Sunday, 22 January 2012

Arrow Exhaust

Hi - just a bit of an update - the Arrow exhaust I ordered from ebay finally arrived a couple of weeks ago.  The address of the site I used, if you are interested, was here.  Got the alloy one myself to save a bit of money, but they also have titanium.  Anyway, figured I would probably put it on myself, but when it arrived in the mail it all looked a bit intimidating so asked a mate to help and we installed it Saturday.  Pipe is very pretty and well made - mechanically minded mate was deeply impressed with all the welds.  The difficulty for me was that there were no instructions at all, just a parts schematic, which helped, but was a little more cryptic that someone of my mechanical abilities would need to attempt it myself - as it turned out I wouldn't have had enough tools or hands to manage it on my own anyway.

We started by removing the stock pipe (obviously) and discovered that the two bolts that attach the header onto the rear cylinder were going to be a drama.  Apart from that it was all pretty straightforward.  But those two bolts are a bitch to get to - at one point it looked like we might have to remove the suspension to manage it but in the end we came up with a different solution for each of the two bolts involving various combinations of extension bars, universal joints, all four hands and a lot of swearing.  Have included photos of the spanner set up we needed to get into them - if you are going to attempt to remove the pipe yourself make sure you have enough bits in your socket set to allow you to construct something like this, otherwise you won't be able to manage it.  When we finally pulled it all off I was shocked at just how heavy the stock pipe is compared to the Arrow system - the difference would be even greater if you shell out for the titanium muffler.

Putting the new pipe on was pretty straightforward apart from the same two bolts in reverse - it all slotted together nicely.  The only slightly tricky bit is whether to bolt it inside or outside the bracket on the frame at the base of the engine - ultimately it will only fit one way, but it is not obvious when you are putting it together which would be best - it turns out it is supposed to go on the inside - again, have attached a photo so you don't waste time figuring that out yourself if you get one.

We fired it up with the baffle in which sounded ok, then pulled it out, which sounded lovely.  The baffle is held in by a clip and a tiny little bit of spot welded metal (which I guess is there for legal reasons) which popped off with a light tap from a screwdriver.  Sounds very fat and nice without the baffle but is not obnoxious.  My mate took it for a spin and by the time he got to the end of the block I couldn't hear it anymore - but could hear a couple of HDs blocks away - so the Arrow is solid and deep without being ear-shattering.  To ride with it is fine - at cruise or idle it is not noticable - you hear it when you crack the throttle, which was what I wanted.  Picking my way through slow moving traffic I am now noticing people checking in their mirrors as I come up through the cars - as used to happen with the Tenere and Staintune.  Which means that the pool of people who might kill me by doing something stupid has shrunk a bit because a few more of them know I am there.  On tour or in the bush I would chuck the baffle back in, but in slow and snotty Melbourne traffic will leave it out.

The oxygen sensor screws in without a drama - the pipe itself comes with a plug so you can remove the sensor altogether if you want - not sure what the advantages of that would be, or why you might pull it out, but if you have some reason to do so then there is a brass plug so you won't have a coin sized hole in the system.  According to the power graphs supplied the bike now makes a bee's dick more power.  I can't really tell to be honest, but I didn't buy it for that.

Then we put on a $2.99 set of heated hand-grip elements that I bought on ebay from somewhere in China.  They worked fine in the driveway, wired into the ignition, but when I tried them on the road they blew a fuse under the seat and killed the bike.  So we basically spent 2 hours installing a self-destruct button.  I have cut the wires to avoid accidentally hitting the switch and killing my bike again - some other weekend I will splice longer wires to them and try to find somewhere with a bit more juice to run them from so I can have warm hands and a bike that moves at the same time.

Anyway, for what it is worth, here is a short video of the bike with the Arrow pipe.  Was going to put up a video of the bike with the stock pipe to compare it to, but I forgot to film it till it was too late.  Also, with the stock pipe it is so quiet you would not have heard anything at all apart from me breathing and I would have had to prove it was on by filming the tacho...

So, basically: Arrow pipe - not completely trivial to put on but very nice and doable if you have an extra set of hands and access to enough tools to get to the rear bolts.  On the other hand the $2.99 hand warmers worked well as a self destruct button, not so well as hand warmers.  You'd expect more for the price of a coffee.  I might write to them and complain :)


Thursday, 24 November 2011

Things I plan to do.

Bits - going to have to wait a bit until all the different outfits start making some of this stuff - but here is what I plan to do at this stage:

Pipe - I don’t know if they often make that much difference to power - but you feel more powerful... mainly I like making a bit more noise so people know I’m there when splitting lanes. Plus you can shave a few k’s off with a lighter pipe. Mainly though I reckon I bit more noise is a safety feature.

Tyres - big fan of Michelin Anakees when the stock ones run out - but will try some low-profile knobbies as well when I get the chance for an adventure somewhere.

ABS - figure out some way of turning it off when I want to - and yeah I’ve seen the video that proves that in a flat braking scenario the ABS stops you quicker in dirt - but that’s not the reason I want to be able to turn it off when off road: I like being able to lock up the rear to control the bike, help steer, and I have gone down hills where the concept of not being able to lock up untenable (walking speed descents while hoping not to fall off cliff and plummet screaming to death etc).

Engine bars - fairing is nice, but turns a piddling 20k’s an hour drop into a 400 dollar plastic welding drama, as happened to me on the Tenere on time. More importantly, now that I have actually got the bike – all those hoses hanging off the right side worry me.

Bash plate - the location of the oil filter on the bike has got to be about the stupidest thing I have ever seen - and the exposed case bothers me. There is apparently one available more or less now at some site - but I don’t like the way it is attached - they claim the bolts holding it to the engine are attached to soft metal brackets, and they are engineers and so are probably right, but it worries me - can’t imagine they would cover it if the bash plate ripped open your engine in the middle of nowhere. Will give it a few months and see if someone comes up with another option.

Heated grips - never had them. Always wanted them. Was on a trip in NZ where I was on an XT600 with three guys on BMW’s. We got caught in a snow-storm going over some pass. After a couple of hours we found a cafe place that had an open fire and we pulled over. At this point I could no longer feel my hands or use the clutch. I stood in front of the fire trying to melt my fingers and prevent frostbite while the other guys stood around and talked about how hot their heated grips had been - too hot, uncomfortable, the grips started to melt, they had to turn them down, they had to put their hands in their pockets to cool them down a bit. Hilarious.

Luggage - some hard luggage for camping gear.

Hand guards - maybe the full alloy bark-buster option, but at the very least some plastic wind protection.

Power socket.  

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

First Impressions

Ok, so I have now picked it up.
Love the look of the thing, apart from the mental oil-filter, which is not only begging to spurt oil all over the place the first time a pebble looks at it - it also makes the bike look a bit like an overly happy dog without any sense of what’s appropriate in public. Apart from that though, it looks good.

I really don't like all the pipes hanging off the right hand side of the engine. See photo. Sticks worry me and the chance of them surviving even a minor off on rocky roads does not seem high. Will need engine bars.
I am still running it in so making a real effort to keep the engine below 5000 rpm, so bear that in mind. It feels like a very comfortable, civilised, competent little package. The engine is very smooth, at least compared to what I am used to. Far too quiet for my taste though – a pedestrian nearly stepped in front of me the day I picked it up – this would never have happened on the Tenere with Staintune pipe. In traffic it is easy and you feel very safe – the height is good for seeing over traffic – has less steering lock than the Tenere did which is a bit annoying for very low speed turning.

The first ride I went on was out of Melbourne up through Bonnie Doon and the Strathbogies. It is such a comfortable and civilised little package that even short-shifting you end up clipping along much faster than you think until you look at the speedo, and with much less effort than the Tenere took. The seat is fantastic. The riding position feels good. The mirrors are easily the closest to being useful of any bike I have ridden.

The range is good. I filled it up after 347 ks, which included city commuting, reasonably spirited back roads, a stint on the highway and another couple of stints on dirt. The fuel indicator was flashing and carrying on but it turned out I had over 3.5 litres left still in the tank. This gives a real range of well over 400ks, and my feeling so far is that you could pull that far without needing to give your backside a rest as the comfort is high.

Off-road it is easy to forget that it is not a dirt bike and begin riding it like one. I have a couple of videos attached – they were taken with a cheap pen cam that I had in my jacket pocket, so the angle is not great, and the sound is terrible. The first is through a fairly tight fire-trail in a forest – I could do this track in my Dad's Saab, it is just that it would take about ten minutes, not two. But the V-Strom was fun. The ABS was not as appalling as I thought it would be – I like the feeling of being able to slam on the front brake without worrying about it locking up and washing out. I do not like not being able to lock up the rear. I have been in situations going down steep hills slowly where you need to be able to lock up, but the main thing is that I use the rear brake to help steer in dirt, and I don't like not being able to lock it up. You can often get the same effect with compression lockups, but it is not as controllable as rear-brake lock, and I have not tried to with compression on the V-Strom yet anyway – I am still running it in. Reckon my ideal set up with this bike off-road would be rear-brake ABS off, front brake ABS on. Don't know if that is possible.

The power is good off-road. Again, the engine is so smooth and civilised you kind of forget how much power is there. It is easy to spin up the rear even keeping the revs low. Would like to know what it feels like with knobbier tyres.

I took it across a dry creek and paddock and up a hill on the farm – have another video attached here. This hill is not one that I would attempt in the Saab, although you might just get away with it if your life depended on it. On a more off-road bike it is trivial. On the V-Strom it is, again, easy to forget you are not on a real dirt-bike. The results can be seen at about 52 seconds when I hit a rock with the front that the suspension couldn't handle – I didn't come off but did get out of shape and ended up stopped with the bike pointing at a tree. But it does it without too much fuss – it is just easy to get carried away and forget that you are not driving a Jeep so much as a Subaru. This is potentially going to be a bit of a crash danger for me - making sure that I don't chuck it around off-road more than the combination of this bike and my skill level can actually cope with - it all feels very easy but it does get out of shape quicker than the Tenere did.  This kind of hill is about the limit to what I would want to do with a pillion on the back.

I took some more videos of me riding through a range of hills on tar, but the pen cam in my pocket was pointing at my right wrist the whole time so they were not worth uploading. This is a shame because that kind of tight bitumen is where this bike excels, and you are not panicking when the surface has potholes in it. A lot more fun that either of the pure road bikes I have had over the same road – and a lot less effort than the more dirt orientated bikes.

Not a big fan of the switch positions. I would rather have the passing flasher as the trigger finger switch – I use the flash a lot more than I need to cycle through the numbers on the digital speedo. This might be just a muscle memory thing from the Tenere though.

Returned to Melbourne on the Hume Highway, easily one of the most boring motorbike rides in the country. It is a ride that quickly reveals how uncomfortable a bike is, as you are not throwing your body around at all – on tight roads when you are moving your body a lot any lack of comfort on a bike is not apparent – on highways it always is. The V-Strom is easily the most comfortable bike I have owned, far less painful to ride on a highway even that the GSXF750 I owned years ago, which is supposed to be a legitimate sports-tourer.

Overall I am so far very happy with it. Although I plan to make a few improvements over then next year or so depending on expense.

Why I am buying it.

Hello, here is the beginning of an infrequently updated blog on the new vstrom 650 (which some call the wee-strom, but I won’t).  Have three posts up, this one, first impressions, and things I plan to do - will probably only update it as I buy a new bit to report on it - so if you are interested then click on follow because it might be months before that happens.

I have recently sold my 96 Tenere XTZ 660, and was thinking for a long time about getting the new one (I love the look of the new model) as I did 45000 k’s on the old one without a hitch - and it had 30k on the clock when I bought it. New Tenere fantasies bought to a halt by the fact I am about to get married. In stature she is kind of like an Ewok, except shorter, so I figured I’d need to get something that is not as ridiculously tall as the new Tenere so there was a chance I could eventually talk her into getting on it with me. Comfortable seating was a high priority for the same reason.

Thought about the F800GS and also the Tiger 800 XC - both of which are far sexier bikes than the Vstrom - problem is that here in Australia a new F800GS is 19,300 ride away, the Tiger 800XC (ABS) is 18,950 ride away, and the brand new Vstrom was: 11,500 ride away (I imagine it will be cheaper shortly, but I am getting one of the first ones). They are better bikes, but 8000 dollars better? Not so sure.

Also thought about a DR650 - if I was still single that would have probably been what I ended up on - a big tank and a screen and you are pretty much ready to go - but again, the ewok factor prevented me going for the DR.

A dark horse contender was the Scrambler - but luggage would be a problem, wind, fuel, and the high pipes would have to go immediately. I know they have a bit of a rep of being just about the look, but I read on some site about some Kiwi’s riding one all over the place off road, and plainly anything a Kiwi can manage an Australian can do as well :)

Have been impressed with the reliability of the two other Suzuki’s I’ve owned (DR250 and GSXF750), so I started thinking about the Vstrom - put reasonable offers on a couple of second hand ones, but neither of them would budge on price and then the new one came out, I liked the look of it, it got good reviews, so I thought I’d wait.

In a perfect world I would get something more dirt orientated because my favourite kind of riding is big 50/50 dirt/road tours (South Island NZ, Tasmania, Central Queensland, North East Victoria) - but in addition to fun riding I also clock up about 10-15000 k’s a year in city commuting - so I figured a more road biased ride might be a nice change. The amount of commuter work I have to do on the bike is also what kept me away from anything too exotic and raw like a KTM. Plus, again, the ewok question.

I reckon, but don’t know yet, that I will be able to do around 70-80% of the roads I have done on the Tenere (and hired Dakars, DRZ’s, XT’s) on the V-Strom, so long as I don’t try and chuck it around too much (or maybe at all) - get a set of knobs and treat it more like a tractor than a jeep. We’ll see.

Why not something bigger?
Because I spent the entire time watching Long Way Round wondering what the hell they were doing on huge GS’s when they obviously would have had so much more fun on Dakar 650’s, and spent so much less time busting stomach muscles trying to pick them up. That German nutter they had filming for them seemed to cope with life better on the dodgy Russian two-stroke he was on at one point than on the big GS. Briefly thought about a second hand 1150, which you can pick up for around what I am paying for a Suzuki, but they are just too big.
Finally, I’ve not had Suzuki or Yamaha let me down with reliability - I know people do big k’s on BMW’s and while the important stuff (engine, transmission) seems bullet proof, on most rides I’ve been on with guys on German bikes there has often been some kind of “minor” mechanical drama which threatened to be a show-stopper (oil spurting everywhere because of some cheap part, coolant squirting out somewhere it shouldn’t, a chain that won’t adjust, pogo stick forks, panniers that have to be repaired with bootlaces, rope, gaffer tape).

Why new?
Because I am about to get married and will now be spending my money on things like house deposit, strollers, “accent pillows.” So don’t know when I’ll be able to buy a bike again - put the deposit down with two weeks to spare :)

Why not wait a few months until there are more of them around and they get a bit cheaper?
See previous point.

Why dirt at all?
I like that kind of riding. Also, around town, they are easier to ride than road bikes - thinner, lighter, easier to chuck around, easier to bump over gutters with, you’re taller and can see over cars - and you’re more visible to drivers. I reckon the low down torquey power of dual sport bikes is better real-world power than outright GSXR horses (certainly in traffic). Even out on rides on public roads they are often quicker than big road bikes - you are not spending half your time trying to rein them in. One trip around Tasmania was pure tar because I was with a mate on a VTR1000 - I was on the Tenere and I spent half the time waiting for him to catch up - partly I am a more experienced rider, but I think that on those kind of tight windy roads I would have been faster on the Tenere than if I had been on the VTR myself. It’s just so much easier to handle the bike and enjoy yourself when you are not worried about breaking traction on the rear or slinging yourself into the side of a hill because you twist the throttle a couple of millimetres too far. I’d rather be on a bike where the limiting factor is the bike, not my lack of freakish alien reflexes.