As you have probably gathered if you have been following my FB posts, over the four weeks Judy and I made our way around New Zealand on the machine kindly loaned to us by TSS Red Baron in Wellington on behalf of Suzuki New Zealand, whilst presenting at various locations on the Shiny Side Up Tour 2018.
We topped 5000 kms. Over the weeks, I’ve summarised the bike’s good points. I’ve ridden it on everything from wet muddy unmade roads and hard-packed dirt to busy expressway. I’ve ridden on baking hot still days, through torrential rain and in strong side winds. I’ve ridden it mostly two-up but also solo.
In short, it handled everything but the muddy roads, and that’s down to the tyres as much as anything. The bike is supremely capable as a long-distance two-up tourer, thanks to torque rather than outright power.
Power really only matters when we are hunting top speed at the red line. Torque is the twisting force the rear wheel delivers to the road via the gears and is what delivers acceleration. The DL has heaps, from low revs and offers an almost flat torque curve. This means that from about 3500 rpm there is more than enough thrust on tap for anything you might ask the bike to do, even two-up. The motor smooths right out by 4000 rpm and rarely needs to see 6000rpm.
There are faster machines but the DL is perfectly capable of cruising on the wrong side of the 100 kph New Zealand speed limit if you want it to. More to the point, it gets to usable speeds as quickly as any sane rider needs to. I don’t think I ever used full throttle as I didn’t want to lose Judy off the back.
First gear is relatively low – a nod in the direction of its adventure styling – but the other five are really road-biased, turning over at just 4000 rpm at 100 kph in fifth. I tackled most rural roads in third or fourth, with the occasional foray to second on slow corners or towns. I really only hit fifth on the longer straights. Six is so close to fifth, it’s redundant – the bike would be perfectly happy with a five speed gearbox.
The shift is light and positive though I have hit a couple of false neutrals. Amusingly the digital gear indicator (rather more useful than on most bikes, given the DL’s smooth midrange) goes blank.The hydraulic clutch is relatively light and very smooth, but the lever reach is a bit too far for me.
The ABS-equipped brakes are perfectly up to the job of stopping machine plus two plus luggage. The rear isn’t too fierce but the front has some real bite when needed. But once again, the lever is a tad too far out, even with the span adjuster turned in. The bike is fitted with traction control but although I switched it back on (the previous rider had turned it off), I haven’t activated it.
The handling is surprisingly good, quite good enough to get my the toe of boot down a couple of times on tight twisties. The combination of 19 inch / 17 inch front and rear wheels give it excellent road manners with nothing of the vagueness I recall from the last adventure bike I rode, Triumph’s 800 Tiger.
Once the brand-new fully adjustable suspension loosened up, it gave a firm, well-sprung and well-damped ride, and was comfortable for some seriously long days on the bike. With a 350 km tank range, I rarely had to worry about the next fill-up, even in NZ where towns with gas can be some distance apart. Fuel consumption hovered in the high 40s / low 50s. I had hoped for a little more from a modern fuel-injected machine travelling at modest pace, but to be fair, the V-Strom was pushing two people and luggage behind the sizeable fairing, so perhaps I am expecting a little much.
Talking of the fairing, it does a good job of keeping the wind off, and the bark busters on the bars actually deflect the rain too. The only thing that doesn’t get deflected are loose chips – on the Forgotten Highway, I was riding through a shower of stones thrown up by the front wheel.
Of course, no bike is without its faults, so let’s see what 5200 kms has thrown up.
The biggest annoyance was an on-off-on throttle stutter. On the flat or uphill, it was rarely an issue, but on gentle downhill slopes the jerky response was irritating. I could ride round it but my Yamaha’s fuel injection is silky smooth by comparison.
I’ve never thought a bike needed cruise control but this one did. At the 4000 rpm sweet spot, it is almost impossible to detect 10 kph rises and falls in speed without constantly eyeing the (big and clear) digital speedo. Given the legendary vigilence of the NZ police, leaving the bike to stick to the limit would have been a good thing. As the bike comes with ABS and three-mode traction control, surely it would have been easy enough to add cruise control.
The second major frustration was the headlight. Solo, headlamp aim was just about spot-on out of the box. But two-up and fully loaded – a role the Suzuki publicity says the machine is ideally suited for – dip beam is too high and main beam is illuminating the treetops. A adjuster knob would have been nice but being realistic, I was looking for a screw. After a good look, I couldn’t find it so I did something unheard-of and consulted the manual.
‘Remove the instrument panel.’
Yep, to adjust the beam (or change the bulbs!), the rider has to remove two pop-pins, then two screws, then pull the panel out of the way. This, simply put, is not acceptable on a 21st century machine. No-one expects to get under the hood of a modern car to adjust the lights whenloaded and we shouldn’t have to do this with a motorcycle.
Talking of lights, the normal position for the dipswitch is taken up with the rocker switch for the multifunction display, so to select main beam you have to flip the headlight flasher outwards with the tip of an index finger. It is nothing like as straight-forward as the more usual thumb-operated rocker. At least the horn is in the right place, unlike recent Hondas!
TSS Red Baron, the dealer who provided the bike, had kindly fitted the genuine Suzuki panniers. The mounts are well-designed and easy to use and blend subtly into the bike’s lines when the panniers are off. The cases are quite slim which was good when I squeezed a bit close to a parked car THEN remembered them.
However, the fitting kit requires some body trim to be removed. The top case, which also needs an adapter plate for the built-in rake. Why not build the mounts for both straight into the bike?
The cases are not as big as some aftermarket kit and their lozenge shape also has internal lumps and bumps making packing a bit of a trial. When the case is laid flat, the retaining straps balance the lid exactly upright. You can guess what happens the moment you touch the case. I lost count of how many times the metal hinge bounced off the back of my wrist as I was packing.
Plus. The bike comes with an accessory socket. Minus. There is no stowage for what is being charged. And the plastic-covered tank means you can’t fit a small magnetic tank bag either. The bike needs a lockable stowage box, and given the prevalence of USB-powered devices, a UBS charging port alongside the socket would be a nice touch.
Although Suzuki talk about the bike’s ‘light weight’ in their publicity, it is the wrong side of 500 lbs. In my book, that is heavy, not light. Despite being a V-twin, the weight is carried high. I can’t help but think that moving some mass lower and getting the bike on a diet would make the V-Strom an even better machine.
At my height (5-9 or 1.75m) I did find I was having to have think about where to put a foot down every single time I came to a halt. If you are six foot-plus, but for those of us of modest stature why not fit an adjustable seat as standard?
This may seem a long list of ‘things I didn’t like’, but read it in context with the many things I did like about the machine. No bike is perfect (or if there is one, I have yet to ride it in forty years) but overall the DL1000 has far more going for it than it has against it.
And in some ways, I have left the best till last. The list price in the UK as of yesterday was £9950.
To put that in context, it is almost £2500 cheaper than the base model BMW1200GS. It is over £3000 cheaper than Honda’s Africa Twin.
No doubt some readers will argue that this list is evidence Suzuki are keeping the costs down but frankly, if Suzuki could fix the niggles, including that headlight adjustment goof, it would turn from a solidly good machine to an exceptional one at a stunning price point.