2012 Kawasaki Versys vs. 2012 Suzuki V-Strom 650 | Cheap Adventure

By Brian Catterson, Photography by Kevin Wing

Both of these engines are fuel-injected, naturally, and the Suzuki earns higher marks for its smoother response. Both have cable-actuated clutches, as well—bonus points to the Kawi for having an adjustable lever—and both have a heavier pull than we’d like to see on bikes that will likely be ridden by women. Gear-change action is merely acceptable on both, our V-Strom sometimes popping out of gear on the first-to-second shift. If you ride with off-road boots, it pays to raise the shift lever one spline.

In terms of riding position, the Kawasaki’s is more “sportsmanlike,” whereas the Suzuki’s is roomier and more comfortable. That holds doubly true for the passenger, as the Kawi’s two-piece seat is stepped, so the passenger sits much higher than the rider, as on a sportbike. The Kawi has a great seating position: up on top of the bike with a commanding view, not down in it like the Suzuki. The Kawi’s rider’s seat is thin but dense; unfortunately, it also angles downward, putting precious parts of the rider’s anatomy in close contact with the gas tank. The Kawi’s bars are wide, yet narrower than the Suzuki’s, and while its windscreen is adjustable, none of its three positions afford as much wind protection as the Suzuki’s much larger windshield.

Both of these bikes have nicely appointed dashboards, but the Suzuki wins the geek award, boasting a digital gear indicator and an outside air temperature readout, so you know just exactly how hot or cold you are. It also has two tripmeters, each with its own on-the-fly mpg rating, plus adjustable dash brightness. You toggle through the various functions with what would normally be the passing-light switch; that’s now integrated into the high/low-beam switch. The Versys has a clock. Phew!

Head down a twisty backroad, and the Versys rules. It’s got an inverted fork, a sexy, side-mounted shock and a long, stiff, asymmetric swingarm. Combine that with its wide handlebar, upright seating position and sporty (read: stiff) suspension settings, and you can slam it into corners like a supermoto bike. The rear suspension has no linkage, but it does have two-stage damping, changing from plush to stiff mid-stroke. (Think KTM PDS.) As a result, the Versys is bothered by mid-corner bumps, dips and rises, and doesn’t care for rough or uneven pavement. Suspension adjustments include rebound damping (on the right fork leg only), plus preload and a cheesy rebound-damping dial on the shock.

The V-Strom feels very “put-together” and “sweet,” with nice, neutral handling. It has a dirtbike feel on pavement but feels like a streetbike in the dirt. Its fork is a traditional right-side-up design, with an old-school slotted preload adjuster but no provisions to vary damping. Out back is a single shock with a linkage. Bonus points for the remote hydraulic preload adjuster that lets you tailor the ride to suit your load with the simple turn of a knob. There’s also a rebound damping adjuster, but no way to change compression.

While both of these bikes use the same brake calipers, different rotors, wheels, tires and suspension mean they perform differently. The Versys stops on a dime with its stiff suspension and sportbike-sized, 17-inch front tire. The V-Strom scores high marks for having ABS as standard (a plus), but no provision to shut it off (a minus). Stopping power is merely acceptable, however, due to its skinnier 19-inch front tire. (The payback is a wider range of semi-dirt tires for the front.) It’s also fairly easy to get into the ABS, which is anything but transparent, the brake lever and pedal pulsing noticeably.

In the end, these two middleWeights are perhaps more different than they are similar. The Kawasaki Versys is a poor man’s Ducati Multistrada—an all-day comfortable sportbike in adventurer’s clothing. The Suzuki V-Strom is a working stiff’s BMW GS—a proper adventure-tourer that’s just a set of saddlebags away from circumnavigating the globe. Both are amply supported by the farklemarket for luggage and add-on lights and all the adventure-toury stuff, the Suzuki arguably more so. Which one of these is right for you depends entirely on what you want from a motorcycle.

By Brian Catterson
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I've been riding my 05 V-strom 650 for 45,000 trouble free miles. I use it for commuting as well as 450 to 600 mile touring days and the occassional week-end, two-up. I especially like the nearly 500 lb. payload capacity, much more then even the new Triumph Trophy Sport Touring ride. I sometimes wish it were an 800 cc ride so I did not lust after a Strom 1000 for 2-up riding. No doubt the Versys is a good ride but just does not fit me or my riding preferences. For the record, I am nearly 70 years old, 240#, 30 in. inseam and ride pavement, graded dirt and gravel.
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