Suzuki

It’s a lot of fun to explore the different personalities and capabilities of motorcycles, and believe me, I’ve done a lot of exploring.

“What are you doing?”

“Looking at motorcycles…”

“Okay. I have a good book I need to finish.”

My wife loves to read and she can do it without worrying about me being able to amuse myself. I’m a big help to her that way.

Furthermore, my efforts have yielded substantial results. For example, did you know that arguably the widest line of interesting motorcycles comes from Suzuki?

What are all these interesting bikes? Let’s take a quick look at a few.

SV650

The original SV650 was made from 1999-2002.

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The 2017 model below has recaptured a lot of the original.

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The intervening years have not been so interesting to me, style-wise, but I like the look of this new bike. Similar to the original, the rounded features of the exposed frame, round headlight, and minimal plastic.

The smooth-running V-twin engine has been a big draw for me all along. It’s a 650 and you can ride it all day, as fast as you want. A bit too much power and weight for me, but still safely manageable. Upright seating position, 30.9 inch seat height, 430 lb. curb weight, 3.8 gallon tank. I like this bike.

A good sample of the original would still appeal to me, even though it has the dual carbs to deal with.

DR650

The DR650 is very similar to the F650 I ride now, and that alone makes it interesting to me. They both have been in continuous production since 1992, although the F650 has evolved more. A new BMW G650GS is appealing, but so is a new DR650S.

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Virtually unchanged from the original, it has a relatively smooth counter-balanced 650cc single-cylinder engine, air-cooled with single carb. Mine is liquid cooled with dual carbs. As it turns out, the water pump is the weak link on the F650, making the DR a better choice for remote operation. It’s almost 100 lbs lighter than the F650, making it a better off-road machine, and also easier to handle generally. The stock seat is high at 35 inches, but you can easily drop it a couple inches, and the cushy suspension settles more with weight on it than mine does. I like the idea of floating over rough New England roads with the DR suspension. The 21-inch front wheel versus the F650 19-inch again makes the DR better in rough going.

If I were riding to Alaska and back, I’d prefer the F650, but for the actual riding I do, the DR with some modifications would likely suit me a bit better.

VStrom 650

Utilizing a very smooth de-tuned version of the SV650 V-Twin engine, a big frame, a big tank and good luggage capability, the VStrom is a great long distance adventure bike. With a 62.5 inch wheelbase, it is very stable at speed. I could run down to Memphis for breakfast. Okay, I’d have to ride all night. Yes!

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DR200SE

Light weight. 286 lbs with 3.4 gallons of fuel. 70 mpg. 32 inch seat height. 200 cc. Decent suspension. Not for the interstate, but great around town and through field and stream. Still in production. Related bikes include the KLR250, KLX250S, TW200, Xt225, XT250, and CRF230/250L.

You can make a real statement riding this bike. Not sure what the statement is, but there you go.

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GS500E

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While still in production, the older naked, round headlight version is the style that appeals to me. Two cylinders, very inexpensive, easy to ride and work on. Very popular in its day, and still possible to find a good used one.

TU250X

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The TU250 is a 250cc fuel injected, air cooled single with a classic, minimalist look. Easy to ride, low 30 inch seat, upright riding position, 328 lbs. with 3.2 gallons of fuel.

“There’s that old guy again. He’s probably had that bike since 1960. Amazing how he keeps it running. And looking so good!”

GW250

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GW250 Inazuma is a 250cc, water cooled, fuel injected twin with modern styling. 30.5 inch seat height, upright riding position and a bit heavy for its class at 416 lbs. wet. About $400 less than the TU250X at $4099 list.

C50/C50T

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I’m not particularly into cruisers, but I love the look of the C50T touring bike, and there are some nice used ones available at reasonable prices. Shaft drive! It’s just begging to go places.

S40

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Lastly, take a look at the S40 because you can get bolt on custom parts from RYCA motors to transform the 500cc cruiser into a variety of great looking cafe racers, standards and scramblers. But it probably doesn’t make financial sense in the end. Works fine in my head, though.

 

Final Thoughts

I’m primarily interested in a standard riding position and small to mid-sized engines, and I don’t want to pay for too much power and speed that, for me, only translates into too much danger. I want “sufficient” power, a good suspension, and style. In general, you can get a comparable, better engineered, more powerful bike from Honda or Yamaha, but these “Zukes” tend to have an edge when it comes to style.

The standard riding position and smaller engines are only now being generally revived in the USA and that means there has been a gap in the used market that makes these Suzuki models stand out.

I would enjoy owning any of these bikes, but in the end the 1997 BMW F650 still suits me the best, all things considered.

 

 

 

 

 

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Cold Weather Riding: Part 4

Here in the middle of New Hampshire winter, it has actually warmed up a bit, hitting the mid 30’s F during the day. The roads are more or less bare and dry. Lovely riding weather!

But I know winter riding isn’t for everyone. If I had $16K or more invested in a showroom condition chrome goddess, for example, there might only be 3 or 4 worthy riding days a year.   More generally, though, most North American motorcycles are ridden for pleasure and pleasure rides are typically long, often a whole day. Winter is too cold for that.

Conventional wisdom assumes you will properly prep your bike for storage, squirrel it away in late fall, and then prep it again for riding in the spring. Even a serious enthusiast like Peter Egan of Cycle World keeps his Wisconsin garage door shut this time of year.

For these and many other reasons, winter riding is almost universally a non-starter. And that means I am definitely interested in doing it.

My winter prep is simple. Late last fall I changed the normal 20W50 oil to 10W40. Coated vulnerable parts with ACF50 aircraft corrosion inhibitor.  Snapped the big muffs over the handlebar controls. That’s it. Good to go.

By cold weather, I mean 10 degrees F overnight and 20 degrees or more when I start it. Nothing severe. But even with the lighter oil, the engine is pretty stiff cranking over. If I have enough time, I like to put the bike up on the center stand, start it, and then let it idle until it thoroughly warms up.

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After the initial cold start, there is a big white vapor stream coming out the exhaust, but after it warms up the white puffs disappear. I usually make a few short trips during the day and the subsequent starts are more like normal warm-weather starts.

The spots on the pavement are frost droplets that melted and ran off the dark cover after the sun had been on it for awhile. Normally the bike is under a tarp/enclosure at the house we are building, but last night I left it in the parking lot behind our condo. I know where to park it so no space ranger will run over it in the dim pre-dawn light.

There is something very satisfying about firing up the trusty BMW, defying the cold. The bike is like medicine and road conditions can leave it sitting for days at a time and me in a funk. Sure, I can borrow my wife’s Infiniti and enjoy those heated seats and the “snow-mode” AWD traction, but the F650 is the thing that puts the happy magic on me. It’s what I need.

I do a lot of shuttling back and forth between the new house and the condo. It’s about 1/4 mile. For these brief trips I don’t need any special clothing no matter what the temperature, just what I would normally wear outside. Plus helmet of course.

A serious winter ride for me is 20-25 minutes at 25 degrees, and I dress warm.

The head gets a close fitting black balaclava under the full face modular black HJC helmet with internal sun shade. When stopped, the clear visor can fog up so I try to exhaust my breath out the bottom of the helmet. Worst case I can partially raise the visor to see while stopped then drop it when I get under way. The sun shade seems to help with the fogging, somehow altering the air flow in front of my face.

Here’s a secret: The full face modular helmet is like sticking your head into an insulated case and it’s amazing how a warm head will tame the cold. Huddled inside their cars, you just know people are wondering what’s wrong with you, out there in the brutal cold. For some reason a snowmobile rider (also wearing a helmet) makes more sense to them, but I’d rather be me with my short, useful rides.

The torso gets a cotton T shirt, a long sleeved mock turtle neck UnderArmor layer, a light wool long sleeved layer,  a second UnderArmor layer, a turtle neck long sleeved cotton pullover, a light down jacket and finally my windproof warm-up jacket.  Seven relatively thin layers.

By the way, bright sunshine in the cold is worth almost 10 degrees F of comfort.

Legs have tight fitting UnderArmor bottoms and Duluth canvas work pants with cargo pockets.

Feet get ordinary winter socks and my Skarpa insulated, waterproof hiking boots.  I have good circulation in my feet.

For the hands, I use an UnderArmor mitten liner glove, down mittens, and the handlebar muffs. My hand circulation is not that great, so they can get chilled on a long ride. Mittens make it harder to operate the directional button and especially the high beam switch, but the clutch, front brake and throttle are manageable and not a safety issue.

It sounds like a lot to deal with, but working on the house I already have a a lot of it on. The thing is, this configuration works for me. I can ride in comfort with confidence, knowing I will be fine. Worst case I feel a little chill near the end of the ride. I prefer the low tech approach and have so far resisted electric heat of any kind on my short trips. Winter touring would be another story.

Surprise! Wind chill is mostly irrelevant in winter riding.  Why? You are already moving through the air at 40-50 mph and that’s typically much more than any breezes in the forecast. So whether the wind is blowing or not, you have already covered that issue with your gear. Winter wind briefly becomes an issue when you are stopped and have your gloves off to organize things or work on the bike. Fueling it, etc.

Keep in mind that cold tires don’t grip the pavement as well as warm tires, and the road can have a light dusting of sand or salt, or patches of black ice in the morning from snowbanks melting onto the roadway and freezing overnight. You have to ride more conservatively. Extensive black ice is a show stopper, by the way. It is fortunate, in one sense, that the suspension is stiffer in the cold. It offers a bumpy reminder of the wintry conditions. But with the upright F650, I can easily shift my weight onto the pegs and glide over anything.

I don’t see any other bikes on the road, and I do mean none, when the temperature drops below 40F and stays there. Winter riding is apparently a secret pleasure. What is the secret? If you have a minimalist attitude, warm clothes, flexible schedule, the need to make a lot of short purposeful trips and a bike that weathers well, you can keep the motorcycle magic going all winter long.