They say, “...makes the journey of life seamless.”
We say, “Especially if the journey involves a banker.”
Riding the 2014 Suzuki V-Strom 1000 along the twisting Spanish coast road past abandoned, half-finished hotels seems almost appropriate, given the way that Suzuki has suffered, like that country's tourist industry, in the global recession. But the V-Strom is freshly built and finished; proof that the bike firm is still alive and beginning to fight back.
The V-Strom 1000 name is familiar but this is an all-new machine. Its beaky styling and 19-inch front wheel suggest that the Strom is a dual-purpose bike, built for dirt as well as asphalt. The fact that we've just ridden almost 200 miles on the road, without venturing onto the trails that cross this part of southern Spain, suggests otherwise.
In fact, Suzuki makes no pretence of off-road ability. The V-Strom is an adventure styled roadster; a rival for bikes such as Kawasaki's Versys and Triumph's Tiger Sport (a model not available in the US, and not likely to come here). It's intended to fill a gap between middleweights, including Suzuki's own V-Strom 650 and more powerful, versatile and expensive open-class adventure bikes.
Like its predecessor, the V-Strom is powered by an eight-valve, liquid-cooled V-twin with cylinders at 90 degrees. It's an almost completely new engine with 2mm bigger bore giving a capacity increase from 996 to 1,037cc. The cylinder head, con-rods, and crankshaft are redesigned, the latter with a heavier flywheel for smoother low-rev throttle response.
Peak power output is up by just 2 hp, to 99 hp at 8,000 rpm, but Suzuki claims the real improvement is torque at lower revs. The max torque figure is only barely higher but it's produced 2,400 rpm lower, at 4,000 rpm, and the curve shows a big bulge upward at that point, where the previous model was relatively weak. The revised injection and exhaust systems also contribute to a claimed 16 percent improvement in fuel efficiency.
The V-Strom is also fitted with Suzuki's first-ever traction control system. It's a relatively simple system (no lean-angle detection here) controlled by sensors for wheel speed, plus the positions of throttle, crankshaft, and gearbox. A button on the left bar gives choice of two settings, both for roadgoing use, and allows the system to be turned off.
Chassis updates begin with the aluminum twin-spar frame that, according to Suzuki, is stiffer and 13 percent lighter than its predecessor, and holds a longer twin-sided aluminum swing-arm. Wheelbase is 0.8 inches longer due also to a front-end redesign that incorporates a larger diameter, 43mm inverted fork—also a first for the V-Strom line. New 10-spoke cast wheels are lighter than their predecessors; the brake system is uprated with Tokico monoblock calipers and ABS.
The beaky, dual-purpose styling is pleasant enough (and echoes old Suzukis such as the DR Big, supposedly the originator of the "beak" front fender), if slightly misleading given the V-Strom's lack of off-road intent. An overall air of quality, from features such as the comprehensive digital instrument console and built-in luggage rack, is marred by unfinished details, such as the exposed exhaust valve mechanism and tangle of ABS wiring around the front brake calipers.
At 503 pounds (claimed wet), the V-Strom is 17 pounds lighter than the old model, mainly due to its single-silencer exhaust. The seat is 0.4 inches taller but it's narrow at the front. The bike felt reasonably maneuverable as I headed down the coast road from Almeria. The engine's newfound flexibility was immediately welcome, giving a smooth low-rev response that made for a relaxing ride through the near-deserted coastal villages.
Suzuki's research with V-Strom owners highlighted improved low-rev performance as a key wish, and this bike certainly delivers. When we headed into the hills on a succession of winding, near-deserted roads, the strong midrange came into its own. The Suzuki pulled well from that 4,000 rpm mark, staying smooth as the tach needle headed toward the redline at 9,250 rpm. The traction control activated when I cracked the throttle deliberately on slippery urban roads, especially on its more intrusive setting, but I wasn't aware of it in normal use.
When winding the power exiting slower turns, I did sometimes notice a slightly abrupt feel that seemed like transmission snatch, though it wasn't serious and was undetectable at higher speeds. The six-speed box is new, with a shorter sixth-gear ratio, and shifted smoothly enough. The clutch incorporates Suzuki's SCAS clutch assist system, designed to give a slipper clutch type action along with lighter lever pull, and worked fine.
On more open roads the bike cruised effortlessly at 80 mph, and rumbled smoothly to an indicated 135 mph on one short, slightly downhill straight. It probably has enough straightline performance for most owners. Even so, I couldn't help feeling that the V-Strom lacked top-end excitement.
At least the V-Strom handled well enough to be entertaining, after a few turns of the shock's remote preload adjuster had raised the rear end. This dialed out the soggy feel that the Suzuki had on standard settings, and sharpened the steering to good effect, making the bike notably more responsive. A little extra damping at both ends, would doubtless have given an even tauter feel (the KYB fork is multi-adjustable, the shock has rebound damping adjustment only) but the V-Strom was enjoyably easy to flick around.
The Suzuki was impressively well braked, too, its four-piston Tokico monoblock calipers biting the 310mm discs hard, backed up by a useable rear disc and an efficient ABS. Bridgestone's Battlewing tires didn't seem the stickiest of street tires, but they made good use of the respectably generous ground clearance, and coped well with some dusty roads.
The relatively soft suspension gave a comfortable ride, even on bumpy surfaces, including the cobbled streets of one town. The dual seat contributed to this by being wide and well padded for both rider and pillion. There's also a useful rack and a pair of solid grab handles. Despite being very tall, I found the slightly revised riding position—bars and footrests are moved rearwards by fractions of an inch—roomy but it's a shame the seat can't be adjusted for height. A higher (by 35mm) or lower (by 30mm) seat is available, as a cost-free option in some markets, but that won't help at resale time.
Other detailing is mixed, sometimes in a single item. The screen can be adjusted for angle through three positions with a simple push, based on the ingenious mechanism of a Japanese chair called the zaisu. The screen is also three-way adjustable for height, but range is just 30mm and adjustment requires a hex key—not great, when so many rival screens have a wider range of adjustability by hand.
I found the standard screen too low even on its highest setting but the turbulence wasn't too bad, and was reduced by the taller and wider accessory screen. The V-Strom provides no hand protection, though hand guards and heated grips are available as accessories. An electrical socket is provided as standard. The accessory list also includes LED indicators, nylon saddlebags and top box, centerstand, crashbars, and fog lamps.
Instrumentation is excellent, incorporating digital speedo, analog tach and a panel showing a variety of information—including fuel gauge, consumption and remaining range—that can be accessed by pressing buttons on the left handlebar. The tank is smaller than before, just 5.3 gallons, but the engine's improved efficiency is likely to keep range roughly the same. I averaged 34 mpg and many owners will better that, giving a realistic range of 160–180 miles.
That's reasonable if not outstanding, and will help make the V-Strom a respectably good long-distance roadster. Its lack of even notional off-road ability is disappointing, engine performance is solid rather than thrilling, and detailing is mixed. Nobody should take one look at Suzuki's beaky newcomer and think it's a cut-priced competitor for the BMW R1200GS or KTM's 1190 Adventure. Then again, at $12,699 for the base model—$13,999 for the Adventure model fitted with hard bags, taller windscreen, and "accessory bars" that aren't to be called crash bars—the V-Strom is significantly less expensive than its European competition.
You won't go wrong provided you accept the V-Strom 1000 for what it is: A capable and comfortable roadster with a smooth and flexible motor, sound handling, a reasonable level of equipment, a pleasantly unthreatening character and a sensible price. It's hardly compelling evidence of a dramatic revival from Suzuki. But unlike those hotels on the Almeria coast road, it's ready for action and provides some encouragement for the future.
||l-c 90-deg. V-twin
||99.2 bhp @ 8000 rpm
||76.0 lb.-ft. @ 4000 rpm
||KYB 43mm fork adjustable for spring preload, rebound and compression damping
||KYB shock adjustable for spring preload and rebound damping
||Dual Tokico four-piston monoblock calipers, 310mm discs with ABS
||Tokico single-piston caliper, 260mm disc with ABS
||110/80-19 Bridgestone BW501 Battlewing
||150/70-17 Bridgestone BW502 Battlewing
|Claimed curb weight
Photography by: Alessio Barbanti & Markus Jahn