20 August 2009

Roadtest - Suzuki VZ800 Marauder

At the southern entrance to Glen Coe

This roadtest was originally published in 1997 on the original SOC Geocities hosted website and transferred over here when Yahoo killed off Geocities.
 
When Suzuki offered to let me have the VZ800 Marauder for a week or two to test, I was very happy to have a 'free' bike for the duration of two big runs to the BMF/ACU National Rally and a Suzuki Owners Club Scotland trip.
 
The only factory custom bike I have ever ridden before was an early Yamaha XS400 back in the early Eighties. It had not endeared me to custom bikes! After a trip to the FIM Rally in the Czech Republic in 1995 with a riding partner on a Suzuki Savage, I had begun to think that although not actually my cup of tea, with real perseverance, these bikes could be more than 'canteen cowboy' outfits.

Near Loch Ness


 

So it was with a bit of trepidation that I picked the bike up from Ken Fulton, the SOC's magazine Editor (at the time), who had in turn picked it up for me from Suzuki GB. He's local and it saves having time off work to get down there before 5pm!

In the five miles Ken had put on the clock he had decided that almost everything was wrong with the bike. It was under braked. It under steered alarmingly and it was a custom bike. Ken's own bike is a Yamaha FZR 1000. So it's not surprising that he was a little jaundiced.
 
On top of that evaluation, I had read very little in any of the pro-comics apart from a 'First Impressions' type test, where it got slagged for not being fast enough.
 
The ninety-mile ride back to sunny Bedfordshire was done at a fairly low pace. The main trouble was indeed the under steer! Launching into the first of three roundabouts between Ken's flat and the M23 resulted in some rather heavy-handed correction. The engine, although showing 1600 miles on the clock, was still very stiff but it was willing to pull up to 70mph once on the motorway.
 
Having no experience of feet forward biking, I found it difficult to get my feet on the pegs at the right time! I'm used to conventionally designed bikes where your feet are under you somewhat. Once this was sorted with a lot of vocal instruction (talking to myself!) I was fine.
 
The only nuisance was the seat position. Suzuki has designed the bike for an ideal height (I am guessing!)  of 5ft 7ins. I'm 6ft! With feet firmly on the forward controls, and in a position to use them, my longer legs pushed me back against the back of the seat. Firstly, the pillion strap on the rear 'brick' pad scrubbed the skin off the base of my spine, and then it was the 'brick' itself when I had re-routed the strap!
 
The following morning, complete with backpack for a weekend, I set up on the 440 mile M1/M6 run to Dumfries in Borders Scotland. The trip was planned during the early 'summer' we had in spring, by June (it was the wettest in 25 years locally!) it was pouring with rain nearly every day. At 9am I looked out of the kitchen window and thought there was no way I was doing the journey. By 9.30am I was on the bike and joining the sodden masses northwards.
 
My luggage was restricted to a backpack, as my Swagman throw over panniers wouldn't fit on the brick without fouling the 'shotgun' style double pipes on the right of the bike. So taking the backpack was the alternative, and fortuitous it turned out too.
 
I endured the pouring rain with stops to rest my lower back at Corley (after only fifty miles) and Stafford (120 miles!) services before the sun began to show itself around Keele. By my next stop for bum relief at Knutsford it was warm and I stopped to remove my waterproofs, and to have lunch. From then on it was good weather all the way until about the same sort of location on the way back!
 
The Marauder, or XZ800 as it is also known, is a 45 degree 805cc v-twin, based on the engine that powers the Intruder range. It's liquid-cooled and somehow, the Suzuki engineers have managed to de-tune the Intruder lump! According to the bumph it is a mere 50hp. Torque seemed pretty good and it gave the impression of being a real stump-puller. Fuel economy seemed pretty poor, but this I put down to the 150-mile headwind endured until Knutsford.
 
The colour schemes are quite nice too. From the brochure that Suzuki sent me, Candy Koran Orange/Traditional Metallic Silver looks like the most garish, but I was very satisfied with Black/Candy Forest Green. With the extra helpings of chrome it looks the part too.
 
Unlike the custom styled Intruder, the Marauder is fitted with a 16in front wheel and a 130/90 tyre (fatter than my XJ900 Yam's rear!) and a 15in 150/90 rear. The same as I had on a Cavalcade a few years back. Despite these balloon tyres, it did tend to follow the joins in the motorway lanes and white line a bit when changing lanes. The impression given is of a long low bike. This is confirmed when you look at the 27.6 inch seat height and an overall length of 93.1 inches!
 
Probably the most noticeable styling points are the 41mm upside-down forks. These are non-adjustable, and I couldn't tell that they were any better than conventional forks. Apart from the fact they look much more butch! The rear shocks are adjustable only for pre-load. Despite my bulk, they were left on the delivery settings.
 
The huge Harleyesque air cleaner on the right of the engine is in fact a storage box, as also is the dummy starter motor behind the rear cylinder; in fact it holds the toolkit! There's another small storage box under the front seat.
 
Apart from having legs that were too long, I found all the controls easily to use and everything was efficient. Instruments are restricted to a single Speedo in a chromed housing on the bars with the minimum of idiot lights, only the essentials, plus and indicator repeater between the bars.
 
The single front disk was very good once bedded in. I know that Suzuki change the brake pads and fluid before every bike goes out on test, so Ken may have not had them working at their peak. The rear drum was very efficient and in the wet proved quite progressive without locking up, sometimes when panic braking was the order of the day on the elevated section of the M6. Do car drivers not have mirrors in Brummyland?
 
The large headlamp was actually very good in the dark and I was able to maintain quite good speeds along country lanes locally in Bedfordshire.
 
The fuel tank is only 13 litres, but given the figures I got for fuel consumption, this is more than the body can take!
 
By the time I stopped again on the M6 for petrol, (I was stopping every 100-115 to rest back and avoid embarrassing running out of fuel scenarios) at Tebay, I had a large grin on my face. Most cars that passed had passengers craning their necks to see that the bike was. It doesn't give anything away with just 'Marauder' on the tank's flanks. At Tebay I met a couple on a big twin Harley on their way to a HOG bash at Aviemore and so I wasn't surprised when I caught up a gang of 883 Piglets on the run up to the Shap summit. As I clawed my way past them, Piglet leader took a handful of throttle and started to out crawl me. I took a handful of Marauder throttle and it was Piglet abattoir time! The Marauder responded and the speedo went from 65 to 80 in quite a respectable time. As an ex-GSXR1100 owner, I can recognise a bit of power when it wakes me up. In the perfectly placed mirrors I watched the Piglets dropping back and was we passed the Shap marker they weren't in sight! Bigger grin.
 
This actually showed that with almost 2000 miles on the odometer, the engine was far freer than it had been at any time since picking it up. As I peeled off onto the A75 a BMW R1100GS that flashed past put me in my place. At least I could say he got past because I was filtering left. Yes? No?
 
I was the first to arrive at the Dumfries and Galloway College, where we were to stay in student accommodation. Most of the students having already left for the summer.
 
The next two full days were spent covering nigh on 250 miles between Dumfries, Tarbert on the west side Loch Fyne and Fort William. I kept a record of fuel consumption and apart from the disappointing early M1 and M6 figures of 46mpg, it was high 50's all the time and on the run back from Glencoe to Motherwell through Glasgow it peaked at 62mpg. Not bad for a custom styled 805cc cruiser with a 17 stone rider and heavy pack, and no fairing!
 
At Tarbert on Sunday morning I removed the 'brick'. A simple job of undoing two bolts under the front seat and the chromed Allen key on the rear mudguard. The bobbed rear mudguard (fender?) is plastic, but there's a very strong frame loop underneath it! I carried the 'brick' in the backpack all Sunday and all the way home on Monday. Taking it off allows a taller rider to sit a bit further back on the front seat. I wish I'd taken it off on Friday and left it at home! The sheer ergonomics of feet forward riding makes it far more difficult to relieve your bum like you can on a normal bike. There's no way to get any leverage to raise your butt off the seat. I did find, by some contortions, that I could get my feet on the rear rests and lever myself up a bit that way. Not to be recommended! The downside of sitting further back on the seat means that you get the seat lock to sit on instead, but it's smaller and less intrusive.
 
After an 1100-mile weekend on the Marauder I used it to commute to work on. Ideal for the job. It starts easily and turned in 60mpg for the week.
 
After the problems with the seat being uncomfortable on long runs, it stayed in the garage the following weekend, and I did the National Rally on my own XJ900.
 
Somewhere in Scotland!
Overall, the Marauder is a fine bike, it would be an excellent bike for someone that likes cruiser styled bikes and who is or is less than 5ft 7ins tall! There are a number of custom accessories available for the bike in the US and Europe. I've not seen the leaflet in UK yet. A screen might be okay. But I never felt any problems with the wind rush against me. Once the engine loosened the run home was done at an average of around 53mph. Think about it! Fort William to Bedfordshire in 9 hours?

Would I buy one? No. Not unless the seat position can be changed to suit tall fat blokes like me!
 
The Marauder has actually given me the taste to try other custom-styled bikes, so if any other manufacturers want to lend me one, I'm in the phone book!
 
NB. All pics were taken by me on the Scotland trip.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hi came up on this nice article
while googling considering buying
a used Marauder for touring your
ride report of 1100 mile weekend
gave me a good idea about my own
plan to tour on a cruiser
Thanks
Mir (NYC)

Invicta Moto said...

No problems Mir. When you get it, I'd like to see your road test...