I have done it. Not quite – there is still the money in my pocket and the V-Strom in my garage. But I’ve gone and fallen in love with the idea of a Triumph Bonneville. How? The other day I was playing the “hypothetical next bike” game. The new Triumph Tiger 800 was the obvious winner. But what’s that bike over there? Hey that would look pretty cool with a set of hard cases and a solo seat – a mini Road King or a modern Vincent Rapide – naked touring bikes of the past. The cafe racer of my dreams would never meet my practical needs of a daily commuter and light tourer, but something like a classic standard could be modified to fit the bill.
This has prompted me, for the time being, to assess my current ride — the pro/con list.
What the V-Strom has going for it (as compared to a naked standard such as the Bonneville):
Comfort over distance – I was lucky to get a seat that had been “fixed” by the previous owner with a gel insert. The stock seat is a weak spot on the Strom, I understand. The upright seating ergos and relaxed knee bend help. No-seam synthetic underwear helps too. On my sporty SV I could barely walk after a 400 mile day. Last summer I did a 4-day 2,000 mile trip (600+ on the last day) with no problem.
Wind protection – was not high on my list – I love a naked bike – but that’s the way it comes. I don’t mind it. Fortuantely I am short, and have the Madstad bracket, so I don’t suffer some of the weird annoying vortexes of doom, like other Strom owners.
Hand protection – The hybrid dual-sport / adventure tourer is the only street going bike that can get away with hand guards and not look out of place. I put some on my SV last winter, just to survive, but it sure was silly looking.
Ugly duckling styling – This cuts both ways. It’s cool to have a bike only an owner could love. To feel like the only one who gets it. This feature could also be described as character. But it does gets old having to explain what it is, what this type of bike is derived from, that its not a BMW , that its not a crotch rocket, not a rice burner, that it is not nearly as fast as it looks with those aggressive batman headlights.
Modern frame and suspension – Strom has a rigid trellis frame and a hefty monoshock suspension. Supposedly this helps in “handling”. My last bike was more traditional with a cradle frame and dual shocks. But then I was so green that I was pissing myself through every corner anyway, and would not have known the difference. I wish I could line them up next to each other in a track setting and have the nuances explained to me. Do cradle frames and dual shocks wallow in the corners by comparison? All I know is that trellis frames and monoshocks are “better”. I do not know if my riding style & level, even in the twisties, pushes the envelope to the edge of “it matters”.
Luggage – Being an adventure tourer, this bike was designed for luggage, and able to handle it. Again thanks to the previous owner, who was preping for a tour of South America, mine came with SW Motech quick mounts and a set of Whitehorse Afrika panniers. If I were to switch bikes, a substantial sum would need to be spent on outfitting it for luggage. The choices are much limited and trend towards soft-sided for the Bonnie. One would have to get creative and/or spend some bucks.
Quality – Bulletproof go-forever Japanese quality. Not the fit or finish of a European bike, but this thing never breaks, and is cheap to fix.
Cult following – and they don’t evangelize, throw toast at you or serve kool-aid.
Edited to add, after a Bonnie test ride and a weekend of inner reflection:
5 Gallon Tank – range is approx 225 miles of you push the envelope. Fuel first warning at about 185, which means 1 gallon or 40 miles-ish remaining. I usually refill around 200. I was reminded of this when the Bonnie guy I spoke with said he starts looking for a gas station at 120 miles. No way.
That headlight – It’s better than my car, on high beams. The large double-eye size makes for a higher visibility profile as well. I get a lot less “didn’t see you” incidents than on my single headlight bikes.
Versatility – “Adventure Tourers” are the only mid-size touring (or touring-convertible-friendly) bikes around. Considering the others in its class, (BMW F650, etc) the V-Strom arguably has them all beat on base budget and maintenance cost. Most other bikes with touring aspirations start at 1100cc and go up from there. See comfort, luggage sections, above. Smaller engine = lighter weight = more agility and maneuverability for a bike that is arguably bulky and top heavy. The “tiny” Bonneville is 17 lbs heavier than the Strom.
Too Tall – often cited as a flaw, but really more of a unique characteristic for a street bike. You don’t notice it at cruising speed, but sometimes comes in to play in slow speed maneuvers, and parking situations. Often you do feel like you are sitting on top of the bike, looking down in to cars. This feature gives you offroad-capable ground clearance, which I have never taken advantage of, and don’t see myself ever really needing. But it is derived from the bike’s dual-sport heritage.
Ugly Duckling Styling– see above. Add to that, body proportions are awkwardly top heavy. Large-shouldered. Like a bison on stilts. As an owner, a proud parent, it grows on you. But nobody gets it.
Could be sportier – Considering the sporty track-day favorite SV-650 shares the same engine, albeit with more aggressive cams and gearing, it’s a shame the Strom is as detuned as it is. Or that they didn’t offer a street friendly higher HP version, with the tourquier version for the true dual-sporters. A la the Triumph Tiger and Tiger XC. Obviously a supply/demand/cost-of-tooling compromise.
Engine is ugly – Not quite the mess of wires and tubes that the Ducati Monster is, but water-cooled and naked never did make for a sweet looking engine bay. Never big deal among sport riders. But it can become a factor among aesthetes like myself, in the end.
I hate red – Maybe I could cure this 7-year-itch by painting it flat black and getting some cool decals for it. But then I worry about the resale value, should I need to sell it due to an emotional impulse purchase of something.
To be continued…