A few opening ramblings…
First off, the V-Strom model I am going to speak about is the older generation, not the newer more off pavement-oriented XT models the OEM started producing in 2015. Out of the box the newer style is already geared towards the dirt and can take you farther off the beaten path compared to the ‘classic’ models. What I will talk about here are some general ADV pointers and what it takes to bring the older Strom models, before the headlight reconfiguration, or the new base models from an excellent street-oriented ride to a true ADV tourer. I’m sorry, I have to say it… The only gripe I have on the new models is why did they change the headlight configuration?! It was unique! Everyone could tell a V-Strom by the look in its eyes when it was coming at you, those tall pointy side by side angry bug-like eyes that they changed to an over-under configuration that look similar to a few other ADV bikes…but I digress, back to my initial subject.
Truthfully just about any bike can be modified to make it more ADV-friendly. I ride a Wee and love it so that is my subject, but you can substitute any bike in there that you want (Wee is a weird nickname that V-Strom owners of the 650 kind came up with – I think because it is so fun you can’t help but yell “Wwweeee” whenever you ride it). Also to note, most people think of the V-Strom line as a glorified ADV bike, more of a street bike that you can also take on the occasional forest service road. If you look at the Spec Sheet compared to some of the more dirt-oriented ADV bikes, it’s hard to argue against that point. To name a couple, wheel travel and ground clearance limitations of the Wee make it harder when tackling the path less traveled, but not impossible.
So, what exactly is a cojone?
Arguably the most important things required to take a larger ADV bike on rugged terrain are your brains, your brawn, and your cojones (of the male or female version). I have played and coached sports as well as ran triathlons and I can say that there is no way that I would have expected to just walk off the street into those activities and expected to be successful. As with any skill set you have to study the physics behind it, learn the techniques, and practice. Watching YouTubers and reading articles will only get you so far, but taking an official class with reputable companies like Jimmy Lewis Off-Road Training, Pine Barrens Adventure Camp Riding School, BlackSwanMoto or RawHyde Adventures can be worth their weight in gold. A close second to taking official courses is buddying up with an experienced (and patient) riding buddy. Making sure the riding buddy knows what he/she is talking about can be a crap shoot but watching those videos and reading as many articles as possible should give you a good idea (along with how they carry themselves). If you are lucky enough to have started at a younger age on dirt bikes or dual sports, your experience will definitely transition into the ADV style. Finally, the more you do it, the better you will become: experience gained is wisdom earned.
ADV’ing is hard work so having a solid workout routine is paramount. When the tough gets going you will enjoy the experience much more (and so will your riding buddies) if you don’t collapse out of exhaustion from picking up your downed bike. Plenty of articles out there on different workout styles but some combination of cardio and strength routines will come in handy. The other aspect of muscle would be practicing techniques. When you have split seconds to decide which line to take, muscle memory will help you pilot that bike through, over, or around the obstacle successfully. Take the time throughout the year and especially at the beginning of the season to specifically work on ADV-oriented techniques such as slow maneuvers, balancing, weighting, power turns, skids, riding/powering over small obstacles, etc. I am lucky to have a few practice areas close to home that I can utilize but always take the time when I am out on the ride to consciously practice maneuvers. Your cojones will grow as you become a smarter and stronger rider, but make sure your cojones stay in check. Sometimes not attempting that log jump or river crossing is the right thing to do.
With studying, practicing, gaining muscle memory, and endurance you will enjoy the hardships and use them as a learning experience fueling the next attempt at a difficult line. A few months back I attended the Stolen Pig Rally down in the Hatfield-McCoy area of southern West Virginia. Not the first time I’ve ridden the Wee on ATV trails but my first time riding in the mud. I don’t mean a mud bog here and there, I’m talking a brown sloppy ribbon flowing for miles through the Appalachians. On our first day on the Buffalo Mountain trails I struggled that heavy Wee up the mountain in several inches of mud with multiple brown water holes thrown in for good measure. I dropped the bike at least six times, once on purpose due to cross-rutting. I knew what I was getting into and had a big smile on my face throughout the whole experience. At the first exit point my riding buddy Brian on his Suzuki DRZ400 and I made the decision that the smart thing to do was bail on the trail, head back to the Rally for lunch, and then take on the easier ‘Don McCoy Loop’ through Kentucky. Sweaty, muddy, and fatigued we returned to camp as I rehashed the morning’s ride and thought about what I had learned. The next day with dryer conditions we completed the large loop on Hatfield-McCoy’s Buffalo Mountain and I successfully piloted the Wee through the remaining muddy and rutty patches without dropping the bike. Lesson learned.
Draining the bank accounts…
To get my Wee further off the beaten path the first few things that helped clear out the checking account were crash bars, reinforced hand guards, and adjustable mirrors. My riding buddy Gabe on his BMW F650GS and I took a trip down to Kentucky’s Daniel Boone National Forest a couple years after I started riding. The bike took a nap on a graveled forest service road and my naked Wee took a beating. Dinged up paint, a broken turn signal, a cracked OEM plastic handguard, a bent-up mirror, and a clutch lever snapped in half had me scouring the interwebs for a little protection. Fast forward a few years and Gabe got to witness another gravel nap from the Wee on a ride in Pennsylvania’s Allegheny National Forest but this time with the appropriate crash protection there was no damage to the bike. The reinforced Barkbusters handguard took a bit of a scrape and we had to yank the Givi crash bar out a bit but otherwise the bike was fine. Both bike dives happened in gravel but under different circumstances… a couple more lessons in the books.
A Wee and a KLR walk into a bar…
My riding buddy Brian and his Kawasaki KLR 650 were in the lead heading down one of Pennsylvania’s drivable trails in Sproul State Forest called Sugar Camp Road. Not for the faint of heart, this stretch of madness is full of rocks, loose and embedded, of various size as well as other obstacles from ruts to downed tree branches. Lucky for my wheel travel and clearance we were heading downhill. The tinks and the dinks kept coming as rocks clanged against my Happy-Trail skid plate, around my off-road fender, and off my S-W Motech radiator guard. Then suddenly, a loud clang from the skid plate rattled through the frame of the bike and into my hands… “Oohhh that’s gonna leave a mark”. Before heading to the next drivable trail, a quick look didn’t reveal any major issues except for mud covered headlights which is an added benefit from the shorter stature of the off-road fender. Once home and preparing for an oil change I found a large dent in the skid plate directly below a cracked and bent rear bracket. Brian knows what happens when you ride a V-Strom 1000 down Sugar Camp Road without a skid plate, engines tend to not like extra holes.
The ability to keep your feet comfortably planted on the pegs when you are riding is also a good thing. The OEM pegs have a thin profile and a rubber cover. Great for street riding but not as comfortable when you need to stand for extended periods of time, as many ADV rides entail. The smaller diameter of the peg puts a lot of pressure on a small section of your foot which quickly becomes uncomfortable and adds to rider fatigue. When that rubber gets a bit wet it tends to get slippery too. One of my earlier rides down through Wayne National Forest in southeast Ohio I found myself making a few water crossings with creeks swollen from the spring thaw. The deep rapidly flowing water pushed my foot right off the rubber and I awkwardly completed the crossing to the other bank wobbling on one leg. After another trip with wet and muddy conditions near Hocking Hills in Ohio my foot slipped off the peg, but I couldn’t keep the rubber side down that time. After that, I laid down a couple bucks for a set of Pivot Pegz Mark 3’s. The wider, horseshoe shaped pegs tilt forward and backward making for easier shifting and braking along with a more comfortable ride on and off pavement as compared to the OEM setup. The multi-directional grip pattern of the teethed metal peg has also helped plant my foot on the bike through plenty of wet and muddy conditions since.
Center stands can be a nice addition to any bike. They help make chain maintenance or tire repairs easier, especially on the side of the trail. They can also lower the clearance of your bike and the tang can become another hazard that can catch your leg (I still have a lump where that sucker caught me at the Touratech Rally East a couple years back). Each person would need to weigh the pros and cons and decide on which route to take. On a trip out West with my buddy Shane we had the opportunity to test our trailside repair skills on his Suzuki DR650 and had made different decisions on the need for a center stand.
We were dropping into the desert out of Kaibab National Forest on a section of the Arizona Backcountry Discovery Route when I heard a disgruntled Shane over the Sena Bluetooth intercom. He reported that his bike was handling weird and there was a loud clanging noise coming from the rear. When he came to a stop we could see a V-shaped metal spike protruding from his rear tire. “Hhhmmm, that’s not supposed to be there!” My bike has a center stand, his does not. So, we grabbed several flat rocks and set his DR on top of them (much easier with his lighter bike!). After scavenging through his gear he couldn’t find his spare tubes. Not to worry, even though my Wee runs tubeless I always carry a set of tubes along with my tubeless repair kit. We removed the rear wheel, broke the bead with my Motion Pro BeadPro’s, and pulled one edge of the rubber over the rim. After yanking out the old tube and stuffing in the larger tube we plopped the tire back over the rim. My Dynaplug mini air compressor made short work of pumping it up then we slapped the rear wheel back into place and continued our journey.
Keep the Rubber Side Down!
Arguably the most important tool for the bike when talking ADV riding is the tire. The appropriate shoes will help you run farther down the path, where the terrain gets more interesting. I was new to motorbiking when I picked up the V-Strom so my concentration was on street riding. A set of Michelin Anakee III’s were a perfect match for my first big trip with Gabe and his GS down to the Tail of the Dragon and the Back of the Dragon with a few forest service roads thrown in for good measure (the Anakee’s were not so good on the Daniel Boone wipe-out though!). The Heidenau K60 Scouts helped me conquer more rugged terrain as my off-pavement skills increased along with the help of ADV-specific training from Pine Barrens Adventure Camp. My western trip with Shane called for another upgrade in rubber as I conquered Colorado’s Alpine Loop which included six mountain passes on a set of Mitas E-07 Dakars. Currently I’m transitioning to Shinko 804/805 Big Blocks, with the 804 front matched up with the E-07 rear. This combination helped me search for Sasquatch on a few rough Jeep trails in Wayne National Forest near Marietta, Ohio a few weeks ago with my buddy Brian and his KLR650. After tackling the Mid-Atlantic Backcountry Discovery Route this August, I plan on loading up the 805 rear and testing my mettle on the trails at Wailin’ Wayne Weekend in September just south east of Columbus, Ohio.
F.A.R.K.L.E. – Fancy Accessory Really Kool Likely Expensive
The items and farkles I list are the products I landed on, there are many options out there that can work better, worse, or just as good. Each rider will have to decide what is important for them to add. A few other miscellaneous items to consider that I’ve picked up are handlebar risers, kickstand foot enlarger, a DrySpec tube/bottle, and a luggage system for adventure-touring. I went with 30 mm risers that let me stand more comfortably and with less fatigue due to the more upright position. Another thing I did when adding the risers was to point the clutch and brake levers slightly down to accommodate comfortable hand and forearm positioning in either the standing or sitting position. My S-W Motech foot enlarger helps keep the kickstand from planting into the ground when I must park in the softer surfaces of trails or campsites. A DrySpec tube and bottle comes in handy to carry extra gas when the distance between fuel stops is beyond the range of the Wee or as gas for my camping stove. If I’m riding where there are plenty of gas stops or I’m not planning on cooking, the tube can also be used to carry various items such as extra tools, gear, chain lube/cleaner, etc. Gabe actually rigged his own tool carrier using PVC pipe and twist off caps. Either way it’s always handy to have a little extra space.
Hard or soft? Another hot topic question. I started with OEM hard cases and they helped me not have to pick the bike up as far whenever it went over (reference Boone picture above). After beating on them through my newbie years, one of the cases no longer locks and I have to use a Rok strap to keep it closed (yep, I will still use them on occasion). I picked up a set of Nelson Rigg Adventure Dry Saddlebags recently and they have worked great keeping my stuff dry even in torrential downpours. They have also stood up very well when the bike gets horizontal. With either set-up there is plenty of space for camping equipment and supplies to last as long as you need to live on the road. A bonus of having a rack system is the protection offered to the rear of the bike. I’m pretty sure the rack has saved me from major exhaust damage on several occasions.
Back to MacGyver, I have a list of ride items on a spreadsheet that I consult before planning for a ride. Depending on the type and length of the ride including the potential overnight accommodations (rustic or modern), I will pick my pack accordingly. Some items always make the cut and they include a small customized first aid kit, extra Rok Straps, duct tape, electrical tape, customized tool roll, tire repair items, a mini jump starter, and various sized zip ties. If I’m planning on hitting the trail I will also carry a collapsible shovel to help get me out of any sticky situations (FYI, I’ve had to use it twice so far, which is definitely not a testament of skill). If I don’t need them, maybe one of my riding buddies or a random stranger will. And just like the wise and noble Angus MacGyver, sometimes you will have to use those items in weird and unusual ways.
Attitude is everything…
Regardless of all of that, if you want to take a larger ADV bike off pavement you must have a willingness to fall and a positive attitude. You have to be willing to push the limits of your bike and your skills. If you don’t believe in your head and in your cojones that you can do something then do yourself a favor and don’t even attempt it, you will fail. You have to believe that you can do something and visualize victory if you want to succeed. But guess what, sometimes you will still falter. The key is that you have to have the attitude that everything is a learning experience that will eventually make you better.
People join the ADV community for the sense of adventure and to challenge themselves physically and mentally. It is not easy and not everyone can do it or wants to, to each his/her own. The only way to find out if you can is to take the plunge and give it a try. Stay positive, pay more attention to the small victories over the bad stuff and learn from your own mistakes (and from the mistakes of others). That being said, you should perform an after action report after each ride, what went well and what didn’t. Do the good stuff again and again (muscle memory comes from repetition). Learn something from what didn’t and make adjustments for it the next time.
There is an inherent risk in riding an ADV bike off-pavement, it is a matter of personal preference for the risk versus reward. If you don’t think the risk is worth it or if you don’t want to risk getting your bike a little dinged up then stay on the tarmac. If you do take the risk you have to be prepared to have rough days, you have to be prepared to pick your bike up a few times, and you have to be prepared for adversity. The reward for making it through the adversity will lift your soul. Nothing like taking your ADV bike where few others dare to tread.
Wee-Strom: Street Bike or True ADV?
So, what is the answer to that question? For me, the answer is both. The mighty Wee is excellent for short- or long-haul Adventure Touring with its comfortable upright riding position. Load it up with farkles and you can drag those pegs on any of those excellently twisty pavers out there, ride comfortably on the interstate, and pull up looking cool at any Starbucks. Throw down a small mint on appropriate off-road extras and veer off that twisty tarmac onto the less travelled dirt and gravel roads with confidence. Oh wait, what’s that, a trail over there? Oh yeah, let’s go…