Suzuki DL650 V-Strom - $3000 Streetbike Surgery

Building The Ultimate Mid-Sized Adventure-Tourer

By Mitch Friedman, Photography by Mitch Friedman

I bought my "Wee-Strom" with the intention of doing some serious long-distance riding and fire road scrambling. It's a great little bike, with the SV650's legendary V-twin engine, ample ground clearance and a modest price tag--which left a little cash to refine it a bit. With Iron Butt aspirations swirling in my mind, I knew I'd need to do some upgrades.

For the off-roading I was bound to encounter on the state-wide California Parks Adventure, I thought it wise to protect the bike's vitals. The vulnerability of the V-Strom's protruding oil filter worried me, so I consulted the adventure-touring professionals at SW-Motech and opted for one of their robust skid plates ($209.99). While I had their catalog open, I sprang for a radiator guard ($99.99) and case guards ($159.99) to bullet-proof the bottom end. All the armor bolted up neatly, and looks solid enough to defend against any on- or off-road mishaps.

When I signed up for the Three Flags Classic (a 36-hour dash from Mexico to Canada), I realized I was going to need to tote more than just the clothes on my back. That's when I started looking into luggage. I picked the Givi Monokey cases due to their simplicity, style and volume. The top case ($370 including mounting rack) is perfect for essentials like an atlas, rain suit and food stuffs, and has a brake light that works to add visibility--unless you overload the case; then the switch works erratically. The side cases ($561.60 with rack) make the bike as wide as a VW bus, but they triple the V-Strom's carrying capacity, permitting the transport of precious spares and tools.

The stock windshield created buffing around my head, which took its toll on me during those endless hours in the saddle. Finding a suitable replacement turned out to be a challenge--not because the options were limited, but because there were so many! After combing online forums and reading customer reviews, I settled on an aftermarket screen from California Scientific ($185). The new screen is a good aesthetic match, and its larger, carefully-crafted shape offers much better wind and weather protection.

Although the V-Strom is blessed with its big brother's sturdy 43mm fork, Suzuki swaps the cartridge internals for cheap damper rods to keep the 650's price down. Combine that with springs rated for a 150-pound rider and the resultant ride is more like a lowered El Camino than an adventure-tourer. Much of the suspension travel is used up just sitting on the bike, and the rudimentary damping system is both too mushy and too harsh.

A call to Race Tech netted a pair of their Gold Valve Cartridge Emulators ($169.99), which brings cartridge-like damping and tunability to the front end. To address the sag issues, we slid in some of their 1.0kg/mm fork springs ($109.99).

With the fork sorted out, the rear end's deficiencies were all too apparent. The stock shock was soft on all fronts, and the ride was unbalanced and awkward. Since rebuilding the stock unit wasn't an option, it would have to be replaced. Once again we consulted Race Tech, who provided a new unit ($949.99), custom-built to my weight and riding style. The new shock was pricey, but it made a world of difference and really improved both handling and versatility. The wide rang of adjustability allows the bike to be tailored to any situation, so it's equally prepared for a heavily-laden highway haul or an exploratory journey up an old logging road.

The stock 110/80R-19 front and 150/70R-17 rear Bridgestone Trail Wing tires lasted more than 10,000 miles before the cords started showing, at which point I opted for a set of stickier Metzeler Roadtec Z6s ($118.99 front, $146.99 rear). The improved grip and sportier profile let me take full advantage of my dialed-in suspension, and transformed the Strom into a proper sport-tourer.

The only thing my Wee-Strom still needs is a better seat, as the stocker is just too hard and flat to be comfy on long rides. But hey, the Iron Butt Association doesn't call riding 1000 miles in 24 hours the Saddle Sore for nothing!

By Mitch Friedman
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