2005 Suzuki SV650
I was prompted to squeeze yet another bike into the crowded shed when the trusty old 1987 Yamaha XJ900F clocked up the magic 100,000km. With its main role being two-up touring, this milestone got me thinking.
My concerns first surfaced during a 5000km round trip on remote and lonely routes a couple of years back. On lonely stretches of a lonely highway on a stinking hot day I started thinking about 26-year-old/100,000-kay bits like wheel bearings, camchains, gearbox engagement dogs and so on – thinking how it would spoil our day bigtime if any one of them failed out there, then.
Short of a total nut and bolt refurbishment of the old Yam (which would make no financial sense) I knew that these things would be on my mind on every future long trip. It’s different on shorter trips. If it dies within a day’s drive of home it will be worth my while to return with the HiLux to pick up what is after all only a $2000 bike.
So the venerable XJ still has its place in the shed. But I was without a bike on which I could explore the roads less travelled not just here but all over the world. It seemed time to explore a different type of bike.
COMPILING THE SHORT LIST
Some of the destinations on my trip wishlist convinced me that I needed a steed with some dualsport/adventure-touring ability.
Recent candidates include the Triumph Tiger 800s and the BMW inline twins with their 798cc Rotax engines (variously and amusingly labelled as F650GS, 700GS and 800GS). These are all lovely, capable bikes, but with new prices way beyond my budget. While a nice used example bought privately would still stretch the budget, it would be manageable. I didn’t consider the 1200cc-and-over class, obviously for cost reasons, but also because their size and weight could be a liability in some situations.
And, of course, the ubiquitous Suzuki V-Strom DL650 demanded a place on the list, despite my concerns that its smaller engine would be a bit light on for torque for two-up touring with luggage. Some interesting older bikes also crossed my mind.
The Paris-Dakar R100 Beemers are really handsome classics, rich with nostalgic appeal. But asking prices have become ridiculous, meaning that you’d be almost up for the cost of a new 800 twin by the time you bought and reconditioned an R100.
The Cagiva Navigator is another favourite. On a big dualsport comparo with the MT team about 10 years ago I became besotted with the ‘Navi’ when its amazing overall competence (as well as a good turn of speed) gave me confidence beyond my abilities on unsealed remote roads and tracks. Its issue now, though, is scarcity of parts (although not for its TL1000-based Suzuki powertrain) which could really spoil things if you had an off in a remote area. Nevertheless, I almost scored a low-kays example that surfaced in Tasmania last year – another bloke beat me to it.
Then there’s weirdo stuff that tempts me, like the Honda XLV750 – a big rangy V-twin with a really daggy square-tube frame. But I like them. While they come a lot cheaper than the P-D BMWs, it would still cost big bucks to recondition one. And then there’s the same spares issue as the Cagiva, as well as some lingering doubts about the robustness of the gearbox.
While mulling over the issues, ever watchful for keenly priced used 800 Beemers and Tigers, I almost literally stumbled over a one-owner, 2009 650 V-Strom, in sparkling, unmarked, showroom condition with only 9400km on it – at about $1500 under dealer price. How could I not buy it?
Interestingly no one gives you grief for buying a ‘Wee-Strom’. Mick Hone, a bloke who knows a bit about this stuff, has told me more than once that a DL650 is the way to go. And I’m convinced it has little to do with the fact that he sells them.
And no one needs to water-board me into buying a Suzuki. I’ve had several, convincing me that the brand is all about competence, quality and value. The V-Strom’s engine doesn’t produce the exhilarating howl of a Triumph Tiger.
Nor does the Suzuki have the sexy Latin charms of the Cagiva. But none of that stuff matters a damn half way down the South Island. The competence and quality are what matter there. And the value won me over here.
THIS ONE’S MINE
In terms of styling, all of the dualsport/adventure-touring bikes are pretty much back-markers in the beauty stakes. My V-Strom’s saving grace is its bright orange/bronze paint job (I’m so over black motorbikes and now white ones – isn’t white for police bikes?) Give me a brightly coloured toy every time. Please.
It’s odd for a bike that appears to be a dirt-road virgin to come equipped with a rugged aftermarket B & B bashplate and radiator guard. I’m not worried though – the oil filter in particular is very vulnerable without protection.
I’ve added a topbox and a set of Andy Strapz pannier racks and Expedition Pannierz, all of which did a great job on a 1000km Tassie tour the co-pilot and I did in January.
Andy also supplied a set of SW-Motech crashbars. They’re good strong gear, however there was a setback with the installation. Where the pair of bars link up they foul the upper support for the accessory bashplate. These things happen… I’m now modifying the bashplate bracket.
The riding experience is all good. In town it’s a wicked commuter given the great view its high stance and upright riding position give you in traffic. That’s complemented by the easy control you have over the bike thanks to its wide ’bars and the swift and predictable responses to acceleration, braking and counter-steering inputs. Importantly the co-pilot gives the pillion accommodation top marks.
My fears that the donk might be a little lacking in the herbal department have proved groundless. V-Strom 650s are livelier than I remembered whether ridden solo or two-up with luggage. It was just fine through the mountains two-up. Who needs an 800? Or maybe it’s just that the old bloke’s getting slower…
Stay tuned for updates as the V-Strom and I share some new experiences.