A Retro Review of the 1997 Suzuki Intruder 1400

A look back at when Suzuki's Intruder 1400 got a little boost.

1997 Vulcan 1400
We speed up on Suzuki’s five gear 1997 Vulcan 1400.Fran Kuhn

Since its introduction a decade ago (note that this is a review from our 1997 issue), Suzuki’s Intruder has been a heavy hitter among big V-twin cruisers. It has run with, or out-muscled, all the other big twins, even though some of them boasted more displacement than the Intruder’s 1360cc, enjoyed liquid-cooling instead of its air/oil heat-dispersal system, had more valves than the Suzuki’s two intake and single exhaust valve, or employed an additional gearbox cog with five speeds to the Suzuki’s four.

For ‘97, Suzuki quietly changed that final item, sliding five-speed transmission shafts and shift mechanism into an otherwise unchanged Intruder engine-transmission unit. The new gearbox, previously fitted to European models, retains the same ratios for first through third gears but lowers fourth gear slightly (from 25/24 or 1.041 to 25/23 or 1.086) and brings a new fifth gear which is slightly taller (24/25 or .96) than the old fourth gear.

Backed by one of the few obviously plastic pieces on the VS1400, the backrest houses the tool kit, which is accessed by popping off the passenger backrest pad and unlocking the cover beneath it.Fran Kuhn

Although the modification hasn’t radically altered the Intruder’s personality, the changes are almost entirely beneficial. With the recent increases in posted highway speeds, the more relaxed engine speed is welcome. The change in top-gear ratio drops engine speed by about 300 rpm at 70 mph. It also brings a slight increase in fuel mileage, which on the five-speed reached 51 mpg on some rides on open road. That’s a 5 mpg increase over the four-speed 1400 we tested earlier this year. Our average fuel consumption also improved, rising from 42.6 to 46.8 with the five-speed bike. That translates to an additional 10 or 15 miles between fuel stops.

Taller gearing doesn’t noticeably diminish the big Intruder’s drive past slower traffic when you reach for a handful of throttle in top gear. The clocks at the dragstrip say it is 5.5 mph slower (76.7 mph instead of 82.2 mph) after 200 yards when accelerating from 50 mph, but unlike the change in engine tempo, the difference in top-gear acceleration is not discernible from the saddle. When you twist the throttle wide open, the five-speed Intruder feels like it leaps ahead just as enthusiastically as the four-speeder when out on the highway.

We expected—and got—little change in all-out quarter-mile performance with the five-speed bike because fourth gear barely comes into play. Although early Intruder 1400s laid down quarter-mile performances in the high 12-second bracket with terminal speeds around 100 mph, our ‘96 machine turned in a best of just 13.71 seconds with a terminal speed of 93.2. We assumed that Suzuki had fitted calmer cams or made some other change along the way. This bike was just fractionally swifter at 13.64 seconds and 94.7 mph.

What appears to be the petcock up under the fuel tank is actually the choke control. The petcock is located behind the rear cylinder, just above the ignition switch. The pipe has a full-length heat shield.Fran Kuhn

If anything, the five-speed gearbox shifts more crisply than our last four-speed model. We had no shifting problems, and neutral was easy to locate. Perhaps because we didn’t use it quite as long or as hard, this bike’s clutch did not develop the grabbiness we experienced with our ‘96 machine. Carburetion is just a little flat off the bottom, and the power characteristics are slightly cammier than other big twins, though it still has adequate power from idle. Even around town it feels muscular and ready to rip if called upon. Though the 1400 doesn’t have the top-end rush of its 800 stablemate, it still revs well and pulls hard at higher rpms.

Once you get beyond the power delivery, the new Intruder is entirely familiar. Aside from an improved seal in the head-pipe/muffler junction, nothing outside the transmission case has changed. You get the same familiar Intruder that was such a sensation 10 years ago. The basis of its svelte style is a frame so narrow it passes inside the swingarm at its pivot. The tall, slender 110/90-21 front tire, long, raked-out 41mm fork stanchions, small 0-inch headlight, pulled-back handlebar, tall cylinders, narrow seat, and 3.4-gallon tank all conspire to give the Intruder a long, lean look.

Since it first hit the streets, the Intruder has been a formidable V-Twin cruiser.Fred Kuhn

The 45-degree V of the engine isn’t obscured by air cleaners, oil lines, or other clutter, and both carburetors burrow out of view, one at the top of the engine, the other behind it. Shaft drive simplifies the appearance of the rear end. The clean, clever, compact packaging continues throughout the bike, which hides as many hoses, wires, and ugly components as possible. The pieces you can see have a finished appearance. The rear brake hose, for example, is stainless steel up in its forward section (where it doesn’t have to flex). Many fasteners have caps or covers, and seams are placed out of view—it’s the sort of look you’d get if you had a customizer in the design process.

Although—or maybe because—it is original and unique, the look isn’t for everybody. The narrow, raked-out chopper-style lines don’t mesh with everyone’s idea of what a cruiser should look like. Nor do they suit every rider’s idea of ideal cruiser ergonomics, particularly for long rides on the open road. The riding position is cramped for long stints. The bars pull back too close to the step in the saddle, and the saddle itself offers limited real estate for shifting your position. Taller riders get bent into a slouch. Even smaller riders complain that the pullback bars push their elbows into their stomachs during tight turns and place their wrists at an unnatural angle. The handlebar also sets you up in the wind, requiring greater than average pressure to hold your position against wind pressure. Unless you fit a windshield, you’ll get a good upper-body workout on long rides at highway speeds. In town or at lower speeds, the seating situation is less of an issue.

Hydraulic valve adjusters minimize maintenance, and an automatic compression release lets a little starter motor crank those big pistons. The tall cylinders share the clean style of the rest of the engine, uncluttered by any unsightly bits, even carburetors or spark plugs.Fred Kuhn

Though limited front-to-back, the saddle is otherwise about average, narrow enough to make it handy around town and initially cushy, but out of its depth on long rides. Though it’s adequate through the first tank, you’ll reach bottom after a couple of hours of non-stop use. Coupled with the narrow frame, the saddle minimizes the obstacles your legs have to clear to reach the pavement, making short-legged folks feel secure. Because the big Intruder has been unchanged for so long, the aftermarket has plenty of alternative saddles to offer.

Passengers appreciate the security offered by the small backrest, but their accommodations are somewhat tight, both in terms of seat space and leg room. Passengers report the pillion becomes uncomfortable after half an hour or so.

By using offset crankpins in the 45-degree engine, Suzuki loses some of that traditional exhaust beat but effectively suppresses vibration. No one complains about getting buzzed on the 1400.

No one raved about the handling either. Between the awkward bend of the handlebar and what we call “floppy” steering at very low speeds—a tendency for the front fork to fall toward the steering locks—the 1400 isn’t very handy. The considerable rake (36 degrees) and trail (6.54 inches) keep the steering from getting particularly light when you get up above a walking speed, despite the narrow front tire. Though it’s stable enough on the highway and running around town, the soft spring, damping rates, and appreciable shaft effect (the tendency to rise and fall with power changes) impede its cornering manners. The soft suspension also means that it dives significantly during braking, though with such stable geometry, this isn’t much of a problem. Our bike suffered from a mushy front brake, which isn’t typical in our experience. There is acceptable power available from the single-disc front brake when the mush is exorcised; the front tire’s traction is normally the limiting factor. The disc rear brake provides good control and power.

Avoid dragging the footpeg brackets on either Intruder. Solidly mounted and set forward on the bike, they will jack the front wheel off the ground if dragged hard.Fran Kuhn

Our 1400 was otherwise trouble-free, as we expected from such a proven design. Maintenance poses no particular challenges once you learn how to get to the air filters, battery, and valves. Shaft drive certainly helps keep the rear end clean and reduces maintenance compared to a chain.

Its clean style, the long production run and the enthusiasm of owners have fostered good aftermarket support for the Intruder 1400. It enjoys a wider range of aftermarket accessories and replacement parts than any other Japanese big twin. From oversize tanks and a frame kit to tiny chrome accents to brakes to hop-up parts, there is plenty available for the owner who wants to put his own stamp on the Intruder or simply erase some of its blemishes.

Not a great choice, at least in stock form, for blasting to the next state or flying down twisty roads, the big Intruder is nonetheless an effective urban assault weapon, with strong power and head-turning looks. Ride it to work or take it out trolling on Friday nights and it will thrill you. The price, a miserly $8499, is certainly right. That puts it below all other big twins, some 1100s, and not much above the most expensive 800 V-twin. Considering the level of quality, that’s a bargain. What you save can be applied to altering any pieces that don’t quite fit your requirements. It’s certainly less than you’d spend trying to make one of those slower big twins keep up with the Intruder.

Narrow and low enough for even the inseam-challenged, the Intruder’s saddle works in town but made us squirm after a couple of hours.Fran Kuhn
High Points: Low Points: First Changes:
Power unsurpassed by any big v-twin cruiser Crowded seating arrangement Roomier saddle
New transmission offers improved highway manners Awkward low-speed handling less awkward arrangement
clean, distinctive styling jet kit
fits most wallets

Riding Positions: The Intruder 1400 has one of the best engines in cruising, and the new tranny has improved the bike without any trade-offs. Since the first three gears haven't changed, the Suzuki's around-town grunt is the same as it ever was—addicting. Raising the top gear ratio improves the highway character of the engine enough to make me wish we'd had this bike on our big twins tour.

However, in the long haul, the seat shape makes me slouch and would quickly eat up my resolve to rack up miles. Because of things like the soft suspension, shaft effect, and a flaccid front brake lever (which comes almost all the way back to the grip, trapping the fingers of us two-finger brakers, even during moderate stops), this new, better 1400 hasn't replaced the Vulcan Classic in the big twin chamber of my heart. Now, if Suzuki produced a Marauder style 1400, the Kawasaki might have to start looking over its shoulder.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 —Evans Brasfield

I like the way it irks some people at a local cruise-in.

You know the type. He talks about how much he has spent on chrome, paint and getting impressive dyno numbers out of his big twin. Then in glides this Suzuki that looks just as slickly finished (give a brake hose or two) as that expensive custom he’s been crowing about and will still suck the side panels off Mr. Mybikessobitchen’s ride. Not that we’ll ever get to confirm that. I think he has already found out about how Intruders run. Last week he needed a new tire before he would see which one was faster. The time before there was some song about the carb.

His girlfriend knows though. She always comes over to ogle the Intruder and say, "That is such a pretty bike." He always acts like he doesn't notice, but last week he casually asked what it cost. When I told him, he kind of choked and blew coffee out of his nose and all over his $2000 paint job.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 —Art Friedman

This article was originally published in the August 1997 issue of Motorcycle Cruiser.

1997 Suzuki Intruder 1400
1997 Suzuki Intruder 1400Fran Kuhn
Designation: VS1400GLP
Suggested Base Price: $8,499
Standard Colors: Black/maroon, blue/white
Extra Cost Colors: NA
Standard Warranty: 12 mo., unlimited miles
Recommended Service Interval: 7500 miles
Engine & Drivetrain
Type: Air-Cooled, 45 degree tandem V-twin
Valve Arrangement: SOHC; 2 intake, 1 exhaust valve per cylinder, operated by rockers, hydraulic adjusters
Displacement, bore x stroke: 1360cc, 94 x 98mm
Compression ratio: 9.3:1
Carburation: 2, 36mm Mikuni CV
Lubrication: Wet sump, 5.3 qt., spin-on filter
Minimum fuel grade: 87 octane
Transmission: Wet multiple clutch, 5 speeds
Final Drive: Shaft, 2.666:1
Wheels: Wire-spoke, 19 X 2.15 front, 15 X 4.00 rear
Front Tire: 110/90-19 Bridgestone Exedra tube-type
Rear Tire: 170/80-15 Bridgestone Exedra tube-type
Front Brake: Double-action caliper, 11.6 in. disc.
Rear Brake: Double-action caliper, 11.6 in. disc.
Front Suspension: 41mm Stanchions, 5.1 in travel
Rear Suspension: Dual dampers, 4.1 in. travel, adjustment for preload
Fuel Capacity: 3.4 gal. (0.8 gal. reserve)
Handlebar width: 28.5 in. wide, 1.0 in. diameter
Inseam equivalent: 32.8in
Electrical & Instrumentation
Charging Output: 300 watts
Battery: 12v, 14Ah
Forward Lighting: 55/60 watt, 5.75 in. headlight, position lights
Taillight: 1 bulb, license light
Fuel Mileage: 39 to 51 mpg, 46.8 mpg average
Average Range: 165 miles
RPM at 60 mph, top gear: 2860
200 yard, top-gear acceleration from 50 mph, terminal speed: 76.7 mph
Quater-mile acceleration: 13.64 sec., 94.7 mph