Group Riding: Keepin’ Up

Nov 16, 2013 View Comments by

Group Riding: Keepin' UpMy primary touring motorcycle is a 2005 Suzuki DL650 V-Strom, and I’ve noticed that an interesting thing happens when I ride with a group of larger displacement bikes. Invariably, someone will comment on how my bike “kept up just fine” at the end of the ride, as if they didn’t think it possible that a 650cc bike could keep up with a 1,200 or 1,400cc machine.

Now here’s the really interesting part; I’m not talking about a group of sport riders slamming corners and riding aggressively, I’m talking about a bunch of guys on large touring bikes or cruisers out for a leisurely ride. Their top speed on the straightaways is around 65 mph or so, and their speed in the corners is significantly slower than I normally ride.

Why is it so bewildering that I can keep up? I’m on a bike with a top speed of at least 115 mph, powered by a sport-oriented motor with a 10,500 rpm redline. My bike probably has a better horsepower to weight ratio, more cornering clearance, and better handling than their bikes as well. Simply amazing that I can keep up, huh.

I realize that perhaps I’m being sarcastic, but it gets old after a while. It’s like I’m being patted on the head and congratulated that my little bike with training wheels did OK. If there’s one thing I’ve learned over decades of riding, it’s that speed attributed to anything other than sheer horsepower-related acceleration has much more to do with rider skill than engine displacement. Once you’ve got a ride capable of obliterating the national highway speed limit, the bike’s ability to maintain legal speeds is not in question. Frankly, I could have sometimes put up a good challenge to the other riders with a decent bicycle and can of Red Bull while on the flatter sections.

Several years ago when I went shopping for a motorcycle with serious touring capability in mind, I settled on the 650 V-Strom after much deliberation. Bowing to what I perceived to be a nearly universal opinion that bikes good for two-up touring started at around 1,000cc, I nearly bought a larger bike. But I couldn’t shake how “right” the 650 felt, even with my wife on the back, and I bought it with the idea that I could always trade it in on something bigger in a couple of years. I’ve owned the 650 for eight years now, and have never, even once, felt like it was too small to perform the task that was asked of it. And as far as keeping up, let me lead for a while on some twisty roads, with perhaps a few miles of gravel thrown in for fun, and we’ll see how things turn out.

For the record, I’ve got nothing against big bikes at all; I just take issue with the mentality that bigger is always better. For some reason, I’ve always looked at what everyone else is doing and tried my best to do the opposite just to see if it works. With some careful thought, it usually does. And maybe that’s one of the reasons why this blog section is called  “Outside the Lines.”


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