Long Termer: V-Strom 650 – Part 3 (more farkels)

Be sure to check out the CMG long-termer V-Strom at the Suzuki booth in Edmonton! Photo: Gary Davidson
Words: Rob Harris. Photos: Rob Harris, unless otherwise specified (title shot: Gary Davidson)

Last month we went over some of the modifications we made to our long term V-Strom 650. however, there were some mods that … err … got delayed a tad. Like all grand projects there are a multitude of things that can unexpectedly kick you in the proverbial arse (some many times over) and this project was no difference.

The arse kicking came in the form of a pair of wire wheels that you can read about below, but at the end of all, they are maybe the most interesting part of the project too.

So for this update, we’ll swim in the despair of the wheels but towel off with the resulting beauty and a few other off-road mods that should make the Strom a fun ride when we carry on the project into 2013.

Wire Wheels
(Hubs, Spokes, nipples and rims)

When we picked up the Strom in June we did some gravel roads, but even these are better tackled with spoked wheels just in case there’s a hidden rock or rough patch around the next corner. Photo: James Vernon

Why – Because we want to be able take the V-Strom into rougher stuff and if you hit something hard in rougher stuff cast wheels bend and wire wheels flex. One results in damage, the other not.

Back when we had our last long term V-Strom in 2005, we didn’t have wire wheel options. The cast wheel rims weren’t happy.

These were on our shopping list for our 2005 long term Strom but no one made them. Shortly after that, US company RAD Manufacturing started to make billet aluminum hubs that fit both the 650 and 1000 Stroms, which (in theory) can be mated to any rim you fancy, and anodized to almost any colour.

Fitting – Putting the wheels onto the bike is quite easy. The trouble is that no-one offers the built wheels off-the-shelf. We had to get the hubs from RAD, then have them shipped to Buchanan Spoke and Rims in California, who then needed to make the spokes that would tie the hubs to any rims we wanted.

The initial temptation was to go for a 21-inch front hoop like the BMW F800GS. – the large diameter making dirt riding over obstacles that much easier. But this was dismissed for two reasons.

First, the Strom lacks the ground clearance and suspension to do the more serious off-road stuff, so a 21-inch rim seemed a tad pointless. Second, you’re going into unchartered territory with different geometry, possible radiator clearance issues under front fork compression and the need to rejig a fender to fit.

No, we  (uncharacteristically) played it safe and kept the rims as close to stock as possible. The rear ended up a little wider at 4.25 inches due to rim availability, but now it matches the wheel sizes on the BMW 1200GS, so there are plenty of tires to choose from as a result.

Rad Mfg seem to be the only company making V-Strom hubs. Looks a little off though, no? Read on.

The downside of dealing with two separate companies on a project that hasn’t been done before by one of them is that it takes a lot of time. My emails show that the process started in May and the wheels finally arrived at the start of September.

Built without the adapter plate meant that the rear wheel was 5/8″ off to the left!

The other, more frustrating issue was that because the hubs were made for the pre-ABS version (and I reckoned, wrongly as it turned out, that that meant I’d just have no ABS – fine for dirt wheels) so the front discs from the 2012 don’t fit!

A bit of research revealed that in 2007, Suzuki made the inside diameters larger to accommodate the ABS rings, which meant that by the time I noticed, I had only a week to find new discs before my last chance to test the thing in 2012.

Also, since Buchanan’s didn’t have a regular rear wheel handy to measure and  line everything up (the front being symmetrical so was easy to set up), so they asked me to take a measurement from the disc surface to the centre of the wheel, to know exactly how far the centre of the rim needs to be, relative to either side.

Once done and sent the wheels arrived a short while later, and apart from some of the spokes in the rear wheel looking a little off balance, they looked about right. Well, that was until I tried to fit the discs and discovered that the V-Strom doesn’t, and never had, a six hole disc mount ­­– it’s always been four.

Confused, I called RAD who quickly realized that they’d forgotten to include an adapter plate — the hub being drilled for a KTM disc, for reasons I’m not clear on — and made and rushed the adapter up to me.

It arrived with three days to spare, but once I fitted the ring to the wheel the magnitude of this oversight became obvious. Since Buchanans had built the wheel based on the distance from the six hole face to the centre, the addition of a 5/8” thick adapter plate meant the rim was now also off centre by 5/8”.


It was no good, the tour had to be done on standard wheels and tires and the dirt testing saved for next year. Sigh

Norm Sheppard comes to the rescue!

But this still left the challenge of fixing the wheel. After many calls to Rob Buchanan, we concluded that we’d need to ship up another side of longer spokes — to bring the wheel back to centre meant that one side of spokes would be too short (the other would be long, but that’s what angle grinders are for). This they did at no charge for manufacture or shipping!

After some tweaks here and there, Norm gets the Strom wheel click-free.

But that left finding someone who could rebuild the wheel in Sackville, NB (pop 5,558). Turns out that my good friend, fellow neo east coaster Norm Sheppard (previously of Norm’s Fix It in Port Perry, ON) was a dab hand at wheel building. Score!

So it was that Norm gave me a lesson in wire wheel building (mounting the wheel on a homemade jig of sorts):

1) Make mark on the hub to show how far rim needs to move over to align properly.

2) Loosen off all the spokes to see if that brings the rim close.

3) Remove one side of spokes that are obviously too short and thread in new longer spokes – this is trickier than it sounds as you have to remove them in a specific order as they interfere with each other.

4) Once spokes are in place, snug them up (not tight) one by one.

5) Next spin wheel and check for trueness. Tighten certain spokes in mystical order to achieve – this is where the magic comes in as tightening up one area to be inline can move another area out of line. Basically there’s a lot of adjust, spin, adjust, etc going on.

With everything aligned it was time to take off the ends of the spokes that stuck out of their nipples a tad.

6) Once it’s all aligned then the spokes all need to be tightened to operating spec, all without pulling the rim out of alignment again.

He must be a witch, he’s got the hat.

I’m rather gob smacked at how he does all this “There’s a bit of a wobble right at the weld” – he spins the wheel to an audible, ‘click, click, click’ as the rims brushes against a point on his homemade jig. He grabs the wheel, turns it 90 degrees, tightens three spokes and spins it again. Silence.

If this were the late seventeenth century this kind of magic would see people like Norm burning at a stake.

At last the wheel was done and after yet more dosh was handed over to a courier to get the things shipped to Suzuki’s HQ in Richmond Hill, ON (I’d left the Strom there after the fall tour), this part of the project could be considered done.

Despite all the delays, headaches and unexpected hurdles, the results look amazing and I’m really looking forward to getting the Strom into the trails to see how she performs.

If you fancy yourself a pair, Buchanan’s reckon they can now put a set together, – you just need to have close to $2k burning a hole in your pocket.

Usage – Not tested to date, but they look damn sweet!

EBC Disc brakes and pads

EBC wavy XC discs solve the pre-ABS disc dilema while looking tres fancy to boot. Photo: Gary Davidson

I hadn’t thought about fitting some aftermarket discs but I had no choice when RAD  told me that the hubs were pre-ABS, meaning that the front discs from the 2012 don’t fit (they have a larger inside diameter to allow for the ABS ring). Of course I didn’t realize this until in late in the day and had to do some quick calls to find some appropriate discs.

EBC rear disc forwent the wavy bits. Tires are Heidenau K60 Scouts. Photo: Gary Davidson

EBC brakes came to the rescue with a set of wave rotors for the front (reg for the back) as well as a set of fancy semi-sintered pads (new discs require new pads). Bless ‘em.

Shame about the wheels not being used for the tour in the end, but the discs will at least go to the shows looking all shiny and new.

Fitting – Relatively simple as it’s mainly a bolt-on job (don’t forget the Loctite!), but you’ll likely have to push the brake caliper pistons back to make room for the fatter brake pads, in which case watch for brake fluid overflowing at the master cylinder.

Usage – Not tested to date

Heidenau K60 Scout Tires

Heidenau Scout K60s have impressed on both dirt and road so they seemed like the logical choice.

Why – After my adventure in Morocco earlier this year one thing that I discovered was that (apart from not to drink the tap water) Heidenau K60 Scout tires not only perform great in the dirt, but they perform great on asphalt and don’t wear out quickly. That equation is the Holy Grail for dual sport tires and I managed to get Full Bore Distributing to send me a set, which also give the Strom an aggressive look.

Simple to fit, the SW-MOTECH larger foot stops your sidestand from sinking into the soft ground

Fitting – The front 19 inch rim was a doddle, the wide 17” not so. A good amount of huffing, puffing and blowing down houses, accompanied with a few nice gouges on the new rim … Sigh.

Still, normal people get a shop to do it, which I’d recommend. Only hope I never have to fix a puncture in the woods. I guess there’s a reason why other adventure bikes with this size wheel are laced for tubeless!

Usage – Not tested to date

SW-MOTECH Sidestand foot

Why – Because if you take a bike in looser stuff, then a bigger sidestand base will stop it from sinking in and falling over when you stop for a piss.

Fitting – Put two halves around the end of the sidestand, insert screws, tighten. Simple.

Usage – Not tested to date on the soft stuff but it doesn’t interfere with the stand’s usages and hasn’t fallen off so likely a winner.

SW-MOTECH On-Road/Off-Road Footpegs

On-road/off-road footpegs have a slight forward tilt but the rubber is removable to reveal off-road serrated pegs.

Why – These pegs have a removable inner rubber pad so you can have comfort for the tour, but you can remove the pad to reveal serrated pegs for when it gets a little muddy (which is what I hope to be able to do).

Ventura headlight guards are shaped to the lights but the white Velcro attachments do spoil the effect somewhat. Photo: Gary Davidson

Fitting – In order to be adaptable for different bikes the peg and its mount come in two parts that are bolted together (but by only one bolt, which seems a little simple considering what would happen if one fell off while you were standing up).

Usage – I already had one of the mounting bolts loosen off so I glued them in place using Loctite and will keep an eye on in future.

Ventura Headlight Guards

Why – Riding on gravel (especially with others) will see a lot of … gravel thrown up and this can put a crack in yer fancy headlights. Ventura protectors are Velcro-on clear plastic jobbies that are shaped to fit the new Strom’s headlight shape and minimize any light loss passing through them.

Fitting – Clean lights with rubbing alcohol and stick Velcro pads (provided) on lights and guards. Adhesive reaches full strength within 72 hours.

Usage – Not tested to date


Now we just have to ride it! Photo: Gary Davidson

With the wheels  finally sorted and fitted, the bike is going to do a national tour courtesy of Suzuki Canada and their booth in the MMIC national show circuit ( Editor ‘Arris will be mulling around at the Toronto Show too).

But of course, that is not the last of this bike. Suzuki, evidently aware of our , err, “in depth” testing methods asked that we include a buy-out clause at the end of the testing term. And why not? We had great plans for the bike and we have more to come, oh, and we’d better do some proper testing on it too.

So the project slides into 2013, when we’ll post updates of any other farkels we decide it needs, as well as how she adapts to her new role off the beaten path. In the meantime, please take a moment to have a look at her if you’re at any of the shows and feel free to let us know what you think.

THE TOTAL OF THIS UPDATE (supplier in brackets)

Front ($349.95) and rear ($449.95) wheel hubs (Rad Manufacturing) US$799.90

Heavy Duty custom spokes and nipples (Buchanan’s) US$198.00

Excel front ($260) and rear ($318) rims (Buchanan’s) US$578.00

(Labour per wheel is $97, so the total for built wheels would be US$1,769.90)

Front ($615.22 pair) and rear ($146.41) discs (EBC Brakes) US$761.63

V-Pad brake pads (US$42.89 per pair) (EBC Brakes) – US$128.67

110/80 B19 59T TL K60 Scout (Heidenau Tires) US$182.00

150/70 B17 69T TL K60 Scout (Heidenau Tires) US$245.00

SW Motech kick stand foot (Twisted Throttle) US$50.00

SW Motech On-road/off-road footpegs (Twisted Throttle) US$158.99

Ventura light guards US$49.00

Total $3,345.19

Thanks to:

All the suppliers listed above for sending us their stuff so that we could test, critisize and abuse for your entertainment.


Check out all the pics that go with this story! Click on the main sized pic to transition to the next or just press play to show in a slideshow.


  1. Wow, the bike looks fantastic with the wire wheels! Seems like it would be just the ticket for long distance dual sport riding; more comfortable and powerful than a KLR, and not as expensive as any BMW.
    Are you paying attention Suzuki?

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