The Suzuki DL-1000 V-Strom will do anything to keep you happy
Sometimes even motorcycle makers go too far. First, the tie-wearing marketing boys fudge up an outline of a motorcycle no one needs, then the white-coats build it and before you know it, the top-levels are shouting about how this bike is the need of the hour to anyone who’ll give them the time of day.
It was in this sort of mayhem that the adventure tourer category was invented. One website succinctly explained the logic like this – in Europe there isn’t really much open ground to go dipping the differential locks, but the Europeans buy SUVs because they would like believe they could – and stick firmly to the well-developed highways system.
Similarly, adventure tourers are large motorcycles that borrow the look and stance of trail-going Paris-Dakar style off-roaders, not because you would, but for the feeling that you could.Smart tie-wearing types will also point out that it is perfectly okay to slap on road-going suspension with a little bit extra travel as a nod to off-roading. Add a set of tyres that look like they’ll off-road and call the package a complete adventure tourer.When the V-Strom arrived circa May 2002, the scene was like this. Adventure tourer riders – who idolised and rode machines like the Yamaha TDM900, Triumph Tiger and the Aprilia Capo Nord – swore by their stallions. And almost everyone else laughed at them. Here was a bunch of tall,
gangly misfits that did nothing exceptionally (and almost everything well) unlike most motorcycles, which are/were built to a purpose and suited very specific roles. The V-Strom, then, was like a slap in the face.
The press launch in South Africa saw journos return to their bases buzzing with appreciation for a motorcycle in a category which everyone refused to take seriously.A month or two later, the V-Strom was busy scrapping with assorted motorcycles to win alternative streetbike shoot-outs and all other kinds of test any magazine could come up with.And within minutes of sliding into the saddle of the V-Strom, it is obvious why. God in his infinite wisdom did not excise the sense of humour from the extensive list of skills photographers usually come with. Which means that testers are often found stuck on a motorcycle in full regalia, struggling to get the feet down and fighting to move a hefty bike fore and aft slowly, until the image in the viewfinder looks just right.
But today, the V-Strom and I are having a laugh. Here’s why.When you see a V-Strom for the first time, the physical dimensions of the motorcycle will stop you in your tracks. Its big, all right, not like a Gold Wing, obviously, but large enough to have you wonder if you shouldn’t have upped the workout intensity on your ab-trimmer.It’s a striking motorcycle with large yellow brightwork extending from the saddle forwards until it meets the striking and angular pair of headlamps. The headlamps are a highlight of the V-Strom and look mean, all-seeing and distinctive. Notice the hand-guards and tall square mirrors – clever (and superbly functional) off-roader touches. The panels also extend backwards from the seat, wrapping around the twin aluminium underseat cans and hosting the neat aluminium luggage rack.
The first look also makes the Strom look very tall, thanks in particular to its touring-friendly screen, upright mirrors and hand-guards. But don’t be fooled, the seat height isn’t really competing with Mt. Everest and even with the pre-load on max, planting your feet is a cinch.Then you pick up the bike off the side-stand and realise that the Bajaj Pulsar 180 seems to require more effort to pull upright! The V-Strom needs little more than thought to come up off the stand and is off and rolling almost before you realise it! A hydraulic clutch and a light throttle add to the feeling of effortless ability.Which brings you to the fantastic engine. The TL-derived 996 CC eight-valve liquid-cooled 90 V-twin is very refined and rumbles deliciously. Progress is serious past 2500 rpm and with a torque peak is at just 5,000 rpm with a heady 9.3 kgm. The horses peak at 7,400 and at about 93 bhp. The TL’s engine was high-revving and put out about 120 bhp, but for the DL, the engine gets a
tune-up designed to pull the power lower into the rev-range, where it becomes more noticeable and more useable. Acceleration is never scary, but always brisk and the only interruptions are the rev-limiter cutting in to demand a shift. The V-Strom is so deceptively swift that the front wheel lifting gently in first at about 6500 rpm is a pleasant surprise every time.
The Strom also caused a stir within the adventure tourer crowd, by sporting a full aluminium chassis. To the basic twin-spar chassis is bolted a set of long travel front shocks wearing a 19-inch front wheel and adjustable rear shocks with remote preload adjust and a 150-section 17-inch rear hoop. The tyres of choice are Trail Wings, a look rough, work smooth kind of tyre we first rode on the Honda Africa Twin (BSM, Feb 2001).
The package works flawlessly. The light-weight feel aids and abets the Strom which is a proper hoot through the twisties. The slight height increase over the street bike only makes lean angles feel more dramatic. There is a hint of reluctance initially, but once past that, the Strom will lay over with telepathic precision and offer a level of control you never expect from this kind of a package, helped along by massive leverage from the wide bars and a delightfully able chassis.It’s almost no surprise that the brakes work as well as the rest of the bike and the massive Strom will even stoppie if you desire.
So, while you are singing the motorcycle’s praise, enjoying the odd wheelie, the sharp curves and reading glowing test reports from around the world, you begin to wonder where the buck stops. Or whether it stops at all. Does the Strom ever say no?
Quite frankly, the Strom does everything well and will only stop short of full-blown motocross or something that mental. In fact, in the alternative streetbike tests, it was never the last of the pack, and always near the top of the handling, performance and/or personal favourites listings. It was even a favourite with the pillions for hops short and long. Heck, if the luggage could fill out response questionnaires, they too, would perhaps vote for the Strom.Then again, that’s hardly surprising. That is exactly what an adventure tourer was supposed to be, right? Gliding through traffic with amazing grace, blazing through empty tarmac, responding to your urge to wheelie it, stoppie it, corner it... all with the monthly shopping still on the luggage rack.
TL like it is
The TL1000 series of Suzukis are legendary for evoking strong emotions from those who rode them. Those who wrote about them always employed strong language. They all loved the engine, which was gutsy, powerful and made all the
right noises. They uniformly hated the snatchy fuel injection, which caused massive hiccups. They all liked the idea of a rotary damper but were scared of the overall chassis package. And this bike made a serious 120 bhp at the rear wheel, which didn’t help matters.The TL1000S developed a deserved reputation as a widow maker for anyone willing to play a high stakes game with a chassis that flexed just enough and fuel injection that helped the TL bite back, and bite back hard when pushed around. The daredevils loved the twitchy avenging Suzuki, while everyone else wished for something else.
The R version came with a steering damper and minor mods but the S had built the TL into a fearsome, flawed toy that no one really wanted to buy, but seemed just right for the hirsuite, barrel-chested sort of man. The TL stayed in the Suzuki line-up from 1997 to 2001 before fading away and loaning its gorgeous engine to the DL.
Suzuki wanted to build a 916-beater and chose the wide-angle V-twin. While it has advantages in engine balance and power characteristics, it isn’t easy to deal with when it comes to making a short, agile motorcycle. The problem is managing the engine mounting maintaining front-wheel-forward-cylinder clearance as well as leaving adequate space for the battery and the fuel tank (especially if you are tucking the airbox into the faux tank).So, instead of a conventional and bulky hydraulic shock, the TL had this fateful rotary damper. Suzuki and Kayaba went back a number of years to a concept called the Houdaille, which had seen application in everything from sports cars to trucks. The shock proved to be cool
running and superior to the normal spring jobbie.But, while the rotational motion had sealing and frictional advantages, the sliding seals were rectangular, requiring extremely precise assembly – probably one of the reasons that shock was non-serviceable. The fact that no one offered replacement rotary dampers and repetitive damping failures put paid to the design.