Carol had gone to reserve a place for us at the bottom of Knicker Brook, the best viewing point on the track, and left me to talk to one of the teams in the paddock about the Thundersprint. The conversation went on longer than planned and so I had to jog across to re-join Carol. This was not a big deal since I am fit and don’t mind the exercise – and it was only three-quarters of a mile.
Toward the end of the run, I slipped down a small rut and fell in a heap. It didn’t feel like a major accident and the only noteworthy damage was to my pride, since ending upside down in the middle of a couple of thousand spectators was more than slightly embarrassing.
I limped back to Carol and we watched an excellent second race and then rode home on the V-Strom.
The first hint of trouble came when I couldn’t get my riding boot off my foot. In the end, Carol pulled and tugged and my foot came out like a cork from a champagne bottle. Ten minutes later, it had swelled beautifully. Welcome to the Melling body sprained ankle!
Having a racer’s attitude to injuries, I took a couple of Ibuprofen and got on with life. Five days later, it was clear that will power, and a handful of drugstore pain killers, was not going to cure this one so I headed for my doctor.
The examination took about 11 seconds. We pre-pay for our health care through taxes in the U.K., so the actual point of delivery is free – but don’t expect a long chat about your illness. British doctors have performance targets to meet so speed is of the essence. Almost before I sat down, the doctor was writing a prescription for a powerful anti-inflammatory drug – and the next patient was coming in through the door.
During the few nano seconds of the appointment, the doctor had said that the sprain was a bad one but not to worry since, although I was ancient, I was fit and six weeks would cure the problem. Motorcycle racers really are flawed goods in the pantheon of humanity but we do have a few, very few, virtues. Since I had spent a lifetime being hurt I am always very much in tune with my body – and my body told me it was properly injured.
Still, the drugs were powerful pieces of kit, and contained a horse-stunning pain killer too, so four hours later all was well and my ankle was fully cured. The problem was that it wasn’t – as testified by the swelling and the interesting range of psychedelic colors from yellow, through green and on to an interesting range of purple with some subtle shades of black.
Still, the doctor knows best so I took the magic potions for three days, as prescribed, and then stopped. The following morning, I couldn’t walk.
In fact, walking wasn’t the big problem – changing gear with an immobile left foot was. Yes, I could – just about – manage an hour or so of gear shifting left-footed with the help of a party sized dose of the anti-inflammatory/pain killer but afterwards I couldn’t walk at all. This was not a smart thing to do and so the V-Strom stayed largely untouched in our garage.
The good news out of this mess was that all our race bikes are classics and so have right-hand gear shift and my left foot just rests on the brake lever. Okay, it wasn’t exactly fun pressing down on the lever but racers have high pain tolerance.
After a couple of months, I returned for another consultation and then began a saga of denial and arguments which became ever more fractious as the medics insisted that I had a sprained ankle – and I told them that I didn’t.
Eventually – and this took five months – I got to see a specialist ankle surgeon and this showed the other side of the British Health care system.
With a piece of pure luck, the Specialist turned out to be a bike fan and, best of all, a regular Thundersprint visitor. We got on very well and I was sent off for a veritable battery of high-tech scans on my ankle. The news proved not to be good.
I hadn’t sprained my ankle but rather had split one of the exterior tendons. That was the bad news. The good news was that it was still, barely, hanging together and hadn’t actually ruptured. If it had broken, then I was facing a major piece of re-constructive surgery.
Just to make me feel better about the injury, the anti-inflammatory drugs I had been popping on and off for the previous six months had made things much worse and I was banned from even looking at the packaging.
Instead of drugs, I was put under the care of a specialist foot and ankle physio – another example of the best of our Health Care – and she instigated a meticulous program of remedial exercises which ever so slowly coaxed my ankle back to full strength as the tendon limped back to life.
By now, we were in December but still with no sign of sufficient recovery for me to ride a left-hand gear change road bike any distance, so Carol and I decided that our beloved V-Strom could find a new owner.
I have good relationships with a number of bike dealers and one of these kindly offered to put the ‘Strom in his showroom – and it was then that our frustration really began.
Our V-Strom had covered just under 12,000 miles from new and is absolutely pristine immaculate. It has all the toys in the Suzuki box including a centerstand, heated grips and full luggage. Additionally, the bike had a braided front brake hose, race pads in the front calipers and a rear hugger. In short, it was fully loaded and ready to go – and complete with a full Suzuki dealer history.
The dealer said that to sell the bike quickly and without a fuss I should ask $6000. When a new V-Strom 1000, in a similar specification was getting awfully close to $18,000, the $6k asking price seemed to be the bargain of the year.
Out of the $6000 I was going to give the dealer a very modest $400 for the time and trouble he took so that brought the figure down to $5600. However, my friend in the trade wouldn’t display the bike unless it had a complete Suzuki service history, so a further $250 went on a full service. Now, we’re down to $5350.
Buyer #1 liked the bike and agreed to pay the price of $6000 – but wasn’t happy that the rear tire – surprise, surprise – was more worn than the front and so demanded a new replacement. $200 later a brand new Metzler went on – and now we’re down to $5100.
However, $5000 was $5000 so I sighed and went in to my dealer friend to collect the money.
Sadly, the purchaser’s wife decided that she didn’t like black motorcycles, so the deal was off. This was philosophically interesting because the V-Strom has always been black. It was black when the would-be buyer saw it; remained black while the new tire was fitted and was still the same color of not-very-white when he reneged on the deal. Black, I have always thought, was a fairly easily identifiable color.
Purchaser #2 offered me $3000 cash – and no haggling. There was indeed no debate as I informed him of exactly where he could stick his $3K.
I didn’t want a part exchange bike but Buyer #3 seemed very keen – if I would take a 250 BSA in part payment. The part payment valued the BSA at $2000 more than its top value so that deal went nowhere.
The next one in line was absolutely 199% certain – then his wife’s pregnancy test showed positive and so bike buying was banned.
Another guaranteed sale went because of unexpected redundancy and by now it was March and my ankle was getting better by the day. I could manage some rigorous walking and even run short distances, so things were really looking up.
The sun came out, the winter rain stopped and we didn’t have a road bike. Two hours later, our beloved V-Strom had returned home.
So, what we have got? First, our V-Strom is five years old but it looks like new and rides even better. In fact, at 12,000 miles it’s probably just about run in.
The 1000cc V-Twin engine is simply a joy. It will potter along in towns like a giant scooter, romp along the most minor of minor roads and will eat Interstate highways in the style of a dedicated super-tourer. All this and 50 miles to every gallon. That’s one heck of a package to beat.
The motor is flawless despite having no alternative riding modes, astrological predictions or on board stock market reports. Regarding traction control, I maintain my long held position that if you are spinning the rear wheel on a road bike there is something seriously wrong with either your riding or the road conditions. Either way, I tend to solve the problem of wheel spin by using my right hand to control the throttle. Call me old fashioned but throttle control is rather a good way of preventing the rear wheel from spinning.
The gearbox is faultless and in five years I have yet to miss a single gear. Again, beat that. The clutch is light and reliable even in dense traffic.
The chassis is, on paper, old fashioned but at the point where I touch the footpegs on the ground I have to ask myself how much faster do I want to go.
The ‘Strom remains palatially comfortable, either solo or two up. For the rider, the ergonomics are perfect and Carol has plenty of wriggle room at the back. A 200 mile ride, on mixed roads, is a walk in the park for the V-Strom.
The Suzuki’s biggest weaknesses are its front brake and front suspension. The forks are adequate but they do flex when the bike is fully loaded. It’s not a dangerous, or even disconcerting, trait but it is noticeable.
The same applies to the front brake. With braided hose and race pads, the Tokico calipers will stop the bike but it is more effort than it ought to be.
This brings us to crunch time. We have looked at the new V-Strom 1000 and what is a better bike than our Suz. The 800 Tiger is also a worthy replacement, as is the Ducati Multistrada. The problem is that as an absolute minimum any one of these bikes would need an injection of $10,000 and our V-Strom – and in the case of the Ducati nearer $15,000 by the time we had added all the necessary accessories.
$15K is an awful lot of money for very marginal gain so it looks as if the V-Strom is back in Team Melling’s garage for another year – and probably a lot longer than this!