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Test Ride Review of the Suzuki DL 650 Vstrom - By Ren Withnell

About 4 years ago, this is the bike I set my targets on.  I printed a picture of it and placed it on my wall, that was my goal, that is the machine I planned to own.  Why?  The bike ticks quite a few boxes when it comes to what I'm looking for.  It should be powerful enough to cruise the motorways, it should be upright and comfortable, it should be able to manage a farm track and narrow back roads, it should work well two-up with lots of luggage and it should be reliable.  The bike seemed to fit the bill, but it was too pricey for my wallet back then.

Time's moved on and now I've saved a couple of quid and there's a few older ones out there, so it's finally becoming an achievable goal.  Time's moved on too in other ways, I no longer ride a high mileage NTV 600 Revere that's coming to the end of its life, I now ride a Fazer FZS 600 that's a little dirty but otherwise in good order.  I'm not too fussy about off road ability any more but I do still like a bike that's happy on remote and deserted single track roads with grass growing down the middle.   The opportunity to ride the Suzuki DL 650 Vstrom came about when I spotted one for sale at GCMotorcycles at a price I could stretch to.  After looking the bike over I learnt that this was a 2007 model with ABS and 15,000 miles on the clock.  It seemed to be in good order so I took it out.

The first thing is the riding position.  I'm 5 foot 9 and Mr Average in most dimensions and the bike is a very good fit.  I can sit on the machine and get both feet flat on the floor, but with my legs dead straight.  It's certainly taller than the Fazer which makes the knee bend less and the reach to bars more upright.  For 99.99% of riding this is good, better, than the Fazer, but I am concerned that if I ever find myself at a dead end down one of those narrow back roads then reversing the bike with straight legs is going to be more of a challenge.  The other time this could be an issue is if I ever stop over a grid or pothole and try to put my foot down, there's no "leeway", no spare to take up any extra distance to that all important earth.  

The clutch on this particular bike was set wrong, for my taste.  There was too much free play and the bite came in the moment the lever moved.  I'm certain that's very easy to adjust, I don't think that is a common problem on the Vstrom.  Releasing the clutch does immediately bring to light a pleasant difference to the Fazer however, immediate power.  The four cylinder Fazer does require a small amount of revs to ensure a stall is avoided and forward movement is gained.  The DL 650 just pops forward off the line with no effort and barely no revs.  

It seems contrary to common sense, but a tall bike that carries it's weight high should feel unstable, especially at slow speeds.  The DL feels so solid and firm along the short dirt track out of the shop.  Even the pothole at the end is taken without fuss or the smallest hint of a wobble.  As I accelerate onto the tarmac it feels so good to hear the relaxed thrum of a v-twin rather than the manic four.  Power pulses can be felt individually but unobtrusively through the seat, tank and bars.  Another joy is the low and midrange "snap" of a twin.  At any revs a twitch on the throttle gives an immediate push unlike the lazy four.  

I find a stretch of open road, a 60 zone.  I open it up and immediately it feels slower than the 600.  That said the clock makes me a liar and 60 appears very sharply indeed.  I don't think it is slower, not at these speeds, I think it feels slower as the engine doesn't howl like the Fazer, it just gives you what you ask for without fuss or showing off.  The next things is slowing down.  The Fazer is over-equipped with R1 brakes which it really does not need, the VStrom is equipped with Tokico sliding twin-pots which work just fine.  However, it doesn't really need them, the engine braking is a joy to behold.  Just roll off the throttle and that speed drops pleasantly and with steady predictability that means a forward thinking rider need never wear out a set of pads.  The motor is a peach, but we already know that because it's been lifted and slightly downtuned from the ever popular SV 650.  There is vibration that you can feel but it's reassuring not annoying.  

It's hard to really test the handling on a test ride.  The last thing I want to do is drop the thing and explain myself to the shop.  It is however dry and I'm familiar with the roundabouts and corners around Preston.  I know the bike's stable at slow speed, and around the roundabouts it proves to be neutral and predictable.  There's no point me talking about turn in or oversteer, I don't have the ability or braveness to check such things, but I can report it feels as right as it can be.  I do notice though the bike seems firmly sprung.  It is possible the preload or damping is set too high, but I really would need to take the gf for a ride to be sure she'd be happy with it.  She hates my 125, she says it's like being on a park bench being dropped off the back of a lorry.  I do agree my 125 is overdamped but I just ride around these problems.  I take a moment to adjust the preload, which is super easy, by turning a large knob.  I really cannot tell the difference afterwards, I guess I'm just insensitive.

Next I find a motorway, this is where I find the Achilles heel of the Suzuki.  The motor is very happy at legal speeds and slightly above, no worries there.  Here the DL 650 is slightly behind the Fazer in true power.  Unless you're planning to race Porsches and lose your licence there's nothing to worry about but the Fazer does feel like it's dawdling at 70, the Vstrom is more than half way through its ability.  That's not the Achilles heel though, that would be the fairing.  The screen is a long way forward and quite upright.  At 70 into a headwind I found there was a lot of whiperwil...?  Whiperwil?  What's that?  It's a word I use to describe sharp and violent turbulence.  Not the blustery and buffeting wind blast from the Fazer, I mean sharp, noisy, banging and head shaking turbulence.  The wind doesn't roar like my 600, it cracks and snaps at my head and is very annoying.  I imagine a 400 mile ride in that wide comfy seat in the natural upright position would be lovely, but that snapping banging wind attack would drive me insane.

The screen is adjustable, perhaps if it were adjusted differently it may be better.  I've seen other reports too so I'm not the only one to experience this.  It's a shame, it's taken the polish of an otherwise impressive bike.  I have also read that there are aftermaket screens that solve this issue.  I would greatly appreciate if someone could tell me below if you have any experience with this and if you found a good solution.  

So in summary, I have 3 issues before I commit to spending my hard earnt money.  Is it just a bit too tall?  Is the suspension a bit too firm to keep the gf happy?  What can be done about the screen?  I wonder if the suspension is too firm which has raised the ride height a little.  Oh so many small questions.  Other than that the bike seems to be a good one.  Could I recommend it?  Yes, if you don't want out and out speed, if you prefer a good riding position and if you take joy in torque rather than BHP.  

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Reader's Comments

B Boy said :-
Love my strom to bits. Best bike I've ever owned and its been completely reliable too. Can load it up to go camping with my friends and then rip round the countryside burning off sporties in the twisties. Great bike, cant see a reason anyone would buy anything else.
If you can fit the MRP screen. I use mine for motorway work but prefer the smaller original screen when playing on the back roads as the big one gets in the way. Did you buy this bike?
UTC
Bogdan said :-
Do you feel the V strom would be a good bike for a 6'5" novice, who is 55 and 2 years on a 125 experience. I'm hoping your'll say yes. I like the Honda nc700, but it has not been out long enough to hear real feedback and it's a bit pricey new.
UTC
Ren - The Ed said :-
Bogdam, if you've been riding around on 125's for a couple of years I'm guessing this will be your first big bike. At 6'5" you're going to need a bigger bike like this. As long as you're not a super-skinny wimp then I reckon the 650 VStrom is not a bad bet at all.

I'd consider the Kawasaki 650 Versys and perhaps the BMW 650's too as well. Depends on your budget, the Kwak and BMW's are newer and you can't get cheap ones yet. The VStrom's a proven machine too with plenty of aftermarket parts available.

I'd say go for it.
UTC
Bogdan said :-
Thanks Ren - The Ed for that advice. I had considered the BMW but the one near to my price bracket the F650GS does not seem to have good reliability reviews and not as many 'add ons' as used 650 V stroms.
Will start looking soon.
UTC
Malc said :-
I bought a nice 650 V Strom from ESB, Bolton, a couple of years ago. I liked the riding position,engine, looks, handling, eveything apart from the infernal buffeting above 50 mph. I am 6'4" and seemed to be right in line of the wind blast. I tried the screen on all 3 positions - no joy, and I removed it completely, and the ride was much better but it looked a mess without the screen/small fairing.
To tidy it up I cut the screen right down to minimise the buffeting as it was better without the screen, but I was still getting the buffetting.Finally bought a 2nd hand screen off e bay, put that on and sold the bike. I just could not get along with it. For me it was a great bike ruined by the wind blast / buffetting.
It is interesting that despite you being of average height that you still found the same problems as I did as a taller rider.
UTC
Mike said :-
Wind buffeting is the strangest thing.If your head is blown from side to side its really bad. Often its the wind roar that troubles riders.THis can be fixed by using smaller and streamlined mirrors. Often its not the screen but the helmet that is an issue. Fullface helmets are better and some are very good. The fit must be quite tight. Often wind coming off the chest roars up under the chin area. Try a scarf or small towel or a chin "screen"-the flexible elastic cloth that comes std with some bikes.Sometimes the ear cut outs are too big and can be filled in with some 10-15mm thick polyurathane cut to shape. Another trick is to use sticky back neoprene strips (about 10mmwide) to stick inside the chin bar -you will need perhaps 2 or 3 layers depending on helmet shape and chin size.I found riding with a thin balaclava in cool months cuts wind roar quite dramatically -my helmet was a bit loose but I need the air flow in summer.
Stand on the pegs and lift yourself up a few inches when riding -does the buffeting stop? THis means the screen is too high-a problem if you are shorter. If you are very tall(say over 6"3") the screen may need to be higher.It is easy to reduce the height with a jig saw fitted with a fine tooth blade. Mask up all the area around the cut as pexiglass can be scratched easily. Mark the line to be cut. Clean up the cut with a fine tooth file and then 80 grit wet and dry sand paper(on a block) then finish with 120 or 180grit for real smooth finish.
UTC
 

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