2012 was an interesting year for a bike which has now become such a family member that I think it will be a permanent fixture in the Melling garage. Certainly, the big trailie has broken all records in terms of the length of time I have owned any motorcycle – and I have had a lot of bikes through my hands in the last 45 years.
The reasons for the extended ownership remain the same as they were for the initial purchase. If you actually want a motorcycle which does a huge range of tasks very well, as distinct from making a fashion/status/lifestyle statement, then Suzuki’s understated trailie is still very difficult to beat. More of this later but now to the big news story of 2012 – I crashed our beloved ‘Strom.
Yes, shock, horror, all-will-be-revealed now. The “crash” was acutely embarrassing but fortunately neither life-threatening nor expensive. Although we have been married for a very long time, in some parts of our life Carol and I remain boyfriend/girlfriend – and nowhere more so than when it comes to showing her that I am still the Moto God she fell in love with all those decades ago. The problem is that even deities can sometimes overestimate their own abilities.
Stop the electronic presses! Melling dropped his beloved V-Strom – the bike has recovered, Frank’s ego is still bruised.
So, there we are in a cute little Welsh village, complete with narrow, and very crowded main street, about to stop for ye olde pub lunch, where I could stare across at Carol like a lovestruck teenager and wonder how anyone could be so lucky as to have her for a wife.
Now a lesser Moto God, let alone a mere mortal, would have turned round with circumspection but my mind was on other things so I simply flicked the Suz on to full lock, feet up of course, with the intention of executing a manoeuvre so cool that it would make a flask of liquid nitrogen look a cup of scalding coffee. Except that I ran out of lock, stalled the ‘Strom and, at about 0.001mph, ended up in a heap under the bike.
Carol, having almost as much motorcycling experience as me, but considerably more brains, stepped off the bike like a ballerina leaving me beneath the bike and melting the tarmac with my blushes.
There was good news and bad news. The good news is that the damage was minimal. The right-hand indicator needed replacing along with the hand guard from the same side. The guard didn’t break but the scratches spoiled the otherwise mint appearance of the bike so I replaced this as well as the indicator. Suzuki make fitting the indicator a five minute, home garage, job so the overall cost of the crash was minimal – but still enough to teach me that, even for a Moto God, circumspection can sometimes be a good thing.
In fact, I am making a fuss over nothing in terms of the bad news. Thanks to Alpinestars’ superb SMX5 boots I walked away from the scene injury free. Even so, having 500 pounds of V-Strom drop on to your ankle and foot is not to be recommended and is a certain bone breaker without top quality protective gear. However, for the budget conscious readers it is better to have your leg between the bike and road because this does protect your prized steed.
But the worst part was yet to come. As Carol lifted the bike enough for me to extract my foot, a lovely baby Police Officer arrived to give her hand and then offered me some advice: “Just come back to bikes after a long break? You ‘Born Again Bikers’ trying to relive your youth again. Tsk, tsk, tsk.
“You’d be better off with a little bike until you get some more experience.”
Yes, Officer, thank you for the advice. What you mean is that I would be better not being a lovestruck teenager showing off to his new girlfriend.
In addition to the “crash”, if such a minor incident is worthy of the name, I have also had an equally minor mechanical problem with the ‘Strom.
Over a period of about four months, the fluid in the clutch master cylinder slowly dropped. The drop was minuscule and it’s only coming from a background of classic bikes, where things break all the time, that I even noticed the loss.
No matter, I followed the text book, meticulously cleaned the edge of the master cylinder to avoid contamination and then topped up the cylinder with fresh fluid. A couple of months later, there was another drop and so, clearly, something was wrong. Crooks Suzuki know as much about V-Stroms as any dealer in the world so Martin Crooks ordered a seal kit and a complete master cylinder for when I took the ‘Strom in for its annual service. As matters transpired, the master seal had developed a microscopic crack and it was through this that the fluid was leaking.
Fluid in the clutch master cylinder slowly dropped, the culprit was a microscopic crack found in the master seal.
Martin’s advice was not to replace the seal but simply the whole unit because if one seal was showing signs of age then the others would be too. The difference in cost between repairing the old unit and a brand new replacement was only $40 and so now we’re back to square one and hopefully another four years of trouble free clutch operating.
You will note the comment about another four years. The V-Strom exemplifies a problem which all manufacturers are facing. It is this. Our ‘Strom will cruise all day at speeds well fast enough for me to lose my license. The bike handles beautifully, the motor is sweet and easy to ride and I regularly see over 50 mpg – and sometimes even more than this.
I would prefer better brakes, and less front fork flex, but these are not deal breakers.
On the positive side, the bike will do absolutely anything we ask of it – interstate highways, canyon twisties, tiny backroads, it’s even nimble and sensible in town centers right up until the point where an over ambitious pilot stalls it!
Carol loves the space and comfort for the pillion passenger and delights in the giant top box which takes all her girl stuff until we stop. It then swallows two helmets so we don’t have to carry them around with us.
In short, your pen will run out before you tick all the positive boxes on the V-Strom 1000 itinerary.
Add to this another factor. It used to be Britain which had the most militant traffic law enforcement in Europe but most other countries have caught up with us and are now sailing past. France in particular is a nightmare of hidden cameras, and militant police, which means that any transgression is going to be expensive.
The V-Strom rambles along into year five of the Melling garage, with Frank pressing it on road and off.
Journalists, and I am as guilty as anyone else, love new bikes and like new toys so the manufacturers take them to Spain or Italy, where the local Police cooperate in terms of law enforcement for manufacturers’ launches, and then give them dry, empty roads where there is no chance of getting a ticket.
So, the journalists report on the latest Super Trailie’s 120 mph performance, and multi-switchable power delivery, active suspension, traction control and goodness knows what all else.
However, in the real world all these headline grabbing features are largely irrelevant. As a still active racer, I do know how to set up suspension but how often have I adjusted either the front forks or rear shock on our V-Strom in four years? The answer is zero!
Given the option would I constantly fine tune the power mapping on the ‘Strom or alter the rear suspension on the fly? Once I became bored with the novelty – probably in the first 100 miles – the buttons would probably grow moss on them from lack of use.
Better still, I can alter the power settings on our V Strom myself quite easily already by means of the very clever device called a throttle. Close it and the engine makes less power. Open it and it makes more. In wet or slippery conditions I use less power and in the dry I use more. How innovative is that?
The humble Strom doesn’t sport all the bells and whistles of the latest, greatest adventure-touring behemouths… but it’s more than enough for the everyman rider.
As for cornering quicker using the optimum suspension settings, I am more concerned with coming round a bend and finding a nice officer with a laser gun or, just as bad, a tractor about to do a 90-degree turn across the road, than I am about gaining three mph. Going fast is for the track – and I love it. Riding on the road requires brains and self-discipline.
Rather than increased power, trick electronics and 120 mph cruising speeds – that’s jail for you, young man, in Britain – I want a simple, light bike which is both affordable and fun. ABS I do want, because it is a worthwhile safety feature, but everything else I can live without.
If our V-Strom were to be abducted by aliens today it wouldn’t be replaced by a GS1200 or the so, so sexy Aprilia Caponord. Rather, it would be one of the two bikes neither of which are top of the Super Trailie tree – Suzuki’s 650 V-Strom or the Triumph Tiger 800. Both are affordable – yes, that word again – light, easy to ride and in the real world have more performance than can be credibly used.
Why am I not shopping for either of these fine machines? Because I own a V-Strom 1000 which is a better bike than either of them and this is why you will probably be reading about another year with the ‘Strom, 12 months from now.