Test rides The Journey

Ride Review: Suzuki V-Strom 1000 Adventure

When I posted a picture of the Suzuki V-Strom 1000 Adventure on my Instagram account, I took some inspiration from Dylan Thomas (a) and described the bike as a “lovely ugly machine.” On reflection, though, I feel that’s just a tiny bit unfair.

Certainly, the V-Strom 1000 isn’t as ugly as, say, the Triumph Tiger Explorer. Though, it’s certainly not sexy, either. Perhaps it’s more accurate to say the V-Strom 1000 Adventure looks dopey. It looks like a dumb animal. A big, dumb animal that is inexplicably, oddly ingratiating.

Let’s start with the admission, though, that this is not an offroad animal. There’s a caveat to that statement, which I’ll get to, but by and large if you are looking for something with which to tackle the Trans-America Trail, this probably isn’t it. Instead, it’s part of the newish adventure-touring class of machines: bikes that look offroady but aren’t really supposed to go off road. Think the Yamaha MT-09 Tracer, the Honda Crossrunner, the Kawasaki Versys 1000 and the Triumph Tiger XR. They’re sport-tourers for riders who don’t want to spend all day in the fetal position; or tourers for people who don’t want to look like senior citizens.

Just as was the case with the SUV trend roughly a decade ago, I feel people are drawn to the adventure-touring class not because of ambitions to traverse the Alaska Range but because of the bikes’ ergonomics, oomph, and relative comfort.

The caveat is that you can actually ride the thing across Mongolia if you are so inclined –– with no modifications but the tires. UK-based Bike magazine rode one from England to Japan last year, taking in a 15-country route that included the infamous Pamir Highway and the Mongolian steppe. The Big Strom (or, should it be Beeg-Strom?) proved surprisingly adept at tackling the challenge and garnered praise and respect from the three moto-journalists who rode the different legs of its 14,000-mile journey to the Japanese factory where it was made.

But, you know, really, you wouldn’t normally choose a 228 kg motorcycle for remote off roading –– especially one with a plastic bash plate. If you’re considering a V-Strom 1000 Adventure, you should just come to terms with that. It’s a road bike.

But on the road it’s a damned good bike. Especially if you like torque. Running a 1,037-cc V-twin engine, the Big Strom is a torque sandwich: two slices of torque with a pile of torquey torqueness squished between. And all of that torque comes pretty instantly –– roughly 79 lb. ft. at 4,000 rpm. Turn off the traction control and the bike serves as a ridiculous wheelie machine.

Along with your torque sandwich, you get a nice tall glass of horsepower, with the Big Strom delivering about 100 bhp at 8,000 rpm (some reviews I’ve seen claim it hits 115 bhp). Riding the thing, I found myself reminded just a bit of two of my favourite test rides of all time: the Harley-Davidson Sportster 1200 and the Triumph Bonneville, All the superhero oomph of the Harley, with the usability of the Triumph. But with an engine that doesn’t even notice if you carry a passenger or are seeking to make progress on a motorway. The V-Strom 1000 is the bike those other two bikes should be.

Meanwhile, in terms of amenities and features, the V-Strom 1000 knocks those other two out of the park. There’s the aforementioned traction control, for instance. Being a generally pansy rider, I’ll admit that I don’t rank traction control as a must. But, I have had one or two bum-clenching moments when encountering the manure that is ubiquitous on Welsh country roads and I live in a country where it rains all the time, so I certainly wouldn’t turn my nose up at such a feature.

ABS is standard, of course. In reviews I’ve read where the moto-journalist is hell bent on trying to off road the V-Strom 1000 they like to point out that ABS cannot be shut off. But that’s an irrelevant point as far as I’m concerned. You might as well complain about not being able to shut off the headlight. On the road, there’s never any need to do such a thing. Especially considering how unobtrusive it is. I had to put real effort into getting the ABS system to trigger. Ride like you’re supposed to and you’ll never notice it’s there.

The dashboard is loaded with information: two trip meters, a fuel gauge, range to empty, average MPG and instant MPG, time, ambient temperature and so on. Not to mention a nice, big gear indicator. The tachometer is analog but all other info is digital. Riding through a tunnel clued me into the fact that the dashboard looks really cool at night. And pushing buttons at random taught me that switching all the info from miles to kilometres is super-mega easy: a handy feature if you’re the sort of person who’s keen to do a lot of riding in Europe (b), or an American wanting to visit Canada. Or vice versa.

Just below the dash is a handy 12v outlet, placed where you actually want a 12v outlet to be if you’re using a satnav, phone or heated gear. Often manufacturers put their 12v plug under the seat or in top boxes, which almost defeats the point of having such a feature. Usefully, the dashboard readout also lets you know power usage.

Overall, wind protection on the Big Strom is good, though the windscreen leaves something to be desired if –– like me –– you are 6 foot 1.

Being relatively tall, I had no problems getting both feet flat on the pavement at stops. I’ve read reviews by people who are 5 foot 9 and also had no trouble touching down. Shorter and taller seats are available.

Annoyingly, the foot pegs are placed exactly where my legs would naturally want to go at a stop. At first that meant I had to awkwardly stick my feet forward and out to keep from banging my legs against the pegs when touching down. Then I discovered the pegs have springs and push back easily against my calves. After a few attempts it felt pretty natural.

Not that I needed to put my feet down very often. The V-Strom 1000 is ridiculously stable. I’ve always prided myself on how long I can keep my feet up at a crawl on the Honda CBF600SA, but the Big Strom –– a heavier, taller bike –– beats it without even trying. If I were into running gymkhana courses this would be my bike of choice. The Suzuki wears its weight well. It doesn’t feel like the big bike that it is. That’s true even when muscling it around.

It’s a neat trick, because the bike definitely has presence. Though it’s not as car-wide as a KTM 1050 Adventure its girth manages to command a modicum of respect from other road users that you won’t get when on a CBF600SA. Part of that comes, I think, as a result of the V-Strom’s headlight, which throws a lot of light. Indeed, I got the sense that the headlight was intimidating one or two drivers.

Throwing around that weight and presence in curves comes easy, thanks to the bike’s shockingly good suspension. The suspension is fully adjustable, though I found everything to be fantastic without any tinkering. Matched with the wide handlebars, it makes for a very confident and secure ride. At spirited motorway speeds, meanwhile, the V-Strom 1000 is rock solid and not at all stressed. Cruising at 80 mph brought the tachometer up to just above 4,000 rpm. Its red line is 10,000 rpm. I can’t imagine how or why you would ever get close to red lining the thing.

By keeping things normal, it’s possible to get roughly 250 miles from the Suzuki’s 20-litre fuel tank, which is far longer than my bladder will hold out. But the bike’s big seat is comfy enough to support all those miles. Pillion accommodation is especially roomy and superior to that provided on bikes against which I’d compare the V-Strom 1000 –– except the Kawasaki Versys 1000, where the seat size is similar.

Though, before you go inviting a special guy or gal to join you on a cross-country tour you’ll want to first get to grips with the Big Strom’s throttle and transmission. First and second gear are particularly agricultural. The bike is equipped with a slipper clutch but that doesn’t help when you’re going up the gears. Getting it quickly up the gears –– say, when accelerating onto a motorway –– can be a jerky experience. This is exacerbated by the bike’s touchy throttle. I feel both issues can be overcome, though with applied finesse. Indeed, I was starting to get the hang of things toward the end of my ride.

The front brakes are just a tad bitey, but I suppose I’d prefer that over the alternative. It’s nice to be able to stop.

Overall, the V-Strom 1000 is a quality machine. Especially since Suzuki has come to its senses and reduced the bike’s price in the UK by £1,000. Before that, the bike’s price tag was causing people to compare it against things like the BMW R1200GS, KTM 1190 Adventure and Triumph Tiger Explorer. And against those more powerful, more tech-loaded machines the V-Strom 1000 Adventure looks a little weak.

Specs-wise, it is much more competitive against the bikes I mentioned at the top of this post: Yamaha MT-09 Tracer (Yamaha FJ-09 in the United States), Honda Crossrunner (aka VFR800X), Kawasaki Versys 1000 and Triumph Tiger XR. I think it’s a matter of individual preference as to which one of those is best. I personally lean in favour of the Suzuki.

That said, it’s not a perfect motorcycle.

The biggest flaw for me is that windscreen. The V-Strom 1000 has a really nifty feature that allows you to easily adjust the windscreen’s angle whilst riding, but no position was able to subdue the wind noise. It’s a problem that can be fixed with aftermarket solution, but it’s annoying to have to put in the work that Suzuki should have done in the first place.

Another problem that might have owners turning to the aftermarket is the dearth of space in the panniers. Suzuki have developed a very clever set of panniers that fit the bike’s frame really well, but at the expense of usable space. Combined, the panniers on the V-Strom 1000 Adventure offer just 39 litres of space. The right pannier loses most of its capacity making room for the bike’s exhaust. It would hold a bottle of wine and some spare gloves, but not a whole hell of a lot more. Neither pannier is wide enough inside to fit a laptop. My fullface BMW Sport helmet does not fit in the larger (left side) pannier, though I suspect some helmets might just squeeze in.

The V-Strom 1000 Adventure has parking lights, which is a feature I don’t quite understand the point of. The feature allows you to leave the bike’s lights on without having to leave the key in the ignition. I can’t think of a scenario where this would be something I’d want to do. And unfortunately, the parking light setting is right next to the steering lock setting. So, it’s easy to set the parking lights by accident. Which is what I did. Fortunately, I wasn’t away from the bike for long, else I would have returned to a dead battery.

Also light-related is the awkward placing of the high beam switch. I found that in bringing my index finger back off the clutch lever I’d sometimes catch the switch and accidentally turn on the brights. Considering the already powerful nature of the bike’s headlight, hitting the high beam caused drivers of cars in front of me to go into convulsions.

So, with all that said, let’s get to the three questions I ask of every motorcycle I test ride:

1) Does it fit my current needs/lifestyle?
Yes. The traction control and offroad-inspired durability are ideal for tackling awful British roads on a year-round basis. Whereas the power, low-RPM cruisability and top notch suspension make it exactly the sort of machine I’d want on a long European road trip.

2.) Does it put a grin on my face?
Yes. I’ll admit it didn’t right away, but twisting the throttle changes your mind instantly. It performs and handles so well I am reminded of the Chameleon XLE –– the spoof car from an old SNL sketch designed to look like crap and prevent people from knowing how good it really is. Or, you know, it could be that no one at Suzuki knows how to design a bike that’s aesthetically pleasing. Based on all of Suzuki’s other models, that’s probably more correct.

3) Is it better than my Honda CBF600SA?
Yes. So much better that I traded in the Honda and bought a brand new V-Strom 1000 Adventure. All the pictures in the post of the bike next to the River Severn are pictures of my new bike on the day I rode it home.

Yeah, I know: way to bury the news, right? I got a new bike. I’ll write about the experience of getting her, and how I came to choose her –– despite some serious reservations –– in a future post.

(a) Dylan Thomas famously described his hometown of Swansea, Wales, as an “ugly, lovely town.” Swansea is, of course, my least favourite place, so I’m inclined to drop the bit about it being “lovely.”

(b) For those of you playing along in the United States, Britain uses miles per hour whereas the rest of Europe travels in kilometres.