Me and Wee
by Thomas Day
Sport bikes, including the “standard” SV650, are for kids (meaning anyone under 40) and folks who have not abused their bodies into a pile of creaking, rusting, decaying bones. That’s not me. I’ve owned an SV650 for almost 30,000 miles and, while I liked the bike, I missed my more multi-purpose Yamaha 850 TDM many times, especially on long trips. Particularly, I missed the relaxed knee bend of the TDM’s riding position and the long, soft suspension. Four hundred miles on the SV and my knees were seized, my neck felt like an Alien baby was trying to hatch from somewhere between the second and fourth vertebra, and my butt hurt so bad it’s practically speaking to me. My longest day on the SV was about 820 miles from a campsite south of Thunder Bay to Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario and back to another campsite near Marquette, WI. After recovering from that trip, I didn’t travel more than 350 miles in a day on the SV.
When the Suzuki DL650K V-Strom arrived in 2004, I started looking for my own “WeeStrom,” the slightly disrespectful nickname given to the Suzuki V-Strom 650 by its owners. The DL650 is the little brother of the V-Strom 1000 and the multi-purpose cousin of the SV650.
I got lucky in September 2006. I bought a barely-used (under 1,000 miles) 2004 DL650 through eBay in Ohio. We swapped money and paperwork at the Cincinnati Amtrak station. After a brief side-trip to the train station’s parking lot where I got used to the handling, brakes, and taller, less-nimble (than the SV650) weight distribution, I pointed my black horse westward. After a few hundred miles, the V-Strom began to feel familiar and comfortable.
For the breed, he DL650 is pretty middle-of-the-road with moderate suspension travel (5.9”) and an unprotected low pipe and other fragile appendages (oil and water coolers, and a very low-mounted oil filter). The suspension limits also spells problems for those who decide to lower the seat height by dropping the suspension. Unless my math skills have deteriorated, using up all of the suspension means that there is absolutely no extra ground clearance for that low pipe. Obviously, the V-Strom is likely to be less adventurous than some “adventure touring” bikes and more comfortable on pavement than many.
The riding position is ergonomic, but reaching the ground is a literal stretch. The bike is tall, making gear-loaded mounting difficult. An upside is that the seat height allows for stretching your legs on long rides. The slightly-forward dirt bike riding position is exactly the reason I traded in my SV650 for the DL650. It is insanely comfortable compared to the most dirt-worthy of the genre.
The brake lever position is extremely adjustable. Large dual discs on the front and a single on the back make the DL’s brakes the best I’ve ever experienced. You can lock up the wheels, but with careful brake application you can easily and safely haul the bike down from high speed to full stop.
The clutch pull is light and the clutch is strong and predictable.
The stock rubber is a Bridgestone Trailwing semi-street, 19” front and 17” rear. I like the V-Strom’s 19” front tire, on the grounds that it will roll over obstacles rather than smack into them, but that size proves to be a little odd for tire replacements. I used Metzler’s ME880’s for my Alaska trip and had more than enough options for other replacements.
Fuel injection means that all my sophisticated cold weather fuel supply routines are history. Even at -20 F, turn the key, hit the starter, and don’t touch the throttle for effortless ignition. The V-Strom’s airbox has a large, flat filter and is moderately protected from water, but since the intake is at the front of the box don’t expect to make tank-deep water crossings without problems.
The electrics, in general, are awesome. For the first time in my motorcycling career, I have electronic fuel and temp gauges and directional turn signal indicators on the instrument cluster. The headlights are revolutionary, compared to everything I’ve owned to this point. Low beams light up the road better than the my previous bikes brights. The high beams turn night into visible terrain.
A common complaint about the DL-650 is “helmet buffeting” due to the size and shape of the windshield. On my 800-mile trip home, wearing a Shoei X9 helmet, I didn’t notice any such problem. When I got home, I occasionally wear a Schuberth flip-up which is in no way aerodynamic. With that fiberglass sail on my head, I immediately discovered what the complainers were complaining about.
I have constantly been impressed by the V-Strom instrument panel’s visibility and ergonomics. At night, it’s even better. The day after my initial ride home from Ohio, 801 non-stop miles, I was ready to do it again. Any disability displayed on Monday and thereafter was with me before I began the trip.
At the advice of Jim Winterer, I raised the forks 1/2”. That seemed to quicken up the steering slightly. For my tastes, the suspension came set too tight. It’s probably just right for sporty motorcycle reviewers, but I’m on this bike for long trips on rough roads. I dropped the rear shock pre-load and lowered the fork preload to the 4th notch. That made the bike’s ride squishier and more practical for crappy Minnesota highways and my favorite gravel road surfaces. However, with full touring gear, I cranked up the spring load on both ends to the max.
Maintenance is something Suzuki actually thought about, including a tank prop and a fuel shutoff connector that allows easy removal of the tank for filter and plug changes, valve adjustments, and general motor access. Suzuki should have made a center stand a stock item to complete the serviceability of the bike, but they sell one as an accessory. Most everything you need to get at is accessible with a few standard metric tools by removing a few plastic bits and pulling the seat and tank.
For 2007, Suzuki has updated the WeeStrom’s color scheme (gray or blue) and added an ABS brake option. Otherwise, the bike remains mostly the same vehicle that Suzuki introduced in 2004. The 2007 advertised list price is $6699 or $7199 for the ABS model.
Our editor once commented that the most “custom” Harley would be one that is bone stock. I think the V-Strom suffers that same affliction. Browsing the Internet’s V-Strom user sites provides a reader with a long litany of items that are “necessary” to make the bike ride-able: crash bars and centerstands, windshields and windshield brackets, suspension modifications, luggage, foot pegs, GPS and cruise-controls and other electronics. The V-Strom seems to be an after-marketeer’s wet dream: it’s a Harley, a KLR, and a Goldwing all rolled into one accessory-mounting vehicle. I have fallen victim to the “it needs more” trap. My list of “gotta have it” accessories is still growing after a year of ownership.
Other than personal touches, the V-Strom was pretty much ready to ride long distances and rough roads out of the box. I can only say good things about how it held up riding across the western US, Canada from Saskatchewan to the Northwest Territory, all around Alaska, down to Seattle, and back home on paved, semi-paved, and every non-paved kind of road I’ve ever imagined. Every day for 26 days and almost 10,000 miles, the V-Strom was problem-free and the most comfortable, dependable bike I’ve ever owned. The V-Strom inspires confidence in both the machine’s capability and reliability.
by Gus Breiland
She’s a big girl who can dance. I fell in love with the look and feel of the BMW 1150 GS on a ride around the 5 Great Lakes a few years back. It was big, comfy and the gentleman that I had borrowed it from had all of the aftermarket bells and whistles to make it a road-eating machine. But it was huge. I parked it in my South Minneapolis, single stall garage and the pros could not surpass the con of how much space it occupied. Since then, I have been on a small displacement, small bike quest.
Not only am I interested in small displacement bikes for their physical size, I am interested in them for fuel economy and for my own personal selfishness that refuses to find happiness in anything over 900 ccs. Enter my heavyset secret lover, the V-strom 650.
Now I can’t say that I am racing out to buy my new sweetheart. The worst part of that statement is I don’t know why. It is a wonderful motorcycle. As you continue down the page, you will see that I have pretty much positive things to say. When you review a motorcycle where the primary negative is Suzuki cheaped out and didn’t put hand guards on the 650 as opposed to the 1000, that should be the sign of a buy, buy, buy right now bike. And yet, there is something nagging me about this bike that I cannot put my finger on…let’s explore my brain a bit, shall we?
This month we are riding Geezer with a Grudge’s 2004 Suzuki DL-650 V-Strom. Affectionately called the Wee-Strom for having the “small” 650 motor, versus its big brother the DL-1000. Yet, there is nothing Wee about it. It is a full-scale motorcycle with a power plant that is excellent. Quite honestly, it is smoother than it’s big brother leaving the DL-1000 wondering why people like his little sister more then him.
However, the basic dimensions are mostly the same, give or take an inch here or there, about the only difference is a 1000cc motor and two exhaust cans versus a 650cc motor and a single can. The 650 realizes about a 30-pound weight loss. In 2007, Suzuki released the DL-650 with ABS. While I have not ridden the ABS model, I can only comment that for another $500 you get more control in heavy-braking situations. Seems like an inexpensive piece of mind.
I know I want to at least try to date her, so Tom let me escort her on a little day trip through small farming towns in southern Minnesota. The DA (Domestic Associate) and I had signed up for the local BMW club’s Grand Tour – the Great Minnesota Fishing Trip where you ride around the state searching for giant fish statues and take your picture with them. A perfect excuse to take the Wee for a spin.
We set off in search of the ellusive roadside fish and immediately I started to understand why I like the DL-650. The seating position on the V-Strom is excellent. I was riding with my feet under my hips, my arms extended forward with my weight off my wrists and the windscreen was kicking the airflow over my head. The perch is tall, allowing me to see through the SUV’s and Mininans instead of sheet metal and spare tires. Bliss.
The DL-650 / 1000 motor is based off of the venerable SV-650 motor from Suzuki. I found the throttle response was smoother on the DL-650 than the DL-1000, with no clutch chatter that some of the early DL-1000 riders had been reporting. Fuel injection eliminates chokes and difficult cold starts. With a push of the button your bike is idling. In this case, I will not put in my standard rant about losing my “reserve” on the missing petcock, as 250 miles before I need to think about fuel is sufficient in my book. At speeds around 60-70 miles per hour, I was getting about 50 mpg out of its 5.8 gallon tank. One comment is Mr. Day had put a 16 tooth front sprocket on instead of the 15 tooth stock sprocket for fuel economy.
The beginning of the day trip was mostly grid roads, southwest farm fields, and rectangular road construction. We hopped from town to town on a beautiful day and my thoughts were of the scenery and the destination, rather than discomfort or questions regarding seating position or performance. If on a road test one does not think about the bike they are on, either it is a dull bike, or it is a well-built bike. So far I think it is well- built.
After finding our destinations, we started to head for home. This time, we crossed over I-35 to the southeast side of Minnesota to find the twisty treasures that hide within the rolling hills between Rochester and Cannon Falls. Now, instead of thinking about the bike, I was thinking about curve entrances and exits; where to brake, where to accelerate and just how far can I lean.
The V-Strom frame and weight are easy to toss around. You, as the pilot, sit with leverage, power at the wrist and good suspension to throw the bike around and work the corners. Being the pack mule that she is, additional luggage is evenly balanced and I did not feel my saddlebags behind me. They, like me, were just along for the ride.
As with the DL-1000 (MMM #63) I am absolutely thrilled with the V-Strom’s headlights. Great big reflectors toss light down the road like no other stock bike can. They illuminate not only the road, but also both ditches making night riding a much more enjoyable way to travel.
If you are worried about not being able to keep up with the Farkle Kings you ride with, worry no more. The aftermarket has been very kind and supportive of the V-Strom line. Luggage, electronics and more are ready to adorn your bike. When you join your Adventure friends for their Sunday afternoon ice cream runs, you can have just as many ornaments hanging off of your bike as they do, but with less upfront investment and just as much road capability.
My only real criticism is the Wee-Strom’s size. But even that isn’t fair, as I like the size for road trips and for comfort. But for tossing around in afternoon traffic I would much prefer my slender 650 Tengai or the DA’s 650 Hawk. Because the Wee is just as big as the 1000, and because I have been riding smaller feeling motorcycles for the past few years, local commuting is just not as fun on the DL-650 as it can be on a narrow-hipped girl.
So, there you have it. No hand guards and a little too much junk in the trunk. These are the only flaws I can come up with. I guess a reviewer can’t always rain on a parade.
All in all, this is a well-rounded, do everything road bike and I think there in lies the problem. It is so right for many of the tasks that I am afraid of commitment to just one motorcycle. There will be no need for any other and that loss is something I cannot bear to experience. For now, I will continue to ride my friend’s V-Stroms instead of buying my own. I know better then to satisfy my needs. Nobody wants to see a happy Gus. He gets all huggy and talky. Yeesh.
The Suzuki V-Strom for 2008 has an MSRP of $6,699 on the standard, and $7,199 on the ABS model. Thank you to Mr. Day for letting me date your bike for a little while. I guess the old adage is true; once a headlight guy, always a headlight guy. Anyone want to buy a R100RS? Gussy wants a new set of high beams.