Mad man on a Van­van

Sort-of-su­per­sized Suzuki is so good they named it twice. But how well can it cope with ev­ery­day life?

Motorcycle News (UK) - - This Week - By Jon Urry MCN CON­TRIB­U­TOR

Suzuki’s new Van­van 200 sim­ply makes mo­tor­cy­clists smile. But does the nov­elty wear off once you ac­tu­ally have to get from A to B? We took the bal­loon­tyred beastie and set off into a city cen­tre to see if the laughs would last. Or is the joke ac­tu­ally on any­one who shells out nearly £4000 on the quirky styling ex­er­cise?

Here at MCN we have a se­cret – we all love the Van­van. It’s our guilty plea­sure and to be hon­est no-one can re­ally put a fin­ger on what it is about this bike that makes it so ap­peal­ing. On pa­per the Suzuki is an out­dated bike with ridicu­lous tyres, retro styling and a weedy mo­tor that de­spite grow­ing in ca­pac­ity this year, would still lose a tug of war con­test with an eight-year-old. But if any bike is guar­an­teed to make you smile, it’s the Van­van. Which begs the ques­tion: why?

In an ef­fort to dis­cover what lies be­hind our love af­fair with this ret­rostyled od­dball, we rode the Van­van through a se­ries of en­vi­ron­ments to see just what makes it so ap­peal­ing. In town, out of town and even off-road; would any of our tests ex­tin­guish our pas­sion for this quirky ma­chine?

It’s a blast in town

The in­ner city is the Van­van’s nat­u­ral ter­ri­tory and it is a bril­liant bike for deal­ing with con­gested streets. As well as be­ing re­ally light and nim­ble thanks to its air-cooled en­gine and lack of clut­ter help­ing it to a feath­er­weight 128kg, a very odd con­se­quence of the bal­loon tyres is that they help bal­ance the bike. At low speed the Van­van is re­mark­ably sta­ble and it is one of the eas­i­est bikes to bal­ance when sta­tion­ary with­out putting your feet down, mak­ing slowspeed con­trol ef­fort­less. Add to this a turn­ing cir­cle that means you can eas­ily per­form a 180-de­gree turn in a sin­gle lane road, a vir­tu­ally sub­ter­ranean seat height of just 770mm, nar­row bars for skip­ping through gaps, a com­fort­able seat and a clutch ac­tion that is so light it’s al­most un­no­tice­able and in town the Van­van is hard to fault. Those of a ner­vous dis­po­si­tion may want ABS, but in truth the sin­gle front caliper strug­gles to over­whelm the huge tyre’s grip at low speeds any­way.

For­get en­duro bikes, the Van­van is hys­ter­i­cal!

The Van­van’s mas­sive bal­loon tyres were de­signed for rid­ing on the beaches of Cal­i­for­nia back in the 1970s, and while tak­ing to the sand in the UK tends to re­sult in a se­ri­ous telling off, you can al­ways find a quiet field to play around

in. Do this and the Van­van is ab­so­lutely hys­ter­i­cal. It’s no se­ri­ous off-roader, but the com­bi­na­tion of the Suzuki’s light weight, soft sus­pen­sion and lack of power make it an ab­so­lute hoot to skid, drift, and gen­er­ally mess about on. The ideal sit­u­a­tion is a nice flat and level field after a bit of rain to make the sur­face slick. Find one of th­ese and you can eas­ily drift the Van­van at about 10mph, look­ing like a flat track rider but at a frac­tion of the speed!

It has that 1970s cool vibe

There are few vehicles that man­age to en­cap­su­late all that was cool about the 1970s in their body shape alone. The VW Bee­tle and camper van, the Fiat 500, the Mini and when it comes to bikes, it’s the Van­van. The first Van­van, or RV125 as it was called, ap­peared in 1972 and was aimed at cool Cal­i­for­nian rid­ers who wanted a ve­hi­cle to cruise up and down the beach on, hence the over­sized bal­loon tyres. Nowa­days, like the re-imag­ined Bee­tle, Fiat and Mini, the Van­van has grown in size to meet mod­ern re­quire­ments but lost none of its retro charm. The big-ar­sed seat, bal­loon tyres, high level ex­haust, sin­gle front light and peanut petrol tank all re­main and Suzuki have man­aged to keep the 1970s vibe alive with a retro blue paint scheme off­set by a white mud­guard. Very hip, dude.

It han­dles far bet­ter than you would ex­pect

You would imag­ine that the com­bi­na­tion of an 18in front wheel with a mas­sive 138/80 tyre and a 14in rear with a lu­di­crous 180/80-sec­tion tyre would do some strange things to the Van­van’s han­dling. But it doesn’t, and de­spite the bal­loon tyres’ semi-off-road tread pat­tern, you can re­ally hus­tle a Van­van through the bends. The tyres are so wide it is vir­tu­ally im­pos­si­ble to ride off their edges and the bike’s soft sus­pen­sion and light weight mean you can re­ally crank it over. Adopt a kind of flat track stance where you push the bike down while keep­ing your body more up­right and it’s amaz­ing how fast a Van­van will cor­ner, to the point where its rub­ber pegs start scrap­ing the ground. It may look a lit­tle silly, but it is bril­liant fun.

Its small-ca­pac­ity ri­vals are all so dull

So you have £3799 to spend, which is what a Van­van 200 re­tails at. You could also opt for the Suzuki Inazuma 250Z (£3699), but even the funky paint fails to re­ally hide the ug­li­ness of this bike. Add the 250F’s fair­ing (£3999) and it is even drab­ber, but to be fair the par­al­lel twin mo­tor is stronger than the Van­van’s air-cooled sin­gle. Kawasaki have their sin­gle-cylin­der Z250SL (£3649) or the par­al­lel-twin Z300 (£4349), but they are mod­ern and a bit plas­tic fan­tas­tic. The KTM 125 Duke (£4049) or 390 Duke (£4549) sin­gles are fresh-faced but pricey, while the Yamaha MT-03 (£4499) and MT-125’S (£4099) neo Ja­panese look may well prove a pass­ing fash­ion. Honda’s MSX125 (£2899) has a cer­tain quirky charm but is very im­prac­ti­cal due to its size while the CB125F (£2699) fails to set the world alight with ei­ther its style or per­for­mance. If you want retro then Her­ald’s cus­tom 250 range is a real op­tion, but they re­tail at £3500 and are fairly crude in their per­for­mance. Al­ter­na­tively you could plump for a Sin­nis Ret­rostar at £2395 – which re­ally does start to look like great value. But it’s fair to say the Van­van 200 is some­thing of a one-off, and by far the coolest bike in class.

But it’s not all good news…

As much as we love the Van­van, we can’t let this cloud our judg­ment en­tirely as it does have some glar­ing faults. You sim­ply can’t sug­ar­coat the fact the Van­van’s air-cooled en­gine, even in 200 form, is a slug. Strug­gling to hit 65mph flat out, it vir­tu­ally rules out dual car­riage­way work where other A2-le­gal bikes are happy to cruise at 70mph. The retro tank looks cool, but even with the Van­van de­liv­er­ing around 60mpg it is only good for about 100 miles thanks to its 6.5-litre tank ca­pac­ity. The lack of ABS is a bit an­noy­ing and the sus­pen­sion is pretty squishy, al­though th­ese aren’t huge is­sues, and with an RRP of £3799 the Van­van should be a bit cheaper when you look at the spec of some of its ri­vals.

So should you?

On pa­per there is no real rea­son to fall for the charms of this un­der­pow­ered od­dball. But the Van­van is a bike that gets un­der your skin and is just so much fun to ride you sim­ply can’t help but love it. It’s so good they named it twice. It’s cool look­ing, charm­ing, easy­go­ing and above all fun. Mas­sive fun.

Thank you…

The newly opened Du­cati Peter­bor­ough (­dis­d­u­ for the use of their retro build­ing and Wheels Peter­bor­ough (www. wheelsmo­tor­cy­ for the loan of the Van­van’s ri­vals.

‘It’s an ab­so­lute hoot to skid, drift, and gen­er­ally mess about on’

Flat track drift­ing at 10mph? You can on a Van­van

The sus­pen­sion is squishy but those fat tyres make cor­ner­ing more fun than you’d imag­ine Urry’s trade­mark en­thu­si­asm could cause him to self­com­bust at any minute

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