Suzuki DL650 V-Strom review (2008 model)

There’s a voice inside my helmet and it’s singing in a terribly nasally off key tone … “It’s just me and my WEEeestrom”. The voice is mine and the helmet makes it seem even worse than it usually does. This would be unbearable if not for the constant rumble of the v-twin under my tailpipe and the glorious noise that the aforementioned v-twin makes through the tail pipe of my shiny V-Strom, but I stop singing anyway - It’s not a habit I want to get into.

Pulling away from the light, I let the clutch out a little enthusiastically and the front lifts up a tiny amount. That sounds more exciting than it is, and I’m soon heading into traffic on a Suzuki DL650.

Recently I gave up on the dream of ever finding my compromise bike. All I really wanted was something that I could hoon about on all day long with sharp handling, a beautifully smooth engine and fantastic brakes … You know, a CBR600F! But I also wanted something that I could load up and tour Europe on for days at a time with my wife on the back. You know, like a BMW GS. But I also wanted something that I could afford to insure and service. You know, like a CB125. This was never going to happen, so after finally accepting that I want two bikes to satisfy my life’s desires, I traded the Cat-D CBR600F in for a Suzuki DL650 V-Strom and rode home with the intention of sitting down and writing a review.

That was about 4 weeks ago now, and the review didn’t get written that day. Mostly that was just because I hated the bike, but part of it was because I really, truly LOATHED the bike. You see, it wasn’t a CBR600F.

It’s taken me some time to get to the point that I can write this review with an objective head on, but I’m finally ready.

Before we go any further, let’s get some vital statistics out of the way. And no, I’ve not decided to change sides and I am still very much married to my wife. These stats are not for advertising purposes and the reason for presenting them here will become clear soon.

I’m 5’9" tall (which according to Google is 1.75m. Also according to Google, I am above the healthy weight for that height. Google can suck my… oh, wait, sorry, where were we?) and my work trousers have a 31" leg length. The bike’s vital statistics can be found over at MCN . The model I picked up is the GT with the full luggage set, ABS and no belly pan. It also came with hand guards and heated grips and it had done just over 6000 miles over 3 years when I collected it.

The main thing to understand not just about this particular vehicle, but about all vehicles in their class is that they are not sports bikes. They are not even naked in-line 4s designed for hooning around towns and commuting on. They’re tall adventure styled bikes designed for long hours of riding, carrying lots of luggage and possibly even carrying two people. That means that if you get off of a CBR onto one, you’re going to be miserable if you try and ride it like a CBR. You’ll probably even be pretty miserable if you try and ride it like a Hornet. Or dead. Yeah, you might be dead if you try and ride it like a CBR.

The long travel suspension makes braking a completely different experience to the short stops that you can manage on a sports bike, and even though measured stopping distances are very respectable, it feels slower to come to a halt. The back brake is very sloppy even after bleeding and adjusting the lever. You’re going to want to brake earlier. But that same long travel suspension makes for a very comfortable ride. It feels like you could go all day, and just to test, I have. It smooths out the bumps in even the most ‘austerity impacted tarmac’ that I’ve been able to find so far and even dirt roads leave my eyeballs inside the sockets instead of dangling from the optic nerves like the suspension on less forgiving bikes tries to.

The GT model has a remote preload adjustment knob on the rear. I thought that this would be absolutely brilliant as I would be able to adjust the preload quicker when taking a pillion. It turns out that it takes about the same amount of time because instead of 2 clicks to go from a setting of 3 to 5, it takes quite a few turns. But you can leave the seat on during this process, and more importantly, I’ve been able to keep all of the skin on the back of my knuckles. They don’t look quite the same without the red scabby bits, but I’m getting used to the change.

Speaking of the seat … There’s a cavern under there and I’m convinced it’s big enough and deep enough to get an echo out of! The man at the shop told me that it’s a bag of holding, but I’m convinced I’ve never seen anything quite that big under a motorcycle seat. I’m almost positive that it’s got more capacity than the cubbyhole in a Mazda 2, even without removing the tool kit. I’ve fitted my old autocom under there as well as a power distribution system based on the one off of Canyon Chasers and even with that I’ll comfortably get a puncture kit, a disc lock and a clutch cable in there. It’s HUGE.

Two-up, it’s great. It’s the most comfortable bike for long distance riding that I’ve owned, and it really does feel like you can just keep going. The comfort is really astounding even with the stock seat, and that’s a good thing because with a 22l tank, you can go an awful long way before you need to stop for fuel!

The impressive thing about it is the consistency and ease of riding. On the motorway, despite the 650cc lump, it will comfortably sit at 77mph. In Germany it will happily sit at about 85mph, but above that the front starts to feel a little too light for my comfort. And with the brakes being what they are, you’re going to want to allow lots of distance to stop from that speed. There’s another problem here though. At anything about 60mph I got a terrible low bass hum filling up my helmet.

At first, I thought it was just to accompany me on the vocals, but some searching on the interwebs showed this to be a common complaint caused by a combination of the screen and the mirrors - they conspire to create a really weird sound. This affects some people and doesn’t impact others at all, so there’s no need to rush out and replace anything unless you find that you have the problem.

I’ve used this same helmet (Shoei multitec) on dozens of bikes, and this is the first time I’d ever heard anything like this so I know that it’s not the lid. An upgrade to an MRA vario-touring screen has solved the problem nicely even when trying the stock screen in different positions didn’t help. Which reminds me - I’ve got a stock screen for sale. I should do something about that :slight_smile:

Get off the motorway and onto the twisty options (tested on the BCR route) and even two-up it’s very capable. It tips into corners with confidence, and simply stomping down a gear will give you a huge amount of engine braking to help scrub speed off if you need to. But when you’re done, you’ll probably want to go back up a gear because the power on this bike is lower down the rev range and more linear than a screaming IL4.

It does feel a little uninspired after the sportsbikes though, but then you look down and find you’re doing 60 anyway. It’s just effortless and you’re not working as hard to hold that speed so you don’t notice the oomph. You don’t get punished as badly for not being in the right gear for a turn. You can just go all day.

In town with lots of stop-start riding, I’m struggling. The height that gives it so much confidence on less maintained roads and tracks means that it would work better for taller people. At 5’9" (I told you I wasn’t flirting with those vital stats!), I can get my toes down on either side, or flat footed on one side with a slight lean. This makes the Hendon Shuffle a bit more of a challenge than I’d like.

Two-up even with the preload at maximum, I can get both feet down flat and that adds a bit of confidence to riding with a passenger. But solo, hill starts on the ramp leading into my office can be fun. Don’t take this as a criticism on the bike though - we’ll just mark my parents down by 1.5 stars for not making me taller. I don’t think they’re planning a new model though, so we’ll just have to learn to love this one.

Where it’s been really interesting for me is riding with the luggage. I’ve had a topbox on my Bandit, my Hornet, the ER6 and one of the CBRs. On all of these, it made a marked handling difference when fully loaded. The luggage on the Suzuki is more robust than the monolock case I’ve used for the past few years and the locking mechanism actually works when you close the lid. That’s been a blessing. But even more of a blessing has been the ride experience with the luggage on - it really doesn’t impact the ride anywhere near as much as just a topbox does on a sportier bike. The topbox alone doesn’t seem to make any difference at all, even when fully loaded and carrying 2 Almax 1.5m chains and a squire lock. He ain’t heavy, he’s my security chain! With the topbox and the panniers, it really is easy to pack more than you should (with the exception of a tent - I need to find a smaller packsize tent!) and you could easily go away for weeks with this setup. You won’t be able to filter in London, but unless you bought a BMW just after watching The Long Way Somewhere, you shouldn’t really find yourself needing to ride around London day after day with panniers attached.

Of course, even in the good, there can be bad. In traditional Suzuki quality, the right hand pannier lock selector doesn’t work and you can remove it from the frame regardless of where you set that. I need to strip the assembly down and look at it, but so far it hasn’t fallen off. Additionally, the way that the fairings meet the tank make my old Oxford magnetic tank bag useless as the front magnets have nothing metal to make contact with and hold onto, so you may need to consider a tailpack or a waist bag if you rely on a similar tankbag.

Speaking of Suzuki build quality… I’ve not missed that experience on my Hondas :smiley:

This model is the factory GT unit with a Suzuki fitted rear rack and pillion frame. Wherever this was fitted, it seems that copper grease is in short supply, so when it came time to remove the luggage system to wire in the Autocom, 3 out of 10 bolts were completely siezed. Two came out with a screw extractor, but the final one needed drilling. Even after drilling a hole completely through the centre of the bolt, I couldn’t remove the outer core that remained attached to the threads. Given that the rest of the bike is in immaculate condition with no marks or rust and was allegedly garaged, this is unacceptable. To be on the safe side, I’ve removed most of the fairing and other external facing bolts, copper greased them and refitted them with the torque wrench where applicable.

There are other places where you can see the Suzuki build quality in the metal finish on the mirror mounts and the key barrel, but these are minor issues if you’re buying the bike to ride, not to pose on. I’m confident that with some ACF50 and a cover that breathes, it’ll make it through this winter in good condition.

While you do get a lot on this model, you don’t get any security out of the box. There is no immobiliser like the Honda H.I.S.S (for all the good that does). This may or may not be reflected in your insurance quote, but even without any default security my insurance on this is around £250 per year cheaper than the Hornet was and about £320 cheaper than the CBR600F.

So … do I still hate this bike? Do I still loathe it ?

The answer is no - I don’t loathe it anymore. I doubt it will ever excite me like a Hornet or a CBR, but I also doubt it will ever wear me out and bring me as close to tears as they did. It’s built for a purpose, and when used for that purpose it’s an extremely good bike. Despite only being a 650, it will happily cruise for hour after hour on the highway. Get off the motorway and it’ll put a smile on your face and a song in your head (note - you need to restrain yourself once the autocom is fitted, TRUST me on this!). Going away for a weekend or a week is really simple, and when you get there, the luggage comes off quickly and you get your day bike back.

The suspension goes up, the suspension goes down, and 1-up or 2-up, you go. Anywhere. Anytime. For as long as you want. And when the sun sets or you stop for lunch at a pub next to a canal with ducks, swans and signets, you realise that not every ride needs to be a race to the finish point - some rides are just about being outside and seeing new places.

Now, if you need me, I’ll be on the rack sorting out my parents’ failed specification issues.