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What it's Like to Crash a Motorcycle

“Damn it. John Burns thinks I’m a dick.”
That was one of the predominant thoughts going through my head as I slid down a Florida highway at 60 mph back in March.
It’s weird how the mind works. Time slows in a crash. Every tiny image burns into memory, so your brain can replay it over and over and over at night for the next who knows how many weeks.
In the moments before I crashed, I was riding the Harley-Davidson Street Rod along County Road 34 in central Florida. I’m not sure which county. The accident report simply records it as “County Code 61,” but the internet can’t agree on which county that is. Maybe I was in Indian River County; maybe I was in Suwannee County; maybe I was in Flagler County; I don’t know. I guess it doesn’t matter; I was somewhere. The road passing through that somewhere was long and straight – not the sort of place where one usually crashes – and the weather was perfect.

“My God, I am so happy,” I was thinking. “I am so incredibly lucky to be here – to live t…

Ride Review: Suzuki V-Strom 1000 Adventure


When I posted a picture of the Suzuki V-Strom 1000 Adventure on my Instagram account, I took some inspiration from Dylan Thomas (a) and described the bike as a "lovely ugly machine." On reflection, though, I feel that's just a tiny bit unfair.

Certainly, the V-Strom 1000 isn't as ugly as, say, the Triumph Tiger Explorer. Though, it's certainly not sexy, either. Perhaps it's more accurate to say the V-Strom 1000 Adventure looks dopey. It looks like a dumb animal. A big, dumb animal that is inexplicably, oddly ingratiating.

Let's start with the admission, though, that this is not an offroad animal. There's a caveat to that statement, which I'll get to, but by and large if you are looking for something with which to tackle the Trans-America Trail, this probably isn't it. Instead, it's part of the newish adventure-touring class of machines: bikes that look offroady but aren't really supposed to go off road. Think the Yamaha MT-09 Tracer, the Honda Crossrunner, the Kawasaki Versys 1000 and the Triumph Tiger XR. They're sport-tourers for riders who don't want to spend all day in the fetal position; or tourers for people who don't want to look like senior citizens.

Just as was the case with the SUV trend roughly a decade ago, I feel people are drawn to the adventure-touring class not because of ambitions to traverse the Alaska Range but because of the bikes' ergonomics, oomph, and relative comfort.

The caveat is that you can actually ride the thing across Mongolia if you are so inclined –– with no modifications but the tires. UK-based Bike magazine rode one from England to Japan last year, taking in a 15-country route that included the infamous Pamir Highway and the Mongolian steppe. The Big Strom (or, should it be Beeg-Strom?) proved surprisingly adept at tackling the challenge and garnered praise and respect from the three moto-journalists who rode the different legs of its 14,000-mile journey to the Japanese factory where it was made.

But, you know, really, you wouldn't normally choose a 228 kg motorcycle for remote off roading –– especially one with a plastic bash plate. If you're considering a V-Strom 1000 Adventure, you should just come to terms with that. It's a road bike.


But on the road it's a damned good bike. Especially if you like torque. Running a 1,037-cc V-twin engine, the Big Strom is a torque sandwich: two slices of torque with a pile of torquey torqueness squished between. And all of that torque comes pretty instantly –– roughly 79 lb. ft. at 4,000 rpm. Turn off the traction control and the bike serves as a ridiculous wheelie machine.

Along with your torque sandwich, you get a nice tall glass of horsepower, with the Big Strom delivering about 100 bhp at 8,000 rpm (some reviews I've seen claim it hits 115 bhp). Riding the thing, I found myself reminded just a bit of two of my favourite test rides of all time: the Harley-Davidson Sportster 1200 and the Triumph Bonneville, All the superhero oomph of the Harley, with the usability of the Triumph. But with an engine that doesn't even notice if you carry a passenger or are seeking to make progress on a motorway. The V-Strom 1000 is the bike those other two bikes should be.

Meanwhile, in terms of amenities and features, the V-Strom 1000 knocks those other two out of the park. There's the aforementioned traction control, for instance. Being a generally pansy rider, I'll admit that I don't rank traction control as a must. But, I have had one or two bum-clenching moments when encountering the manure that is ubiquitous on Welsh country roads and I live in a country where it rains all the time, so I certainly wouldn't turn my nose up at such a feature.

ABS is standard, of course. In reviews I've read where the moto-journalist is hell bent on trying to off road the V-Strom 1000 they like to point out that ABS cannot be shut off. But that's an irrelevant point as far as I'm concerned. You might as well complain about not being able to shut off the headlight. On the road, there's never any need to do such a thing. Especially considering how unobtrusive it is. I had to put real effort into getting the ABS system to trigger. Ride like you're supposed to and you'll never notice it's there.

The dashboard is loaded with information: two trip meters, a fuel gauge, range to empty, average MPG and instant MPG, time, ambient temperature and so on. Not to mention a nice, big gear indicator. The tachometer is analog but all other info is digital. Riding through a tunnel clued me into the fact that the dashboard looks really cool at night. And pushing buttons at random taught me that switching all the info from miles to kilometres is super-mega easy: a handy feature if you're the sort of person who's keen to do a lot of riding in Europe (b), or an American wanting to visit Canada. Or vice versa.

Just below the dash is a handy 12v outlet, placed where you actually want a 12v outlet to be if you're using a satnav, phone or heated gear. Often manufacturers put their 12v plug under the seat or in top boxes, which almost defeats the point of having such a feature. Usefully, the dashboard readout also lets you know power usage.


Overall, wind protection on the Big Strom is good, though the windscreen leaves something to be desired if –– like me –– you are 6 foot 1.

Being relatively tall, I had no problems getting both feet flat on the pavement at stops. I've read reviews by people who are 5 foot 9 and also had no trouble touching down. Shorter and taller seats are available.

Annoyingly, the foot pegs are placed exactly where my legs would naturally want to go at a stop. At first that meant I had to awkwardly stick my feet forward and out to keep from banging my legs against the pegs when touching down. Then I discovered the pegs have springs and push back easily against my calves. After a few attempts it felt pretty natural.

Not that I needed to put my feet down very often. The V-Strom 1000 is ridiculously stable. I've always prided myself on how long I can keep my feet up at a crawl on the Honda CBF600SA, but the Big Strom –– a heavier, taller bike –– beats it without even trying. If I were into running gymkhana courses this would be my bike of choice. The Suzuki wears its weight well. It doesn't feel like the big bike that it is. That's true even when muscling it around.

It's a neat trick, because the bike definitely has presence. Though it's not as car-wide as a KTM 1050 Adventure its girth manages to command a modicum of respect from other road users that you won't get when on a CBF600SA. Part of that comes, I think, as a result of the V-Strom's headlight, which throws a lot of light. Indeed, I got the sense that the headlight was intimidating one or two drivers.

Throwing around that weight and presence in curves comes easy, thanks to the bike's shockingly good suspension. The suspension is fully adjustable, though I found everything to be fantastic without any tinkering. Matched with the wide handlebars, it makes for a very confident and secure ride. At spirited motorway speeds, meanwhile, the V-Strom 1000 is rock solid and not at all stressed. Cruising at 80 mph brought the tachometer up to just above 4,000 rpm. Its red line is 10,000 rpm. I can't imagine how or why you would ever get close to red lining the thing.

By keeping things normal, it's possible to get roughly 250 miles from the Suzuki's 20-litre fuel tank, which is far longer than my bladder will hold out. But the bike's big seat is comfy enough to support all those miles. Pillion accommodation is especially roomy and superior to that provided on bikes against which I'd compare the V-Strom 1000 –– except the Kawasaki Versys 1000, where the seat size is similar.


Though, before you go inviting a special guy or gal to join you on a cross-country tour you'll want to first get to grips with the Big Strom's throttle and transmission. First and second gear are particularly agricultural. The bike is equipped with a slipper clutch but that doesn't help when you're going up the gears. Getting it quickly up the gears –– say, when accelerating onto a motorway –– can be a jerky experience. This is exacerbated by the bike's touchy throttle. I feel both issues can be overcome, though with applied finesse. Indeed, I was starting to get the hang of things toward the end of my ride.

The front brakes are just a tad bitey, but I suppose I'd prefer that over the alternative. It's nice to be able to stop.

Overall, the V-Strom 1000 is a quality machine. Especially since Suzuki has come to its senses and reduced the bike's price in the UK by £1,000. Before that, the bike's price tag was causing people to compare it against things like the BMW R1200GS, KTM 1190 Adventure and Triumph Tiger Explorer. And against those more powerful, more tech-loaded machines the V-Strom 1000 Adventure looks a little weak.

Specs-wise, it is much more competitive against the bikes I mentioned at the top of this post: Yamaha MT-09 Tracer (Yamaha FJ-09 in the United States), Honda Crossrunner (aka VFR800X), Kawasaki Versys 1000 and Triumph Tiger XR. I think it's a matter of individual preference as to which one of those is best. I personally lean in favour of the Suzuki.

That said, it's not a perfect motorcycle.

The biggest flaw for me is that windscreen. The V-Strom 1000 has a really nifty feature that allows you to easily adjust the windscreen's angle whilst riding, but no position was able to subdue the wind noise. It's a problem that can be fixed with aftermarket solution, but it's annoying to have to put in the work that Suzuki should have done in the first place.

Another problem that might have owners turning to the aftermarket is the dearth of space in the panniers. Suzuki have developed a very clever set of panniers that fit the bike's frame really well, but at the expense of usable space. Combined, the panniers on the V-Strom 1000 Adventure offer just 39 litres of space. The right pannier loses most of its capacity making room for the bike's exhaust. It would hold a bottle of wine and some spare gloves, but not a whole hell of a lot more. Neither pannier is wide enough inside to fit a laptop. My fullface BMW Sport helmet does not fit in the larger (left side) pannier, though I suspect some helmets might just squeeze in.

The V-Strom 1000 Adventure has parking lights, which is a feature I don't quite understand the point of. The feature allows you to leave the bike's lights on without having to leave the key in the ignition. I can't think of a scenario where this would be something I'd want to do. And unfortunately, the parking light setting is right next to the steering lock setting. So, it's easy to set the parking lights by accident. Which is what I did. Fortunately, I wasn't away from the bike for long, else I would have returned to a dead battery.

Also light-related is the awkward placing of the high beam switch. I found that in bringing my index finger back off the clutch lever I'd sometimes catch the switch and accidentally turn on the brights. Considering the already powerful nature of the bike's headlight, hitting the high beam caused drivers of cars in front of me to go into convulsions.


So, with all that said, let's get to the three questions I ask of every motorcycle I test ride:

1) Does it fit my current needs/lifestyle?
Yes. The traction control and offroad-inspired durability are ideal for tackling awful British roads on a year-round basis. Whereas the power, low-RPM cruisability and top notch suspension make it exactly the sort of machine I'd want on a long European road trip.

2.) Does it put a grin on my face?
Yes. I'll admit it didn't right away, but twisting the throttle changes your mind instantly. It performs and handles so well I am reminded of the Chameleon XLE –– the spoof car from an old SNL sketch designed to look like crap and prevent people from knowing how good it really is. Or, you know, it could be that no one at Suzuki knows how to design a bike that's aesthetically pleasing. Based on all of Suzuki's other models, that's probably more correct.

3) Is it better than my Honda CBF600SA?
Yes. So much better that I traded in the Honda and bought a brand new V-Strom 1000 Adventure. All the pictures in the post of the bike next to the River Severn are pictures of my new bike on the day I rode it home.

Yeah, I know: way to bury the news, right? I got a new bike. I'll write about the experience of getting her, and how I came to choose her –– despite some serious reservations –– in a future post.

––––––––––––––––––––

(a) Dylan Thomas famously described his hometown of Swansea, Wales, as an "ugly, lovely town." Swansea is, of course, my least favourite place, so I'm inclined to drop the bit about it being "lovely."

(b) For those of you playing along in the United States, Britain uses miles per hour whereas the rest of Europe travels in kilometres.

Comments

  1. Nice looking bike, and congrats on getting it. Funny, but I had long thought the DL1000 would be great choice for you.

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  2. Congrats on the new bike!

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  3. Interesting outcome bearing in mind the disadvantages you point out. Though saying that they're not too much of an issue. We all have things we hate about our machines, I could say three about mine without hesitation. However, I myself won't change it soon (maybe that's what marriage is like).

    I'd better be on the lookout for you on your new wheels when I'm out and about. It's a formidable looking bike that is for definite.

    Just for your curiosity, the whole point of the parking light (or the pilot light when you're actually moving) is to inform others that it is parked. It helps too to lessen a the impact (because others would know) if it is parked in a difficult or dangerous location in the night. And for a time although that went out of use, lots of people used them to inform other users of your direction of park when facing against traffic. Interestingly, I don't know how long the illumination lights would last on a fair condition battery. Regardless, in that period a motorcycle would have had a kick start and the electrical generation would be through a magneto (and the system would be called 'self-exciting'). This would negate the need for a battery at all for the engine to run, and thus not matter if it is flat, because once moving the battery will get charged again without any ill effect when running.

    Another interesting note that has gone out of use is that in the night, when there are street lights in the cities/town it was often the case that road users merely use the pilot lights when driving about. I personally would like that trend to come back to a certain extent. Headlights are somewhat unnecessary as most can see perfectly with help of the street lamps, the pilot lights are to allow you to be seen by others and that you are driving. Headlights, especially on modern cars are extremely powerful when you're on the wrong side of them. Ironically, this last point contradicts my first about parking lights.

    Anyway, well done on the new bike! If you want to experience some bad roads in your area.. I commute to Newport and I typically use the Rover Way road (past the steel works) and follow Lamby Way and the B4239 through the Industrial estates and past the Gypsy camps. Try those roads... Awwwwwwful! :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh yeah, I know that route. I used to teach in Caerleon many moons ago and would sometimes drive that way home. I'm convinced they make it so awful out of spite against the gypsies.

      The disadvantages of the V-Strom aren't many if, like me, you have no intention of taking it off road. Basically, my only real complaints are that the windscreen and the panniers are too small. The first issue can be resolved by a £40 Puig screen, the second issue can be alleviated by the Kriega bag my wife gave me for my birthday. All other issues are minor and will probably not be things I notice after a few hundred more miles of riding.

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  4. Congratulations man, a great choice for you I think. I wish you many, many years of happy riding around with your significant other. It isn't the most beautiful bike around, but as i said before, the wildlife does't care what you look like and nor should you. It seems like it's got everything you want and need, so it's a match made in heaven.
    I must ask though, this doesn't mean the end of your ride reviews does it? The 'what I want sections' and ride reviews are always so insightful and interesting, surely this can't be the end? Say it isn't so!

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    Replies
    1. Definitely not. Owning a motorcycle isn't a marriage. There's no monogamy when it comes to bikes. I am always up for riding any bike I can -- even if I have no intention of buying it. Equally, just because I have a new bike doesn't stop me from daydreaming about other ones.

      Summer's coming up, and that's when manufacturers have all sorts of test ride events. I'll be going to as many as I can (I'm really upset because I'll be missing a KTM event this weekend because friends are in town visiting).

      Delete
  5. That's a sweet bike! Congrats!

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  6. Congrats on the new bike. I was somewhat hoping, you'd sit tight until the Bonneville comes with ABS in '16, but I'm certain, the Strom will make you very happy, too. Treat her well.

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    Replies
    1. The Bonneville's not permanently off my list, but I have a few good reasons for not waiting. I'll try to remember to write about it in a future post.

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  7. Firstly, congratulations on the new bike - sounds great.

    It's of interest to me even more, because I too ride a basic Honda (a Honda CB400 Super Four - sadly not available in Europe normally but very common here in Japan) and have been looking for a new bike, and had been eyeing the Suzuki 'Wee' Strom 650 ABS. My test rides on one, and the Honda NC750X made me mentally plump for the V Strom, but I've still a bit more saving to do. On that topic, and from your excellent 'what I can afford' posts, can you go into how this purchase fitted into that?

    Ride on sir, ride on.

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    Replies
    1. A bit of luck was involved. I had been setting aside a specific amount each month toward a new bike. Then I discovered a local dealership offering a 3-year 0% PCP finance deal. With my Honda as trade and a very decent dealership discount we were able to hit a payment that is less than what I was setting aside each month. I generally do not like finance, but a 0% deal is the exception. Especially this one because it leaves me with still a tiny amount to set in the bank toward whatever comes after this machine.

      So, I guess the advice is to keep saving and stay alert to situations that might be to your benefit.

      Delete
  8. Congrats on the new bike! For me, as a person that has no intentions of going off the paved road, I imagine I'd prefer a bike with a standard 17" front tire instead of the 19" on this one.

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  9. Congratulations on the VStrom! I must say I'm surprised, I thought you would buy a cruiser or the Thruxton. This is much better in my opinion.
    I love the 19" front wheel on my Tiger; it looks good and rolls unperturbed over potholes and woodchucks.

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  10. I'm chuffed you've gotten a new bike. Fantastic news. Looking forward to adventure reports.

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  11. hahaha! you got one hell of a bike.
    A friend of mine had the previous V-Strom. He thought it was ugly and wanted a GSA, and he bought one.
    I rode that V-Strom and the engine seemed magical to me.
    The suspension, since it was standard was very odd to me, but not upsetting.
    this thing would go fast man, like 220kph with my GF in the back without breaking a sweat, and it was water cooling.
    I thought it was such a great looking machine, all white with those alien-eyes headlights...

    You got a great machine, and that sound of that twin is awesome. Also, you can feel the power pulses..
    Congratulations!

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  12. BTW... I don't know if I should continue with my moto-obsession and add the R1200R ('09) to my stable... it's pretty crowded now...

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  13. Chris, Congratulations on the new bike. If I may be so bold, as an owner of a K6 DL and now the ABS 2014 model, Don't hesitate and fit a Givi Airflow. Its even better on the ABS model because you can adjust some air on in Summer and exclude it in Winter. On the K6, it was a gift from the Gods but on the ABS its a perfect Heaven.

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  14. This is an awesome bike. After 2 years of struggling with the looks, the performance, personality and reliability totally won me over!

    ReplyDelete

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