Overall, I was very happy with my 2008 Suzuki V-Strom 650 ABS. I had no mechanical issues in 5,300 miles (or the rest of its 28,000 miles). It never overheated, was hard to start, or acted strangely. The bike averaged about 40 mpg the entire trip. Considering my average highway speed in Mexico was 85-90 mph, the Givi 52 top case, square 40 liter Caribou Cases, and full crash protection, I think that is very respectable fuel mileage. No doubt, my one-tooth higher 16t front sprocket helped. I consistently got 200 comfortable miles between fill ups. The only time I worried about a 200 mile range was when riding in very windy conditions. In heavy wind (side or head) the bike would average about 37 mpg (at 80-90 mph, of course).
The 650 was also very comfortable. I did several 500+ mile days and even a 750 miler. Other than the bars being a touch too far forward, it is well suited to highway touring. My bike is equipped with heated grips, an outlet for a heated vest, a Madstad windshield bracket, bar risers, enduro hand guards, Sargent saddle, and Happy Trails highway pegs. The 16t counter sprocket adds to highway comfort as well. Worth noting is my size: 5'10.5", 190 lbs., 31 inch inseam.
Finally, the V-Strom is a fun bike to ride - especially when unloaded. It's nimble once in motion, and loves darting in and out of cars in congested city traffic. At sea level, the 650 twin has plenty of power in any situation as long as you keep the revs in the 4000-6000 range. Its midrange is surprising sometimes. Touring two-up was not an issue as long as you took a little extra care when overtaking. I never felt like the bike was overwhelmed.
The only real complaint I have is the suspension. It's crap. The settings are either too soft or too hard. For my size, I could probably benefit greatly from an aftermarket shock and heavier progressive springs on the front. I have a fork brace, which I feel makes a noticeable improvement in the handling.
In conclusion, it's my opinion the V-Strom 650 is a fantastic budget do-everything motorcycle. I imagine the 2012 and later models are even better - lighter, slimmer, more powerful, higher mpg, and better dash.
Give 52 Top Case
- 5 Stars. I've had this on the bike almost since it was new (28,000+ miles ago). This case is great and I'd give up my side luggage before I gave it up. It holds and unbelievable amount of stuff. It's well made and durable. I have optional LED running/brake lights installed. They are very bright and make the bike much safer.
Caribou 40 Liter Cases
- 3 Stars. I put these on right before the trip. They are high quality and durable (I tipped over on them in the sand and nothing happened). Mine are mounted on Hepco Becker Lock It Side Racks. They were a pain to install. Since the cases open side-ways, you HAVE to have a gear management system. It took one night of camping to realize I should have bought the optional liner bags (I ordered them yesterday). Having all my random stuff sacks and mid-sized items in one bag would have made a huge difference on the trip. Instead, I was constantly figuring out how to get everything to stay in place as I opened and closed the cases. I would even forego getting something out I wanted just because it was too much of a pain. I think I would have camped more if I had the liner bags. Hotels were easier because everything I needed was in the top case. Camping gear and extra clothing was in the side cases.
Wolfman Explorer Tank Bag
- 4 Stars. This thing is great. It's big and can be expanded. It's like the Givi trunk - you can always cram one more thing in it. It unhooks quickly and has a shoulder strap. This made it easy to take it into a store or bathroom. I kept most of my valuables in it since it was always with me or locked in a hotel room. The clear map case on top is a huge plus.
- 3 Stars. I put this on the bike soon after I bought it. It's better than the mushy stock saddle, but not stellar. My previous bike was a 2007 KLR 650. I put a Corbin on that with a leather top. That saddle was amazing. It transformed the bike. That's the standard by which I rate all other saddles now.
Michelin Anakee II Tires
- 4 Stars. The Anakees are great on the road and in the rain. They wear very well. They're not great in soft conditions, as expected. When the bike wasn't fully loaded, they did surprisingly well in everything but sand or mud. For this trip the Heidenau K60 Scouts would have been perfect.
Happy Trails Highway Pegs
- 3 Stars.
- Essential. Although I didn't do any serious off-roading, the skid plate, crash bars, hand guards, etc. are cheap insurance. The skid plate often scraped the hundreds of speed bumps (topes) I encountered, which are everywhere in Mexico. The V-Strom's exhaust runs along the bottom of the bike.
- Essential. It allows a truly full tank of gas and servicing the rear wheel and chain much easier. At the end of each day of riding I would put the bike on the center stand while it was still running and lube the chain. I would put it in first gear, lube the chain and let it run for a minute. It also made loading the left pannier much easier.
- 5 Stars. Keeps the engine area so much cleaner. It's totally worth $30.
Garmin GPS IV
- Old school and way out of date. Still, a GPS is handy in a lot of ways, not the least of which is letting you know where you are! Since my GPS is basically worthless, I never worried when I left it on the bike.
I took too much. If I had the Caribou Cases bag liners, it may not have been as critical. Still, while I was there and in retrospect, I realized I could have been just as comfortable with much less.
Items I appreciated:
REI Flash 18 Backpack
- 4 Stars. It folds or rolls up into almost nothing. It's perfect for walking around town, going to the beach, on the boat, etc.
REI Flex Lite Chair
- 5 Stars. This may seem like a luxury item but it I'm glad I had it. It too folds up very compactly. Plus it's well made and light. Not sitting on the ground when you're camping makes a huge difference.
Big Agnes Insulated Q-Core Pad
- 4 Stars. I bought this pad specifically because it folds so small, yet is thick when inflated. This allowed me to forego the waterproof duffel bag on the passenger seat, since I was picking up a passenger. The only downside is this pad is not self inflating. It takes about 25 breathes to inflate. It's very comfortable.
Goal Zero Guide 10 Plus Solar Charger
- 5 Stars. This item will keep your phone, iPod, iPad, and AA and AAA batteries charged indefinitely. The unit folds up compactly. It's durable and it really works.
Gerber Folding Shovel
- 4 Stars. This probably seems overkill too, but Baja is sandy! It's useful for digging your bike out. But it's best use is pounding in and removing tent stakes. You'd be surprised how hard those beaches are from decades of car camping.
Black Diamond Orbit Lantern
- 5 Stars. It's bright, it's light, it's compact, it's durable. The batteries last a long time too. Plus it has a dimming feature.
Petzl Zipka Headlamp
- 5 Stars. I have the old one and it's lasted for years. The new versions are probably even better. This lamp has a retractable wire instead of a headband. It sounds uncomfortable but it's not. It's so compact. The batteries last forever.
LifeProof iPhone and iPad Cases
- 5 Stars.
Below is a photo of all the items I could have survived without. I realized I could have easily eaten most of my meals at restaurants. Little shacks selling tacos were almost everywhere. You could often eat several tacos and a beer for less than $5. The rest of the time I could have made do with various snacks.
What I took
What I didn't need
All I really needed
I also took too much clothing. Below are photos.
All I needed
What I could have left home
Aerostich Darien Jacket and Pants
- 3 Stars. I bought these in 2007. The pants are comfortable and durable. They could really benefit from zippered vents and maybe a thigh pocket or two. I've never loved the jacket. It is tough, waterproof, and has plenty of pockets. The two hand pockets on the outside are useless though. The collar will eat your neck until the jacket breaks in. I washed it several times to speed up the process. The laminated velcro tab inside the jacket holding the top of the back pad in place pulled off within the first year. The sleeves seem too short for a size large. The jacket length is too far below the waist. The extra length offers no benefit since it blows upward when riding. My biggest complaint with the jacket, and most Aerostich clothing, is how unattractive it is. The jacket is boxy and dorky. For the price, it should look better. BMW, Klim, Rev'It, among others, make high quality riding gear that also looks good. I would not buy Aerostich riding gear again.
Drayko Drift Riding Jeans
- 2 Stars. I bought these right before my trip. They are a little over-styled, but still look good. They are a slim cut, which I like. They have a 36 inseam so you can hem to your preferred length. I normally wear a 34 in riding jeans, but the 36 was not bothersome since the jeans are not baggy. The front pockets are shallow, but I got used to them. I like them because they double as regular jeans when you arrive at your destination. I give them two stars because after less than three weeks of use the button pulled through (yes, they were sized correctly!). I emailed Drayko asking about warranty but never heard back. I've owned many pairs of $25 Levi's for years that never had this problem. A pair of jeans costing close to $200 should not have this problem.