It’s easy to imagine that BMW has a Germanic stranglehold on the ADV market—and it’s true the GS has been the overdog for a very long time—but competition abounds, including machines from Japan. Case in point is the Suzuki V-Strom 1000. Developed mainly by Suzuki’s European arm and somewhat reluctantly brought to the US for the 2002 model year, the ’Strom has been a strong seller for Suzuki, both in the original 1000 and in the 650cc version that followed.
The big ’Strom’s 996cc V-twin was imported from the sporty TL1000S and detuned for more low-end and midrange power. Although the 90-degree cylinder spread theoretically gives perfect balance, low-rpm running sometimes suggests otherwise. Some of the clutches on ’02 and early ’03 models were afflicted with “chudder,” a combination of chatter and shudder, which was cured with an improved clutch basket. Fueling issues make tuning modules one of the most popular performance accessories, but not all bikes are affected—some run cleanly while others stumble—and sometimes all the bike needs to smooth out is to take the slack out of the drive chain and keep the revs up. Dirty fuel filters have also been identified as the cause of rough running; some owners bypass them.
The engine hangs from a beefy aluminum frame, but the oil cooler, oil filter, and front header pipe sit low and forward; a stout bash plate is a must for off-roading, and a front fender extender wouldn’t hurt. The suspension is too soft for serious off-road work, acceptable on smooth fire roads, and very much at home on pavement. A fork upgrade and a better rear shock turn the ’Strom into a surprisingly good pavement scratcher. At 33 inches off the deck, the seat is tall but soft enough for shorter riders to flat-foot stops. Even so, lowering links for the rear shock linkage and sliding the fork tubes up in the clamps are popular mods for the inseam impaired. Stainless-steel lines bring out the best in the brakes, which lean toward the mushy side of the performance index.
Styling is subjective, and there’s no middle ground between the love-it and hate-it crowd. The fairing deflects a good deal of the windblast, but the short stock windscreen does little to reduce helmet buffeting and might actually aggravate it. You won’t see many ’Stroms without aftermarket screens. With an alternator output of 400 watts on ’03-and-later models, there’s enough juice to run a heated vest and gloves and a couple of other electrical goodies, but with two 55-watt headlights sucking up electrons you’re pushing it trying to keep your passenger warm, too.
Issues to watch for on used ones include flaking engine paint, corroded hardware, and rust-pocked brake rotors. Check the brake calipers for dirt that causes the pads to stick, and run a careful eye over the radiator and oil-cooler fins for damage. Finally, cracked fairing panels point to a recent gravity check, and there’s not a piece of plastic on the bike whose price won’t take your breath away.
Strong engine, comfortable ergos. Maybe not a great bike, but a pretty good one, especially for the money.
Porky, soft suspension, nosebleed seat height. Some call it the best advertisement for buying the 650 V-Strom instead.
Clutch chudder on early models, fueling issues, toasted suspension, rust.
A well-rounded performer for thousands less than its European competitors.
If you’re buying a used adventure-tourer for genuine adventure touring, cosmetic flaws take a back seat—you’ll add more before you’re done. Focus instead on the bike’s mechanical condition, its reliability record, and the ease of performing routine maintenance on the road, far from a dealer. Learn more about your bike and connect with other two-wheel travelers at Horizons Unlimited (horizonsunlimited.com) and Adventure Rider (advrider.com), where you can find out how to save time, money, and maybe your life when you’re out and roaming where the wild things are. Also, talking to your fellow riders is a great way to stay inspired.