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By AZLAN RAMLI

I HAD a delightful road trip recently; it was not far, let alone international, where I reconnected with two old friends over a lengthy teh tarik session (better, it was unplanned!), revisited some wonderful childhood memories and travelled on excellent new roads plus some near-forgotten ones, with pretty and quaint sceneries along the way. Sounds meh to many of you globetrotters but in these pandemic times, most of us by now should appreciate the simple things in life.

The trip was made more memorable with the new Suzuki V-Strom 650XT under my care for a few days. With many states still in Phase 3 or lower of the National Recovery Plan (NRP), I decided not to go too far with it. So, Perak was once again my destination, my hometown Ipoh the furthest I’d go up north from Kuala Lumpur.

By now, I’m quite tired of the North-South Expressway (NSE) stretch linking Kuala Lumpur and Ipoh and the same goes with the trunk road (Federal Route 1 – the country’s first and oldest federal road) that my family and I have traversed on so many times before that expressway was constructed.

Another KL-Ipoh road option is the coastal road or the Federal Route 5, one of the three north-south oriented federal roads running along the peninsula’s west coast; the Klang-Teluk Intan road, in my case. However, I very rarely use it, due to the road’s perpetually bumpy-bad condition, thanks to it being a popular trunk road for trailer lorries. But I was told before the trip that the terribly long-delayed West Coast Expressway (WCE) was almost completed.

The V-Strom would be just the kind of ride for my trip to the Manjung district in Perak, with the possibility of staying at one of the many beachfront hotels there. I opted to use the coastal road and WCE, entering the NSE from the Jalan Duta (KL) toll plaza and headed north till I exited the expressway and entered the KL-Kuala Selangor Expressway (KLS, also called the LATAR Expressway) and made my way west, towards Kuala Selangor.

From there, I turned right, headed north again, along the Klang-Teluk Intan road, where I was to pass through Kuala Selangor, Tanjung Karang, Sekinchan, Sungai Besar and Sabak Bernam before entering Perak.

Right from Kuala Selangor, the ride was very refreshing; instead of the usual palm plantations that flank the NSE from the capital to Ipoh and the same-but-with-small-towns along the Federal Route 1, this one has many palm trees too, but in-between them were the straits of Malacca, large rivers meeting it, many kampung areas and breathtaking paddy fields.

The V-Strom effortlessly rolled along, nicely soaking up the bumps and undulations, its power easily dealing with slow motorists, keeping up with the fast ones and at stoplights, leaving everyone behind with its burst of V-twin power.

I happily blasted along the Perak side of the WCE, where the tarmac was awesomely new and traffic was super quiet – thanks to the state still in Phase 3 of the NRP – until I reached the Manjung district. There, I visited my family’s favourite seaside holiday destination, Teluk Batik, dropped by our preferred chalet there to reminisce about wonderful childhood memories, took some selfies and photos of the Suzi at a few spots between Teluk Batik and Lumut, before heading towards Ipoh, as my friend was a bit busy and could only meet me the next day.

Besides, due to the state’s Phase 3 of the NRP, staying at a hotel in Seri Manjung or even Teluk Batik would’ve meant a terribly boring evening for me, nice beach or not. He told me there’s another ex-schoolmate who also lived in the same town.

That’s great! The V-Strom is such a nice machine to spend many hours on, I did not hesitate to come down to Seri Manjung again on the next day, where I spent about three awesome hours of catching up with two old friends I’ve known since we were seven years old. I haven’t met one for about 25 years and the other I’ve not seen since 1988!

Superbly Strom-ing along

The V-Strom 650XT is a middleweight “sport adventure tourer” (according to Suzuki Motor Corporation) in its third generation since model year 2017. This made-in-Japan bike is also variously categorised as dual sport, sport enduro tourer, street/adventure, commuter or the unappealing “entry-level”.

Whatever it is called, you can see here what kind of machine it is – the motorcycle version of an SUV, engineered to do a bit of everything: commuting, cruising, adventure touring and some “soft-roading”. Suzuki promotes the V-Strom 650XT for:

– Every day commuting

– Rough and wet conditions

– B-road twisties

– Long highway stretches

– Two-up comfort.

Except for the “two-up comfort” part, I did experience the rest and after a few days with it, I’m glad to say that Suzuki is very honest – “The ultimate tackle to do it all. The tool that never lets you down. Think of a task, a challenge, an adventure. The answer to every thought. V-Strom 650.”

Well, not exactly the answer to my every thought, but yeah, I know what the company means and the V-Strom performed exceptionally well during the ride.

The ride from Seri Manjung to Ipoh was wet, wet and wet, all the way; the skies opening up as I was about to leave for Ipoh. No worries, the V-Strom handled itself deftly along the trunk roads that took us through Sitiawan, Ayer Tawar, Seri Iskandar, Tronoh and Menglembu, before reaching Ipoh. Yup, it has taken me through rough and wet conditions, B-road twisties and long highway stretches, by then and I was still up for a visit to see another old friend/schoolmate in Ipoh. I really love this Suzi!

Some research by a renowned media organisation half a world away mentioned that the V-Strom 650 (of any variant) consistently outsells the larger V-Strom 1000/1050 and its little V-Strom 250 brother. It’s probably because the middleweight adventure-tourers (with 500cc-650cc engines) are the kind of bike Goldilocks would’ve preferred, if she is a biker on the run from the law for breaking-and-entering some bears’ home, i.e. not too little on power, performance and features, while not too much to unnecessary horses/torque, weight and gadgetry.

The latest generation V-Strom 650XT is powered by a liquid-cooled, 645cc, 90-degree, V-twin engine that delivers strong torque in the low- to-mid rpm range and an even stronger rush in high rpm power via a six-speed transmission. The bike is equipped with two-mode traction control system, an easy start system, low RPM assist feature and anti-lock brake system. Curb weight is a decent 216kg.

Other features include a subtle and effective fairing, a three-way adjustable windshield, simple combination of an analogue tachometer and digital speedometer, a DC charging outlet, hand guards, a protective lower engine cowl, wire-spoked tubeless wheels and a 20-litre fuel tank.

With a 170mm ground clearance that is not intimidating to most riders, a strong and light chassis and integrated mounting points for luggage designed for easy clip on and off, it is a machine that offers no complications and costly, complicated repairs should things (ever) go wrong.

All those, together with a supple suspension system, two spark-plugs per cylinder and 70hp (at 8,800rpm) and 62Nm of torque (at 6,300rpm), makes it more than enough to cruise at relaxed, kampung-road speeds and if need be, way past legal speed limits, with lots of load.

Other than my little 135cc moped as my daily urban commuter, this V-Strom 650XT would be my choice of bike, if I am allowed to have only one other bike forever. It is very easy to deal with, has the typical Japanese reliability, very well built, fit and finish; is powerful enough to take me around the world and has lasting looks that are still all right in the years to come.

The Suzuki V-Strom XT is priced at RM37,989 (suggested retail price without insurance and registration) and is available in Candy Daring Red/Glass Sparkle Black and Champion Yellow.

*”V-Strom” is a combination of “V” referring to the bike’s engine configuration with the German “strom”, meaning stream (flow, rush, gush, surge, torrent, outpouring, outflow, current … of powerrr!).

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