After two years of riding a sport bike in ways that a sport bike was never really intended to be ridden I decided a change was in order. I bought something a little more suited to the task at hand.
A little history
Almost two years ago, June 2011, I purchased my first motorcycle. I wanted a sport bike, I was sure of it, but what I wasn’t sure of was which one to start with. I’d been looking at Kawasaki Ninja 500Rs for a while thinking those were a good starting point, however a co-worker convinced me that that was the wrong choice and to instead purchase a Suzuki SV650S. It looked the part, but also wasn’t extremely over powered for a n00b, with just 73 hp. I enjoyed this bike immensely, it was and still is a great motorcycle. As time went on, I started to ride differently, longer trips, exploring muddy lanes through forests, I’d put a big stupid bin on the back of it for storage. I started to wonder if this bike was really the type of bike I wanted. Then I started to plan out some extremely long trips, started calculating the distances the SVS could go, how much petrol would I need to carry with me for certain sections. The SVS was not the bike I wanted anymore.
Well, we already know what bike I chose,it’s in the title of course, the redesigned for 2012 Suzuki V-strom 650 (aka DL650) [seen below and to the right, 2004-2011 seen left], but why choose this bike? It started with the notion I wanted to sit more upright, part of the problem with the SVS was the posture it put me in. It offered a good amount of control, it was aerodynamic and sporty, but after hours of riding my lower back would be quite sore. In addition to that, the leg placement was also cramped, I’d find myself using my frame sliders as makeshift ‘highway pegs’, resting my legs on them to help stretch them out. This wasn’t particularly ideal either, it was even less comfortable and more importantly, unsafe, but at least it was a different position. Then there was the thought that I also go down muddy paths which isn’t well suited to most bikes. This meant I was “limited” to the “adventure touring” segment, or street legal dirt bikes, I was not interested in a dirt bike.
The ‘adventure touring’ segment had intrigued me since seeing “The Long Way Round”, where Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman rode what I think is the definitive adventure touring bike, the BMW R1150GS Adventure (replaced by the current R1200GS Adventure). The downside with this segment is they are all quite large bikes, and I am not. So finding something I thought I could manage, as well as afford left me with few options. Being a considerably less popular segment of the market than sport bikes, standards, and cruisers, used bikes are harder to come by, lots of V-stroms, but others are few and far between and very high mileage. I’d love to have bought a newer Triumph Tiger 800, but they’re damn near non-existent used, and out of my budget new. The BMWs were also expensive, but did exist used. The V-strom however had a lot going for it, beyond just the fact it was available. The 2012 redesign was stylish (imho), the 2012 redesign was also more ergonomic for smaller folk like myself, I knew the engine already as it’s very similar to the one on my SVS, and many claims of it’s rock solid nature and fuel economy. For what I was planning it seemed an excellent motorcycle.
There are of course downsides to the “wee-strom” as it’s affectionately named. The most noticeable is the reduced horsepower, the SVS as previously mentioned has 73 hp, the “wee-strom” has just 64.5 hp. That ~12% drop is extremely noticeable when trying to pass others on the road at higher speeds. The “wee-strom” however makes up for this with a much better torque curve, providing a good amount of power where you use it most, at lower speeds. Another downside, it’s tall, not the tallest bike, but it’s definitely tall. I can not get both feet down in a manner that feels “safe”, and I most certainly can not back the bike up while I’m on it. This however has not caused any issues, I can get one foot down nice and flat and stable just fine while keeping the other on the rear brake. And the final issue, the issue that matters the least, I’m told it looks like either a nerdy bike, or like I’m a ‘lone wolf’ and will visit small towns and murder people along my way. I like the idea of being a ‘lone wolf’ but murdering people? Sure, ok, I don’t like people, but I don’t hate them that much either, I’d just much rather avoid them altogether.
Upsides to this bike? There are many, but here are just a few of them. As previously mentioned, torque curve is better, not mentioned was just how much better the fuel economy on the “wee-strom” is over the SVS. Miles, literally miles and miles better. Admittedly, I did not ride the SVS for economy, nor did I keep track of it, but here’s some anecdotal poorly remembered evidence. On the SVS I would almost always fill up between 220-250 km, one time hitting 270 km, filling up whenever the fuel light came on for extended periods. There was always petrol left of course, but I can’t remember how much, total however would be 17 L. The “wee-strom” has a 20 L tank, so it’ll automatically go further, however after filling up at 350 km and putting 13 L in, that meant there was 7 L left (give or take a little for not a full fill up previously by the dealer). I’d already gone 100 km more than the SVS, but with that remainder of up to 7L I could have easily gone over 500 km on that tank. Other advantages, it’s comfortable, extremely comfortable when compared to the SVS. I rode the “wee-strom” for a day then thought I’d take the SVS around the block just to see. Immediately I wondered how I’d sat on it for more than 10 minutes. Sport bikes are cramped, even not really sporty ones like the SVS. Also due to the change in posture, the “wee-strom” is immensely controllable, I can do things I’d only dreamt of doing on the SVS, like turning around on a road. Seriously, I couldn’t do that on the SVS without having to 3 point it, my confidence and it’s turning radius were both poor. “Wee-strom”? Did it without even thinking and then thought “oh shit, I just did that thing I’d always feared”. Another advantage? It doesn’t look stupid with bins all over it, sure I’ve only got one bin on the back so far, but I plan to get side cases as well.
The funniest thing for me about the “wee-strom” is I went against most peoples judgement in getting it. Nearly everyone tried to recommend me a different style of bike as well as more displacement and horsepower. The most many would concede would be to get the bigger brother of the “wee-strom” and get the 1000. Not only was it ugly, but the style was already a decade old, and the bike didn’t seem as reliable from the evidence I found online. That isn’t to say it wasn’t reliable, just less reliable. In the end, I knew what I wanted, and while more horsepower is generally always a good thing, I’m not about “hauling ass” these days. Having ridden the “wee-strom” for a couple weeks now (only ~500 km), I really do feel I’ve made the right call. It’s easy, it’s capable, it inspires confidence, and it’s just an all ’round great bike. It’s too bad so many look down on it.
Since purchasing it I’ve already made a couple changes to the bike. I immediately bought the lowered seat to make it easier for myself, I’ll probably try the standard seat just to see if it’s more comfortable, but for manageability the lower one is probably best. I also bought hand guards, just the plastic ones that Suzuki makes as they were the cheapest (though that isn’t to say they were cheap). I really only bought them to block the wind and the odd thing that might bounce up and hit my hands rather than the real use of them. I also added a skidplate from SW-Motech to help protect the engine and more importantly the exposed oil filter from road debris. Another protective item, also from SW-Motech, are the crash bars which will protect the radiator and to some extent the engine in the event of a drop or light crash. Which could be extremely helpful on some of the long trips I have planned. Even if the bike is damaged if it’ll still work and get me somewhere where it can be fixed, they’ll have served their purpose. Lastly, I of course bought a big ugly bin for the back, a Givi 52L “Trekker” case.
Still on the list of things to buy are Givi Trekker Outback side cases, which aren’t available yet and I hope are well built and reasonably priced and will be available soon. An extra set of front facing lights that I’ll mount onto the crash bars. An accessory power outlet or two for charging my phone or a GPS. A center stand which will be useful on long trips for some simple road side repair and chain maintenance and such. I think I’d also like to get a radiator guard to help protect it from debris. Some reflective safety tape for the top case and side cases to make myself more visible. Beyond that it’s all just light camping gear for the trips I’ve got planned, which I hopefully do get to do. Currently I have some trouble with getting enough time off work for some, and convincing anyone to join me, well, lets just say the “lone wolf” image will be quite fitting (minus the murders! Seriously, no murders!).
Some other neat things about the “wee-strom”. Having been a part of this segment for a decade, Suzuki knows what this bike will be used for and as such has included some nice features to make things easier for the owner. One such thing however is not an easily accessible air filter like on the SVS, but I digress.
First is the rear shock adjustability. You can adjust rear spring pre-load with the turn of a simple and easily accessible knob. This is quite useful in controlling the sag of the bike when loading it up with luggage or a passenger. This can be adjusted on most bikes available on the market, but not usually so readily and easily as a knob you can turn with your hand rather than special tools. Speaking of luggage, Suzuki also included a top case mount with the “wee-strom”, requiring only the proper plate to match with the top case you’ve purchased. This saves a couple hundred dollars trying to find a top case mount that both fits your bike as well as your desired luggage. Plus it’s super easy to install taking ~10 minutes.
The third useful feature included are dual tripometers with separate fuel economy. These can be used to understand (on the fly) how far you’ll go on the current tank of petrol, as well as how many tanks of petrol you’ll likely require over the duration of a whole trip by getting a second longer running average. This means that with a simple glance at the dash one can easily calculate in their head how far they’re likely able to go. Example, with a current fuel economy of 23 km/L (4.3 L/100 km) and having traveled 150 km already, one can easily deduce that the maximum distance would be 460 km (23 km/L x 20 L), thus another 310 km should be achievable, if run until empty. The real neat thing however about the fuel economy, even when dicking around in parking lots practicing and getting a handle on the bike while also riding around in between, the bike still manages 22-23 km/L. Under some more ideal conditions I’ve seen the bike hit 29 km/L (3.45 L/100 km) which would net some 580 km on a single tank. However I doubt that would actually be achievable, unless all 580 km were ridden non-stop on level ground at 90 km/h in 6th gear as I was doing at the time. Stopping at stoplights and stop signs would bring that down quite rapidly, as would riding faster. So that should be taken as more of a theoretical maximum under ideal conditions. Regardless, knowing the running fuel economy can help you adjust your riding style to suit the needed requirements of the journey.
A fourth useful feature is something more hidden, the alternator. The “wee-strom” comes with an alternator capable of outputting 400 watts of power. That leaves a good amount extra than the bike itself requires to run, allowing you to run various accessories off the bike itself. Like the additional set of lights I’d like to purchase, or heated hand grips if that was your style, or a heated vest. More my thing however, plugging in multiple electronics, like my phone, a GPS, charging my dSLR batteries and flash batteries, charging a laptop, or running a portable 12v air compressor after fixing a flat on the side of the road. Other larger bikes come with bigger generators, but 400 watts is quite sufficient for the things I’ll likely require.
The final neat feature is somewhat dismissed by others as gimmicky, but I personally find it quite useful. The bike will display the outside temperature. Many people laugh when I tell them this responding with phrases like “But, you’re outside already, shouldn’t you already know the temperature?” and perhaps this is true. But when I’m bundled up and riding in the cooler weather I can’t tell just how cold it is, perhaps it seems it’s quite chilly, but what is it really? Well the “wee-strom” will tell you, and more importantly a light on the dash will also come on to indicate you’re near freezing conditions (<3°C) and should potentially watch out for slippery conditions on the road. Additionally, it’s just nice to empirically know sometimes just how hot or cold it is.
While none of these are set in stone, and perhaps may never happen, I’m planning for them to happen and will do what I can to make them happen. So far it’s only three planned trips, but they’re doozies.
The first trip which I’d like to do this summer is ride to Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming. This will be the big test run for the trips to come. I’ve yet to purchase the camping gear required as I’ve been spending too much money outfitting the bike ;). I’m also not entirely sure of the whole trip yet, where to go, what to see. It’s mostly been decided based on the fact I missed it when I drove to Colorado a couple years back, and to learn how camping off a motorcycle will really work out, while still in civilization. If anyone has any recommendations of things to see or places to go around Yellowstone, by all means, do tell. The planned route so far allows me to visit a couple people I know a long the way as well as trying not to travel along the same road twice.
The second trip is by far the longest, but I don’t think the hardest. Riding to Alaska. So far, the plan is to ride with a friend from Denver up to Fairbanks, and then on the way home separate. He doesn’t seem to like the idea of being super scenic, as the ride will probably be scenic enough. But I want try and cover as much as I can along the way, because the distance for me doesn’t change that much overall, as I have to travel considerably further than him just to meet up with him in Denver. So the trip starts out headed for denver, goes up through Wyoming and Washington, crosses into Canada in British Columbia, follow that all the way up to Anchorage Alaska and then up to Fairbanks. If I can convince him, I’d also like to hit the arctic circle, there’s a reasonably well traveled road that goes up to the border of it with fuel along the way. I would love to go up beyond that, but it’s a lot more treacherous and his cruiser really isn’t suited to the task at all. On the way back after we separate just at the border of Yukon and British Columbia, I’d like to ride up to the Northwest Territories, covering as many provinces as I can, and then back down along the mountains in Alberta through Jasper National Park. This part of the journey I haven’t planned out as much yet, I’m not sure what’s available in terms of fuel stations, but I suspect with this bikes capacity I should be fine. Afterwards I head down to Head-smashed-in-buffalo-jump Alberta, just to see the sign, from here I’m not sure whether I ride through Canada back, finishing off the provinces, or through the US.
The third trip is probably the hardest, though only second longest. I’d like to ride to Newfoundland through the interior of Quebec along a very unused section of road, Quebec route 389 which would be the most used section, but still not that used, and the Trans-Labrador highway where probably next to no one will be on. There are a couple small towns a long the way, much of route 389 follows a path traditionally used by aboriginal people and explorers so saith Wikipedia. Nearer the end of route 389 the road gets fairly accident prone, though I’m not sure if this is for the semis that will be going down or anyone, as the corners are apparently sharp and the surface conditions poor. After this it’s the Trans-Labrador highway, and like 389, not a high traffic road, mostly gravel, sections are paved but few and towns are few and far between. There’s a section of this road, ~405 km of it, without a town or petrol station, at least from my research. While the “wee-strom” can make it that far relatively easily on pavement, I’ll probably bring a couple litres of extra fuel just in case. After that it’s smooth sailing, take the ferry across to the island, visit a bunch of towns and cities, then take another ferry back to the mainland and finish off the east coast of Canada.
If I accomplish these three trips, I’m not sure where else to go, perhaps explore California, but that’s a long ways out still. Would also be neat to ride down through Central and South America, but I think I might be dreaming a bit too much there.
Finally, he’s going to stop writing
As you can see it’s a considerable change, from sport bike owner to pretend world traveler and adventurer. I’m really enjoying the “wee-strom” on the shorter trips I’ve made, as the weather warms up I’ll probably try camping off it a few weekends before I make the call to go big. Hopefully all goes well and I enjoy it, I’d love to get lots of photos of the trip and perhaps eventually when she’s done, I’ll have my doll waifu to bring on the journey as well.
Note to self: Remove those damn warning stickers.
Bonus, because it wasn’t long enough already…
If you have any ideas where and how I should put this illustration by Tsuyun on deviantART. Shoot ’em my way, because I’m an uncreative schmuck and need the help. So far I’m thinking I’ll get it printed out as a sticker and put it on the side cases (when I get them) facing backwards for those following to see. Got any better ideas?