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California Scientific
4011 Seaport Blvd
West Sacramento, CA 95691

Suzuki V-Strom DL 650 Review

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4/10: I mounted my Nelson-Rigg touring saddlebags ($80 accwhse. com) and motoboss magnetic tankbag ($20, cyclegear. com). The front two magnets on the tank bag were a poor fit - the ears they were in were long enough that they missed the tank and fell on the front plastic. So, in LA I cut off the front ears and moved the magnets inboard in the tank bag. A friend sewed the bag shut again - you can't tell I've been in there, and it's a pretty good fit now. I wanted a tank bag to hold my electronics - cell phone, GPS, camera - and incidentals like water and lunch. The motoboss comes with front straps and fastex buckles too, which I think will prove essential in the dirt. I put some clear plastic over the muffler heat shield. You can get clear vinyl sticky-backed sheets anywhere that sells moto-x gear. This was important, without the vinyl my saddlebags would have worn through the coating on the muffler heat shield. The 650 heat shield is just a cute little piece of plastic.

Then I took off for LA. 250 miles of non-stop curves on Highway 49, 200 miles freeway, average about 48 mpg for the trip, and that on the slop they call gasoline in Californicator. No measurable oil consumption in 500 miles. Indicated 65-70 on Hwy 49 most of the time, 80-90 on I99 / I5. See Pashnit. com for pictures of 49. No one takes pictures of I5. I99 was immortalized in American Graffiti, but it's all lies. The truth is, suicide is an excellent alternative to spending time in Fresno or Bakersfield. That QB for the Houston Texans, I'll never understand how he survived four years at Cal St Fresno. I suspect he's some weird sort of Stepford Husband or something - I think there's some kind of mind control or something going on.

I found the bike was comfortable for about 8 hours, then the Butt Burn phenomenon set in big-time. I started looking for excuses to take a break and walk around for 10-15 minutes. The last two hours on the bike I stopped every hour for 15 minutes or so. Then I arrived at a friend's house, and promptly popped myself into his hot tub. Helpful hint: it's really good to have a hot tub waiting for you at the end of your day. I think I'll be re-shaping this seat a little bit.

It was about 65 degrees to 45 degrees during my ride. I found my new windshield worked pretty well in keeping my torso warm. I used my electric grips on and off, and they were very welcome. When the temperature dropped below about55 degrees, I found I was losing a lot of heat through my knees and thighs. The fairing protection below the waist is poor in colder weather. Maybe I'll see if I can do something easy about that. It doesn't look too hard to make a couple fairing wings that would pop on and off easily and give you decent wind protection down to mid-ankle.

5/02:Well, I have 2775 miles on my 650 now, and I have more to report.

My gas mileage has been pretty consistent. I drive like (as?) a maniac, getting about 1 speeding ticket every 18 months - that's the rate at which I can attend traffic school, so that's the rate at which I allow myself to be sloppy. My worst tank was riding into a non-stop 20mph head wind around Needles, CA - 44mpg. Otherwise, I'm getting 48 to 51mpg averaged over a tank. This means I can go about 275 to 290 miles on a tank. I imagine a more sane, law-abiding sort who kept the speed more in the 50-65 range would get 55mpg or so.

The stock seat is comfortable for about 90 minutes at a time, for about 6 hours a day or so, then you really need an extended break, like a long dinner. I've ordered some strange stuff, I'll be modifying my seat in the next couple weeks. I'll report back on that. I don't think this is hopeless.

I put on a new rear shock from Works Performance. This improved my rear suspension vastly. I think maybe I'll bring the shock back and get a slightly heavier spring - I'm not certain about this. I'm still working on setting up the shock. This is a dual-sport machine, at least the way I ride it, and so the suspension is of necessity a compromise. Best road performance would be significantly stiffer springs than I have. In any case, the rear harshness is completely gone now. It seems the stock shock had two problems: a spring that was too stiff, and too much high speed compression damping. You should be able to get a replacement spring from HyperPro. com for about $100. Roughly speaking, the stock spring is about a 470 pound spring. More appropriate is something more like about 410 pounds. Those numbers should be taken as a guideline, I didn't measure them myself.

After replacing the rear shock, the front forks really stood out as being too harsh. I cut three coils off each of the springs, raising them from roughly . 75kg/mm to roughly . 84kg/mm. This made a big difference on the street - the bike's tendency to dive on the brakes and pitch through corners as you get on and off the brakes and throttle are greatly reduced. However, due to my softer rear shock, I think my bike probably pitches now more than yours. I did not change the damping in the front forks. One thing at a time. The front end is still over-damped on high-speed compression, but this is now a nuisance rather than a limitation. I did hit a couple rocks that gave me a pretty good jolt, however.

Now that the bike's suspension is behaving better, I find I'm going about 5-10mph faster on fire roads. Places I used to take in 2nd gear at 2000 - 4000 rpm I'm now taking at 2500 - 5500 rpm. This is a bit of a two-edged sword, however. While the ride is much smoother, the limit on speed is now the tires. On Jeopardy, if the answer were"Bridgestone Trailwings," the question would be "What will drop you on your butt in mud or sand faster than you can say 'Knobby'?"

VStrom in Washington

I tried to ride up into the Sierras again today, and got stopped again by snow. There was a section of the road shaded by trees, with snow the width of the roadway, maybe 8" deep, and maybe 50 feet long. There were tire tracks from a pickup truck that went through before me. I put myself into the track, and off I went. For about 20 feet. The road was on about a 5% grade, and I was unable to maintain forward momentum. I wound up stopped, spinning my rear tire like a drag slick on bleach, except no flames. Because of the grade, I was able to easily paddle the bike backwards 20 feet, turn around, and head back downhill.

VStrom in Washington

I have previously posted of these tires' limitations in mud, and a few other people have stepped forwards and offered stories of how they got into mud and got stopped, then tipped over. If you're looking for a bike to ride in snow and/or mud, this is not your bike. I suppose you could put some sort of semi-knobby on it, but then it would suck on the road. I think if you want to be able to ride in any conditions, a more off-road oriented bike like a DR, KLR or an XRL is a better choice. If you ride this bike aggressively off-road, in corners you're very aware of the front end squirming around in all but the best traction, and any kind of aggressive throttle at all spins the rear wheel. It would not be at all hard to get over-confident on this bike on a fire road and get yourself in real trouble.

Speaking of which, a few months ago when the 650 was announced by Suzuki, about 20 journalists were given bikes to ride through Joshua Tree. One of these guys apparently got very enthusiastic off-road, and wound up being air-lifted out. His girlfriend put up a web page with a dozen or so pictures of his wounds and casts, and some pointed remarks about his whining. Seems he lives on the least coast, and this desert fire-road thing was new to him.

The bike continues to be very creditable on road. I spent a couple hours being chased by an experienced rider on a Honda ST1300 through the hills near Death Valley, and again near Oakhurst. He was unable to keep up with me unless he could surpass about 90 on the straights, at which point the double-sized engine really gave him a serious advantage.

I put some Nelson-Rigg soft saddlebags on the bike, and I liked them a lot. They kept their shape, and hold a whole bunch of stuff. Also, at $80, they're a real bargain. The only downside is that the left side bag is unsupported and hangs at an angle. I think I'll make some kind of saddlebag support bracket for the left side. On the right side, I put some clear vinyl tape over the heat shield to protect it, and the bag hung very nicely, staying right where I had put it. Personally, I don't think the $800 Kappa / Suzuki hard bags would be a very good choice for this bike. Too expensive, and too fragile in a fall.

On a several day ride through the desert I had the bike in many different wind conditions. This bike is not a lot of fun in a cross wind, but then no bike is. The 720 pound ST1300 does offer a bit more stability, but only a bit, nothing really remarkable.

I don't think the 650 would be a very good choice for an extended 2-up tour. I think going 80-85 mph on the freeways of the west with a passenger for 600 miles a day would be too much to ask of this bike. I think if you want to tour cross-country with a passenger, the 1000 would be a better choice. However, 1-up, I would not hesitate to take this bike from California to Nova Scotia. I have done a couple 500 mile days with substantial portions at 80-85, and it's just not an issue.

Conversely, I don't think the 1000 would be as easy to ride off-road as this is. I think the extra 50hp would be harder to control, and the extra 50 pounds would be very unwelcome.

Riding into Palm Springs with about a 25 mph tailwind, my buddy on the aforementioned ST1300 wanted to rub my nose in my tiny motor, so he took off. I saw an indicated 135mph, likely about 123-125 true. He failed to lose me. Later, however, on flat freeway near Joshua Tree with no wind, it seemed to me the bike's top speed was more like 115 or so.

Personally, I like the engine a lot. It's very smooth, and for 1-up it makes about the right amount of power. If you want to play racer boy, you can, but you're at 8, 000 - 10, 000 rpm. At these speeds, the engine howl is very satisfying. At about 100mph, 4th gear is topped out and it's all over. These stories of guys on an R1 going 120 in 2nd gear and pulling a wheelie as they speed-shift into 3rd, well, that's just not going to happen on this bike, nor is the television audition on Fox as the police scramble to get you. I spend some years on GSXR-1100s, and this bike is more fun. Fewer religious experiences, however: on the GSXR, Jesus is there in most corners, and he's got a personal message for you. With this bike, you just ride and have fun.

So, for the intended use of 90% street 10% dirt, I think this bike is a pretty good compromise, save for the junk rear shock. It would be really nice if there was a $200 alternative, but about $450 is the least you'll pay for are placement. In the dirt the limitations are severe compared to a true dirt bike, but a true dirt bike can't touch this thing on pavement or for all-day comfort.

More pictures at Washington.html.

5/25/05, one year later: I'm using a Works Performance Ultra rear shock. It's excellent, fully adjustable. It took me a few days to get it adjusted where I like it and I haven't touched it since. In the front I've cut 3 coils off my springs, instructions on my page. The forks are still a bit harsh, but the stiffer springs have slowed them down enough that it's just a minor annoyance now, I'm not sufficiently motivated to tear open my forks and redo the damping. I've modified my seat, pictures and instructions on my page. I've done several 600 mile days on the bike, and it's ok - it's not a luxo-cruiser, but it's acceptable. I'm using one of my windshields, which makes a huge decrease in noise and buffeting.

I have the Suzuki OEM hand guards, which are cute but not all that effective. I added grip heaters from, I love having heated grips in the winter. Little muffler mice have eaten a few small holes in my exhaust, instructions on my page. I like my bikes to sound like bikes, not sewing machines. With this mod I can't hear the bike on the freeway, but around town it has just a bit of a bark to it. I'm using Plasma Ultra-White bulbs, $15/pr at Walmart. These are quite noticeably brighter than stock - a good thing in the mountains at night. I have used Sylvania SilverStar bulbs, about $50/pr, and the Plasmas are basically identical in light output and longevity.

I bought a GIVI-alike 35 liter trunk at EBay for $53, $75 including tax and shipping. It took a couple hours to mount it up the way I liked it - I had to modify the mounting bracket a little bit with a nibbler (see Tools section) to get it to fit the stock Suzuki luggage rack without modifying the Suzuki rack. It's a nice little trunk. I went to Radio Shack and bought four stereo control knobs for $3, and epoxied a trunk key into one. The knob is visible in the picture below, it's the little chromy round thing in the lower center of the trunk. I don't like to carry more keys than I have to. I made a support bracket for the saddlebags, it's quite unobtrusive when the bags are off the bike. I can remove the saddlebags, trunk, and tank bag in under 1 minute, leaving very little behind to indicate they mount up. It take about 2 minutes to put them back on.

I use Rotella synthetic, changed every 5k miles, and I use EMGO or AMSOil filters, changed at the same time. My stock chain died at about 11k miles; front tire at 11, 500 miles; rear tire at 14, 500 miles. These numbers are typical. I now have an Anakee in the front and another OEM Deathwing on the rear. I don't feel any difference between the Anakee and the stock Deathwing. I've had no problems with the bike, and I expect none. I expect to ride the bike another year or two, then give it to my son.

I get about 46-48 mpg fairly routinely. One rider has switched to Metzeler ME880 tires running at 55psi and a 17 tooth countershaft sprocket, and he claims 52-55 mpg at 80mph on LA freeways. These tires are long lasting, but worthless in the dirt - you would do this only if you're strictly a street rider.

I recommend this bike without reservation as a commuter, an around town bike, and a light duty on or off road tourer. For 2-up or trips of more than 1500 miles, I think the VStrom 1000 would be a better choice. For dirt and shorter trips, I think the lighter weight of the 650 makes it a better choice. If you think you're going to hit a lot of mud or sand, I would recommend a Honda, Kawasaki, or Suzuki 650 single as a better choice - the VStroms really don't do well in mud or sand, they're just too heavy.

4/5/11, six years later: My VStrom now has 79,000 miles on it. Several months ago we switched over to the BalesTech oil filter adaptor, and we're now using Supertech ST7317 oil filters. I put on about the first 39,000; my son Richard did the remaining 40,000. We've had only one failure in that time, and that was Richard's fault: he now knows the rear axle has to be really tight, or bad things happen to chains etc. We're selling it. It's been a very reliable ride for Richard for the last 4 years. He's a junior in college now. We picked him up a new 2009 Versys - the Kawasaki version of this bike.

8/29/05: My Vstrom. Bike shown loaded up for a 1 week trip. I left immediately after taking these pictures. That's my laptop on the passenger seat. I'd take this bike across the continent like this, pavement optional. At the time of this writing, I have 19,200 miles on the bike. Zero problems.

VStrom VStrom

VStrom VStrom

Vstrom and Accessories
Item Price
Suzuki DL650 VStrom $6,525
Fenda Extenda $30
Plasma Ultra-White Headlight Bulbs $15
Lockhart Flush Mount Turn Signals $17
Cut 3 coils off fork springs $5
Suzuki Hand Guards $35
Symtec Heated Grips $30
California Scientific Windshield $185
Motoboss Tank Bag $20
Tempur Foam pad in seat $15
MoTech Crash Bars $135
Sprocket Specialists 17t countershaft$10
Nelson-Rigg SB900 Touring Bags $80
EBay GIVI-alike Trunk $75
Calsci Saddlebag Support Bracket $40
Drilled Holes in Muffler $0
Works Performance Ultra Shock $800
Total Price (excl. shock) $7217
Total Price (incl. shock) $8017

8/9/06: I have 26,000 miles on the bike. Zero problems. I've switched to a 17t countershaft sprocket. I'm consistently getting 52-54 mpg. At $3.10 / gallon, I'm pretty happy with that.