West Coast V-Strom Rider’s Rally

Over the past weekend, I attended the V-Strom Rider’s West Coast Rally in Fortuna, California. It was organized by two members of the Stromtrooper.com forum, Hans and Jeff, and included three rides, Friday, Saturday and Sunday respectively. I participated in the Saturday ride.

There were 15 riders in our group, on V-Stroms that ranged from the older set like mine up to brand new models with less than 5,000 miles on them. Rider skill was fairly well matched, but we tended to blend into two groups, with the faster team up front and the more cautious team in the rear.

There was a presentation by Jay of Sasquatch Suspension of Eagle, Idaho on Friday night and another Saturday evening by Richard of RAK Luggage. The presentations were very informative, with the suspension talk especially pertinent to me. I learned that my bike, with 62,000 on the original stock suspension, is way overdue for work. It explains why my bike is so unsettled on bumpy roads.

Our ride on Saturday was over one-lane paved and sometimes gravel roads that probably couldn’t be any bumpier. As a local put it, “when you run off the road and it gets smoother, you know you are in California.” Grades both up and down were pushing 15%, and there were more hairpins than at a hairdresser convention. I kept up with the group and stayed proud despite my bike’s serious lack of proper suspension and the fact that I was only bike with knobbie tires (Heidenau K60s).

We rode east from Fortuna on highway 36, south on Van Duzen Road just past Dinsmore, to the misty community of Zenia. Then we headed west to Redway where we stopped for lunch. Next was the crossroads of Honeydew, and a stop on the Lost Coast Road by Cape Mendocino. That location reminded me a lot of the pictures and video I’ve seen of Scotland. It was absolutely gorgeous.

We then looped northeast to the Victorian and quaint town of Ferndale before returning to Fortuna.

Dinners both nights were at the Eel River Brewery, and there were a lot of laughs and great conversation. I made several new friends, and came away from the experience realizing we need to steal Honda’s old slogan:

“You meet the nicest people on a V-Strom.”

[Photo: One of the riders skipped his step-mother’s 80’s birthday party to attend the rally, so the group did what they could to make up for it. As he reported: “My stepmother wants me to be sure to thank all of you for the birthday greetings. She went on for several minutes about how wonderful the photo was. Sounded like our pic was the talk of the day. It certainly did the job of keeping me out of trouble for being with y’all rather than at her 80th birthday celebration.”]

Chains and frost

Saturday I pulled both bikes out into the driveway. It was chilly, in the low 30’s, but the sun was shining. I gave the chains on each bike a thorough cleaning, then added fresh lubrication. I ran the engines for 10 minutes, and using the center stand on the V-Strom and the paddock stand for the Gixxer, was able to run the bike in gear.

I rode my V-Strom to work last week so it received it’s once-a-week maintenance ride, but my Gixxer hadn’t received any forward momentum love. I decided to suit up and zip into Gresham and back on the sport bike. It was good to get it out onto the road, although anywhere shade crossed the pavement I encountered a frosty road surface. Those kind of rides require a mellow throttle and brake application.

Start them young

A co-worker’s wife and four kids visited him at the office. While in the conference room, one of his daughters looked out the window and saw a tall, grey and black motorcycle parked outside. “Daddy! Daddy! Come look! There’s a motorcycle outside!”

When I ride, I often see small children staring at me, eyes wide and mouth agape, as if a wizard riding a red dragon just landed in front of them. It’s a sense of awe that I recall experiencing when I was a kid whenever I saw motorcycle riders.

We went outside and each of the four little ones got a chance to sit atop the V-Strom and get their picture taken. This little guy was absolutely dwarfed by the tall bike but definitely seemed to grasp that it was something special despite his very young age.

A funny thing happened on the way to happiness

I’ve put over 600 miles on my Gixxer 750 since I bought it two weeks ago. During that time I’ve ridden my 2007 V-Strom 650 once; I commuted to work on it one day last week. When I bought the Gixxer I planned to ride both bikes for a year, at which point I would decide which bike I liked better and sell the other one.

Obviously, these are very different bikes. They serve different purposes and are suited for completely different types of riding. Many will say that a V-Strom can carve up the twisties nearly as well as a sport bike. Wait, who says that? Oh yeah, I’ve said it. Many times. And it’s true, up to a point. Ultimately it all depends upon the skill of the rider. A good rider on a dual sport will do better than an unskilled rider on a sport bike, and not to brag, I have proven that to be true in my own experience (while riding my V-Strom).

This past weekend I rode to Detroit and back with my buddy, Keith. He was on his 2006 Ninja 250 and I was on my 2012 GSX-R750. The weather was great, the road was in good shape, and most of the traffic was going the other direction so very little passing was required. It was a fantastic ride.

I noticed that my cornering speed has been improving steadily as well as my comfort level with the bike. I can take the same corners faster and with greater ease than before. I’ve also noticed that I can take the same corners substantially faster than I can on my V-Strom. [I ride many of the same roads repeatedly for practice, so I’ve become familiar with every corner.] If my doppleganger was on my V-Strom trying to follow me as I rode my Gixxer, he would be lagging behind almost immediately. The difference is noticeable.

When I got home from the 160 mile ride I also noticed that I felt very little pain or discomfort from the ride. Normally, by the time I get home on my V-Strom I can’t wait to get off the bike and give my body a rest. I’m getting used to the Gixxer’s riding position and am learning how to grip the tank and use my feet to remove weight from my wrists and hands. Sport bikes are still not designed for comfort, but this is far less uncomfortable than I anticipated.

When I ride my V-Strom now, the brakes, suspension and acceleration feel mushy. The handlebars feel like they’re a yard apart and the whole thing feels really tall. By comparison, my Gixxer feels like a total hard body, a toned and fit athlete that is ready and capable to handle anything I throw at it.

When it comes to which bike will be leaving my stable next year, I can see where this is going. The one test remaining is to take the Gixxer on a road trip. I’ve got saddlebags on order. Stay tuned.

In the zone, and wanting more

Saturday I went on a mid-day practice ride on Marmot Road, but it was far too short. I wanted more. Sunday, mid-afternoon, I tackled the NF46 run to Detroit to make up for it. My bike was running good, the conditions were excellent, and I was in the zone.

And I wanted more.

It was the fastest, smoothest run I’ve had on that route to date and it felt incredible. I found myself feeling as if I was beyond the capabilities of my bike. The Suzuki V-Strom 650 has been described as “perhaps the most shockingly competent bike” available by the press, and for good reason. It is very capable and versatile, and in my opinion, the single best value in motorcycles today.

Part of the problem with that versatility is the tendency to become a Jack-of-all-Trades and a master of none. The V-Strom can be customized to be an outstanding dual-sport machine, rivaling the BMW GS series in capabilities — at substantially lower cost and arguably better reliability. It can’t be customized to be a true road machine, however, at least not in comparison with some other bikes that are available. Horsepower is the biggest limiting factor. You can add a few hp here and there but nothing substantial. Suspension upgrades are rather limited as well.

I am finding that I get a lot more smiles from carving up a run of paved twisties than I do taking my V-Strom off-road. In fact, riding off-road makes me somewhat nervous and I ride rather cautiously, mostly from lack of experience (it’s not the bike’s fault, in other words).

So despite putting 43,000 wonderful, trouble-free miles on a fantastic bike, I’m feeling the increasing desire to switch to a more road-oriented bike.

Right now I’m researching the Yamaha FJR 1300. More to come…