Monday, 27 April 2015

What I want: BMW R1200RS

One of the people I've always looked up to in life is James Moore. A friend of my father's since the two of them were reporters in Texas in the 1970s, he's always been a touchstone figure for me. He's a strong writer, quick-witted, intelligent, ambitious and generally a lot of other things that I aspire to be.

Back in the summer of 1972, one of Moore's good friends, Butch, returned home from Vietnam and the two of them set out from Michigan on a cross-country road trip. Butch rode a Triumph Bonneville, Moore was astride a Honda CB450.

That last fact is at the heart of why I will never dismiss a Honda. 

These days, though, Moore rides a BMW. He rides a few of them, actually, and rides them everywhere. His current main steed is a BMW K1200LT, of which he speaks very highly. Yes, he admitted to me once, repair costs are higher than with other brands, but to his mind they're worth it because the bikes are generally so wonderful and so reliable.

I tell you all of this to get at the heart of why I am never really able to get over my incredible desire to own a BMW, despite my feeling that the brand is overpriced and generally not all that pleasing in terms of aesthetics. 

A dude I want to be like says they are good bikes and deep down inside, some part of me takes that as unquestionable truth.

Admittedly, Moore isn't the only person singing BMW's praises. Love for the brand is abundant despite its current propensity for issuing recalls on everything it has ever made.

The newest target of praise is the R1200RS, for which reviews are just now beginning to show up. In Visor Down's review, the word "good" is used five times. As are the words "excellent", and "fun". And the general feeling I get from these reviews is that the RS is exactly the sort of sport tourer you would want and expect from BMW.

Essentially, the RS is just an R1200R with some bits of fairing. The R is a bike that I'd also love to have, and in the "What I Want post" I wrote about it a few months ago I admitted that I prefer its look over the RS. But if it came down to a situation of spending my own money on one or the other, I'd probably let practicality win the day and choose the RS. Fairing is useful stuff.

Butch (red helmet) and James Moore, departing Michigan on a rainy summer day in 1972.
Speaking of practicality, like the R, the RS is shaft-driven, which is the sort of thing I have daydreams about. (Oh, to ride a bike that doesn't require fussing with a chain. One day...) And somehow BMW have managed to keep the bike's weight respectable despite the shaft. According to official figures, it weighs just 236 kg wet, which is only 9 kg more than my chain-driven V-Strom.

Meanwhile, the RS's 1,170-cc engine delivers 125 horsepower, the same as the R. But it beats its naked sibling in the torque game, thanks to a different airbox. That last sentence contains information I'm just repeating from other people. If you can explain how an airbox increases or decreases torque, please do so in the comments section.

There are lots of other numbers and features to fixate on (the electronic suspension adjustment appeals to me for some reason), but the thing that draws me to the RS most is the idea of it. We've talked about that a lot on this blog, haven't we? The way some bikes seem to have a spirit.

The R1200RS seems like the bike you would want to choose for a tour of Europe. I've yet to see any photos of the bike with its accessory panniers and top box, but in my mind I can picture it clearly. I can picture the pillion seat stacked up with bags. I can picture myself on the bike. And although I've not yet ever ridden a BMW, I can somehow imagine the thrum of its engine easily tackling mile after mile of French and Spanish and Italian landscape.

And speaking of pictures, you get the sense that this is the sort of machine you'll be proud to show pictures of when you're 90. It has that sort of resonance. It looks like the vehicle upon which great stories are built: "Yeah, I rode that thing to Croatia back in in the summer of '16. That was when I met your Uncle Barry, actually; I saved him from a pack of wild dogs."

In the way that I aspire professionally and personally to be like James Moore, the RS is a bike that (looks like it) fits my aspirations as a rider. 

Though, I'll admit that my vision of myself is evolving rapidly now I'm a V-Strom owner. Perhaps the bike I should instead be salivating over is the R1200GS, which runs the same engine as the RS. Hard to say; the worlds of sport touring and adventure touring blur for me. I like both. I just want to be able to go far and have a good time getting there. The RS seems like a great way to accomplish that.

Having said all that...

Notice that the bike's appeal to me is primarily emotional. Yeah, shaft drive is nice, but the Honda VFR1200F has shaft drive, more horsepower, most of the same features, and will cost you less (and it looks better). The things I like most about the RS are particularly intangible, and although intangibles clearly mean a lot to me, my history shows those intangibles don't hold up well when the money to pay for something is coming out of my wallet.

Meanwhile, according to reviews I've read so far, the wind protection isn't quite what you'd hope from such a high-end sport tourer. And it's got an analogue speedometer, yo. Analogue. In 2015. 

If you are reading this in the God-blessed United States of America, you may not give a damn about being able to ride in countries that measure their distances in kilometres. But with my aspirations toward more European (a) riding, the ability to switch easily between mph and kph has become somewhat important to me. Especially if I'm paying BMW prices.

My V-Strom has a digital speedometer and clicking between the two distance measurements simply requires pushing a button. This is how things should be, and if Suzuki can manage it on a £9,000 motorcycle BMW should be able to provide the same on a bike that costs up to £4,000 more.

And, yeah. what's with that price, anyway? The R1200RS Sport SE will set you back almost £13,000. And after that you'll still have to pay extra for panniers and top box.


(a) Yes, technically the United Kingdom is part of the European continent, and certainly it is a member of the European Union, but very few of its citizens think of themselves as European. Indeed, many are aggressively anti-European, as evidenced by the rise of UKIP.

Thursday, 23 April 2015

This bike is a pain in the caboose

One of the things I didn't really mention in my review of the Suzuki V-Strom 1000 is that it is, in fact, a large piece of machinery. It is not so huge as a Triumph Tiger Explorer, nor a BMW R1200GS, but is still pretty damned big. Tall and wide, the thing has a lot of presence.

This is a truth that I didn't fully consider until I first got the bike home, discovering it didn't actually fit through the gate into the courtyard where I store the bike. Before even buying the thing I had done several guesstimating experiments to ensure I wouldn't encounter exactly this problem, but I had used my bicycle with a metre stick strapped to the handlebars. With this method, I had determined the V-Strom would definitely fit with some wiggling. I had failed to consider, however, that: a) a bicycle has no steering lock; b) a bicycle doesn't weigh 228 kg; c) a bicycle is not nearly as wide as a crash-bar-laden adventure-styled motorcycle. 

So, when it came time to bring said motorcycle into its new courtyard home, it simply would not fit. It almost, almost, almost fit, but the crash bars were too snug against the gate door's frame. Needless to say, this instigated a certain level of panic within me, exacerbated by my neighbour's friendly but not-really-appreciated attempts to "help."

Ultimately, I decided to use the bike's muscle, angling it to the point of almost making it through, then gassing it. The crash bars ripped a small chunk of wood from the door frame and the bike leapt in. Of course, this wasn't a viable solution to the problem, but I had at least managed to get the bike in and off the street.

A week later, my wife, her brother and I spent our Easter Monday ripping out the old door and frame, then installing a new, wider gate. Doing so afforded an additional 20 cm of width. With hand guards, the handlebars on a V-Strom are still so wide that you have to turn them a bit to get them through a 90-cm opening, but overall there are no more problems.

Well, no more problems getting the bike through the opening. But there were still problems.

The entrance to my courtyard is via a (thankfully) wide pavement -- also known as a sidewalk in the United States -- and immediately next to that pavement is the street (in other words, there is no little patch of grass between the two, as is often the case in the United States). For some silly reason I feel averse to showing you a picture of my house, so here's a Google Street View picture of a house that's nearby, where the situation is the same as my own.

See that brown gate door? Imagine having to navigate a motorcycle through that. Look at the situation closely: How would you do it? 

Well, of course, in ideal conditions, you'd come at the door straight, riding up the curb (bafflingly spelled "kerb" in the UK) and through the doorway. OK, fine. Let's go with that.

If you look closely, you will see that, as with my own situation, there is a step up into the courtyard from the pavement. In my case, that step is 6 inches high. Meanwhile, the curb is 4 inches high. 

The the bikes I've owned have had no issues surmounting the 4-inch curb, but the additional two inches of height on the 6-inch step create too great a challenge. With the Honda I used a folding aluminium ramp to get my bikes into the courtyard. That ramp is 2 feet long. The width of my pavement is just over 7 feet, which is, very conveniently, about the same length as both my former Honda and my V-Strom.

So, anyway, to get the bike into the courtyard, you simply ride (gently) up the curb, onto the pavement, up the ramp and through the doorway. But, looking at the picture above, can you identify a potential issue?

Yes: What happens if there's a car parked in front of the courtyard gate?  

In that scenario, you're not able to come at the gate from head on. Instead, you have to find somewhere else to bring the bike onto the pavement, then walk it to just outside the gate, enduring the incriminating stares of mothers with pushchairs (aka "strollers") who can't stand the idea of your taking up space on the pavement when they so clearly need ALL THE SPACE for their ginormous baby movers. Then you need to pivot the bike 90 degrees, most likely by using the magical side-stand turn technique (here's video of me spinning my old Honda).

But, dude, remember that the bike is 7 feet long. And the space between the gate and the street is about 7 feet. And the ramp is 2 feet long. Which means it extends into the 7-foot space in which you are working. With the Honda, I was able to precariously balance the bike entirely on the side stand and lift the wheels high enough off the ground that I was able to place the front on the ramp. Unfortunately, the nature of the V-Strom's girth and the style of its side stand mean I'm not able to do that anymore. The bike's long-footed side stand would almost certainly snap if I were to try to balance the whole of the bike's weight on it. My side-stand turn is more of a side-stand drag and I am not able to lift the wheels.

What I'm getting at is that I was forced to buy a new ramp. Lower and shorter (and uglier) than my aluminium ramp, this one allows me to line my bike up within the limited space available.

So, getting my bike in and out of the courtyard is a major hassle. But, I've managed to sort everything out. But, hey, Chris, why not add some difficulty once it's in the courtyard?

OK. Yeah, why not?! That'll be fun!

Last weekend, Jenn and I constructed a shed in which to store the bike. Admittedly, this storage solution is infinitely better-looking, more secure and more effective weather protection than the tent-like motorcycle shelter I had been using with the Honda (the V-Strom is too tall for such a shelter).

The shed is 8 feet long and 5 feet wide. It cost me a stupid amount of money to buy, and took Jenn and I roughly two days to build. In part, that was because there were no pictures with the instructions, and said instructions were poorly written. Ultimately, though, it was worth the trouble. The shed is high-quality, has a locking door and affords enough room within that I'll be able to work on my bike even when the weather is poor.

I am already looking forward to that aspect of next winter. I'll run a space heater into there and spend dreary afternoons happily doing maintenance on my bike just because I can.

But what's the theme of this post? That's right: this bike is a pain in the caboose. So, constructing the V-Strom's new shedly home has eaten up a great deal of space. So much so that I am not really able to turn the bike around in the courtyard as I used to. I performed a test run of getting the bike in and out of its new space the other day, and although it was not impossible it was incredibly challenging. So much so that it sapped my desire to take the bike out that day.

So, I am now trying to come up with a new solution. Unfortunately, I fear that will involve spending more money -- something I'm pretty tired of doing as far as this bike's concerned. But, if anyone has any experience with a bike dolly like this one I'd definitely appreciate hearing about your experiences. Is it worth it? Do these things work? Or do they create even more problems to be remedied by spending even more money?

One day, I will get to actually ride my bike, rather than spending all my time making sure I have a place to park it.

Jenn made some curtains for the shed. They are ridiculously cheerful and I like to imagine that when I'm not around, the V-Strom is playing children's board games and singing happy little songs to itself. I  would not be surprised to come home one day to find it having a tea party with teddy bears.

Monday, 20 April 2015

Gear review: Givi GPS and Smartphone Holder

I've lived in Her Majesty's United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland now for almost 9 years. And I still don't get the roads.

I mean, I get the basic stuff –– ride/drive on the left, don't turn on a red light, try not to run into any old ladies or children, etc. –– but the more intrinsic stuff still escapes me. The layout of British roads doesn't make sense in the way that American roads do.

Here's what I mean: a few years ago, I was visiting Seattle for the first time and drove into a part of town (Fremont) for which I didn't have a detailed map. However, with just a basic sense of where I was in the grand scheme of things (i.e., north of downtown, west of Interstate 5 and east of Puget Sound), I was able to navigate to a restaurant I had read about that morning in a local magazine. 

That's it. I had an address and an idea of where a square mile of space existed on the planet Earth. With that information I was able to find a single building. Because American roads make sense. Or, at the very least, they make sense to me because I was born and raised in the God-Blessed United States of America (Yee-ha!)

In Britain, however, there is no way I could pull the same trick. Primarily this is because all the roads in this country were drawn by 3-year-old children with ADHD while they were riding horses and being force fed candy. Roads are inexplicably curvy and run in nonsensical directions.

Go to Google Maps, mis amigos. Type in directions from London to Swindon. You'll see that the M4 is the fastest, most-effective way to get between them. Look at how stupidly curvy that route is.

"Oh, come on, Chris," I can hear you say. "It's not that curvy."

No, it wouldn't be if there were mountains or any other large things in the way, but there aren't. That part of Britain is flat. As flat as North Dakota. The curves serve no purpose..

Look in particular at the bit of the route between Reading and Swindon. Do you see a lot of big towns in between? No. No you do not. There is absolutely no reason for the road to be weaving all over the place like that. 

It should be a straight line. In the USA and Canada and, well, just about any other country where people understand the basic tenets of the "Getting From A To B" concept, the road from Reading to Swindon would be straight and it would not take more than an hour to travel between two cities that are only 30 miles apart.

The inefficiency of British roadways is exacerbated by the fact I didn't grow up with them. I don't have an intrinsic understanding of how roads here work, as I do with American roads; I am not hard-wired to understand this silliness.

All of which explains why I find sat navs (aka GPS devices) to be invaluable. Well, OK, perhaps "invaluable" isn't the right word. I haven't been able to justify the purchase of a fancy motorcycle-specific device. Those things are expensive and, for my purposes, at least, don't really offer anything different than the far cheaper devices you'd use in a car.

The Givi GPS and Smartphone Holder is a handy bit of kit that allows you to use your existing car device or phone on your motorcycle. I've had one for a little more than a year now and have found it to be generally pretty handy, with only a few quibbles.

What's good:

Effectively, the holder comes in three parts: a big case in which you place your sat nav or smartphone, a bracket to mount the case onto your handlebars, and a waterproof cover. The bracket mounts pretty easily to your 'bars wherever you've got space and can be adjusted somewhat for angle. I've used this set up on both my Honda and my Suzuki without problems.

The case easily clicks on or off the bracket, which makes it easy to take with you when you leave the bike. The case mounts very securely, but for peace of mind there's also a safety strap on the case that you can loop onto your 'bars. I've found this strap to also be handy for clipping the case to a bag or my riding trousers when I'm off the bike.

The case zips open and has a few bits of foam padding that you can add or remove depending on the thickness of whatever device you're using. There is an opening at the bottom of the case to allow a power cord to your device if you're lucky enough to have a 12v outlet on your bike. On a side note, having a 12v outlet is the bee's knees –– thank you, Suzuki, for putting one as standard on the V-Strom 1000.

The holder case has a large, clear vinyl window flexible enough that you can type commands onto your sat nav device without too much difficulty (assuming you're not wearing gloves). In sunny conditions, the glare from this window can make it hard to see your sat nav's screen but in low light or cloudy conditions it works fine.

All the bits are durable and of good quality. I've ridden thousands of miles using the holder and it still looks new. On the bike, I find it "fits" in terms of aesthetic. It doesn't look cheap or out of place, which isn't really something I could say for the gaudy controller for my heated grips.

What's not so good:

I've already hit on the biggest problem with this bit of kit: it's not terribly useful in sunny conditions. Here's a picture I took recently in Brecon Beacons National Park. You can see the holder in the lower part of the photo.

Note that you can easily read my dashboard display, but the sat nav looks like it's turned off. It's not; it was on and set to its brightest display setting. Unfortunately, if the sun is angled right, the holder's vinyl window makes your sat nav's display virtually unreadable.

Because I try to only use a sat nav as back up, having spent a lot of time staring at actual maps before heading out to ride, this flaw hasn't caused me too much frustration over the past year. It helps, too, that I live in Wales, where it's rarely sunny. But I will admit that the flaw worked me into screaming rage last spring, when I found myself unable to get out of Edinburgh.

I don't have any sort of Bluetooth device in my ear, so my use of a sat nav on a bike is purely visual. Obviously, being able to hear directions would be helpful. If you've got the technology for such a thing, I'd probably suggest using it, despite my personal aversion to having audio devices in your helmet. Without such audio direction I find that the holder places my sat nav a little too low for my liking. I would like for the display to be higher, more directly in my line of vision. Touratech has a bracket adapter that would allow me to put everything a few inches higher. I may eventually bite the bullet and buy one of those.

Meanwhile, I've never been willing to test the effectiveness of the waterproof cover. A sort of hood that slips over the holder, I just don't feel I could trust this cover to protect an electronic device against British weather. In times when I've had to ride in heavy rain I've tucked the sat nav away.

A motorcycle-specific sat nav, like a TomTom Rider 400 or Garmin Zumo 590LM, is waterproof. Those devices also have longer battery life than a standard car-intended sat nav and a few motorcycle-focused features, such as the ability to deliberately choose curvy roads.

Ultimately, though, using the Givi GPS and Smartphone Holder is a hell of a lot cheaper. I bought mine for about £30. The holder comes in a number of sizes, so be sure to measure whatever device you'll be using and pay attention to the exact model of holder you get. Pack a map on particularly sunny days.

Sunday, 19 April 2015

EBR we hardly knew ye

By now you will have heard the news that EBR is no more. Out of the blue this week, the company announced it was shutting its doors, laying off all 126 employees and selling off assets to try to cover a $20 million debt.

That's a damned shame. And it's really surprising. OK, when I was at Motorcycle Live last November I did note a certain dearth of interest in the bikes (as I wrote at the time: "I probably could have wheeled one out of the hall without being noticed"), but overall I felt things were moving in a positive direction for the company. I really imagined that within 5 years or so, Erik Buell Racing could be a legitimate player and that it could be a source of pride for motorcyclists in the United States.

There were all sorts of reasons to believe such a thing. The 1190RX (introduced in 2013) and the 1190SX (introduced in 2014) had both received critical acclaim. Sure, there were some first-effort quibbles but no one really held that against EBR. A lot of motorcycle publications chose to pit the 1190RX against the Ducati 1199 Panigale in comparisons and found it to be a solid, viable contender. Cycle World said: "If you have one molecule of national pride, now is the time to be proud that we finally produce a motorcycle like the 1190RX."

In competitive racing, EBR was holding its own against far larger, better-funded and more-experienced teams. Last year, it had established a base in Europe. And in 2013 it had partnered with India-based Hero MotoCorp, giving it access to better funding and distribution.

People like me were starting to look forward to seeing what EBR could do. True fact: The day before I learned of EBR's collapse, I was planning to write a post about how eager I was to see EBR produce the adventure-styled 1190AX. I was planning to declare: "When they make it I will buy it."

Now I won't get that chance. The bottom has fallen out.

We don't really know why. One gets the sense that it has something to do with the fact that being good at designing motorcycles doesn't inherently mean you are good at selling them. EBR bikes still needed a little bit of work -- they hadn't truly arrived in terms of aesthetics and features -- and it's difficult to get someone to fork over $20,000 for a bike that isn't perfect.

Add to this the fact the brand had not had any time to develop a personality. I mean, not too long ago I was lamenting that 17-year-old Victory lacks a true identity. EBR had been producing street bikes for less than two years.

Then there was the partnership with Hero. I think a lot of people might have misinterpreted it to think that EBR had effectively become a foreign company, or that EBR bikes were being manufactured in India. That perception wouldn't have helped. But also there's the fact that Hero is a gigantic corporation and Erik Buell doesn't seem to know how to protect himself from getting screwed over by gigantic corporations.

Americans hate a failure and a lot of the reaction I've seen to EBR's shutting its doors has been, in my opinion, unnecessarily mean-spirited. I guess some American riders would prefer we not try, rather than look silly trying to catch up. For me, I take the news with a feeling of sadness.

EBR seemed like America's best hope of producing a bike that isn't a cruiser. This is a common lament for me. I like cruisers -- I like them a lot -- but it irks me that cruisers are the only thing American businesses seem willing to manufacture. See, because I am one of those people who likes to say that America is awesome. But I'm also one of those people who doesn't like to be full of shit. And where motorcycles are concerned it is presently impossible for me to be both things at once.

Cruisers we've nailed. Harley-Davidson, Indian and Victory are unquestionably better at making a gigantic rumbling torque beast than anyone else. The fellas at Triumph definitely get it, but the Yanks are still better. Everything else, though? We don't even try. We should be kicking ass in every genre, because that's how you earn the right to go around telling everyone you're the best -- you be the best -- but we won't even throw our hat in the ring (a).

I had thought that with big corporate funding EBR was going to change things. They were able to compete in the rarefied air of supersport machines. I really believed that with a little time they'd be able to stand on top. Equally, I pictured the 1190AX as one day being good enough that Japanese manufacturers would start trying to copy it, in the way they're currently chasing after the Ducati Multistrada. Or, at least good enough to encourage Polaris to live up to its potential and produce the best adventure bike in the world.

Indeed, that was my main hope for EBR: that it would encourage America's other manufacturers to come out of their cruiser caves. Harley-Davidson isn't staffed by idiots; it could produce a standard or a sport or an ADV bike if it wanted to (Ever heard of the Nova Project?). Polaris definitely could. Hell, the Indian Scout is almost there already.

But for the time being it seems unlikely that American manufacturers will try to do such a thing. Especially when there's no home-grown competition to spur them on. And I find that upsetting.

Meanwhile, I wonder about the fate of Erik Buell. He's 65 years old now. Perhaps it's time to call it a day and retire. A few comments I've seen insist he'll bounce back, and that's certainly the suggestion made in the statement he released about EBR's closure.

"While this is a sad ending, I personally hope for a new and better beginning," he said.

But who's going to believe in Buell now? If in a year or two there were a bike with some new permutation  of Buell's name on the tank, would you have any faith in it? I wouldn't. I'd think: "No thanks. Any parts/dealer support for this bike will disappear within a few years."

So, another motorcycle manufacturers disappears in a poof of disappointment and thoughts of what might have been...


(a) Some of you may respond to this by saying: "Chris, what about Motus?" Yeah, I've given up on them. They still haven't actually put a bike out and the bike they plan to release costs thousands and thousands of dollars more than any competitor whilst being decades behind in certain technical aspects (e.g., no ABS, traction control, electronic suspension or other features that are increasingly standard on other sport tourers). To me, they've become an embarrassing joke. Though, having said that, I would absolutely love for Motus to make me eat my words. If anyone at Motus is reading this, please, please, please make me look like an ass for criticising you and put out a truly awesome bike. If it costs what a sport tourer actually should cost, I will find a way to buy one and I will say a little apology to each and every one of you every time I press the starter.

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Why you (and everyone you know) should ride a motorcycle

"[M]otorcycles are awesome... they deserve a larger place in the world and... more people should ride them."

My apologies for the Buzzfeed-esque headline; I was inspired to write this post after reading the above quote by Wes Siler (a) and he's the sort of person who always uses Buzzfeedy headlines. Meanwhile, my reading the quote comes in conjunction with someone contacting me via Twitter recently to say The Motorcycle Obsession had helped inspire him to start riding.

I can't tell you how happy this makes me. There were a number of things that inspired me to finally get riding, 18 years after actually earning my motorcycle license, and every day I am thankful to have found them. Motorcycling has dramatically improved my life and my outlook upon said life. The idea that this blog might encourage someone else to be a part of this silly two-wheeled world is pretty kick-ass. It's also inspiring; I feel newly encouraged in blogging about bikes.

But beyond the ego boost, the best thing about finding out I've played a tiny part in getting someone on two wheels is the knowledge that there will be one more rider on the road. Motorcycling is awesome, y'all, and it becomes even more awesome each time someone new decides to take the plunge.

To that end, I've decided to write down as many reasons as I can think why a person should ride a motorcycle. If you can think of any others, feel free to add them in comments, then send the link to this post to someone you know who doesn't (yet) ride.

Motorcycles are good for the environment.
Take a look at this picture. Know where that was taken? On the planet Earth; the place where you live. We're pushing too hard, mis amigos. We're taking too much. And we are causing serious problems. But fixing those problems is not easy. I have a few wearily cynical friends who believe it to be impossible.

I get why they feel that way. There are certain things that people will never give up. In Western and westernised societies, one of the most essential of those things is freedom of movement. This is especially true in the United States; we are the nation of Manifest Destiny, after all. God told us to push West. He imbued us with the need to wander and explore.

That doesn't mean we have to wander and explore by car, though. Motorcycles are, by and large, more fuel efficient than cars. A KTM 390 will deliver roughly 83 miles per gallon. Compare that to my mom's Toyota Prius, which gets roughly 57 mpg. Never mind that the KTM is immeasurably cooler and more fun. A plodding 125cc scooter (also more fun than a Prius) will deliver an mpg in the hundreds. And even a thundering Harley-Davidson Street Glide (50 mpg) is fuel efficient compared to its four-wheeled spiritual equivalent of a Ford F250 (17.3 mpg).

Fuel efficiency means less crap being pulled from the ground and, by extension, less crap being put into the air. This is especially true of modern motorcycles. whose engines generally have to comply with the same emissions standards as cars.

If you live in a part of the world that allows filtering (also known as the right-thinking part of the world), the environmental benefits of motorcycles increase even more because engines that are making progress and arriving at their destinations in reasonable time are, by nature, polluting less than those engines that sit and idle and idle and idle in traffic.

Meanwhile, electric motorcycle technology is leaping forward at an astonishing pace. In a recent interview with, Zero's senior battery specialist, Luke Workman, said he believes it will be possible "within a few years" to ride 1,000 miles on a single charge. We know there are environmentally friendly ways to generate electricity; if these can be paired with useful electric motorcycles there may be actual hope for us.

Motorcycles are ideal for commuting.
If you live in the right-thinking parts of the world where filtering is allowed I honestly cannot understand why you would choose to get to work in a car. Seriously, what's wrong with you? Unless someone got you a load of Rosetta Stone CDs for Christmas and you're using the time to teach yourself Spanish (Me gustan las motos) it makes no sense for you to spend so much of your life trapped inside a car.

This truth is so wholly acknowledged in London that celebrities frequently hire professional motorcyclists to ferry them, rather than be put in limos and miss appointments.

For those living in the backward places where filtering isn't allowed, a motorcycle is still a good idea if not simply for the aforementioned fuel efficiency. With all the money you save on fuel you can buy stamps and send letters to your political representatives asking them to pull their heads from their rear ends and allow filtering.

Beyond that, you'll find you have more space in which to manoeuvre, more space in which to park and an increased ability to see and hear what's happening around you (even when you're wearing a full-face helmet).

OK, you may find commuting year-round to be a challenge if you live somewhere that snows during winter. Fair enough. You may need a car (or a Can-Am Spyder). But I put it to you that a car driven only half the year will last twice as long. So, get a bike for May-October.

Motorcycles make life easier for others.
Even stupidly heavily machines like a Honda Goldwing weigh less than a car. This means you are putting less stress on the road surface, which means the road will last longer. And that means less taxpayer money is used to keep it maintained. You're welcome, fellow citizen.

Meanwhile, if you're taking up less physical space, that creates more room for other road users. Such as other motorcyclists. In most places around the world it is legal for two motorcyclists to share a lane, meaning you can fit at least two people in the space a single car would normally occupy.

Normally you can fit more. I remember once sitting at a set of lights after leaving a motorcycle show and noticing that six bikes had managed to fill the same amount of space as the Jaguar XE in the lane next to us (the motorcycles were two rows, three abreast). That's efficiency, yo.

Six people with six different intended destinations, taking up only the space of one car. And when we moved away from the lights and into traffic up ahead, we all filtered through, which meant we effectively disappeared. Where six cars would be taking up six spaces, filtering allowed us to carry on and get out of other road users' way.

In this fashion, motorcyclists help to ease traffic congestion, thereby improving the quality of life for everyone we pass. Again, you're welcome, fellow citizen.

Motorcycles cost (nominally) less than cars.
The "motorcycles cost less" argument is a common one used by husbands who think their wives aren't clever enough to figure out the claim's flaws. It is true that a motorcycle generally costs less than a car, especially in the used market; a 2-year-old motorcycle will almost always cost less than a 2-year-old car. Equally, motorcycles generally cost less to insure. They cost less to register/tax. They cost less to fuel up. They cost less to maintain.

The problem, of course, is that unless you are an utter bonehead you will also want to have motorcycling gear. And depending on how desperately you feel the need to display your wealth, you could easily spend the equivalent of an additional motorcycle on helmets, gloves, jackets, trousers, boots and so on (b). And sometimes that gear won't last terribly long if you're a year-round rider. The zipper on my jacket seems close to breaking; I'll be surprised if my winter gloves make it through another season.

But these are one-off purchases that you can save up for, or perhaps convince family members to buy you for Christmas (thanks, Mom and Dad for the boots you got me a few years ago, they're still holding up well). Buy good gear and keep it maintained, and it'll last longer. The stuff that I bought on the cheap is the stuff that's now breaking on me. Things I spent actual money on are holding up fine. And I don't feel the pinch of these costs as much because they are not everyday expenditures.

Ultimately, I find I am not bothered by the cost of gear. Indeed, I find it's another thing to like about motorcycling: the opportunity to walk around feeling like an astronaut – all zippered up and protected against the elements. Yes, I do want an Aerostitch R-3 suit. Don't judge me.

Motorcyclists tend to be incredibly friendly.
I assume there must be some real drink boxes (c) out there who ride motorcycles – such is the nature of drink boxes that they are inescapable in all facets of life – but so far I've had the good fortune not to meet any of them. In fact, most of the riders with whom I've interacted have been awesome.

I suppose the reason for that is basically the same reason behind this blog post: they've found something they love and want to share it with you. If you want to spend an afternoon getting to know someone, all you need do is walk up to a motorcyclist and ask him or her what they think of whichever bike you saw them riding. Instant conversation.

I've mentioned before that one of the real highlights of last winter's Motorcycle Live show was chatting with a guy who had parked his Honda Pan-European next to my bike. When I rode to the Ace Cafe last month (post on that still forthcoming), the best part was losing an hour talking to a Harley rider. In June, I'll be meeting up with several other riders to celebrate the spirit of a motorcyclist none of us ever met in person.

I'm with Steve Johnson in that I don't quite buy the whole "brotherhood" nonsense, but there is something shared among motorcyclists. A common ground. And in the modern world, where we've become so obsessed in parsing our society, in turning ourselves into tribes, in only paying attention to our own opinions and the opinions of those exactly like us, it is nice to be able to find commonality that isn't political/religious/ethnic/socio-economic. And through that commonality you can often find other things to remind you that we are all human and that most humans are basically good. 

Because freedom.
The word "freedom" gets thrown around a lot when people explain why they are attracted to motorcycling. A little too much, in my opinion. Harley-Davidson are almost meta in their use of the word in advertising, It's silly (e.g., Kid Rock growling: "I can't hear you over the rumble of my freedom").

But part of the reason "freedom" gets used so much is because it is a word that is applicable in numerous senses. To me, there is the aforementioned freedom of movement. I am able to go where I want, when I want. I can go even when I have no destination.

It's true that a car can provide similar freedom, especially in countries that aren't as ridiculously gridlocked as Her Majesty's United Kingdom, but you feel that freedom more on a motorcycle – the wind rushes past you, the vehicle responds to your input almost as if by thought, rather than physical action. And if you do live in a gridlocked area, a motorcycle affords the freedom to keep moving. During the morning commute times it can take more than an hour to travel by car from my home in Penarth to the centre of Cardiff; on a motorcycle (assuming you take advantage of your right to filter) it will take roughly 15 minutes.

Additionally there is a feeling of freedom from the pressures of the world. It's just you on that bike. You're the only one in control. Your spouse, your kids, your in-laws, your friends, your co-workers are not there to distract you. In a car, a passenger might criticise your driving and in as much make you feel uncomfortable, anxious and self doubting. True, some motorcycles have space for a passenger, but you can't see their body language; if they're whining about the way you ride you probably won't hear them through helmets, wind and engine noise. 

Motorcycling delivers a liberating feeling of independence and self-reliance. Every time I go for a ride, I come back feeling more in control of my life, better able to handle and fulfil my obligations, responsibilities, dreams and ambitions.

The feeling of freedom is enhanced if you don't plug earphones/Bluetooth/etc. into your helmet. If you can avoid that temptation it means the outside world can't get to you. It's just you and your thoughts in that helmet. Holistic freaks pay ridiculous amounts of money to be placed in isolation tanks because we've reached a stage in modern life where we're seemingly incapable of having just our own thoughts. In a motorcycle helmet you get this for free. 

Additionally, inside your helmet and gear there is freedom from judgement (to a certain extent). If you're fully geared up, an onlooker may not be able to tell your age, race, or gender; they likely can't guess your religion or politics, probably not even your socio-economic status. To car-only road users you're just one of "them" – a damned, dirty biker – but by and large you are anonymous, and in that you are free.

Motorcycles are good for your mental health.
All of that freedom and independence and feeling of self-sufficiency mix with the endorphins and occasional adrenaline that are part and parcel of riding, and it's very good for your brain box. I have struggled with mental health most of my life and thus far I've found few things to be quite so therapeutic as riding. It doesn't fix me 100 percent – it's not a magic pill – but it helps me get into the mental and emotional space where I can begin to address things. And it does this relatively quickly, too. A three-hour ride through the Brecon Beacons can have the same putting-my-ducks-in-a-row effect as a three-day hike in the woods.

Since I've started riding I've found myself to be a little more sociable, a little more willing to interact. I believe in myself a little more. I'm better able to tolerate the things that annoy me, and slowly (very slowly) I am getting better at figuring out how to be the person I want to be.

I'm not the only one. Not too long ago Harley-Davidson commissioned a study that found women who ride motorcycles are happier and feel more fulfilled than those who do not.

Beyond that, I find riding helps to improve my focus and mental sharpness, as a result of seeing, processing and responding to all the things that happen around me when I'm riding.

Motorcycles are good for your physical health.
This is another argument that motorcycle proponents often use which, like the financial savings thing, is somewhat misleading. I mean, the phrases "biker rally" and "svelte individuals" are very rarely seen together. Riding a motorcycle will not in and of itself turn you into a smokin' hottie. But it is true that riding a motorcycle burns more calories than sitting in a car.

If you ride in a sport sense – on a track or doing off-road – you'll burn quite a lot of calories. But even if you're a basic street rider you'll develop a better sense of balance, improved core muscles and other minor physical benefits. All of this will be good for your heart and lungs and other internal bits, especially when accompanied by the positive mental effects of riding.

And I can attest to the fact that you will feel physically healthier. The simple act of being outside, rather than trapped in a controlled-environment box, will give you a sense of vibrancy. This, no doubt, is why so many motorcyclists don't really act their age. 

Motorcycles will help you learn to grow where you're planted.
Under the right conditions, I've found myself over the last year or so occasionally – only very occasionally – using the pronoun "we" when referring to the Welsh. That's kind of a big thing. Because for quite a while there I was carrying a whole hell of animosity toward this little part of Britain. If you don't know my personal story, the short version is this: I moved to Wales thinking it would be awesome; it wasn't, at all, and that created a lot of bitterness in me.

That bitterness was starting to get out of control and damaging my everyday life when I came up with the idea for the Great Welsh Tea Towel Adventure. It's an excuse to ride, but also an opportunity to explore the area around me, which inevitably helps me connect with it.

The picture at the very top of this post is one of my own. I took it while riding through Brecon Beacons National Park last weekend and, honestly, that view was probably only the fourth best that I saw that day. Riding a motorcycle has been the catalyst for my finding these places and re-developing an appreciation for Wales. And not carrying a burning hatred for this country obviously makes life easier.

Although a motorcycle will make you want to wander, I suspect that in that wandering you will find a greater appreciation for those places that are within a day's ride of wherever you are. The modern world too often has us keyed to the idea that the grass is always greener some place else. Sometimes maybe it is, but owning a motorcycle will help you see that the grass in your patch isn't as brown as you thought.

Motorcycles make you cooler.
This is scientific fact. Owning a motorcycle will increase your level of coolness by at least 10 percent.

Certain motorcycles will make you cooler than others, of course, but all motorcycles will have some effect. As my wife once told me when I was feeling self-conscious about riding a bog-standard Honda: "When you see someone on a motorcycle, it doesn't matter what kind, you think: 'Oh, that person is on an adventure. I wonder where they're going.' You don't think that about someone in a car. You just think: 'That person is stuck in traffic and he's probably a dick.'"

So, as I've said many times before: if you're not already on a motorcycle, please join us. You'll find a welcome, you'll be happier, healthier, wealthier, freer, greener and so much cooler.

(a) He's the guy who created the once-awesome Hell For Leather website, then accidentally ruined it by turning it into RideApart. He eventually left that site and now occasionally writes articles lamenting the fact that no one's creating anything like Hell For Leather anymore. I lament that, too; Hell For Leather was one of the things that inspired me to ride.

(b) You'll have spotted that I've started attempting to try to work Amazon links into my posts. I hope you won't think this is cheap. I pride myself on the fact my blog has no advertising, but, you know, I'm not morally opposed to making money. I'm not endorsing any particular products here, just creating a link. If you buy something, a tiny portion of money kicks back to me. If you think my doing this cheapens my blog or in some way damages the content please let me know and I'll consider dropping the practice.

(c) Think of another phrase, starting with the letters "D" and "B," that describes an unlikeable person. That's the phrase I mean when I describe someone as a "drink box."

Tuesday, 7 April 2015

A lovely ugly machine

The story of my new V-Strom starts back in February. Tuesday, 3 February, to be exact. That was the day I took off work and rode 80 miles in the freezing cold and snow for the sake of being one of the first people in the UK to test ride the new Indian Scout

When I got to the dealership, however, I learned the salesman with whom I had set up the test ride was not there. Nor had he told anyone I'd be coming. The bike was not prepped for a test ride and when I found someone to ask, it became clear they didn't really want to let me take the bike out on such a rough day.

I suspect I will be angry at Indian for a very long time as a result of this. I don't foresee my ever again entertaining the idea of buying an Indian whilst living in the UK. I have no doubt that things are different and better in the United States, but it would seem that in Britain, at least, Indian is not ready to compete against Harley-Davidson.

I dropped the issue and wandered to other parts of the large multi-brand dealership. I ended up talking to the Triumph guys and the wheels started turning in my mind over the possibility of getting a Triumph Sprint GT on finance.

You might not have read the post I wrote about the Sprint GT. I wrote it in early February, then kept it on ice for a while because I had applied to be the rider for Harley-Davidson's Discover More 2015 tour. I thought it might hurt my chances of winning if they read a blog post about my seriously considering getting something other than a Harley-Davidson.

More than 10,000 people applied to be part of Discover More 2015 and I ended up being in that rather large majority of people who will not be getting a free motorcycle and €25,000. Once I learned the bad news, I quietly went back and published the Sprint GT post. Quietly because by that time I had already changed my mind about the Sprint GT.

It's a hell of a lot of bike for comparatively little money, but a few things put me off. Specifically: the idea of financing one. Generally, when you finance something you're agreeing to ultimately pay more than what the bike is worth. It's like going into a clothing store and saying: "Guys, I really like this pair of pants, but I don't feel you're charging enough. Let me give you 9 percent more than what you're asking."

Like pants, motorcycles and cars don't go up in value. Whereas it might make sense to take out financing on a house, to do the same with a motorcycle, car, or the like is to throw away money.

The exception to this, of course, is when someone offers you 0-percent financing. OK, yeah, technically you are "losing" the amount that interest would deliver if you were to put the same amount of money into a savings account rather than a finance payment but interest rates of UK savings accounts are presently so poor as to be almost irrelevant.


Long story made slightly less long, on Jenn's suggestion, I hunted down a dealership offering a 0-percent Personal Contract Purchase deal on a number of different bikes. On top of this, the dealership was offering the Suzuki V-Strom 1000 Adventure for £1,000 less than Suzuki's suggested OTR price. Plus, they threw in heated grips and a centre stand.

With my Honda as partial trade in, I was able to get monthly payments that are less than the amount I was putting into savings each month toward a new bike.

This, I'll admit, is what put the Suzuki on my radar: to quote James Carville, "The economy, stupid."

From that point, I started reading as many reviews as I could find and comparing it against similar machines, namely: Kawasaki Versys 1000, Triumph Tiger XR, Honda Crossrunner, BMW F800GS and Yamaha MT-09 Tracer (aka Yamaha FJ-09).

The Kawasaki is probably the most similar to the V-Strom 1000 in terms of its ergonomics and abundant passenger accommodation. Moto-journalists tend to give it the nod because it has a little more horsepower. But I don't like the new look of the Versys 1000, and there's suggestion its inline four can be buzzy at high speeds. Also, to get all the bells and whistles I've got on my Suzuki I'd have had to pay almost £2,000 more.

To get the Triumph similarly equipped would have cost about £500 more. It's even uglier than the V-Strom, its seat doesn't look quite as accommodating of a passenger, and it wasn't available with 0-percent financing. Also, the Tiger XR is an all-new model, released only a few months ago, and Triumph doesn't have a great track record of getting things right the very first time.

As for the rest, the Honda is insanely expensive, the BMW is insanely expensive to equip and not quite as road-focused, and the Yamaha looks cheap to me.

What about the Thruxton?

In the comments for my previous post I had a handful of folks say they wouldn't have expected this move.

"I must say I'm surprised," wrote Le Chofforobe. "I thought you would buy a cruiser or the Thruxton."

Well, that was sort of the plan, wasn't it? I'm a big fan of the Triumph Bonneville and the Triumph Thruxton but have temporarily written them off because they lack certain features I find essential, namely anti-lock brakes.

If Triumph were to offer a Bonneville with just a few more horses (at least 80 horsepower), anti-lock brakes and tubeless tires I'd be all over that. After all, I'll admit I'm not a huge fan of my V-Strom's adventure looks; but the features and overall riding experience more than compensate for aesthetics.

There have been spy shots in recent months of both a new Thruxton and a new Bonneville being tested. These, along with EU regulations that take effect in 2016, have most people anticipating a new Bonneville line being revealed at EICMA in the autumn.

But, you know, there's no guarantee that these new Triumphs will be what I want them to be. They'll have ABS, but what about other aspects? Power? Tires? Additionally, see what I said above about Triumph not always getting things right the first time. These bikes will be running new or dramatically changed engines. It's probably best to wait until at least 2017 to allow time for kinks to be ironed out.

Add to this the fact the Honda I used as partial trade-in was not getting any younger. It was 10 years old and right at the point where its value was certain to start plummeting. Especially once I had clocked up all the miles of my trip to Italy this summer.

The opportunity to get the V-Strom came at the right time, at the right price, and it seemed silly to me to wait and hope that Triumph would finally deliver something they've made no strong indication of delivering.

Plus, you know, motorcycle ownership is not marriage. If Triumph (or Moto Guzzi or Victory or anyone else) does produce my dream bike in a year or two, I can always trade in the Suzuki.

For the time being, though, I think I'm going to enjoy riding my lovely ugly machine. The weather has just turned nice here in the UK, the clocks have gone forward and delivered more daylight after work, and I can think of all kinds of places I want to go.


(a) I am still targeting a return date of 4 July 2019

Thursday, 2 April 2015

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.