A 2015 US motorcycle industry study found that the availability of demo rides also improved customer satisfaction of dealerships.
The ninth annual Pied Piper Prospect Satisfaction Index (PSI) US Motorcycle Industry Benchmarking Study found that test rides were offered 63% of the time to mystery shoppers compared with 34% five years earlier.
It also found sales staff encouraged customers to sit on a bike 81% of the time, up from 70%.
A good dealer experience also translated to improved sales, with dealerships ranking in the top quarter selling 22% more motorcycles than dealerships in the bottom quarter.
It found Harley-Davidson, BMW and Ducati the most aggressive in offering test rides.
It is no coincidence that every Pied Piper study for the past decade or more has been led by those same three companies.
Aussie test rides
While there is no equivalent study in Australia, the results are perhaps indicative of strict global manufacturer training standards of dealer staff and attitudes to offering demo rides.
The lack of demo rides is one of the biggest complaints about dealerships we receive at MotorBikeWriter.com.
But many of these are for popular new models where demand outstrips supply and every bike that comes into the dealership is already sold.
Perhaps the most aggressive brands offering test rides in Australia are Harley-Davidson, BMW and Indian.
Harley not only offers test rides to licensed riders, but also offers a static ride to unlicensed riders with their Jump Start program.
It’s rare for any dealer to offer test rides of off-road or adventure bikes because of the risk of damage, but BMW even hosts annual GS demo ride days around the country.
And Indian throws in free fuel and accommodation on their weekend demo ride offers!
We only have our own experiences and anecdotes of readers to go on, but it seems Japanese brands are the worst at allowing test rides.
Maybe that has to do with complacency because they are the four biggest sellers.
But with sales crashing, distributors and dealers need to pick up their act.
It may cost more to have demo bikes available, but the results speak for themselves.
The motorcycle industry grapples with this basic sales technique.
Some dealers just see the cost of bike depreciation, fuel and staff time to take riders on escorted demo rides, rather than looking at long-term customer goodwill.
It also requires the manufacturers or importers to back them up with demo bikes and allow them to later sell them at a discount.
Riders see buying a bike as a lottery unless they can actually throw a leg over and feel the bike.
They need to evaluate the ergonomics for their body size, hear the noises, test the power and handling, and even feel the heat from the engine.
Have you ever been denied a demo ride? What did you do? Did you go elsewhere and buy the same bike or another brand? Leave your comments below.
As it continues to provide essential services to its loyal customer base and national dealer network, Suzuki Motor of America, Inc. (Suzuki) is excited to support dealers’ ability to temporarily deliver products to customers’ homes or offices with “Suzuki Direct 2 You”. Suzuki announced this service on April 6, 2020 to its powersports dealers, providing them the opportunity to send Suzuki motorcycles, scooters, and ATVs directly to their customers, all while ensuring the same quality of service as an in-store visit
“We understand the landscape of the COVID-19 pandemic is challenging for everyone, and we are working hard to ease that burden with new and innovative ways to continue our commitment to keeping customers and dealers a priority,” said Kerry Graeber, Vice President MC/ATV Sales and Marketing. “With Suzuki Direct 2 You, we feel it’s a great way to follow appropriate guidelines while providing a way for customers to still enjoy the perks of a new Suzuki motorcycle or ATV.”
Customers are relying on Suzuki to help make the buying experience safe, professional, and convenient, especially those unable to visit a dealership. To help facilitate the purchase process, Suzuki encourages its dealers to communicate through electronic means and other methods to minimize contact, where and when appropriate.
“Suzuki Direct 2 You” will be available through June 30, 2020 at participating dealers, subject to local laws and directives.
For more information on “Suzuki Direct 2 You”, please visit SuzukiCycles.com or contact a local Suzuki dealer for availability.
Remember UJMs? If you were a motorcyclist in the ’70s, or have a soft spot for bikes from that era, then you remember them well. Honda kicked it off in 1969 with its groundbreaking CB750, the first mass-produced motorcycle with a transverse in-line four-cylinder engine and an overhead camshaft. It was an air-cooled four-stroke with a five-speed transmission, a front disc brake, an electric starter and an upright seating position.
Honda created the formula and other Japanese manufacturers followed it. Kawasaki launched the mighty 903cc Z1 for 1973, Suzuki introduced the GS750 for 1976 and, late to the party but the biggest reveler in the room, Yamaha brought out the XS1100 for 1978. Similarities among these and other Japanese models of varying displacements led “Cycle” magazine, in its November 1976 test of the Kawasaki KZ650, to coin what became a widely used term: “In the hard world of commerce, achievers get imitated and the imitators get imitated. There is developing, after all, a kind of Universal Japanese Motorcycle…conceived in sameness, executed with precision, and produced by the thousands.”
Those UJMs, and the standards of performance and reliability they established, revolutionized the world of motorcycling. Decades later, descendants of those progenitors carry their DNA into the modern era. To see how well the formula holds up in the 21st century, we gathered examples from Honda, Kawasaki and Suzuki for a neo-retro comparo. (As much as we would have loved to include Yamaha for a proper battle of the Big Four, its contemporary XSR900 is powered by an in-line triple that colors too far outside the lines of the UJM formula.)
Honda’s CB1000R, like its granddaddy, has a transverse in-line four, but it’s a more highly evolved one featuring liquid cooling and dual overhead cams with four valves per cylinder — a configuration shared by all three bikes in this comparison. Derived from the pre-2008 CBR1000RR sportbike, the CB’s 998cc engine has been tuned for low- to midrange power and its 6-speed transmission has an assist-and-slipper clutch. Like the others, the CB1000R’s standard equipment includes ABS and traction control, but it’s the only one here with throttle-by-wire and riding modes (Sport, Street, Rain and customizable User), which adjust throttle response, engine braking and traction control.
A round headlight and an exposed engine are about the only styling traits shared by the “Neo-Sports Café” CB1000R and the CB750. Kawasaki’s Z900RS, on the other hand, is a spitting image of its forebear. Round mirrors on long stalks, bullet-shaped analog gauges, a teardrop tank, a bench seat, a sculpted tail and gorgeous Candytone Green paint with yellow stripes are all inspired by the original Z1. Even the flat spokes of its cast wheels are designed to look like spoked wheels of yore. Derived from the Z900 streetfighter, the Kawasaki’s 948cc DOHC in-line four has revised cam profiles, lower compression, a heavier flywheel, a second gear-driven balancer and narrower exhaust headers for a mellower feel, and its stainless steel 4-into-1 exhaust has been tuned to deliver an old-school four-banger growl.
Jenny’s Gear Helmet: Shoei RF-1200 Jacket: AGV Sport Helen Pants: Joe Rocket Alter Ego Boots: Sidi Gavia Gore-Tex Tail Bag: Nelson-Rigg
Suzuki’s entry in this contest is the new-for-2020 Katana, a modern interpretation of the iconic 1981 GSX1100S Katana, which revolutionized motorcycle design by treating the bike as a whole rather than a collection of parts. Originally conceived by Hans Muth and reimagined by Rodolfo Frascoli, the Katana has a small fairing and windscreen, and, like the CB1000R, a stubby tail section. Based on the GSX-S1000 naked sportbike, the Katana is powered by a 999cc DOHC in-line four derived from the 2005-2008 GSX-R1000, tuned for street duty with milder cam profiles and valve timing, steel rather than titanium valves, lighter pistons, a stainless steel exhaust and a 6-speed transmission with an assist-and-slipper clutch.
Three bikes, three editors, two days. Before hitting the road, we strapped on soft luggage. None have centerstands, and only the Kawasaki has a steel gas tank that accommodates a magnetic tank bag, which carried our tools, flat repair kit and air pump. Its long, wide bench seat also has room for a good-sized tail bag. With their short tails and small pillions, the Honda and Suzuki only have space for small tail bags. Because the Suzuki’s bodywork is more stylish than functional, the Honda and Kawasaki are completely nude and none have hand guards or heated grips, we were exposed to the elements. We bundled up in layers for our mid-January test and pointed our wheels north, taking freeways and back roads up California’s Central Coast.
With their refined, Swiss watch-like in-line fours, these modern-day UJMs are impeccably smooth. Snicking their transmissions into sixth gear and cruising at a steady speed is a sublime experience, with minimal vibration or unwanted perturbations. None have cruise control, but with fuel capacities ranging from 3.2 gallons on the Suzuki to 4.5 gallons on the Kawasaki and as-tested fuel ranges between 130 and 173 miles, the need for gas will likely precede the need for wrist relief. Upright seating positions and windblast on the chest keep weight off the wrists on all three, but there are notable differences in legroom. The Honda and Suzuki have the tallest seat heights (32.7 and 32.5 inches, respectively) as well as the highest footpegs, putting much more bend in the knees — especially on the Honda — than the comparatively spacious Kawasaki. Even though the Kawi has the lowest seat height (31.5 inches) and lowest pegs, on none of these bikes did we find ourselves dragging pegs in tight corners.
It’s in those tight corners that these bikes further distinguish themselves. With only 10 pounds separating their curb weights and modest differences in chassis geometry, their engine performance, brakes and suspension are what set these bikes apart. In terms of outright horsepower and torque, the Honda and Suzuki, both of which have sportbike-derived engines, come out on top. The Suzuki is the strongest, churning out 142.1 rear-wheel horsepower at 10,300 rpm and 75.9 lb-ft of torque at 9,200 rpm on Jett Tuning’s dyno, though its advantage over the others is mostly above 8,500 rpm. The Honda peaks at 125.5 horsepower at 9,800 rpm and 70.6 lb-ft at 8,300 rpm, but it’s much weaker than the Suzuki and Kawasaki below 7,500 rpm, a deficiency that’s obvious on corner exits and roll-on passes. Although the Kawasaki generates only 100.1 horsepower at 8,500 rpm and 67.5 lb-ft at 8,500 rpm, in the midrange it gives the Suzuki a run for its money and leaves the Honda in the dust.
With their more compact cockpits and high-revving power, the Honda and Suzuki lean more toward the sport end of the sport standard spectrum. Their smoothness makes them sneaky fast, and their stock suspension settings are firmer than the Kawasaki’s. All of these bikes have fully adjustable upside-down forks and preload- and rebound-adjustable single rear shocks (KYB on the Kawasaki and Suzuki, Showa on the Honda), but the Honda’s suspension, especially its Separate Function-Big Piston fork, is the most compliant. Sportbike-caliber front brakes, with pairs of radial-mount monoblock 4-piston opposed calipers clamping large discs, deliver serious stopping power across the board, but the Honda has a slight edge in feel. Adding to a sense of confidence on the Honda are its Bridgestone Battlax Hypersport S21 radials, which have noticeably more grip (but likely less mileage in the long run) than the Dunlop radials on the Kawasaki and Suzuki.
Despite being down on peak power and more softly sprung, the Kawasaki is by no means a boat anchor or a couch on wheels. It’s plenty fast, but its mission is clearly different than that of the Honda and Suzuki. The Z900RS stokes the flames of nostalgia while providing a more spacious, relaxed and comfortable riding experience, with every potentially rough edge sanded smooth. The Katana, on the other hand, is essentially a GSX-S1000 with plastic bodywork and a more upright riding position. In isolation there’s little to complain about when riding the Suzuki, but compared to the Honda and Kawasaki, it feels less refined, with more driveline lash and less precision during gear changes.
UJMs were the first motorcycles to be called “superbikes,” a name that came to be more appropriately applied to the racer replicas that proliferated in the late ’80s. These modern-day UJMs fall into the more mundane-sounding “sport standard” category, but there’s nothing mundane about 100-plus rear-wheel horsepower, high-spec brakes and suspension, standard ABS and TC, and a level of capability that’s truly impressive. For sheer power and sporting prowess, the Suzuki gets top marks, but its small 3.2-gallon gas tank and high price ($13,499) make it a tough sell. Priced a bit lower at $12,999, the ultra-smooth Honda has a strong top end as well as throttle-by-wire, riding modes and the best suspension and tires, but its weak midrange and high footpegs limit its overall appeal. A relative bargain at $11,199, the Kawasaki won us over with its throwback styling, spacious and comfortable seating, strong midrange, seductive sound and decent fuel range. If you do what we did — strap on some luggage and explore some of your favorite roads for a couple of days — you’re guaranteed to have a good time. Isn’t that why we ride?
Nobody seems to remember the company hired by Suzuki to advertise the Laredo model, but it certainly pulled out all the stops. The town of Laredo had a deserved reputation as a tough border crossing in Texas back in the late 1800s, and is rich in history. As well as a song called “The Streets of Laredo,” which is all about a dying cowboy; not sure that would be the proper way to tell people how much fun riding a motorcycle is, as motorcyclists were being called modern-day cowboys.
Suzuki had done a good deal of serious work in approaching the American market. At the start of the company’s business in the U.S., 1962, it offered a relatively ponderous 250 designed in the late 1950s, which had an electric starter, turn signals and a hydraulically actuated rear brake. All quite useful on a practical commuter bike.
However, the next version, the 1966 X-6 Hustler, was quite different, with performance being the issue. The X-6 touted its six-speed transmission, the six gears focused on being able to stay in the narrow powerband that the two-stroke twin enjoyed. The all-new, perfectly square (54 x 54mm) parallel twin engine was rated at 29 horses at 7,500 rpm, which was quite astounding for a street-going 250. The heavy electric starter was dispensed with, and weight was an extremely modest 300 pounds wet, resulting in a top speed of 100 mph. Good bike, albeit a tad fragile, with busted gearboxes, slippy clutches and holed pistons high on the list.
As some riders may remember, this was when the AMA was trying to impose four-speed gearboxes on all models in national racing competitions.
Change is good, especially the kind that might attract customers. For 1968 the company upsized the engine to 305cc by boring the cylinders out to 60mm, adding 58 cubic centimeters to the cylinder capacity. The resulting 305cc bike came out in two versions, the low-piped T305 Raider and the street-scrambler styled TC305, with high pipes, knobbyish tires and a skid-plate. Not that such mods made much difference when on seriously dirty dirt, but the rugged look sold — rather like today’s adventure bikes.
More essential changes involved making the tranny tougher by almost doubling the size of the gears. And slightly decreasing the compression ratio from the 250’s 7.3:1 to the 305’s 6.7:1. As well as enlarging the clutch plates and using thicker cork (when is the last time we saw a clutch with cork inserts?) to give the much-abused plates added longevity. These improvements added some 20 pounds to the heft of the engine/tranny unit. Overall wet weight, with 3.7 gallons of gas in the tank and almost half a gallon of oil in the Posi-Force reservoir, was almost 340 pounds.
This had all the essential Suzuki modernizations, with that Posi-Force oil injection system making sure that the oil got to the important lubrication points, rather than just mixing with the gas and hoping for the best. More importantly, the buyer that Suzuki was looking for had no interest in the messy business of personally adding oil to the gas tank. A vacuum petcock did away with the need to turn off the gas when stopped, a ritual the older generation was quite familiar with.
The 305 used the Vol-U-Matic induction system, a porting technique that allowed for a reasonable amount of grunt, or torque, to be generated by this middling-small engine. That was helped along by heavier flywheels, which served to make the engine less touchy when plunking along a dirt road. Tractable was a word often used by reviewers. Rotary valving was becoming much the rage in the late 1960s, but Suzuki liked the traditional piston-port design.
The 305 was produced with a pair of rather large 32mm Mikuni carbs, compared to the 24mm ones on the 250. The engineers had realized that if they left the intake port the same size as on the 250, with the same stroke, the bigger carbs would allow for rapid filling of the crankcase. And the big gulps of air assisted in quickly jamming the fuel mixture through the ports and into the hemispherical combustion chambers. An amusing side effect was that this system, useful when dawdling along, created a major intake boom when the rider chose to twist the throttle all the way open. As one magazine put it, “…the roar is enough to rattle your very bones.” But 37 horsepower was claimed by the manufacturer.
The engine/tranny unit sat in a full-cradle frame, the tubular members making a full U as they came down from the steering head to go under the engine and loop up to the saddle, to meet with the three tubes running back under the gas tank. The 51 inches between axles provided for good control at slow speeds, and still reasonably capable when pushing the century mark on the speedometer. Though the rider might need a bit of downhill to attain 100 mph, as road tests of the era showed 95 to be about top. The fork was said to be a bit on the stiff side, while the rear shocks seemed soft. Probably much depended on whether one lightweight was on board, or two heavyweights. Good ground clearance was provided, with even the centerstand neatly tucked away.
Good bike, well received, but Suzuki obviously felt the need for something new. The Laredo was only on the market for one year, with a few leftover Raiders sold in 1969. Replacing it was the Rebel 350…nice number, but the 305 engine had only been bored out another 2 mm, adding just 10cc, for a grand total of 315cc, not 350cc. Truth in advertising?
Meanwhile, Suzuki has been the slow coach with no patents, no announcements, nothing!
Autocar India reports that Suzuki Motorcycle India MD Koichiro Hirao says they are working on an EV platform for India.
There is no word on what that EV platform will be; motorcycle, scooter, mobility scooter!
Nor is there any word about whether they would be available outside the country.
India is becoming a major player in the EV market with a host of companies from start-ups to major manufacturers now making them.
This comes in the wake of tough new emissions regulations in the overcrowded and polluted country.
Learn electric terms
Living with petrol-powered motorcycles all our lives, we now find we will have to learn a lot of new terms in the coming electric revolution.
We certainly don’t profess to know much about electrical terms.
But here is a very non-technical, idiot’s guide to the main terms. (Electricians may find this quite amusing!)
Volts: This is a measure between two points in an electrical circuit, sort of like the water pressure in pipes. The mains plug in your house has 240V (230V in UK, 110V in USA) and your motorcycle battery has 12V.
Amps: Together with the voltage, it determines the flow rate of the current. High amps with a low voltage means a lot of current flowing slowly, like a fat, lazy river. Low amps with a high voltage means a faster flow of less current, sort of like when you squeeze the end of a hose and the water spurts out.
Watts: It you multiply the volts by the amps you get the watts, which is the output power of the electric motor. You should already be familiar with kilowatts which are 1000 watts. One kilowatt is 1.34% of one horsepower or one horsepower is 0.75% of a kilowatt.
Harley’s LiveWire electric motor
Kilowatt hours: This is the capacity of the battery. Think of how many litres you can fit in your fuel tank. A one watt-hour battery will power a 1W electric motor for one hour. The new Lightning Strike Carbon Edition has a 20kWh battery which means it can produce 1kW of power for 20 hours.
That’s just a start.
There are a lot of other factors involved and other terms forbattery energy-density (watt-hours per kilogram), charging terms (AC, DC and fast chargers) and a variety of range calculations that take into regenerative charging.
The Suzuki V-Strom 1000 is an old lion of the adventure-touring
world. When it debuted for 2002, there weren’t many liter-class adventure bikes
to choose from, and the few you could buy were European. There was the standard-bearer
BMW R 1150 GS plus a handful of others like the Aprilia ETV1000 CapoNord, Cagiva
Gran Canyon, Moto Guzzi Quota and Triumph Tiger 955i. Back then adventure
touring was still a niche segment, and most of these models faded away after a
When it launched the DL1000 V-Strom, Suzuki became the first
Japanese manufacturer to offer a big adventure bike in the U.S., and its domestic
competitors stayed on the sidelines until Yamaha introduced the Super Ténéré
for 2012. The V-Strom had a 996cc liquid-cooled, 90-degree V-twin derived from
the TL1000S/R sportbikes and a twin-spar aluminum frame, and it delivered
impressive horsepower, torque and handling. Although it had a 19-inch front
wheel and tallish suspension, the DL1000 was best suited to the paved roads where
most adventure bike owners spend most of their time.
The DL1000 underwent few changes until 2014, when it got a
larger, more powerful engine, Suzuki’s first-ever traction control system and
updates to its chassis, styling and ergonomics. Four years later, Suzuki gave
the V-Strom 1000 another refresh, bringing its appearance in line with the
V-Strom 650 and adding IMU-based cornering ABS, which Suzuki calls the Motion
Track Anti-lock and Combined Brake System. Here we are just two years later
with yet another update, and the big V-Strom looks and performs better than
Although engine displacement remains the same at 1,037cc, for
2020 Suzuki decided to change the name to V-Strom 1050 and offer three versions—a
standard model, the V-Strom 1050XT and the V-Strom 1050XT Adventure. All have a
revised engine that’s Euro 5 compliant and produces more horsepower and torque
at higher revs thanks to larger throttle bodies, new fuel mapping and cam
timing, higher-compression pistons and a revised exhaust. Claimed output has
increased from 99 horsepower at 8,000 rpm to 106 at 8,500 rpm, whereas peak
torque is down a bit, from 75 lb-ft at 4,000 rpm to 74 lb-ft at 6,000 rpm, though
there’s more grunt at high rpm. New throttle-by-wire has enabled the Suzuki
Drive Mode Selector, which offers three throttle response modes (A, B and C). Other
changes include an updated traction control system with three levels of
intervention, new instrumentation and LED lighting, a lighter, reshaped tapered
aluminum handlebar, wider footpegs and new Bridgestone Battlax Adventure A41
Ichiro Miyata, who designed Suzuki’s DR-Z Paris-Dakar racer
and DR-Big dual-sport in the 1980s, also designed the V-Strom 1050, and its
sharp beak and geometric lines are very similar to those found on the old DRs.
The cool retro styling, unfortunately, gets lost on the standard V-Strom 1050 ($13,399)
because it’s only available in Glass Sparkle Black/Solid Iron Gray. The V-Strom
1050XT ($14,799), on the other hand, looks fantastic in either throwback color
combos—Champion Yellow No. 2 with a blue seat and blue accents or Pearl
Brilliant White/Glass Blaze Orange. Spending the extra $1,400 for the XT replaces
the base model’s cast wheels with tubeless spoked wheels and adds the Suzuki
Intelligent Ride System, a different windscreen with toolless height adjustment,
more stylish hand guards and mirrors, a height-adjustable seat, a centerstand,
engine guards and a lower engine cowl. The V-Strom 1050XT Adventure ($16,999)
adds quick-release aluminum panniers and heated grips, but it’s only available
in Glass Sparkle Black; for my money, I’d buy a colorful XT and buy the
panniers and heated grips separately (there are nearly 60 items on the
The big upgrade for 2020 is the Suzuki Intelligent Ride
System, a comprehensive electronics package that uses a new six-axis (up from
five) IMU and includes cruise control, cornering/combined ABS, hill hold
control, slope dependent control (which mitigates rear wheel lift when braking
downhill) and load dependent control (which adjusts brake pressure based on rider/passenger/luggage
weight). Connecting all of the control units and sensors is a new Controller
Area Network (CAN), which simplifies the wiring harness and offers faster data
What has made the V-Strom 1000 a perennial favorite over the
years is its user-friendliness. It has always been an approachable, versatile,
dependable motorcycle that’s blessedly free of quirks. With its new
electronics, the V-Strom 1050XT is the most technologically advanced V-Strom to
date but it retains its welcoming disposition. During the press launch we rode
the XT on some of southern Spain’s best paved roads, with a few miles of dirt
thrown in for good measure. From seating comfort and wind protection to
throttle response, engine performance and handling, the V-Strom 1050XT felt well
rounded and satisfying to ride. About the only thing missing on that cool
January day were the accessory heated grips.
As we left the coastal town of Marbella on our test ride and
ascended into the Sierra Nevada range on the fast, winding and damp A-366, I
started out in mode A, which offers direct throttle response and was just on
the cusp of being too abrupt for my taste. The mode button and large rocker
switch next to the left grip make it easy to navigate through the various modes
for throttle response, traction control and ABS, as well as operate cruise
control (which only works in gears 4-6 from 31-99 mph). Mode B felt just right,
and the fueling was consistent and never stumbled in on/off transitions. The
V-Strom still pulls strongly in the low- to midrange, while the revised engine’s
newfound liveliness at high revs rewards exuberant grip twisting. And thanks to
the assist-and-slipper hydraulic clutch, even aggressive shifting of the
6-speed transmission was drama-free.
The new V-Strom uses the same fully adjustable 43mm upside-down
fork and rebound- and (remote) preload-adjustable link-type rear shock, both with
6.3 inches of travel, as before, though damping is softer in the front and
stiffer in the rear. Those changes weren’t readily apparent from the saddle,
and the 1050XT was pleasantly compliant on fast, smooth pavement and bumpy,
rocky dirt. Also unchanged are the Tokico monoblock 4-piston front calipers and
Nissin 2-piston rear caliper, which exhibited good initial bite but felt rather
vague otherwise even though there was plenty of stopping power. The
cornering/combined ABS now has two modes, offering more or less intervention,
but it cannot be turned off.
The XT’s new windscreen deflects air well and is height
adjustable over a two-inch range, but because the quick-release lever is on the
lower front of the windscreen, just above the headlight, adjustments must be
made while the bike is parked. Behind the windscreen is an accessory bar that’s
ideal for mounting a smartphone or GPS, and there’s a new USB outlet on the
left side of the dash (there’s also an SAE 12V socket under the seat). The new
seat is comfortable and height adjustable (33.5/34.3 inches), but the
adjustment process requires swapping out bolts under the seat using the wrench
in the toolkit. The brake lever, clutch lever, shifter and rear brake pedal are
all adjustable, so riders should have little difficulty dialing in the V-Strom
to suit their preferences.
With three major updates in the past six years, the V-Strom
1000/1050 has evolved quickly. What was once a fun and competent but rather
basic adventure touring motorcycle has become sophisticated and refined. The
V-Strom 1050XT offers a higher margin of safety, more versatility and more
touring features while retaining the fun, go-anywhere spirit of the original.
Three riders walk into a dealership…. (I know it sounds like the start of a bad joke but bear with me.) All three are in the market for a new middleweight motorcycle, and each has a unique style and riding experience in mind. They’re in luck — thanks to a challenging economy, increasing growth in female ridership and a need to attract younger riders, manufacturers are doubling down on the small- and midsize-displacement market, meaning there’s a middleweight machine out there for just about anyone. We gathered three of the newest for an unorthodox Comparo Review; rather than pitting them against each other in a head-to-head battle, we thought instead we’d focus on each one’s unique personality. So here we are, the door just swung closed behind us, and our first rider already seems to know exactly what he wants.
We find him standing next to the Honda CB650R, where he’s admiring the waterfall of header pipes cascading from its 649cc, liquid-cooled, DOHC in-line four. The replacement for the stale CB650F, this fresh CB650R rounds out Honda’s Neo-Sports Café lineup, slotting in between the CB300R and CB1000R released for the 2018 model year.
Honda gave the middleweight CB more than just a facelift, with new wheels, an updated steel frame and a new, smaller fuel tank that combine to drop a claimed 9.2 pounds (11.6 pounds on the ABS version), a new inverted 41mm Showa fork with adjustable preload, a slightly more aggressive riding position and a redesigned airbox. The engine got a few tweaks as well, with new pistons and valve timing and a redline that’s been bumped up 1,000 rpm to 13,000. Also new this year is optional HSTC (traction control), which is only available on the ABS-equipped model and can be switched on and off on the fly.
The result is a seriously sporty machine that will pluck at the heartstrings of any rider yearning for the howl of a rev-happy in-line four in an affordable, fun-to-go-fast package. This is a bike that’s happiest when wound up, with the real action not kicking in until about 6,000 rpm. Per the Jett Tuning dyno, the CB650R spins out a respectable 83 horsepower at 11,000 rpm, with torque topping out at 43 lb-ft at 8,200. “Go fast or go home,” says our rider as he swings a leg over the nearly 32-inch seat.
Footpegs are just a tad higher and farther back than before and the wide, flat handlebar is lower and more forward, but the riding position is still relatively comfortable, especially when compared to the drop-down sport position of our other two comparo bikes. With suspension front and rear being preload-adjustable, it’s easier to find a happy medium for sporting canyon runs and bombing around town, and powerful radial-mount, 4-piston front brakes pinching big 320mm discs provide more than enough stopping power. As someone unaccustomed to an in-line four with less engine braking than a twin, I was happy for the peace of mind those brakes offered when winding things up on a twisty road. While the CB could be a good first bike (Honda says 25% of its 650cc bikes are bought by first-timers), it’s got enough juice to keep an experienced rider happily entertained.
“And,” smiles our first rider as we wander away, “it’s the right color: red.”
It might be fair to say that rider number two is the polar opposite; he’s drawn to the Kawasaki W800 Cafe, a new model (in the U.S. and Canada) for 2019 that evokes the look and spirit of the original 1966 W1. For him, sheer performance numbers aren’t a priority, but rather classic good looks and a timeless sense of style — although a few modern conveniences like a bright LED headlight, ABS and fuel injection don’t hurt.
With the possible exception of the paint, which is a polarizing metal-flake-brown and silver combo (I happen to like it), the W800 checks all the retro-loving riders’ boxes in the appearance department. Central to that is the 773cc air-cooled, SOHC vertical twin, with its distinctive bevel gear shaft-driven cam and 360-degree firing interval. Despite its balance shaft the engine vibrates significantly at idle and throughout most of the powerband, but the wide-ratio 5-speed gearbox shifts smoothly (thanks in part to the assist-and-slipper clutch) and the chrome peashooter mufflers burble modestly. “It’s got character,” shrugs our rider.
That character extends outward from the engine, with the old school double-cradle frame that was designed using Kawasaki’s advanced dynamic analysis software for new school handling, 18-inch spoked wheels rolling on tube-type Dunlop K300 GP rubber, dual rear preload-adjustable shocks, a 41mm gaitered fork and a classic clubman drop-down handlebar. The 31-inch two-tone seat is comfortable enough for about an hour at a time, and the riding position is sporty yet civilized.
Mid-mount footpegs will drag early, the vertical twin generates a middling 46.7 horsepower at 6,400 rpm and 44 lb-ft torque at 4,600, and the two brake discs, one front and one rear, both with 2-piston calipers and standard ABS, aren’t up to true sport riding levels, but that’s not what the W800 is all about. Cruising city streets and weekend jaunts into the countryside are what it was made to do, and you’re almost guaranteed to draw some admiring eyeballs when you get to your destination.
Now where did our third rider go? Ah, she discovered the Suzuki SV650X, which mixes the best of both worlds — sporty and retro — and also happens to be a time-tested, proven platform that’s been pasting smiles on faces since 1999, the year the original SV650 launched. In the intervening 20 years there have been S models with clip-ons and half fairings, but in my opinion this new-for-2019 café-racer X variation is the most true to the SV650’s spirit.
The bones haven’t changed: it’s still powered by the same 645cc liquid-cooled, DOHC, 90-degree V-twin that pulls strongly from idle to its peak of 69.3 horsepower at 8,700 rpm and 43.3 lb-ft of torque at 8,100, wrapped in a familiar steel trellis frame. Dual 290mm discs with 2-piston calipers up front and a single 240mm/1-piston combo at the rear work well, and ABS is standard. It’s shod with the best tires of the trio, grippy Dunlop Roadsmart IIIs.
The SV650X also continues to be one of the most user-friendly middleweights out there; nearly everything about it is approachable, from its one-touch Easy Start feature and Low RPM Assist that automatically raises engine speed when releasing the clutch, to its 31-inch seat, narrow waist, predictable powerband and no-frills, easy to read, comprehensive LCD gauge.
It’s responsive and stable, cool as a cucumber, never demanding too much of its rider even when the road gets twisty, and with some suspension work it could be a great track day warrior. Best of all, it doesn’t need to be wrung out in order to have fun, and is equally happy munching through traffic or carving up canyons — though not for hours on end. The fairly long reach to the clip-ons requires a strong core, lest too much weight is placed on the hands, and the low seat and tallish footpegs create an aching need to stretch out cramped-up knees. That said, if you’re young enough, fit enough and/or willing to rest often enough, the SV650X is a cool ride that looks, feels and sounds great.
So which one am I? The Kawasaki looks the part, but its annoying vibration, squishy suspension, uninspiring power and high price tag are turnoffs. The quick, flickable Honda is a hoot to ride, but my personal preference is for low-end grunt over a high-strung in-line four. I don’t have a long commute and we have plenty of more appropriate touring bikes in the Rider garage, so for cruising around town and half-day blasts up the local canyons, the cool-as-a-cucumber Suzuki best matched my personality. Wait…does that make me the “cool kid”?