It only took sitting on it to decide I wanted one. In a market saturated with bikes with punitive ergonomics, or blinding acres of chrome, or pavement-buckling weight, the V-Strom reminded me of the motorcycles I grew up on—light, narrow bikes with tubular handlebars and sit-up riding positions, and the willingness to go just about anywhere and do anything I felt like trying.
On the ride home on my yellow ’03 the first thing I noticed was how fast it was, like a 90-horsepower dirt bike. The next thing was how well it did everything, from scooting along twisty backroads to cruising the highway to plonking down the occasional logging road. At about the 5,000-mile mark, however, a vibration crept into the 3,500-4,500 rpm range. At first I wrote it off to the big V-twin motor not liking to be lugged down that low, but as time went on the vibration got worse, and I accepted what I’d heard rumored on the Internet—that ’02 and early ’03 VStroms had bad clutch baskets. I had mine swapped out under warranty for the updated basket at 7,000 miles, and the engine has been smooth from idle to redline ever since.
I added a number of accessories that made the bike more useful for the kind of riding I do most. The Givi trunk and huge Happy Trails panniers, the Cee Bailey’s tall windscreen, and the custom made seat by Bill Mayer Saddles made the most difference, turning a short-hopper into a long-hauler. I’ve experimented with several sets of auxiliary lights mounted on the Givi crash bars, but none have added much to the excellent stock dual headlight, which ranks among the best I’ve ever ridden behind.
In keeping with the bike’s all-weather mission I installed Hot Grips heated grips, and because I inherited the faulty human male directional gene I added a Street Pilot GPS receiver, which also keeps the stock speedo honest. A set of DP brake pads replaced the wooden-feeling stock pads. After the stock Bridgestone Trailwings wore out I tried a set of Michelin Anakees. They were an improvement over the Trailwings, but the Dunlop D607s currently on the bike outshine them both, especially on the pavement where they feel more like a street tire than dualsport rubber.
The bike has been a willing accomplice on my adventures for 15,000 miles now, and the clutch problem aside, I’ve had no complaints about its performance or reliability. It burns no oil, makes no ominous noises, and asks nothing more of me than regular gas and a shot of chain lube now and then. I couldn’t ask more of it, except maybe to make its own payments.
(This article was published in the July 2005 issue of Rider magazine as a sidebar to Taking Baja by ‘V-Strom.)