It Ain't The Tool: Revisited
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.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
"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.
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.
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
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.
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 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.
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", accordingto 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.
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?