Who calls a motorbike a Van-Van?
Especially in 2003? And, more to the point, why? Well, if you
are Suzuki's marketing team, the answer is very simple. Suzuki
call their cute little RV125 a Van-Van because they had one in
their range in the dark ages, it was popular and it seemed like
a good idea to resurrect it. So they did.
be fair, the new bike does bear more than a passing resemblance
to its antediluvian predecessor. The big chrome headlight, spoked
wheels, single front disc with a drum on the back, the elderly
air cooled single cylinder engine and the retro styling all hark
back to a gentler age of motorcycling. Actually that isn't entirely
true. The age of motorcycling that they invoke memories from wasn't
gentle at all. It was full of evil handling semi reliable overpowered
and underbraked animals of motorbikes. And a few gentle souls,
which died out as more and more people were converted to the dark
side of multi-cylinder high performance biking.
But they do say that what goes around, comes around. And that's
certainly the case here, where there seems to be an increasing
demand for a commuter bike that isn't a scooter but isn't a missile
either. Plenty of people still have sufficient prejudice against
scooters that they need something with big wheels, but at the
same time they have a sufficiently realistic view of their abilities
to limit the performance available to them. The bombsites that
masquerade as road surfaces in our cities mean that a commuter
needs pretty plush suspension, while the occasional need to go
up the kerb to reach that last parking bay means that big balloon
tyres will be a major plus. The seat needs to be large enough
to handle a full size bottom and there needs to be some luggage
Step forward, then, the Suzuki RV125 Van-Van.
First impressions are of something that is distinctly different
in a conventional kind of way. It looks unusual enough to stand
out but at the same time it isn't so radical that the target audience
will stay away from it. It is also
very small, although once on board it is surprisingly spacious.
So something of a rolling contradiction, then.
Starting is a quaint return to The Good Old Days as the manual
choke (on the carb, under the tank) needs to be pulled out before
the engine will fire from cold. Oh, and of course you need to
turn the fuel on as well. Ancient rituals aside, the bike starts
and ticks over as cleanly as you would expect. The 125cc single
doesn't really vibrate at all and the noise is pleasantly muted.
Controls are light as anything, and the gearbox is smooth enough
although not as typically Suzuki slick as we have come to expect
on test bikes from Crawley.
Pulling away is simple as there is a surprising amount of torque
and the clutch is delicate and sensitive. Acceleration is, um,
slightly lethargic when compared to the SV1000 that I swapped
for it but perfectly respectable when taken in context. That said,
you are unlikely to out-drag many things quicker than a well driven
milk float at the traffic light grand prix. Braking is similarly
adequate, with the single front disc hauling the Van-Van down
in a respectable but totally undramatic manner. Stoppies are not,
you may be relieved to hear, part of the equation.
Out in the open the Van-Van
goes perfectly well enough and is able to haul itself and my thirteen
stone along at or around the legal limit without fuss. In fact,
given the space, the Van-Van will build up to a quite respectable
speed and will hold it for as long as your mechanical sympathy
allows. It sounds a little strained at high speed, which is hardly
surprising, but seems to suffer no ill effects from such sustained
abuse. Handling is remarkably good although there is an inevitable
penalty to be paid for those big balloon tyres when it comes to
accuracy of lines. There is a distinctly soggy feel to the whole
plot on faster bends, but nothing untoward ever happens and the
overall impression I was left with is of a very safe bike. It
also generated a surprising amount of grins during a spirited,
but still rather slower than I am used to, cross country jaunt.
Despite the pseudo offroad styling, I suspect that city streets
are actually the Van-Van's natural home, and to test this theory
we went shopping. Well, we went into London, anyway. I don't do
shopping as a rule. The Van-Van was brilliant. The
previously slightly soggy suspension proved perfect for soaking
up those London potholes while the big tyres made accessing bike
parks across kerbs child's play. The brakes were fine, the mirrors
are great and even the lacklustre performance wasn't really a
I was surprised by the Van-Van.
Not least because I liked it. It feels a bit like throwback to
the early eighties in terms of handling and braking, but for a
bike like this that isn't necessarily a bad thing. It's comfortable,
it performs adequately, it's unthreatening and it's a really great
way of getting around in town. Even better news is that in the
time I had it on test I didn't need to put any fuel in the tank.
A pleasant surprise, then.