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BMW F650GS (twin) vs. Kawasaki Versys 650 vs. Suzuki DL650 V-Strom

The Calm Before the Strom:

If you turn on the TV at any given time, chances are you'll find a program about building a custom chopper, or maybe a sport bike race. Go into any dealership and look around on the sales floor no doubt there will be plenty of cruisers and sport bikes. But what if you want something that offers a little more flexibility? Can't afford to have multiple bikes in the garage? Well - the bikes in this comparison are the Swiss Army knives of the motorcycling world. They'll take you to the other end of the country just as easily as they'll take you to the corner store or the dirt road to the cottage. They're meant to do a little bit of everything. All-rounders are not too big, not too small. They're just right.

Typically all-rounders offer a more comfortable seat than the hard, plank like, offerings of most sport bikes. A more upright seating position means you're not going to be in pain after a short ride suffering with aching wrists, back, and backside. Who needs that racing stance for the street?

The engines of these all-rounders are mid-sized and geared for real world riding. They're not the peaky, high revving beasts that sound like an angry bee hive each time you twist the throttle. They offer smooth and linear power. Why overdo it with a 1600cc, heavy, torque monster of an engine when you can have a 650 or 800cc bike that will offer smooth usable power at a fraction of the weight and cost? Not to mention your likely insurance bill savings.

Middleweight twins are often pegged with the unfortunate label of "beginner bikes" and so are sometimes overlooked by more experienced riders. Because many people think bigger is better and because of the usable and forgiving power these types of engines produce this label persists. It'd be a huge mistake to think these bikes are strictly for beginners though. The V-Strom's engine comes from the SV650, a bike that excels on the track. So don't let their "beginner rider friendly” labels fool you into thinking these bikes are only for beginners, they're not!

We're going to take a closer look at the Suzuki DL650 V-Strom 650 aka the Wee-Strom, Kawasaki Versys 650, and the 2008 BMW F650GS (twin). The V-Strom is the old timer of the lot having been around since 2004, the Versys was introduced in Canada in 2007, and the BMW F650GS is being introduced to Canada for 2008. Incidentally, the BMW actually uses a 798cc twin engine rather than a 650 in what is seen by many as a confusing departure from the commonly used industry naming conventions.

Despite it's slightly larger displacement its weight and position in the market put it squarely in competition with the Strom and Versys.


Kawasaki Versys MSRP $8,499

The Kawasaki Versys came to Canada in 2007 with a 649 cc liquid-cooled engine from the Ninja 650R but in a slightly retuned form for more low to mid range power. The name belies its purpose - Versys is short for Versatile Systems. US consumers were so enraptured with the Versys they sent emails in droves to Kawasaki (more than for any other motorcycle in US history according to Kawasaki) and the Americans got their wish; the Versys is on its way to 49 States (it doesn't meet California emissions unfortunately due to its lack of a charcoal canister. This is something that should be taken care of for 2009). They'll get to know what we in Canada already know about the Versys; it's a very capable all-rounder at a reasonable price.

Punisher vs Versys
Punisher vs. Versys
For some, the styling of the Versys is a matter of polarized debate. Some love it while others hate it. The front headlight looks a little like a mushroom with its bulbous top. For those with a more vivid imagination I think it looks like the symbol of the Marvel Comic character, The Punisher. It sure sounds a little better than saying it looks like a mushroom!

Kawasaki states that the chassis was, “designed for the discerning enthusiast, the Versys’s riding position, engine characteristics, chassis balance and suspension settings were all selected to maximize rider exhilaration on the street”.

Versys Swingarm
Versys Swingarm Close Up
The front suspension is a 41 mm Showa inverted fork that features 5.9 inches of travel adjustable for rebound and spring preload. In the rear you’ve got a gull-type aluminum swingarm to make room for the long travel rear shock at 5.7 inches and to increase chassis rigidity and rider feedback. The rear suspension is adjustable for rebound and spring pre-load. The chassis is strengthened in the rear to accommodate a passenger or to carry your touring luggage. At around 33 inches, the seat height is might be a little high for short in the leg folks. An optional seat can be purchased to lower the height to 31”, or 2 inches from stock.

Black Versys
Photo by Geoff Smith
A Shiny New Black Versys
The engine in the Versys was designed to be compact and narrow. Kawasaki was using the engine in the European market in a bike called the ER6N before we saw it here in Canada. It could be likened to a naked version of the Versys. Despite its larger displacement, the engine is significantly smaller than the Ninja 500's because of the layout of the crankshaft and transmission shaft along with the semi-dry sump. This compact unit allows for a very narrow and compact profile.

Stops are achieved with petal-disc design dual disc brakes in front with twin-piston Tokico calipers. A single-piston single disc handles the duties in the rear. The brake and clutch levers are adjustable for 2008. The wide handlebars and adjustable windscreen can be raised or lowered to three positions in 20mm increments make for a comfortable cockpit. You will have to get out the tools to make the adjustments though.

Versys Cockpit
Cockpit of the Verysys
The instrument panel is easy-to-read and informative, allowing riders to quickly scan the gauges for what they need and get their eyes back on the road. There’s a white faced analog sweep tachometer with a digital speedometer offering the rider plenty of useful information. You get speed, a fuel gauge, odometer, trip meters, and various warning lights.

There are several available accessories including Givi saddlebags, optional windscreens, and a molded seat that is 2" lower (no price listed on Kawasaki Canada website while the US site lists it at US$439.95), 1" narrower and has a gel comfort layer. This accessory is sure to make this bike accessible to a wider range of riders.


Suzuki V-Strom (ABS) MSRP $8999

The Suzuki DL650, or V-Strom, is also affectionately known as the Wee-Strom because there’s a DL1000 too, and well, the 650 is the “wee” one of the two. This bike has amassed an almost cult like following since it was first introduced in Canada as a 2004 model in late-fall 2003. In fact, in 2006, Cycle World magazine wrote that the DL650 “may just be the most shockingly competent machine in the world today.”

Vstrom
Suzuki DL650 Side Shot
This high praise is not a one off opinion though; the Wee-Strom seems to get kudos from everybody who puts a leg over it. Motorrad online, a popular European motorcycle magazine, conducts exhaustive annual testing in the Swiss Alps with 22 bikes in what they call “Alpine King.” Most of the bikes in the test are a lot more expensive than the Strom. In two of the last three years the Strom came out on top! It beat out bikes from makers such as BMW, Ducati, Triumph, Honda, Suzuki, the list goes on.

The Wee Strom possesses a middleweight engine taken from the popular SV650 that’s tuned to have a few less horsepower but a smoother power delivery. The Strom also features a final drive ratio lowered from the SV650 for improved low rpm performance. It’s a middle weight package that gives you around town versatility, sporty road performance, low seat height, good wind protection, all day comfort, and a fuel capacity to match. Season that mixture with rock solid reliability, a very reasonable MSRP, and tremendous after market support and you’ve got a winner.

The DL650 may appear to have been struck with the ugly stick a few times when you look around the showroom floor at your local Suzuki dealership. That hasn’t stopped it from quietly building a huge and loyal fan base though. Some even come to love its looks. Imagine!

VStrom with lower fairing
Photo by Geoff Smith
JMV lower fairings and sport windscreen
Some owners have taken steps to beautify the Strom and make it more capable as a lightweight sport touring machine. Suzuki of Europe has an OEM sport screen available and JMV of France offers a lower fairing that really alters the look of the Strom. The windscreen is a bit smaller and substitutes in a dark shade for the clear stock one. You won’t want to explore the limits of the off-road abilities of the Strom with this setup though as it may quickly result in some costly damage to your shiny new plastics.

The suspension of the Strom is a little plush and easily swallows up road imperfections that would cause grief for those riding a pure sport bike. On the Strom, you need not worry so much about road imperfections – a very good thing considering what widely fluctuating temperatures do to our Canadian roads; they’re often littered with bumps, cracks, ridges, and every other imperfection you can name. Dreaded tar snakes abound!

The 43 mm front forks have adjustment only for pre-load. In back, the shock offers knob-adjustable preload, and a screw-adjusted rebound damping. Under hard braking the suspension dives a bit but should not come as a surprise at this price point. The suspension is more than adequate for most situations you’ll face.

The narrow and purposeful fairing provides adequate weather protection. The windscreen can be manually adjusted for height but you’ll need some tools to do it.
Vstrom in Newfoundland
Photo by Geoff Smith
The seat is designed as a place you’ll find comfortable to spend some time in. It’s a nice width and will give you a good vantage point to see as much of Canada, and beyond, as your leisure time allows for. Wide bars are a comfortable reach away. If your ride extends into the evening you’ll light up the night with large multi-reflector 60/55W headlights.

One of the other traits of the Strom that riders love is its off pavement ability. The Strom is listed under the “Street” category of Suzuki Canada’s website but “Dual Sport” on the US site. So it would seem the Strom leads a bit of a double life. While you won’t be entering any off-road races with the Strom it’s a capable off-pavement steed that will make short work of fire roads and rides to the cottage.

The instrument cluster on the Strom is well designed with a compact step-motor speedometer, tachometer with LED illumination; plus an LCD display with twin trip meters, odometer, temperature gauge, fuel gauge, and a digital clock.

A large rear luggage rack with rubber-padded platform will help keep bags and other gear in place. A big 22L fuel tank ensures you’ll get a long way from home before needing a fill up. The Strom features the largest fuel capacity of the three bikes.

BMW F650GS (twin) MSRP $8990

BMW F650GS
2008 BMW F650GS
Azure Blue Metallic
The BMW F650GS is a new bike that’ll hit the dealerships of Canada in May 2008. The folks down south in the US won’t get it until the following year. They’ll have the true 650cc single there for another year. Don't forget that in 2008 the version of the bike we'll have in Canada actually has a 798cc parallel twin, not a 650. It uses a detuned version of the engine that’ll be used in the highly anticipated F800GS (which won’t be available until fall of 2008 at the earliest reportedly). The focus for the F650GS is high torque at lower engine speeds coupled with excellent economy. It’s a great all-rounder, providing plenty of power and economy.

Why did BMW call an 800cc a 650 you ask? Nobody we’ve talked to is sure really. In F650GS form the engine makes 71hp and 55.3* lb-ft of torque at 4500 rpm (* torque numbers converted from 57 nm)

The new bike looks typical BMW GS style; a bit utilitarian, but the fit and finish is fantastic. The headlight is a side by side unit with one a little smaller than the other. It’s a look borrowed from the larger and tremendously popular 1200GS bikes. In terms of wind protection the BMW seems to offer a relatively similar frontal area as the other two bikes.

The windscreen is a wind tunnel optimized M-shaped design. The 16-litre tank is under the seat which lowers the center of gravity and has the added benefit of not getting in the way if you use a tank bag. The lockable filler nozzle is easily accessible on the right-hand side of the vehicle level near the pillion seat. It’s the smallest tank of the three bikes but should still provide an ample range for most riders.

F650GS Seat Close Up
BMW F650GS Seat Close Up
BMW wants this bike to appeal to, and fit, a lot of riders so they put some considerable effort into making the height of this bike comfortable for the majority of riders. There are three seat height options; you’ll be able to get a low suspension version (which incorporates the low seat too), a normal version with a lowered seat, and the normal seat height version. The lowered suspension option will cost a bit extra but the other lowered regular seat is a no-cost option. The regular seat height is 820 mm while the low seat is 790 mm.

The Beemer delivers higher peak horsepower and torque numbers than its competitors in this article. This isn’t surprising given its 150cc advantage in displacement over the 650’s. The greater grunt comes at a slightly higher MSRP but along with that extra cash you not only get more displacement. The extra cash gets you a similarly sized package and BMW’s 3 year warranty; including roadside assistance. That’s 2 years more than these competitors. Neither Suzuki nor Kawasaki includes roadside assistance as part of their original warranty.

BMW is pretty much by itself in the 800cc category. Nobody else offers one in Canada. The new 800cc twin engine used in the BMW is actually built by Rotax. Rotax is a subsidiary of Bombardier (which was started by Joseph Bombardier in Quebec) and build for many different companies. They make the new liquid cooled engine in the Buell 1125R for example. They also make engines for snowmobiles, watercraft, ATV’s karts, and aircraft. So it would appear that BMW chose the maker of its engine carefully.

Iceberg BMW F650GS
BMW F650GS Rear Side Angle
The F650GS comes with cast metal wheels and lower ground clearance which indicate an on-road bias just like the Strom and Versys. It should handle off-pavement surfaces with confidence too. (more on this later)

Brakes come in the way of single disc, 300 mm diameter double-piston floating caliper in the front and single disc, 265 mm diameter single-piston floating calliper in the rear. Switchable BMW Motorrad ABS is available as an option for an additional $850.

Heated grips come standard on the F650GS in Canada. Some other nice to have options: on-board computer, center stand, theft alarm, tire pressure monitor system, hand protection bars, and a wide range of side, tank, and top cases. There’s plenty more accessories too if you want to push that MSRP up even higher.

The on-board computer expands the range of information that can be displayed on the clear display on the combined instrument panel, adding the following details: tank display, gear display, coolant temperature, average fuel consumption, range, outside temperature and stopwatch time. A button on the left handlebar fitting allows the driver to switch through the displays and to select the information required. It is also used to operate the stopwatch.

Not too many people in Canada have had the opportunity to ride the F650GS as of yet but we spoke to a fellow who has. Wildwood Motorsports owner Paul Germain had a chance to ride the new BMW in Faro Portugal with BMW representatives and came away impressed. When asked about the bike he said, “The F650GS is a spectacular package! Although BMW didn’t have the old 650 single there for a direct comparison I can say based on my memory of riding the previous model that the new 650 is a much better road machine. It’s a much greater pleasure to ride than the old one. It’s smoother and loses nothing in off road ability to the old 650. At an MRSP of C$8990 and a 3 year warranty, this model is a home run.”

Hard Facts:



BMW F650GS
Suzuki DL650 V-Strom
Kawasaki Versys 650r
Engine Type Water-cooled, 2-cylinder, 4-stroke, four valves per cylinder, two overhead camshafts Four-stroke, liquid cooled, 90º V-twin, DOHC, 8-valves Four stroke, Liquid-cooled, DOHC, 8-valve, Parallel Twin
Displacement 798 cc 645 cc 649 cc
Bore/Stroke 82 mm x 75.6 mm 81.0 x 62.6 mm 83 x 60 mm
Compression Ratio 12.0:1 11.5:1 10.6:1
Fuel System Electronic injection Fuel Injection Digital fuel injection
Lubrication Dry sump lubrication Wet Sump Semi-dry sump
Transmission Constant mesh 6-speed gearbox 6-speed 6-speed
Final Drive Chain Chain Chain
Overall LxWxH (mm) 2,280 mm x 890 mm x 1,240 mm 2.290 x 840 x 1.390 2,125 mm x 840 mm x 1,315 mm
Seat Height 820 mm (32.3"); low seat: 790 mm (31"); lowered suspension: 765 mm (30") 820 mm (32.3") 840mm (33")
Wheelbase 1,575 mm (62") 1,540 mm (60.6") 1415mm (55.7")
Dry Weight 179 kg (394 lbs) 194 kg (427 lbs) 181 kg (399 lbs)
Front Suspension Telescopic fork, 41 mm Telescopic, cartridge-type, oil damped, adjustable preload 41 mm inverted telescopic fork with stepless adjustable preload and rebound damping
Rear Suspension Cast aluminium dual swing arm, central spring strut, spring pre-load hydraulically adjustable (continuously variable) at handwheel, rebound damping adjustable Link-type, adjustable spring preload and rebound damping Offset laydown single-shock with 13 way adjustable rebound damping and 7 way adjustable preload
Front Brakes Single disc, diameter 300 mm, double-piston Dual hydraulic disc ABS Dual semi-floating 300 mm petal discs with dual piston calipers
Suspension Travel (Front/Rear) 180 mm (7.09”) / 170 mm (6.69”) Not available on manufacturer website 150 mm (5.9") / 145mm (5.7")
ABS Optional extra: BMW Motorrad ABS (can be switched off) $850 Standard None
Rear Brake Single disc, diameter 265 mm, single-piston floating caliper Single hydraulic disc ABS Single 220 mm petal disc with single-piston caliper
Front Tire 110/80-19 110/80-19 120/70-17
Rear Tire 140/80-17 150-70-17 160/60-17
Fuel Tank Capacity 16 litres 22 litres 19 litres
Center Stand Optional Optional None
Colour Iceberg Silver Metallic, Plain Flame Red, Azure Blue Metallic Blue, Mat Black, Yellow Candy Plasma Blue/Silver Frame (or) Passion Red/Silver Frame
Rated Output 71 hp at 7,000 rpm 67 hp ** 63 hp at 8,000 rpm
Max. torque 55 lb-ft at 4,500 rpm 44.3 lb-ft at 6400 rpm ** 45 lb-ft at 7,000 rpm
Warranty 3 years with roadside assistance 1 year 1 year

** Estimates - Official information is not available from the manufacturer website.

Edit (03/29/08) - Originally the table indicated the Strom came with a center stand. It's actually a $228.39 option (price does not include taxes or installation and may vary by dealer.). Appropriate corrections made in Conclusion section as well.

Conclusions:

The weight and size of the bikes are relatively similar with the Strom being the heaviest of the bunch. The BMW actually weighs 33 lbs less (without ABS) than the Strom, and 5 lbs less than the Versys. With a weight of 3.3 lbs, if you were to add the ABS option, the differential would drop and put the BMW pretty much even with the Versys. The BMW would still be a good bit lighter than the Strom even if ABS were added. You could even add on a center stand and it should still weigh less.

Suzuki lists the cost of the optional center stand at $228.39 while BMW doesn't list a price for theirs on the Canadian site. Neither manufacturer provides a weight for the piece but it may be a useful option for either bike.

The power advantage goes to BMW. With 71 hp it’s a little up on 67 hp estimate of the Strom we obtained and 8 hp over the Versys. The big difference comes in the form of torque. The BMW has a solid 10 lb-ft advantage over both the Strom and the Versys and it comes at only 4,500 rpm versus the Strom’s 44.3 lb-ft @6400 rpm, and the Versys’ 45 lb-ft @7,000 rpm.

In the features department the Strom comes with the most at the lowest price. Your base MSRP of $8999 includes ABS. On the BMW, ABS will add an extra $850+ to the MSRP. The Versys doesn’t come with ABS or a center stand and neither feature is an option yet. ABS wouldn't be too difficult for Kawasaki to to add in the future (It's already available in Europe for an extra £400) but the underslung exhaust makes a centerstand a bit tricky. The BMW also has the advantage of coming standard with 3 years warranty with roadside assistance. Still, the comparably equipped BMW will likely set you back right around $9,840 so you’ll have to judge for yourself if the extra power and warranty are worth it in the end.

At this price point the bikes juggle factors of price, performance, style, and versatility. Each of them make some compromises but all of them do a great job. I don’t think you’d go wrong purchasing any of these machines so long as you kept the intended purpose in mind.

If you’re in the market for an all-rounder that you plan on keeping for a while and putting some miles on be sure to check out all three of these bikes!



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.

Your Future Might Be Electric!

With the rising price of oil and pressure to make vehicles easier on the environment many companies are looking at ways to make low or even zero emission vehicles. Look at the money being spent in the auto industry. It seems almost every manufacturer is looking very closely at ways of reducing emissions. A few leading edge motorcycle companies are doing the same and they're coming up with motorcycles that can serve a variety of purposes. We're going to take a closer look at three different companies with three very different takes on electric transportation.

Quantya

Quantya, operating out of the city of Lugano Switzerland, are one such company. The company started in 2005 and they're producing an electric motocross bike they call the Quantya FMX. It's the first competition ready electric motocross. The company was started by motorcycle enthusiast Max Modena who sought to build an environmentally friendly machine. Not just that though, tigtening regulations regarding noise and emissions mean that opportunities and places to ride were becoming more limited in Switzerland.

The Swiss government even banned 2-stroke motors. An electric motocross opens new possibilities. Riders can access trails without disturbing or polluting the environment.

The bike weighs 195 lbs (no dry and wet weights here!) and will quickly rip up to a governed 40 mph. The suspension is premium long-travel Sachs & Marzocchi. The bikes roll along on 18 inch trials tires which reduce the environmental impact and provide better grip. The 14kKW motor is powered by a 47 volt or 74 volt lithium-polymer battery pack that's good for 30 and up to 180 minutes of run time. The engine produces an output equivalent to about 20 hp which may sound un-inspiring but the torque numbers are fairly impressive coming in at 23 foot pounds which is available immediately. 23 ft lbs of torque puts it close to a Honda CRF250X. All Quantya motorcycles will come with a 2 year warranty.

Thirty minutues to an hour and a half is a pretty wide range in running time; that'll certainly be seen as a disadvantage by some. Here's hoping technology improves to boost that running time. Dario Trentini, CEO Quantya USA, has been quoted in a November 2007 PRWeb article saying "We are seeing many new exciting technologies emerging and we will continue to utilize only the latest such technologies to deliver the absolute best quality and efficiency to our customers." From these comments it would appear they're keen to improve as technology allows it.

Quantya SA has already achieved some level of success in Europe where riders can go to "Quantya Parks" and experience the excitment of these electric motorcycles on a rental basis. Quantya USA is the exclusive importer and distributor for the USA and Canada and are located in Syosset, NY. For more information visit the company website here.

Brammo

Another company with a really interesting take electric transportation is Brammo in what could be considered something like a typical standard style motorcycle.

Just so you know the pedigree of the crew at Brammo. These are the same group that bring the Ariel Atom 2 to the US. Never heard of it? Well it is a car, but not your everyday grocery getter. The Ariel Atom 2 is the US version of the Ariel Atom from England. Atom 2's are street legal, track-day sports cars produced by Brammo, Inc. of Ashland, Oregon, an official Ariel Atom licensee. This is a motorcycle magazine so we'll keep the description short. This thing is amazing! The Atom 2 comes with a an Eaton blown 300-horsepower Ecotec engine (Jay Leno even helped convince GM to let Brammo use the Ecotec engine). KTM makes something similar to it called the X-Bow.

Alright, enough about cars, but you needed to know that the people at Brammo like fast things that are cool! They've directed some of this desire towards green technology and a making a motorcycle that runs on electricity. Enter the Enertia!

The Enertia is nearly silent and has no clutch or gearbox. It is also very light at 280 lbs and narrow (12.5 inches between the knees). According to Brammo it's also practically maintenance-free. The frame is a carbon fiber monoqoque and does duty as both the motorcyle's chasis and its battery tray; this machine uses six of them. Machined 6061-T6 aluminum bits are bonded to the carbon fiber structure wherever the need for threaded hard-points (footpegs, swingarm, etc.) exists. This is a building technique common on the race track. The resulting frame is very stiff and weighs a mere 16 pounds.

Six 12-volt lithium-phosphate battery packs are used to power the Enertia. The batteries are about half the size of a traditional car battery and are are mounted inside the upper and lower channels of the H-shaped carbon fiber chassis—three on top, three below. Brammo worked closely with the battery maker on the application of the lithium-phosphate cells, which unlike lithium-ion or lithium-cobalt, are exceptionally resistant to combusting, even if the batteries are impacted or punctured. Good to know!

Beneath a small lid where the gas tank is on many bikes is a connection to recharge the bike from any regular 110-volt electrical outlet. The Enertia will reach an 80-percent charge in two hours, and be fully recharged in three. The battery pack is 86 lb's which is a substantial portion of the 280 lbs that the Enertia weighs. The bike apparently feels even lighter than it is because the weight of the batteries is concentrated on the center line of the motorcycle.

You start the bike with a push of a button and about two seconds later its ready to go. Now just press the bar mounted switch to "on" and twist the throttle. The bike is reportedly whisper quiet. There is a "power" setting that ranges from 40-100 that the rider can select. It allows you to trade power for range. More power gives you less range. The engine is an alternator-sized electric motor mounted at the bottom of the chassis just ahead of the rear wheel. The motor is directly coupled to the rear tire via a chain and sprocket. It is rated as having 12-25 horsepower, with 17-34 lb-ft of torque. Those horsepower numbers put it on par with say a Kawasaki Ninja 250 but the torque numbers are about double. At the 100 percent power setting, Brammo claims a 0 to 30 mph (which is a pretty close to 50 km/hr) in 3.8 seconds and 0 to 40 mph (right around 64 km/hr) in 5.88. Top speed is 50-mph (about 80 km/hr).

Brammo claims a realistic range of 40 to 50 miles (or 65 to 80 kilometers) between charges at the 40% minimum power setting. A small Enertia logo in the gauge cluster glows red, yellow or green depending on the power draw, to help maximize efficiency. It's not designed for a passenger, but Brammo plans both a larger, two-up machine, and an even more slimmed down single-seat version for the inner-city or campus crawler.

Brammo has begun taking online orders in the U.S. for a limited edition "Carbon" model (US$14,995), set for delivery in the third quarter of 2008. You can also reserve the standard model (US$11,995) due some time in the second half of 2008.

Vectrix Scooter

Vectrix started up in 1996 to develop and commercialize zero emission vehicle platforms with an emphasis on the two wheeled variety. As of June 2007, a little more than 10 years later, you've got the Vectrix electric scooter. As of the writing of this article they're available in several US states; Rhode Island, California, Florida, Texas, Utah, and Washington. They fall into the maxi-scooter class. This scooter weighs 500 lbs (227 kg) and has a top speed of 100 km/hr. It can accelerate from 0-50 km/hr in 3.6 seconds or 0-80 km/hr in 6.8 seconds. This machine is comparable in specifications to a 400cc scooter in terms of weight, peak power, torque, acceleration, seat height, and price. According to the Vectrix website it makes 20 kW peak power at 3000 rpm which is about 27 hp by google's calculations.

The Vectrix scooter was designed to outperform an equivalent gas scooter (e.g. 250 cc – 400 cc) in many ways. It features a number of advantages over their gas powered competition such as a lower cost of ownership, cheaper to run, no need to visit the gas station, low center of gravity, quicker acceleration (faster than a 250cc gas scooter according the manufacturer), no gears to shift, charge anywhere there's a regular 110-volt electrical outlet, whisper quiet, and zero emmissions of course.

At a base price of US$11,000, it's expensive to take home the zero emissions scooter. The maintenance and fuel costs will quickly help compensate for the higher up front costs. Electricity to power the scooter is a fraction of the cost of gas. It also requires much less maintenance with far fewer parts than a gas scooter. Vectrix claims maintenance costs savings in the neighborhood of 70%.

The Vectrix features a fast charging time, 2-3 hours for full charge, with a range of approximately 65 km to 100 km on a single charge. The Nickel Metal Hydride battery is designed with long life in mind too, with an expected life of up to 10 years or 50,000 miles / 80,000 km based on 1,700 (80% charge) battery discharging cycles.

A patented regenerative braking system redirects energy back into the Vectrix battery pack, helping to extend its range by up to 12 percent. The regenerative braking system is really interesting feature; if you twist the throttle forward you slow without touching the brakes and this regenerates the battery. You can also use it as a slow speed reverse gear too; something usually only found on much larger machines.

You can even take along a friend on this machine. The Vectrix has a 30-inch seat height that will comfortably accomodate two people and has room to store both their helmets on-board. It's not too hard to look at either; you'd be hard pressed to distinguish it from a gas scooter at a glance. In the way of instrumentation its got LCD’s which display speed, odometer, battery state of charge, fuel gauge, estimated range, and system status.

The scooter comes with high quality parts from respected manufacturers such as Brembo, Pirelli, and Sachs. It features a stiff aluminum frame to help keep weight down.

Vectrix have come up with a new model in their line up. The new electric scooter has three wheels, two up front and one in the back. It's expected to arrive the fourth quarter of 2008, and come with a US$15,990 price tag. Both models feature a two year warranty.

Final Thoughts

The electric motorcycle has arrived! They may not be perfect but they certainly have improved to a point where they represent realistic transportation for a large percentage of people. Battery technology is rapidly improving and right now it's the only thing holding back sales. Batteries are expensive and the range is really dependent on the driving style of the rider. It takes a far-sighted rider to examine their needs and see the longer term benefits of an electric. If you are a city communter then an electric bike may be what you'll want to look for in the really near future. However, if you want to hit the higway and do some touring, you're not going to be able to do that on an electric. Better keep your gas powered bike for that task for now.


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!

grosmorne_entrance
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.

woody_point_lghths
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.



A Review of "To Dakar and Back - 21 Days Across North Africa By Motorcycle”

Written by: Dan M

A Bit of Background

I got a copy of Lawrence Hacking’s new book, “To Dakar and Back – 21 Days Across North Africa By Motorcycle” a little over a week ago and couldn’t put it down until it was done. If you have even a passing interest in the Dakar you should take a look at this book!

Now, you don’t need to know who Lawrence Hacking is to truly enjoy this book but once you’ve read it it’s hard not to talk about the man behind the book when talking about his Dakar story. He’s what you might call the “Wayne Gretzky” of the sport of off-road bikes in Canada. His resume is impressive to say the least.




A Short List of some of Lawrence’s Achievements:

- Competed for the Canadian National Team in the International Six Days Enduro (ISDE) World Championship in 1985 (Spain), ’86 (Italy), ‘90 (Sweden), ’91 (Czechoslovakia), ‘92 (Australia) and 2002 (Czech Republic). He finished each time, earning Silver and Bronze medals from the FIM.
- Worked for Yamaha Motor Canada and Yamaha Motor Europe between 1980 and 1990 in their marketing and racing departments. Since then, he has worked as a consultant to other manufacturers including Honda, Kawasaki and Triumph, and to the Parts Canada Superbike Championship.
- In January 2001, became the first Canadian to complete the Paris to Dakar rally. He finished 58th overall and 13th place overall in the first-timer classification.
- In 2005 and 2007 he entered the Beijing to Ulan Bataar International Rally across the Chinese Gobi desert and won the 250-cc class.
Was one of the key organizers of the 2007 FIM World Enduro Championship, held in Canada for the first time.
- His motorcycle exploits have been featured in various media outlets such as CBC, CNN International, CityTV, Moto Verde (Spain), Moto Vert (France), The National Post, Speed Channel, TSN, TV5 (France) and The Toronto Star.
- Participated in the Targa Newfoundland.

On To Dakar!

Hacking competed in the Paris-Dakar Rally in 2001 and, on his first attempt, he finished it, thus securing his place in the history books as being the first Canadian to ever finish the event. I might add he did it at the age of 46 too and as a privateer without a support crew to help him out along the way. Sponsors supported him partly but they weren’t there in a truck following along with the rally like the professional teams. He didn’t have a mechanic waiting for him at each bivouac to fix his bike at the end of the day so he could relax and prepare for the next grueling day. He had to fix any damage to his bike each night after travelling distances of up to 900 km in a single day.

He spent a year preparing for Dakar, nine months of which was full time work dedicated to working out, travelling to Europe, researching the race, securing sponsorship, and bike preparation among a myriad of other things. His bike of choice was a custom prepared Honda XR650. He thought the bike was a great product, and it was. He could have chosen several other bikes but was impressed with the Honda. The bike was new at the time and had just won at Baja. It also had a kick start in addition to the electric start, a feature lacking on the KTM’s. He worried about an electrical problem in the desert and getting stuck, so having a kick start as a backup was a logical thing to have. He kept the swingarm, frame, and engine stock but changed most of the other pieces to meet his requirements and the Dakar specifications. The big main fuel tank and rear auxiliary tank were key requirements of the Rally. His XR was fitted with a 54 litre tank, which when full held about a hundred lbs of fuel. That much weight in those types of conditions would have to be a real handful to say the least but essential because of the huge distances covered.

In 2001 the Dakar covered nearly 10,000 km’s of mostly off-road riding. It travelled through six countries in some of the most challenging terrain in the world in its 21 days. Approximately 6,000 of the kilometers were special stages (otherwise known as competition stages). Given these facts it's no surprise that it is billed by some to be one of the world’s top five adventures; right up there with climbing Mt. Everest. It’s a race where as many as half the competitors don’t make it to the finish line. The race has even claimed the lives of 48 of its competitors and some spectators as well.

Getting to the Nitty-Gritty

I may be a little biased as I’ve admittedly been fascinated by the Paris Dakar Rally since I learned about its existence in the early 80’s when the ferociously fast Group B rally cars had their short lived heyday. They were just too fast and dangerous and were only around for four years. Sadly I do not have the skills or abilities that Lawrence Hacking has. But I jumped at the chance to pick up the book and read about a Canadian’s experience with the Dakar.

If you look at the list of competitors and their placement in rally's gone by on ASO’s website (TSO was the organizing body at the time of Hacking's 2001 race) you’ll see where everybody finished but that by itself is a little dull. The list of who won and their times doesn’t tell all the stories about the preparation, trials and tribulations, near disasters, sleepless nights, sand and grit, the desert, dunes, rocks, and all the amazing sights you pass though in the 21 days of the Dakar and the days leading up to it. To Dakar and Back tells that story from one man’s perspective. For 274 pages you’re with him on the bike throughout it all; experiencing in some small way, all the highs and the lows.

The first thing I noticed when I got the book and thumbed through it was the little symbols that appear alongside the page numbers. While not explained in the book these are very important symbols in the Dakar; they are a piece of information that appears on the road-book that participants get and remain secret until given to the riders. If you don’t follow the road book and stop at the checkpoints you’ll be given penalties up to an including exclusion from the race. The symbol is one piece of the information that appears and indicates the trail, terrain, and landmarks for a particular section. These little hieroglyphics are called tulips and they’re something that every rally participant needs to become very familiar with. Why are they called tulips you may ask? It dates back to the Tulip Rally (Tulpen rally) of the 1950’s.

I won’t wreck it for those who decide to get the book, but Hacking’s 21 days weren’t without drama. The book is full of unexpected events and challenges that need to be faced - all under the pressure of sticking to the rules and keeping within the allowable time. There were several incidents that threatened to end his rally before the finish line. His perseverance, preparation, and perhaps a little bit of luck all combined to get him to the finish line.

Final Thoughts:

I’ve already said that I enjoyed the book. I really did, it’s a great read in my opinion and very reasonably priced at $17.95. The writing is clear and easy to follow, no doubt aided by the efforts of Wil De Clercq whom Hacking credits with turning his pile of notes into a story that "accurately conveys the message." The writing includes a fairly detailed account of each days race events; who won in each category, what their times were, and some of the major events of the day. Some readers may not find that element quite as interesting as Hacking's personal story in the race. He has an eye for detail and recalls the types of vehicles, names of riders he has conversations with, dates, and places. Something I really appreciated.

Even the typesetting of the book adds to its personality and enjoyment. If you have an interest in the Dakar rally this book gives a real perspective of what it’s like to be there. In terms of things I didn’t like about the book there are really only a couple of minor things that would have increased my personal enjoyment of the book. would have liked to have seen a more detailed account of what Hacking brought along with him. Chapter 3 reviews some of his preparations including what he did to prepare the bike. This was really interesting material that I would have liked expanded to include details on all the items he took. Maybe it could have been included in an appendix? And, though noted in some cases, I would have appreciated knowing each day’s start time throughout the 21 days. Those are minor points though and you may not even miss them.

On a side note – Hacking, who’s 53 years old, is planning on doing the Dakar again and was going to follow the 2008 race from Lisbon in a rented car as part of his preparation. Hmm, I wonder if the rental company knew about that plan? But as you may know, the 2008 running of the Dakar - which was its 30th anniversary, was cancelled for the first time in its history because of terrorist threats. I’ll certainly be watching closely to see how that story unfolds. With the Dakar being held in South America in 2009 and the 2010 running through Mauritania still questionable it'll be interesting to see what Hacking does. He was hoping to use the 2008 race as part of his methodical pre-planning. The event in South America will be a whole new challenge and with a relatively shortened time to prepare and plan.



Where Can I Get a Copy and How Much is It?

To Dakar and Back is published by ECW Press and can be purchased at major booksellers everywhere. Price as indicated on the back cover is $17.95

You can get it via Amazon Canada here:

Some other interesting links:

Official Dakar website.
Robby Gordon - Dakar Dictionary site.