V-Strom 1000: Three Year End of Term Report

December 15, 2011
Frank Melling
Frank Melling
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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.

Suzuki V-Strom 1000
After purchasing the V-Strom 1000 three years ago and adding many miles, our man Melling is even more besotted by the homely Zook.

Bike journalists are the most promiscuous motorcyclists in the world, so the fact that I am still riding the same machine after three years is something of a medium sized miracle.
The bike is our Suzuki V-Strom 1000 – a machine which has appeared in MCUSA not infrequently over the years. In fact, the story has not changed too much. The V-Strom remains a true 85% bike. It’s 85% as good as a top of the range Adventure Tourer; 85% as competent as a full blown sportbike; and 85% as nimble in town as a scooter.
Where my mind has changed is in terms of the bike’s touring abilities. Although not a true, hardcore touring motorcycle in the style of a BMW R1200 or a Yamaha FJR, I am beginning to think the V-Strom ought to be considered very near a match for these Supertourers. The reason for my shift in opinion is that my wife Carol and I regularly ride 250 to 300 miles in a day, largely on mixed roads ranging from tarmacked tracks to county highway or Interstate routes, and we get off the V-Strom unstressed and ready to do the same again. Any bike which can carry two full-sized adults over such a range of roads, with effortless grace, has to be considered a top-end tourer.
Modifications remain minimal – mainly because the V-Strom came so well-equipped as standard. Very early on, I fitted a set of EBC race pads in the front discs and these, together with stainless braided brake hose, perked up the braking a little. There’s still not enough power for my liking, but the brakes are better than they were. The front brake still requires too much pressure when we’re coming down off the mountain roads in Wales and pressing on. It’s not that the front brake doesn’t work, but rather that one is aware a real effort is needed to get it to perform properly – and this spoils the riding experience.

Suzuki V-Strom 1000
Suzuki V-Strom 1000
Modifications consisted of new EBC race pads up front to increase stopping power and road oriented Michelin Pilot tires.

As a racer, I like to trail brake into corners to make the front tire bite and this can’t be done with subtlety, as it can with a hyper sports bike.
Another early fitment was a rear hugger, and this ought to be standard on every AT. Any Adventure bike doing its job gets heavily used on minor roads and the hugger on our V-Strom has kept the rear shock completely pristine even after three years and many mud-soaked miles.
The original Bridgestone Trail Wing tires lasted very well, but when they needed replacing I went for the road orientated Michelin Pilots. The truth was that we were never going to cross Mongolia on the V-Strom and the actual off-roading we did could be measured in yards rather than miles. The Pilots tightened up the handling tremendously and also made the front end more positive. Now, the front wheel stays planted even when dragging the footpegs through corners.
Ironically, although the Michelins provide better all-round performance, I do miss the Bridgestones. I used to love the way the V-Strom squirmed about on the original block tread pattern tires and that sense of involvement and fun has been killed by the efficiency of the Michelin Pilots. Is better always good?
Fuel consumption simply gets better and better as the miles go by. Riding two-up, and not making any attempt at conserving fuel, I can get somewhere in the region of the high 50s to a British gallon – which is just over 1.2 U.S. gallons. On one occasion, riding solo, I coaxed over 60 miles from each gallon, which is outstandingly frugal for such an old-fashioned engine.

Carol and I ride the V-Strom a lot together and ironically, this is another case of 85%. With Carol in the rear seat, the performance in terms of acceleration, handling, braking et al – is about 85% as good as with just me, and the actual riding pleasure is completely undiminished.

From Carol’s point of view, there are acres of room in the pillion section of the saddle and she feels – 85% again – protected from wind and rain. For these reasons, she is a rabid V-Strom fan and it will take a lot of persuading to move her to another bike.

Suzuki V-Strom 1000
When riding two-up the top box can hold two Arai helmets and an assortment of other items for long-distance trips.

Another factor which Carol loves is the absolutely huge top box. When we are on the move, this takes her full woman-sized purse – all married men know what this means – plus shoes, a fleece, camera and refreshments. When we stop, the box holds two Arais and our gloves. I have seen trailer homes smaller than this top box!

Carol also likes leaning back against it on a long trip and, again, this is a tremendous aid to marital harmony.

Not only has the fuel consumption improved this year, but the whole bike feels sweeter than ever. You could never accuse the 996cc V-Twin mill of being turbine smooth, but it gets on with whatever job you give it without a murmur of complaint. Cruising at 85 mph on the interstate highways, crawling through traffic in town centers or picking its way over a few hundred yards of gravel at walking pace: There’s never a grumble or sign of distress. The big engine just gets the job done.

The same goes for the chassis. It is quite simply efficient and effortless. You will see comments made about the V-Strom being a dull, ‘beige bike’ with no character. This is a misunderstanding of the motorcycle. It’s a bit like criticizing a Toyota Hi-Lux diesel pick-up for doing 200,000 miles without having a spanner laid on it. That’s what it’s supposed to do.

Our other bikes are race motorcycles and we like being deeply involved in the anthropomorphic nature of these thoroughbreds, which are all character. But it’s worth bearing in mind the price of ‘character.’ Our Matchless G.50 Grand Prix bike needs about five hours in the workshop for every hour on the track. By contrast, I check the air pressure on the

Suzuki V-Strom 1000
While the V-Strom’s engine may lack the character of other touring mounts, it has proven a consistent performer.

V-Strom regularly and that’s it in between its annual services. Even the chain never needs adjusting between services – it’s that good.

Best of all, we can ride the V-Strom whenever we have a spare couple of hours. Pull the loyal steed out of the workshop, turn the key and we’re away. It’s a bike which suits our hectic lifestyle.

So, will you be reading a fourth annual report? The answer is probably yes – for two reasons. First, the V-Strom does a remarkably good job at everything we ask it to do. It’s got no electronic trickery, no breath-taking styling and no 130-mph performance. But, since none of these things are high on our wish list, we don’t miss having them.

Just as important is the bike’s residual value. Because it lacks all the essentials of the current crop of AT bikes, the V-Strom is worth little more than two balloons and a goldfish in part-exchange for a new machine. Therein lays a major problem. We would need at least $15,000 to upgrade to a high spec. Multistrada – a bike I really like – and $10,000 for the new Triumph Explorer. Since we have a mint-condition bike which performs perfectly well, this is just too much to ask for what, in practical terms, is not much of a benefit on the road.

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