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2015 - The Motorcycle Show Vancouver

Contributed by Trevor Marc Hughes 
All photos by Trevor Marc Hughes

It’s the scope of the displays that is most exciting. It also is what is most intimidating.

Where do you start? Will you be able to take it all in?
 

Walking into Tradex is something like seeing gifts under the tree on Christmas morning. It’s difficult not to start bounding along like an excited ten-year-old, zipping back and forth from booth to booth, hungry to find out what’s new and interesting for motorcycling in 2015.

First, my enthusiasm was curbed by the lack of something. As I approached the incredible new designs of Victory Motorcycles in the Polaris display, I discovered a distinct lack of an Indian Scout.
“There are no B.C. dealers yet,” Terry Fetter of Victoria’s Action Motorcycles explained to me.

It would seem the cost of building up sales momentum for the new Indian models is too much west of the Rockies.

“It’s just not worth displaying four Indian Scouts right now,” Fetter tells me.

It would seem it’s going to be awhile before I’ll be sitting on an Indian Scout at the Vancouver Motorcycle Show.

I tempered my disappointment with a visit to Ireland. Celtic Rider is just one of the many motorcycle touring companies at the show, a list which includes Compass Expeditions, Edelweiss Bike Travel and Renedian Adventures. I speak with Connor about who chooses to ride Ireland.

“About 95% of our clientele are women,” he tells me.

With tourism growing in Ireland, so it would seem is motorcycle touring. Each tour package comes with an “orientation” for those who are used to riding on the right side of the road.

“Riding on the left is not a big deal,” he informs me.

Further left down this great hall is a sea of orange. KTM has a display featuring what would not be the last of this sort of bike I would see at the show: the introductory motorcycle. The KTM 390 Duke looks a tight, durable little machine. And with an MSRP of $5499 and a dry weight of a little over 300 pounds, it’s an affordable bit of orange.

 
What’s new with Suzuki? Well, as one rep put it: there’s the compact GSX-S750, a streetfighter influenced by supersport models like the GSX-R750, or for the ADV crowd, there’s a revamping of the DL-650. The Suzuki V-Strom 650X features spoke wheels and a “beak” out front. Does that look like another large adventure bike we know? It comes in “Candy Daring Red” and “Metallic Mat Fibroin Grey”.

The Yamaha section is the most impressive for me, with the large red symbol hanging from the ceiling. What’s also red, and new, is a YZF-R3. I watch as several nervous young lady visitors try to straddle it. And I think that’s what Yamaha may be thinking with this new lightweight sportbike: find the new and upcoming riders. It looks like an R6, but the 321cc engine will be easier to handle for those just being introduced to motorcycling.


I speak with Clinton Smout, who writes a column for Motorcycle Mojo and appears on “Motorcycle Experience” with Dave Hatch, as we both eye the R3. He tells me his eighteen-year-old son is entering the motorcycling market and if he is thinking about getting an R6, he would tell him to think twice and consider an R3. Good fatherly advice there. At an MSRP of $4999 the R3’s a little easier on a young adult’s budget too. He points over to the new ADV option from Yamaha, the FJ-09, billed as a sport-touring model taking after the FZ-09. It’s not an off-road capable bike, but it certainly seems Yamaha’s trying to corner the ADV lifestyle market with this one.



Harley-Davidson dominates much of one end of a hall, but its bikes are looking smaller. The introduction of Street 500 and 750 models seems to indicate that the iconic American manufacturer is trying to corner that beginning motorcyclist market too. Over to the right, the Tron-like whir of an electric motorcycle can be heard. This is not a light-cycle. It’s a visitor trying out Project Livewire, a surprising new initiative, but still only in the late prototype stage. But it’ll be interesting to see
what is developed in an electric bike model for the motorcycle market to be seen at next year’s show.




Of course there are many other bikes to mention: Ducati’s 821cc slimmed down and much more affordable Monster, the increasingly “rough road capable” Honda  CB500X looking to rival other sport touring models in its class, the more rider-friendly yet torquey BMW S1000RR, and, of course, the eagerly anticipated Kawasaki Ninja H2, cordoned off behind restraint straps as though its 1000cc supercharged engine is about to break free from its cage.





These are all impressive. But I choose to round off my visit to the 2015 Vancouver Motorcycle Show by meeting some of the adventurers that take motorcycles to their limits, live to tell the tale and write about it. Jeremy Kroeker wrote “Motorcycle Therapy”, a true story about his adventure on a KLR650 into Central America. His new book “Through Dust And Darkness” has done well critically. He tells me it’s not easy being an author, but he’s happy for the success of the latest book, which chronicles his motorcycle travels through the Middle East. A down-to-earth guy, he signs a copy for me on the spot.


 
Just as I’m about to leave, closing warnings booming over the loudspeakers, I see Rene Cormier. I met him the year before. His book “The University of Gravel Roads” is one of the best motorcycling circumnavigation tales I’ve read and now he heads Renedian Adventures, his own company that launches motorcycle expeditions all over southwest Africa. He spends half the year in Canada, the rest in Africa. He always has a smile and a handshake, and is someone I think would be great
company while traveling by motorcycle.

 
So, if I were to find overall themes that emerge from this year’s show, they’d have to be a trend towards manufacturers seeking to dominate the beginner motorcyclist market and continued growth, and fusing styles, in adventure motorcycles. Next year though, electric motorcycles, and the discussion they create, could be more of a focus. The show sure does what it’s billed to do though…make me excited for the upcoming riding season.

Links:

The Motorcycle Show Vancouver - http://www.vancouvermotorcycleshow.ca/
Renedian Adventures - http://www.renedian.com/
Jeremy Kroeker - http://www.motorcycletherapy.com/



New Trends in Motorcycling – Automatics!

It’s time for a major change in motorcycling.  

Really?  How many times have you heard that one. It’s interesting – over the years, motorcycles have experienced some amazing technological advances – ABS, Traction Control, Ride-by-Wire, Active Suspensions…even specialized protective gear. All of these technologies are aimed at providing extra safety for our riding pleasure. They’re all good.



Ridley Auto-Glide

But what technologies and inventions have you seen that make biking easier? Well, you might say, today’s advanced bikes are better balanced than yesteryear’s – and you’d be right. But I really mean ‘easier’.

- Easier to learn to ride, easier to ride, easier to cruise.
- Easier for novices and aged drivers alike.
- Easier for those who have never used a clutch.
- Easier for those who’ve never been exposed to the bare-bones riding elements, as we have.

Ergonomically? With changes in hand controls, brakes, electronic ride controls? Nothing.  
Oh, wait a minute!  Everything!!

Some manufacturers have made shiftless bikes – automatic or shift-free bikes using CVT transmissions. Great news!

And how have Canadians fared in this area?  Horribly. 

I wonder why. To start with, Canadians are getting older… here are some facts: 1 in 5 Canadians are now aged 65+, and by 2013, that will be 1 in 4*1. In fact, back in 2012, 21 per cent of Canadians were over the age of 60. By 2030, that proportion is projected to rise to about 28.5 per cent, and by 2050, 31 per cent — nearly a third of all Canadians*2. When these seniors want to continue motorcycling (with arthritis), it’s only a matter of time until their hands and feet find shifting tougher and tougher. Here’s another example, having nothing to do with age - You want to ride with your friend or spouse or mistress (good for you!), but he or she doesn’t want to learn how to use a clutch. Do you just give up, or get your friend or partner a scooter?

Well, you’ve seen my articles on next-gen scooters and how great they are, that’s one way to go.  But, some bikers only want motorcycles – and who can blame them for all they offer?  So, if you chose motorcycles, you now have 2 choices - ‘automatic’ (gas) motorcycles, or electric ones.

Automatic motorcycles aren’t new. Honda had introduced them some years ago, but because the bike was expensive and improperly weighted, it wasn’t a runaway success.  Either was the Aprilia Mana, or the Ridley Auto-Glide.  That’s too bad, as that early lack of success ruined the path for Honda’s revolutionary CTX-700N DCT model in Canada. Automatic motorcycles look, handle, and are as powerful as the motorcycles we’ve been used to. But when it comes to shifting, they use a CVT-like transmission, allowing the rider to concentrate on other biking essentials, such as balance, monitoring traffic and road conditions. Only upon very close inspection would anyone realize your motorcycle is shift-less.


Aprilia 850 Mana


Honda’s CTX-700N DCT

So, what choices do you have if you want an ‘automatic’ motorcycle in Canada?  Well, this is where the short-sightedness of various manufacturers has let us down.  It’s not news that Canada poses an issue to vehicle manufacturers – because of our unique vehicle regulations and inordinate taxes, we often get the dregs of their vehicles.  For instance, I had a MazdaSpeed 3 (great car!) and I didn’t get anywhere close to the interior goodies that Americans got - for a far higher price. The same principle applies to motorcycles. So, that’s one reason why we don’t get the same varied bike selection as our fellow Americans. The other reason is Canadian marketers – far fewer vehicles are sold in Canada, so analytically obsessed marketers must be sure those sales will occur. As a result, while American Honda dealers are seeing resurgence in DCT automatic motorcycle sales, we don’t even get the choice of being able to buy one. You can always buy one in the U.S. (this is OK with Transport Canada’s rulings), but you’d need to check with Honda Canada if you can transfer warranty. Regardless, you’ll pay a fortune in extra taxes & transportation.

Back to Honda – they’re way ahead of the crowd with the CTX-700N DCT. The ½ Honda Fit power-plant’s low-slung’s centre of gravity makes riding and balancing this bike easy, especially for beginners. All controls are within easy reach and quite ergonomic – sit on one and you’ll know what I mean. Its suspension is competent; its street manners are near-perfect. By no stretch of the imagination is this a street rocket, but it’s not meant to be. Pricing is within just about every biker’s reach. This is a thoroughly modern bike line, so kudos goes out to Honda for their foresight. But… we Canadians don’t get to celebrate. And Honda wonders why the standard (ie shift) models in Canada are selling fine, but not wildly! Honda – you came so close – but no cigar for your Canadian market managers.
Suzuki used to have an automatic model, the 1982 model 450, but discontinued that a long time ago, and Honda had a 2-speed model also – they were way too early for the world to embrace them.  The other well-known Japanese manufacturers (Kawasaki, Yamaha) have shown little interest in getting to this market area, but if they watch the world markets, they should.  



Brammo


Zero S

Now, onto electric bikes. Yup, you’re going to pay a premium for ‘going green’, but you have a few choices – Brammo or Zero. These belong more to the crotch-rockets than cruiser type, but they can still do the job.  Watch out for any range-anxiety long-distance trips, but for cruising around your neighborhoods, they’re quick, effortlessly powerful, and…wait for it… ridiculously quiet. In a way, they’re safer than any other type of bike, as you can literally hear all the traffic around you.  The problem is – they can’t hear you. So, now you have a dilemma, in deciding if you want a Harley-type noise-maker rattling your brain, or a quiet-as-a-green-forest glider that those 4-wheeler drivers can’t hear. The unfortunate part of this decision is that you’re not looking at any high-volume motorcycle manufacturer, nor are you looking at any firm with head offices in Canada – so getting parts will probably be lengthier and pricier than normal. But, they’re electric, clean, reliable, and … so cool!  These 2-wheeled versions of Teslas will attract any crowd – they may be the ultimate ‘pick-up’ bikes!
Again, Canadians lose out, unless you find that the ‘electrics’ are becoming more prevalent and well-supported closer to home.  When was the last time you saw one on the streets?

Regardless of your choice, every motorcycle maker should be trying to increase their market breadth and reach, and realizing world demographics and aging and those growing wants and needs, going automatic is the fastest way. Hopefully, they’re listening, for both their financial rewards, and our biking enjoyment into our golden years. In Canada.

*1: Canada GDP Growth, Standard Of Living Could Take A 20 Per Cent Hit From Aging, Says BoC; Posted: 04/ 4/2012 6:01 pm Updated: 04/ 5/2012 8:42 am

*2: CBC - How Well Is Canada Dealing With Its Aging Population?  October 1, 2013


2011 Atlantic Motorcycle And ATV show slideshow

The 2011 Atlantic Motorcycle and ATV show looked like a successful one to my eyes.  It was a little quiet on Friday but then most people are still at work after all.  On Saturday the Moncton Coliseum was a busy place with tons of men, women, and children of all ages checking out all the latest motorcycles and getting some deals on motorcycle gear.

There was excellent manufacturer representation and a few surprises too.  Royal Enfield Canada had a display and several bikes. MV Agusta Canada was there too.  We had a chat with the guys at the MV booth.  If you want an MV Agusta you'd better act fast.  They're only bringing in around a hundred to Canada this year. You can buy one by going to their website and reserving one.  A big deposit should help smooth things along as well. Their eventual plan is to work on establishing a dealer network but for now the bikes are being distributed by Motovan.

As usual Clinton Smout was there offering kids free 30 minute lessons. He runs Canadian Motorcycle Training Services (CMTS in Ontario and has introduced tens of thousands of people to motorcycling.   A super nice guy who always seems to have a smile on his face I might add.  Good on Yamaha for supporting him.  This summer he's going to be adding some on-road training at Horseshoe Valley Resort. They can even deliver the licensing exam at the end of the training.  Nice!

Another interesting person at the show was Rene Cormier - author of "The University of Gravel Roads" was there.  He's an infectiously avid adventurer with a 5 year around the world (154,000 km'!) trip under his belt; he now offers motorcycle tours in Africa. We'll be reading his book and offering some insight on it soon.  But having thumbed through it already... I'm pretty sure I'm going to love it. Check out his site and his book - HERE.  After a short chat with him I'm ready to start saving my pennies for a trip to Africa.

Some other standouts in terms of motorcycles would be the Honda CBR 250R. I predict it'll be a big seller.  Fit and finish is excellent and it looks more expensive than it is.  250cc is big enough that it's capable of handling any Canadian road or highway with ease.  Having it built in Thailand and offering it as a global bike has allowed Honda to get the pricing right too. It undercuts the MSRP of the Kawasaki 250R by $500. The Kawasaki 250R is $4,999 while the CBR 250R is $4,499 without ABS or you get it with ABS for $4,999.  Yup, ABS - for $500.  Smart move by Honda to offer that on this class of motorcycle. If you're in the market for a 250 you could also look at the Suzuki TU250 - a classically styled single which is said to have a MSRP of  $5,299. Might want to re-think that price point Suzuki. I don't see them flying out the door at that price.

The guys from Atlantic Motoplex had a big presence at the show with five brands under their banner they were busy.  Of particular interest to me were some of the Triumphs - the new 800cc adventure model to be exact. They weren't sure it was going to arrive in time for the show.  Well, it did; albeit without any brochures but it looks a lot like a BMW F800 GS. Except a little cheaper we're told and with more power than the beemer.  Sounds like a winning combination to me.

Ducati had a Diavel Carbon there which is their new muscle cruiser for lack of a better category of description. I have to say, I'm a bit surprised that when I sat on it, it feels pretty good.  The airbox is massive and creates a really imposing front end.  There's some really cool touches such as retractable passenger pegs that when not in use tuck away out of sight. Given the power this bike has and the weight advantage it's got over other cruisers its size this should be an exciting bike.

And now - on to the pictures.  We'll be adding more soon so do check back!


2010 Atlantic Motorcycle and ATV Show - A pictorial

This year marked the third year for the Atlantic Motorcycle and ATV show in Moncton. Produced by Master Promotion, owned by the Motorcycle and Moped Industry Council (MMIC) and Canadian Off-Highway Vehicle Distributors Council (COHV) - the event appeared to be the popular spot for motorcycle enthusiasts to be in Moncton the weekend of Feb 12-14, 2010.

I haven't heard about the numbers that came through but there were roughly 15,000 last year. I don't know that it was quite as busy as last year but if you're a fan of motorcycles you wouldn't have minded - it just meant it was a little easier to get through the crowds and there'd be a better chance you'd get to sit on a few more bikes.

Most of the big manufacturers were there showing off their newest 2010 models.  There were a few standout bikes for me; notably the new Honda VFR1200, the BMW S1000RR, a Ducati 1198R, and Patrick Trahan's Dakar prepped Honda.

We took a few photo's and thought we'd share.  More content about the show is coming soon.


2010 Suzuki GSX1250 - First Look

For 2010, Suzuki Canada Inc. has announced two new Sport Touring additions to their motorcycle line-up; the all-new Suzuki GSX1250FA and GSX1250SEA editions. Test rides won't be available until next season so for now we'll focus on the specifications and some overall impressions, combined with some details provided by Suzuki.


Actually, we had a GSX1250SEA last year in Canada too; it's hard to tell from the pictures on the Suzuki website but it looks like the fairing and headlight have been revised for 2010. The photo's of the 2010 model look really great. The engine is blacked out for 2010 so it gives the bike a different look as well. It looks a little sportier; a little more athletic to us. It bears a closer resemblance to the more sport oriented GSXR 600, 750, and 1000's.

Based on the big 1255cc Bandit these editions bring even more value to what is already a stellar bargain of a bike. The full fairing, and available luggage turns this bike into a competent sport touring machine with more weather protection than the half-fairing model offered. What remains is the proven chassis and 1250cc engine. The engine is a DOHC, liquid cooled, fuel injected in line four. Plenty of power for touring and to-up riding, yet it's a very manageable bike at the same time.

Boldly styled and impressively powerful, but comfortable and user-friendly. The new GSX1250FA (ABS) provides a full 1255 cubic cm engine to provide ample torque for both the sport and touring focused rider. It features a dramatic, neatly integrated look featuring a distinctive full fairing. With all-round performance and exceptional value, the GSX1250FA is an exciting new addition to the sport touring category with a focus on sporting comfort.

Understanding the versatility and appeal of this new model, Suzuki Canada is also releasing a full touring version (GSX1250SEA) that shares all the key elements of the GSX1250FA with the addition of removable hard side and top cases as well as chromed bar end weights. The easily removable cases allow the transformation of the bike from a touring focused bike to a more sport oriented application.

The headlights are a vertically stacked with multi-reflector halogen bulbs while suspension is by way of 43mm stanchion tube forks in the front and a single shock in the rear. Both the front and the rear are spring-preload adjustable so that you can make adjustments for riding solo or carrying a passenger.

The instrument cluster features a big analog tachometer and a digital speedometer. Just the way it should be in my opinion. You even get a gear-position indicator and shift light.

It also comes standard with a center stand; making chain maintenance much more convenient.

The seat height is user adjustable and has 20mm of range up for down by removing, flipping over, and re-installing a clever mounting spacer between the seat and the frame seat rails.

Key Features
• 1255cc fuel injected, liquid cooled engine tailored to deliver smooth acceleration and broad power, generating peak torque at a low rpm range.
• Functional full fairing, housing vertically stacked headlights and shaped for a neatly integrated look when combined with the fuel tank and tail section.
• Classic tube-frame chassis, with rake and trail chosen for an excellent balance between sporty handling and highway cruising comfort.
• Available on the GSX1250SEA Model Suzuki include a removable matching top and side case combination
• Digital Antilock Braking System (ABS) monitors wheel speed and matches stopping power to available traction.

Specifications*
Engine Type: 4-stroke, 4-cylinder, liquid-cooled, DOHC
Bore x Stroke: 79.0 mm x 64.0 mm
Engine Displacement: 1255 cm3 (1255cc)
Compression Ratio: 10.5 : 1
Fuel Delivery: Fuel injection
Transmission: 6-speed constant mesh
Suspension: Front Telescopic, coil spring, oil damped
Rear: Link type, coil spring, oil damped
Brakes: Front Disc, twin with ABS
Rear: Disc with ABS
Fuel Tank: 19.0 L (4.2 Imp gal.)
Overall Length: 2,130 mm (83.9 in.)
Overall Width: 790 mm (31.1 in.)
Overall Height: 1,235 mm (48.6 in.)
Wheelbase: 1,485 mm (58.5 in.)
Seat Height: 805 / 825 mm (31.7 / 32.5 in.)
Curb Mass: 257kg (567 lbs.) / 273kg (602 lbs.) SEA model
* Specifications not final.

Colors: Candy Blue, Metallic Oort Gray, and Pearl Nebular Black.

Prices:
GSX1250FA : MSRP. $11,799
GSX1250SEA : MSRP. $13,299


For additional articles involving Suzuki motorcycles check out our Suzuki article category HERE.


Test Ride - 2009 Suzuki Gladius

The Suzuki Gladius, or SFV 650 if you like, is a naked style bike with a Canadian price tag of $9,199. Before you begin to think that Suzuki tried to name this thing Gladiator but got the spelling wrong - that's not the case, Gladius is apparently a Latin word for sword. Despite the fact that the Gladius is a new bike, with an engine borrowed from the SV 650 you know you're getting a proven performer of an engine. That price tag and 650 cc engine size mean that it's competing with several other bikes, even Suzuki's own SV650.

An obvious top contender of another manufacturer that comes to mind is the Ducati 696 which can be had for $9,995 - slightly more expensive but that engine is a few cc's larger. The Suzuki is liquid cooled, the Monster - air cooled. The Gladius seems to have some taken some styling cues from the Italians with the exposed trellis frame and headlight bearing a distinct resemblance.

The first thing I couldn't help but noticing about the bike was the color. Suzuki Canada's website calls this color red and white. In Europe it's got a much fancier name; metallic triton blue/glass splash white and candy ruby magenta/pearl mirage white. I do like the white - it's just the ruby magenta I'm not crazy about. I'll be keen to see if Canada eventually gets the all black version of the Gladius that Europe has.

After getting over the color the next thing I noticed was the very low seat height (30.9 inches according to Suzuki's specifications). So when you sit on it and compress the suspension a little you're even closer to the ground. This bike should be very comfortable for those with shorter legs. I had no trouble getting both feet firmly planted on the ground. I can't help but think Suzuki is hoping to attract a lot of female riders to the fold with this model.

Clutch feel is very light. You won't develop an abnormally large forearm with this one because it requires so little force to pull. The friction point - the point at which the clutch engages - is at about the half-way point of its range of motion. It's a natural feeling spot that most riders will be comfortable with immediately. In contrast, the friction point of the clutch on the Ducati 696 I rode last summer was almost at the 3/4 way out point and several riders were stalling them.

The clutch level offers a 4-position adjustment for reach so even those with the smallest of hands should be able to find a position that suits them. The switchgear is pretty standard but one nice touch at this price-point is the pass light trigger. It seems that there's some parts bin sharing because this switchgear appears to be identical to the bits used on the other Suzuki models. In the instrumentation department, the bike is well equipped; part digital with an analog sweep dial tachometer. I like this particular combination because it's a quick look to see exactly how fast I'm traveling - I don't need that level of information for a tach reading so the big analog sweeper gives me the level of detail I need with a quick glance. Another nice touch is a gear indicator too so you always know what gear you're in. The cluster sits atop the headlight, and is larger in the center than the sides. The signal indicators on the cluster are large enough to be clearly visible even in direct sunlight. No more riding for blocks with your signal on because the light isn't bright enough to remind you you've left it on.


The bike I rode was very new so it wasn't broken in yet but the engine still had enough power to keep me reasonably happy. It's not scary fast by any means but comfortable. If you're looking for a fun bike that's going to be comfortable riding around town, commuting, and maybe even some longer rides, this bike will no doubt be a capable bike to do it on. Steering is quick and requires very minimal input.

The 650 cc 2 cylinder engine in a v-twin configuration is a great engine offering very broad power delivery. You're never too far from being in the proper gear as it'll pull from very low in the rev range right up to near red-line in a very linear manner. There's no big power surges to have to think about. You twist the throttle and know what to expect.

The throttle doesn't require a lot of force to twist it (much less than my VFR daily rider) so I found that I was a little twitchy at lower speeds, particularly on bumpy, broken pavement where my hand was moving a little with the bumps. You'd likely get used to the throttle feel and get smoother with more time on the bike.

The brakes are 2-piston calipers, 290 mm disc, twin up front and a 1-piston caliper, 240mm disc in the rear. They're more than adequate for performing stopping duties here. They're not Brembo Monobloc's with 4 piston calipers but they're also a lot cheaper than those units, the brakes that come with this bike are what you'd expect at this price and they do the job just fine.

STYLING:

Already mentioned is the resemblance to the Monster 696; the trellis frame, low seat, and particularly the headlight. With the Italian maker being known to produce 'sexy' looking machines it's certainly no complaint that it bears some similarity. This is a modern styled bike that should appeal to a younger demographic. Looking at Suzuki's European site seems to suggest that Suzuki knows this and they've gone with some trendy marketing techniques - such as offering Gladius music mixes, fashion information, etc. Not a lot of stuff that I'm particularly interested in. I guess that means at 34 I'm over the hill in terms of who Suzuki Europe is marketing this bike to.

I found the seat quite comfortable. It was nice and flat and didn't push me forward onto the tank. I recall thinking it offered 'all-day' rideability. If anything would begin to bother you after a more extended ride it could be the footpeg height. I've got a 32 inch inseam and although not cramped during my ride I could see how those with longer legs might want to stretch out a little after some extended seat time.

Riding position is what you'd expect - upright and decidedly un-sportsbike like. The tank has a great cut in shape allowing you to really grip the tank with your legs. It offers a secure feeling and excellent control of the bike. Mirrors - slightly tear-drop shaped, are well placed, and offer a good view of road behind you.

The passenger pegs are high quality and all metal. Somewhat of an upgrade over those of the Suzuki GS500. I can't speak to the comfort of the passenger position but the seat does step up slightly and there are integrated grab handles in the back.

The headlight shape is, well, I'm not sure what to call that shape. Sort of a sharpened ancient spearhead or something. The front and rear signal ligths are are clear with amber bulbs inside. Clear indicators are a common option on motorcycles and huge aftermarket exists so that you can replace your amber signals for clear ones. Not necessary here. You've already got'em!

Who is this bike targeted to? It's always a tough question to answer with a bike like this because if you look past the cosmetics of the colors - it definitely has mass appeal. The colors we've got here in Canada seem to suggest that Suzuki is trying to attract female riders. With the low seat height, euro-naked styling, and smooth but not too over-the-top engine they've got a good machine to achieve that goal. Some guys might also not mind the colors, but if they bring in the black or some other more traditional colors I'd say they'd also be successful in getting some guys to take a closer look at this bike. Bring the all black model to Canada and I think you'll see some guys 'discover' this new Suzuki.

If you're a beginner considering this as a first bike, this would definitely be a bike that you could grow into. Lots of people suggest that beginners look at 250's, the Suzuki GS500, or Buell Blast. Those are all great beginner choices but you might want to upgrade in a year or two. A Suzuki GS 500 was my first bike in fact so I know how I personally felt. I was a little worried about getting a used bike and having to deal with unknown maintenance issues but didn't want anything too big. I would have liked to have traded up after a couple years but I ended up riding it for 4 years before trading up. It's not a huge leap from a 500 to this 650. You'll have to be careful initially but you'll be less likely to feel the need to trade this one in after a year or two. You'll just need to have the restraint to go a little easy on the throttle. This bike does have a lot more horsepower than a 250, Buell Blast, or GS 500.

Incidentally Suzuki doesn't publish official horsepower numbers, and when we asked them about it they said that the numbers are so variable that they don't like to publish that information. They prefer to let the aftermarket take care of it. When I said that MCN had published a figure of 75.9 horsepower to which they said "Well, they usually do a pretty good job, don't they." So, I'd guess that's a relatively accurate number. Seems about right to me.

FINAL THOUGHTS:

I personally don't care for the colors we have for this bike in Canada this year. Other than that quible, this is a fun bike that should put a smile on the face of anybody riding it. Some will say it's a great beginner bike, some will say it's not a good beginner bike. Given the amount of power it would definitely be at the high end of what might be considered "beginner". The power delivery, seat height, and ergonomics of the Gladius make it a tempting option for beginners who won't want to trade up in a couple years. Lot's of intermediate riders or commuters looking for a reliable, fun, and not too expensive bike should also take a closer look at the Gladius.

If you need a lightweight nimble sword for cutting your way through urbanania the Suzuki Gladius might be just what you're looking for!

- To see more test ride reports - check out our "Test Ride" category.
- For Suzuki related articles - check out our "Suzuki" category.


A Winter Ride from Snow to Palm Trees


Author: Stephen Corke
Photo's: Stephen Corke
*Some photo's are clickable for larger versions




I was a newbie rider and only had one season and one long-haul ride to the Arctic Circle under my belt, so when winter neared I followed suit with my fellow bikers and parked my bike permanently for its hibernation. As the bed sheet settled over the bike and the garage door slowly lowered there was a sense of accomplishment and great memories, yet also uneasiness and a season that shouldn’t and couldn’t be finished yet?

Snow on the ground and over two months gone by without even thinking about motorbikes, my father started the ranting about moving my bike, a very large Suzuki V-Strom 650, out of his already crowded garage. I realized the bike had to be moved to my even smaller outdoor car shelter that was already occupied by my girlfriends car. I started watching the weather forecasts and road conditions, looking for an opening to ride my bike 7 km to my place along the now snow covered streets. I saw one or two days in each week where the road conditions were rideable. Checking the salt covered pavement with my rubber soled sneakers, I found much traction.

The spark was ignited in me and in mid-December my riding season was back in full force. I thought if I could ride 7 km in December why couldn’t I ride 2,900 km in February? With the new holiday ‘Family Day’ on Monday, February 16, 2009, I would only need to take four days off work to create a nine-day motorbike trip. And, I figured if I was planning on going south, I might as well ride to the southern most point of the United States, Key West, Florida, which would more than likely also be the hottest destination.

First thing first was to convince my father that I needed his garage a little longer for getting the bike back in ‘adventure riding’ shape. With a quick assessment, I made a mental note of what parts I needed and what extras I wanted for this trip. Since I had totaled both of my side cases during the summer Arctic Circle ride, I would need a cheap alternative for storing my gear. I didn’t have the cash available to fork out $600 for brand new side cases, so I went online and came upon two aluminum diamond tread tool boxes (24 x 8.25 x 10.25 in). They looked kind of like side cases so I ordered them for under $150. With a little trouble bolting them onto the side-case mounts and after sawing off the handles to stop any vibrating noise, I finally was in business for storing all my gear.

Next up, I had decided that since I would be freezing my butt off during this trip, I might as well be as comfortable as possible. I ordered a gel buffalo-haired seat and highway pegs and I must say my legs and butt thanked me for this afterward. A quick change of the oil, tightening of chain and clutch and it started to feel like it was summer again tinkering with the bike on the driveway. Except it wasn’t, instead there was an electric heater on high beside me and I could still see my breath.

Lastly I checked the treads on my tires and realized the front tire had to be replaced. Calling around and trying to order a motorbike tire during winter is not an easy task, I must admit. With much luck, Parker Bros said they could get me a new tire within the week and to bring the bike by on Saturday. I was pumped to think I would be back on the bike and riding again even though it was only going to be for a short 5 km to the shop.

Saturday came fast and when driving over to my folks place to grab the bike, I came to a depressing conclusion that the ice and snow on the road was not going to allow me to ride the bike to the shop. I was very disappointed and worried that this could be the same situation on my departure date in a couple of weeks. I tried not to think about it and shoveled the snow off the trailer and trailered the bike to the motorbike shop.

With a new front tire and the departure date only a week away, the nerves were kicking in and the excitement was building. And so were the jitters since the weather was stormy and friends were not very supportive about me doing this trip. The big question from everyone was “How are you going to ride to Key West Florida in the middle of winter when you can’t even ride your motorbike to the shop?” I didn’t have an answer for this, but I did have a feeling that kept pushing me forward.

Departure Day - Saturday February 14th, 2009

Coincidentally my departure date fell on Valentines Day. This was the first Valentines Day with my girlfriend Jenny, so in order to keep in the good books, I had purchased a dozen roses the day before and made her a beautiful creative card. And, on this card I wrote “11 roses for not just any girl; 1 rose rides to the Key’s to complete the dozen, come get it Babe!” I placed the 11 roses and card in our weight room, for Jenny to find later that day. I then slipped away into the 4:00 AM bitterly cold morning air and drove my car over to the folk’s place where my bike awaited my arrival.

Long underwear pants, a pair of socks, another pair of socks, jeans, rain pants, all weather motorbike pants, long underwear shirt, t-shirt, turtle neck, wool sweater, leather jacket, rain jacket, all weather cordura motorcycle jacket, wool neck guard, bandana, balaclava, thin gloves, deer skin mittens, heated insoles and summer motorcycle boots covered with a modified winter slipper to save some money.

Never have I taken so long to get dressed. I looked like a marshmallow man to say the least and felt like a furnace. I knew the sweat dripping down my forehead and back was not going to feel good once I hit the road. The outside temperature was at minus 8 degrees Celsius, not to mention an unimaginable windchill that would be created once I got on the highway. I was trying not to think about the cold to come. Instead I was extremely relieved that it wasn’t snowing in Toronto and the roads were relatively clear of ice. The stars were shining bright overhead, yet I had thanked the Heavens slightly too soon.

Turning on the computer and viewing the online weather forecast for the Great Lakes region it showed that Windsor and Erie were currently being dumped on with snow! This was now cutting off two of my preferred routes, the I-75 South and the I-79 South. I was not impressed. Both of these routes would have allowed me to cross the Appalachian mountain range in the southern warmer States and been the safest way of travel on a motorbike. Looking over the weather map I finally saw a route that was relatively clear skies with only 20% chance of flurries. Good enough for me! The route was to the Niagara/Buffalo border, southeast through New York to Pennsylvania, south to the I-95 in Virginia, then continuing along the I-95 south to Florida. The only worry of this way was the un-maintained farm roads in New York, not to mention I would be entering the Appalachian mountain range in the northern state of Pennsylvania and inevitably be exposed to colder, icier conditions.

I had come this far and was not turning back now. I put the rose in my jacket pocket and swung my leg over my motorbike. Turning the key the engine ignited instantly as if it had never been in a winter sleep. As the automatic garage door opened, I twisted the throttle and the bike shot out of its resting place and back onto the open road. The exhaust fumes trailed behind with a distinctive nature. It was as though all my worries and tensions had dissipated now that I was riding again. The residential streets were quiet with everyone still sleeping in their warm beds and a feeling of calmness over took me, yet this was short lived.

80, 90, 100, 110, 120 KM/H, I merged onto the highway and was quickly going to see if my many layers of clothing would hold up to the freezing air ripping into me. A heart stopping stream of wind shot through to my neck and up across my face. I couldn’t say that I wasn’t expecting this to a certain extent, yet it really caught me off guard. I estimated that there was ‘only’ 1,000 km of riding before I was above the freezing mark, so I didn’t have time to complain.

As the sun came up over the horizon I arrived at the Canada/USA border just outside of Buffalo. There was a short line-up of vehicles, with many eyes looking at me in shock and wonder. Riding up to the border station, the officer said he needed to check his vision because he hadn’t seen a motorbike in over three months. I laughed and said “You probably won’t see one for another two months.” With a quick explanation of where I was headed, the officer let me pass with a sarcastic “Good luck!”

After almost two hours of riding, I pulled over to call Jenny and let her know I was still breathing and now in the United States. I had to remove my helmet and mittens to use my cell phone. This was a big mistake… The winter air took advantage of my exposed head and ate away at any body heat that I was still producing. The sweat from earlier that morning had made my clothes damp, which now was further stripping me of any warmth I still latched on to. (I know you're thinking, that I brought this on myself.)

Needless to say it was a short conversation with a quick “Hi, I’m alive” and a reminder for Jenny to check the weight room. I put away my cell phone and instantly put back on my helmet and mittens in hopes this would stop me from shivering. Having my legs around the warm engine again made me realize I wasn’t going to be able to stop and site see very much the first day of riding. My objective now was a very determined one; Ride Hard, Ride Long and Ride Fast! I needed to escape the winter temperatures as fast as possible, for I knew my body was now in a constant battle to keep warm.

Glancing westbound I noticed the storm system that had been forecasted and was somewhat relieved to know that every second that passed I rode further away. Following my GPS unit I came upon a variety of two-lane farm roads that meandered throughout a now hilly landscape. While this was the ‘fastest route’ I was starting to question if this was the smartest route. Hay mixed with snow was dragged onto the road where tractors had pulled out from their driveways. Over a foot of snow was less then six feet from either side of my motorbike. I was riding south, yet there was an accumulation of much more snow the further I rode into the state of New York.

Gripping my bike tightly with both hands and legs, the tree line came to an end and the question of, ‘why was I doing this trip?’ got answered. For as long as my eyes could see in all directions were rolling open fields, glazed with a thick layer of powdery untouched snow. Shooting up from the virgin snow were several large motionless windmills that looked surprisingly native to the land. For this moment my intense captivation overshadowed any doubts I was still having about the trip and fueled my mind to press on.

I left the snow behind in my side mirrors as I rode into the state of Pennsylvania and the heart of the Appalachian mountain range. I passed many signs warning that the, ‘Road May Ice in Winter’, which further intensified my focus and awareness of my surroundings. Even though I was now riding south the outside temperature had decreased significantly as a result of the elevation I was gaining, along with the sun hiding behind clouds. Lakes, rivers and waterfalls were all frozen solid.

Mentally and physically at this point I was in bad shape. My toes and fingers had gone from painfully cold to now just numb. The heated insoles had only worked for the first two hours of riding. I was constantly wiping away frost building up on the inside of my helmet visor, caused from my warm breath meeting the freezing air. One mistake or one misjudgment would be catastrophic. There was not much of a safety net on these roads, with only a small guardrail separating me from a rocky cliff.

After many hours of riding I started to notice the mountainous landscape leveling. In the distance I could see an opening in the sky where the sun was shining through, encouraging me to keep riding. Every few kilometers I would feel pockets of warm air masses and this occurrence was getting more frequent the further I rode. Almost at the exact moment that I left the Appalachians, the sun struck my face and the temperature was instantly a few degrees warmer. It was like getting a reward for completing the most difficult part of my journey.

I was now in the state of Virginia and on the I-95 south riding fast. To make better time and keep my legs warm from the engine, I stayed on my bike when fueling up. Checking my side mirror I couldn’t help but smile. A blue sport bike came roaring up my left side, overtaking me and disappeared into the traffic ahead. This was the first motorbike I had seen on the journey and I knew it was not going to be the last.

At around 5 PM I decided to grab a bite and pulled over at a rest stop. As a result of my intense determination to get south fast, I had not eaten anything since 4 AM and I was starting to feel the effects of it. Checking my side cases I got out my dinner; a granola bar and banana. It wasn’t much but it was all I needed to keep me going. There was about an hour left of sunlight and I was not one for riding in an unfamiliar place during the dark, so the pit stop didn’t last long.

My body was in no shape to be camping and luckily my grandfather’s place was only about a 4-hour ride away, in North Carolina, so I pushed forward as the sun set over the pine trees. The thought of a warm bed filled my mind as the temperature began to drop as the darkness came. Going through the motions I road into the night. Frequently looking down at the GPS mounted on my tank bag and watching the kilometers decrease to the final destination for my first day of riding. 300 km, 200 km, 100 km, 0 km, the GPS unit voiced out “You Have Reached Your Destination.”

Pulling into my Grandfathers gravel driveway in Pinehurst, NC was such a relief and victory. I had rode 1,409 km that day and it was the most exhausting and painful day of my motorbiking career. My grandfather was very welcoming even with my surprise arrival and set me up with a much-appreciated warm plate of food and a very comfortable bed. I was fairly certain I had the first signs of hypothermia as I was having much trouble focusing and being coherent. My body ached form head to toe, I was mentally drained and the painful thought of getting on my bike tomorrow quickly faded away as I fell into a deep sleep.

Day 2 - Sunday February 15th, 2009

Morning came fast and I had slept in slightly longer then I would have liked, yet I knew I had needed a good sleep. There was a lot of riding to do today and thankfully it was a beautiful sunny day, and around 8 degrees Celsius outside! With the smell of the pine needles in the air, the birds chirping, and the cherry blossoms in full bloom, I completely forgot about how much pain I was in the previous night. It was like I had fast tracked through winter right into spring. I jammed my all weather motorbike jacket and pants into my back case, and stuffed my winter slippers and mittens into my knapsack. It was great! And finally what I like to call, good riding weather. Saying goodbye to my Grandfather with many thanks, I took off towards South Carolina.

Not far into the day I met some locals at the gas station that were curious about my bike and they felt it was a little too early in the season to bring out their bikes. I smiled and said this weather felt like heaven to me. For the first time on this journey many bugs started splattering on my windshield. I normally would find this to be a nuisance, yet this time I rather enjoyed witnessing it and knowing that the winter weather was behind me.

I road fast alongside farmers fields that were green with new life, saw much wildlife scurrying from the roadside, and shortly re-connected back onto the I-95 south. I had no time to enjoy the sun since I was running behind schedule, so I was riding over-time through South Carolina along the fast interstate. While the landscape was rather flat, the vegetation around me was starting to change

My stomach started to grumble so I pulled over just north of the Florida border. I parked the bike outside of Denny’s and took out the sandwiches my Grandfather had kindly made for me. Enjoying the warmth and homemade lunch, I looked over and saw something that was truly uplifting. A palm tree! I had done it; a winter ride from snow to palm trees. This was the first sign of the tropical climate to come and was a very motivating sight to see.

Riding further and further south I noticed more and more palm trees. I entered into Florida without even realizing it, due to the rainy weather I was encountering. Florida was supposed to be the sunshine state of America, yet it kept raining. But I wasn’t complaining, I would prefer rain any day over snow.

The roads were wet and the night came fast. I was not willing to pitch a tent in a dark wet campsite, so I pulled off the I-95 and into a motel. I was 200 km from Miami and I had rode 1,007 km today. My body needed a bed. I was too comfortable last night to have anything but the same for tonight; especially knowing I would be tenting the entire time in Key West, Florida. I fell asleep in a great mood, knowing I’d be picking Jenny up from the Key West airport tomorrow evening.


Day 3 - Monday February 16th, 2009

I woke up early not even needing my cell phone alarm. It was around 20 degrees Celsius this morning and gorgeous. The clouds had blown over during the night and most of the puddles had evaporated. There was no need to wear any of my winter riding gear today. With my back and side cases already completely full, I had to bungee the remainder of my winter gear to my passenger seat. It felt like summer had arrived. It was a day to take in and enjoy.

Riding onto the Florida Turnpike I came across the first tolls of the journey and reluctantly paid. I had my sunglasses on and my visor up as I anxiously rode on in anticipation of seeing the Ocean. There were palm trees in every direction as I pulled over to check my tire pressure. When I had left Toronto, I had the tire pressure low for better traction on the winter roads. I thought since I was in Florida it would be a good time to increase the pressure to limit the tread loss on the hot asphalt. When I checked the back and front tire pressure I was somewhat stumped. Both tires had increased in pressure by about 5 PSI. How could this be? Well, now I know the answer, so let me explain. When traveling from a really cold to really hot place the air expands and increases the PSI. I’m guessing most of you already knew this, but for me at the time, it was really weird.

I felt like I was on the last lap of the trip as I entered into the north end of the Florida Key’s. There were many bikers on the road now and to my surprise not wearing helmets. I saw that Jenny had text messaged me a few hours prior from Toronto airport. It read ‘I’m at the Airport! Yah! See you soon babe!’ Just to clarify I’m ‘babe’. Everything was starting to come together, yet I had little time to daydream.

I was extremely hot and had to take off even more clothes to minimize the sweating. I loved what felt like 30 degree Celsius weather. And I hate to use this word, but it was AWESOME! I was only a couple hours from Key West. I could smell the ocean before I could see it. But when I rode the bike over the first bridge into the Key’s and saw the Gulf of Mexico to my right and the Atlantic Ocean to my left, I was amazed. The sun reflecting off the salt water producing so many variations and mixes of deep blues and greens that even for myself, though colour blind, was still very impressive. There were shark and crocodile crossing signs along with many very exotic looking birds. I was in the heart of the Florida Keys and enjoying every minute of it.

When I crossed the Seven Mile Bridge with open Ocean on either side of me, I couldn’t help thinking about the scene from ‘True Lies’ with Arnold yelling ‘The Bridge is OUT!!!’ I lost track of how many motorbikes I was seeing now, with most waving or nodding to me with a sign of acceptance. I was almost there and I was doing mini squats on my foot pegs to give my behind a break. There was no time to relax yet, for I had to pick Jenny up at the Key West airport.

I arrived at Boyd’s Campground, Key West Florida one hour before Jenny’s arrival time, and to modestly put it, I was feeling good. Today was a shorter yet very memorable ride of 455 km. The campsite was 5 feet from the ocean and had a million dollar view. Almost from the second I had parked the bike, my camping neighbour was offering me a fresh piece of mahi-mahi that he had caught fishing early that day. I couldn’t have asked for a better setting to finish my journey.

With little time to spare I set up my small two-person tent and took off to the Airport, only a short ride away. I was outside Key West airport waiting for Jenny to arrive and I don’t know why but I was a little nervous. I got out the now withered looking rose and had it ready to give Jenny.

Before I knew it, Jenny was walking out of the airport and I was running over to her.

I had anticipated this one moment for so long and once it occurred time stood still. It was a kiss that was the perfect conclusion to a trip that was so tiring, so painful, so freaking cold, so much work, so mentally strenuous, and finally so satisfying in so many different ways. And yes, she loved the rose and I scored many points.

After a well earned three day vacation in Key West, Jenny flew back to Toronto and I made the return ride back home. A snowstorm throughout the upper States and southern Ontario forced me to store my bike in Knoxville, Tennessee and take a bus back, where I now am eagerly planning my next ride.

Vegas anyone?

Thankfully I videotaped the ride and posted it to view online at www.KeyWestClutch.com otherwise nobody would have believed me.

Cheers & Safe Riding,
Steve

Old Faithful: Life with the Suzuki DRZ400S

Geoff Smith is a motorcycle enthusiast hailing from St. John's, Newfoundland. With 30 years of motorcycle experience he's ridden most of the roads in Newfoundland and a lot of the off-road trails as well. And, in a stroke of luck for us, he always brings a camera too!

Written by: Geoff Smith
Photo's by: Geoff Smith unless otherwise noted


OLD FAITHFUL: LIFE WITH THE SUZUKI DRZ400S

My earliest and fondest memories of time spent on a motorcycle of my own go way back to 1978. My first bike was a used mid-seventies model Honda CT125, with knobby tires and ridiculously wide motocross handlebars. My first jumps, crashes, and experiences getting stuck all happened on that great little trail bike. It was a very easy bike to ride, remarkably reliable, and just downright fun whenever or wherever you rode it.

I’ve owned many off road bikes since selling my faithful old Honda CT125. I’ve had two motocross bikes; a Honda CR250 and a Yamaha YZ125; a pair of Yamaha IT enduro-class racers in both 175 and 200 cc versions; a Honda XR200 play-bike; a Honda XL250 dual-sport; and a Yamaha DT400 dual-sport bike. Those bikes all had their strengths and weaknesses, but only my 2004 Suzuki DRZ400S has come close to giving me the same kind of pure joy that I felt while riding my very first trail bike.


DRZ 400S with knobby tires and off road armor

The Suzuki DRZ400 has been around since the year 2000, and despite being a little long in the tooth nearly a decade later, it’s still one of the best options available if you want a bike that can be ridden as a commuter, handle serious off road trails, and single-track woods riding.

It’s a bike that bridges the gap between bikes like the popular and potent off road only Yamaha WR450, and the venerable KLR650 dual-sport beast of burden from Kawasaki.

The DRZ400 comes in three versions, these days. There is the original off road only ‘E’ model, the dual-sport ‘S’ model, and the more street-friendly ‘SM’ model.  SM being the Super-Moto version.


DRZ400SM, Cape Spear NL

The primary differences the ‘SM’ model has over the E and S versions are smaller sport-bike-like wheels and tires (17” front and rear as opposed to a 21” front and 18” rear on the E and S models), inverted forks, and a tapered swingarm.

The present ‘E’ and ‘S’ model are virtually identical, with the exception of the ‘S’ model’s street-legal lights and other DOT running gear that one expects to find on a typical dual-sport motorcycle.

In past years, the ‘E’ model was equipped with an FCR flat-side carburetor but now shares the same Mikuni carburetor found on the other versions of the bike. The ‘E’ model retains its slightly more aggressive cams, higher compression ratio, and slightly softer rear spring.

Kawasaki KLX400R
aka "The Green DRZ

"Mid-way through the DRZ400 production run, Suzuki and Kawasaki entered into a marketing agreement whereby Suzuki would manufacture and supply Kawasaki with both an off road and a dual-sport version of the bike. It was to be sold with green body parts, under the Kawasaki badge, and with the model designations KLX400R and KLX400SR. The agreement between the two companies only lasted a few years. To this day though, many examples of what are affectionately known as the ‘The Green DRZs’, can be found on the road, on the trails, and on the used bike market.

The DRZ400 engine was also used in Suzuki’s high-performance four wheel ‘LTZ” all terrain vehicle. The long running production, general popularity of the bike, and the marketing agreement between Suzuki and Kawasaki means there is excellent parts availability and very good after-market support for the bike in all its forms.

ON THE TRAIL WITH THE DRZ400

The DRZ400S comes equipped with tires designed primarily for street use and final drive sprocket ratios to match (15/44 front/rear). This street oriented setup makes the bike a capable commuter that doesn’t mind the occasional stretch of highway. It is possible to take longer and more frequent rides on the highway but only if you can put up with the firm, narrow dirt-bike style saddle and lack of wind protection.

For true technical off road use, DOT knobby tires and a 14/47 sprocket-set are the way to go. This tightens up the feel of the gear ratios, and allows the bike to be ridden slowly over very technical terrain, without the rider having to repeatedly slip the clutch. Engine case guards (to protect the soft magnesium alloy engine side cases) and an engine skid-plate (to protect the bottom of the engine and the vulnerable water pump) are wise investments for those wanting to tread a little further off the paved routes.

Photo by: Mike Buehler
The Author, Geoff Smith
Catching a little air on his DRZ400S

The ability to adjust the suspension is one of the best features of the DRZ400. The dual-sport ‘S’ version shares the same suspension as the off road-only ‘E’ model. This setup gives you compression and rebound dampening adjustability up front. In the rear, there are adjustments for spring preload, high and low speed compression dampening, and rebound dampening. This wide range of adjustability allows you to tailor the bike to suit whatever conditions you’ll face.

With a claimed dry weight of 291 pounds, the DRZ400S is considerably heavier than a Yamaha WR450F at 247.5 lb, but it’s also much lighter than a typical 650 cc dual-sport bike (The 2008 Kawasaki KLR 650 is 386 lbs for example). Once the suspension is properly dialed-in on the DRZ and the bike is rolling along with 14/47 sprockets, it feels much lighter than the claimed dry weight would suggest. The bike tracks very well when the going gets really rough and loose with the help of a suspension on the slightly plush side for an off road bike. The DRZ’s forgiving suspension allows for “all day” trail riding comfort – you can stand on the pegs and ride a very long way before tiring.

Photo by: Lorenzo Moore
The Author, Geoff Smith
Misjudging the depth of a 'puddle'.

The power from the liquid cooled 398 cc single engine is more than adequate, with lots of low end and midrange grunt. Suzuki claims 38 hp for the ‘S’ and ‘SM’ models, and 40 hp for the ‘E’ model. The brakes are very good, and the bike feels army tank solid beneath you. Reliability of the bike has also been a gold-standard, over the years.

The DRZ is by no means a motocross bike, but you can toss it up and catch a little bit of ‘air’, if you so desire. The bike also seems very happy to cross deep stretches of water, without so much as flinching. I once found myself in water that was nearly up to the seat. After I drained the carburetor, the bike happily carried me for an afternoon’s worth of continued trail riding, without issue.

WHAT'S NOT TO LIKE?

The 10.0 litre tank gives you a range about 160 km’s, or roughly 100 miles, of mixed street and trail riding before hitting reserve. This is more than adequate for most people, but if you plan on riding many long distance trips, a larger fuel tank may be a useful addition. The stock seat is also quite firm and narrow for long rides on paved roads, as mentioned earlier. Luckily, the aftermarket has seen fit to fill this need and many after-market fuel tanks and seats are available. The bike lacks a sixth gear too, so the engine may tend to rev higher than many riders would like at highway speeds. Although this aspect is of no real concern from a mechanical perspective, since the DRZ engine is very happy when the revs are high, and it will buzz along all day without complaint.

FOR THE TECHNICAL FOLKS:

Stock sprocket set ups for the DRZ’s and the Green DRZ’s:

DRZ400E 14/47
DRZ400S 15/44
DRZ400SM 15/41
KLX400R 14/47
KLX400SR 15/44

THE DRZ400 IN MY WORLD

DRZ400S on some rocky trails
Eastern Newfoundland

I am fortunate to live in the province of Newfoundland & Labrador, where there are literally tens of thousands of kilometers of both single track and ATV trails. This has made the DRZ400 a very popular bike on the trails where I live. The bike is well-suited to connecting trail networks via the many coastal highways which run through the rural areas of my home province.

In the early spring of 2005 I found a good deal on a left-over 2004 model DRZ400S. Soon after riding away from that local dealership I installed DOT knobby tires, off road armor, and a set of hand guards. A set of high rise motocross handlebars would follow those modifications, along with some other minor after-market bits and pieces.

My riding buddies and I have explored many of the Island of Newfoundlands’ most interesting coastal trail networks, particularly within Eastern Newfoundland, from Cape Bonavista, to Old Perlican, to Cape Race. The trails in our region are typically a challenging mix of very rocky and very wet terrain. This is the type of trail riding where the DRZ400 really shines.

There are few bikes on the market which have carved out such a distinctive niche, as the Suzuki DRZ400 has. Many of us who own the bike hope to see an updated version of the venerable model in the near future, maybe even a 450 cc version! But until then, the 400 cc version will continue to serve us well as an old faithful street and trail mount.

For me, it will continue to be the only bike that never fails to produce the mile-wide grin I typically had on my face while riding my little red 125 cc Honda trail bike some three decades ago.

Riding the Rock - Ride Report

geofftorbay
Geoff Smith is a motorcycle enthusiast hailing from St. John's, Newfoundland. With 30 years of motorcycle experience he's ridden most of the roads in Newfoundland and a lot of the off-road trails as well. And, in a stroke of luck for us, he always brings a camera too!

Written by: Geoff Smith
Editing: Dan McAfee
Photo's by: Geoff Smith


Ride The Rock – Ride Report

My good buddy Lorenzo decided to brave some painful saddle time, and courageously join me on my planned trip from my home town of St. John's, Newfoundland, to do some touring on the West Coast of the Island. He ended up following me for 2,060 kms of the total 2,260 km trip. Not bad, considering he was riding a bike that was originally sold as a non-street-legal dirt-bike (Kawasaki KLX400R).
V-Strom
Suzuki DL650 V-Strom
I was riding my trusty 2007 model Suzuki DL650 V-Strom, which is an ideal mount for this type of long-distance cross-island trip. The V-Strom almost seems like it was designed specifically for touring Newfoundland & Labrador, with our abundance of twisty coastal roads, and dirt roads, which lead to many out of the way and interesting places.

I had spent the previous two years riding thousands of kms on the island’s back-country trails on my knobby-shod and deep-geared Suzuki DRZ400S. The DRZ is a very similar bike to Lorenzo’s Kawasaki KLX400R, and they are in fact, both made by Suzuki. The KLX400R and KLX400SR represent a short-lived part of a marketing agreement between the two motorcycle manufacturers.

In the early spring of 2007 I rode away from my local Suzuki dealership on a brand new, Sonoma Red, DL650 V-Strom. No other bike I have ever owned, in thirty years of riding motorcycles, has ever inspired me to ride as often as this bike does. Between the day I picked it up from my local dealership, and the beginning of my trip across the island with Lorenzo, I racked up thousands of kilometers, while exploring the coastal roads on the eastern side of my beloved island home. Now it was time to venture a little further away on my trusty new steed, and take in some of the riding pleasures which the roads of the West Coast of the island have to offer.

rockyhbr_logcabin
Log Cabin, Rocky Harbour
We had a log-cabin booked for three nights in the scenic West Coast town of Rocky Harbour, which is an enclave within Gros Morne National Park. The park is a designated World Heritage Site, and it is a beacon for geologists the world-over, due to having some of the oldest exposed areas of the earth’s mantle anywhere on the planet (The Tablelands Mountains).

Get Your Motor Runnin’

We left St. John's at 9:00 AM, during the second week of July, 2007. The limited fuel range of Lorenzo’s KLX400R, meant fairly frequent stops for gasoline. Roughly 190 kms was the most he could muster on a full tank, where as the DL650 can cover about 400 to 450 kms, between fill-ups. But I’m happy to take a break at around the 200 km mark, anyhow. A coffee addiction, and my 46 year old bladder, pretty much make it a requirement for me these days.

07suzuki_dl650
Bonne Bay
Gros Morne National Park
We stopped for lunch at the town of Badger, before making our final push toward the West Coast. The weather was sunny all the way to Central Newfoundland. From Central Newfoundland to Gros Morne National Park we rode in cloudy and dry conditions.

We arrived at Rocky Harbour at 6:30 PM after traveling 720 kms on the day. This first day of the journey was fairly uneventful, and was really just a point A to B type of ride across the mostly inland Trans Canada Highway (Route 1). Our real interest lay with settling in at our West Coast base at Rocky Harbour, and from there we would take in some choice routes which no one traveling the island by motorcycle should ever miss. After a fine meal at a local restaurant, and a couple of rums as nightcaps, we crashed and hoped for a restful sleep as we looked forward to exploring Western Newfoundland the following morning.

Southbound Through the Valley

GrosMorne_NtlPark
The author - Geoff Smith
Gros Morne National Park

The bikes were locked and chained together overnight, outside and just below Lorenzo’s bedroom window. He said he slept lighter than he would have liked, thanks to his mild sense of paranoia about the bikes being safe and secure. If the bikes had been able to fit through the cabin door, I think he would have insisted we bring them inside to spend the night in our kitchen. As it turned out, the bikes were safe outside where we left them.

After a hearty breakfast we headed southward and back down Route 430 from Rocky Harbour to Deer Lake, and then along Route 1, from Deer Lake, through the beautiful Humber Valley, through the city of Corner Brook, then further southward and westward to the town of Stephenville.

Our West Coast buddy 'Jon' (a.k.a. 'CoolHand') was waiting for us at the local Tim Hortons coffee shop, as planned, despite the fact that we were an hour and a half behind schedule, due to a late start from Rocky Harbour. As soon as I suggested how great it would be if CoolHand could join us on a trip around the historic and scenic Port Au Port Peninsula loop (Routes 460 and 463), he was on it. This area is CoolHand’s stomping ground, so it was going to be a real treat to have a local rider as our tour guide. His brother offered him his brand new Honda CBR600 F4, and away we went.
coohand
Our Tour Guide 'CoolHand'
Port Au Port Peninsula
The Port Au Port Peninsula is steeped in the history and culture of the mostly French peoples who settled the region. Its scenic beauty is also a fine match for its rich heritage and culture. A slow ride around the bottom half of the Port Au Port Peninsula loop, was followed by an extremely 'spirited' ride across the top half of the loop, once we realized we might run out of daylight and have to ride through Gros Morne National Park in the dark. The Gros Morne area has one of the largest moose populations of any area in North America, so riding through there in the dark is generally a VERY bad idea.

Given their abundant numbers it’s hard to believe moose are not native to Newfoundland. Their numbers are partly due to the fact they have no natural predators on the island and an ample food supply. The large vegetarian animals appear well suited to island life and there are now more moose in Newfoundland than there are people in St. John’s!

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Gros Morne National Park Entrance
Early on - Before the rain!
Despite our best efforts to make time, after leaving to head northward, we ended up riding through Gros Morne Park in the rain, and just as it was getting dark. We stayed close behind a large logging truck, which would slow to a painful pace, as it climbed the very steep mountain roads winding their way through the peaks and valleys of Route 430. Staying behind the big rig in the rain seemed safer than taking a chance on a moose stepping out in front of us in the dark.

We were surprised not to have met any moose along the entire 70 km ride from Deer Lake to Rocky Harbour. Whew! Double rum and Cokes were just what the doctor ordered to calm our nerves once we safely reached our log cabin retreat in Rocky Harbour.

Total riding distance for the day was 590 kms.

A Solo Ride Through the Tablelands Mountains

Lorenzo had racked up 1,300 kms in 36 hrs on day 1 and day 2, and he said he was really starting to feel it. So he slept in on the third day of our adventure, while I headed off on the Strom toward Woody Point and Trout River.
tableland_mtns
Tablelands Mountains
Route 431 to Trout River
It was blisteringly hot with temperatures well over 30 degrees Celsius along the sheltered side of Bonne Bay (Route 431). This marvelous road runs from near the park entrance, toward the town of Woody Point, and beyond to the community of Trout River. The Tablelands Mountains are as awe-inspiring as it gets in Newfoundland & Labrador, and they always seem to have some snow left on their tops to make photos look a little more postcard-like.

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Woody Point Lighthouse

Total distance for me on Day 3 was 230 kms.

Homeward Bound

Time to pay the piper! The beginning of the journey homeward, from Rocky Harbour to Badger, saw us riding through 252 kms of pelting rain. Central Newfoundland welcomed us with sunny skies, however. But, when we reached Eastern Newfoundland a hellish test of will began. From Clarenville to St. John's we had to deal with thick fog, rain, and high winds. This is typical of the weather on our big island which sits in the cold waters of the North Atlantic Ocean. Newfoundland & Labrador weather can be some of the most dynamic and unpredictable in the world. Bring plenty of layers, and make sure at least one of those layers is waterproof, if you plan a motorcycle trip to either the Island of Newfoundland, or Labrador, which is the mainland portion of the province.

We somehow made good time crossing the island from west to east, despite the bad weather. I pulled into my driveway at 5:15 PM.

Total distance for day 4 was 720 kms.

Total distance for the three and a half day trip was 2,260 kms (1,400 miles).

We had no flats, no breakdowns, no accidents, and we only saw one moose, and it was a dead one.

Ride Summary:

Day 1: St. John’s to Rocky Harbour - Distance 720 km
Day 2: Rocky Harbour to Stephenville, through Port Au Port Peninsula loop, back to Rocky Harbour - Distance 590 kms
Day 3: Rocky Harbour to Trout River and a little extra, back to Rocky Harbour - Distance 230 kms
Day 4: Rocky Harbour to St. John’s - Distance 720 kms.



Suzuki Bandit 1250 SEA

The Suzuki Bandit is classified under the “street” section of Suzuki’s website and they’ve been around for a while. But in 2007 they upgraded the engine from a 1200cc to smooth running 1250cc. Always known as being a good deal; the 2008 model maintains this most appealing feature. There’s an S edition and a SEA edition for 2008; they both come with ABS but the SEA edition adds a full fairing, and lockable side mounted hard bags (top bag is optional). The MSRP is $11,999. (MSRP for the S edition is $10,799).

The engine is liquid cooled and fuel injected so you won’t have to fuss with a choke when starting it up. Throttle response is linear and immediate with no flat spots or lurching. It’s got near 100hp which may not sound all that impressive but what it does deliver in abundance (right around 80 ft/lbs) is torque! Torque numbers are up almost 20% over the 06 model. That torque comes on tap at a very low 3700 rpm instead of 6500 rpm too which makes pulling away in just about any gear possible without any bucking.

Mated to a six speed gear box and you’ve got plenty of flexibility for all around riding and that 6th gear is particularly nice on long highway cruises and keeps the rpm’s nice and low; around 3450 rpm at 100km/hr, right in the peak torque range area! No need for downshifting to pass those pesky slow moving vehicles.

The engine is a bit shorter which allows for a longer swingarm without adding length to the wheelbase which has improved handling. The frame has been beefed up and made more rigid, the suspension has revised damping rates, and is pre-load adjustable front and back.

The new frame is also more rigid and the suspension has revised damping rates. For suspension it’s got telescopic, oil damped, preload adjustable in the front and link-type suspension, 7-way adjustable preload, 4-way adjustable rebound. It’s got an upright riding position, one-piece handlebars, beefed up frame rails, and a very comfy seat reportedly. For brakes you get dual hydraulic disc ABS in the front and a single hydraulic disc ABS in the back.

The instrumentation is well designed with a large analog tachometer beside an equally large digital speedo. This is a nice setup because it’s easy to see at a glance exactly how fast you’re going with digital rather than have an analog sweeping gauge. An analog tach is just fine because you don’t really need as an exact measure.

The emissions control and catalytic converter meet tough Euro 3 standards so you can feel a little better about all those long distance trips you’re going to want to go on. You won’t need to stop at the gas station quite as soon as the reserve light may indicate though. It’s said that the reserve light comes on quite early with this model, kicking in when you’re between 13-14 liters into the 19 liter tank reportedly.

The Bandit comes with the standard Suzuki 1 yr warranty.

Front Tire: 120/70ZR17MC
Rear Tire: 180/55ZR17M/C (73W), Tubeless
Colors: Grey, Blue
2008 Bandit 1250 SEA (ABS) -- MSRP $11,999

Link to Suzuki’s website.

Some of the notable competition:

Yamaha FJR (1300cc) MSRP $19,099, shaft
Yamaha FZ1 TE (1000cc) MSRP $14,999, chain
Kawasaki Concours (1352cc) MSRP $19,099, shaft (Link to our article)
Honda ST1300A (1300cc) MSRP $19,699, shaft
BMW R1200RT (1200cc) MSRP*: $19,000.00, shaft
BMW K1200GT (1200cc) MSRP*: $21,375.00, shaft
Moto Guzzi Norge (1200cc), MSRP $19,395, shaft
Buell Ulysses XB12XT (1200cc), MSRP $13,999, belt (Link to our article)

Suzuki’s got a brand new GSX

GSX-650F that is! Suzuki is spreading the credibility of their sport bike GSX-R models a little further and have tagged a new 650cc street model the GSX650F. The bike comes with a compact, liquid-cooled, fuel injected, DOHC 656cc (Four-stroke, liquid-cooled, four-cylinder, DOHC, 16-valve) coming from the Bandit 650. It’s an inline 4 that based on its lineage should make about 75 horsepower.

The GSX-650F is designed to be a sporty looking bike that’s targeting beginner riders while giving them some room to grow. Realistically this bike isn’t necessarily just for beginners, it’s got smooth power delivery, looks a bit sporty and has some upright ergonomics. Sounds like it’ll suit more than a beginner rider to me. It might make a nice commuter bike, light touring machine, and all round daily driver that’s a bit more forgiving.

The bike has a full fairing as North Americans tend to buy faired bikes in greater numbers than naked. We don’t have nearly as many naked style bikes as the European market for example. From the handlebars back it looks an awful lot like a full-faired GS 500 except that the engine is a 656cc inline 4 rather than a 500cc parallel twin. Its got a significant horsepower advantage over the GS500.

The GSX650F maintains its cool with a high efficiency radiator combined with a 190mm electric cooling fan controlled by the ECM and a high output water pump with a bearing-less design for reduced weight. New six speed transmission works smoothly with a hydraulic clutch for decisive shifting across a wide range of driving conditions.

It comes with 41mm forks designed to deliver a smooth ride and feature preload adjustability for a variety of riding conditions. New rebound and preload adjustable rear shock works in conjunction with a link-type rear suspension for excellent road holding performance. Tokico 4 piston front brake calipers are used with a 310mm brake rotor combined with a lightweight single piston rear caliper and a 240mm rear brake disc.

The seat is one piece - wide and comfortable, with low seat height for increased rider and passenger comfort. New GSX-R inspired instrument cluster includes a step motor driven tachometer, dual trip meters, reserve trip meter, clock, fuel gauge, and a useful gear position indicator. The fuel tank is specially designed to be compact so that the handlebars are easy to reach. It’s got a narrow mid section while still retaining a full 19 liter (4.2 imp gal.) fuel capacity.

It’s not expected that the GSX650F will cannibalize sales from the popular SV 650/SV 650S models with their punchy v-twin engines. They have similar horsepower ratings but the power delivery is very different. I’d say it’s definitely a possibility it’ll take away some sales given the engine size and pricing is within a few hundred dollars of the SV. It's worth the risk though because despite the similar engine size and price, they're very different bikes. A SV650S with ABS has an MSRP of $8,799. If you’re in the Suzuki dealership looking for a bike in this price range chances are you’d probably take a look at both.

So if you’re in the market for an inexpensive sport bike and are interested in a bit of comfortable fun then this bike is worth a look.

Seat height: 770 mm (30.3 in)
Dry Weight: 216 kg (475 lbs.)
Front Suspension: Telescopic, oil damped, preload adjustable
Rear Suspension: Link-type suspension, adjustable preload and rebound
Front brakes: Dual hydraulic disc
Rear brakes: Single hydraulic disc
Front tire: 120/70-ZR-17
Rear tire: 160/60-ZR-17
Fuel tank: 19 liter (4.2 imp gal.)
Colors: Blue/White, Black/Silver
12 month warranty
MSRP 8,599.00 CDN

* Suzuki’s US site indicates an MSRP $6999 - a difference of $1600.

Link to Suzuki Canada's website.