6 hours on a weestrom (long review)
i've always had oldskool modified 1980s suzuki GS bikes, and it's time for something more modern and trustworty.
I fell in love with the v-strom when i first saw it and wanted one ever since.
I took one out at a suzuki demo-ride for about 30 minutes, and was very dissapointed by it. don't flame me for this, but the bike felt like it had no power. it took me about 10 minutes to realise that my current bike (a bored out and ported 1183cc 4 cylinder) had much more torque and gave a much stiffer kick in the pants.
i hummed and hawed a lot since then and have set my sights on the 650 version (the wee) as i'd read good things about it, but i had a nagging question: if the 1000 seemed anemic, would the 650 be even close to powerful enough for me, even considering the cheaper insurance, better fuel economy and reputed better handling?
there was only one way to find out, and the nice folks at Cycle BC Rentals made it happen. i took a 2006 wee out on monday and spent a day on it.
what follows is my review. i know there are lots out there, but i believe i have a new point of view to add (i seem to be the only one to exceed the speed limit, maybe because i'm german)
when i came back from my ride they asked me how i liked it.
my short answer was: "i couldnt tell what gear i was in and the bike didnt seem to care, so i just stopped caring also. it's a fabulous bike but can you please give me the address of whoever designed that windscreen so i can go burn down their village"
so here is the complete review:
temperatures were below 10 degrees celsius and the first part of the day was rainy. i got some sun and dry roads in the afternoon.
i'm 5'7" and weigh 165lbs.
the bike: a 2006 vstrom (dl-650) with the windshield set at the lowest position and a givi topcase. the rubber was michelin anakees (wonderful tires)
my riding style: i'm used to older musclebikes, i corner conservatively, but like to rinse the engine out thoroughly in the straights. i have never ridden a faired bike before. my normal cruising speed is about 130 km/h. i ride until i hurt (the strom didnt hurt. as a matter of fact, 6 hours on it felt like 2 hours in a car)
the gear: frank thomas aqua boots, frank thomas ballistic riding pants, tecnik hurricane jacket, hjc-symax modular helmet (very noisy) and alpinestars gloves (i used my winter gloves and the smx-6 which give great feel but were too cold for the weather).
i started off in vancouver in the pouring rain and it took me a while to get used to the bike. i hadn't ridden anything in a whole year and cornered gingerly at first, hardly leaning the bike over (wet roads for one and my personal bike will gladly spin the rear tire no matter what gear you're in).
i played around in downtown traffic a bit to get used to the mirrors (i have crg barends on my bike). the mirrors are fantastic, they just show the top of my shoulders and it's easy to see behind me. vibration is minimal.
i quickly found a minor problem with one of the controls: the high-beam-pass trigger. i hold my clutch close in, so i'd keep hitting that thing whenever i used the clutch. when i found out about it, i was able to adapt easily.
speaking of clutch, that thing is feather-light compared to the barnet heavy duty i have in my bike. finding the friction point is easy and the lever action is so nice that i found myself using the clutch to shift more often than not (i only use my clutch to get started and to downshift on my bike).
since we're into levers, the brake lever is 6 way reach adjustable. very nice! my winter gloves are bulky and i set the lever to the 6 position after about 10 minutes. it's the shortest reach and i did it because i didnt want to lock up the front wheel by grabbing too much brake.
the bike was smooth as silk and very easy to drive, until 79 km/h. at exactly 80 km/h i was hit with buffeting i didn't know was possible. i feel that the windshield was just put on there to improve on the bike's looks rather than to serve any kind of purpose. i've never had a faired bike before and it sucked royally. normally, the wind washes the rain off helmet, and i can see, but with the fairing, no such luck. rain was actually flying upwards behind it and entering under my helmet at times. i made a note to get a madstadt bracket for my bike when i buy one. more windshield woes later...
that bike felt seriously powerful. eventually, i was forced to conclude that it wasn't anywhere near as powerful as mine, but it took me about 4 hours before i noticed that (as opposed to 10 minutes on the 1000). everythign on there feels like it just works together so well (except the windshield from hell).
before i knew it, i was pulling away from lights and reaching 100-120 km/h in no time (100 is reached in second, and comes really fast. this thing accelerates like a late 80's gsxr7850). neutral was always very easy to find, and i only had to re-clutch to get into first twice during my ride.
i took the highway to chilliwack to see how the biek would do there (the hwy, not chiliwack). once on the open road, i was enjoying the ride, but not the buffeting. whenever i glaced at the speedometer, i thought hit had to be off, it kept indicating between 150 and 180 km/h... i'm usually pretty consistent about riding 120-130, but this bike is so smooth that you don't feel like you're going that fast (either that or the speedo is off by 50 km/h).
a note on the wind noise (it's really my only major complaint). it'd be great if it occured at say 120km/h, that'd be a great "watch out, you're going too fast" warning system, but it happens at 80. i wasn't wearing earplugs then and the noise was atrocious. i normally wear plugs but decided not to so i could listen to everything. i wore them on the return trip and tehy improved the noise a lot, but the helmet shake was still there, but i guess not much more than on my naked bike when going the same speed. please note that i have a very noisy helmet.
i just kept on twisting that throttle, this bike goes plenty fast enough. i found that it topped out between 190 and 200 indicated. but the wind noise... (i am sure you're starting to understand i hated the windshield).
at one point i stood up to see where the stil air was. bad idea! do not stand up at 180 km/h, the biek slows down way fast and the wind sits you right back down. i guess that fairing does do something... i had no idea i was going 180 at the time (duh! i guess i shoulda looked)
minor bad point: the tripmeter controls are hard to use with thick gloves at high speeds. everythign else makes perfect sense.
i got off in chilliwack at #3 road and took a few turns (still gingerly at that point, i was keeping the cornering tests for my return trip). turning left at intersections was weird, especially if i had to wait for cars (i still had this fear of spinnign the rear tire which my bike will do at 2000rpm and the roads are still wet).
here's the weird thing: i couldn't find neutral. i was sure i was in 2nd gear but i was really in 3rd. i guess the engine braking is something we can get used to, but it's weird coming from a 4 cylinder.
about the transmission: i only ever knew what gear i was in for sure if i was in 1st or in 6th, anything in between doesnt seem to matter to the bike. i more than once found myself on the hwy in 4th thinking the rpms were a bit high and trying to upshift only to find out i had 2 more gears to go.
i seem to remember the bike cruises at 5000 or 5500rpm in 6th gear at 130 km/h (can someone correct that if i'm wrong?), and that's quite reasonable.
the bike is happiest between 5 and 7000 rpm. if the manual says to break it in below 4000, i feel sorry for whoever will have to ride it, because there ain't much of anything there, sure the bike works fine and makes enough torque, but its happier above 5k.
cornering was a major problem, here's why:
my bike is low to the ground and a real brute, if you go slow on it, you feel like you're going fast and when you go fast you damn well knwo you're going fast.
the weestrom is so blasted smooth that i found myself going into corners way too hot, i had to look at the speedometer, the engine noise wasnt telling me, and neither were any of my other senses. i took 4 laps around chilliwack mountain and found myself comign into corners at 130-140, which was too fast. thank goodness the brakes work extremely well in conjunction with those anakees (you can hear the tires working and braking is very progressive).
omg: here i am wanting a slower bike and i actually ride the weestrom faster than my 150hp musclebike.
the suspension: i don't knwo where it was set; i didnt care, it worked very well. tha bike was stable at any speed (has anyone ever ridden a klr650 above 120km/h and kept their underwear clean?). as an experiment (do not attempt!), i drove over some slightly raised railroad tracks at 180 km/h and took my hands off the bars just before hitting them. not any sign of any kind of remote intention of performing even the slightest wobble.
i did find that for the first time in my life, i had to lean into the wind noticeably, but hey, it's a tall bike...
back to that stupid windshield (because by now i'm heading back to vancouver on the highway). so far i had been riding straight up, now i tried leaning forward and tucking in behind it (sportbike style). buffeting gone, but i can't see through the blasted scratches on the damned thing (by now i have the sun in my face), so i slow down to a saner 130 (i had found a comfy and steady cruising speed of 170km/h).
tucking in behind the fairing works, but the handlebars are in the wrong position for this kind of work (i might install clubmans on my bike when i buy it, lol). the bars are too high and wide to tuck in behind the shield, argh!!!! i'm ready to rip the thing off and pay the damage deductible on the rental.