I was having a cool drink outside a popular biker’s roadside cafe, when a guy pulled in on a BMW GS650. He was wearing full racing-type leathers and a racing-replica helmet. Unusual, I thought, for the type of bike. I got talking to him and he told me that he also had a Yamaha R1. Ah, so now the riding-gear made sense! He was on the last leg of a day-ride that would see him clock up about 400km; almost half that on dirt, some of it pretty rough. He was telling me about one section of road and said, “You wouldn’t want to take a road-bike through there!” We then got talking about his bike. He said he’d done quite a bit of touring on it, including annual trips down to Phillip Island. He said he took the BMW because it was more comfortable, and better suited to touring than the R1. Okay, so why am I going on about a bloke on a BMW when this is supposed to be a test of a Suzuki? Well, it highlights the versatility of these dual-purpose type machines. It also highlights the capabilities of mid-size bikes. And one of the most popular and well-respected bikes in this category is the Suzuki V-Strom 650. So it was high time I took one for a ride. I’d heard a lot of good things about the V-Strom; both in road-tests and from people who owned them. In fact I can’t recall hearing any bad reports (apart from some internet chat about wind-buffeting from the screen). And those in the know reckon it’s a better thing to ride than the 1,000 version. The dealer I went to confirmed this when he said that they sold a lot more 650s than 1,000s. A riding friend of mine, who owns a Yamaha FJR1300, did a bike trip around Turkey on one of these. He did 4,500km and came back very impressed. So I was looking forward to riding one; and I had a sneaking suspicion that it’d end up being a bike I liked. Okay, firstly let’s have a look at what it is. Well, Suzuki calls it a “Sport Enduro Tourer”. In fact they claim to have invented the category (although I think makes like Triumph and BMW might have something to say about that!). They go on to say, “If you want a machine with the versatility to let you ride through city streets, over outback roads and mountain passes, the V-Strom 650 is for you.” This category of bike falls somewhere between road-bike and trail-bike. The frame and suspension are essentially road-bike, but modified to fit the wider range of duties. The rear wheel is a typical road-bike 17”, while the front is a 19”. Weight is a very manageable 190kg. The engine comes straight out of the SV650, but re-tuned slightly to make it more suited to it’s new role. Suzuki don’t give output figures in their brochures, but if you look hard enough you’ll find web-sites and road-tests that have gained the secret numbers. In the case of the V-Strom the numbers are 49Kw at 8,800rpm and 60Nm at 6,400rpm. The bike feels quite tall to sit on. Seat height is 820mm, which isn’t overly tall, but the shape and width of the seat combine to make it feel taller. I could only just put both feet flat on the ground when sitting on the bike. And on the subject of the seat, it is quite comfortable, although I thought not as good as it could be. The shape keeps you sitting in the one position and doesn’t allow you to move around. But it’s still comfortable. The instrument panel holds two big analogue dials, one for speedo (numbered to 200kph) and one for tacho (red-lined at 10,500rpm). Between these are LCD gauges for fuel-level and engine-temperature. There’s also a small digital clock. And there are buttons to select and re-set other information (which I didn’t try). It’s all very basic, but it’s easy to read and works well. All the controls are easy to operate too. The bars are wide and high; a bit too high for my preference, but then it suits the dual-purpose type role. The high bars accentuate the feeling that you are sitting down in the bike, rather than sitting on it. The riding-position is very up-right, of course; again, a little too much so for my personal preference, but it’s typical of the breed. And it does allow better control when you get into rough terrain (which I didn't get to!). In the early stages of the test I felt that my legs were a bit cramped; I would’ve preferred the foot-pegs to be a little lower. But that feeling soon disappeared, so I guess it’s not really an issue. The screen is adjustable over three different height positions, so, despite the comments I’ve seen on internet forums, you should be able to position it to effectively keep the wind away. Wind-buffeting was never really a problem during my time with the bike. You soon discover that this is an easy bike to ride. And really, this type of bike is always going to be (or should be!). But it was actually better than I expected. The engine is a bit snatchy at low revs, a bit jerky coming on and off the throttle. But at higher revs it smoothes out very nicely. It’s a very willing performer and revs out quickly and smoothly. It’ll get to the red-line easily if you let it. I had it to 10,000rpm (just under the red-line) a couple of times and it was still smooth and willing. It’s happiest at around 5,000rpm – 7,000rpm. Despite what might be called modest power (I suppose it depends what you’re comparing it to!) the performance is quite good. In 2nd gear, which is geared at about 10kph / 1,000rpm, it went very quickly to about 100kph (10,000rpm). Top gear (of 6) is geared at 22kph / 1,000rpm, allowing it to cruise effortlessly at 100kph – 130kph. The suspension is pretty basic, with a non-adjustable fork up front and a rear unit adjustable for pre-load and rebound, but it gives the bike a comfortable ride. It’s good at coping with our “real world” roads. Small bumps are smoothed out well; larger bumps are felt, but it’s a cushioned jolt, not harsh. I intentionally sought out some secondary roads, with the usual humps and bumps, patched pot-holes, etc. And, as I said, it handled it all very well. Adjustment for the pre-load is by a large knob conveniently located on the right-side of the bike. Very easy! Something that surprised me was the handling; it’s quite quick and responsive! I expected it to be a bit slow to turn-in with that large(ish) front wheel, but it isn’t; it’s quick, easy and precise. It responds well to counter-steering, and it’s easy to change line mid-corner. Brakes are good but not overly powerful. The lever needs a firm pull for a quick stop. ABS is available for an extra $500; which is very cheap. Styling and general appearance of this type of bike is always a bit contentious. (I don't think any of the bikes in this category could be called "pretty"!). I reckon this looks quite good from the side, it’s just the front of the fairing with it’s huge lights and black paint that looks a bit on the ugly side. However the 2008 models (the test-bike was an ’07 plated model) have a different colour-scheme; being available in a choice of either blue or silver. The dealer had both on the showroom floor, and the silver I reckon looks good with the black fairing. Like most Suzukis, the bike is great value for money! It’s priced at just $9,990; and the dealer was offering an on-road price of just $10,500. There are a few other bikes in this mid-size dual-purpose category, like the BMW I mentioned at the start, the Honda Transalp etc. But the Suzuki has more power than any of the others, and is also cheaper than all except the Kawasaki KLR650. So, as I said, good value for money, and it’s no wonder they’re so popular! So the “V” part of the name, while obviously referring to engine-configuration, could stand for “Value”. But it could also stand for “Versatility”. Because this bike has both of those in spades! (By the way, "Strom” stands for “stream” – according to “The Bear” anyway!). I said at the start that I had a suspicion I would like this bike. Let me explain what I meant. I’m writing this at the beginning of 2008, and if you read my Blog entries for then you’ll see I’ve been going through a bit of soul-searching as to what type of bike I’d like to buy. And I thought this bike might sneak into the “bikes-I’d-consider-buying” list. Well I was impressed with it, although I don’t think I’d actually buy one. It’s just not quite the type of bike I want. But it is a very good bike! Remember that line I quoted from the Suzuki brochure? “If you want a machine with the versatility to let you ride through city streets, over outback roads and mountain passes, the V-Strom 650 is for you.” That actually sums it up pretty well!
Paint is the only real difference in 2010. Now you get black, or a rather gaudy looking orange. The black looks good, and much better than the red with black fairing of the test bike here. I've been told that there have been a couple of minor tweaks, but really, what you get is what I tested here. Suzuki tend not to make major changes very often. And, having said that, the paint takes on greater significance. This test-bike I reckon looked a bit ugly, but the all-black one makes it a much more attractive proposition; considering that the rest of the bike is so good!
At last the long-awaited up-dated version of this popular bike has been released. It deserves a re-test, and I will take one for a ride when I can, but in the meantime, here are the basics of the new model. Essentially it's the same thing as before - only a bit better! The basics remain unchanged - the frame and suspension are as they were. The biggest change is probably to the appearance. As with most of these duallies, the bike was a bit lacking in the looks department. The new model has cleaned up the appearance and it looks quite good. Well, no, it's not exactly a thing of beauty, but it's better than it used to be. If you owned one I'm sure you'd grow to like it. The engine is basically the same, but has had a few tweaks to give it a bit more power, especially in the low-mid range. Just how much more power I can't tell you, because Suzuki don't tell us how much power it has. They also reckon they've made it more economical, which has allowed them to reduce the size of the fuel-tank from 22 litres to 20 litres. But because it's more economical you still get the same touring range. So they say. ABS (non-switchable) is now standard, where it used to be an option. One area that got a bit of complaint (although not from me when I rode it) was the windscreen, which some people said created some buffeting. Well, Suzuki have revised the windscreen too, so hopefully that issue will be resolved. And there is also a new instrument display, with analogue tacho and digital speedo. Suzuki says it also has the usual odometer, plus a gear indicator, clock, air-temperature display, average fuel-consumption readout, two trip meters, and an ice-warning. I like it! The seat is also new. I won't judge comfort against the old model (which was a comfortable thing) without a proper ride, but the shape is a lot flatter than the old one, which addresses my one complaint about the old seat, that it held you in a fixed position. On this one you can move around a bit. It's still at a reasonable height off the ground though; in fact, according to the specifications, it's even higher than before, at 835mm. Short-legged people should perhaps look elsewhere. So, as I said, it's basically the same as the old one, but with some tweaks that will just make it even better than it already was. I reckon this will be a great bike! And you get all this for the amazingly low price of just $10,890 +ORC. That is a bargain! Oh, and you can have any colour you want as long as it's white or orange.
This ever-popular mid-sizer has had a bit of a makeover; but nothing major. Essentially it is the same bike I test-rode just over 7 years ago. There is a new model though, called the XT, which gets a few tweaks that have moved it closer to it’s dual-purpose nature, even though I reckon most owners probably use it more as an every-day all-round bike. There’s a new upper fairing design that has that angry-bird-type peak, making it look a bit like a Ducati Multistrada from side on. The alloy wheels have been replaced by spoked, which better suits its all-road capabilities. Both versions are also available in LAMS tuning. And, beingjust $300 more than it was when I wrote this report, it's now even better value! Add on $1200 for the up-dated XT model.
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