This guest post was kindly contributed by Grant Boysen.
Backstory … Before jumping into this V-Strom review for the ages, I want to briefly state what motorcycling is to me. This is important, because motorcycling means many different things to countless types of riders. Motorcycling is all about lofting little power wheelies, sliding on the brakes into corners while riding to distant lands in search of the perfect cheese burger. For me, a great motorcycle requires a perfect blend of practicality, performance and frugality. While some motorcycles are the outright top performers in their category, they often lack one or both of the other prime factors which mark a motorcycle as “outstanding” in my book.
My motorcycling endeavours began atop a 2003 Suzuki SV650S. It was a recently crashed, totally ratty, definitely not street legal, little turd. I rode the pants off that thing. Over the years, I acquired one of two more SV’s, amid many other bike purchases. There was something about that engine that I fell in love with. Flash forward nearly a decade, I’ve likely put close to 150,000 miles on Suzuki’s little 90 degree V-twin engine configuration.
Back in the day, when my friends asked my recommendation for a do-it-all motorcycle, I would instantly say “Get a DL650 V-Strom.” But way back when, I had yet to even own a DL650, but I knew that engine to be a peach. It was not until I convinced my best friend to purchase a V-Strom 650, that I really grasped what a magnificent motorcycle it to be. It had that spunky little Suzuki V-Twin, in a stark upright touring oriented seating position, with top quality wind protection. Shortly after my best friend acquired his DL650, and after my year long battle with trying to love an NC700X, I purchased my own Wee.
November 21st, 2017, the day I purchased my beloved 650 Wee:
I rode pillion atop my younger brother’s rat-bike DL650 (the “Ace Hardware Wee”) which had uncomfortably bent-inward passenger pegs and more flat-bar than any motorcycle should have. (Yes, I convinced my brother to buy a Wee before I bought one myself). Nearly 3 hours and many leg spasming cramps later, we arrived in Fresno California. A short time later I was the unsuspecting owner of a 42,800 mile, 10 year old, slightly road rashed, Suzuki DL650. All that bike for a low low tantalizing price of $1900.
Before you start cursing my name in vain, let me get this out there. The Wee is an ugly lil thing. No one has ever called it beautiful, no one ever will. It’s large, angular, frumpy and comprised of mostly crudely cast aluminum. Nothing on it is sexy, besides the massive analog speedometer and tachometer. Any farkles you add to the little piglet, only make it more hideous. But if you remember back to my three criteria (practicality, performance and frugality – The PPF) which make a great motorcycle, aesthetics ain’t on the list!
Like any proper ADV’er, pretty much right away I started ordering parts for my little Wee. CBR929RR calipers with adapter brackets, steelbraided brake lines, new tires, grips, luggage, DL1000 Tall seat, new handlebars, etc. But around that time, my harem of motorcycles was thicc. My Wee didn’t get much attention for a month or two after it was purchased.
Around January I finally started riding the little V-Strom 650. I began using the Wee as a work bike. At the time, I was a medical courier in the San Francisco Bay Area as well as a funeral escort rider in downtown S.F. (round that time I procured a white gas tank and fairings). The little Wee loved it all. It wanted to be worked, it loved the constant flog’n. The nearly 6 gallon fuel tank allowed me to ride 225+ miles a day while working, without having to stop for fuel.
But, there was an issue… In stock form the handling was just mediocre. A lot of effort was required to throw it into corners. The whole bike felt squatty. The stock front suspension dampening was below par once the pace would quicken, especially with the upgraded brakes. Surprisingly, the OEM rear shock worked alright for my welterweight. Still, the whole package kinda irked me, it wasn’t performance oriented enough. I knew the Suzuki Gods didn’t design this glorious roadway machine with mediocrity in mind.
Enter the suspension rabbit hole…
My OEM rear shock finally shit the bed and spewed its guts all over the linkage… I needed to come up with a replacement. Something better than the OEM unit. I stumbled upon an all inclusive Ohlins shock chart somewhere deep in the bowels of the interwebs. The holy grail of suspension tweak’n. My best friend Patty and I spent a good period of time cross referencing available shocks which were near the OEM length of a Wee-Strom rear shock. After many hours (maybe days) of bickering which shocks were better, we figured a 2003-2004 ZX-6R shock to be of the proper fitment. We both procured used 03/04 ZX6R shocks for approximately $27 via an online auction platform and got to installation. Knowing that the stock dampening up front would not feel pleasant after installing some premium damps out back, we slapped in some Race Tech Gold Valves in the front forks with stiffer springs and proper weight oil.
To make a long story short’ish. After much experimentation, we settled on some shorter rear suspension links to raise the rear of the bike up a bit. This was due to the ZX6R shock being a few millimeters shorter in length. We also wanted to steepen the steering angle over stock geometry. Finally, the suspension performance (after many late nights of tweak’n, months worth) was top notch. The DL650 could now compete with any top quality, newer sport bike/adv machine on canyon backroads. I would argue, it bests most bikes on the road handling wise.
The DL650 platform just needed two performance oriented motorcycling hermits to stumble upon the handling issue, which no one else cared about.
Back in the day when the V-strom was conceived, not many bikes were set-up with the 19/17” wheel combos. Especially 650cc engine platform bikes. The V-Strom wheels are heavy, like really heavy. But there is something about a 19” front wheeled motorcycle. With the right tire combination and chassis geometry, the bike is insanely stable, yet surprisingly nimble. The evolution of “sport touring” tire compounds have pushed the limits of the little DL650’s, far past what they were likely designed to do. Let me tell you what, there ain’t nothing better than a Bridgestone T30 (non evo) 110/80-19 on a DL650.
Powerwise, the stock engine is spunky yet refined, it lives to be revved out. Although, its full potential is hidden just beneath the surface. SV650 cam swaps really wake up the little engine and can easily be accomplished when you are deep in it’s guts for a valve adjustment. This swap takes the “boring” little 1st Gen DL650 and turns it into a properly quick motorcycle. Yanking the airbox snorkel out and installing an aftermarket muffler makes it sound like a properly quick motorcycle. My butt dyno is also convinced that a slip on muffler helps the little bugger breath up top.
Now you’re probably thinking, “Wow, that sounds like a lot of work. A lot of work on a bike that is still uglier than your sister’s uncle.” Yes, it was a labor of love. Sure, some of those parts weren’t exactly cheap. I’m willing to bet that the summation of those parts is still a lot cheaper than one blingy KTM Power Part or a BMW computer thing that reads your error codes. You know what isn’t orange or requires a special computer to read error codes? A 2007 Suzuki DL650.
After about two years of constant abuse as a work and commute bike, a few trips around the western half of the United States, one or three crashes and a broken collarbone… My Wee was getting pretty whooped. It was approaching 80,000 miles and starting to drink a bit of the old compressed plant juice. Around that time, I bought another DL650, this one a 2006 with 35,000 miles. I had the goal of swapping all my parts over. But before diving into that multi-day hack-fest, we had a test to do.
My brother rode my heavily modified DL650 with 80k miles, and I rode the bone stock 35k mile Wee. We went out to our favorite closed course race track, and it was on. We diced it up all day, back and forth, sketchy pass after sketchy pass. But one thing was clear. It didn’t really matter what modifications were made, a DL650 is a fine motorcycle, it is an outstanding motorcycle! Yes, the heavily modified bike handled better, slowed faster, flopped into corners with haste. But the little stock Wee still held its own! The modified Wee only had a bit more power coming out of corners, and it felt slightly more planted on the brakes due to firmer suspension. But the bone stock DL650 was right there. All squatty, plush and glorious. Even the stock brakes were not as bad as I had once remembered them to be.
For some reason, I was too lazy, or acquired another bike to add to the fleet, and I sold the low mileage DL650. The swap never took place. I stopped working as a funeral escort rider and motorcycle courier, my commute decreased significantly, but the Wee oil consumption was continuously increasing.
To date, I have owned my DL650 for approximately 3.5 years. Which to most, might not sound like a long time, but I am bike-curious. I usually only keep a bike for 3-6 months max. The Wee is different. I’ve taken many different bikes on multi-week trips, logged countless 14+ hour days in the saddle and eaten a lot of cheese burgers. But my DL650, there’s something about it. I watched my friend get T-Boned while he was riding my Wee. I was sent to the hospital because of a wreck involving my Wee (I usually sell a bike after it breaks me off, just out of principle). It is unlike any bike I have ever owned. Unlike any bike I have ever toured on. It is my belief that the 2006-2007 DL650 is the ideal motorcycle due to its low acquisition cost, nearly non existent maintenance costs and easy modability. After some low dollar upgrades, the little sucker can be transformed into a sportbike hunting, ADV whoopin’ machine. I’ll say it, I love my Wee.
Before my brother left California, he was riding my bike on a short day trip. He began laughing hysterically out of nowhere in the bike-2-bike intercom. “What is that god awful knocking noise coming from… everywhere on your motorcycle?” We laughed foolishly, we laughed so hard we began to tear up and had to pull over. That was the most accurate description of the current state of my Wee. I’ve broken the subframe from jumping the bike with a loaded topcase. The Givi crash bars are so bent and warped I’m not sure I will be able to get them off without the use of a deathwheel. The electrical wiring is held together with wire-nuts, liquid electrical tape and the dreams of the dead. The gas tank has a big pelvic dent from when my friend crashed my Wee. Most of the fairings are cracked in multiple places and feverishly stop drilled in hopes of salvaging them. Both footpeg brackets have been bent to the brink of their breaking point. It drinks oil like a 22 year old frat bro drinks Whiteclaws, too much too fast. It is wrecked.
This summer, my best friend Patty and I are yet again planning another “let’s go wherever the sun takes us” trip up north. Our Wee’s are both now in excess of 90,000 miles weak. Both bikes are consuming roughly 250-500ml of oil per 500-750 of hard hoon’n miles. To take these bikes on a multi-week adventure would require both of us carrying a gallon of oil with a drip line running directly into the crankcase. That is, if we survived huffing each other’s noxious Wee-fumes, they stink pretty bad… Or even worse, someone submitting our license plates into CARB as gross polluters.
After much bickering, being the cheapskates that we are, we settled on making our Wee’s great again. We both decided to order all the necessary parts to revitalize our rock-chipped and battered little 650’s. Low mileage doner heads off flebay, all new gaskets, piston rings, valve stem seals, etc. $450’ish each in parts and heads. Not too shabby!
Patty took apart his Wee a few weeks ago to begin the rebuild process and found all sorts of mechanical destruction. Carbon buildup, extremely worn valve-guides, oil scraper rings that were just loosie goosie, wallered out valve stem seals, burnt up exhaust valves, pitted seats. 90,000 hard miles worth of damage and oil consumption. But by god, the damn thing still was quick. It just stank.
The trip is planned to begin in about a month and a half. All my parts have arrived, but they’re still in the box and I’m still riding my Wee. Patty has his Wee apart, but his parts have not arrived. Like always, I’m sure we will be working on our bikes the night before beginning our journey. Embarking upon our trip with completely untested, freshly remastered Wee’s. What could go wrong? They’re Suzuki’s!
Here’s to 90,000 more miles of smiles and brutal mechanical destruction.