At Touratech we were beefing up the V-Strom with some bush bars. Suzuki had already fitted their own engine guards, but the Touratech ones offer more coverage, up to the fairing, and look nicer too. I’ll take that upgrade. There’s no sump guard on the Suzuki, and with ground clearance being not so much (165mm) it desperately needed a sump plate for the Cambrian and all the rocks we’d find there. So on with Touratech’s sump plate – an easy job, and thankfully it offers substantial coverage. I noted I was trying not to scratch the plate as I fitted it... Then two easy jobs to finish – a swap from the standard rubber-top footrests for proper serrated types and an alloy guard for the radiator.
A bit more prep was needed – we rotated the bars forward a bit to create a better standing position, and we rotated the gear lever up one notch on the spline so it was raised and easier for a motocross boot to get under (especially in a standing position). Then on with some new Metzeler Karoo 3 tyres – proper what I call town & country types. They’re a new design and while their rounded profile look a bit less than confidence-inspiring there’s actually a healthy gap between the rows of knobs that should ensure fairly decent bite. We’d see how they perform.
So job done. Only five hours work for Touratech’s manager Steve and me – well, more Steve than me (and to be fair we chatted through half of that). So it was 9pm and the rain was coming down cats and dogs, not boding well for start in the morning. Alex had turned up with the TBM van and the Honda in the back, wise man. We repaired to my old man’s place near Llandeilo for the night. ‘We repair to...’ – I’ve stolen that directly from some 20-year-old Blezard copy, can you believe. Thank you P.N.B., nice turn of phrase.
Now, I’m no different to anyone else, I think the same thoughts. And one of those is a question I have as to whether the V-Strom is really an adventure bike at all, or just a road bike dressed up to look the part. I’ve never actually properly looked at the V-Strom to assess this, just gone on gut instinct. And so my gut has been pretty much negative on the matter. Suzuki have left the matter moot too, keen to pitch the Strom on its road attributes. There’s no ruffty-tuffty desert riding in this sales brochure. But still, given that they call it an adventure model we should at least see just how much adventure it might take, eh?
And given that Africa is a fair ways away and not entirely attractive for a number of reasons right now, and being stuck for finding riding buddies to tackle local lanes, then the Cambrian was an ideal solution. If I was to get the Strom stuck in a bog, having a good 150 riding companions should at least give an evens chance of extraction. Likewise I could forget about issues of navigation – just follow the arrows. And fighting for byway space with walkers, horses, mountain bikers and 4x4 fans – not an issue (or so I thought). So I wasn’t at the Cambrian on some premise that the Strom is a rally racer, no, just using the opportunity to see just how extreme the Strom could go. That’s not an excuse, by the way, for not getting a decent result. Not one bit.
All that said, between the night-before bike prep and scrutineering at 9am I was at least able to last-minute familiarise myself with some of the Strom’s spec. And it’s actually quite up-market. That’s an alloy beam frame for a start. Anybody who’s ridden Honda’s CRF enduros or Suzuki’s own RMX450 – even a GSX-R race rep – will know there’s a lot of integrity in alloy beam frames. When they’re good, they’re very good. And this one is 13% lighter than the previous Strom frame, so clearly Suzuki have been doing some homework. And there, in all their glory, attached to the front of the Strom are a pair of gold-anodised Kayaba upside forks, with adjustment for preload, compression and rebound damping. I’m a big fan of Kayaba (or KYB if you prefer) units – knowing them from Yamaha YZs, YZ-Fs and WRs and knowing just how good they are – so seeing these on the Suzuki kind of got me hopeful. Sadly the Kayaba shock doesn’t seem quite so sophisticated, with preload adjustment only – but then I’m not so sophisticated either, and seeing this largish adjuster knob just under the seat I wound the preload up to max allowing for my weight and wanting maximum ground clearance. There’s more good stuff. Like the radially-mounted Tokico monoblock brakes, with ABS. Traction control too. It’s not quite GS-sophisticated, but Suzuki have allowed the Strom a few trinkets.
And while we know this engine from as long ago as 1997, in the TL-S, and from 2002 in the original V-Strom (so it’s old, like) – it’s evident that Suzuki have given it a thorough makeover for this 2014 edition. With +2mm on the bores it’s now 1037cc and with dual plug heads and new fuel injection, plus ECU upgrades, it’s a whole new tune. And bless Suzuki, for they’ve gone completely in the opposite direction to the rest of the adventure market and de-powered the machine! Suzuki quote 100hp but magazine dyno tests are showing that to be about 91hp at the rear wheel – about 25hp less than the 1200GS and 37hp less than the 1190 KTM (and of course there’s now the 1290...)! But a little like Aprilia with their Caponord, here Suzuki have clearly decided the market would like easy, low-rev torque characteristics, we’re not here to set lap records or speed records, let’s just chill-out and enjoy the scenery. They’ve even added a heavier flywheel to accentuate the point.
Ahh, getting back to the traction control, it comes with three levels of actuation if you count ‘off’ as a level. Okay two levels, then. Only here: a confession. I rode the whole time with it off! We’d set it at off at TBM and I’d not paid attention to how we did that so forgot how to switch it back on again (which is in fact very easy – it was just I was always hurrying). Yet despite rain and dirt on the roads, and rain on Cambrian course, the power was just so controllable that I never actually needed to turn it on. I’m sure there are times when it’s needed – say riding two-up with full luggage on sheet ice – but for now, given my ineptitude, we’ll need to rely on Alex to establish its usefulness (lucky man – he’s keeping the Strom as a long termer).