I wasn't sure at first whether Simon was an undercover agent for MI5, and if he was checking the room for 'bugs', or whether he'd seen too many Pink Panther movies and was expecting to find Kato coiled up and ready to pounce from the top of the wardrobe.
But then it dawned. He's a Pom. And some Pommie travellers are of the opinion that Australia is infested with poisonous creepy crawlies that will kill you in the blink of an eye.
"There aren't any spiders, sharks or crocodiles around here are there?" he enquired, nervously surveying every nook and crevice.
"Nah, the snakes or a blue-ringed octopus will get you before the crocs do," I grinned, as Simon continued to search the room for signs of arachnid life.
THE RIGHT TIME
The cause of Simon's dilemma was the arrival at Horror HQ a couple of days beforehand of Suzuki's new V-Strom and the fuel-injected version of Yamaha's venerable TDM900. Both bikes had been sampled by Motorcycle News at their respective launches, but they hadn't been given a thorough workout. The time was right.
Both the TDM and the V-Strom smack of that go anywhere demeanour that suggested an overnight ride away from the hustle and bustle of suburbia, and I had just the place in mind.
Last year the AMCN crew took a quintet of big-bore dualsports for a strop through the mountains (Vol 51 No 7), stopping off overnight at Woods Point, a small hamlet deep in the Great Dividing Range, but only around 140km from Melbourne.
Woods Point was founded on the discovery of gold in 1861, at one stage hosting a community of 4000 in 1886. Those prosperous days are now long gone.
It's like stepping into another world, a world that's stress free and has never heard of mobile phones (or at least mobile phone range!). Yep, saddle up Simon, you're coming for a ride.
The bikes AMCN took on that dualsport jaunt last year - Aprilia Caponord, BMW R1150 GS, Cagiva Navigator, Honda Varadero and Triumph Tiger - are eminently suitable for a mix of sports road and dirt road adventure riding, and so too were our current steeds.
As Simon had hardly ventured out of various Aussie CBDs during his stint Down Under, it seemed time that he should be introduced to some real Aussie roads and some real Aussie culture.
It was time the Pommie tenderfoot lost his virginity. He's still recovering...
Okay, what about the bikes. The V-Strom uses the powerplant from Suzuki's TL1000S, but with internal mods to make it gruntier and more flexible. Less sporty cams, smaller inlet valves, new pistons and revised conrods are just some of the changes that result in a claimed 98ps, down 27ps over the sportier TL1000S.
Not that the loss of ponies is apparent out on the road, as the V-Strom is a bike that encourages a rider to use the even spread of torque, and short shift rather than rev it out to redline.
Whereas the V-Strom engine can trace its roots back five and a half years to the 1997 TL1000S, the chassis is all-new, an alloy-beam affair which supports a motorcycle not too dissimilar to Honda's Varadero in concept.
It's got to be of some concern therefore to Suzuki Australia that the $15,690 Varadero was dropped by Honda Australia at the end of 2001 after two years of disappointing sales. It'll be interesting to track the progress of the $15,490 V-Strom in the sales charts.
Early indications are that it's selling well, but then so too did the Varadero to begin with. Australia isn't renowned as a market that rewards 'sensible' bikes, and it's been difficult for the Japanese marques to make inroads into the large-capacity dualsport niche Down Under, despite our seemingly perfect conditions for such motorcycles.
Even Yamaha's very capable and keenly priced XTZ750 Super Tenere lasted only two years in the local market (1990 and 1991) before it was dropped by Yamaha Australia.
Speaking of the Super Tenere, that's where the TDM900 can trace its roots back to. The TDM's 10-valve parallel-twin engine format began life back in the late 1980s as a 360-degree 750 in the XTZ750, before being bored out to 848cc a decade ago for the first TDM, then converted to 270-degree crank configuration five years later.
And whereas the Suzuki has had its engine 'detuned', it's the reverse for the Yamaha. In TDM900 guise as tested here it's been bored out still further by 2.5mm to 897cc for five percent more power (now a claimed 86ps at 7500rpm) and over 11 percent more torque all the way through the rev range, up to a maximum of 9.1kg-m at 6000rpm.
Like the V-Strom's TL1000S powerplant, this latest TDM also scores new camshafts (offering greater valve lift and longer duration), as well as new conrods and pistons.
Plus there's an all-new six-speed gearbox with a lower bottom gear and higher top than the old model's previous clunky five-speeder.
Electronic fuel injection has also been adopted for the first time on the new TDM, with twin 38mm Mikuni throttle bodies and a Mitsubishi ECU, the latter also controlling an innovative variable-operation air intake duct.
The TDM's engine package is located in an all-new, aluminium twin-spar frame, much stiffer and lighter than the old TDM850's steel item. In fact the new chassis is a massive 29 percent lighter than the previous one, helping to reduce dry weight of the TDM900 by no less than 11kg over the old bike.
It not only undercuts the V-strom by 13kg fully fuelled, but at $14,999 it also undecuts the Suzuki by around $500.
So what are they like on the road? Simply sensational. And that's because you can go wherever you damn well please whenever you damn well please.
Simon and I didn't get away until 3.00pm on a Friday afternoon, hopeful of beating not only the onset of darkness, but also the onset of nightlife. Well, I was at least.
My travelling companion was fair buzzing with excitement at the chance of seeing a roo or a wombat in the wild. I didn't have the heart to tell him that if he did see one it would probably be as he was sailing over the handlebars. Dusk and motorcycles aren't always a good combination.
Nevertheless we pressed on, firstly via the famous Black Spur east of Melbourne, then up into the mountains via Marysville and on to Woods Point, the last 40km or so on unsealed roads.
It's bikes like these that encourage trips like this - not that you have to be mounted on a true dualsport. After all, the TDM is a roadbike after all, and it wasn't that long ago that ex-staffer Chappo did the same trip two-up on AMCN's long-term Kawasaki ZX-12R, a bike with around 180 ponies at the rear wheel.
The next day our route would take us north to Jamieson, then west on to the simply magic Jamieson-Eildon road (with around 20km of gravel but turn after turn after turn of good bitumen as well), before looping back to Melbourne through the mountains.
Just the recipe for a day and a half of head-clearing motorcycle nirvana.
The TDM is the more nimble of the duo, and more at home swinging through the bitumen twists and turns, especially with its Metzeler road rubber.
The V-Strom has the slower geometry, and needs more muscling through the turns, although its wider bars certainly help in this regard.
Don't be put off by the V-Strom's multipurpose rubber either - it's not a major drawback on the tar.
Despite Simon's comment of "I'm English, and don't need poofy handguards", the ones fitted as standard on the V-Strom certainly came in handy as the night chills set in, as did the Suzi's more effective fairing.
Mmm, strange how my patented Bike Rotation System (BRS) saw me mounted on the more protective V-Strom with its chunky rubber as the gravel roads appeared and the cold of darkness descended.
A dirt road at night was quite an interesting initiation for Simon, but both bikes not only handled things with aplomb, but they also put my mind at ease over the fuel-injection concerns I'd had.
Around town I'd convinced myself that both bikes were too abrupt with on-off throttle use, and especially when trying to hold a constant throttle in city traffic. Big twins, and a jerky ride didn't bode well for life on the slippery stuff.
But I was pleasantly surprised when we hit the demanding stuff - and believe me, the final 8km into Woods Point was like riding on ball bearings as the road had recently been graded.
I reckon poor ol' Simon must've been gripping the seat via sheer sphincter-pucker alone.
It's amazing how smooth and controlled your throttle control can become when it has too.
FEEL THE POWER
Those slippery conditions also gave the brakes a good workout - for feel rather than power. The TDM gets the nod here, with good feel on the loose stuff, and more power than the Suzi on the tar.
But the Suzi gets the nod on the dirt for its grippier (ie chunkier) rubber and better suspension. The TDM thumped and clunked a lot in the front-end, which was something I was able to partially dial out with some extra spring preload. It was still annoying, nevertheless.
Top-gear roll-ons were a surprise, with the supposedly less grunty TDM winning at 80kmh and 100kmh, the two equal at 110kmh, but the more powerful V-strom stretching its legs from 140kmh onwards.
The TDM is redlined at 8000rpm while the higher-geared V-strom's engine is redlined at 9500rpm, with the respective revs at 100kmh being 3600rpm and 3450rpm. That would help explain some of the roll-on discrepancy, along with the V-Stroms greater weight and wind resistance.
I liked the V-Strom's solid rear rack, the easy-to-read dial-style gauges and its comfy seat. But I didn't like the way the screen and front fairing showed the scratches from someone's enthusiastic washing, the annoying green overdrive light on the dash, and the difficulty in using throwover panniers with the high-mounted exhausts. Oh, and that rear guard has to be the ugliest ever seen on a motorcycle.
The TDM has more neat touches than the V-strom - it's better finished, the solid rear rack is complemented by flip-out ocky-strap hooks, and there are neat guards over the exhausts to protect the rider's heels.
It's the more town-oriented of the two, being easier to swing a leg over and easier to reach the ground on. It's also more economical on fuel, has lighter controls, and has a huge range of genuine accessories available through Yamaha Australia - topbox, touring screen, panniers, bellypan and heated grips just being some of the items.
There aren't many bikes that would have coped with the variety of conditions Simon and I threw at these two. The good thing about them is that they actively encourage you to explore places you would be less likely to venture to on a Ducati 998 or Gold Wing or Aprilia RS250 or Honda XR650 or Harley Fatboy.
Which one is better? I guess that depends on where most of your riding takes place. Simon kept changing his mind every time he jumped off one and on to the other, eventually settling on the TDM (just).
Meanwhile, AMCN staffer Sam loved the V-Strom, and was making mutterings about wanting to ride around Oz (yet again).
As for me, I could quite happily live with the TDM as my everyday bike just a little easier than the V-Strom - commuter during the week, sportsbike on weekends, and adventure tourer for my hols.
Not sure about the looks though. I reckon they've both had a decent walloping with the ugly stick...
Story and Photos: Ken Wootton