The Van Van might be gone, but it isn't in my heart.
So yesterday (August 29, 2019, for my future readers. Hi, future readers!), Suzuki unveiled its lineup for 2020. If you look at the list like just that, it looks about right. As I’ve discussed with Janaki, however, if you take the time to compare the 2020 models with the 2019’s, you notice that a few models have been unceremoniously dumped from the lineup. Some of the most notable absentees include the Bandit 1250S and the V-Strom 1000 family.
The one that saddens me the most, however, is the disappearance of the tiniest road Suzuki of them all, the Van Van 200. Whether the model is being officially dropped or delayed to address the design, we can’t say for sure—Suzuki didn’t formally point to the Van Van disappearing from its lineup. But I see you, Suzuki. I’m watching you.
I suspect that most of these disappearances are Euro 5 casualties. You’ll notice that the models dropped from the 2020 lineup are all aging designs—meaning they likely don’t meet the emission standards that will be implemented in 2020. Don’t get me wrong, while some people might not agree with increasingly more stringent emission standards, I personally like the fact that governments are taking concrete actions to improve our quality of life. Don’t worry, I won’t get into a pro-environment spiel, but ultimately, this conversation is an important one, and forcing manufacturers to become more creative is a good thing in my book.
That being said, it doesn’t mean I’m not sad to see some of these models go. The absence of the Van Van from the 2020 Suzuki lineup is the one that shocked me the most. Considering the model has been around since the early 70s (when it was the RV125) and has evolved very little since, it isn’t exactly surprising that something had to be done about the model. I was just hoping for a better ending.
That Time I Almost Finished A Rally
See, I have a sweet spot for the Van Van. I had a chance to do some serious bonding in 2017 with one of the little wonders, and went through a pretty crazy adventure. To honor the soon departed Van Van, I thought I’d write a little ode to the small but oh-so-capable Suzuki.
Back in the day, I was an occasional contributor to Canada Moto Guide. If I remember correctly how it all started, a friend of mine claimed he was going to partake in the Dawn 2 Dusk small-bike rally. We all know how that goes: a friend has a crazy idea, you decide to tag along, hilarity ensues. A sort of "who can pee the farthest" type of thing.
With only a few days’ notice, I pitched the idea of participating in the rally to my editor, booked a press bike fit for the challenge, and confirmed my presence at the event. Suzuki agreed to let me take out a shiny blue Van Van 200 for the occasion—not without hesitation. Apparently, manufacturers don’t like the idea of their press bikes doing rallies.
The Dusk 2 Dawn rally was a 400-something-mile rally created specifically for small-displacement bikes, 500cc and under. The original version of the event was a trek through Canada's Atlantic provinces. After a two-year hiatus, the 2017 edition—which, incidentally, was also going to be the last—was moved to Ontario’s cottage country, roughly 80 miles north of Toronto in Canada.
The starting point of the rally was the Honda Canada head office located in Markham, Ontario. We were then going to head out north on small country roads on a day-long adventure in the wild. Sort of.
Early on that Saturday morning, I jumped on the Van Van and hit the highway to reach the rendezvous point at 7 am. If you’ve never seen a Van Van on the highway, I’m sure the sight of that little bike struggling to meet the speed limit is hilarious. I can't say for sure what I looked like, but I know I was having the time of my life. Going downhill with the wind in my back, I managed to push the little thing to a speed of up to 68 miles per hour, the tiny 199cc single valiantly putting up with my enthusiasm.
We were a small group of about nine riders to meet up and head out that morning—including my 6-feet-one-tall friend straddling a Honda Grom. That’s when the Russian circus bear on a tricycle analogy inevitably comes to mind.
The rest of the lineup included a flock of Hondas (Rebel 300, CRF250, CB500F) and a Yamaha YZXF-R3, among some of the models I can remember. The Van Van was undoubtedly the star of the show, though, with its couch-like tuck-and-roll saddle. I believe people weren’t expecting to see the little Suzuki show up either, considering the roster of “predictable” small bikes present.
After a short briefing about our 390-mile journey that had to be completed in 12 hours, we took off. The route was broken down into four legs because small bikes also mean small gas tanks and we needed to stop regularly to refuel. The organizer had designed an absolutely lovely trail through cottage country, farmlands, and woods—including a short stretch on a gravel road.
The first two legs of the day were a real delight. Everyone had rapidly and easily bonded and we were all happily cruising along. I even got teased by some of my fellow riders over an article I had written hating on the Honda CB300F. Good times.
As we rode, the group would often get divided into two. The more enthusiastic riders on bigger bikes followed the leader up close. The cut would always happen wherever my buddy on his Grom would position himself in the lineup. He had the smallest and slowest bike of us all. Everyone behind him had to pace themselves, turning the ride into a slow but pleasant cruise.
It didn’t really matter because it gave the faster riders a chance to stop at the next stage and take a break while the second half of the group caught up. Ultimately, this rally wasn’t about speed or winning a prize—it was a glorified bona fide group ride and the occasion for us to take things slow on the roads less traveled.
That's When Things Went South
After our lunch break, with our bellies and our tanks full, we took off on the third leg of the day. We had avoided the looming thunderstorms that were darkening the sky earlier in the day and were now navigating lovely winding roads under glorious sunshine. To say that life was good at that very instant was an understatement.
This time around, I was ahead of my buddy, which meant I was in the leading group. We were carving our way through the woods, smoothly rocking through the curves. As we neared the next stage, we all stopped to wait for the second half of the group. After a while, however, we started to worry—until then, it had only taken the Grom a couple of minutes at most to catch up, so this was an unusually long wait.
One of the riders on a Honda PCX 150 who was yo-yoing between the two groups, not fast enough to keep up with the leader, but faster than the Grom, showed up alone and told us he had lost the rest of the crew on the way.
The organizer of the event who was also the leader of the group jumped on his bike and retraced our steps. The minutes slowly trickled and still, there was no sign of the rest of the group. I started having the terrifying suspicion that something bad had happened and that it might have involved my buddy. One of my fellow riders gave the leader a call to follow up on what was holding them back. He confirmed that someone had crashed. The Grom. My buddy.
Without hesitation, everyone jumped back in the saddle and headed back to meet with the rest of the group where the crash had happened. My heart was racing and I suddenly felt like I had a pile of rocks in my stomach, weighing me down. We turned a corner and pulled up to the crash site. All six-feet-one-inch of my friend was laying across the road. My first thought when I jumped off the bike and started jogging towards the little group that had amassed around him was “Ok, good, there’s no pool of blood.”
Thankfully, he was conscious. Dazed and confused, but conscious. Ironically, of all places to crash, this was a good one, if that’s even a thing. Turns out he had crashed in the line of sight of a cottage and the occupants were trained first responders. Anxious and feeling utterly useless, I started making a mental list of what needed to be done. Emergency services had been called and were on their way, check. Nobody had removed the helmet, check. My friend was being tended to by people who knew what they were doing, check. Now what?
I had to call his wife. When I asked him to give me his phone to call her, Mr. Crashy McCrashface initially pushed back, not wanting to worry her. Our confused genius probably hadn't realized at that point that the Grom wasn't going anywhere on its own and that he sure wasn't getting back home on a bike.
Thankfully, the others around us supported my idea, which ultimately convinced him to oblige and unlock his phone. We were a good three-hour drive away from the city so the sooner she would hit the road, the better.
I finally got a hold of her and broke the news. While I was agitated and pacing around the ambulance, she was at the other end of the line perfectly calm, composed and ready to sprint into action. I was debating whether it was appropriate for me to go to the hospital, but when she asked me whether I’d be there, I knew what I had to do. I traded the Van Van for a shotgun ride in an ambulance.
Hey! I Go To Ride In An Ambulance.
The organizer kindly took over the logistics to get the Van Van off the road and parked somewhere safe, at the cottage of the couple who had so efficiently intervened. And that, kids, is how I got my first ambulance ride.
Once on the way to the hospital, I commented over my shoulder to my buddy being assessed at the back of the ambulance that he knew how to make an exit. He laughed. For someone who had lost consciousness and had been lying in the middle of the road for 30 minutes, he was in a good mood. Forty minutes later, my friend was being taken in charge by a full hospital crew. They lead him in an ER with a single bed in the middle—the kind of stuff you see in the movies.
I was invited to leave the ER and sit in a waiting room. I quickly obliged, of course; I didn’t want to be in the way. One of the paramedics who walked me out corrected me: they were actually going to undress him and I probably didn’t want to see that. When my friend’s wife finally met me at the hospital, we had a laugh over that part. After a tiring and probably terribly lonesome three hours on the road to find out how her husband was doing, we both needed the laugh.
Turns out my buddy got off easy. A sprained ankle, a mild concussion, and a minor fracture of the hand. A few days after the incident, he shared the GoPro footage the rider behind him had recorded at the moment of the crash. The rear wheel lost traction as he entered a curve. He seemingly hit the brakes which cause the wheel to bite back and jerk him off the bike. It wasn't a scary or gruesome scene to watch, but having lived the whole ordeal, it felt weird to watch it unfold.
As for the Van Van, when my friend was finally released from the hospital, him and his wife gave me a ride back to where the Suzuki was parked. At 8 pm, I tackled the long journey back home. This time I expedited things by jumping on the highway, which obviously meant getting stuck in some random Saturday night traffic. I got home past 11 pm that night after the eventful day. The Van Van soldiered through it all and got me back home safely.
I was told that the rest of the group made it back safely to Markham with only a minute to spare before the 12-hour was up. That day, I became known as “that girl on the Van Van whose friend crashed”. Two years later, knowing full well that my buddy’s back on his feet and back to riding, we can all laugh about it. Two years later, I remember very well how I almost completed a rally in the saddle of a Suzuki Van Van 200.