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Suzuki V-Strom DL 650 Review

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VStrom

Warning: Suzuki does not honor warranties!

I have bought 14 new Suzukis, which you might think would make me a good customer of theirs. Here's my story:

  1. 1st Suzuki I bought, brakes went out at 3000 miles. I was coming down a mountain road, and trashed my rotors from metal to metal contact. The calipers didn't release and the brakes were always dragging. The warranty guys told me, "Brakes aren't covered. That's normal wear and tear."
  2. 3rd Suzuki I bought, 2000 miles, at 72mph on straight level concrete would go into tank slappers (that's a front end wobble where your handlebars are slamming from full left stop to full right stop and back about three times per second). The dealer's head mechanic rode the bike and came back with a white face. He called Suzuki for permission to work on the bike, and was told by the factory "The state speed limit is 55. Keep the bike over the weekend, don't do anything to it, and tell him it's fixed."
  3. 12th Suzuki, DL650, delivered with triple clamps (front fork attachment, these keep the front wheel on) and rear brake calipers loose, never tightly attached to the bike.
  4. 13th Suzuki, DR200 for son #2, at 1000 miles the tail light and rear turn signals fell off the bike, it seems they don't remember how to tighten screws.
  5. 14th Suzuki, DR200 for son #1, at 1000 miles the tail light and rear turn signals fell off the bike. At 3000 miles the front brakes wore out, the calipers never released. Suzuki factory told me "Normal wear and tear, brakes aren't covered." At 4400 miles the cam chain broke stranding my son on the way home from school. The front brakes are also worn out again.

Ask anyone in the industry, they'll be happy to tell you that Suzuki is famous for trying to save money on warranty claims. Suzukis are fun bikes to ride, but heaven help you if you get one of the 20% that needs warranty work.

I picked up my new DL650 March 22 '04. I paid $6525 out the door at Apex Suzuki in Auburn, CA. I popped it into the back of my pickup and drug it home. Immediately went over my bike carefully. I wound up loosening the chain, and tightening the triple clamps and rear brake caliper, plus moving all the controls. New Bike Checklist in the menus to the left. Then I went out and rode like (as?) a madman to break it in. The "no more than 4,000 rpm for the first 1,000,000 miles" stuff, I'm really not into that at all. I'm a big believer in breaking them in hard and fast.

I rode 70 miles on various highways to break in the upper end, changed the oil, and off I went to see what the bike would really do. I changed to Rotella synthetic ($13/gallon, Walmart) and tightened the chain a bit. Break in oil was full of metal. Go figger.

I have about 120 miles on the bike now.

A bit about me: I'm 48, this is my 27th motorcycle. I have about 477,000 miles motorcycle experience. I used to race in the desert, but that was in the '70s. My previous bike was a Honda ST1300, my previous dirt bike was a Suzuki DR350. I live in Nevada City CA, in the foothills of the Sierras.

I think the DL is reasonably comfortable. The seat is not bad - not great, but not bad. I don't see any problem with putting 500 miles on in a day. I think I'll be taking the seat apart to reshape the foam a bit - I think it's a bit too flat and needs to be dished out in the center maybe 1/2".

The power is very adequate. Around town I find myself shifting a lot - it's not a 1000, after all - but there's no problem breaking the speed limit pretty much anytime anywhere. Acceleration in the bottom 4 gears is very snappy. Although the red line is 10, 500 rpm, the power is pretty much over at 10, 000 rpm. This translated into about 45mph, 60mph, 80mph, and 100mph in 1st through 4th. In 5th and 6th gear power is just fine for passing on the freeway, but you're not going to drop any jaws.

The engine is very smooth. It's a v-twin, so there's always a certain amount of vibration in the handlebars, but it's never objectionable. At 60mph you can cruise in 4th, 5th, or 6th gear, and it all feels about the same - in my experience, this is a sign of a very well built motor. In 4th gear at 60, you're doing 6, 000 rpm and power is immediate and ample.

The suspension is a bit on the cheap side. The front fork is a bit under sprung for street use, and has too much compression damping so it's a bit harsh. This is all easily and cheaply fixable. I expect to tear into my forks sometime this year and improve things. It should be about a 3 hour job, $15-20 to get these forks working very well. They're quite close, we're not talking major surgery here. The rear shock, on the other hand, is pretty much hopeless. There's 'way too much compression damping, resulting in a harsh ride on and off road. I found the shock objectionable even on Interstate 80. The rear shock is welded shut, so there won't be any revalving or rebuilding I think.

Passenger accommodations are so-so. There's a fair amount of wind on the passenger, but very little turbulence. Lots of leg room, but the smooth, flat seat and lack of backrest mean my passenger complained of sliding backwards. Some kind of passenger backrest would be very important, I think, for a long ride.

For the rider, I thought things were pretty good. In warmer weather, I would be willing to ride this bike pretty much as-is across the country. In colder weather the lack of wind protection on your arms and legs would be a very limiting factor. I expect this bike would be difficult to ride for any substantial length of time in temperatures below about 50 degrees. To improve this situation a bit, I expect in the near future I'll be adding plastic hand guards, a wider windshield, electric grips, and plugs for electric vests. My hope is that this will make the bike ridable down to about 40 degrees.

The stock fairing / windshield combination is so-so. From the waist up to about throat level, you're in reasonably still air. The transition from still air to high speed air happens in about the middle of your face shield. There is, unfortunately, a fair amount of turbulence and helmet noise. Another limit in the aerodynamics is in size: there's really no coverage at all for your arms and legs. I rode with the shield in the middle position.

I don't know how much electrical power the alternator puts out. The main fuse is 30 amps, which is not very reassuring. I'm working on the assumption that I can draw 100 watts - frankly, I don't know if this is true or not. While cruising, the lights alone draw 125 watts. Putting a switch on one low beam would lower this by 55 watts.

Off road, the tires have surprisingly decent grip. I road on Purdon Crossing, a tight unpaved and unmaintained mountain road. I'm not certain you could safely take a Honda Civic over this road, but any car with 6" or more of ground clearance would have no big problem, at least if you go slow. On this road, the DL acquitted itself admirably. I found a few limiting factors, which all seemed to line up together. So, I don't think it would be very easy to make this bike substantially more dirt worthy.

Purdon Crossing consists of about 50-80 corners linked by 50-100 yard long straits, punctuated by a very old wood bridge across the Yuba River. I rode most of the 15 miles or so in 2nd gear - I found that this gear worked well from about 2, 000 rpm to about 4, 000 rpm, which is about 12 to 25 mph. I used 1st gear for a couple of 8-10mph switchbacks, and I used 3rd gear a couple times on some longer, smoother straights.

This being my first day on a new bike, I didn't push very hard in corners. That said, the front end was very stable and stuck well. On straights, I opened it up a bit more. I found the bike remained very stable, with very little reaction to ruts or rocks. At no time did I feel out of control, and at no time did I need to use a foot to keep the bike on track.

Here's some limits I ran into: it was pretty much impossible to lift the front wheel to wheelie over bumps - there simply wasn't enough traction available to do this. The front forks handled bumps reasonably well, the spring rate not so bad for off road, and the compression damping not causing any major problems at these speeds. However, the rear shock handled things poorly indeed: the excessive compression damping causes a definite limit on the speed at which you can take rough terrain. You get to about 25, maybe 30 mph, and any kind of rock or bump is transmitted right through to the bike, making you very aware of all this plastic stuff held on by cute little nylon fasteners. As noted above, if you replace the rear shock with something more functional, you'll quickly find yourself speed limited by the compression damping on the front forks, the plastic bits all over the bike, and finally the cast wheels, which really are not a great selection for a 420 pound bike travelling off-road.

If you wanted a new rear shock, my best information at this time is you can use a WP shock, available for as little as $400. A Works Performance or Ohlins shock is going to be more like $700 - $800.

Coming home on Highway 49, I opened it up. To make good time you have to spin the motor - the power works best from about 6, 000 to 9, 000 rpm. In this range, you can really move - I would have no problem keeping up with a GSXR on this road up to 90mph. One must, of course, keep this in perspective: this is a mountain road with a bit of sand, gravel, and the occasional deer, so one cannot ride at 100% if one wishes to have any chance at all of ever collecting social security. On a race track a modern sport bike would trash the DL.

Suzuki seems to indicate that the Kappa hard bag system will be available for this bike. I don't know that this would be a great choice for off-road luggage, given how harsh the rear shock is. I expect to make some brackets for my DL, and then mount soft saddlebags.

Overall, I'm pleased with my purchase. I expect I'll be buying about $500 worth of accessories - boots, soft saddlebags, crash bars, skid plate - and I'll have a bike that will be great for touring fire roads in the Rockies and Sierras, and through the Moab and Mojave deserts.

I have not ridden a DL1000 or an R1150GS, so I cannot comment on how this bike compares to those, except to note that I don't at this instant see what the extra 50 pounds and $2500 to $7500 gets you. I suppose if I wanted the bike primarily for sport-touring, the DL1000 power and hard luggage would be pretty compelling, but I already have aST1300 if I want to ride to Halifax.

3/28: I have about 500 miles on my bike now. At 500 miles I changed the oil & filter (more Rotella, NAPA Gold 1359filter). Very small amount of metal in the oil. I replaced my front turn signals with Lockhart flush mount signals. I had broken my right turn signal by tipping over in some 5" deep mud. Turns out this is not such a great bike in deep mud. I also mounted my Symtec heated grips ($30, CaSportTouring. com) and made a new windshield, 1" taller, 5"wider than stock, mounted in the middle position. The windshield was a good first step, there's somewhat reduced turbulence and considerably better wind protection on your shoulders / upper arms. The stock windshield has a forwards curve near the top - I really dislike those. Mine is curved backwards along the entire length, and has an increased opening at the bottom for pressure relief.

I've been on it for a couple hours non-stop, the seat is acceptable but not world-class.

Off road, the rear shock continues to be a major limiting factor. I'll be doing something about this within a few weeks. The bike likes gravel roads pretty well. Rocks are tolerated. Mud, um, this is not the greatest stuff to ride in with these tires.

Vstrom offroad

I went out for a couple hours off-road today. I got stopped on my original intended path by snow - it had just rained here Thursday and Friday, which was snow above about 4000 feet. So, I turned around and took a different road, Tyler-Foote crossing.

There was about 3 miles of road that was downhill, in the shade, and mud. I was following some people in a Subaru station wagon who were leaving quite deep ruts. I could not keep up with them in the mud - previously in the rocky part, I came up on them at a pretty good clip, but just as I got to them the road turned to mud and they pulled away. Finally, the mud got to about 5" deep, and in a corner one of the tire ruts finally got me. I tipped over. Damage: right front turn signal is toast, nothing else damaged. I keep my levers a bit loose, so the front brake lever /mirror turned on the handlebars a bunch but nothing broke. I just pushed it back. I have Motech crash bars on order, but they're not here yet.

I picked up the bike, and the FI light was flashing. Helpful hint: when the FI light is flashing, the bike will not start. I figured this out after about a minute of futile efforts. Turn the key off, turn it back on, and everything's fine. Bill Gates has trained us well for this: when in doubt, boot.

Vstrom offroad

No further incidences after that, I just drove around. I was wearing MX boots, which are a big plus if you're going off-road. The feeling of security when you put a foot down is really nice. However, I had to raise my shift lever one spline worth to be able to fit my foot under it.

On the way out on Highway 49 I got briefly into a pack of GSXRs / R1s / R6s. I blew past them at about mach . 13. They didn't even try to keep up. Why you would head to a mountain road on a race replica then drive like you're on aHarley is beyond me. Maybe they were afraid of being dusted by a 650 with dual sport tires and high handlebars. Well, no need to fear: they got dusted.

My bike and boots are covered with mud, now. I find I kinda like that.

More pictures at TylerCrossing.html.

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