Day 2 Continued...
When it comes time to deal with the elements, hiding behind the BMW's windscreen, handguards and Boxter engine is the most comforable place to be.
Blasting up I-5 was some of the most consistent high-speed riding of the trip and gave us a good idea of the wind protection offered by each machine. Here, at 75+ mph, the BMW's easily adjustable windshield was rated as the best. The Ducati, with the smallest shield, subjected the rider to more buffeting, though the curvature seems to have a softening effect on the wind. Meanwhile, the Suzuki and Triumph have slightly larger units but the wind seems to come over the top and slap the rider more sharply. The V-Strom's shield is adjustable as well, though it takes a bit more effort and produces less-impressive results than the German bike but still offers more than the others do. Some of the amenities, like the superb wind protection and adjustable seat, help to justify the GS' $14,875 retail price. The question is whether or not its worth it. That's over $5K more than a standard V-Strom, and the expandable hard luggage and soft tankbag jack the price up even higher. Even still, the Beemer didn't finish last in value and even received two second-place votes from our rich-blooded test riders. Yeah, it's expensive, but as Lavine puts it, "If you can afford a Rolex, why wear a Timex?" People who spend the money will appreciate the quality of the GS.
Suzuki claims the value category with ease. At $8999, the V-Strom is downright cheap compared to the $10,699 Tiger and $13,995 Multistrada (the non-s version is $2000 less but doesn't get the fully-adjustable Ohlins suspension, carbon fiber front mud guard and cam belt cover or the variable-section handlebar with vibration isolator mounts). There are certainly shortcomings with the 'Strom, but all that extra cash would eradicate many of our gripes - or keep us topped off with fuel for a long time. Either way, the Suzuki made every one of our testers fully aware that it's a lot of machine for not much dinero.
The Usual Suspects: (left to right) Robin Haldane, Joe Ramos, Tom Lavine and JC Hilderbrand pretend to be the Corp of Discovery while visiting the End of The Oregon Trail. The big question is: being the guide, will JC accept his role and play the part of Sacagawea?
If there's one thing that people likely associate with the 33rd state it's the well-known Oregon Trail. As a part of every elementary child's U.S. history lesson, we all learned that the historic route was instrumental in the development of the western half of the country. So there was a special feeling of pride when we buzzed out to the End of the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center, which is located on Washington Street in Oregon City. Go figure. A quick after-hours stroll through the grounds left us with a better appreciation for the hardships those original settlers endured as they traversed the 2000-mile route across the country. Those hardy bastards would have killed to trade their slow, wooden wagons for our speedy, cush, 40-plus mile-per-gallon steeds, but that won't stop us from complaining about every seemingly insignificant issue these bikes may exhibit. The highest average fuel economy during our trip was the Ducati's 46.2 mpg and the lowest was the Suzuki, with a respectable 42.9. All of them were able to stretch a good distance before having to refuel, but Triumph buyers should be aware that we were left stranded once when the reserve estimate still showed 40 miles of range and ran out of gas. Not exactly cool.
What could have been cool were the beer festival, motocross race and regular weekend activities that had the Portland area packed to the gills. But those events made it damn near impossible to find accomodations as the second day neared its end. Through hard work we managed to score a hotel but it wasn't until after several dozen phone calls and a bit of backtracking to the southern tip of the metro area in Wilsonville.
One of very few out-of-state stops we made. Before hitting the Motocross race in Washington, we stopped for breakfast in quaint little Camas. It was there we noticed a problem with the Tiger's shifter.
To get things rolling on Day 3 we set out from our hotel and jaunted over the border to the northern side of the majestic Columbia River. With the MX race only an hour or two away our afternoon was more about the destination than the ride, so we made the best of our abbreviated ride schedule by getting an early start. Tying into Highway 14, our group snaked east towards the town of Camas, WA, where one of Tom Lavine's old cronies promised to guide us on a short morning ride that would deliver us to the back door of Washougal, thus avoiding most of the crazed motocross traffic.
It wasn't long until we pulled into the tree-lined downtown of Camas, and it was a good thing too as Tom reported that something was awry with the Tiger's shifting. The amount of play in the foot lever had been getting sloppier through the morning ride, and a scan of the shift lever revealed that a linkage bolt had nearly backed itself out of lever. We don't normally test the viability of the various underseat tool packs, but we had to scrounge in order to find enough tools to get the job done. None of the bikes had a particularly spectacular bundle of tools but we discovered, as experienced touring riders apparently know, is that it pays to invest in a decent travel setup. It was a small catastrophe that we only narrowly avoided seeing how the ball-socket design of the errant connector would have made it virtually impossible to find a replacement.
Aside from the loose bolt, the Tiger received generally positive marks for its slick-shifting transmission and easy-pull clutch assembly. Only the Ducati scored higher with its excellent cog system, but the 1050 only barely edged out the Suzuki for the runner-up position in this area. None of the bikes are completely flawless in this category, and perhaps the one thing that sucker-punched the Triumph was its lack of adjustability. Fully disengaging the clutch required a firm grip, which started to wear thin on our good nature.
Luckily the shift lever bolt hadn't backed all the way out of the threads or we could have been in a tight spot for the entire weekend. The errant fastner was the only problem we encountered on any bike all week.
The Suzuki's shifter missed second place by a single point, but the decent clutch actuation had nothing to do with the V-Strom's lower ranking. Instead, it was its tendency to hang up between second and third gear. Almost all of our testers noted the problem, though some experienced it more while downshifting, others struggled to get a clean lift with their left toe. Lavine, the only member of our crew who participated in the 2006 comparison, remembers the same dilemma in the older machine.
"This is the second V-Strom I've ridden in a MCUSA test and both transmissions have had issues," he says of the notchy second-third junction. "Sometimes it just simply refuses to work and doesn't want to shift up or down."
Our photog also had a hard time finding neutral on the Suzook, though others in our group thought it was the easiest to locate, especially when at a standstill. Several of these bikes seemed to have trouble getting into and out of gear at a standstill. The GS exhibited its own tranny woes, which made it virtually impossible to tap down into first without rocking that 495-pound tank-empty beast back and forth if it wasn't put into first with the bike in motion. Why, for Pete's sake, can't BMW engineers figure out how to fix that? It's easily the most annoying thing about the otherwise lovable Beemer. Some riders also felt the amount of drive lash in the shaft system was a bit excessive. Its hydraulic clutch goes a long way towards easing our gripes, but not nearly long enough and the Beemer posted its worst result in this category by coming in last.
Our testers found the notchy shifting between second and third gear to be a major flaw in the V-Strom's gearbox.
Ducati is just the opposite of the BMW. Where the German machine has a super-light pull at the lever but less than stellar feel at the foot control, the Ducati requires Popeye's forearms but its transmission is the most slick of the group. You still have to find neutral while rolling to a stop, but other than that the 6-speed was our favorite. The gearing ratios feel closely spaced, which leads to a bit more shifting than the other bikes, but that's apparently part of the Duc's sportbike bloodline.
"The clutch was like one of those grip testers," jokes Ramos. "Five minutes in traffic and my hand was screaming! Other than needing a strong grip to shift, the gear transitions were smooth. I'm not sure if this bike comes equipped with a neutral because I never found it."
We actually got stuck in a traffic jam for nearly 20 minutes outside of Portland and guess who was on the Duc? Yours truly. I had a case of arm pump that would have made those MX guys proud.