Oct 29, 2013


All Rights Reserved © 2011 Thomas W. Day

cbr250 007LEFT: New vs. old. [I couldn’t find a Harley on the road that morning, so I picked the next closest thing.]

What do you do when you get a chance to ride a motorcycle you've been drooling over, but you can only have it for 100 miles? It's tough finding twisty, technical roads within 50 miles of Lakeville's Motoprimo, but finding the kind of roads and traffic a rider will encounter as a daily commuter bike was an easy task. I decided to ride to Red Wing for lunch.

The most competent and attractive CBR250R sitting at the head of the line at Motoprimo (WR250X in the background, as another standard of beauty.

The CBR250R is a 369 pound, single-cylinder, small sportbike with a lot of technology under the tank. The 23-hp CBR idles at 1500 rpm and, hauling my 200+ pounds from a dead stop stop required spinning the motor up to 3,000 rpm with some clutch work for smooth and quick transitions. If you like motorcycles with lots of low end torque, this won't be your can of oil. At a radar-verified 60mph the engine is turning 6,200 rpm. The motor is still pulling in 6th gear above 70mph, so I think the little 250 is a capable commuter. Redline and the rev-limiter coexist at 10.5k.

cbr250 029 Honda claims there are 27 patents behind the power plant's motor, so this is an unusual little engine. The fuel injection makes itself known from when you turn the key as the bike goes through it's self-inspection routine while the fuel pump powers up. The engine fires up on the first bump of the starter and pulls evenly at all engine speeds and with all but the most unrealistic loads (like hauling my butt up Red Wing's Prairie Island Blvd in 6th gear).  The first break-in tank burned fuel at a 55mpg rate and I would expect that to improve slightly with age.

The six-speed transmission is smooth, positive, and flawless. The clutch is light with a large, predictable friction zone that should be extremely new-rider-friendly. Shifting the CBR was as effortless and intuitive as any motorcycle I've ever ridden. The power train is incredibly smooth. I had a hard time "feeling" the engine speed and found myself checking the tach regularly to verify my gear selection.

The front and rear disk brakes are strong, but have an extremely progressive feel. If you make an effort you can haul the bike down from 60 to 0 quickly, but Honda has designed the CBR to be new-rider-friendly and that means the brakes are more "friendly" than "aggressive." They do the job well, but they won't surprise you if you are a little heavy handed. 

The firm, seat, narrow frame, and modified sportbike riding position produces an adult-comfortable sport-riding stance that allows the rider some freedom of movement. I was comfortable on the firm seat and could have done at least another 150 miles for the day. The riding position is a little hard on old knees, but less so than a full-out sportbike. The CBR does lean you into the wind, so if your abs and back muscles aren't providing support, your arms will and you'll fatigue quickly as a result.

The passenger seat is small, but acceptable and the passenger riding position is sporty and tolerable. Two-up capacity is limited, with a 365 pound max load.

cbr250 023 cbr250 022 The suspension is more like the sort found on standard bikes, rather than the firm and short-travel suspenders sport bikers suffer. The suspension sucked up railroad tracks and County Road 46's cobbly surface without delivering much of the impact to the rider. Under all that plastic is a pretty cool looking trellis-frame with the engine as a stressed member of the structure. I expect a lot of hip looking naked bikes will evolve from used CBR250's in a few years. The CBR's structure is exceptionally stiff, which results in a small, lightweight bike that feels a lot larger than I expected. The bike is stable at highway speeds, while remaining nimble and quick for the usual urban traffic situations. The suspension, frame, and motor all serve to keep vibration and shock to the rider minimized.

The CBR's console is full of useful information, without being cluttered. At the center of attention is the large tachometer, which might be Honda's hint that this motor needs to spin to work. The console has a large speedometer in the middle of the digital information, surrounded by a clock, fuel gauge, switchable odometer and trip odometers and a reserve fuel odometer, and temp gauge. Moving away from the center, you find the turn signals and the usual array of idiot lights. The fairing works surprisingly well, with the smallish windshield pushing air up to my shoulders without noticeable turbulence at the helmet. The long-stem, fairing mounted mirrors are incredibly adjustable, but you may not be able to find a setting that lets you see closely following vehicles.

Unlike a couple of motorcycles I've test ridden for MMM, the CBR250R has almost nothing in common with this Ford Tractor. I just thought they looked nice together. .

cbr250 030

Under the passenger seat, the CBR's tool kit is sparse: consisting of a helmet cable and a 4mm Allen wrench. There is a good sized locked compartment under the passenger seat for more tools and a thoughtful accommodation for a large "U-lock." Two Allen screws and the seat is off, which exposes the battery, air filter, and fuses. The fairing panels are removed with 3 Allen screws, one on the side and two on the inside of the front of the panel, and three snap tabs. Once the right side fairing is removed, the radiator is accessible. You have to pull the lower fairing to get to the oil filter, but the oil drain plug is exposed without plastic removal and it takes about 1 1/2 quarts of oil for a change. Honda recommends 8,000 mile oil changes, 12,000 mile air filter replacement, and 16,000 valve adjustments. Service appears to be an infrequent consideration for this little "dependable cross-town or cross-country" motorcycle. Parts are priced fairly, too. All of the major plastic bits run from about $14 to $60, including the windscreen, resulting in cheap repairs compared to similar motorcycle plastic.

cbr250 001

RIGHT: The beautiful and highly ergonomic Honda CBR250R parked in front of an ancient Minnesota concrete religious totem.

If you know Honda's past 250cc sport bikes, the CBR will be a surprise. It is very different from the VTR250 Honda imported in the late 80's. The CBR feels larger, more suited to an adult, and the motor isn't as peaky as the VTR. You can't connect the dots between the 250 Nighthawk and the CBR, either. The Nighthawk was an air-cooled standard parallel twin and it was infamous for running hot and being carburetion-ally temperamental. The CBR is less standard and the fuel injection takes a hard swipe at starting and jetting tantrums. The new CBR is lighter, more rider-friendly, smoother, more versatile, and higher-tech than its predecessors.

Honda has aggressively price-positioned the CBR. The sticker price is exactly the same as tag pasted to Kawasaki's 250 Ninja. ABS adds another $500 and is a real improvement in rider safety.  That is a lot of technology for the buck. Kawasaki may have to step up the Ninja's game to stay in the race. Honda can add a seat cowling for the passenger seat, a carbon fiber tank pad and fuel lid cover, a tail pack, and several aftermarket companies offer exhaust systems and slip-ons, mirrors, cosmetics kits, and tune-up components.

I'm a 250-kind-of-guy and my regular commuter is my WR250X. The CBR250R is dramatically different than my WR. The CBR is smoother, more comfortable at freeway speeds, presents a more forgiving motor and clutch, and has a lower seat height. When I returned the Honda to Motoprimo, Dean Cross asked, "Did you like it?" I liked it a lot. Thanks for asking and for giving MMM the opportunity to test ride this very cool motorcycle.

cbr250 025

LEFT: The silliest "tool kit" I've ever seen.


  • Engine Type: 249.4cc, 23.7hp, DOHC; four valves per cylinder, liquid-cooled single-cylinder four-stroke
  • Compression Ratio: 10.7:1
  • Fuel Injection: PGM-Fi, 38mm throttle body
  • Ignition: Computer-controlled digital transistorized with electronic advance
  • Transmission: six-speed
  • Front Suspension: 37mm fork
  • Rear Suspension: Pro-Link single shock with five positions of spring preload adjustability
  • Front Brake: Single 296mm disc
  • Rear Brake: Single 220mm disc
  • Front Tire: IRC Road Winner 110/70-17 radial
  • Rear Tire: IRC Road Winner 140/70-17 radial
  • Rake & Trail : 25.0 degrees & 95mm
  • Wheelbase: 53.9 inches
  • Seat Height: 30.5 inches
  • Curb Weight: 359 pounds. includes all standard equipment, required fluids and full tank of fuel-ready to ride.
  • Fuel Capacity: 3.4 gallons
  • Estimated MPG: 77 MPG EPA
  • Available Colors: Metallic Black, Red/Silver
  • Price: $3999 MSRP

Oct 28, 2013

#27 Doing Without

All Rights Reserved © 2003 Thomas W. Day

Yet again, I got into a heated discussion with a biker-friend about helmets and safety gear. I'm for it, he's agin' it. In the middle of the battle, he made the statement that if he were forced to wear a helmet, he'd probably quit riding and take up hotrods. Pretty dramatic response, I thought.

My reaction to hearing that statement was to devalue his commitment to motorcycling. I said something politically sensitive like “the only reason you ride a bike is to be seen riding a bike, you don’t really have any kind of serious commitment to being on two wheels.” Having been a motorcyclist for 30 years of his 40-some years on the planet, he took offense to my oversimplification. In fact, he took it as an insult. And we got pretty far off track for a few days. After the shots over the bow died down, I began to think about the opposite situation; my situation. Would I ride if I were required to ride without my full-face helmet, boots, armored jacket and pants, and gloves? My first thought was about the same as my friend's.

I might quit riding.

I'd particularly miss the helmet. I really depend on my Shoei X-9. It, and my ear plugs, have protected my ears from permanent damage for 20-some years. My helmet and a little neckwear keep me cool, hydrated, and safe on hot summer days. With my wimpy-ass respiratory system I absolutely depend on my helmet to keep me warm, able to see, and safe on cold days. Riding with a helmet adds at least three months to my riding season. In comparison, my non-helmeted friend doesn't hit the road until mid-June and he's putting his bike into winter storage in mid-to-late September.

Because of my helmet, I ride with a level of confidence that has become integrated into to my riding style. I have my accident scenarios planned with the assumption that my skull won't be ground down to splinters of bone and blobs of gray goo. We’re talking about years of working out accident avoidance, crashes, and cornering angles with the helmet (and other gear) as critical parts of the plan. At this moment, I do not have a backup plan for what I’d do if I dropped the bike without a helmet. So, would I keep riding if the Feds told me I had to do it bareheaded?

Maybe not.

I never ride without a helmet. I know, never say "never." I'll admit to taking short tuning rides in my neighborhood, unprotected and feeling naked as a Penthouse model on camera. But I've never gone any distance, at any speed, without my helmet on my head (not strapped to my luggage rack, hanging from my elbow or mirrors, or clipped to a helmet lock). Putting on the helmet is as automatic as turning the key. The older I get, the more stuff I wear, too. Thirty years ago, I rode in a jean jacket, western-style boots, jeans (usually with a couple of holes in the knees), spandex dirt bike gloves, and a fairly inexpensive open-face helmet. Now I own an Aerostich suit, a heavy armored nylon riding jacket and pants, two pairs of riding boots, an all-weather collection of motorcycle gloves, and a three full-face helmets. I'm more likely to spend spare cash on more protective gear than on accessories for my motorcycle.

At the least, if I had to give up all that safety gear, I'd probably downsize my bike by 400cc. My ride is already a relatively small 650cc, if that gives you an idea of how much I depend on my gear. I’d be a 200-pound, 50cc biker (or moped’er) wearing a bicycle helmet. At the far, most painful end of my options, I'd consider finding another mode of transportation.

But we all know I'm not going to have to make that decision. I happen to be on the politically correct side of this argument. For a change. Maybe, for the first time in my life. This tiny piece of my personal position is safe from bureaucratic interference.

Still, having considered my own commitment to motorcycling, sans headgear, I have a lot more sympathy for my friend's situation if he were forced to wear a helmet. I still think he's making a mistake when he rides unprotected, but I have a lot more respect for his right to be wrong and for his defense of that right. He’s willing to put his life where America’s mouth used to be; “live free or die.” I have a lot more respect for that position today, but we won’t get into that.

MMM May 2003

Oct 25, 2013

MOVIE REVIEW: The Long Way Round


Elixir Films, Image Wizard Television Ltd. 2004

All Rights Reserved © 2006 Thomas W. Day

wayroundHollywood sucks. George Lucas has, apparently, suffered a stroke based on the last dregs of Star Bores. Tom Cruise and Mel Gibson have overdosed on their meds and egos and only South Park manages to accurately describe their insanity. Reality television has turned most of the tube's output into painful parody and I can't figure out why anyone cares who the next Superstar will be when that marginally talented geek is singing geezer rock in front of a lethargic studio band for a geriatric audience.

But home entertainment is better than ever if you know where to look.

After a few years of resisting opportunity, I finally hooked up to Netflix to watch all the BBC, Bravo, PBS, History Channel, Comedy Central, National Geographic, A&E, IFC, VH1, and HBO documentaries that I've missed by being too cheap to pay for television and too stubborn to pay for cable commercials. I haven't made it half way through my list of "must see" stuff and I've been watching at least two videos a week since the summer of 2006. One my early picks is one of the best documentaries, ever: Ewan McGregor and Charlie Boorman's Long Way Round. Even better, it's a motorcycle documentary.

The theme of the several episode program is two movie actors -- McGregor is more movie actor than Boorman (a bit-part actor who's sole published credit, as far as I can determine, is The Bunker, a god-awful horror film, and a blip-part in McGregor's The Serpent's Kiss) -- decide to take a trip around the world on motorcycles. McGregor is a road biker, Boorman is a little more of an off-road guy, but neither seem to have much experience away from civilization. So, this is a major adventure and a huge commitment.

The first of the seven-episode, two-disk Bravo series (in the US, 10 episodes, three disks in the rest-of-the-world including Canada in NTSC format from Amazon.ca) is about the concept and planning of the trip. McGregor and Boorman have a minor disagreement as to what kind of bike will be needed for the trip; Boorman votes KTM DP bikes, McGregor votes BMW GS big-bikes. KTM settles the argument by bailing from the project because they feel their bikes aren't up to the job. They were probably right, although, from a marketing standpoint, trying and failing is preferable to gutlessly running away. BMW, on the other hand, dove headfirst into the project, providing training on smaller GS bikes and logistical assistance for the trip. When the big BMWs do break under the extreme loads and abuse this trip presents, any biker worth his helmet allows more credit than blame for the failures. My own admiration for BMW's GS bikes has been high since Gaston Rahier's Dakar days and has gone through the roof after watching this show.

At the core, the show is about the two main characters. Most film fans know a lot about McGregor's screen presence, from Trainspotting to Big Fish to Blackhawk Down to Moulin Rouge and, finally, dipping to career lows in the last three Star Bores (or first three, if you care about Lucas' demented "episode" counting system). McGregor, for me, is an actor who vanishes into his parts, so I rarely know I have been watching him until the credits roll and I discover who he played. That's not who we see in Long Way Around. We see a good guy taking on a nearly impossible task, 20,000+ miles in four months by (mostly) motorcycle, with the skills of a motorcycle enthusiast. We don't know squat about Boorman, except that he's McGregor's best friend. Boorman is clearly more than just a groupie and as the trip progresses he's often the heart and guts of the trip. They are both tough guys, though, and the trip tests everything aspect of their personalities: patience, stamina, resourcefulness, language skills, courage, and their friendship. An important, and at least equally tough, character in the film is their cameraman, Claudio von Planta, who is with them every meter of the trip and whose job was probably the hardest of all, since he lugged equipment, survival gear, tools, and camera gear on the same kind of motorcycle the main characters rode, except for a section of Russia he traversed by Russian rat bike, after he managed to tear up his BMW on a RBFR (Really Big F... Rock).

    McGregor, "Claudio, there is no problem between Charley and me, Charley tell him."

    Boorman, "There's a terrible problem with us - we hate each other."

Speaking of speech, the video is not rated, but if it were it would probably be somewhere between PG to R for language (typical Brit working class speech) and nudity (these guys are not shy about skinny dipping for the camera or showing off the mosquito bites on their asses). Some will be sad to learn that the editors blurred out the wankers' wankers, at least on the US DVD release. Try to find the PAL edition, if you are really curious.

The route runs McGregor, Boorman, von Planta, and the rest of their support crew through France, Belgium, Germany, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Ukraine, Russia, Kazakhstan, Mongolia, Siberia, Alaska, Canada, and northern United States. They travel manicured western European freeways, mildly decayed (like Minnesota) eastern European highways, dirt roads, roads that would be an insult to goat trails, and crash on or get stuck in all kinds of terrain. For a small portion of Russia, the roads are so impassible, they take to the rails with their motorcycles in a freight car or hitch a ride with an all-terrain monster trucker. Any time it's possible, they are traveling by two wheels, even when any rational person would have opted to cop out.

The team flies the bikes across the Bering Strait to Anchorage, Alaska. The bikes take a rest break in an Anchorage BMW shop for some serious maintenance and, after a rest in civilization, the guys are back on the highway in time for McGregor to get rear-ended by a teenage Canadian driver (to loosely abuse that skill set). After surviving many of the worst roads on earth, from eastern Europe to the eastern tip of Siberia, the world's worst road hazard, a bubble-head driver nearly ends the trip in disaster. Thanks to the stability of the big BMW, the protection provided by their heavy duty panniers, and McGregor's riding skill, the only damage suffered is to the kid's car and the luggage. Only in North America are there large quantities of drivers bereft of the intelligence, skill, or common sense necessary for driving. Where are the LA cops and their batons when you really need them?

There is a book version of the trip, Long Way Round: Chasing Shadows Across the World, although I'm hard pressed to imagine what could be written that wasn't demonstrated in the video. I think this is a must-see show for motorcyclists. For the third time this year (and the eleventh in my lifetime) I've been tempted into owning a video so I can watch it more than once. I bought the Canadian version and I'm on at least my fourth pass through the set.

Oct 22, 2013

MOTORCYCLE REVIEW: 2010 Suzuki Gladius SFV 650

All Rights Reserved © 2010 Thomas W. Day

suzuki_gladius2For the record, a "gladius" is a "short, thrusting [Roman] sword . . . designed both for thrusting and for cutting in close-in combat."1 The Suzuki Gladius is a short (56.9" wheelbase, 30.9" seat height) Japanese motorcycle designed for thrusting and cutting through urban traffic combat. A goofy name doesn't define a bike; unless the bike is a Drifter, Rebel, Virago, or Valkyrie. The Gladius is not a goofy bike.

At the peak of the big-assed cruiser boom In 1999, Suzuki broke ranks with the me-too crowd and imported a radical (for the US) new aluminum-framed naked standard; the SV650. The SV was a huge seller and a raft of competitors from Honda to Ducati hustled to create models to compete in the larger-than-anyone-expected mid-sized bike business. Over the years, the SV grew a partial fairing, traded it's pretty oval-tube trellis frame for a new square tube truss frame, added fuel injection, put on a full fairing, added ABS brakes, and that great motor got better every year. For the current evolution, many of the new upgrades to the 650 twin power plant are only available on the Gladius, which may be saying something about the future of the model.

I have a 29" inseam and I didn't have any trouble swinging a leg over the Gladius' 30.9" seat height, even after a day of riding or a miserable day of yard work. Once on the bike, I'm on the balls of my feet with both feet on the ground. Suzuki worked hard to make the Gladius' profile as narrow as possible. That makes for a bike that could be right for a variety of riders. The peg position is almost straight down from the rider's butt and, since the pegs are about 17" from the seat, that means your knees are bent into a sportbike angle. The riding position is similar to the Kawasaki ER-6n or the Ducati 696 Monster and the styling is similar, too.

The steel-framed Gladius is only 8 pounds heavier than the aluminum SVS, which is a pretty impressive feat. That light weight shows itself on the road. Steering is tight and precise. The bike is a point-and-shoot device. Think where you want to go and it will take you there. At speed, the Gladius steers quickly and easily. The low speed turn radius is a little on the wide side, but getting stability out of a short wheelbase requires a sacrifice or two. The suspension is stiff, but it limbered up after a 100 miles or so. Over some pretty rough Minnesota 2-lanes, a little leg lift from the seat was all it took to smooth out those messed up roads. The 17" Dunlop Qualifier tires were a pleasant surprise. Like most sportbikes, the SFV handles so well it makes you want to be a better rider to deserve the bike you're riding. I am incapable of riding this motorcycle hard enough to take it to the edges of its capabilities.

suzuki_gladius3The remarkably compact Gladius console has two buttons, 6 idiot lights, three digital displays, a tachometer, and right-left turn signal blinkers. The four idiot lights on the left side of the console are for fuel injection status, neutral, the two-way low fuel warning light, and the bright headlights indicator. There are two idiot lights in the tach housing: the oil pressure sensor and water temperature warning which combine with oil pressure/water temperature LCD icons for more useful information. There is a gear position display in the tach housing. The digital speedometer can be set for miles or kilometers. The odometer display doubles as a fault display for start-up and the fuel injection. That same counter can be set to display a clock, the two trip odometers, and a reserve fuel odometer, which starts recording distance when the low fuel warning trips. 

suzuki_gladius4This might be the first Japanese sportbike ever made with a well-designed seat. The seat platform is extremely light and the padding is thin and firm, but it was reasonably comfortable for a long day's excursion. I probably wouldn't cross the country on a Gladius, but a day's ride to Duluth and back was enjoyable. On the other hand, the passenger seat appears to be an afterthought, as it is on most sportbikes. There is a little bit of room between the seat and fender compartment for gloves, maps, or more tools. The base of the seat hides a pair of straps intended for cargo loops, a nice feature for a commuter.

suzuki_gladius5The 6-speed transmission is so smooth that it practically shifts itself. The cam-operated clutch is light and predictable; at least as good as the best I've ever experienced. That thoughtful engineering is something of a waste  because the DOHC 90-degree V-twin engine is so strong that three gears would probably have done the job for most riders. You can enter corners in just about any gear you choose and still get out with plenty of power. Suzuki has put a lot of engineering into the 39mm injection system to provide reliable cold starts, stable idle operation, low emissions, and smooth power delivery.  Suzuki's race-tested SCEM cylinder liners should extend the motor's lifetime dramatically. In 6th, at 5,500 rpm, the Gladius is running at an indicated 75mph; redline is at 10,500 rpm. The bike is smooth right from idle and was strong from 3500 rpm up. A critical commuter concern is efficiency. I estimate that Molly and I got about 54mpg for the test ride, assuming the tank was full when Bruce picked it up. My last fill-up burned at an impressive 68mpg and I didn't make any effort to be conservative once I passed the 500 mile mark on the odometer. The 3.8 gallon fuel tank ought to give the Gladius close to a 200 mile range. Suzuki seems to have figured out how Harley and Ducati get away with macho-sounding exhaust systems and still skate under noise restrictions. The exhaust note is mostly bass-frequencies, exploiting the EPA's A-weighting spec and making the bike sound larger than a 650. The under-engine catalyst and fuel-efficient dual-plug design puts the Gladius into the EURO 5 emissions territory without a fresh air injection system.

suzuki_gladius1At highway speeds, the mirrors are practically vibration-free and they are positioned so that they actually show you a rear view. The raptor-looking headlight is seriously good. The 55W low beam is wide, short, and bright; illuminating the road and close to 180o of the path of travel. The 60W high beam retains the near-field qualities, but extends the illumination distance three-to-four times with the extended light focused in the middle of the highway. This combination of good lighting and an unobstructed view of traffic in front and behind the rider, makes for an exceptional commuter bike.

Parked next to my V-Strom, the Gladius looks tiny.  Some motorcycles don't photograph well. Practically everything from KTM falls into that category. Most Ducs look clunky in two dimensions. The Gladius may be one of those bikes. I'm not a fan of the blue and white color combination, but even the pictures of the red and black version didn't do much for me. In the flesh, the Gladius is a pretty cool looking bike. It got nothing but compliments from everyone who asked about it. The Gladius comes in four color combinations and is designed to be easily customized, by the use of plastic bits     from current and future versions of the bike. The frame covers are about $120 for a pair, the tank side covers are about $220 a pair, and the front fender is $120. Our metalflake-black test bike took a lot of compliments from everyone who checked it out.

For basic maintenance tasks, the SFV is very user friendly. One 4mm Allen wrench allows you to remove 4 side-panel screws, two plastic fasteners, and two tank screws and (thanks the tank prop) you have clear access to the radiator overflow tank, the air filter, fuel injection and throttle adjustments, rear cylinder spark plugs and valve cover, the tank's plastic panel screws, rear brake master cylinder, fuel pump, rear shock adjustments. The only complicated service access on the motor is the front cylinder's center plug, which requires removing the plastic panels around the radiator and lowering the radiator. The oil filter is easily accessible as is the drain plug and filler.

At $6,899 the Gladius is in the same price territory with the Kawasaki ER-6n  ($6,399 MSRP) and Yamaha's FZ6R ($6,989 MSRP). The high end of this genre is the Ducati Monster 696 ($8995 MSRP) and the Aprilia Shiver 750 ($9995 MSRP). I think Suzuki hit the market in an unclaimed spot with the SFV and a lot of riders will appreciate their effort. After a day or exploring Wisconsin's letter roads. I wound my way up to Duluth and ended up parked in front of Aerostich's building. Andy Goldfine came out to inspect the Gladius and was generally impressed. He'd put the SFV on his "short list" of bikes he'd consider as replacements for his well-worn R80GS. Andy described the Gladius as the kind of bike Japan designs for the "home market": refined, detailed, stylish, and extremely functional. That sounds like a well-considered summary of this motorcycle's qualities.

1Arms and Armour Glossary of Terms (http://www.chronique.com/Library/Glossaries/glossary-AA/arms_g.htm)


  • Engine: 645 cc, 4-stroke, 2-cylinder, liquid-cooled, DOHC, 90 V-Twin
  • Bore Stroke: 81.0 mm x 62.6 mm
  • Compression Ratio: 11.5 : 1
  • Fuel System: Fuel Injection
  • Lubrication: Wet sump
  • Ignition: Electronic ignition (Transistorized)
  • Starter: Electric
  • Transmission: 6-speed, constant mesh
  • Primary Drive Ratio: 2.088 (71/34)
  • Final Drive Ratio: 3.067 (46/15)
  • Front Suspension: Telescopic, coil spring, oil damped
  • Rear Suspension: Lynk type, coil spring, oil damped, spring preload 7-step adjustable
  • Front Brake: ABS assisted, 2-piston calipers, 290 mm disc, twin
  • Rear Brake: ABS assisted, 1-piston caliper, 240mm disc
  • Front Tire 120/70ZR17M/C (58W), tubeless
  • Rear Tire: 160/60ZR17M/C (69W), tubeless
  • Overall Length: 2130 mm (83.9 in.)
  • Overall Width: 760 mm (29.9 in.)
  • Overall Height: 1090 mm (42.9 in.)
  • Seat Height: 785 mm (30.9 in.)
  • Ground Clearance: N/A
  • Wheel Base: 1445mm (56.9 in.)
  • Curb Weight: 202kg (446lbs)
  • Fuel Tank Capacity: 14.5 L (3.8 US gal)
  • Frame Type: Steel-truss

Oct 21, 2013

#26 To Fringe or Not to Fringe

All Rights Reserved © 2003 Thomas W. Day

Believe it or not, spring is on the way. When it finally comes, some of us will be more ready to ride than others. We'll have fresh oil, a lubed chain, new tires, a tuned engine, and . . . more fake leather fringe? I guess stringy leather is an important issue to a certain crowd of "motorcyclists." Ok, one of the two big questions, the other is "how much chrome horsepower can I finance this week?"

I suppose this is the last burst of nostalgia from the bunch of Boomers who were teenagers at the end of the 50's. People who saw "The Wild One" and actually thought Brando looked cool and tough . . . or something else I'd rather they kept to themselves. Today, Brando's loser-without-a-cause comes off like another over-dramatic Shakespearean stage wannabe. (If Brando trips your trigger, you ought to rent some old Richard Burton junk. Now there's a real wimp with attitude.) Lee Marvin, however, still looks cool and tough. Of course, Marvin was cool and tough so he wasn’t really acting.

Last year, my first year as an MSF instructor, I got a lot of laughs out of all the folks who’d never ridden a bike but already had a full outfit picked out. Usually, an outfit that cost as much as my bike. The uniform appeared to be a black Harley jacket with fringe on the sleeves and back, black chaps with fringe, black leather finger-less typing gloves (which had to be replaced with real gloves to take the class), high heeled black combat boots (for office warefare?), and one of those Jello –bowl half-helmets that might be useful if you could manage to crash balanced on the top of your head. There are some subtle variations on the uniform, but I’m not a subtle guy and I can’t tell one uniformed biker from the next.

When I've stumbled into cruiser territory, I find it hard to tell if I'm in a bike shop or, to put it politically correctly, an alternative lifestyle-clothing store. Boys and girls, here's a tip; things change. The stuff that used to be macho is now just kinky. Black leather chaps and just about anything leather with fringe belong to the "boys in high-heeled sneakers," to cop a lyric. The Black Bart look has a whole new meaning today. Is any of this getting through?

Having been stuck behind a mile-long line of dottering two-wheeled vehicles on a few of the Midwest's great backroads, I can see only one purpose for the bicycle handlebar streamer look. If it weren't for the fringe, you wouldn't be able to tell if the good ole' boys and girls were moving. Momentum-wise, when you're jamming up the progress of farm wives returning from Sunday school, you're not burning up the pavement.

And what's with the biker herd mentality, anyway? Aren't the Shriners taking on new members these days? Aren't there enough parades to keep the plodders satisfied? Those sixty-bike traffic-stopper parades are worse than getting stuck behind a gangster's funeral.

They're even sadder, too. Than the gangster funeral, I mean. A mile-long train of overweight, balding desk jockeys and scrawny meat packers, trying to make up for the time they lost chasing the easy big buck, lined up in military formation, plodding along at 45mph so their protective-bandana-covered heads won't be whipped and chewed completely blind by the wind, gravel, and bugs. All dressed up for an outing at the local S&M bar. Saddled up on an unbalanced, unsilenced, unsuspended two-wheeled tractor. Sixty desperate riders, hoping to make it 30 miles down the road where they'll all stop and suck down a couple of designer beers before the girdle lets go and the torqued-down vest buttons blow out like a Fourth of July finale.

It almost makes me cry to think that my generation has fallen so low. Almost. What does make me cry is getting stuck behind one of these circus trains with miles of clear sailing ahead of me, if I can just find a passing lane. I'd rather put up with a stretch of "men leaning on shovels." At least state employees have a poor excuse for stopping traffic.

A few years back, a friend was “restoring” a 1970s Yamaha XS650 Triumph clone. Having recently ridden his bike, I gave him a lot of crap about going retro. I'd planned to dig out my J.C. Whitney catalog and buy him a set of leather handlebar streamers in an attempt at embarrassing him into admitting that his XS650 fetish was truly idiotic. He beat me to it, on his own, and they've been glued to the bike for the last ten years. This guy has nearly twenty bikes, half of which are modern, comfortable, quick, and reliable motorcycles. Every ride we've taken together in the past decade, he's been on something historic, slow, unreliable . . . and silly looking.

I, clearly, don't get it. I don’t get country-western music, either. There is probably a connection.

MMM April 2003

Oct 18, 2013

Bike Review: Me and Wee

All Rights Reserved © 2007 Thomas W. Day

[The concise, well-edited, more politically correct version of this article might be found at the Minnesota Motorcycle Monthly website: http://www.mnmotorcycle.com/mmm/pages/2007/96/review96.htm]

as-cover-002 Sport bikes, including the "standard" SV650, are for kids (meaning anyone under 40) and folks who have not abused their bodies into a pile of creaking, rusting, decaying bones. That's not me. I have owned an SV650 for almost 30,000 miles and, while I like the bike, I missed my more multi-purpose Yamaha 850 TDM many times, especially on long trips. Particularly, I missed the relaxed knee bend of the TDM's riding position and the long, soft suspension. Four hundred miles on the SV and my knees are seized, my neck feels like an Alien baby is trying to hatch from somewhere between the second and fourth vertebra, and my butt hurts so bad it's practically speaking to me. My longest day on the SV was about 820 miles from a campsite south of Thunder Bay to Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario and back to another campsite near Marquette, WI. Granted, the camping didn't allow much recuperation the next day, although I slept like a dead man. Still, I could barely walk upright for two days after I got home and my neck was all but paralyzed for a week. I didn't travel more than 350 miles in a day on the SV since.

When the Suzuki V-Strom 650 arrived, in 2004, I started thinking about buying a "WeeStrom."  That's the slightly disrespectful nickname given to the Suzuki V-Strom 650 by its owners. The DL650 is the little brother of the V-Strom 1000 and the multi-purpose cousin of the SV650. Even after my old-guy complaints, I like almost everything about the SV; particularly the motor. So, as soon as the V-Strom arrived I started watching for a good deal on a used bike.  

At the beginning of last summer, I found used V-Stroms with 50,000+ miles on the motor going for $5,500 and up. Mildly used bikes went for nearly $6,000, consistently. My brother talked to a bike broker and was warned, "You'll be waiting until 2008 before you get one of these guys (even a 2004 DL650) for your price." My price was the Kelly Blue Book value! However, I got lucky, late last fall (September, 2006). I bought a barely-used (1,400 miles) 2004 DL650 through eBay from a seller in Cincinnati. We swapped money and paperwork at the Cincinnati Amtrak station. After a brief side-trip to the station's parking lot where I got used to the handling, brakes, and taller, less-nimble (than the SV650) weight distribution, I pointed my black horse westward. After a few hundred miles, the V-Strom began to feel familiar and downright comfortable. It is a big bike, though, and many folks will not be able to get past the long-tall geometry of this motorcycle.

There are a bunch of things to take into consideration when you think of the advertised (versus the practical) purpose of an "Adventure Touring" motorcycle. I think this breed of bike is best represented (in the US) by the 1992 Yamaha TDM, or the Honda Transalp in 1988, or today's BMW F650GS, and the ever-present KLR650. Outside of less tangible issues, like the motor and handling characteristics, I think there are some basic things to consider about this type of bike. Here is a radically short list of the specs I think are among those basic items stacked up against five semi-similar mid-sized Adventure Touring bikes:



Weight (dry)

Seat Height


2004-07 Suzuki V-Strom 650

front and rear 5.9"

427 pounds


low pipe no bashplate

Kawasaki KLR650 (1987-07)

front and rear 9.1"

337 pounds


genuine high pipe & bashplate

BMW F650GS (1993-07)

front 6.5", rear 8.7"

391 pounds


genuine high pipe

Honda Transalp 650 (1988)

front 7.9", rear 6.8"

421 pounds


low pipe with bashplate

Yamaha TDM 850 (1992-3)

front 5.9", rear 5.24"

507 pounds


low pipe with bashplate

The DL650 is pretty middle-of-the-road, compared to that group of competitors with moderate suspension travel and an unprotected low pipe and other fragile appendages (oil and water coolers, and a very low-mounted oil filter). However, it is insanely comfortable, particularly compared to the most dirt-worthy of the genre and it has that great Suzuki 650 twin motor. Obviously, the V-Strom is likely to be less adventurous than most of these bikes and more comfortable on pavement.

The riding position is ergonomic for an old, over-weight, short guy. While the bike is a little tall, making gear-loaded mounting a little difficult, the seat height allows for dangling my legs as a stretch position on long rides. This eases the pain on old, worn out knees and adds a few hundred miles to my daily long-distance capability. The slightly-forward dirt bike riding position is exactly the reason I traded in my SV650 for the DL650. Unlike every other bike I've owned, I'm not motivated to replace the Suzuki seat, although there are several alternatives that many riders say are terrific improvements.  I did change out the Suzuki handgrips, though. The thin, unpadded stock grips beat my hands up, just like they did on the SV. I opt for Owry road grips and wrestled with the resulting hassle that comes with replacing Suzuki grips.

The brake lever is adjustable from a very short reach to pro basketball player distances. The clutch pull is light and the clutch is strong and predictable. The brakes are the best I've ever experienced. I had a reason to "test" the emergency braking on the way home from Cincinnati and I wasn't disappointed. You can lock up the wheels, but with careful brake application you can easily and safely haul the bike down from high speed to full stop.

That low pipe and a 5.9" ground clearance and suspension travel is a concern. Unless my math skills have deteriorated, using up all of the suspension means that there is absolutely no extra ground clearance for that low pipe. The seat height is a little tall, for a guy like me with a 29" inseam, but I got along ok on the TDM and I'll probably survive the V-Strom. The suspension limits also spells problems for those who decide to lower the seat height by dropping the suspension. The stock rubber is a Bridgestone Trailwing semi-street, 19" front and 17" rear. I like the V-Strom's 19" front tire, on the grounds that it will roll over obstacles rather than smack into them, but that size proves to be a little odd for tire replacements.

I'm a little nervous about maintaining the fuel injection, but the older I get the less eager I am to tweak a pair of carbs. Fuel injection does mean that all my sophisticated cold weather fuel supply routines are history. Even at 5oF, turn the key, hit the starter, and don't touch the throttle for effortless starting. The V-Strom's airbox has a large, flat filter and is moderately well protected from water, but since the intake is at the front of the box don't expect to make tank-deep water crossings without problems.

A piddling feature that I really like is the headlight flasher. It's handy for attracting the attention of vehicles in front of the bike, but it provides all kinds of possibilities for customizing (think "photon torpedo"). The electrics, in general are cool. For the first time in my motorcycling career, I have electronic fuel and temp gauges. The V-Strom has directional turn signal indicators on the instrument cluster, so I don't have to peer over the bars and through the levers and cables to see which way my flashers are flashing. The headlights are revolutionary, compared to everything I've owned to this point. Low beams light up the road better than the SV's brights. The high beams turn night into visible terrain.

vstrom_dayview A common complaint about the DL-650 is "helmet buffeting" due to the size and shape of the windshield. On my 800-mile trip home, wearing a Shoei X11 helmet, I didn't notice any such problem. When I got home, I occasionally wore a Schuberth flip-up which is in no way aerodynamic and is almost as noisy as wearing no helmet. With that fiberglass sail on my head, I immediately discovered what the complainers were complaining about.

All along the ride home, I was impressed by the V-Strom instrument panel's visibility and ergonomics. At night, it was even better. Without lighting as an excuse, I decided to try and make it home without a rest stop. At the end of 801 miles, I pulled into my driveway and dumped my gear and parked the bike the garage. I ate dinner, watched a movie with my wife, and went to bed. The next morning, my old aching neck problem reared its head, but I'd worn my courier bag the whole distance from Cincinnati to St. Paul and I think that was more the culprit than the V-Strom. The next day, I hung out with my grandkids, did yard work (more payback for the two days I wasn't home), and put in a normal day. Any disability displayed on Monday and thereafter was with me before the trip. I've done a couple of short, less than 100 miles, and the V-Strom is becoming a regular companion.

jim_bike Years ago, our editor commented that the most "custom" Harley would be one that is bone stock, since every Harley buyer starts putting "custom" geegaws on the bike before it leaves the showroom, creating an odd definition of "stock" that is as personal and original as an Old Navy outfit. I think the V-Strom suffers that same affliction. Browsing the Internet's V-Strom user sites provides a reader with a long litany of items that are "necessary" to make the bike ride-able: crash bars and centerstands, windshields and windshield brackets, suspension modifications, luggage, foot pegs, GPS and other electronics, and all kinds of cosmetic hardware. The V-Strom seems to be a marketer's wet dream: it's a Harley, a KLR, and a Goldwing all rolled into one accessory-mounting vehicle. I think it's possible to double your investment on a new DL-650 with bells, whistles, farkles, carbon fiber, and polished aluminum. At the far end of the add-on spectrum might be Jim Winterer's Iron Butt V-Strom, with every bell, whistle, and long-distance, comfort-enhancement imaginable. I have, also, fallen victim to the "it needs more" trap. My list of "gotta have it" accessories is at the end of this review.

At 4,000 miles, the seat is just beginning to break in. I've tweaked some of the adjustable bits to make the little guy more comfortable for me. At the advice of Jim Winterer, I raised the forks 1/2". That seemed to quicken up the steering slightly. For my tastes, the suspension came set too tight. It's probably just right for sporty motorcycle reviewers, but I'm on this bike for long trips on rough roads. I dropped the rear shock pre-load and lowered the fork preload to the 4th notch. That made the bike's ride squishier and more practical for crappy Minnesota highways and my favorite gravel road surfaces. However, with full touring gear, I cranked up the spring load on both ends to the max.

Maintenance is something Suzuki actually thought about, including a tank prop and a fuel shutoff connector that allows easy removal of the tank for filter and plug changes, valve adjustments, and general motor access. Suzuki should have made a center stand a stock item to complete the serviceability of the bike, but they sell one as an accessory. Most everything you need to get at is accessible with a few standard metric tools by removing a few plastic bits and pulling the seat and tank.

For 2007, Suzuki has updated the WeeStrom's color scheme (gray or blue) and added an ABS brake option. Otherwise, the bike remains mostly the same vehicle that Suzuki introduced in 2004. The 2007 advertised list price is $6999 and $7199 for the ABS model.

Our editor once commented that the most "custom" Harley would be one that is bone stock. I think the V-Strom suffers that same affliction. Browsing the Internet's V-Strom user sites provides a reader with a long litany of items that are "necessary" to make the bike ride-able: crash bars and centerstands, windshields and windshield brackets, suspension modifications, luggage, foot pegs, GPS and cruise-controls and other electronics. The V-Strom seems to be an after-marketeer's wet dream: it's a Harley, a KLR, and a Goldwing all rolled into one accessory-mounting vehicle. I have fallen victim to the "it needs more" trap. My list of "gotta have it" accessories is still growing after a year of ownership.

dl-offroad Other than personal touches, the V-Strom was pretty much ready to ride long distances and rough roads out of the box. I can only say good things about how it held up riding across the western US states, Canada from Saskatchewan to the Northwest Territory, all around Alaska, down to Seattle, and back home on paved, semi-paved, and every non-paved kind of road I've ever imagined. Every day for 26 days and almost 10,000 miles, the V-Strom was problem-free and the most comfortable, dependable bike I've ever owned. The next year, I rode the V-Strom from Minnesota to Nova Scotia and back the longest way I could manage in 26 days. The addition of a Elka rear shock massively improved the handling and road-soaking characteristics. In 2009, I tortured the bike over 2500 miles of North Dakota backroads, including at least 600 miles of dirt roads. The V-Strom inspires confidence in both the machine's capability and reliability. I couldn't be more at home on a bike than I am on my WeeStrom. 

Suzuki V-Strom DL650 Accessories

Air FIlter

From my experience, this is a no-brainer. I replaced the stock filter with a K&N. I have had K&N filters in every vehicle I have owned since my 1973 Rickman 125 and my 1973 Toyota Hilux pickup. Call me "superstitious," but I think those filters have added something to the incredible reliability I've experienced in my vehicles. I don't consider a K&N filter an aftermarket "accessory." I think the lack of a K&N filter is simply an incompetent motorcycle design that has to be rectified before the bike is a reliable vehicle.

Hand Guards

dl650_lguardFdl650_rguardirst up for me was a set of Suzuki hand guards. There are several options for guarding your hands on the V-Strom, but I think the Suzuki solution is the easiest, most practical of the lot. Installation is simple, requires no mangling of the levers or brake reservoir and is easily removed or moved for servicing the brake, grips, and levers. The guards provide decent protection for the levers and excellent wind and flying projectile protection for your hands. They aren't as durable as Acerbis Rally Hand Guards, but the ease of installation and serviceability makes up for some loss in sturdiness.

Center Stand

dl650_cstand1My second necessary add-on was a center stand. Again, I went for the Suzuki stand because of price, quality, and availability. Installation of any aftermarket center stand is a life-threatening exercise and the Suzuki was no exception. All of the bolt-on parts installed easily and precisely, but hooking up the two stand springs was more garage-floor upper-body exercise than I've suffered in a while. Find a good pair of safety glasses before you even think about messing with those springs.  If you're going adventure touring, I don't know how you'll survive with a bike this heavy and no center stand. Fixing flats, doing regular maintenance (chain lubes, for example), parking securely with full luggage are all made possible by a center stand. Otherwise, plan on spending a lot of time looking for "just the right rock" in a pinch.


dl650_acc_shieldsWhile I wasn't convinced that the V-Strom's windshield was as worthless as some have claimed, I thought it could be better. Apparently, Suzuki does too. Suzuki offers a "tall windshield" (3" taller and 2 1/2" wider than stock) with a plastic wind deflector strip. First, I tried the Madstad bracket, which allows for a variety of height possibilities and a range of angles of deflection. It provided minimal improvement and not enough to make my Shuberth C1 helmet tolerable. So, I added the Suzuki tall shield to the Madstad (madstad.com) bracket. I have the tall shield set on the Madstad's highest setting, angled back as steeply as the bracket will allow. I now have a substantial "calm zone" behind the shield, considerably better weather protection, and a little less wind noise at the helmet. Honestly, when I'm wearing the Shoei X11 I don't notice any difference in noise or turbulence, but it's definitely noticeable when I'm wearing the Schuberth lid.

Pat Walsh Case (Crash) Guards

dl650_acc_lhguardFinally, considering my general clumsiness, tendency toward exploring roads that are more technical than my abilities, and the expense of replacing body plastic, I installed Pat Walsh Design's Motor Guard [no longer available], which adds so many features to the V-Strom's frame (additional lights, oil filter guard, skid plate, highway pegs, etc) that a whole new industry of customization options becomes practical. If this thing came in chrome, Mr. Walsh would sell more Motor Guards than Suzuki sold V-Stroms. I've never used highway pegs, but I'm tempted now that I have a place to install them.

Wdl650_acc_rhguardhen I was looking into frame and plastic protection, I almost blew off the Motor Guard because it looked so massive, so I was surprised and happy, when the box arrived, to find that the shipping package was so light. It seems to be a lot of protection for a little additional weight.

Installation was fairly painless, considering the garage floor was about 10oF when I installed the Motor Guard. The whole installation took about an hour and a half, including Locktite'ing every bolt and screw I was near during the installation. The all stainless steel hardware was a surprise bonus and the actual Motor Guard is heavy steel construction securely bolting to the DL's frame at the top and the front of the skid plate at the bottom. The skid plate is equally well secured The screened filter and oil cooler guard is additional gravel protection, but it may be a problem when the front tire fills the screen with mud.

Immediately after installing the Motor Guard, I carefully lowered the bike into the crash position in my driveway. The bike lies resting on the guard, barely past the plastic bodywork, and the handlebar ends. Motor Guards wouldn't save the bodywork in a high speed crash, but in a typical low-speed, off-road spill you might avoid having to replace a few hundred dollars in plastic. Getting the bike back up again takes all the leg strength I own and the Motor Guard gave me a wonderful handle for lifting the bike back onto the kickstand.

Afterward: My long term experience with the Walsh design has been complicated. Not long after installation, I spent a weekend at the MN-Sportbike group's Hedonistic-Enthusiasm cornering seminar. I found that the first sign of lost cornering clearance was when the bottom of the case guard touch ground, lifting the front wheel and putting the bike into a really hard to recover slide on the metal rails. I've since ground about 1/2 of the lowest section of the guard away on both sides. 

Seven thousand miles later and about 100 miles north of the Artic Circle, I really tested the crash guards with a crash. On the Dempster Highway, after a 350 mile day and a few dozen miles short of my destination (Fort McPherson, Northwest Territories), I found myself blown backwards on deep gravel. Somewhere between 45 and 55mph, the V-Strom hit the ground pointed exactly backwards from the direction we'd been traveling. The right side case guard took a beating, almost all of the paint was rashed off as the bike slid 50 feet down the road on its side. In the end, I lost the right turn signal, pulverized my right side case, bent my handlebars slightly, gouged up the right side tank panel, and banged up myself pretty well. A little duct tape on the turn signal and the side case and I was on my way back to Dawson City. The case guard and bashplate protected my bike from experiencing any serious damage. The case guard was pretty chewed up on the right side and the bashplate had started to collapse on itself, approaching the front of the exhaust pipe.

For my riding purposes, the biggest advantage provided by Walsh's design over the competition is the bashplate. The V-Strom's low, unprotected pipe and oil filter makes me nervous off pavement. I've already drilled a hole through an SV's oil filter on a long gravel road stretch and I expect to be doing a lot more of that kind of riding on the V-Strom. The bashplate is "secured" to the frame at the rear engine mounting bolts. Otherwise, the plate and crashguards are one structure. A run-in with some deep ruts in North Dakota caused the bashplate to collapse hard against the exhaust pipe. I'm sure that the plate protected the engine, but I need to do some serious metal work to put it all right again.

In trying to repair the plate, I "discovered" it is aluminum. I discovered that by burning a hole in it while trying to make repairs. I'm about  3/4 convinced that the lost cornering clearance makes this product more dangerous than helpful. I may be at the end of my test of the Walsh guards. [Not true. A connection on the MNSportbike.org group did a fantastic job of welding a patch on the bashplate and it is stronger than original issue and still doing the job it was intended for.]

IMS Super Stock Foot Pegs (Part # 273116)

30b6ef74Ifd8fb8ddt took me a long time to figure out where to find these pegs. Nobody seems to make an off-road peg for the V-Strom. Fortunately, Suzuki and Kawasaki accidentally got together and made mounts that accept the same peg. Really fortunately, that foot peg is for the Kawasaki KLR650, one of the most common dual purpose bikes in history. In the package, they look a little large, but on the bike they provide an insanely solid platform for long range riding and for off-road grunge or hung-out cornering. After a week riding with the IMS pegs on my V-Strom, I couldn't imagine going back to the stock junk.

Stebel Nautilus Compact Dual-Tone 12-Volt Motorcycle Air Horn

e47ccab2The Stebel Nautilus horn is billed as a 139dB device, which doesn't mean a lot in the real world. For starters, it would be helpful to know where that 139dB is measured. At 1m directly to the side of the vehicle, I measured the output of my horn at 119dB, which is loud but a good distance from 139dB (subjectively, 119 would probably be sensed as about 1/4 of the acoustic "loudness" of 139dB).  Since sound pressure drops 6dB for every doubling of distance, the output of a horn becomes pretty mild at practical distances. With the typical noises available in moderate traffic, a horn is only a useful warning device at very near distances. There are contradicting opinions to this evaluation, but they have a financial vested interest.

Pat Hahn and I did some subjective tests and objective measurements when I installed this horn on my V-Strom to see what value a horn (or other noise sources, you loud pipes douchebags) added to a motorcycle's conspicuity. The results were depressing. (Unfortunately, the audio files linked on the Minnesota state's webpage only work with Microsoft's Explorer program.)

Installation is a bit of a pain. Since the horn draws nearly 15A inrush current, you'll need a horn relay. Wiring the horn to your original horn harness will result in a burned-out horn switch. 15A is 4-8X the inrush current of a typical bike horn. Don't skip on the in-line fuse installation, either. A short in that wiring could result in a bike fire, which will definitely draw attention to your motorcycle but that probably won't be all that helpful.

However, the Stebel horn is a bit louder than the stock horn. The pitch of the dual-tone horn is lower and larger sounding, which might convince a braindead cager to give a motorcyclist a glance before violating right-of-way. Anything might help in a crisis. Unless you are right on top of the cage, don't expect the loudest horn to save your ass. [And you loud pipe assholes are just fuckin’ clueless morons.]

The Iron Butt WeeStrom

All Rights Reserved © 2007 Thomas W. Day

jim_bike[4]On one of the half-dozen freezing December evenings we enjoyed last winter, I paid a visit to one of Minnesota's seminal Iron Butt competitors, Jim Winterer. Jim had torn up his knee at a trials event near the end of the 2006 season and was hobbling from recent surgery, so he was being specially accommodating in braving the cold and me. We'd been trying to hook up for this interview since early September, so I took the opportunity when it arrived. We couldn't have picked a colder night for the interview.

A few years back, I heard several Iron Butters say that if Jim ever bought a "real bike" he'd be unstoppable. In 2004, Jim sidelined his whacked out 1970's SR500 for a 2004 Suzuki DL650 V-Strom (or WeeStrom, if you're so inclined). The competition is forewarned.

Being the itinerant tinkerer he is, Mr. Winterer immediately began adding features to the DL650. For non-stop long-distance cruising, he started with a 5 gallon Ron Smith/Roy Fletcher fuel cell system. Ron was the original fuel cell designer but wasn't able to finish Jim's cell (he died in 2005) and Roy fabricated the cell and co-designed/fabricated the mounting hardware with Happy Trials. The hardware for mounting Jim's Happy Trails panniers and fuel cell is nothing short of massive. It is probably stronger than the frame to which it is attached. There is a fuel valve on the cell that allows routing the fuel from the cell to the DL's fuel pump. Linda Tanner (www.CustomTankBags.com)  makes custom bike bags, including the one that Jim has wrapped around his fuel cell. The bag has power for his cell phone and several pouches for miscellaneous stuff.

For comfort, he upgraded the stock seat with a Rick Mayer design on the stock seat pan, note "wings" on edge of seat that allow a little extra leverage for "steering with your butt" which Jim says is a secret to staying on the bike for long, long distances and hours. The seat is pretty restrictive, but Jim thinks the comfort factor is worth that minor disadvantage. He also installed a modified taller-than-stock (then trimmed for visibility) windshield to lower the wind turbulence. He went for the stock DL650 Suzuki handguards. Jim has three different throttle lock systems; a Throttle Boss, a ThrottleMeister, and a universal mount Vista Cruise. Lou Lakey at Roy's Repair installed the Gold cartridge emulators fork, which smoothes out rough roads and removes a little vibration from the bars while providing a firmer overall feel to the front end.

jim_consoleElectrically, Jim has installed a Garmin GPS, a Valentine V1 radar detector, an XM-Radio to provide entertainment on the road, an EZ Pass transponder to aid in whipping through east coast turnpike turnstiles, and a "Mix-It" audio system to connect his all his audio outputs to the headphones in his helmet. For illumination, he replaced the stock lights with a Baja Designs high intensityjim_dl_backview discharge (HID) system (4100 bulbs, which Jim thinks is the best spectrum for natural appearing light) The hardware and mounting for the lights' ballast and igniter is neatly hidden in the fairing and under the seat. The HID bulbs come in only high or low beam versions and he has one of each. This also provides some redundancy in his lighting system, for backup purposes. Jim says this system practically produces daylight illumination with substantially less power (50W per bulb) required than the stock system. Under the seat is where his complex fuse box lives and he purposely left slack in all the wiring, in case he decides to move things around to add yet another electronic "farkle" to his bike. For old-school map reading, he Velcro'd a LittleLite to the handlebars. A cool illumination tip for every one of us who ride at night is the massive amount of reflective tape he plastered around the back of his DL. You can see this bike from any direction light shines upon it.

Chassis-wise, Jim has fender extenders to provide a little protection from mud and projectiles being shot from the front tire into the DL's oil cooler and filter. For repair convenience and case protection, he installed a Motech center stand and crashbars. My favorite chassis addition is homemade: Jim took a piece of 3" PCB pipe, added a cap at one end and a screw-off cover on the opposite end and made a really trick toolbox that attaches to the inside of his pannier frame with hose clamps (it looks like a 2nd exhaust pipe on the left side, from the rear). This converts otherwise wasted space turned into an extremely functional addition to the bike.

This 650 WeeStrom is geared up for non-stop, long-distance riding and Mr. Winterer is likely to do some Iron Butt damage when he gets back on both feet this spring.

Oct 15, 2013

Movie Heads-Up: Why We Ride

I've asked "why" my whole life. In my Geezer column, I've asked "What Are We Riding For?" and "Why Not? and "Why Do They Hate Us?" and "Why Do We Die So Often?" and "Why Did I Pull You Over?" and a bunch of What, When, and Where questions. So far, not many answers. This movie answers a lot more simple question, "Why We Ride?" It looks a little too romantic for my tastes and it is almost absolutely a ?MIC/AMA/MSF promo, but it is about motorcycles:

Oct 14, 2013

#25 Lane Etiquette

All Rights Reserved © 2003 Thomas W. Day

Since writing my lane-splitting rant, I've received a fair number of comments, mostly positive, from bikers who've either experienced California's road rules or would like to. Riding around the cities this past fall, I was often reminded that some of the negative responses ought to be dealt with, if this motorcycling freedom has even the slightest chance of happening. The recurrent complaint I hear is that Minnesota cagers are so incompetent, or unobservant of motorcyclists, that they'll be squashing us like bugs if we try lane-splitting. Like I said the first time, compared to California drivers you guys think Minnesota drivers are incompetent? You need to get out-state more.

However, compared to California motorcyclists (and the environment where they thrive) Minnesota motorcyclists have a long way to go. It’s certainly not true that California riders are more patient, kind, or well-mannered than Minnesota riders, the problem is that we're so ill-mannered compared to most Minnesotan drivers. The average southern Californian is about as aware of his/her environment as an ant might be of the Empire State building. They're gun-totting, lane-swapping, maneuverability-impaired, coffee-drinking, cell-phone-abusing, SUV-driving oblivion on wheels.

They're used to rude, unpredictable, irrational behavior on the road (and everywhere else). So, rude, unpredictable, irrational bikers are just one more bit of foolishness they have to tolerate (or gun down).

Minnesota, on the other hand, is somewhat nice. Minnesotans mostly expect other people to be reasonably polite and respectful. As we fill up with immigrants from the other 49 states, that tendency is quickly vanishing, but that’s nothing to be proud of. Still, way too many Minnesota motorcyclists don't fit into a “nice” classification. So, in the interests of furthering my agenda (getting to split lanes in Minnesota) I thought I'd explain some of the rules of safe and polite lane-splitting.

 1. You don't split lanes when the traffic is already traveling at the legal speed limit. That's greedy and dangerous and stupid. If you have extra testosterone to burn, take it to a race track where real men and women ride fast and take chances.
 2. Before sharing the lane with a car be sure you've caught the driver’s attention, at least once, and that the driver has looked you squarely in the face-shield through the objects-are-closer-than-they-appear mirrors. Surprises are for Xmas, birthdays, and I Know What You Ate Last Summer movies.
 3. If you end up parked beside a cager, don't make him sniff your exhaust. Get past quickly or wait till you can, but don't park your butt next to a window. This is especially true at stop lights and stop signs. I've seen many child-like bikers sneak up to a light's start-gate, planting their exhaust pipe practically in a driver's-side window. Unless you enjoy getting a look-that-will-kill, don’t play the “I’m an idiot” card this blatantly.
 4. If you insist on being a noise irritant, don't split lanes. Blasting past an open window with a blaring exhaust is intent to do harm and ought to be, at least, an assault-and-battery misdemeanor. Don't make enemies for the rest of us, and expect us to worry about your "rights." In fact, if you have to ride a bike that sounds like an unmuffled diesel tractor, stay on the farm, away from multiple-lane roads, away from civilization in general. We're a tiny percentage of the road-using public and you've given the majority good reason to be pissed at all of us. Thank you for your contribution.
 5. I found the best time to split a lane is when the cars in the lanes I'm splitting are right next to each other. If the cagers don't see me, I want to be sure they see each other. You risk getting squashed if that turns out to be a poor assumption, but I think it's safer than trying to slip through a pre-existing blind spot.
 6. Don't loiter next to moving cars. I try to hold the center position for a few moments, just behind the vehicle(s) I want to pass, to get the attention of the cars with whom I intend to share lanes. When I’m confident they’ve noticed me, I move by them as efficiently and quietly as possible. Driving a car while drinking coffee, carrying on a phone conversation, and trimming nasal hairs is hard enough without having to deal with the kind of precision required to stay in one lane. Don't press your luck.
 7. Except for a wave of thanks when someone yields a bit of space for you to pass through, save the hand gestures (especially finger gestures) for the softball field. Motorcyclists have enough trouble without your making random enemies for the rest of us. If the guy you pissed off can’t catch you and gun you down, he might settle for the next rider he can catch. Besides, most of you who are free with the fickle finger aren’t stable enough to trust with one hand on the bars.

I'm sure that the few squids who stumble on to this magazine will be righteously outraged at my intrusion on their “rights.” Whatever. You guys are going to Darwin yourselves out of the breeding pool soon enough, without my contribution, so enjoy your indignation while you’re still ambulatory and breathing. I don’t have time to worry about your sensitivities; I want to split lanes now. Or at least as soon as the snow leaves the roads.

MMM March 2003

Oct 13, 2013

This One’s for You, Chris

chris sidecarFor some reason, this picture has been sitting on my desktop for almost a year. When I saw it, I thought about my friend, Chris Luhman, and his fascination with the Ural machinery. I think if you can ride a Ural, you could tolerate this silly-assed idea. Right?

Everything about three-wheels, side-cars, and riding with this kind of mass evades me. It looks considerably less fun than a decent convertible and a lot less comfortable. If you can’t lean it, why ride it?

real luggage

On a not-very-related topic, I got caught up in a bar discussion about luggage and travelling light vs. carrying the kitchen sink. This is another picture that has sat on the desktop for several months waiting for a reason to shift into the blog-o-sphere. I don’t think I’m going to find a real “reason” to use this, so I’m just posting it to clean up my desktop.