1 Year & 23,000 Miles With A Suzuki V-Strom 650

Not many bikes would last long doing 20,000 miles a year. WIll this one?

Not many bikes would last long doing 20,000 miles a year. WIll this one?

Has it really been just over a year since I picked up my “new” Suzuki? A one-owner bike with just 7,000 miles on the clock over it’s previous three years, the odometer is now reading just under 31K. It’s been to the Black Forest, to the Lake District, the Yorkshire Dales and Moors, Peak District, Exmoor, Snowdonia, and next week it’ll carry me all the way around the coast of Scotland. I already wrote about how impressed I was with the bike here and here. So what’s new?

Well, not everything. Fuel economy is still very impressive, especially given that I seem to be riding it harder and harder every day. The engine is still beautifully tractable, torquey yet eager to rev. Comparing it to the V-Strom 1000 isn’t massively flattering, but on the plus side you can run it out to the redline all the time without getting yourself into trouble. The relatively light weight and low power also means that my Michelin Pilot Road 4‘s are lasting 14K on the front wheel, and 9k on the rear. Some bikes barely manage half that.

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2″ bar risers lift and move back the bars just enough without requiring new cables or hoses

Servicing is easy; oil changes may be frequent, but take just 2.4 litres and maybe twenty minutes. Valve checks are more involved, and adjustments are still something I’m nervous about. Fortunately they’ve all been in spec to date, and some owners reportedly stop bothering, with several high-mileage examples suffering no ill effects. The original iridium spark plugs should be good for another 20k, and dismantling, cleaning and greasing both the stands and suspension linkages is nowhere near as tricky as it looks.

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V-Trek levers are adjustable for span and length, and are excellent quality

But I’m an eternal tinkerer, and so plenty has changed since September. Rox Bar Risers made a surprising difference to my long-distance comfort; I no longer find myself with aching shoulders from stretching to the bars. A set of V-Trec adjustable clutch and brake levers allowed me to properly adjust the span for my tiny hands, and a set of lightly-modified eBay LED headlight bulbs took night-time illumination to the next level.

3,000 lumens each, at less than half the power draw. Let there be LIGHT!

Double the output, at less than half the power draw. Let there be LIGHT!

Some stuff has broken too. My KEIS heated gear is awesome, but the wireless controller has been replaced three times; once due to moisture causing corrosion inside, and twice more before we realised that further problems were caused by the cheap batteries fitted as standard. It still occasionally glitches out, but so far the utility trumps the occasional inconvenience until something better comes along.

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Plastic clutch cover or aluminium frame; Suzuki doesn’t seem to be able to make paint stick to either

Scorpion replaced the end-can when the steel sleeve began to sheer around the mounting bracket, and the old R&G heated grips got weaker and weaker and eventually cut out entirely. I should be disappointed, but I can handle paying £30 for a new set every 3 years. Suzuki’s paint continues to disappoint, rubbing away on the engine and frame where my boots rub against them, and the condition of the fork stanchions and wheels suggests a respray or powder-coating is in their very near future.

Old calipers, new seals, new pads, and a lot of brake cleaner and scrubbing...

Old calipers, new seals, new pads, and a lot of brake cleaner and scrubbing…

The biggest upgrade by far has been to the brakes. When the dust seals on the front calipers began to seize due to a sudden and heavy application of road salt I decided to upgrade rather than just repair. A set of SVRacing brackets were ordered from the USA, a lightly-used pair of Nissin 4-piston calipers from a 2004 Honda CBR600RR purchased on eBay, along with the requisite rebuild kit and some EBC HH-Sintered pads. Finally I put in a call to HEL Performance and ordered a full set of stainless brake lines, slightly longer than standard to compensate for the bar risers.

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Shiny new brake lines; they look good enough to eat!

Rebuilding brake calipers is never terribly fun, but having the right tools and parts handy certainly helps. The bolts supplied with the SVRacing kit aren’t actually long enough and I ended up partially stripping the threads on one of the calipers, but I was able to re-use some longer bolts I had lying around. Fitted to the bike the new pads actually sweep more of the rotor area than before, and once fully bedded in they provide truly impressive braking power. No longer do you need a full four-finger squeeze to stop in a hurry, with feel and power now almost on par with my Street Triple R.

20-year-old design, squishy feel, limited power...

Out with the old…

Modern, firm, powerful.

…and in with the new!

Many V-Strom owners work their way through dozens of combinations of screens, hand guards and even mirrors in an attempt to banish wind buffeting from their lives. I was pretty happy with my Givi Airflow windshield but a couple of clever chaps on the Stromtrooper forums figured out that much of the trouble was due to air coming in along the fairing and causing turbulence behind the windshield. One enterprising individual now makes specially-made wind deflectors that leave me wafting along in relative silence.

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Augustus’ wind deflectors work impressively well, demonstrating how little time Suzuki spent on wind tunnel testing…

Next up? Suspension. While fine (if a little slushy) when ridden slowly, high-speed riding on bumpy roads makes the bike very unsettled, bucking and weaving all over the place. An appointment with MCT Suspension in a few weeks to fit a Nitron shock and overhaul the front forks should hopefully restore some composure, as well as providing more feel and control on both rough or smooth surfaces.

After that, some time on a dyno beckons. While modern EFI systems are designed to adapt to minor modifications such as high-flow air filters or exhausts, I’ve actually done both. When cold the engine hesitates at part throttle, suggesting an overly rich mixture. I’d like to get a proper air/fuel ratio reading to confirm this, and if the standard fuelling can be improved I could expect better performance and fuel economy. Whether that will require a Power Commander or just a re-flash of the existing ECU remains to be seen.

Beyond that, my intention is simply to ride the thing until it explodes. At my current rate it’ll take just three more years to reach the magic 100k, and if anything my annual mileage is likely to increase as I plan more and more trips to Europe and beyond. With it’s excellent comfort, impressive handling and day-to-day practicality, I can’t think of a better bike to take me there.

Bring on the next 70,000 miles...

Bring on the next 70,000 miles…

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