It’s been a couple of years since we started the Wee Strom Adventure Touring project with the aim to adapt Suzuki’s redesigned 650 Strom into a more capable adventure touring machine. But the end is nigh! And now it’s time to wrap the whole thing up having used 2013 as a testing period for the modifications.
As the Adventure Touring name suggests, the project was split into two areas to adapt to; Adventure and, well, Touring.
The Adventure part meant making the Strom more capable in off-road conditions. The V-Strom is no svelte dirt bike, and no after market accessories will change that, but you can make it more dirt-capable, which is what we tried to do.
The Touring aspect meant making the Strom more comfortable for the long haul (including adaptations to accommodate my lanky frame) but also to tackle the recurring buffeting issue, adding more lighting, grip warmers (it is Canada after all) and some much-needed luggage.
The first year was spent sourcing and fitting all these parts; we spent the second year riding it on the road and in the trails to see how everything faired. We hope we’ve ended up with a valuable guide for any Wee Strom owner out there thinking of doing the same.
In these wrap-up pieces, we’re going to give our thoughts on how each adaptation worked and whether or not we think it’s good value for money, so read on.
PHASE ONE – ADVENTURE
Suzuki brands the Strom as an adventure bike, but aside from tall suspension, a slightly larger 19” front wheel and some styling cues, there’s not a whole lot to back up the claim. What the Strom is lacking in stock form is the all-important protection to save it from flying rocks, crankcase-cracking boulders and the inevitable tip over/dumping.
We also wanted to take it one more step, replace the stock cast wheels that are prone to denting in contact with rocks (surprisingly easy to do, even on a seemingly smooth gravel road), with a set of wire wheels, so that’s where we’ll start.
A) Wire wheels, brakes and knobby tires
This was perhaps the most ambitious of mods that we embarked upon, as no one company offered a set of wire wheels off the shelf, which meant a lot of trail and error on our behalf. The vital ingredient to even contemplate such an effort is sourcing the wheel hubs, which are specific to the bike design (axle size, wheel alignment, brake mounting, etc) and came courtesy of RAD Manufacturing.
The trouble was that they were designed for the pre-ABS Strom, so we had to source a set of front brake discs from that period too, as the new ABS model had a tweaked hub to make room for the ABS sensor ring. Those came courtesy of EBC Brakes, which had the added bonus of a wavy design for added bling appeal.
The rims and spokes were supplied by Buchanan’s Spoke & Rim; we opted for a set of heavy duty spokes and some tough Excel rims. When building a wheel from scratch, you have the option to make it any size you want, and we were tempted to go for the more off-road friendly 21” front (bigger = better at rolling over things) but then we would have had to replace the fender.
Also, there was a chance the bigger wheel could contact the radiator under full fork compression — variables we didn’t want to tackle — so we stuck to the standard sizing of 19” front and 17” rear.
One weak spot we found while testing was that rocks would get pulled up in the front tire and scrape around under the close-fitting fender. Eventually the fender cracked, so we recommend a higher-mounted fender, which we’ll see if we can find for 2014.
Despite some mix-ups that meant we had to relace the rear wheel again, looks alone make the wire wheel option something special – the bike just pops out at you. However, the wheels with matching discs and brake pads came to a rather hefty US$2,660 and a lot of hassle to boot.
Obviously this is not cheap, but vital if you really want to ride in rougher stuff. If I hit a hidden rock on a gravel road (which I did quite often), I had absolute zero worry about the rim getting dinged. After one year of testing, there’s not a single sign of damage to be found. Well, apart from the gouge from a ham-fisted tire change …
The new front wheel also got rid of a slight shimmy in the front end (the stock cast wheel would shudder between 60-80 km/h). Not sure why it does that, but taking your hands off the bars at certain speeds would allow the bars to wiggle quite aggressively.
Still, I find these hard to justify, as they add enough cost to the project to make an already set up (and more dirt-friendly) bike like BMW’s F800GS a more realistic option. However, if you want the blingest and most dirt-friendly Strom in the neighbourhood, then this is a good way to do it.
I almost forgot to add, the wire wheels also gives you a spare set of stock items which can be shod with road biased rubber and quickly switched over if you’re about to embark on a long paved tour – very handy.
By keeping to the standard 17”/19” wheel sizes (which are now pretty universal on adventure bikes), it meant we had a good choice of tires too and I opted for a pair of Heidenau Scouts for Project Strom.
Overall, I was very impressed, the tires wearing very well after extended periods on- and off-road. The trade-off is loss of traction in loose gravel and mud, where the ungrooved centreline of the rear (which I assume gives it its longevity on pavement due to less flexing) loses its ability to bite, making the Strom slide around under any amount of power in those conditions.
I did get used to it though, but whether this is a price worth paying for longevity is up to each rider. Personally, since I have a good stretch of highway to ride before any trails, it’s one I would pay.
The EBC brakes were a little disappointing though. I was expecting a boost over stock, but they were about the same if not a little worse in the wet, when they would suffer from a little slip while wiping the water off. They looked smart though!
B) The bash protection
The next area to require attention was to protect the Strom’s vulnerable parts from debris, rocks and ham fisted riding. We achieved this by fitting SW Motech crash bars and bash plate, Barkbuster handguards, Ventura headlight guards, an Enduro Guardian radiator guard and a set of Pro Taper SE handlebars.
The SW Motech crash bars are heavy-duty steel loops that mount to the frame and loop up and out to stop the Strom’s plastics, tank and mechanicals from touching down in the event of a topple. Thankfully I have yet to crash the Strom (I came very close to junking it thanks to a spectacular high speed endo), though I did drop it once at walking pace and the bars did as advertised.
The bashplate is constructed of three separate aluminum plates, riveted together and hung from the Strom’s motor and lower frame. The biggest issue with the Strom when it comes to going into the dirt environment is ground clearance. Adding a bashplate reduces that even more but it’s not optional as you will hit rocks and it’s much better to dent the plate than poke a hole in your engine’s sump.
Of course, I endured some mounting issues thanks to an aftermarket pipe getting in the way and so I had to make some new mounts and bring it forward to make it fit. An inevitable run in with a exposed drainage pipe on one trail brought the Strom to a sudden stop – leaving it standing on the pipe!
Not surprisingly, the bashplate was well and truly destroyed by end of the season (the rivets popped and it started to come apart), but because it was not fitted as instructed I cannot fairly draw any conclusions. I have since adapted the pipe (using the original Strom headers) and fitted another plate on as per instructions, so we’ll see how it works now.
I continue to be impressed by the Barkbuster handguards – easy to fit, strong and with good weather protection. The Pro Taper SE bars offered more strength than standard bars, but fitting any bars is a fiddly operation, so I’ll leave that for the reader to decide if it’s a worthy change.
To protect from flying rocks I fitted a set of clear plastic Ventura headlight guards that kept the glass lights in one piece and were dead easy to fit. The Enduro Guardian rad guard was a similar experience and offers peace of mind from flying rocks for a minimal price. Both no-brainers, in my opinion.
C) The other bits
One thing I have discovered in my many forays into the dirt is just how much difference good suspension makes. It doesn’t just change a bike’s behavior in the rough, but it lets you know what it’s doing. That way, you can adjust accordingly, instead of being taken by surprise and finding yourself sucking mud.
The stock Strom suspension is built to a price; although it’s capable for mild off-road adventures in gravel-land, I thought I’d see if I could bring up the front relatively cheaply (you can spend a fortune on suspension if you want to) by putting in some springs specifically designed for my weight.
These came courtesy of Sonic Springs who offer various spring types to match your heft. Although it’s quite a cheap and relatively easy job to do, I must confess that any gains offered were minor so I don’t think that they were worth it. Serious modifiers may want to look at adding modulators to the front with a bit more preload (longer spacer) and maybe a new shock at the rear, but then how far is it worth going on a bike that is still too heavy and lacks the all important ground clearance?
A couple of other important and thoroughly recommended dirt-friendly mods is a set of clawed pegs and a bigger sidestand foot. The pegs I got were SW Motech On road/Off road units and gave a wider area with the option for bare metal (gives you grip when they get muddy) or to add a rubber insert for road use, although I found them comfy enough without the rubber in all cases. The foot was also from SW Motech and a simple bolt-on which stopped the stand from sinking into soggy ground on the trails. Simple and very effective!
After doing all these mods I pressed the Strom into service as scout for a planned dual sport rally I’d like to try out east here around the Bay of Fundy. The idea of the rally is to have a base loop that is suitable for all dual-sport and many so-called adventure bikes (we’d be on gravel roads), with optional excursions for those who want a tougher challenge. This allowed me to try the Strom in the easier stuff and then push it somewhat down some rougher stuff to see how she coped.
As expected, the bike took simple gravel and fire roads in stride, with the wire wheels absorbing the whack of any hidden rocks pocking up and the bolt-on protection keeping projectiles from making holes where holes are not wanted. In short, the mods did exactly what I wanted them to do.
The limitations soon became apparent when going into even mildly gnarly stuff. Terrain that my KLR would laugh at provided some serious challenges to the Strom and brought home the biggest limitation of the Strom – ground clearance. It was just too low to tackle anything remotely rocky. At best there would be the occasional bang as it bounced off a rock, but if the trail had any rocky shelving (effectively creating steps), or you came around a corner to find an exposed drainage pipe, then it would hook up and stop dead.
Still, you could mostly navigate through this stuff at slow speeds, but since that is against my nature I’ll use the KLR for the more adventurous stuff and keep the Strom as the perfect bike to tackle Labrador or maybe even one day visit Tierra Del Fuego!
As you probably know, magazines are cheap by nature. There’s not a lot of money to be made in this game, so in order to do projects like these we need suppliers to see the value of what we do and hopefully not get too pissy with us if we find fault.
For this project a big thanks you goes to the folk at Twisted Throttle who supplied us with the majority of what we needed to make it happen. Also to Suzuki Canada for providing the (very) long termer Strom and offering us anything from their accessory catalogue that we wanted to try.
Also to RAD Manufacturing for the hubs and Buchanan’s Spoke & Rim for the deal on the parts and the patient help while we messed it all up. And to EBC Brakes who saved us at very short notice when we realized that we needed a set of pre-ABS brakes to go with the new wheels.
THE COST OF ADVENTURE
So what’s the damage? Costing below does not include cost, shipping or labour to fit them, but it should give you a good idea of where you may want to spend your hard earned cash.
Front ($349.95) & Rear ($449.95) wheel hubs (RAD Manufacturing) US$799.90
Heavy Duty custom spokes and nipples (Buchanan’s) US$198.00
Excel front ($260) & rear ($318) rims (Buchanan’s) US$578.00
(Labour /wheel was $97, so the total for built wheels would be US$1,769.90)
Front ($615.22 pair) and rear ($146.41) brake discs (EBC Brakes) US$761.63
V-Pad brake pads (US$42.89 per pair x 3) (EBC Brakes) – US$128.67
Sub total – $2,660.20
DUAL SPORT TIRES
110/80 B19 59T TL K60 Scout (Heidenau Tires) US$182.00
150/70 B17 69T TL K60 Scout (Heidenau Tires) US$245.00
Sub total – $427.00
PROTECTION ET AL
SW Motech Crash Bars (Twisted Throttle) US$219.99
SW Motech Bash Plate (Twisted Throttle) US$259.99
SW Motech Kick Stand Foot (Twisted Throttle) US$50.00
SW Motech On-road/off-road Footpegs (Twisted Throttle) US$158.99
Barkbusters (Twisted Throttle) US$155.00
Radiator Guard (Enduro Guardian) US$60.00
Headlight Guards (Ventura) US$49.00
Pro Taper Handlebars (Dual Sport Plus) CA$59.99
Front Springs (Sonic Springs) – US$79.95
Sub total – $1,092.91