads.
It's best to heed posted cornering speeds. Though the VS requires only a light hand at the bar to initiate turn-in, its steering is slow and has the remote quality of a motorcycle that stretches its front end way, way out there. The Bridgestone tires stick well, though the bike offers only token cornering clearance. The solid, forward-mounted footpeg brackets throw sparks when the bike leans over even at a mild clip, and pushing beyond that will lever the front tire off the ground. While the VS's brakes are adequate for general-duty riding, they're simply not powerful enough for brisk backroad work.
Riders familiar with the 700 Intruder's backroad capabilities will barely see the family resemblance in the 1400's handling. The big Intruder weighs 110 pounds more than the 700, which has firm, short-travel suspension. The 1400's suspension takes the opposite approach. Highway plushness requires 6.3 inches of travel up front, 4.1 inches at the rear and soft spring and damping rates.
To cope with the additional weight, the 1400 gets large-diameter 41mm fork tubes, but, like the 700, the big VS's suspension offers minimal adjustment: five preload settings only in the dual rear dampers. We settled on the softest setting for most riding, including two-up passenger-hauling.
Even with the suspension set on firm, the 1400 lacks the poise necessary for fast riding. Long sweeping turns induce a slow but disconcerting oscillation. Up-and-down shaft effect, while well controlled during around-town riding, upsets the chassis during on/off-throttle cornering transitions. Roller coaster-type dips have passengers tightening their stomach muscles, and potholes or sharp pavement ripples taken at speed can trigger an unfriendly handlebar shake. All these things will put a rider back at lawful speeds and pointed toward the long, wide, straight road.
Putt-putting along at 60 mph, the Intruder's pleasing elements converge. The raked-out front end and long wheel-base have the big VS running arrow straight, impervious to crosswinds; freeway expansion joints disappear into the soft suspension; the ride is touring soft-and-compliant; the highway-chopper seating position perfectly comfortable; the engine smooth, quiet, alive. These things make the 1400 a splendid open-road traveler.
Nevertheless, the Intruder's sweet zone is narrower than other Japanese cruisers'. By sharply focusing the Intruder's repertoire, perhaps Suzuki has strengthened the bike's elemental V-twin quality—making the VS striking and memorable, though less functional than it might otherwise have been. In this way, the Suzuki is reminiscent of Harley's Low Rider Custom.
With V-twin style cruisers, the Japanese in general, and Suzuki in particular with the VS1400, have been trying to strike the "right" (read highly marketable) combination of style and raw-boned engineering. High-tech sophistication has often created a perception of Japanese motorcycles as appliances. With Intruder-type bikes, the Japanese are working toward a tougher, more mechanical image. Suzuki engineers could
have fashioned a more efficient method of vibration control in the VS, but they didn't; they could have built a five-speed 1000, but chose a four-speed 1400; they could have firmed up the VS's suspension for greater versatility, but they opted for plushness and a narrower highway zone instead.
The Intruder wants to trade on the basic mechanical quality of a big V-twin machine running effortlessly in its sweet zone. Suzuki wanted the Intruder 1400 rough-hewn without rough edges. In that sense, the VS1400, at $5898, is the most expensive Japanese cruiser on the market, and the closest thing to Milwaukee iron—in mechanicalness and price— you can buy.
Source Cycle 1987