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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    The final day of the trip was the most fun and tiring. I was up shortly after sunrise and spread out my tent and a couple of other items in the sun to dry before leisurely enjoying my coffee as I packed up for the ride home. Again, the vastness of the wilderness continues to amaze me. The ninety or so miles along US 191 from Alpine to Clifton is virtually unpopulated. There are one or two small towns, a few ranches, and that's about it. Ninety miles of the best riding in the country and I didn't see more than a dozen cars the whole time. I don't have a lot of pictures because I didn't want to stop, and anyway the iPhone just can't do justice to the views.

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    It's hard to describe this section of road. Turns, turns, and more turns, through alpine pine forests and high desert pastures, that hug the mountains and cut across ridge lines in an endless, intoxicating ride. If you live in Arizona or New Mexico and haven't done this ride then just find an excuse. I'm glad I started first thing in the morning, because I was fresh and this road, especially the southern half, demands all of your attention. There are sweeping, high speed turns and tight, second gear hairpins. Lots of fun and beautiful country.

    At the southern end, the road winds through a huge, open pit mine. I've flown over these but never seen them from ground level, and all I can say is that I am impressed. This is just one small section of the mine. I think the entire operation ran for more than ten miles of highway.
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    Once the descent from the mountains was completed, I was back in the desert. It was hot country that I was familiar with so all I wanted to do was finish the run home, but even pushing past the speed limits it still took three hours to get back to Tucson from Safford. Admittedly, I added to that time because I still wanted to do a little dirt, so I took the Airport Road out of Willcox to hook into Three Links and then Cascabel Road. I was tempted to take the dirt north around Tucson but with my leaking forks and the day already hot, I headed for I-10 at Benson and my longest stretch of highway during the trip.

    All told, I logged 2059 miles over eight days, and, yes, today my old bones feel it. It was a great trip that proved our wonderful country has so much to offer even if you aren't inclined to venture off-road. Next up are some lessons and observations.
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  2. Cro59

    Cro59 Been here awhile

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    So, this trip covered parts of two states, took eight days, crossed 2,059 miles on leaky forks, saw one blown tire, numerous rain showers, multiple empty whiskey bottles, countless espressos, and five nights spent camping. My bike and I made it home in one piece and I had a great time, so it was definitely a success. Here are a couple of general thoughts.

    - Motorcycle travel is different. I won't say better, although personally I enjoy it more than cage travel. There are trade offs in terms of what you can carry, you are stuck in whatever weather Mother Nature decides to throw at you, and it is inconvenient to have to stop every time you want a snack or to get something out of a pocket. But, there is a freedom and connection to the land the a caged overlander just can't appreciate. I enjoy feeling the heat and rain, smelling the dust and rain, trying in vain to remember my route, and stopping the bike in random wilderness locations to make a home for the night. In part, it is the hardships that make motorcycle travel so compelling, and if things do get to be too much then you can always stop for a coffee or find a hotel for the night. All I need to do now is find a way to infect my wife with the moto bug.

    - What are you waiting for? If you've been thinking of doing an extended moto trip but haven't, then just go. Sometimes when I read through the international, round the world ride reports, I get jealous and wonder when my turn will come. Then I remember that we in America are blessed with a huge country with an incredible diversity of climates, landscapes, and cultures. Truly, we could spend our entire lives traveling our own country and never see everything there is to see. So, if your eyes are on foreign lands but life just isn't cooperating with your travel dreams then drop your eyes below the horizon and look at the wonderful playground just outside your door.

    - It gets cold (and wet) at 60 MPH. I'm spoiled by living in the desert and never worry much about cool air and rain, but once the temps drop into the low 70s that mesh jacket and a t-shirt don't quite cut it. My warm clothes were not conveniently packed and I didn't want to dig them out until I had to. Driving cold is not good for your response time or decision making, so plan for the cold. Fortunately, I never needed to dig out my rain gear. The storms I drove through were short lived, day time storms, and I knew I'd dry out soon enough.

    - Packing takes practice. Packing is a balancing act between too much and not enough, keeping the weight low and balanced, and packing things you need most on top. It isn't rocket science and after a few days I knew where everything needed to go. Still, it takes some thought and practice. If you don't come from an ultralight backpacking background then you'll probably take way more than you need. That's part of the process. Make a note after each trip of what you did and didn't use and then adjust the next time.

    Okay, here are a couple of gear items.

    - Tent. I currently use a poncho shelter from Six Moon Designs. This is a little, 12 ounce shelter that is perfect for minimalist backpacking, but it doesn't give a lot of room to move around, and during an extended ride through multiple climates it is too small. I want something I can spend a day or two in during extended rains, while still being able to move about and sit up without worrying about showering everything in condensation. I'm in the market for a two or three person tent or tarp.

    - Battery Jumper. I bought this when I had the Vulcan 900 because I kept leaving the key in the ignition and draining my battery. That's not a big problem with the V-Strom because the key is up by the gauges, but things happen and it is nice to have the ability to give yourself a jump start no matter where you are. The manufacturer claims that this unit is good for up to 25 jump starts. Who knows? I've jumped motorcycles, trucks, and ATVs with this thing. Plus, it provides an emergency charge or two for the phone. I don't remember which version I bought, but this one was around $100 on Amazon and is about the size and double the thickness of a large cell phone.
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    - Goal Zero Nomad 7 Solar Charger with Venture 30 Battery. I absolutely love this thing. I never plugged into an outlet on this entire trip, and this charger kept my phone, iPad, and Sena headsets charged. I'd charge everything at night and then clip the solar panel to my tail bag during the day to recharge the battery. On one cloudy day the battery did not fully charge, but the panel wasn't sitting level and probably wasn't oriented with the sun. I did find that the best way to charge the Sena was by connecting it directly to the solar panel rather than to the battery. Probably something to do with the voltages. I used to have a smaller version with only one solar panel and found that was not enough juice. I recommend you get this one or the next size up. You can also buy additional batteries and adapters for rechargeable AAs and AAAs.
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    - MSR Propane Stove. I have white gas stoves, alcohol stoves, and even a wood stove that folds flat, but I've always resisted the propane stoves. I bought this one for about $50 for this trip and I absolutely love it. I didn't cook a lot, but the 8 ounce canister would probably last me about a week if I was cooking all my meals. The stove is simple, efficient, and the canisters are easy to get anywhere in the developed world. I think these are a great choice for moto travel. Oh, this one does not have a piezoelectric igniter, so don't forget the lighter!
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    - iPad keyboard. One of the things I was experimenting with on this trip was life without the laptop. I love my iPad but the onscreen keyboard gets old very fast, so I picked up this Zagg keyboard for the iPad mini. It takes a bit of getting used to because the keys are cramped and this version does not have a backlight, but it does virtually free me from the need for a real computer. The issues I have are things like transferring pictures for ride reports and the normal sync issues between devices. Cloud storage like Dropbox can overcome these but the extra steps slow things down and aggravate me. I used my phone for all of the pictures on this trip. If I had used a normal camera then I'm not sure how I would have transferred the pictures to the Cloud or the iPad. I still can't believe Apple doesn't put a USB port or microcard reader on the iPad. Didn't use this a lot on this trip, but I'm satisfied with it so far. They claim 3-6 months use on a single charge, and the same charging cord fits my Sena headset. I like it, but I still have more work to do to wean myself from the laptop.
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    Okay, there's probably more, but I think that covers the big stuff. I'll add more if there are any questions or if I remember something else.
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  3. Cro59

    Cro59 Been here awhile

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    Some thoughts on the motorcycle. If you've read through this RR then you know that I've tested my limits with the VStrom on the dirt trails around Arizona and have found, not surprisingly, that it is not the best off-road bike, especially for a new guy. The suspension, gearing, weight, and clearance limit the bike and make it a chore to handle on the challenging sections. Where the VStrom absolutely excels is on rides like my recent trip through Utah that involve long distances on the pavement with sections of moderate off-road riding. Except for protection items like the skid plate, my bike is completely stock, and I couldn't be more pleased with its performance on this trip. I did multiple eight hour days in the saddle and never found myself hating the seat or lacking in power. The touring windscreen that came with my bike provided good wind protection and virtually eliminated any buffeting at high speeds. The Mitas E-07 tires were a bit skittish at highway speeds when new, but now that my front has worn down some it has calmed down considerably behind trucks. Including the bags themselves, I was carrying about 70 pounds of gear, and the bike didn't notice. I love the 650 engine for solo touring and the stock bike provides plenty of power reserve even at high speeds. I know there are people touring two-up on these bikes, and I suspect the only issues would be a slower acceleration from a stop and high speed passing on hills.

    Bottom line, I find the DL-650 to be an outstanding touring bike. Dirt oriented riders will never love this bike, but that isn't really the VStrom's target audience. Straight up pavement riders and those riders who want to get off the beaten path now and then will find the DL-650 to be an excellent choice for their long distance adventures. In the end, there is no perfect bike, but you could do much worse. Would I ride the TAT on the VStrom? Probably not. Would I take her around the world? Absolutely!

    I'm already looking forward to the next trip. Maybe Central America this winter and a long ride north in the spring. The VStrom is definitely up to the task.
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  4. lazeebum

    lazeebum Been here awhile

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    The more I read about the Wee Strom, the more convinced I am that that is my next motorcycle. Nice pictures and ride report.
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  5. AZJEFFRO

    AZJEFFRO Been here awhile

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    I love my 09 Wee, You're right, it's not a dirt bike but it does well on forest roads and such. From the looks of some of your pics, you live not far from me, i've seen that gray Strom. I'm just north and east of the main gate at DM.
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  6. Cro59

    Cro59 Been here awhile

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    I'm up at Ina and Thornydale. I'll be the VStrom with the Mosko Moto luggage. Took my hard cases for repair many months ago and never reclaimed them. Guess I should since I'll eventually sell the bike. We should do some rides sometime.
  7. Cro59

    Cro59 Been here awhile

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    What are you riding now? The Wee is an excellent bike. I've pushed her and my skills on Reddington and the AZBDR. She is more capable than I am in the dirt, but it stops being fun after a while when you are wrestling a 500+ pounds, top heavy beast over baby heads. Even so, she gets me to some damn nice camping spots, which is my main objective, and she really shines on the long distance trips.
  8. lazeebum

    lazeebum Been here awhile

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    I am riding a KLR. I hope to just add the Strom.

    Sent from my Z812 using Tapatalk
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  9. Cro59

    Cro59 Been here awhile

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    I've been back four days and already I'm longing to go out on another trip. Home life doesn't suit me.
  10. Cro59

    Cro59 Been here awhile

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    My bet is that you will find the KLR and VStrom fill the same niche, with the VStrom having the edge on the road and the KLR having the edge on the dirt.
  11. Cro59

    Cro59 Been here awhile

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    Quick product review to share with you guys. On day one of my trip I noticed that my fork seals were leaking. When the guys at Woody's fixed my tire they tried to clean the seals, which helped but didn't stop the leak. I expected I was going to have to replace the seals when I got home. Before I took it to the shop I figured I had nothing to lose and bought the Seal Mate to try to clean them again.
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    This is just a thin piece of plastic with a hook on one end that slides between the seal and the fork tube. They arrived yesterday and I took them out to the bike. These things are cheap and easy to use, and so far it looks like they did the trick. I pulled a couple of sand grains out of my fork seals and so far it seems that the leak has stopped. You old, smart guys probably already know about these things, but I think it is worth sharing for the new guys.

    From what I've heard, it doesn't always work, but for $4.99 (less if you buy more) it is definitely worth trying before you hand your bike to the mechanic for a $300+ fork job.
  12. Vinbowie

    Vinbowie Been here awhile

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    I like my KLR but have ended up doing way more road riding.
    So I have been looking at V-Strom 650. More power, smoother.
    We will see.
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  13. Cro59

    Cro59 Been here awhile

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    That's the main reason I chose the VStrom over the KLR last year. I knew most of my riding would be road. Also, I overestimated the VStrom's off-road ability...or maybe I overestimated my ability. For the long road trips the DL is a sweet machine.
  14. lazeebum

    lazeebum Been here awhile

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    I am considering adding a v Strom.

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  15. RememberTheFallen

    RememberTheFallen Been here awhile

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    Thank you very much for all of the helpful posts on gear and I have really enjoyed following along on your trips!


    I am hopefully going be to buying a nice used 09 Vstrom tomorrow and very excited about it! Your thread has helped with that.

    One thing I wanted to add was about your bike comparison. Recently I have given up a lot of off-road ability for comfort. I just sold a very well built Tacoma and have switched to a camperized econoline van. Found I never used the Tacoma like I built it for and it wasn't very comfortable. The van is 10x more comfortable but now I either walk or mtn bike the hard stuff.

    My last "street" bike was an adventurized Husaberg 570 which many claim was a near perfect lightweight platform. I hated it! It was great on hardcore trails and I even raced it in a harescramble but it was absolutely horrible on anything over an hour or two on the road. I road it 260 miles on back roads and forest roads one day and I was miserable. Lost a bunch of money when I sold it but glad I did. I think I will be happy with the comfort of the vstrom 90% of the time and get over its lack of off road prowess the other 10% of the time.

    Just my .02 cents about grass being greener. Keep up the great posts!
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  16. Cro59

    Cro59 Been here awhile

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    Thanks. I'm glad you find the thread useful. I think you'll enjoy the VStrom.

    Yeah, there is no perfect. For me, the Tacoma is close to the perfect 4x4 vehicle. Outstanding on the street and dirt. I don't do much dirt with the VStrom anymore because it just isn't fun for me. Honestly, if I could work on my dirt skills with a smaller bike then I'd be more comfortable with the vstrom in the rough stuff, but I'm not in a position to own two bikes right now. You are right about the grass being greener, and that's why I am not in a big hurry to change bikes. The VStrom is so nice on the pavement and forest service roads, that I don't want to give that up for a marginal off road improvement that I end up not using. One of these days I'll get some time on the DR650 for a good comparison. The bike is my primary mode of transportation and with 90% of my riding on the pavement I don't want to sacrifice the on road performance and comfort. All in all, it is a good problem to have.
  17. Buschog

    Buschog Long timer

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    Been following along for a while. I looked at the Strom, but the ground clearance and the oil filter hanging off the front would keep me from buying one. But I do enjoy reading your tales.

    Keep an eye on Craigslist, and you'll probably be able to find a cheap little trail bike to work on the dirt skills. I've now got a klx250 ($1500), crf150 ($1400 for the wife), and I just picked up a 1974 montessa trials bike for a song at $400. Deals are available if you can be ready to jump on them, and have a little cash setting aside.
  18. Cro59

    Cro59 Been here awhile

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    Thanks, Buschog,
    The skid plate does a good job of protecting the exhaust and oil filter, but that reduces the clearance even more. My skid plate is pretty well gouged so it's definitely a must have on this bike.
    I think you are right about finding a little trail bike. Would be a good investment rather than beating up the VStrom on the rocks. I could get a lot of use out of it here in Tucson.
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  19. JSRocket469

    JSRocket469 n00b

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    Awesome Read - Great Pictures! We need to meet up, I'm in Tucson. Our bikes are closely related. [​IMG][​IMG]

    Attached Files:

  20. Cro59

    Cro59 Been here awhile

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    I'm rarely home these days. Might have some time in November. Feel free to PM me.