It Ain't The Tool: Revisited

PAGE 3
Conclusion: 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

Totals

Suzuki V-Strom 650

2nd

2nd

1st

1st

12

Yamaha YZF-R6

1st

3rd

3rd

2nd

8

Honda 599

3rd

1st

2nd

3rd

8

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 Se–or 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 uncomfortable....as 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 uncomfortable....as 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.

...you'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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