It Ain't The Tool: Revisited

story by MO Staff, Photograph by Fonzie, Created Jun. 27, 2006
It started with an observation, like most great inventions. columnist and philosopher Fred Rau, in an editorial from 2005 made the point that what a rider rides is less important than how well he rides. It's something every sentient rider knows the first time he or she is passed by somebody on an older, slower, smaller, less-specialized or otherwise less-capable machine.

However, many riders simply choose to ignore this truth, seeing motorcycling as a journey of upwardly mobile consumption. They work their Will the fearsome Tyrannosaurus keep its eggs safe from the odd-looking new creatures? way "up" to the goal of owning whatever motorcycle their community sees as the most desirable rather than developing their own skills. Our motorcycle press feeds this attitude by making new equipment and motorcycle reviews the focus of their publications.

We here at MO admit to being as guilty of focusing on motorcycle reviews, with the concurrent hyping of those extra few horsepower and slight weight reductions every year when we do our latest shootout of one kind or another. The Maven tells us the bike reviews make the most money and our readers demand this bike be compared to that bike. How to escape the trap and find out which motorcycle will help the rider interested in motorcycling as a journey of learning and improvement rather than a life-long credit-stretching spending spree? How will we spread our message of moto-enlightenment? [26 mb WMV - 10 mins TRT]

Not to worry. We at MO have not joined some cult or rejected all material possessions to go live at Ashley's heavily guarded compound in the remote mountains of Western Thailand. Instead, we now have our annual "It Ain't the Tool" shootout, where we take three very disparate, yet distinctive motorcycles and have riders of different skill levels ride them on different sorts of paved roads to see what they prefer and why. "Dharma Bums" it's not, but it should be enlightening on some level; do you need the "best" machine to go fast and have fun on? Last year we took an Aprilia RSV 1000-a hardcore, Italian stallion of a big V-Twin racer with lights-a Suzuki V-Strom 1000 to represent a more practical approach to big V street riding and a lowly Kawasaki KLR 650 because it was lying around the garage and Ashley said we should use it. The big V-Strom came out on top for street riding, whether on smooth, high-speed sweepers or on tight, bumpy Latigo Canyon, as the RSV was too uncomfortable for all-day riding and the KLR was just too old and tired-feeling to unseat the heavier and slightly harder-to-ride V-Strom. Afterwards, Aprilia stopped returning our phone calls.   Three bikes enter! One bike leaves!        

Things get more polished the second time around, and the Tool Shootout is no exception. For 2006, we have a mission, a well-planned route and three carefully selected motorcycles. The mission: find out which of three very different motorcycles is most appealing to four different riders. The bikes: a bare-bones standard, a V-Twin dual-sport/adventure tourer sort of thing, and the hottest four-cylinder middleweight sportbike on the market. The route would be hundreds of miles of freeways and twisty roads, from the interstate to twisty two-lane, from sea level to a dizzying mile-high.

The bikes: a bare-bones standard, a V-Twin dual-sport/adventure tourer sort of thing, and the hottest four-cylinder middleweight sportbike on the market.

Riding duties would be taken up by some of the usual crew-Managing Editor Pete Brissette and Senior Editor Gabe Ets-Hokin-along with seasoned motojournalist and aftermarket products PR flack Eric Putter and new reader/contributor Paul Bryant, winner of MO's Kawasaki Fantasy Racing Weekend Contest. At the end of the test, we would dyno the bikes (just because we have a DynoJet Dyno and a guy who knows how to use it), type up our observations and cast our votes. We would base our votes on the bike we would most like to put in our own garage, if we were spending our own money based on our personal needs as motorcyclists.

The winning bike would be the one with the most points, based on our time-worn MO system of four points for a first-place vote, two points for second and a consolation point for third choice. All votes are final and inflexible; the sacred rules of motojournalistic ethics do not allow us to change our minds once we have heard the other tester's choices (although the Editor can cast a tie-breaking vote).

So what did we find out? Is the hottest technology the way to go? Or is it the most simple, practical all-arounder? Or did the odd-duck 650 V-Strom take the cake home?

2006 Honda 599: When peanut butter and Wonder bread just isn't enough.

Honda's 599 is the benchmark for your basic standard motorcycle transportation and fun machine. That's probably why it's one of Europe's best-selling models. All of us on the test thought it would be a strong contender, as we had all ridden one and liked its balance, light feel, comfort, and entertaining motor and handling.

599 Tech Briefing

We went through a tech brief in our Intro article from last year as well as in our 2004 Budget Middleweights test, but here's some highlights , culled from Gabe's Intro story:

Tiny wheel behind the bike is part of Honda's Wheelie Control System. Introduced in Europe in 1998 as the 600 Hornet, the Honda 599 is actually made in Italy, along with scooters and other motorcycle models. It's been a big seller, a success belied by the simple nature of the bike's design.

At the heart of the 2006 599 is a truly wonderful powerplant, the 16-valve, water-cooled dual-cam inline-four 599cc motor from the F2/F3 series motorcycle. The motor makes a healthy 86 HP (2004 model) at the back wheel, breathing through a quartet of good `ol fashioned 34mm flat-slide CV carburetors like Mom used to make. A six-speed gearbox and cable clutch complete that package.

The motor is bolted into a steel-tube chassis with a large backbone. There's a steel swingarm bolted directly to a rear shock (adjustable only for preload), and up front is a new inverted-fork front end. Wheels are shod with standard-sized sportbike rubber, a 120/70-17 in front and a 180/55-17 in back. Triple brake discs and calipers you might recognize if you owned an F2 or F3 bring you to a stop.

Aside from that, you get a 4.1-gallon gas tank, a seat, some instruments... and not much else. It's a simple, elemental motorcycle, what used to be called a UJM. Claimed dry weight is 404 pounds. The 599 is available from your local Honda dealer for just $18.31 cents a pound, less than fresh Maine lobster.

Honda went ahead and gussied up the looks a bit for 2006, and it looks great. There's a little bikini fairing covering the instruments and you even get glossy paint instead of the matte-finish Graphite from 2004 (Honda decided to skip the 2005 model year). The high-mount exhaust is fashionable, and with the plastic heat shield, takes nothing from functionality. The new digital speedo is easy-to-read and functional, as are the slightly buzzy, but wide-set mirrors. However, it's all very Honda-like; Eric said "it seems like an old friend before swinging a leg over it."          

Doing 110 on a cold engine will void your warranty... When you do get that leg over, you will find a small-feeling, mangageable and comfortable bike. "Great styling and ergonomics" says Pete, although he did note that "tall riders will probably complain of cramped quarters between the saddle and foot pegs." Gabe liked the basic layout too, although he noted the seat has a forward slope to it that angles the rider into the tank; this can be annoying over the long haul. However, the basic charm of a naked bike is how little of the bike is visible from the rider's perch, and that comes through strong on the 599.

Firing up the bike immediately shows its age. "Is that a choke lever? How quaint!" said Eric when it was his turn to ride. The carbureted motor takes a little more time to warm than the fuel-injected machines, but that's how they did it in the old days. Once warm, the motor feels a little slow-revving and buzzy, something to be expected from what is basically a slightly de-tuned CBR600F3 motor, which is in turn a slightly improved CBR600F2 motor from 1991. "Was my F2 this slow?" asked Eric. Actually it was slower; our 599 made 86.69 HP at about 8,300 RPM on our DynoJet Dyno; most F2s made somewhat less. However, the last CBR600F3 we dyno-tested in 1997 made 90 HP at 11,500 RPM; it is remarkable Honda's engineers were able to alter the powerband so much and only lose 3.3 HP.

If you do most of your riding around town or commuting, those few horsepower won't be missed that much, as the 599 has surprisingly adequate and useable midrange power. "Broad powerband" noted Paul, and Pete thought that "new riders may appreciate the somewhat docile power plant." Gabe agreed the motor was very well-suited to beginning riders; "it's perfectly carbureted and revs freely with enough oomph to get you around." It also makes nice sounds: Pete liked the "beautiful note" from "all 599 cubic centimeters singing in harmony with the exhaust."            

Bendy road, bendy bike, bendy boy.However, if you're chasing some sportbike-mounted amigos, you will be on eBay in a second looking for a used F3 cylinder head and carbs (actually the bolt patterns for an F4 motor are said to match up). The "engine is kind of lifeless unless you wring its neck." noted Pete, and Gabe was saddened by the motor that "felt so good at the press intro, yet so buzzy and lifeless in this company." The motor's redline is over 10,000 RPM, yet the power checks out around 9,500. An F4i motor in this thing would be, by unanimous consensus, a great addition.

Still the motor is good enough, and that theme carries over in around-town performance and rider comfort. The easy-to-ride character and low seat make the 599 a perfect in-town and commuting tool, abetted by the quick, light steering and soft suspension to soak up bumps and ruts in the road. On the open road, the windblast is tolerable up to about 80 MPH; after that you are hanging on for dear life as your "Yale University Drinking Team" sweatshirt turns into a sail.

So you've endured 100 miles of interstate highway and you're ready for twisty roads. Gabe found the 599 to be a blast on the Intro ride last year; it is supremely fun and easy to ride on a twisty road, thanks to a light feel, wide bars, and good Michelin Pilot tires. The gearbox is "transparent" according to Pete, and Gabe and Paul both dragged the tired-yet-descriptive phrase "confidence-inspiring" out of their cliché lockers. On the open road, the windblast is tolerable up to about 80 MPH; after that you are hanging on for dear life as your "Yale University Drinking Team" sweatshirt turns into a sail. However, compared to a bike like the R6 or even the V-Strom, the 599 is lacking in several areas. First, the brakes are "surprisingly powerful", according to Pete, but they are still old, and compared to the R6's incredible binders, feel it. They have a wooden feel and require a good deal more squeezing at high velocities than more modern calipers. Even the Suzuki's brakes-with similar twin-piston, sliding-pin calipers-somehow seem to work better.

The Honda also comes up short in the suspension department. All four testers noted "mushy suspension", and when suspension-savvy Eric got down on his aged knees to inspect the range of adjustment available on the rear shock, he found only a preload adjuster, even though Pete noted too much rebound damping (which means the shock will extend back too slowly), no doubt causing the wallow we noticed. It was set too soft when we bothered to check it on the second day of the test; we added two steps of preload (to the third position from soft) and noted a firmer ride at the expense of mild rear-wheel hopping. However, the front end is also too soft, and there is no way to adjust it aside from taking it apart and rebuilding it.

Is that spiderman?The bike's good comfort and stability around town come at a price, too: weight and a lack of ground clearance. Keeping up with an experienced rider on an R6 results in your toes dragging, even if you've pulled your feet up on the pegs. The steel frame and old-tech motor add a lot of weight where you don't want it, overwhelming that linkage-less suspension. "A little too much dive up front combined with a little too much rebound out back make for a slightly wish-washy and wallowing experience" on the 599, according to Pete.            

That's a lot of negative stuff about the 599, but we really didn't hate it. Paul liked the bike enough to vote it first place, and Pete said it " rider accessibility". Gabe would have picked it but for its too-high sticker price: "this is a great $6,000 motorcycle, but at $7,399 there are too many better choices." The three areas this bike needs to improve-weak suspension and brakes, antiquated motor, and boutique pricing-are too glaring to let the basic all-around goodness beat the competition. Pete explained that "the $1,000 that separate the 599 from the 919 would be far too easy for most people to justify amortizing to get the bigger engine, stouter suspension, EFI and the four-piston opposed brakes." We hope Honda updates this bike with the F4i or 600RR motor and suspension while keeping the price the same (or cheaper!). Then they might have winner, but for now, they don't.

PAGE 22006 Yamaha YZF-R6: Jello Wrestling with Gisele Bundchen

Most magazines don't compare hi-strung, top-of-the-line sportbikes with anything other than high-strung, top-of-the-line sportbikes for the simple reason that it makes the OEM representatives very angry when they lose. They usually lose on the basis of what makes a sportbike sportbike-ey; a focused riding position that tortures anyone except yoga instructors, hyper-sensitive controls that make the bike feel nervous and twitchy on public roads, and narrow powerbands that seem unresponsive until the RPMs hit five digits. Angry OEM representatives have a way of forgetting about things like test bike requests and sending invites to swanky press intros. Hence most tests are apples to apples.          

Eric says: don't cut corners on your corner-carver. However, we here at MO get a lot of "I'm thinking about these bikes, which one should I get?"-type emails, and they often have very eclectic choices on them. Many first-time riders want to know; sportbike, crusiser or standard? 600cc is 600cc, right? So shouldn't I just get the bike I think is the coolest and best-performing?

Well, no, actually. We picked the most extreme 600cc sportbike to contrast with the most mellow 600cc inline-four streetbike to highlight how different these bikes can be, and to answer the question: what's a better street bike? How a motor is designed and configured is far more important than simple displacement, and that's just the motor we're talking about. Chassis design and component choice make huge differences as well.

YZF-R6 Tech talk (from our 2006 Middleweight Comparison)

Seven years ago, the first YZF-R6 screamed out of its mother's womb, making a huge impact on the middleweight sportbike scene with an amazing combination of light weight, free-revving horsepower and razor-sharp handling. Yamaha set themselves a very high bar of being the leader in 600cc sportbikes, but the last iteration of the R6, though a sweet-handling and comfortable ride, was a little behind the curve when it came to power.

That is some mad bling. Yamaha entered 2006 with guns blazing. The all-new 2006 YZF-R6 offers sharpened power, handling and boasts a 17,500 rpm redline. Yes, we know the 17,500 claim is bogus, the probable result of someone not checking their voicemail frequently enough. It still has an incredible motor and great chassis.

The motor is completely redesigned, with several firsts for Yamaha. The 16-valve, liquid cooled motor uses titanium valves and 67 mm pistons working in a 42.5 mm bore compressing fuel and air to a 12.8:1 mixture. The clutch and gearbox is all new as well, with a super-tall, 80 mph first gear and slipper clutch for maximum racetrack performance. Fuel injection (with digital engine management, of course) is controlled by an all-new fly-by-wire system for precise control. The result is 110.31 hp on our Dynojet Dyno at around 11,000 rpm (and yes, it will over-rev to about 16,000).

The chassis is also new, of course. The GP-inspired Deltabox frame and swingarm are much more rigid in all directions than the old frame, and it's constructed of a combo of plates and castings to create what Yamaha calls a "straight connection layout." The swingarm pivot is also moved 20mm, and all the changes result in a five mm shorter wheelbase and sharper, steeper steering geometry. However, there's still no steering damper.

They work well, too. The suspension is as serious as the rest of the bike. The 41 mm inverted forks have separate high and low-speed damping circuits, as does the rear shock. Since most sportriders don't know enough to even set their spring sag, Yamaha's message is clear: they are catering to very serious racers and trackday enthusiasts. Brakes are similarly serious, with radial-mounted, monoblock calipers grabbing 310 mm floating discs.

The whole package weighs in at 357 pounds dry, (claimed) just a couple of pounds lighter than last year's model. However, those two pounds come at a steep price; the 2006 YZF-R6 rings up at an MSRP of $9,199, a cool grand more than the old bike. That might be immaterial; Yamaha is going to bring in a limited number of these bikes anyway. However, the old model will still be available as the YZF-R6S, with standard forks and brakes (instead of the inverted forks and radial-mount calipers on the 2005) for just $8,199.

After a few more hours on the road, you might be ready to push it just that last little inch... Getting on the R6 after riding more pedestrian bikes immediately highlights the differences. The bars are way down there, the seat is high and hard, and the footpegs are rearset: up higher and further back. Pete found it surprisingly comfortable, and Paul noted it had a "comfy seat for a racer." Even the most back-pain-prone among us didn't mind hour-long stints aboard the R6. Gabe remembered riding the 150 miles back from Buttonwillow on it and not minding at all, as long as he kept the speeds above 80. However, that incredible 16,500 RPM redline comes with a price; Pete complained of a "tingling sensation" in his hands and feet that lingered even after he got off the bike, and even though it's more comfy than you'd expect, the difference between this bike and the other two, comfort-wise is immense.

There are no big surprises here, MOfos. The R6 is not as comfortable as the 599 or the V-Strom. But it's a much better ride for the twisty parts on the map, no?

Yes and no. It really depends on who you to talk to, as the R6 is a much focused bit of machinery that is designed to win on the racetrack, not on wack-job comparison tests. "Riding this bike on the street is akin to catching minnows with a spear gun" according to Pete, and Gabe and Paul noted how difficult the R6 was to ride at anything less than a 9/10ths pace. The throttle is responsive, the power comes on like a ton of bricks (at nine or 10 thousand RPM), and the steering is both sensitive and precise. The ergonomics seemingly position your head about an inch from the front fender, forcing your eyes wide open and your head craned way up. If you're not going fast enough into a turn, the bike lets you know it, and since the street is no place to push a bike like this, you're not going fast enough to really benefit from the advantages of the "race ready" suspension and brutal power from the motor.          

Eric preparing to stop on a dime and give you some change. That means less confidence. This bike will do anything you want it to, from stopping on a Fanam (the world's smallest coin) to tracking through a tight line in a corner. However, if you don't take advantage of this ability, the bike will feel twitchy, snatchy, uncomfortable and difficult to ride. Having a bit of slop in the throttle, chassis and brakes like the other bikes have might actually be a good thing on the street, especially when said street is twisty, bumpy and unfamiliar.

However, expert riders might appreciate the R6 for its technical brilliance enough to overlook its terrible perfection. Pete, Gabe and Paul looked at the eight separate adjusters on the front forks and imagined how badly they could screw up the handling if they tried to adjust suspension themselves, but Eric pulled out his trusty tool kit and spun and twisted the adjusters to his liking. Before, Eric "hadn't met a 2006 R6" that he "got along with", but after some judicious adjustment, the R6's suspenders gave the bike an almost plush feeling on very bumpy pavement, but refused to wallow or feel unstable elsewhere. Even on rough pavement none of us had anything bad to say about the R6's ride, where the 599 and V-Strom would sometimes lose traction or feel indistinct due to poorer suspension action.

When it's dialed in, with a good rider on board, the R6 simply inhales smooth, sweeping pavement. "The Yamaha's shrill wail was so intoxicating I removed my earplugs just to hear its siren song", said Eric, thrilled to ride "one of the lightest, most nimble and trickest bikes on the planet." He compared it to the FZR400 he rode back in the late Mesolithic era, and that is high praise, as the 400 is still known as one of the great-handling bikes of all time. "The Yamaha's shrill wail was so intoxicating I removed my earplugs just to hear its siren song." However, at the end of the day, Gabe, Pete and Paul agreed that the R6 is a fantastic sport bike but not suited to the kind of riding they like to do. Pete hated to admit that the R6 "was the most difficult to ride at anything less than blistering speeds." Gabe would love to have a bike like the R6, but "95 percent of the time you're not riding it like it was intended to be ridden, so in most situations it just isn't as fun as the other bikes."

Like any tool, you have to consider what you'll use a motorcycle for when you are selecting it. Sure, a $1,300 nail gun (the Paslode 6512) is incredibly cool, but in the wrong hands it's a dangerous waste of money. Anybody truly pushing this bike to its limits on the street is asking for a trip to the ER, and even if you've attended a Keith Code school you probably can't use it to its limits on the track, either. Because of this, the advantages of such a machine seem irrelevant to anybody other than expert (or insane) riders, and that's probably why only one of us picked it as their first choice.

2006 Suzuki DL650 V-Strom; the Ugly Duckling Becomes an Ugly Swan

Do you need to "get" the big trailie concept? You could just ride it... "I've never liked the big "trailie" concept and,          after riding the DL650, still don't get the idea." That's what grumpy old Eric had to say about the 650 V-Strom. "They're neither great street bikes nor great dirt bikes." Perhaps that's why these machines don't sell so well on this side of the pond. We Americans like our categories firmly delineated, and this bike seems to defy categorization.

The first thing that you notice about the Perfect Strom is its apparent bulk. On closer examination, you can see there's a lot of air in between the plastic fairing panels and the metal parts, and getting on board the bike seems smaller still. Gabe noted that it "feels small and manageable when you start riding it", and Pete said it had "wind protection better than some bikes with bigger windshields." The seat is low enough to let even the shortest-legged of our testers to confidently sit astride it without complaint. That seat is nice and low, but supportive and comfortable at the same time. Low, forward dirtbike-style pegs contribute to the humane riding position.     

DL650 V-Strom Tech Brief

Introduced in 2003 as a 2004 model, the V-Strom is interesting for being the first middleweight V-Twin Adventure Tourer in the US market since the Honda Transalp of the late 80's. Based on the much-ballyhooed SV650 and its 1000cc big brother DL1000 V-Strom, the "Wee Strom" is pretty unique in this market.

Some of us have wept with joy over this screen. Suzuki started with a trellis-style aluminum frame similar to the SV650's but with a longer swingarm. It uses preload-adjustable 43mm damper-rod forks from the big-brother DL1000 V-Strom (sans cartridge internals) along with a damping and preload-adjustable rear shock working through a linkage. Wheels are odd sizes for those used to streetbikes younger than 20 years old; a 110/80R-19- equipped front and a 150/70R-17-shod rear. Braking is handled by a pair of crude-yet-effective two-piston calipers grabbing twin 310mm discs in front. The rear brake sports a single-piston caliper and a 260mm disc.

Suzuki's much-loved 650cc V-Twin motor hangs underneath the black-painted frame. It's the familiar 647cc, liquid-cooled four-valve per cylinder V-Twin as in the SV650, with an 81mm bore and 62.6 mm stroke. The V-Strom uses milder cams and a heavier flywheel as well, to better suit its mission as an adventure/sport tourer. The transmission is a six-speed unit with a cable-operated clutch.

Comfort and amenity features include a broad, un-dual-sport-like saddle, a large luggage rack, dual tripmeters, fuel gauge and clock. The windscreen is tall and adjustable (with a screwdriver and Allen key), and the big faring promises decent wind protection.

The bottom line: 417 pounds claimed dry weight, 64.13 HP at the back wheel (the last SV we tested made 71.15) and a $6,699 asking price. For 2007, Suzuki has made a few detail changes and added ABS for a mere $500, making the 650 V-Strom the least-expensive motorcycle so equipped.

Pete riding the Strom. That's what we all noticed most about the V-Strom: comfort. Eric called it "super-comfortable" and Editor Ets-Hokin tricked new guy Paul Bryant into riding the R6 the last 100 miles home by rigging a "guess the number" with Eric so he could ride the DL. The tall windscreen whips up some turbulence, as it is too far in front of the rider, but we only had it set on the lowest position. The bars are so high that it's almost uncomfortable, but the postion is dirtbike-perfect for standing on the pegs to look out over the traffic jams while lane-splitting (it's not legal in your state? Why not? Contact your AMA representative and ask!) or while bouncing over severe bumps on pavement or dirt. It's as roomy and comfortable and offers wind protection to rival much bigger, more expensive bikes.

Meet the Testers

Welcome to Honest Paul's Motors! Can I help you find a fine pre-owned vehicle today?Paul Bryant
Age: 40
Years Riding: 7
Favorite Fried Food: Onion Rings

Editor Ets-Hokin wanted more perspective to his test than the standard mid-30's white guys we usually have along, so we found a 40-year-old white guy instead. Paul Bryant is an enthusiastic MOron and motorcyclist who resides in lovely Santa Barbara, California and works as a consultant. We, like most people, are unclear about what consultants do, but judging by Paul's good-sized stable of fancy motorized vehicles, they don't do it for cheap.

Paul is a skilled rider, photographs well and most importantly, submits his well-spelled, grammatically-correct notes in a timely fashion. Combine this with flexible eating habits and a rain-man like ability to recite huge blocks of dialogue from Monty Python movies and you have an ideal partner in crime for motorcycle testing.

Dance! Dance for me, little monkey!Gabe Ets-Hokin
Age: 37
Years Riding:19
Favorite Fried Food: Crispy Diazepam Clusters with sweet-and-sour Zoloft dipping sauce

Oakland, CA resident Gabe Ets-Hokin has long been a fan of practical, yet fun and sweet-handling motorcycles. It was his half-baked idea to do this shootout in the first place, and he now regrets it deeply. A firm subscriber to the "chaos theory" of mid-level management, Gabe has now completed his second comparison test as MO's Senior Editor and will spend the next two weeks recovering in a sanatorium in the Swiss Alps.

Eric Putter
Age: 42
Inseam: 29"
Years Riding: 34
Favorite Fried Food: Monterey Bay Calamari

Eric brings a host of useful skills to the table as a guest tester, as he is an accomplished racer and rider, is mindful of prepping test bikes and adjusting suspension. He also has more than 20 years of experience as a motorcycle journalist, including a stint at Cycle World and more freelance articles than we could read in an eight-hour long cocaine bender. In addition to running PutterPowerMedia, his aftermarket PR company, he enjoys getting out of the office for a bit of bike testing and other vehicular mayhem.

Pete Brissette
Age: 35
Inseam: 32"
Years Riding: 13
Favorite Fried Food: KFC Extra Crispy Chicken

Managing Editor Pete Brissette came along on this shootout, but he has no idea why. Like the other testers, he still didn't understand the concept of the story even after a rambling 90-minute PowerPoint demonstration given by Editor Ets-Hokin on his laptop. However, he is an accomplished street and track rider and the veteran of more shootouts than Wyatt Earp.

How good it is in the dirt is unknown to us; we didn't think it would be fair to test the bikes off-road. Suzuki claims it's intended for on-road use only, but prior MO editor Sean Alexander thought it was a good enough dual-sport machine during his first ride, especially on graded dirt roads. [As well as during the 2005 Adventure Touring Comparison.]

When the pavement gets tight and twisted, the V-Strom handles it with competence, if not actual brilliance. The longish-travel suspension and skinny 19" Bridgestone Trailwing front tire make for a "numb front-end", according When the pavement gets tight and twisted, the V-Strom handles it with competence, if not actual Professor Bryant. Eric noted a "lack of front-end feedback" which Gabe also noticed, saying it was akin to watching scrambled porn on Cable TV; "there's something going on down there, but you can't quite make out what it is."

However, you don't need to feel everything to have a good time, and the V-Strom can hustle when you need it to. Pete noted the bike's higher center of gravity created a "falling into corners sensation that can be unnerving", but the wide bars and stable chassis mean a confident rider can sail into turns and get on the gas early, the tourqey and responsive little V-Twin an eager partner, if a little buzzy and soft.

We all like the motor, to nobody's surprise. Pete enjoyed the "idiot-proof mid-range power inherent in its V-twin engine", and Gabe queried, "how can you go wrong with such a great little powerplant?" In this guise, it feels like a very powerful and smooth single-cylinder dirtbike, perfect for touring, commuting or carving tight backroads.

The R6 is:a) taking a break b) getting fitted for a sheepskin seat cover c) on another planet. After all, on most twisty roads you don't need much power to break the law, and the high comfort factor of the Ugly Not-Duckling means you can keep it up for mile after mile, when a sportbike-mounted companion might be ready for a chiropractor. A few hours in the saddle will also bring a little more confidence          in that front end, goading the rider to lean further and harder, until she loses confidence from what Pete described as a "less-than-sticky" tire and overly firm compression damping that creates a "sketchy feeling...when running the V-Strom through its paces over rough pavement."

It takes some getting used to, and we all know it can be done: Eric reported that he's "followed other riders going really fast on V-Stroms, but just can't bring myself to perform such antics", and Gabe was just starting to enjoy riding the `Strom on winding roads by the end of the test. The motor is the best part, and the lighter, more dirt-friendly feel is a better match for what is a very flexible, do-it-all motorcycle.

The V-Strom is a very good motorcycle. Although some of us may not really get the big trailie thing, and the bike isn't perfect-the brakes have a slightly wooden feel, the front end is weird and vague, and it's a little too heavy for what it is-it really might be the best way to moto-perfection for those of us who can have but one bike and love value. It would probably be the best commuter of the bunch, as adding luggage will hardly spoil the looks and it gets the best mileage by far. Can this bike win our little test?

PAGE 3Conclusion: At the Special Olympics, Everyone's a Winner

What have we learned today? We already knew that what you ride is hardly as important as how you ride, but now we also know that having a bike that suits your needs is more important than having the latest and greatest.

We know the 599 is a good all-arounder, but the DL has even more all-around features, like luggage capacity, a good passenger seat, a fairing more protective than some touring bikes, and a huge fuel range with its 5.8-gallon tank and 48 MPG freeway mileage. It's also comfortable and has more adjustability in the suspension. Which one won?The 599 is a charming motorcycle and is very stylish and easy to ride, but it will probably always be a niche-market bike with limited appeal in the States.

The R6 is an incredible bike. It's the obvious choice for those who spend lots of time on the side of their tires and have the ability and skill to really utilize this kind of equipment. However, as a street ride there are definitely better choices, especially if it will be used for tooling around town, commuting or taking the girlfriend on overnight excursions. Let's put it this way; if the R6 is the right bike for you you've probably already got one and are already halfway through the racing season and have a few uncashed contingency checks in your wallet.            

This leaves us with Wee Willy V-Strom. Other than comfort and fuel economy, it is a runner-up in many categories here. However, it can do so many things so well that it's the kind of bike that would become a well-used, cherished friend to the kind of rider that wishes Costco sold motorcycle tires. It's got comfort, good (if not great) handling, a flexible motor, great wind protection and Toyota Corolla-like practicality, mixed with a heap of wacky, yet aggressive European styling. The best part is value; at $6,699 the V-Strom 650 is hard to beat for economy, and would be justifiable to even the most safety-conscious spouse, especially with ABS an option for 2007.

Those in the market for a motorcycle that's capable on twisty roads but gives up nothing to practicality and function should root around for one of these, and spend the $2,500 they will save over buying the hottest race-replica on tires, gas and track time. When the time comes, you can harass those who laughed at you in front of Starbucks by passing them on the outside on your wacky-looking machine. When they come to ask what kind of improvements you made to the motor to make that thing go so fast, you can quote MO luminary Fred Rau:

"It ain't the tool, boy. It's the man operating it."

"What We'd Buy" Table
How the testers would spend their own money.
We scored the bikes 4 pts. for 1st, 2 for 2nd, and 1 for 3rd.


Eric "Crispy Calamari" Putter

Paul "The Big Onion Ring" Bryant

Pete "Big Chicken Dinner" Brissette

Gabe "Farm-o-suitical" Ets-Hokin


Suzuki V-Strom 650






Yamaha YZF-R6






Honda 599






Second Opinions: I Ride the Moto Eclectic

One street/dirt hybrid, one standard, and one race replica -- this describes not only the three bikes, but the three test riders as well. Each of us came from different riding backgrounds, brought our own set of experiences to the test, agreed on some points, and on others...well, "not so much." They say variety is the spice of life -- if so, this street bike comparo is one tangy tamale!

Notwithstanding the protracted hair-splitting, nit-picking, and word-mincing of any good bike test, the ultimate question came down from Seľor Gabe: "Which of these bikes would you buy?" The answer is easy -- it's the Honda 599. For me, it's simply the most fun to ride. Our version of Europe's venerable Hornet 600 is compact (almost like a toy), comfortable, and confidence inspiring -- although a bit overpriced at $7,399.

The 599 is an absolute barrel of monkeys to ride briskly through the canyons. Its revvy, CBR600F3-derived motor has a broad, useful powerband with a nice top-end rush, and its brakes slow the passing scenery in a hurry with good feel and consistency. The mirrors provide a clear view rearward, the tach is easy to read, and the cockpit includes a few niceties such as a digital speedo/odometer, gas gauge, and clock. Basically, the 599 delivers a high fun factor in a no-frills package, with no apologies -- that is, except for the rear suspension.

Critics of the 599 will ding it for its "parts bin" configuration, its reliance on yesterday's technology, and its less than perfect suspension. While the inverted fork is sprung a tad softly for my physique (I'm a 32 waist, but I wear a 38 `cause they're much more comfortable), it works well enough for my needs. The linkage-free shock setup, on the other hand, tends to wallow, even at my own decidedly conservative pace. My purchase of a 599 would be followed by an aftermarket shock upgrade and perhaps modification of the fork internals. At that point, you'd have a hard time reaching me on the phone, as I'd be somewhere up in the hills with a silly grin beaming behind a dark visor.

How did I feel about the other two bikes? While the R6 is clearly the "best" bike here from a performance perspective, my skill level is a poor match for its capabilities and my riding patterns ill-suited to its primary mission.

Well, the V-Strom 650 is a fine mount, well suited to longer trips, dirt road diversions, and generally more mellow missions than the other two bikes. It offers its pilot comfort, wind protection, a torquey v-twin powerplant, and the ability to easily add a wide range of accessories for extended road trips. Its numb front-end compromises feel in the twisty stuff -- and it's a bit tall for my vertically challenged frame -- but otherwise the bike works nicely and is well suited to its dual-purpose target. If I had to choose a bike from this trio to ride to Oregon and back, the V-Strom would be the one.

The R6 is -- as Valentino Rossi used to say about his 500 cc GP racer -- "from another planet." While the R6 is clearly the "best" bike here from a performance perspective, my skill level is a poor match for its capabilities and my riding patterns ill-suited to its primary mission. While it was fun to spin up the motor, listen to that glorious howl, and lean into high-speed sweepers, I found the R6 to be confidence-destroying in the really tight stuff such as Palomar Mountain. I doubt this bike would do much to help me develop my skills -- it would probably just laugh, taunting me under its breath, saying, "c'mon, wimp, the throttle's on the right!"

The new R6 rewards expert riders with incomparable middleweight performance, and intermediate riders with a series of "pucker" moments. If I had to choose a bike from this trio to leave in the MO garage and give the finger to, the new R6 would be the one. I'll pass for now.

-Paul Bryant, Contributor


Experienced riders know it ain't the tool. Whether passing scores of solo sportbike practitioners while riding two-up on my CBR600F2 or racing my KX125 in off-road grands prix to respectable finishes against much faster bikes, I've always enjoyed being the underdog.

For the kind of sportbiking I do, all of the bikes in this comparison are underdogs.

Confident in my canyon-carving abilities, the 599 is just too much of an underachiever. Crippled with a buzzy, lackluster motor and squishy, non-adjustable suspension, the Honda has too many handicaps to overcome. This little bike has all the promise and good looks of its 919 sibling, but just doesn't deliver the goods when push comes to shove while strafing curvaceous tarmac.

The funky V-Strom just ain't the tool for me, either. Sure, it's comfortable, has good wind protection and a nice motor with sublime throttle response, but doesn't do anything well enough to hold my attention.

For my two-wheeled predilections, there's only one bike in this comparo that lit my fire: the R6. In this crowd, it's the UN-bike: UN-comfortable, UN-compromising and UN-believable. And not for the faint of heart.

Sure, it's are all sportbikes. Yes, it has a narrow powerband...but it feels 10 miles wide when compared to my NSR50. It's very demanding and doesn't suffer fools lightly...neither do I.

Sure, it's are all sportbikes. Yes, it has a narrow powerband...but it feels 10 miles wide when compared to my NSR50. It's very demanding and doesn't suffer fools lightly...neither do I.Simply, the R6 takes the checkered flag for me here because it's the only bike that does anything really well and stirs my passion. They're not called sportbikes for nothing. Practicality be damned!

Although I'm all about open-class bikes for the street, I'm looking to purchase a new R6 as a track-day ride. I just can't wait to play the role of underdog once again.

-Eric Putter, Guest Contributor

A knee-jerk reaction would lead many to think the DL650 to be quickly dispatched in this test, especially in the company of the R6. The 599 is probably a bike that more riders should be purchasing instead of getting sucked into all the glam and relative affordability of the current crop of hyper bikes, just so they can become "stuntas."
  Have you all lost your heads?  

Let's face facts. The junior V-Strom doesn't have the best brakes of the bunch; but they function well enough. The front suspension's compression damping is too firm and the less-than-sticky 110 x 19 front tire doesn't help improve the sketchy feeling you get when bending the V-Strom through a corner over rough pavement. Additionally, its high center of gravity, courtesy of the V-twin motor and large gas tank, combine to create that "falling into corners" sensation may turn a lot of riders off. Also, the saddle height is tall (maybe too tall for some) and the styling is, well, different to say the least.

But when we apply Fred Rau's "it ain't the tool, it's how you use it" mantra to this test, the little DL takes on a whole new appeal.'ll amuse yourself and confuse sport bike riders as you effortlessly harass them turn after turn with the idiot-proof mid-range power. For all its shortcomings and the fact that this bike doesn't fit neatly into one specific category, in capable hands it can hang with the other two quite easily and then do things the others can't. Like give the rider the most comfortable, upright riding position in the group. Or offer wind protection better than some bikes with bigger windshields. It'll accommodate a passenger far more easily than the other two and that passenger will be much happier. The DL is just begging for a rear top-box to be mounted on the included rack, and once you've loaded up the luggage, the 5.8 gallons of fuel can take you to

where the pavement ends, if you so choose. In the ensuing twisties that lay between the interstate and the fire roads, you'll amuse yourself and confuse sport bike riders as you effortlessly harass them turn after turn with the idiot-proof mid-range power.

The 650 V Strom is a jack of all trades: it's a fuel efficient commuter, a weekend twisty warrior, a two-up sport tourer and a mild dual-sport motorcycle rolled into one; all for $600 less than the Honda 599 and a whopping $2,500 less than the R6.

Suzuki's DL 650 would be my tool of choice.

-Pete Brissette, Managing Editor.


Homo Sapiens enjoys the summit of our planet's food pyramid, so long as he has at least a pair of sneakers and a good, sharp stick. Within the many hierarchies within the species, we Motojournalists are somewhere around the top of the triangle. We demand the most tasty, delectable tidbits of the vast global web of industrial production. Only the finest, most distinctive products will do for us, and when it comes to spending what passes as a paycheck here at MO on two-wheeled transportainment, it better be pretty distinctive to justify having the cable shut off so we can make the $198-a-month payment.

  You're picking the V-Strom?  

So the R6 is the no-brainer choice, right? Not for me. Yes, it handles like nobody's business and looks fantastic, plus it's a blast to dart through traffic on. However, it's also uncomfortable and very demanding of its rider. I've got a few more track-riding chops than Paul does, but I agree that the R6 is just not what you'd call easy-going or easy-to-ride. So, unless you're really serious about racing or trackdays-and I'm not-the R6 lacks the all-around goodness that I like in a bike.

My ideal bike would be a wrecked R6 (and there should be plenty by now!) stripped of its bodywork and adorned with a superbike handlebar kit and a pair of Pep Boys foglamps to light the way. Once the suspension was sorted for the different riding position you would have a bike that would be a holy terror on twisty backroads but good for commuting or transporting supermodels. Alas, this isn't a test of a bike's potential; it's a test of the bikes as delivered.

The 599 is a bit more like it, but it falls short for a couple of reasons. It's fast enough, fun enough and handles well enough to be an only child in my garage, but the value just isn't there. I know they make them in Europe and the Euro is clobbering our poor third-world currency known as the dollar, but $7,399? For a 12 year-old motor, even older brakes and almost totally non-adjustable suspension? It reminds me of how folks pay over 10 grand for five year-old Honda Civics. Puh-leeze! They're just not that good.

Homo Sapiens enjoys the summit of our planet's food pyramid, so long as he has at least a pair of sneakers and a good, sharp stick.Also, although it is really nimble and easy-to-ride, next to the R6 it feels heavy, soft and unsophisticated. Some motorcycles can charm you in spite of-or because of--unsophisticated components (the Ducati Monster or even Kawasaski's ancient KLR 650 come to mind), but with a buzzy, bland motor and more weight than the more-powerful R6, the 599 lacks the charm required to want me to spend the too-high asking price to make it my own.

This leaves us with the Wee Strom. Here's a question: What's wrong with taking one of the most-fun, most-flexible middleweight motors of the last decade and putting it in a stout chassis with comfortable all-day ergonomics and snappy, good-enough handling?

Answer: Not a thing. For the bargain price of $6,699 you get a lot of versatility and fun in a manageable package that should let 95 percent of motorcyclists ride as fast as they need to go on the roads they are most likely to encounter, and do it with plenty of economy, safety and fun. Here's some enchilada sauce for your spicy Mexican meatloaf: for 2007 Suzuki is offering the added security of anti-lock brakes for just an extra $500.

It's not the most exciting pick, but it is the most practical and logical, and that's what this test is about, I think. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go look for a sharp stick.

-Gabe Ets-Hokin, Senior Editor

Notes and Nits:

  • MPG overall: 599: 40.72, V-Strom 44.98. R6: 37.45. Freeway: 599: 37.81, V-Strom 48.66, R6: 40.57. Our "Freeway" miles were the 100-plus miles from Torrance to Cabazon (home of the giant concrete dinosaurs and yet another casino Gabe was not allowed to shoot craps at.), and we averaged about 75-80 MPH.

  • Getting almost 50 MPG on a bike as big and comfortable as the V-Strom is nothing to sneeze at, especially in our post-apocalyptic world of $3.25-per-gallon gas. The 599's relatively poor fuel economy is puzzling, given the milder state of tune, but the bike does have to run higher RPMs to go fast enough on LA-area freeways to be avoided being passed by SUVs, delivery trucks, and nun-filled minivans.
  • V-Strom has a very clever and handy remote pre-load knob to quickly adjust spring preload. This plus the nice passenger seat make it a clear choice for those who pretend that taking a passenger on any bike is fun, even when compared to much more fancy and expensive bikes than the 599 or R6.
  • R6's fancy multi-adjustable suspension is great if you have some idea of what all those knobs and dials do, like Eric P, but not so good if you don't, like normal people. Honda's philosophy on suspension is to leave as little of it up to the consumer as possible, as your average rider knows just enough about suspension adjustment to really screw up the handling and crash.
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