Blog: Kerrang's Luke Wilkins on bikes part 4
22 April 2009 15:16
Motorbike: Suzuki VZ800 (M800 Intruder) K9 aka "Marsha"
Engine cc: 800
Coolness Rating: (Out of ten) 4,792
So when I took back the extremely fun and liberating enduro monster that was last weeks Tenere, I had no idea what Gary, Jase and the boys and girls at Streetbike had in store for me, and it couldn't have been more different if they tried.
Last weeks bike was a great example of engineering and practicality, but not exactly the prettiest thing in the world, imagine my surprise then when I was greeted by a smiling Jason and the absolutely beautiful Suzuki VZ800, or M800 Intruder as it is known (yeah I know that's confusing, so from now I shall refer to her by her adopted name of "Marsha").
Never before had I ridden a bike that could take my breathe away by its sheer looks, sure I love the aerodynamically correct and futuristic looks of superbikes, the feeling of naked power you get when you look at a Streetfighter, but when it comes down to it, is anything as sexy as an old school cruiser??
I mean look at it, the streamlined headlight unit, the huge exhausts, the comfy old style seat and all that exposed chromed in the engine...................I'm a bit moist just thinking about it! So after the initial shock, and after kissing Jason's feet for lending me this bike, I jumped off and headed for the horizon......literally.
I did have a few apprehensions when I first took the bike out, having had friends who had saved for ages to buy a Harley, only to moan and return it within a year almost without fail, as they are simply not designed to be used on anything except dead straight US Highways with a speed limit of 55mph, and turned out to be useless in the cold, wet, and twisty UK.
I was in for another surprise, because while this may have the stunning looks of the American Classic, it has all the modern engineering you would expect from a Suzuki and wow is it a good combination.
First up let's talk about the engine, a V-Twin 800cc plant that is detuned to deliver nice smooth power throughout the range without kicking up much of a fuss. The effect is like nothing I have felt before, there is so much torque, and the acceleration is constant, but it's not exactly going to keep up with an R1, but that's not the point of this type of bike. Of course they do an 1800cc version of this, if you fancy something a bit more powerful, but I found 800cc more than enough. I was shocked when I realised that it didn't have a rev counter, or a fuel temp gauge, all things that are standard on a high performance bike, but then I realised that this is not about riding the power band, or getting the engine oil temp up before you redline it, in fact I was in for a surprise, as Marsha is all about a completely different riding experience, she is all about cruising, something I am not used to.
Let me explain, when I ride a bike I like the feeling of breakneck acceleration, physics defying breaking, hurling a machine into corners and getting my knee down, and the whole "hanging on for your dear life" sensation. Well I should say I did, because over the last week I have had my eyes opened to a whole new type of biking experience (once again!), and I can tell you now its one I love!
Admittedly the first time I got on the bike I looked like Fred Flintstone with my feet going nine to the dozen as I pulled off, as I couldn't find the pedals and foot rests, and then I realised, instead of having them around your hamstrings, they are in front of you in what must be the most comfy riding position ever. Add to that the fact that you have all your weight over the back wheel instead of the front, and you feel so at ease riding you can actually sit back and enjoy the amazing sensation that a bike like this brings.
With this weight distribution you obviously can't have the huge disc brakes you have on a racer, simply because if you slammed on the front brakes you would lose balance, so the brakes are a tad smaller, and it has a drum brake at the rear, which may seem a tad old fashioned, but it allows you so much more control at slow speed, that even though the bike is a beast, it feels as nimble as a scooter at low speeds.
At first impression you think that the foot pedals will stop you leaning the bike into corners, but while you might not be able to get your knee down (which is a good thing, because God knows how you would get it back up again!), the smooth cornering that this gives is awesome at low speeds, and you simply need to approach corners at speed slightly differently, making sure you have taken a bit more speed off beforehand, then smoothly pulling through the apex before you put the hammer down, and it works great!
The suspension has been designed for comfort, and I managed to cruise over potholes and speed bumps at speeds that would throw you off on any other bike, but with "Marsha" they didn't even mess up my 1950's style quiff.... okay I didn't have a 1950's style quiff, a pair of Aviators and an open face helmet, but I should have.
When you ride a cruiser, its not about getting anywhere fast, its about getting there in style, you almost need to hark back to the film Easy Rider, and take your watch off before hand, not because Marsha is slow, or because she opens up a time/space wormhole that swallows you up, no, because every time I got on Marsha, I found an excuse to take an extra long diversion on every journey because I was enjoying the ride so much. In fact I felt so cool (and no I'm not having a midlife crisis......honest.........I'm not 30 yet!) that I didn't want to get off her, as you can probably tell by the whopping 600 miles I did in just seven days.
Oh and if your worried that she looks that just by starting her she might cause an earthquake, the exhaust actually does a good job of restricting the engine noise to a throaty and manly growl, although of course you could always get a different set of cans fitted, say if you don't like your neighbours, but I would recommend getting some ear plugs!
Riding around town is an amazing experience, heading down to Solihull to rugby training with the Bee's or visiting a mate in Selly Oak became a breeze, sure you won't filter as much through traffic as you would on any other style of bike, but not because you cant (although Marsha is a bit chunkier than say my R6) but because you don't need to, just sitting there on the bike waiting for the lights to change just feels so damn cool!
Its when you hit the motorways though that this bike comes into its own, normally something you try and avoid on most bikes, as there aren't any corners to hurl your machine round and after about 20 minutes of riding not only are you bored, but usually incredibly uncomfortable.
Not with Marsha, I headed down to Leander Rowing Club In Henley on Thames on Tuesday to film some stuff for my TV show, and then I took her on the massive trek back to my family home in Surrey, clocking up 2 hour stretches on the M40 and M25 without ever once getting bored or feeling uncomfortable, normally a mission when you consider my back and knees are completely destroyed from years of rugby.
Not only that, but it was fun, I mean the sun was out, there I was on this huge bike, just simply cruising along without a care in the world and eating up the miles, it was almost spiritual. In fact I was kind of upset when the journey ended, and I was tempted to just turn around and cruise back to Brum,, although I don't think my family would have been too happy about this........who I am kidding, they would have been over the moon!
Okay, I wasn't riding her around when it was cold and horrible, although I did hit a couple of rain showers and despite her weight she handled beautifully on the slippery surfaces, but if there is a better feeling than riding a cruiser in the sun I want to know what it is.
Oh and you might find that if you do ride one of these, you will need to be quite a social animal, because everywhere you go people will come up to and ask you about the bike, although most will simply stroke it and dribble......I have never had a response like this for a machine I have owner, everywhere I went, either on the posh street of Henley, or at a motorway service station people will approach you and tell how gorgeous she looks and it's a great reminder to just how jaw droppingly beautiful she is (like you could forget!).
So in conclusion, surely if anything can make you feel like Jack Nicholson from Easy Rider, then it's a cool piece of kit, and while at the start of the week I might have missed the crazy throttle response and breakneck acceleration of say, a GSXR 1000, by the end I just didn't care as I quite happily swopped it all for a relaxing, comfy, yet still exhilarating ride that made me smile from ear to ear and made me feel more manly than...........erm a Pachyderm hunting caveman!
Oh and if you didn't know, we are auctioning off the Kerrang/Streetbike R6 I have been getting all of the bands that have visited K Towers over the last year to sign on eBay. Not only is it an incredible machine, but it is a piece of rock and roll history, and of course all profits will be going to the Teenage Cancer Trust which is an amazing cause.
Next week, well I believe I might be heading over to the people at Triumph to check out the new Speed Triple 1050........ bring that on!