Test rides

Long-term ride review: 7,000 miles on a Suzuki V-Strom 1000

One of the many things the Suzuki V-Strom 1000 has going in its favor is the fact it has 7,500-mile service intervals. This is a vast improvement over the 4,000-mile intervals I had with my Honda CBF600SA

For reference amongst comparable bikes, the service interval on a Triumph Tiger 800 XRx is 6,000 miles; a Kawasaki Versys 1000 also brags 7,500 miles; and you’ll get 8,000 miles between garage visits on a Honda VFR800X. So, the V-Strom 1000 fits into the pack respectably.
I have just scheduled to take my bike in for its first service (a), and I expect it will actually have more than 7,500 miles on the clock by the time it reaches the good folks at Fowlers of Bristol. Because that’s the the thing about the ‘Strom; you want to ride it.

It is an adventure motorcycle in the broader sense of the word; it encourages you to take the longest route between points A and B. It is the kind of bike that will have you looking at maps, thinking: “You know, riding 300 miles for a sandwich doesn’t seem too unreasonable…”

The 1,037-cc V-twin that powers the V-Strom 1000 puts out 100 hp, according to Suzuki –– a little less according to some independent dyno tests. The similarly specced Kawasaki Versys 1000 claims 118 hp, but the Strom is otherwise on par with what Triumph claims for its Tiger 800 XR/XC models, what KTM claims for the 1050 Adventure, and what Honda claims for the forthcoming Africa Twin. And in my personal experience it is plenty.

Even with the bike’s notoriously touchy throttle, power delivery is smooth. Albeit assertive. After all, deep in the heart of this engine is the soul of the old TL1000S. Perhaps because of that sport-bike heritage –– because of what they expect as a result –– some moto-journalists tend to write off the V-Strom 1000 as being not terribly exciting.

I can’t understand what the hell they’re talking about. Even from a dead stop the bike has punch-you-in-the-chest oomph, it can pass whole rows of cars within a shockingly small window of space/time, and the only challenge I had in getting the bike to hit 130 mph on the German autobahn this summer was in finding the personal courage to do so.

Indeed, at that speed the tachometer showed I was still south of the bike’s 10,000-rpm red line. She had plenty more to give, and that was with roughly 40 kg (88 lbs) of luggage and its corresponding aerodynamic resistance.

Meanwhile, at more sane speeds the engine hums without effort. As far as fuel economy is concerned it is happiest at roughly 60 mph, but higher cruising speeds are achieved just as easily and without it getting too thirsty. When Jenn and I travel down to Devon on the bike I tend to keep my speed somewhere in the 80-mph range, which puts the engine at a comfortable 4,500 rpm.

Speaking of which, I’ve found that the presence of a passenger and full luggage is unnoticeable in terms of engine performance.

There is an old rider’s belief that a V-twin betters with age. The V-Strom’s water-cooled twin suggests there’s some truth to that claim. At about 600 miles it developed a slight, but not at all worrying, knocking that has since transformed into a richer gentle thud. It sounds less surgical now at idle, and more like a very large animal breathing.

At high speed revs, she has developed a beautiful/vicious snarl that I don’t remember being there early on. However, that may have more to do with the fact that as I’ve become more comfortable with, and more connected to the V-Strom I have been more willing to push.

Suzukis have a reputation for smooth transmissions. I’m not sure “smooth” is the adjective I would choose –– in 1st and 2nd gears especially –– but I will say I have no complaints. False neutrals are incredibly uncommon and can always be attributed entirely to rider error.
First gear is found with a gentle but reassuring “clunk” of the sort we’ve come to expect from adventure bikes and cruisers. And it’s a sound that I prefer.

Over time, I’ve found the bike works best if you keep it in a lower gear longer than you would on many other bikes. This keeps the revs above 3,000 rpm and therefore ensures the engine is more responsive. Another reason to do this is that the gears are decently long, to the extent that 6th really is just an overdrive gear used for the sake of fuel efficiency.

Clutchless upshifts are easy enough if you can be bothered to wind the engine all the way up to 5,000 rpm or so, but you’ll find it won’t make anything smoother than the tried-and-true method of pulling in the clutch. Meanwhile, a slipper clutch helps to protect against the negative effects of downshifting like an idiot.

The presence of the slipper clutch, of course, also helps smooth out the act of engine braking. And as a result you’ll find you use this technique quite often when bringing the ‘Strom to a stop. Lightly tapping the front brake lever just to light up the tail light, shifting down through the gears, and applying only a modicum of pressure on front and rear brakes to bring things to a complete stop. At this rate, I won’t need new brake pads for quite some time.

On my previous bike, riding a long distance on the motorway in warm weather almost always guaranteed a sticky transmission once I returned to city speeds. Thankfully I’ve experienced no such problem with the V-Strom, which I have ridden further, harder and hotter than I ever rode the Honda.

The V-Strom 1000’s suspension is fully adjustable, both front and rear. I have never bothered to mess with the front because that’s a dark art, as far as I’m concerned. Plus, Suzuki set it up so that I have absolutely no complaints.

From time to time I have bothered to twist the pre-load knob on the rear suspension, but for the most part it’s been an academic exercise –– doing something for the sake of saying I’ve done it. Again, the bike was pretty much perfect out of the box. Even adding a passenger and luggage has little effect on the bike’s stellar feel.

One thing I particularly love is how solid the bike feels at motorway speed. I’ve driven cars that were less steady at 80 mph. It’s a steadiness that remains through twisting roads. True, you sacrifice a tiny bit of flickablity in the ‘Strom’s height, weight and 19-inch front wheel, but once you get it into a corner it is solidly there.

I’ve mentioned before that the ‘Strom has fantastic balance, which means that despite its height and wide ‘bars it is a great tool for moving through traffic. It maintains this composure even with a passenger, to such an extent that Jenn will now let me filter with her on the back –– something she wasn’t comfortable with on the Honda.

Off-road handling, meanwhile, is far better than I would have expected. On my massive trip to Italy this past summer I stayed at a villa in Tuscany that was located about two miles down a hilly dirt road. With traction control on, the bike was sure-footed and confidence-inspiring. Once I had dumped my luggage at the villa, I clicked off the traction control and found the dirt road to be all kinds of fun.

It doesn’t make sense to attempt anything more rugged on such a large, heavy bike. If you actually want to climb over rocks or ford rivers you should be on a Honda CRF250L.

The Strom’s brakes, meanwhile, are pretty much all you need. The over-sharp bite I experienced from the dual front discs when I first got the bike has softened just a little. Or, perhaps I have developed more finesse. The single rear disc brake is arguably a teency bit soft but not so much that I have ever cared or wished for more.

As I said above, I try to think ahead enough that I mostly use engine braking when bringing the ‘Strom to a halt, but there have been one or two Yikes! moments that demanded more urgent slowing and I’ve never been left wanting.

Speaking of Yikes! moments, the V-Strom 1000’s standard anti-lock braking system is unobtrusive and generally unlikely to be noticed. Yet, I’ve found it to be damn useful when navigating the mud-covered roads of Wales and West England (b).

Traction control has also proved to be a godsend on the same kind of roads. The Strom’s uncomplicated traction control system has three settings: off, Level 1, and Level 2. The setting is chosen via a switch on the left handlebar and unlike similar systems on other bikes your chosen setting remains after cutting the ignition. I generally ride with the bike set at Level 1 in normal conditions and crank it up to Level 2 when there’s heavy rain or I’m on muddy/algae-covered roads (a surprisingly common hazard in Britain).

I’m pretty certain traction control has saved my bacon a handful of times. There is a sudden slowing that occurs when TC activates, as if the engine were groaning: “Hurngh.” It doesn’t actually make that sound but behaves as you’d expect if it did. If that makes sense. It’s a slightly odd sensation, but preferable to having the wheel kick out from under me and the bike topple over.

The only time I’ve ever had unwanted traction control intrusion is when riding the famously bumpity-bumpity roads of Norfolk. The system became unsettled and offered its “Hurngh” action despite dry roads on a sunny day. The simple answer was to just shut the system off, which can be done on the move (although, you do need to pull in the clutch).

OK, maybe that’s not the only time. I have found that you can unsettle the traction control if you quickly open the throttle, quickly close it and quickly open it again when the bike is in first gear. This causes a rodeo bull sensation that, if you’re suffering from the mental fog of having ridden all day, may cause you to prolong the sensation by stupidly opening and closing the throttle a few more times.

The above is a particularly unique scenario that only occurs when the rider has his head up his ass. However, that it is able to happen is partially due to the V-Strom 1000’s famously sensitive throttle.

Also frequently lamented in reviews of the Suzuki GSX-S1000 and GSX-S1000FA, the V-Strom 1000’s jumpy throttle hasn’t gotten a lot of love from moto-journalists. I will admit that it was a little annoying in the first 400 miles or so, but I have gotten used to it now to the point that when I ride other bikes I’ll think they’re a little odd for not being hyper-responsive.

I’ve had no problems with the electronics but for a single incident in Baden-Baden, Germany. The weather was particularly warm (approaching 105F) and I had been riding several hours on the autobahn, cruising at upward of 100 mph. Hot, tired and frustrated, I managed to stall the bike, then started it up and threw it into gear all in a single action. Somehow the combination of these factors led to the bike’s “FI” light (c) appearing on the dash, and the hazard lights flashing any time I used the indicator.

The problem went away after I had stopped, shut off the bike and allowed it to sit for a few minutes. I still chalk this incident up to my own bad karma (I had shouted at a disabled man) rather than any actual problem with the bike.

The seat of a Suzuki V-Strom, be it on the 650 or 1000, is renown in the motorcycle world as one of the most comfortable. I’m happy to agree with that and am pretty sure it’s actually become more comfortable over time. Generously large, the seat also offers plenty of room to move around on long trips.

Without doubt, however, one of the best aspects of the seat is that it provides adequate space for a human-sized passenger. From looking at the accommodations provided by other bikes I’m inclined to say the V-Strom 1000 is best in class when it comes to pillion space. This comes in conjunction with passenger pegs placed low enough for human-sized legs.

Jenn is 5-foot-8 and tells me she is very comfortable on the back, with room to move around, and good, solid grab handles to hold on to. Since owning the ‘Strom I’ve noticed in her a greater willingness to go places by bike, as well as a greater interest in perhaps getting a bike of her own. If that’s not an endorsement for a motorcycle, I don’t know what is.

At 6-foot-1, I find the bike’s riding position to be just about perfect for me. I am able to flat foot both feet at a stop.

I think the levers are adjustable but haven’t needed to, as they fit comfortably to my hands. There are times I have thought about adding ‘bar risers to ease occasional shoulder tension on long hauls, but, then, it’s cheaper to just shift around a little more whilst on the move.

The too-short-for-me adjustable screen still annoys me, but clearly not so much that I’ve bothered to replace it over the last 7,000 miles. Mirrors are fantastic, offering a clear and steady view of what’s behind. The headlight is, quite literally, brilliant. Though the switch to set to high beam is located a little too close to my left forefinger and has occasionally been activated by accident.

If you ride the ‘Strom hard in very hot weather –– say, several hours at 100 mph in 105ºF  –– you will find the bike dumping a whole lot of heat onto you. However, at the speeds that are legal in every other country I’ve ridden, and in heat that isn’t extreme, I have not experienced so much discomfort. Certainly when I’ve wished the bike would spit heat, i.e., in the winter, I have found the Suzuki to be frustratingly too efficient for hand warming.

To that end, I strongly recommend hand guards and heated grips. Suzuki’s heated grips are generic-looking things, so there’s no advantage to getting OEM stuff here; Oxford heated grips are less expensive and offer more settings. The Suzuki handguards are reasonably inexpensive (they came standard as part of the Adventure package, in my case) but you should accept that they are really just wind blocks. If you want actual protection, a number of aftermarket options are available.

The Suzuki panniers help the bike keep a narrow profile, to the extent they don’t affect my filtering, but the downside is that they don’t hold much stuff. When I rode to Italy, most of the luggage duty was shared by two Kriega bags and a lovely, large Oxford Aqua 50 (thanks again, Cam!)

A luggage rack comes standard, but you may find it a little difficult to actually use said rack. This is because the nature of the rack, and how close it sits to the tail bodywork (a gap of only a few millimeters exists between) means that bungee cords are not easily attached. Equally, there are no bungee points elsewhere on the bike. I got around this by using straps that were able to slip under the rack, but others might find that they would want to buy aftermarket rack accessories (I know SW-Motech sells some) to improve its usability.

The dashboard is loaded with useful information –– including gear indicator and a pretty accurate “miles to empty” fuel readout –– and I will never stop cheering Suzuki for being so intelligent as to place a 12v plug up front, exactly where it is needed. Other manufacturers, if they have such a plug, tend to bury it under the seat or, worse yet, inside luggage, making it difficult if not impossible to use that plug to power a GPS.

In the eight months I’ve owned the V-Strom 1000 I’ve subjected it to pretty much everything: extreme heat, extreme cold, wind, rain, sleet, all-day motorway hauls, twisting mountain passes, rutted dirt roads, traffic-dodging city madness, 130-mph psycho runs, wife-pleasing country meandering, and lots more between.

The ‘Strom is the definition of all-rounder. It does everything. And, by and large, it does everything well. Especially on the road, which is where I prefer to be. It is capable of moving faster than I prefer to move, of taking curves with greater intensity than I’m willing to take them. I’ve never found myself pushing up against the bike’s limits in any facet.

It’ll break the law easily, but when you stay within the boundaries of the law you’re rewarded by stunning fuel economy. I have managed to get 270 miles from its 20-litre tank with considered riding. Generally, though, I find range to be between 220-250 miles on a tank.

I’ve not needed to adjust the chain, perhaps in part because I am pretty meticulous about keeping it clean and oiled. I sometimes look longingly at larger adventure touring bikes with shaft drives (e.g. the BMW R1200GS), but then you have the extra cost and weight to consider.

Everything else has been fuss-free. Changing the oil was a piece of cake. According to the owner’s manual I didn’t really need to do that, but I’m fastidious about such things.

A small section of matte paint has worn off at the right-side case cover, right where my ankle rubs against it when riding. I feel a little frustrated by that but it’s only about half the size of a penny, and if it’s the only problem I experience in ownership I won’t complain.

Paint on the tank seems to be holding up well, with no scratches or fading. The plastics look good, too. There is a fair amount of plastic placed around the tank for the sake of aesthetics which creates nooks and crannies that are difficult to clean. To the extent that I’ve sort of given up on trying.

Equally difficult to clean are the rims. Since they are black, I have stopped putting any real effort into that, too. I spray them with water, squirt them with Muc-Off, then spray them again. If that doesn’t do the trick, well, c’est la vie.

I mentioned above that the handguards aren’t for anything other than wind blocking, and that is obvious in the fact that bug strikes have caused a number of tiny scratches and nicks. Similar marks can be found on the panniers and the purely aesthetic sump guard.

No bolts have loosened, all the wires and fiddly bits remain secure, as you would expect from a Japanese motorcycle. Everything is solidly put together and feels of good quality.

Although I like the look of them and they do seem sturdy, I often wonder what, exactly, the crash bars are protecting. The vast majority of the engine is located below them. But, I guess that if the bike were to tip over on solid ground they would be the first thing to hit and no part of the engine would actually touch the pavement. Maybe. Hopefully I’ll never find out.

As I said earlier, fuel economy can be very good when you want it to be. And even when you’re behaving like an ass it remains respectable. Meanwhile, fuel is about all the money I’ve put into the bike so far. Well, I did change the oil, but, as I say, that wasn’t a necessary thing.

The initial 600-mile service set me back about £60. If I’m reading the Fowler’s website correctly, the 7,500-mile service will cost £125. I could easily do all this servicing myself, but that would invalidate the warranty. If I choose to keep the ‘Strom beyond its two-year warranty period I guarantee it will never see another professional garage for maintenance, because the bike really is that easy to fuss with.

I’m still rolling on the same Bridgestone Battle Wings the bike originally came with. They certainly don’t look brand new but still have plenty of tread left, probably a solid 4 millimetres from the wear bar. If I were in a less rain-plagued part of the world, I’d probably let them wear all the way down to said bar. But because I live in Britain I’m keen to replace the tires with a set of Michelin Pilot Road 4s sometime before winter really hits. I think I will also finally bite the bullet and get a Givi AirFlow screen before December, as well.

Here’s what annoys me about the Suzuki V-Strom 1000: there isn’t really any bike that’s flat-out better.

I mean, yeah, there are certain bikes that look better, or that have more character, or that handle better, or that are faster, or that more useful off road, and so on, but in each of those cases the bike in question will fall far short in some other aspect. Unless you’re willing to spend almost double the price of the ‘Strom on a wündermotorrad like the BMW R1200GSA, I think you’ll struggle to find a bike that does so many things as well.

And because of that I find it difficult to daydream about one day owning one of those other bikes without immediately killing the fantasy with thoughts of how said machine won’t measure up to the ‘Strom in some other way. That’s annoying for me, since I love playing the What I Want game.

Some moto-journalists tend to dismiss the ‘Strom because it will not make your bowels loosen with its unholy speed, but press them and they’ll admit it’s a damn good bike and that more expensive competitors may not actually be worth the additional money.

It is a do-all machine. It goes everywhere, it’s utterly reliable, it’s affordable, and it’s fun. I tend to agree with Wes Siler that the V-Strom 1000 is the type of bike that manufacturers should be making if they actually want to expand motorcycling. Because it’s not very niche; something this practical doesn’t slot as easily into the “hobby” category as, say, a Harley-Davidson Sportster, or Kawasaki ZX-10R.

It’s not a bike for staring at or breaking the sound barrier. It’s a bike for riding everywhere, all the time.

(a) First “proper” service, beyond the simple oil change and once-over it had at 600 miles.

(b) That’s farm country, yo. It’s not really mud, it’s manure. Which is all the more reason to be thankful for ABS brakes; you don’t want to go down in that.

(c) “FI” ostensibly means “Fuel Injection” but the light on the dash can mean any number of problems have occurred. It’s like the old “check engine” light in cars.