STM: Super Performance Bike Me?

July 13, 2010
Frank Melling
Frank Melling
Contributing Editor| Articles|RSS

Our Memorable Motorcycles expert, Frank Melling also is the organizer of the British vintage motorcycle extravaganza known as Thundersprint. Melling began riding five decades ago and remains as much in love with motorcycles as when he drove his first bike into a cow shed wall aged ten. In the last 50 years, Melling has competed in every form of motorcycle sport and now declares himself to be too old to grow up and be sensible.

While the Suzuki V-Strom was originally thought to be an “85% Bike” by our STM editor, it has surpassed expectations and has since moved into the 90+ percentile range.

I have confession to make: throughout my motorcycling life, I have always been rather promiscuous and so very easily seduced by the latest, fastest, cleverest, shiniest motorcycle on the block. Then, two years ago, I bought a Suzuki V-Strom 1000. The full story is in Memorable Motorcycles (which you can read here at Memorable MC Suzuki DL 1000 V-Strom) but at the time, I described it as the “85% Bike.” In essence, the V-Strom will do anything in mainstream motorcycling competently – and some things brilliantly.

Two years on, I am beginning to have second thoughts about the 85% figure. Now, I think that the V-Strom is nearer the 90+ percentile because in everything I ask the bike to do it exceeds my expectations.

If Carol and I want to go for a ride in the Welsh hills, I simply put another 5 psi in the rear tire and off we go. The V-Strom’s performance while carrying a pillion is completely unaffected and the permanent top box is big enough for Carol’s enormous purse, sandwiches and a flask with room still to spare. When we stop, both our Arais go in the top box and we can wander around like tourists, unencumbered by helmets.

At the other end of the scale, the V-Strom is well capable of letting me ride as fast as I want to go on public roads. Braided front brake hoses from Crooks-Suzuki ( and a set of Michelin Pilot road-orientated tires mean that the V-Strom is capable of seriously quick progress.

And in the middle, I can ride the bike on the back roads in the mountains through torrential rain and gales and it is as stable as a rock.

One added luxury is the ability to store two helmets in the V-Strom’s extra-large top box. 

So that’s one train of thought. The other is the current rigor of law enforcement. I used to think that it was only the British who felt the heavy hand of traffic law – until we got pulled over for slightly exceeding the speed limit in the middle of an empty desert in the mountains of Oregon! Now, it seems that traffic violations are a big issue world-wide.

In essence, in Britain if you are caught exceeding the national 70 mph speed limit by anything in excess of 30 mph your licence will be suspended. For me, working from a rural location, this would be the equivalent of having a limb removed – not the least because of the huge hike in the following year’s insurance premium for both my car and bikes. 

Ten mph over the posted speed limit will get you a stiff fine and points on your licence or, at best, compulsory attendance at a very expensive “Speed Awareness” course.

The problem is, and we know this from a trip to Germany where some Autobahns have no speed limit, that the V-Strom will lope along all day at 110 mph without a flicker of effort. Therefore, 70 mph demands very disciplined riding and the standard 60 mph limit for all single carriageway roads requires total concentration. In short, the V-Strom could cause you to lose your driver’s licence in the merest flick of a wrist.

One of the advantages of being in the motorcycle trade is that really good deals are available. I was gossiping to a friend of mine who owns a Ducati dealership. He was waxing lyrical over the quality of the new Multistrada, which is an ultra modern V-Strom but with more power, better handling and a whole shed load of electronic gizmos which have really titillated biking journos throughout the world (Read the Motorcycle USA take in our 2010 Ducati Multistrada 1200 First Ride). The Multistrada was, he assured me, the bike of my dreams.

The V-Strom also has the ability to effortlessly cruise at high speeds – something which can get a rider into a lot of trouble.

But dreams don’t come cheap. A Multi in the same specification as our V-Strom – top box, panniers, adjustable screen, heated grips, center stand et al was going to weigh in at a shade under $23,000. My dealer/pal was prepared to give me absolute top dollar for our V-Strom, but the bottom line was going to be $13,000 to do the deal. The Multistrada was spectacular but $13,000 is still an awful lot of money – and that brings us on to the last part of the conundrum.

Currently, the economy is not good in Britain – although we’re better than most of Europe. As a family, we are hardly on the bread line but $13,000 is bank loan territory – and the last thing on God’s earth we need at present is a loan.

This brings us around full circle. There is absolutely no argument at all that the Multistrada is a better motorcycle than our V-Strom – but how much better? Being able to swap engine power characteristics at the flick of a switch would be great fun – but $13,000 of fun?

The ‘Strada handles better than the V-Strom, but does it perform twice as well?

And the Multistrada can cruise all day at 125 mph – which is 15 mph faster than our ‘Strom – but $13,000 is still a lot of money for performance which can only be used on a few miles of German Autobahn.

As we sat drinking coffee, admiring the Ducati, Carol and I came to the same conclusion: we’d rather have our 90% V-Strom AND $13,000 rather than move up market to the Ducati.

This is the problem which will face manufacturers in the coming years as recession becomes the norm throughout the Western world. If your bike is already fantastic in terms of braking, handling, and power are you, at a time when you may not have a job next year, willing to finance your latest dream for the sake of what are almost hypothetically small gains?

Truthfully, does it really matter if your sportbike does a standing quarter mile in 10.06 or 9.75 seconds?

The Ducati Multistrada sure is dreamy, but it’s difficult to make sense of paying more when you can get a bike like the V-Strom for around $13,000 less. 

How much sleep are you going to lose by worrying if your bike only manages a paltry 180 mph when the 2011 model can reach 186 mph? For sure, in either case you will be reading the stats from your jail cell if the short arm of the law catches you.

The bottom line for us is that we could go for a ride with a group of Multistrada owners, ride all day in comfort and safety, arrive at the finish within a few minutes of the quickest Ducati riders – and still have $13,000 in Carol’s purse. Maybe that’s a lesson that manufacturers need to take on board: there is a market for bikes with 90% of the performance of the class leading motorcycles – but costing only half the price!

Changing subjects, we still – despite the best efforts of successive governments – have traces of a manufacturing industry in Britain. Best of all, there remain nice people who will speak to you as a human being rather than a part number. I needed a bit of polycarbonate to make a chain guard for our Seeley race bike, and the nice man at the plastic manufacturers said yes, he would happily sell me an off-cut for a few dollars. Oh, if life were that easy!

First, when I arrived at the site I had to be interviewed and filmed for security reasons. What exactly was I going to do with five inches of polycarbonate? I almost did tell the guard what I really wanted to do with the plastic, if I ever got it, and my intentions would require him to bend over his high, extremely well-polished security desk and drop his trousers.

Then I had to be given a high visibility jacket in order that I could walk the six feet from my car to the trade counter without getting killed. Next, there followed a Health and Safety briefing explaining what I should do if I swallowed the polycarbonate; stuck it in my eye; smoked it or tried to attack my wife, child or mother with what clearly was only one step away from a live hand grenade.

While the Ducati Multistrada is the better motorcycle of the two, the V-Strom’s price makes up for what it lacks.

The next problem was generating a sales ticket because the computer wouldn’t allow such a tiny weight of plastic to be sold. Just as the final juices of my life’s essence were draining away, the Works Manager arrived – who was thankfully a Manx Norton fan – and wrote “Scrap” on a slip for the salesman and I was allowed to leave clutching my would-be chainguard.

And you have to ask yourself, is this what really happens in China, India or any of the other Asian economies who will soon dominate world manufacturing? How long can we survive with this manic level of petty legislation choking our industry?

Unfortunately, being the mechanical incompetent that I am, I still haven’t made a satisfactory guard so I have to return for “Mission Impossible 2” and scrounge another bit of scrap when things have cooled down somewhat.

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