Wandering the Desert on a DL650 V-Strom

Discussion in 'Ride Reports - Day Trippin'' started by Cro59, Dec 29, 2015.

  1. Cro59

    Cro59 Been here awhile

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    Like many of you guys, my goal is to set off in the near future on an epic adventure to distant, exotic lands. That day is coming soon, but it isn't here yet, so in the meantime I'm contenting myself with shorter trips and mini-adventures when I can carve out a few days. This thread will be my ongoing ride report for my trips throughout the desert southwest.

    Since this is my first ride report a little background info is in order. First and foremost, I am new to adventure riding, and last year I bought my first motorcycle in almost thirty years. A big reason I'm writing this ride report is to share my ongoing education and lessons learned with other new riders. You experienced guys will surely laugh at some of this things I do or say, and that's OK! We all have to start at the beginning and if I can save some other noob a few bumps, bruises, and dollars, then this is time well spent! Back to the story. I'm not sure why the gap between bikes. I'm a certified adrenaline junkie and, courtesy of the US military, I spent my life flying helicopters, jumping out of airplanes, scuba diving, and on my free time would disappear alone into the wilderness for days or weeks at a time. Motorcycles, especially off road, certainly fit into this lifestyle but was never a priority until last year. Actually, I got back into motorcycles accidentally. I signed up for an event in India called the Rickshaw Run (check it out it is a crazy adventure) and needed a motorcycle endorsement to legally drive a rickshaw. So I signed up for the MSF Basic Rider course and the rest, as they say, was history. I was immediately hooked, and even though I strongly promised my wife I wasn't going to buy a bike we both knew I was lying.

    Within two weeks of getting my license, I was the proud owner of a Kawasaki Vulcan 900.
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    The Vulcan was a sweet bike and perfect for learning how to ride again, however, over the next few months I realized that the cruiser lifestyle really didn't suit me. About this time, we ditched our sedan to save on expenses, leaving my wife with just the truck for work and me with the bike. I've always been an avid outdoorsman and with the Vulcan, obviously not a wilderness bike, I felt stranded in civilization. Believe it or not, I had never heard about adventure riding and never considered dual sport style bikes. Crazy, I know. So lesson number one for you noobs out there, get very clear what lifestyle you want to create with your bike BEFORE you buy! Motorcycles are very much a lifestyle. Do you want speed? An occasional hobby? Are you into black leather, studs, and long highway rides to Sturgis? Or are you an outdoorsman like me? Get a bike that supports your lifestyle and you'll save yourself a ton of cash.

    Over the summer, I began researching my alternatives. I wanted an offroad-capable bike that was comfortable enough for long road trips. In August, I said goodbye to my Vulcan and traded it in for a brand new 2015 Suzuki DL650 V-Strom.
    [​IMG]
    In hindsight, I'm not sure the V-Strom is the "right" bike, but we can argue about the merits of KTMs, KLRs, DRs, WRs, and on and on some other time. There is no perfect bike. There is only the bike you have, and for now I have the DL650. I have never been a dirt rider and it wasn't long before the V-Stroms limitations (and mine) became painfully obvious. I dumped it crossing a dry wash the day after I bought it (my fault not her's) and quickly banished any lingering fantasies about entering the 2016 Dakar! The biggest issue is the weight. Manhandling 500+ pounds of motorcycle on any kind of technical terrain is challenging and exhausting. For you experts this is stating the obvious but for us newbies the difference that 100 pounds can make is eye opening to say the least! The other big problem is the front fender clearance. Mud quickly packs under the fender and locks up the front wheel. This is a major problem even in Arizona where the mud is like clay. I'll raise the fender somehow one of these days. Anyway, for my use a more dirt-oriented bike would have been a better choice (KLR, DR650, DR 350, KTM 990, etc), but I'm not in a position to switch bikes just yet. That said, skilled riders do some pretty impressive things with these heavy adventure bikes. I'm just not that skilled. Yet.

    Alright, enough background BS. Time for some ride reporting....
    #1
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  2. mjs3800

    mjs3800 Adventurer

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    Like your style and honesty. I'm in.
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  3. Cro59

    Cro59 Been here awhile

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    Welcome mjs3800. My initials are mjs, so it's appropriate that you are here first.
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  4. jimmyj

    jimmyj n00b

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    I'm in. My current ride is an 1800 goldwing but I want to do the DS stuff. I am considering a DR650, DL650 or KLR650. Ultimate goal is to do the TAT. I am sure I will learn lots from you. Thanks.
    #4
  5. mjs3800

    mjs3800 Adventurer

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    And I have a 11 Strom along with a couple Triumphs.
    #5
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  6. Cro59

    Cro59 Been here awhile

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    Farkle Facts:
    Tweaking and modifying a motorcycle is a beautifully, obsessive pastime. It's like crack. It never ends until the money runs out and brings untold pleasure during otherwise dull days between rides. I envy those of you content with stock bikes and swollen bank accounts...

    I bought a V-Strom with the Adventure package. Even though I got a decent deal on the bike, if I was buying it today I'd get the base model. Most of the OEM upgrades aren't worth the money in my opinion. I might consider the XT model with the spoked wheels, but honestly if you are riding this bike in such a way that spoked versus cast wheels make a difference then you'll have bigger problems than bent wheels. Anyway, the Adventure model, discontinued in 2016, includes panniers and racks, top rack plate, crash/engine bars, and a touring windscreen for a $2-3000 premium over the base model. I think you are better off getting the base model as cheap as possible and buying your own add ons. The top rack plate only fits OEM top cases and the panniers are crap. The crash bars are good and I like the windscreen, but again you can buy better ones with the money you'd save. Plus, you still need to add essential off-road mods like hand guards, a skid plate, and tires.

    So here is what I've added and my thoughts on the products.
    - Barkbusters VPS Hand Guards: My first mod. These things are bombproof and have more than paid for themselves already. Yeah, yeah, I've dumped my bike more times than I care to admit. I told you I'm a noob. A bit tricky to install but guaranteed to save your levers.
    - Rox Speed FX-Pro Offset Risers: The stock handlebar configuration is a bit off for me and felt like it was pulling my shoulders too far forward. These brought the bars back and up just enough to ease the discomfort. Easy install and well worth the money.
    - EnduroGuardian Skid Plate: I bought their kit that includes highway pegs, radiator guard, and a kickstand switch guard. Overall, I'm satisfied, however their skid plate is designed to fit both the DL650 and DL1000 so it is not a snug fit by any stretch of the imagination and I'm carrying an extra pound or two of metal as a result. I'd probably look for a DL650 specific solution if I was buying this again. A skid plate is a must have on this bike due to the low clearance and location of the oil filter. Judging from the gouges on the bottom of mine, this mod has paid for itself already.
    - Mitas E07 Tires: The stock tires are great on-road but suck off-road. I did a lot of research and settled on the E07s. They get good reviews for handling and mileage. Off-road they are definitely better than the stock tires, but honestly I don't have the experience to compare them to the other offerings. On-road is a different story. They are a bit noisy, as expected with the tread pattern, and they grip well in corners. I have found them to be somewhat squirrelly at highway speeds (above 80 mph) and in winds. They are controllable but definitely jittery. I'll try something else when these wear out.
    - Adventure Tech Fork Brace: A fork brace is one of those mods whose value depends on who you talk to. Some people swear by them and others think they are a waste of money. I installed mine after swapping tires and it seemed to improve handling. It's a cheap mod, doesn't weigh much, so I figure it can't hurt.
    - Mosko Moto Soft Panniers: I'm not a big fan of hard luggage. My OEM boxes and mounting hardware are already dented and showing wear. Maybe some of the other brands are more durable. Mosko Moto makes fantastic soft luggage and I have absolutely no regrets with this upgrade.

    That's pretty much it. Some reviewers complain about the V-Strom's seat and foot pegs, but I haven't had any problems. I've been on the seat for ten hour highway trips and have stood on the foot pegs for hours at a time. Of course, I'm a newbie so I probably just don't know they suck. I may look at suspension upgrades in the future, but for now I think I'm done with the modifications. It's too easy sometimes to think that more is better but that is not always the case. I can keep dumping money into the bike, however that's not going to make it or me any more capable. Right now I need to ride, to push the envelope, and improve my skills. I'd rather spend money on gas than farkles.

    EDIT: Here are a couple of things that I forgot.
    - Kickstand Foot Adapter: I think I got this from Adventure Tech. It is just two metal plates that bolt onto the kickstand to make the foot bigger. I'm not sure this is really worth it and I may take it off.
    - Center Stand: I bought this on Vstrom.com. They sell Chinese knock-offs and this was one of the cheaper stands I could find. Quality seems fine and I have no complaints with it, although with the semi-knobby tires the rear wheel barely clears the ground. Install was easy, but getting the spring seated was a bitch. The stand does bounce on rough roads so I may zip tie it.
    #6
  7. Cro59

    Cro59 Been here awhile

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    Welcome, jimmyj. I'm not sure how technical the TAT is, but I'm thinking the DL650 is the wrong bike. If you have good dirt skills then you could probably make it work, but if you are like me you'll end up doing a lot of backtracking and detours. I'd really like to ride the DR350 and DR650. Both are more dirt oriented, decent at highway speeds, and much lighter. Even the DR650 weighs 100 pounds less than the V-Strom.

    If your travels bring you through Arizona then look me up!
    #7
  8. XRman

    XRman Long timer

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    I" adventurized" my DL650 2013 model trying to make it more dirt road worthy. I fitted Cogent DDC emulators and stiffer front springs. I fitted a Scott steering damper and raised then front fender 1 inch. The Mitas E07 tyres/tires made it pretty good on most dirt roads as long as the speed was kept low in the rough stuff. I loved the motor. It was very forgiving.

    Then I made the mistake of test riding a Tiger 800 XCx . The suspension is so much better than the DL ever will be.

    If you get even more adventurous you might possibly go smaller again. There will be a flood of new models out over the next years. I am considering going back to a WR250R Yamaha in a few years and pension off my DRZ400. Lifting the big bikes up is difficult unless you have a riding buddy to help.

    I still have a couple of years left to work prior to retirement and my big trip ( TBA where that will be). Keep reporting your progress.
    #8
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  9. Cro59

    Cro59 Been here awhile

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    +1, XRman.

    My mindset has changed dramatically in the last few months. I'm not buying into the "bigger is better" mentality any more, and as much as I love my V-Strom I just can't justify dumping thousands more into it for incremental improvements. The Tiger is an impressive bike and I had the chance to ride a KTM 1190R! Talk about a sweet bike that hides it's weight! Still, I am leaning more towards smaller, lighter, and minimalist travel. JDowns here on ADVrider has great ride reports on his Super Sherpa 250 adventures.

    Also, +1 on lifting heavy bikes. That gets old fast.

    It comes down to knowing your riding lifestyle. I love dirt roads and wilderness. Others will rarely leave the pavement and then only for fire and forest service roads. For them the V-Strom is a great bike. I'll make it work and plan to have a hell of a lot of fun, but even with only 5700 miles I'm already looking for my next bike! Still, the V-Strom sure does make the miles between dirt a lot of fun.
    #9
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  10. Cro59

    Cro59 Been here awhile

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    By the way, how did you raise your fender?
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  11. rodr

    rodr Been here awhile

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    I really like the E-07 tires on this bike and think you'd be hard pressed to do better for your purposes.

    Looking forward to your adventures. :lurk
    #11
  12. Cro59

    Cro59 Been here awhile

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    I like the E-07s too...until about 85 behind a truck. :jack
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  13. XRman

    XRman Long timer

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    I made up some aluminium spacers.
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  14. Cro59

    Cro59 Been here awhile

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    OK, I'm up early today, so let's talk about riding.

    After buying the V-Strom, I spent considerable time on the inter webs trying to figure out what I was doing. I researched off-road riding techniques, watched countless YouTube videos, and spent hours trying to decipher the mechanics of two wheels on dirt. Ultimately, I knew it would come down to just getting out and experimenting, but I'm on the far side of fifty with enough scars, aches, and pains to show for it, and my body doesn't bounce back like it used to. My plan was to take the crawl, walk, run approach rather than my normal "damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead" method. Unfortunately, none of my friends are dirt bikers and I knew that I'd spend much of my time violating the first cardinal rule of never riding alone, so I hoped to limit my risk with knowledge and by controlling the complexity of my rides. I also signed up for Jimmy Lewis' off-road class but that wasn't until December. (I can talk about that later if anyone is interested. It was definitely worth the money.)

    I spent most of the first two months on the road getting to know the bike with occasional forays onto the many dirt tracks around Tucson. I limited myself to graded roads at first and slowly ventured onto light sand and rougher surfaces. These are the roads the DL650 was made for and as I grew more comfortable I began to appreciate the attraction of riding beyond the pavement's end. Riding in general creates a sense of freedom and closeness to the world that riding in a cage can't duplicate, and for me riding off-road is even more liberating.
    [​IMG]

    In October, I took off on my first long road trip for a survival class I was teaching in northern Arizona. I put 600 miles on the bike that weekend and absolutely loved her on the highway; good power, fairly stable in winds and behind trucks, and comfortable for the long hauls. My main goal was to experiment with packing for future bike trips. The lesson here is "less is more". I'm a backpacker so I've already learned how to lighten my load and I have a decent collection of lightweight camping gear. My challenge was making everything fit in my cases and avoiding the temptation to add "just one more thing" because I'm carrying it on the bike instead of my back. If you are serious about adventure riding then I advise you to start developing a minimalist mindset now. Extra weight reduces performance and handling, especially off-road, and makes it just that much harder to pick up the bike, find what you need, or pack up in the morning. Packing takes practice and experimentation. There are tons of packing list out there, but ultimately what you take is a personal decision. A few months ago, I was searching for ways to carry more and now I'm looking for ways to carry less.

    The training site was down five miles of easy dirt. Easy that is until it rained. This is when I learned to hate my front fender. Much of the soil in Arizona is really just dried clay and once it gets wet it turns into a sticking, cloying mess. The rains hit just before I left for home. If I'd left fifteen minutes earlier I would have had no problems. Instead I found myself slipping and sliding as I slowly made my way to the interstate. I went down three times during that short ride, at least once sailing majestically over the handlebars only to land unceremoniously on my back. After the third time, we realized that the front tire was not spinning. It was packed with mud.
    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]
    The rain stopped before too long, so I spent the next hour or so clearing the fender and waiting for the road to dry out.

    The left case took quite a beating. I wasn't going that fast but the repeated blows damaged the case and the mounting bracket. Fortunately, it was secure enough to make the trip home.
    [​IMG]
    Now I know hard cases are not designed for crash protection, however I was expecting a little more durability than this. The mount was shot, one corner had a hole in it, and whatever water integrity the case had was long gone. I no longer trusted these cases to protect my gear far from home on the road less travelled. Certainly, if you keep your bike on pavement and are just a little less of an idiot than I apparently am, then you'll probably be fine. I, however, needed another solution. Most of the hard cases I've seen are pretty flimsy and any security advantage over soft cases is pretty marginal. I could break into these cases in about two seconds with a sturdy screwdriver or pocket knife. Cases are a tradeoff between weight, durability, and security. In the end, I chose to go with soft panniers from Mosko Moto, and I'll probably add a pelican case top box to secure my valuables.

    Anyway, my bruised ego and I made it home without further incident, and with the road trip under my belt I began planning for a short moto camping trip...
    #14
  15. AZJEFFRO

    AZJEFFRO Been here awhile

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    I love my Strom, but it's too nice to beat up so I bought an older KLR for the rougher stuff. I also went with the Mosko bags.
    #15
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  16. jimmyj

    jimmyj n00b

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    I have read a lot on the TAT on this great forum. I agree the V-Strom is the wrong bike for it (for me). I am seriously leaning towards the DR650 due to weight and reliability. If I had deep pockets I might look at a KTM 690R. My dirt skills are from long years ago when I was a young man. But I yearn to ride the trails the goldwing won't take me. Thanks for the invitation to look you up.
    Good luck with the Strom and your travels.
    #16
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  17. lazeebum

    lazeebum Been here awhile

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    I am liking this! I really like the V Strom, but I rode a klr and traded for a left over 2012. It's not as powerful as the strom or versys but it comes with a huge rear rack. One day I may try a strom, but I am enjoying what I have. Thanks for sharing your experience with us.
    #17
  18. Cro59

    Cro59 Been here awhile

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    I didn't get out much over the next two months. A couple of day rides at Rail X Ranch and along the forest service roads north of Mount Lemmon, but nothing crazy. I did take the bike up Reddington Pass for a weekend camping trip, which gave me the opportunity to test the bike on familiar four wheel drive roads. I knew where I could go with my Toyota and this trip provided a good benchmark for what I could do with the bike.
    [​IMG]

    You don't have to go far from Tucson to lose yourself in the wilderness. Here's my girl in the Rincon Mountains.
    [​IMG]

    Pictures never do justice to the amazing desert sunsets.
    [​IMG]

    There is plenty of water in the desert if you know how to find it. We've had a wet summer. This pool was almost dry in June and now it is a peaceful oasis hidden in the mountains.
    [​IMG]

    It was good getting back out to the desert. Overall, the V-Strom did well even on the rougher sections of the road. Rocks are a bit of a problem. They bounce the old girl this way and that in a random fashion. I found that you just need to stay relaxed (easier said than done!) and let the bike go where it will. I tackled a couple of short hills covered with loose, fist sized rocks, and had a few spirited moments, but I managed to keep the bike upright the entire weekend. I must be making progress. I'm learning to stop before the obstacle to make a plan and pick a line. Seems to work. I'm still working on speed control. There is a fine line between too slow or too fast, and I still have a hard time judging just where that line is.

    I still have to resolve the issue of gear security. I like to park and hike out for days at a time, but I'm not that keen on leaving the bike just sitting there in the middle of nowhere. There's also the issue of securing my riding gear. I don't really want to pack it with me, but I have no way to secure it on the bike. Generally, people are pretty honest in the wilderness, but it only takes that one guy to screw you over. I'll figure something out eventually and will just take my chances in the meantime. What do you guys do?

    While my camping trip ended too soon, I had a 1,000 mile road trip to Pahrump, NV, coming up to attend the Jimmy Lewis off-road course. Knowing I don't know what I'm doing, I went online to look for dirt riding classes. Surprisingly, there isn't that much out there. I guess most dirt riders just learn growing up on bikes or from other riders. Not much to report about the trip itself. I'm refining my packing list and figuring out what goes where. I froze my butt off a couple of days, so I'm also relearning valuable lessons on layering your insulation. Heated gear would be great but it really isn't worth the investment riding in Arizona. Heated grips, however, are a definite possibility. I'm not going to give a full review of the Jimmy Lewis course here. If anyone is interested just PM me and we can talk. Needless to say, I learned a lot. The instructors are like motorcycle gods and the shit they do on their bikes is amazing. I learned that I'm not, by any stretch of the imagination, good. On the positive side, I learned know how to get better, and that is really what it is all about. Any rider would benefit from this course. The way it is designed both novices and experts will learn and improve their skills, even though they are running the same drills. I guess the best testimonial is that I plan to attend again in a couple of years. One truth in life is that there is always something new to learn.

    Me and the mighty KTM.
    [​IMG]

    With the Nevada experience behind me, I was ready to step up my game. I'd learned about the Backcountry Discovery Routes here on ADVrider and planned a short trip on the southern sections before things got too cold. Next up is 648.8 miles of fun along the AZ BDR (sort of)...
    #18
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  19. Cro59

    Cro59 Been here awhile

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    Yeah, it came down to the V-Strom or KLR. If I was to do it again, I'd probably go with the KLR. It's still heavy, but they are pretty rugged and a lot cheaper. The V-Strom is so much better on the roads though.
    #19
  20. Cro59

    Cro59 Been here awhile

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    The DR650 is on my RTW short list. It's still a bit big and heavy for intense technical riding, but seems like a good do-everything bike. I also like the KTM 990, I just think it'll be easier to work on the DR in the less developed parts of the world.
    #20