Monday, March 31, 2008

DL650A Driving Report: April 2008

After several weeks of regular riding, I am getting a better feel for this great bike and, generally speaking, it is a very good feeling indeed. Here is my experience with the Wee thusfar:

As an adventure tourer/street/commuter all-purpose design, my 2007 Suzuki DL650A (ABS) V-Strom is a superb example of power and comfort for less than $7200 MSRP (due to hogh demand this figure could be potentially more in 2008 at some dealerships). It's also a class act in providing a versatile cycling experience encompassing both economy and performance. Capable of attaining mid-50 mpg fuel consumption, its 5.8 gallon tank can carry the conservative rider upwards of 250 mile on a single filling. At $3.40 per gallon (for now), a $19.72 87-octane fuel investment translates into an 8 cents per mile operating cost. (I used to get that scale of economy with my car - no more!)

Ride position/comfort and overall handling is above average for a bike of this price range and its popularity in the touring circles confirms its rightful place among much more costly models. A few more thousand dollars will transform the basic configuration into a worthy touring machine. Keeping it stock is all you will need for street/weekend and commuting purposes. Make what you want out it - the Wee will deliver!

Engine performance from the 650cc v-twin is steady and strong - its proven SV650-derivative powerplant has been tweaked and upgraded from the original design specifically for this model. Dependable and easily maintainable, you mostly get on it and ride. The six-speed gearbox is easy to use with many situations needing just a single downshift to add power or engine braking for turns and speed zones. My 2007 model is surprisingly buzzfree at any speed and grunts nicely during acceleration to let you know it doing its job. Low speed rolloffs in high gear are very doable around 3 grand, but I'll drop it down a cog or two to get the good stuff when I'm not lazy. The suspension is more than adequate for a non-aggressive driver like myself and easily upgraded if need be. I've found it to be fine for my 190 pounds plus gear. Skilled riding techniques will reap much of what this bike can do from the factory without pouring a lot more money into it.

In the handlebars department, the 'up and back' barbacks that came with mine helped my reach a lot - rotating them a tad brought my hand/wrist positioning into proper alignment and alleviated all of the initial discomfort. A pair of $9 Grip Puppies will further improve the grip experience and a set of $28 Symtec heated grips has extended the riding season as well. Handling is as good as you are - get to know this machine and you'll be happy with its response from milque toast puttering to pushing it in the curves. With it's lower torque and wide power band, Suzuki has done a remarkable job of transforming its sportbike SV cousin into a long distance newcomer.

The cable operated clutch on the DL650 is smooth and positive - especially after I disassembled, cleaned, relubricated and adjusted the clutch release mechanism. This procedure is covered in the manual as a worthwhile maintenance step to repeat for each riding season. Shifting is very solid and smooth - I haven't had any 'false neutrals' or anything else for that matter. After a few hours of operation, this is one area where you begin to sense the level of quality that's built into the V-Strom.

Adding a $128 Kevin Baker Fork Brace was also a smart move. Fork stability is clearly improved with this accessory in long sweeper turns, rough pavement and windy conditions.

What can I say about the ABS braking that hasn't already been expounded on thoroughly? ABS adds a whole new level of safety and is easily the most valuable feature on my Wee - immediate maximum brake power at any time with no dangerous side effects is worth the paltry extra $500 they ask for, in my opinion. Thanks to BMW's relentless brake development, tests have shown ABS to be consistently safer and more effective than any degree of manual braking techniques. Required as standard equipment on all Canadian units, the U.S. is being starved for ABS models with no expectations of seeing any in showrooms all year! As a result, finding a DL650A in the U.S. during 2008 has been difficult to impossible - while non-ABS models are commanding their highest prices to date. (So glad I snatched up my 2007 ABS Wee late last year - whodaknown?!)

I repositioned the rear brake pedal as far down as I could to cover the pedal more effectively in traffic. Also replaced the anemic factory rear brake pads with EBC's sintered HH-rated pads. I can now start to learn how to trail brake the rear wheel during turns like the big boys...

Also adjusted the gear shifter downwards quite a bit to get at it more easily and keep my left foot at the ready to downshift. Replacing the front stock sprocket with a 16-tooth OEM GXSR 600 front chain sprocket removed 300 rpms for a longer first/second shift pattern at takeoff and lower the engine speed on the highway.

Raising and angling the Windstrom windscreen from its stock position has smoothed out the airstream a good bit - more would be better. This process might take a while to maximize but is an important step in improving the riding environment.

As reported by the original owner, in just 6,000 miles he replaced the original rear Trail Wing tire with an Avon Distanzia after repeated trips on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Since I've owned the bike, the front TW was showing its age a bit prematurely with remaining tread producing a 'lumpy' feel as if I was feeling the tire casing. For the 2008 season, I replaced it with a V-rated Metzeler Tourance and have a super front end again. Tire pressures set to 41psi rear and 36psi front have rendered wander-free straight running, excellent tracking through road snakes, over railroad tracks, etc. I'm finally getting to see the Wee great handling for the first time!

While my Wee came with a pair of Givi side hard cases, I added a Bestem 52-liter hard case on top. There doesn't seems to be any issues with them regarding aerodynamics or fuel mileage. I'm getting a consistent 53-54 mpg performance as a 190-lbs. rider in local rides with top speeds of 70-80 mph.

Now, to be honest, this bike IS top heavy. I have already tipped it over once trying to make a slow speed turnaround in a driveway - my fault of course for not having practiced that maneuver beforehand. However, it is very different from my much smaller dual sport Honda NX250 and, as a more 'full figured' motorcycle, requires a different mindset. Nonetheless, I love the Wee's overall ride/handling qualities am have become much more confident of its abilities the more I ride (duh!). It's size and weight is simply perfect for everything from highway and state roads to twisty secondary roads.

Reading a copy of Lee Park's performance riding book has been an excellent education in motorcycle dynamics and as I implement those principles I am certain my ability and confidence will better match the Wee's abilities. After a recent 4-hour roundtrip run from Knoxville to Rugby, TN through everything from typical intown traffic to state route twisties, the Wee is the kind of bike you don't want to park.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Images Set in Concrete

We're visiting yet another plant this week - a cement plant in Florida. The following images were shot to offer a scope of the size of this plant and its panoramic landscape - varying at a distance of 10-30 miles away, we could see the entire skyline from Ft. Lauderdale all the way to Miami and South Beach! Enjoy...

First, the freight elevator takes us up to around 350 feet...

The various plant systems lay before us - don't know what is what, really.

This is one of several ponds - that was an easy call, I know.

Their concrete fabrication inventory is enormous and provides the components needed for tilt-up concrete buildings and other structures.

Meanwhile, train cars snake around the complex delivering raw process materials.

On our floor, huge steel process structures surround us doing the job of making cement.

At over 300 feet elevation, these huge process ducts dwarf the superstructure holding them up.

Our emissions testing equipment draws flue samples out of the stack for characterization analysis. Flow velocity, CO, dioxins and particulate are several of the parameters being measured at this site.

I'd love to tell you what this is for... I just can't.

Massive piping meets up with even more massive vessels as the cement process goes on and on.

Appearing like a giant waffle iron, these forms add rigidity to the structural steel they are welded to.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Power to the People!

We shift gears again and return to some photography taken while stack testing at a power plant. This plant is undertaking massive construction of pollution control modifications to minimize its harmful emissions, these images will give a scope of the structures and environment.


These four fiberglass composite stacks each measure 20 feet across and are contained in a single concrete 'stack'. They receive flue gases from the four main boilers that provide the power to generate electricity.

Looking up the interior of the larger exterior stack wall.

Here is our only transportation. We squeezed personnel and equipment into it to take us 420 feet above! (I made at least 30 trips on it during our three days of testing.)

The coal yard and cooling ponds alongside the muddy Ohio River.

Coal barges are constantly navigated to the site for offloading 24 hours a day.

Fellow stack testers set up their monitoring equipment.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

2008 Riding Season - Are You Ready?

Well, I'm ready. Really ready, that is. My first ride of the season to Norris Lake a few weeks back and another one today tell me the V-Strom is ready for the 2008 Riding Season.

First rides of the season are a big deal only because they're the start of more rides. Six to seven months of rides to be exact. Long one. Short ones. Every one of 'em. And getting ready for those rides is a big deal. Cuz this means work. Fixing, adjusting, adding, changing, finding, buying, and eventually finishing everything you set out to do so you're really actually ready to ride this spring. This process usually requires working in a cold, poorly lit garage, repeated unplanned spending of parts and supplies, and huge sacrifices in quality TV viewing. Why? To make the 2008 Riding Season better than last year's. There's also the hours spent on internet research. More hours spent keeping up with your bike's forum members for all those details and insight you can't get anywhere else. Then, choosing the right items that will make your ride truly deluxe. There's never enough time or money. We must prevail. Spring is coming!

I bought my 2007 DL650A in December and had put only a few hundred miles on it until mid-February. In the meantime, I had my 2007 Winter To-Do List. Did I get it all done? You bet I did! Everything on the list is crossed out. What did it take?

- Repositioning the rear brake pedal for better leverage and quickly activating the tail light made all the difference in rear brake operation. Replaced the stock rear brake pads with a new set of EBC HH-rated sintered pads. I am now able to easily operate the rear brakes to the point of activating the ABS for maximum performance. This fixes the flaccid factory braking syndrome many DL650 riders are experiencing.

- Adjusting the shift lever all the way down for a more ergonometric grab with my right foot was big help.

- Careful handlebar and clutch/brake lever repositionings worked for me and took the pain out of my forearms. If I concentrate on my posture now, riding is really quite comfortable.

- An Eastern Beaver fuse box/relay harness is wired up and powering accessories with plenty of room for future add-ons.

- Symtec heated grips have been installed and are an absolute must-do! Not having to wear thick winter gloves is a big step in maintaining safe control in cold weather. The best $36 accessory I have added thus far.

- A Kuryakyn LED battery meter is keeping real-time tabs on the DL's power usage.

- The Bestem top box tail light and LED side markers will add some visibility, but I really want to convert the turn signal-only assemblies into a true parking/turn signal configuration.

- Two new Richland Rick RAM-mount mirror extenders are mounted and ready to accept future RAM-mounted accessories during 2008.

- A 16-tooth Suzuki OEM Gixxer 600 front sprocket has already proven to be a better gearing partner for the stock rear sprocket over the stock 15-tooth spec. This install included a thorough cleaning, lube repacking and adjustment of the clutch release mechanism - a good seasonal chore for us all.

- A Bestem 46-liter removable top box now holds my HJC CL-31 helmet and other riding gear. My Cortech GX jacket fits in one of the Givi side cases for a complete stow at the curb.

- A black Kevin Baker DL fork brace has stabilized the front end for smoother turns and better tracking in rough pavement conditions.

- 3M Black Reflective Tape has been applied on the frame and hard cases for better night visibility. I added some stylish patches on my helmet too.

- My PVC Koozie Kola Kooler drink carrier will keep me slaked on those longer roads.

- And there's fresh Shell Rotella T 5-30W synthetic oil in the crankcase for a long season of get-on-it-and-go convenience.

Now that's a feel-good post for any rider! If you spent last winter prepping your beastie for Spring of 2008, you know what that means. This year is gonna be the best one ever - we made sure of that!