When Melling started looking for a solid do-it-all motorcycle, Suzuki's V-Strom kept coming up in conversations.
Okay, okay, okay. Don’t hit me again with the rubber truncheons. Remove the electrodes from my dangly bits and turn off that bright light. Yes, it’s true. Despite being MCUSA’s resident classic bike guru, I actually LIKE
My heart, my soul, the very blood which runs through my veins, is all pure classic. The snarl of a G.50 at 7000 revs, the thump of a pre-war sporting Single, the scent of two-stroke exhausts and baking castor oil leaked on to engine cases. All these are the reasons for getting up in the morning.
But my brain tells me the truth. If you want to go somewhere on a motorcycle - quickly, safely and reliably - then you need a modern motorcycle. Classics are old and need nurturing and loving. Yes, they are wonderful fun - but not if you absolutely must catch the ferry at 9 a.m.
Nor are they something to take out on a whim. In truth, they never were. A trip on a BSA or Velocette always required deliberation even when the bikes were new. Foolish was the Velo Fellow who sallied forth without his clutch-adjusting tool. Confident to the point of stupidity was the BSA Bloke who thought he could ride his A10 at night with any hope that the lights would work for more than ten consecutive minutes.
Having come out of the closet and admitted that I needed a modern bike, I was then faced with the almost greater issue of choosing one. Clearly, I had to have a Ducati 1098R. How could I live without a 1098R for trackdays and visits to British Superbike rounds?
Melling thought that a big black Victory cruiser like this Jackpot 8-Ball would be just the thing for high summer rides.
Then a big Victory V-Twin cruiser all black, black, black, black - and a splash of chrome. Yes, absolutely must have a black cruiser for the high summer.
As a classic man at heart, a retro bike like is essential. Put that XJR 1300 in a gift wrapped bag and I’ll take it, please. And a Pan European for the long distance blasts across Europe and something neat and light for when I need to nip into a city center and...
That was the problem. I could have easily taken delivery of a large truck full of bikes - and justified the ownership of every single one. In fact, I could have still been defending my purchases as my wife beat me to death with a rolled up bunch of bike brochures and the walls of my garage burst through being stuffed with my new toys.
What I really needed was at least ten bikes. What I could afford, and store, was just one. That left me with a real dilemma. So what to choose?
One end of the problem was solved in that I could live without hyper sportbikes. We own, and I race, two extremely nice classic race bikes, so I get all the speed fixes I need in the place where they are best found: the race track.
What I needed was a fast tourer/commuter/Sunday-fun-ride/working machine/affordable/two-up-welcoming/cheap-to-run/easy-to-ride-when-tired motorcycle. In fact, what I really needed was a series of compromises.
Melling wasn't immediately sold on the styling of the V-Strom, but over time it has grown on him.
The bike which constantly came up in conversation with other compromisers was the Suzuki
DL 1000 V-Strom
. But there were two problems with this bike. The first is that the DL is one of the most seriously ugly motorcycles produced since the 1963 Greeves Sportsman (see Memorable Motorcycles if you are into hard core horror stories) - a motorcycle so distressingly offensive to the eye that wearing protective goggles was recommended for anyone attempting to look at it for more than 10 seconds.
I know that beauty is not everything but bikes are an object of lust - and there’s no disputing this.
The other problem for me was that having ridden the DL1000’s baby brother, the 650 V-Strom
, I came away thinking that it was no more than okay. Whilst ugliness can be forgiven in a bike, being merely satisfactory most certainly cannot.
The nice people at Road and Racing Motorcycles in Manchester (0161 377 5167) had a DL1000 demonstrator and, after a courteous but thorough pre-flight briefing, told me to have a long ride and then let them know my thoughts. No pressure, no attempt to sell me a bike - just rather old-fashioned service levels which really are very pleasant.
The clever thing was that Mark Samuels, Road and Racing’s Sales Manager, knew something I didn’t: the big V-Strom is a seriously clever motorcycle.
The first thing which strikes one, after five minutes riding, is that the 996cc V-Twin which powers the DL is one of the great motorcycle engines of all time. Considering that there are two enormous pistons banging away under the fuel tank it is electric smooth and effortless to use. Open the throttle and the bike accelerates. Open it some more and the DL goes quicker and quicker - and eventually rather fast indeed. It is utterly fuss-free and as willing a servant as ever inhabited a motorcycle chassis.
The eight-valve Twin of the DL puts out a claimed 98hp at 7600rpm. The engine was a deciding factor when Melling elected to purchase a V-Strom.
The original incarnation of the DL’s engine was a fire-breathing, 135 hp, Ducati 916 challenger. In the V-Strom, the eight-valve Twin has been dramatically re-tuned to give a very pleasant 98hp at only 7600 rpm. In the real world, the motor is never stressed. The gearbox is typically Suzuki
sweet and the hydraulic clutch as fuss free as the motor.
In truth, the motor sold the rest of the bike to me and an hour later I was filling in the sales forms.
If the motor convinced me that the DL was a bike to consider, then the value of the package actually got me to sign the order form. I opted for the GT version of the DL which has everything available in the Suzuki catalog as standard - with the notable exception of a rear hugger. Centerstand, heated grips, hand guards, adjustable screen, a full set of panniers and an enormous top box make up a comprehensive package and all for an on-the-road price of under $10k. Added to this, long-term servicing costs are very reasonable and it becomes easy to see why residual values are so solid.
That was 3000 miles ago and now I know a lot more about the DL and here is how I have learnt to love our 85% Suzuki
. Why 85%? Well, it is 85% as good as a hyper sportbike, a Grand Tourer, a back lanes’ scratcher and a big scooter. In fact, it’s probably 85% as good as a Golf buggy and a farm tractor too - I just don’t have the experience to judge.
The motor has proven to be even better than on first impressions. Using the overdrive sixth gear, a few revs over 4200rpm will waft you up the Interstate highways at 80mph and that’s as fast as I go in Britain where having your driving license suspended is a rather easy feat to achieve. Uphill, headwinds, two-up, fully loaded - it makes no difference. The creamy power is simply perfect and the ride rock solid.
In the more tolerant parts of Europe, the DL will lope along at 110mph all day. Not fast by Hayabusa standards but ample for me.
The V-Strom is a jack-of-all-trades in the motorcycle world, capable of filling numerous roles in one bike.
Drop it down a gear, rev the motor a bit, and suddenly it is not a bad sport-tourer. Take away all the radar cameras and the DL would slaughter fast State highways in the style of a VFR. Run the bike in fourth, and rev it to 8000, and suddenly you have a very perky back roads’ scratcher.
Is it possible to have visual handling? If so, the DL would rate very badly. It looks big and clumsy and the saddle height is tall at 33 inches. However, ride the bike and the story is very different. Again, it’s the 85% rule writ large.
I had the pleasure of riding the DL at the Darley Moor race circuit during a pre-event evaluation for a forthcoming classic race. Surprisingly, the DL can be pressed very hard indeed. The alloy beam chassis is excellent and with the hero blobs on the footrests sending showering sparks, the big DL whistled through Darley’s 100mph chicanes in a manner completely at odds with its staid appearance.
What stops the DL being outstanding are mediocre front forks which flex when the bike is ridden hard and dull brakes. With twin 310mm front discs, the bike ought to stop effortlessly. Instead, it takes a conscious effort and this spoils the riding experience.
If 85% is the DL’s normal score, in some respects it is a class leader. Despite its apparent size, the DL is light at 458 lbs - that’s nearly a full sack of potatoes more svelte than a BMW GS1200 - and is beautifully balanced. Anyone who can’t ride the bike to a complete stop, feet up really isn’t making an effort. Compared with the big BMW GS1200 and the old Triumph Tiger, the DL is dirt bike nimble.
It will, at a push, even manage some mild trail riding. Certainly not serious Enduro bog bashing but easily un-made Alpine passes and forestry fire roads.
It is also outstandingly comfortable. My wife - a full-sized woman, not a tiny thing - and I did a lap around the edge of Wales starting at our home on the English side of the border in the North-West of England. Eight hours and 438 mainly backroad miles later, we got home without a trace of an ache. This is no 85% comfort level but completely outstanding.
Also top notch is the fuel consumption. Expect 48mpg in brisk, but not desperate, riding and only slightly less two-up. On another trip to mid-Wales, I forgot to fill up in Newtown so when we arrived in Llandrindod Wells the fuel warning light was getting really stressed. That was 204 miles - with still a tiny amount of fuel left - so the DL will manage serious distances between re-fuelling.
The topcase held two Arai helmets, two pairs of gloves and a few assorted bits and pieces without difficulty.
Carol loves the top box. All her girl stuff goes in here so she can ride without a back pack. When we arrive, the box swallows two Arais, two pairs of gloves and few bits and pieces. Very convenient.
As well as faults, there are two irritations. All the DL forums complain about wind buffeting. Yes, it does exist but to avoid all wind noise it’s better to buy a car. The heated grips are rubbish too with the right-hand one running cold whilst the left hand grip sears the rider’s hand.
Against these niggles, I am looking forward to the long-term costs of ownership. I spent an essential $125 on a rear hugger but other than this I’ve just put fuel in the bike. The first service will cost me around $150 and it will be 15,000 miles before I have to fork out serious money to have the tappets checked. Now that’s what I call sensible motorcycling.
But here’s the really interesting thing: I’ve started to polish the DL. The truth is that the ugly duckling is such a willing worker, so keen to please and so completely competent that I have begun to develop a real affection for it - and that is a real surprise.
If you want a bike which is the supreme master of the universe within its chosen field - the DL is not for you. Should you be seeking a two-wheeled object of lust which brings a tingle to your loins as you walk past it - avoid the DL. However, if you want the best all round motorcycle in series production today - and the outstanding bargain - then look no further than the DL. And, after a couple of thousand miles, expect to fall in love.
* Talk about this article in the MotorcycleUSA Forum.