Words: Rob Harris Photos: Richard Seck
After our initial test (and brief off-road excursion) of the V-Strom last year, we were left with the impression that with the fitting of some aftermarket mods, the 650 V-Strom could be effectively coaxed into the world of dirt.
With this in mind, we put together a proposal to Suzuki Canada to try and get one as our long-termer for 2005, citing the wish to make it more dirt-friendly as one of our main goals for the year.
Suzuki were not the only ones that seemed to get it, as US-based Twisted Throttle saw the potential as well and duly agreed to our requests for an array of dirt-friendly aftermarket bits, courtesy of German manufacturer, SW-Motech.
The bike and the parts arrived in early spring and were given over to Mr. Seck to fit and do an initial appraisal while Editor ‘arris was ‘working hard’ in the UK. So, without further ado, here’s Mr. Seck’s bit on what he did …
SPRING + 650 V-STROM = HAPPY TIME
|Mr. Seck gently runs it in.|
We all know spring is a happy time, but over the last few years it has been a particularly good time for me, primarily thanks to my location in the centre of the universe (COTU). You see, being the only full-time CMG staffer still located in Toronto has meant that I’m the first to get my grubbies on any new long-term test bikes, which are rolled out of the head offices of the manufacturers, located right here in my home town!
However, I knew my time with the V-Strom was limited, and knew full well that Editor ‘arris – at his earliest convenience – would swoop in, grab said bike and head east … not to be seen again till the fall.
So it was with great anticipation that I picked up our Suzuki V-Strom 650 in early April, ready to give it the traditional gentle CMG-style break in …
With my bones nicely healed after my Californian adventure, I once again enjoyed breathing the spring air with two fully inflated lungs.
|Ed’s attempts to ride side-saddle had predictable results.|
My first ride saw me heading north of the city, with occasional CMG contributor, Ed White on his new (old) BMW F650 Funduro. Ed had recently caught the adventure touring bug as well and had mapped out a day route that would see us sampling a tasty mix of twisty black top, served up with a healthy dollop of gravel roads.
Hitting gravel for the first time, I realized that I had never ridden a DL650 on unpaved roads before (it was ‘arris that did the off-road/damage bit with our tester last year). No worries though, similar to other well-mannered bikes of this ilk, all I had to do was relax and let the bars do their little dance when the gravel got loose, and all was well.
In fact, so confidence-inspiring were the bikes that we were soon seeking out even gnarlier trails. We kept ramping up the degree of difficulty until the stock tires got totally packed up with mud resulting in Ed going down on his Funduro after sliding out the front. No biggy, just a reminder that there are limits to what these bikes can do in stock trim.
DIRTIFYING THE STROM
|… inside the big Xmas box.|
As mentioned in the introduction, Twisted Throttle agreed to send us a selection of SW-Motech parts so that we could include them in our dirt-ification process and appraise how well they worked (or didn’t).
It was like Christmas when the big box arrived from the US. Contained inside were bash bars, a skid-plate, centre-stand, hard bag mounts, and even a bit of bling in the form of a polished stainless-steel chain-guard.
All these parts are made in Germany and as you would expect, they were all neatly packed in bubble wrap with exactly the correct amount of hardware bits to install the parts. Another nice surprise was the inclusion of instructions that were actually printed in English (the last Touratech accessories we tried only had instructions in German).
Now having said that, it should be pointed out that the English translation is fairly, umh, undecipherable in some cases. For example, you tell me what this means:
Adjust the skid plate with the ablons (in driving direction) to have enough space between exhaust and skid plate.
|Instructions have good diagrams!Photo: SW-Motech|
Thankfully, the diagrams are excellent so you can basically ignore the text, although I still don’t know if I got those ablons on the skid-plate adjusted correctly …
THE PERILS OF FIT …
Speaking of the skid-plates, those who find entertainment in the pain our CMG projects inflict on ourselves will find this one amusing: one of the steps for mounting the skid-plate involved removing the stock side-stand bolts in order to mount the skid-plate bracket. Sounds simple enough.
Indeed, everything would have worked out fine if not for the fact that Suzuki seem to have used Loctite yellow to weld the side stand bolt threads together. Yellow, it would seem, is stronger than red …
|Chain guard bling. Although we’re generally un-bling at CMG.Photo: Rob Harris|
So, while lying on my back at an odd angle, with bike leaned precariously against a post, I attempted to loosen the first bolt. With a reasonably large 1/2” drive socket wrench in hand, I thought this would be a cakewalk – not so. With my whole body trembling from the force being exerted on the wrench, finally something popped! Unfortunately it wasn’t the bolt; it was something in my chest!
I would later discover that I cracked a rib performing this ‘simple’ operation. WTF! What’s next … spontaneous combustion while sitting on the throne???
On the bright side, at least the bike didn’t fall on top of me and I was able to complete the parts installation, albeit in some pain.
In the end, I installed the bash bars, skid-plate, centre-stand, and the fancy chain guard without further incident. I held off on mounting the bag mounts, as we still haven’t sourced the bags (Givi – a little help here please?).
Other than the cracked rib, the whole installation procedure was easy enough to (literally) do in your back alley. Just watch out for those side-stand bolts…
… AND FINISH
|SW-Motech skid-plate leaves pipe exposed.|
Worth noting at this point is the fact that these SW-Motech parts appear to be all very high-quality items. Everything that isn’t aluminum is powder coated and the hardware is all top-shelf stuff.
There are only two potential downsides that I can see to adding these bits. The first one is weight. The skid-plate, bash bars, centre-stand, and chain guard add roughly about 14 kg to bike. Thankfully though, this is all placed rather low in the bike, so it should carry it well.
The other slight concern is the cutaway in the bottom of the skid plate, which allows a section of the pipe to be exposed. We’re guessing that this was done to improve ground clearance, as earlier versions did not have this cutaway. Will this cause problems? We’ve got the rest of the summer to find out, so stay tuned.
FIRST AND LAST
|The last shot of the V-Strom in mint condition?|
My first (and last) ride with the newly fitted SW-Motech gear was the Rally Connex Blue Mountain dual-sport ride in May.
The typical CMG thing to do on a ride like this is to choose the most difficult route – the one only suitable for dirt bikes with knobbies. In a rare moment of sanity, my riding companions and myself opted for the route that was actually designed for the bikes we were riding – that is, large adventure touring bikes with stock tires.
It turned out to be an excellent day, with only one crash, and strangely it wasn’t me. Poor Sven, before he took it on that ride, I never saw a more mint-looking BMW F650GS. To add insult to Sven’s injury, I nearly rear-ended him while focusing on stopping a bar end-weight from falling off the Strom. I managed to miss him, but thanks go out to Sven for taking the CMG curse hit on this one.
|More ‘gentle’ running in.|
Over the course of the day, I became more and more comfortable with the V-Strom and its ability to cope with everything that was thrown at it. It was totally comfortable in the gravel, and as long as the trails weren’t too wet or sandy, the stock tires worked fine.
At the end of the day, confidence was riding high, enough so that when we came to a rain-rutted drop-off that looked strangely out of place on this tamer route, we all went for it! Ever try bulldogging 400-500lb bikes up a slippery, near-vertical hill with a mud bog at the bottom? Aside from the heart attack (or fresh broken ribs) that I thought I’d have from over-exerting myself on this hill, it was fantastic day!
All the accessories stayed bolted on, the skid-plate did its job and all rocks and debris were blocked from damaging any important bits. Thankfully, the bash-bars were not tested, other than when the ground was too soft for the side-stand, and the bike was simply laid on its side.
FINAL THOUGHTS FROM Mr. SECK
|Don’t it look purty?Photo: Rob Harris|
It was a very sad day when ‘arris rolled out of town with the Strom. The love affair with this unique bike had been rekindled and it just kept getting better with all the toys that had been introduced…
A few things were missing though. More aggressive dirt tires would be a must if we were to delve further into the Strom’s dirt capability. Some bar risers would be required for a more comfortable stand up riding position. Hand-guards would also be a good idea, as well as serrated dirt bike style foot pegs for those wet and muddy trails. Oh, and how about a folding shift lever while we’re at it?
Lastly, I’d like to see what we could get out of the bike if we slapped an aftermarket exhaust system on it. It would be great to amplify the V-twin music while hopefully reducing some weight, and adding a bit more juice to boot.
Time to get on the phone…
Mr. ‘ARRIS TAKES IT TO A MOTORALLY RIDE
by Editor ‘arris, of course
|‘arris is in his happy-place.Photo: Courtney Hay|
After I managed to finally pry the Strom from a sobbing Mr. Seck (and yes, it is a pitiful sight), it was duly whisked off to Montreal, fitted with a set of 90:10 Metzeler Karoo tires and thrashed at the Motorally St. Jovite dual-sport ride.
Mr. Seck had done a fine job at fitting all the SW-Motech bits and babying the Strom through its first 1000 km run-in period, so I figured it was up to me to ride it hard and see how everything held up.
With the skid-plate fitted, I didn’t hold back, although the ride proved to be not as rough as some of the others I’d been on. A few times I glanced over loose rocks and felt them bang their way down the undercarriage. As a result, there are now some minor gouges on the skid-plate, though thankfully the exposed pipe is so far untouched (although I can’t help thinking that it’s only a matter of time before it succumbs).
The centre-stand got a bit of a beating too, as it sits about level with the skid-plate, although it’s all cosmetic so far. Still works though. The only thing that I’ve noticed so far regarding the Strom’s limitations in this area is the lack of ground clearance. It wouldn’t take much of a rut to have the V-Strom with its wheels off the ground. But then, I’m not sure it’s ever really going to be capable of that level of dirt riding anyway.
|Cast rim meets rock result.Photo: Rob Harris|
Otherwise, the Strom is proving to be quite the success in the dual-sporting environment. It feels similar to BMW’s 1200GS in the dirt, only with less torque off idle, which makes it a bit trickier negotiating deep sand and spinning out the back wheel in corners. It’s also not that far off the weight of the GS, which I quite like as the bike feels very solid and rides well over minor irregularities. Of course, I haven’t yet had to bulldog the thing up a muddy hill …
Finally, I’d like to add wire wheels to Mr. Seck’s wish-list for the next phase of work. I’ve been following the V-Strom owner’s web sites on this matter and although most owners reckon that the standard cast wheels are fine, I’ve already managed to put a slight flat into the front when I hit a rock whilst shooting down a wide gravel road.
Admittedly this was a whack that would have likely dented even a wire wheeled rim (it was enough to snap the bars left and right), but I’d still prefer the additional flex that wire wheels offer in these kind of scenarios. Although we’re finding it difficult to locate anyone who sells aftermarket wire wheels for the V-Strom, we’ll keep looking and put what we’ve found into the next update.
FIRST 1,000 KM SERVICE
Although the actual service was conducted at Suzuki Canada Headquarters in Richmond Hill, Ontario, we failed to get a breakdown of work done and costs incurred and so went to the loveable Mr. Tate (he works at Tony’s Cycle in Kingston) for an estimate:
- Inspect and tighten exhaust pipe bolts and muffler bolts
- Change engine oil and filter
- Inspect and adjust idle speed, throttle cable play, and throttle valve synchronization
- Inspect and adjust drive chain
- Inspect and adjust steering
- Inspect and tighten chassis nuts and bolts
- Two hours labour ($70 an hour Tony’s Cycle) = $140.00.
- Four litres of Spectro 4, plus filter = $40.00
- Total (with taxes) = about $200.00
|Crash Guards||SW Motech||US$159.99||Twisted Throttle||The Crash Guards and Skid-plate are designed to work together and really make the V-Strom usable in the dirt. Still worried a bit about the pipe cutaway though.|
|Skid-plate||SW Motech||US$199.99||Twisted Throttle|
|Centre-stand||SW Motech||US$149.99||Twisted Throttle||Always handy to have. Suzuki list one as an accessory as well.|
|90:10 Tires – Karoos||Metzeler||C$330.00||Already had||If you want to take it in anything resembling mud or sand, then 90:10s are vital|
|Chain Guard||SW Motech||US$39.99||Twisted Throttle||Very bling. Unless you have two gold front teeth, I’d do without.|
Suzuki Canada – For supplying the 650 V-Strom for the year.
Twisted Throttle – For supplying all the gear to make it more dirt friendly.