SUZUKI VANVAN: FULL TEST

Suzuki says the VanVan is an “extraordinarily retro, funky machine.” Even though the little 199cc four-stroke dual-sport bike is basic with modest features, it is nevertheless a modern bike despite the somewhat vintage look. It’s like the PT Cruiser of motorcycles. We love that Suzuki incorporated a lot of the shape of the early Suzuki DR four-stroke off-road bikes in the VanVan’s 1.7-gallon fuel tank. Whenever and wherever we rode it, people asked what year the bike was. We’d laugh and tell them it’s new.

We couldn’t help but wonder how dirt- and sand-worthy the little machine was. It uses a motor that has seen many iterations in Suzuki off-road and dual-sport machines. It is largely the Suzuki SP200 Dual-Sport engine with fuel injection and an oil cooler. With EFI, a catalytic converter and an ultra-quiet exhaust note, the VanVan—also known as the RV200L9—won’t offend the public or the environment. The fuel light came on after our first 72 miles of mostly street riding. It took 1.2 gallons to refill it. So, we’d guess that 72 miles to the gallon is a minimum. We aren’t great with decimals, but we can figure out that the VanVan has a 1/2 gallon of fuel left when the fuel light comes on.

MEAN STREETS
On pavement, the smooth power, soft but supple suspension, and amazingly low seat height of just over 30 inches (the same as many pit and play bikes) make the VanVan a pleasure to ride. We tried it on the freeway, and we survived for one exit, but we won’t subject the VanVan, or ourselves, to that again. A 25-mile commute to work on surface streets was a different story. That was a breeze and a lot of fun. With the wide, 18-inch front tire and ultra-wide, 14-inch rear tire, the VanVan shrugs off surface irregularities that might cause problems with skinny tires. It is really happy cruising at 45 mph but will zip along faster.

Even with the modest tire tread-block height, the wide tires hook up well on packed dirt.
Even with the modest tire tread-block height, the wide tires hook up well on packed dirt.

We were hoping it would be happy in the dirt. Suzuki must be eyeing the on-the-motorhome campground market that Honda abandoned when it discontinued the CT110 Trail, but the bike needs to be more than a campground, race-pits cruiser for us to do a story on it in Dirt Bike. Fortunately, the VanVan is more than happy in the dirt and rocks. It helps to keep the pace down to sight-seeing speeds. Then the bike is super capable with a single rider or with a passenger. The seat is wide and comfortable. We’d like as much padding in the front part of the seat as the rear has, though.

The instrumentation is pretty basic, but it has all the information you really need. The only thing that we really missed was self-canceling turn indicators. They are push-to-cancel.
The instrumentation is pretty basic, but it has all the information you really need. The only thing that we really missed was self-canceling turn indicators. They are push-to-cancel.

Our hopes were that the VanVan would be a natural in the sand, and it handled moderate sand on trails and roads when the sand was over a hard base. When the granulated stuff got deep, though, the VanVan was not as happy. Oddly, we are pretty sure that we could ride it in the dunes, but in deep, loose sand washes, it pushed the front more than we’d like.

This handy tool pack is mounted on the rear fender. It is nice to have, and it never gets in the way at all.
This handy tool pack is mounted on the rear fender. It is nice to have, and it never gets in the way at all.

For single-track desert trails like those in the “action” photos, the VanVan is completely at home. Get too technical and first gear feels tall, and slamming bumps will slam the suspension to the bottom. We also hit some classic slick rock trails in Moab, Utah. We needed something street-legal to get around with, so we pressed the VanVan into service. We did the entire Hell’s Revenge trail one day, then hit the Slick Rock bike trail another morning. We had to be careful how hard we hit rock ledges to keep the suspension bottoming to a minimum, but the tires worked incredibly well. We couldn’t hang with 450 off-road bikes, but they stayed somewhat in sight.

IN CONCLUSION
It is obvious that this machine was built with less demanding dirt and street riding in mind with an eye towards those with short inseams. If you keep that in mind, you can have a blast on it. It could easily handle mild adventure riding as well. We were more than happy to have it while camping and riding. We could run into town without disconnecting the truck. If you need a run-around machine with a license plate, the VanVan is a fun choice.

 

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