Once again, I’ve bought a motorcycle. And once again, it’s a model I considered (and in this case, even reviewed) several years ago. But what did I choose, and why? And with my penchant for perfection, how long before I broke out the spanners?
The BMW R1250GS and Triumph Tiger 1200 appealed to me because I didn’t want to oil chains anymore, but neither could justify the hefty price and weight penalty those options apparently incurred. Having abandoned that ideal, and then found the Triumph Tiger 900 a disappointment, the logical choice was to follow my own advice and seek out a bike I had already come very close to buying just a couple of years ago. And so, I set out to visit a used motorcycle superstore in search of a Triumph Tiger 800 XRT.
I quickly found what I was looking for, the exact correct model in the specific colour I wanted. Low mileage, acceptable price, but no luggage, so that would have to be bought separately. And as it turned out, similar money could buy an older, but still very serviceable BMW R1200GS. I found an example right there with none of the difficult-to-replace electronic suspension, a true blank canvas onto which I could build. But when it comes to modifying motorcycles, there’s nothing I know inside out quite like a V-Strom.
Truth be told, I’d rather gone off Suzuki’s bigger adventure bikes after my somewhat underwhelming first ride on their latest 1050 model. The price was up, so was the weight, and the riding experience just didn’t wow me. So I’d completely forgotten that the older 2015 version on which it was based had actually made a very positive impression indeed when I’d reviewed it many years ago. And as expected for a somewhat overlooked bike, used prices were very low.
I was very tempted by the low prices on offer that day, but when I got up close with the examples available they had clearly suffered at the hands of careless owners, with a massive amount of rust coating all the low-lying components. But back at home, with the internet at my fingertips, I soon found the perfect example. A three-year-old 2019 post-face-lift model, complete with Suzuki’s own crash bars, hand guards, and full factory luggage – almost identical, spec-for-spec, to my own well-documented 2012 V-Strom 650. There was a certain symmetry to that story, and so I took the plunge.
When the bike arrived, my first ride revealed that it was very much as I’d written in my original review seven years ago, and the experience gained through almost 100,000 extra miles of riding allowed me to quickly pick out the expected imperfections. The suspension was good, but not great. The engine was surprisingly juddery at low speeds, and a complete shock after the silky-smooth inline-four of my previous Kawasaki Ninja 1000SX. Based as it was on the original Suzuki TL1000S, there’s only so much Suzuki’s engineers could apparently do to civilise the 90’s sportsbike motor. Shame you could barely hear it thanks to the gigantic mailbox exhaust silencer.
I’ve spent most of a decade learning, through experimentation, how to build the ultimate V-Strom 650. This time, I knew the recipe and had been ordering ingredients in advance. Work began the very next morning, and less than 72 hours after arriving in my garage, my practically showroom-fresh V-Strom 1000 was stripped on the lift. Forks were sent away to be rebuilt and a new rear shock was already en route. The overweight eyesore of a silencer was ditched, a lightweight and better-sounding carbon replacement from Scorpion waiting in its box.
The entire braking system was carefully removed, the lines labelled and sent to HEL Performance so that a braided steel set could be made up. This involved removing the tank and even the airbox; half the challenge when disassembling a new-to-me bike like this was figuring out how to take it all apart. Everything was carefully photographed to ensure that I would also be able to figure out how to put it back together again later.
I’ve learned the hard way that most motorcycle manufacturers are woefully stingy when it comes to lubricating suspension linkages, so all of those bearings were stripped and packed with plenty of grease. Grips were stripped and replaced with my favourite R&G heated versions, a task that required a small amount of modification to the throttle tube itself. A QuadLock wireless, vibration-dampening mount was installed into the new bar risers, powered by a new 3A 5V power supply, with throttle and other cables rerouted to ensure nothing snagged when the bars were turned.
Even with a new SW-Motech centrestand, chain maintenance would be a tiresome bore. Having been so impressed by a friend’s neat Scottoiler install I’d decided to give their new electrically-operated version a go. And with heated jacket connectors and a 12v charging port still to go, I tied the entire thing together with a custom-made auxiliary wiring loom into an ignition-switched secondary fuse box.
The V-Strom 1000’s stacked H7/H9 headlight array is well-designed, but I’m always looking for more light. The Denali D4 driving lights I’d ordered were delayed, however, and replacing the incandescent bulbs with aftermarket LED units required removing the entire dashboard. I wouldn’t want to have to try and do that at the side of the road. Having the dashboard assembly off the bike did at least make using a hairdryer to peel away the trio of patronising warning stickers very easy.
Once the rebuilt forks arrived it was a relatively quick job to slot them back into their clamps and bolt the front wheel back into place. With the front end of the V-Strom back on the ground, I could also swap out the rear shock absorber for a specially-built Nitron unit, complete with hydraulic preload adjuster. After a quick clean the front brake calipers and mudguard were reinstalled, and out back the Scorpion exhaust lent a much more finished look to the bike.
With all of the bodywork and tank removed, installing the new braided flexible lines was relatively easy, as was the new clutch line. Bleeding the latter was particularly straightforward, with a single line direct from lever to slave cylinder. The braking systems themselves were more work, thanks largely to the extra piping and volume of the ABS pump.
With the airbox, various sensors, tank, and bodywork reinstalled I was ready for a test ride, but spent at least an hour troubleshooting a worrying “Fuel Injection System Fault” error that popped up on the dashboard when powering up the bike for the first time after the rebuild. Using the old Suzuki diagnostic mode trick I was able to read the fault code and confirm that the computer was reporting a previously-logged “Air temperature sensor” fault. This was most likely caused by my turning on the ignition to test various electrical accessories while the airbox and associated sensors were removed.
The only way to reset the warning without specialist Suzuki software was simply to ride the bike for a few miles. Given that it was time for the shakedown ride in any case, I geared up and headed out. And what a difference the upgrades had made. The steering now felt razor-sharp, thanks to the uprated suspension, though I did find myself softening off the damping a fraction on the rutted Northamptonshire roads. The new free-er-flowing silencer provided a little more aural enjoyment, though the butterfly valve prevents things from getting too raucous at low speeds. I wouldn’t mind a bit more induction noise, so further investigation is required there.
The Scottoiler took a little adjusting to get right, and I even at maximum adjustment both clutch and brake levers are slightly too far away for comfort. There’s more wind buffeting than I would like, regardless of which position I put the windshield in, so further investigation is called for there. And I’m disappointed to find that the pannier racks are not the quick-release design used on the earlier V-Stroms. I’ve unbolted the frames for now, and an upgrade might be in order.
But the bike now handles and rides beautifully, with razor-sharp brakes and all the practical features I crave. Added up, the purchase of the bike and the hardware to upgrade it still cost less than what I sold my Kawasaki for. Of course, if I’d paid a workshop the five full days of labour it took me to do the work it would have added another £4,000 to the bill at 2022 workshop rates. At that point the value proposition starts to look a little weaker, especially when you look at the feature sets on some of the premium bikes. But in my case, I got everything I wanted, nothing I didn’t, and saved a small fortune to boot.
Time to put some miles on the bike and see if I chose well.
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