Comparison: Kawasaki Versys 1000 LT vs. Suzuki V-Strom 1000 ABS vs. Yamaha FJ-09

ADV LITE: Less Weight, Lower Cost. Same Great Versatility.

When it comes to the now-nebulous "adventure bike" category, consumers have the ability to balance the scales of compromise just about any way they like. From globetrotting, knobby-tired tanks like BMW's R1200GS Adventure to tire-smoking sportbikes on stilts like the Ducati Multistrada, there's a long-legged, do-it-all ADV out there for nearly every kind of rider.

For those who want a mile-eater without the heft of a full sport-touring machine or the cost of an exotic European ADV, we have these three bikes. Kawasaki's new Versys 1000, Suzuki's revamped V-Strom 1000, and Yamahas new FJ-09 reside in a subcategory of the ADV segment that we're calling "ADV Lite." Lite because of these bikes' lower price tags, smaller engines, and more reasonable curb weights.

Less Weight, Lower Cost. Same Great Versatility.
Less Weight, Lower Cost. Same Great Versatility.Justin Kosman

In essence, these are slimmer, taller interpretations of full-faired sport-tourers with some ADV attributes to suit the times: hand guards, not to deflect branches but to block the wind; longer-travel suspension, not to handle rocks and logs but to tame scarred pavement and provide a commanding view; and minimalist (or at least smaller) fairings to offer a modicum of wind protection. These bikes have room for your stuff, the comfort to cover hundreds of miles at a time, and enough poise to properly assault corners along the way.

ADV Lites
ADV LitesJustin Kosman

To see how well these ADV Lites work we stuffed the saddlebags (the Kawasaki’s factory equipped, the Suzuki’s and Yamaha’s installed as factory accessories) and set our emails to the “out of office” auto-responder for a 72-hour period. Over the next three days we traveled from Irvine, California, to Santa Cruz and back on a mix of freeway, flowing coastal and back roads, and forgotten, battered single-lane ranch roads.

In other words, we took these bikes on exactly the kind of adventure their manufacturers designed them for, demanding the same mixed-use versatility that’s made the ADV category such a success. By the end of our 1,000-plus-mile tour we came to know each bike and its strengths and weaknesses well. Here’s how they finished.

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3rd place

From the loping demeanor of its 1,037cc engine (a relative of the TL1000’s but extensively updated in 2014) to the relaxed way with which it bends into corners, the Suzuki is a mellow machine. A bigger, retuned V-twin and updated chassis and brakes bump the big ’Strom’s performance to a new level, but the bike still favors general competency over excellence in any one area. “It’s a great all-rounder,” EIC Marc Cook said. “It does everything well but nothing spectacularly.” The V-Strom is certainly a Swiss army knife of a bike, but none of the tools is particularly sharp.

Suzuki V-Strom
Suzuki V-StromJustin Kosman

The engine cranks out copious amounts of low-end thrust to the melodic whir of gear-driven cams, but the gearbox is clunky and off-idle fueling is fairly abrupt. With all that torque on tap (the peak of 67.3 pound-feet arrives at just 4,000 rpm) the resultant surge of power when cracking on the gas can be disconcerting while banked over. That’s a shame because the Suzuki is otherwise a very calm and composed corner carver; it doesn’t offer the agility to flick from curve to curve and has slightly numb steering, probably due in part to the 19-inch front wheel. But it goes exactly where you point it and always feels composed.

Suzuki V-Strom
Suzuki V-StromJustin Kosman

The Suzuki’s ergonomics felt awkward in this group due to its tall 7/8-inch bar and forward-set footpegs, but the bike is in no way uncomfortable. The Suzuki’s seat scored high marks thanks to its good contours and just-right padding, and except for the muffler impeding on the right case’s capacity, the luggage is excellent and fairly tidy. The only real complaint about the V-Strom (besides blandness) pertains to the turbulent air that swirls from the windscreen’s edges. Every tester lamented the noise, not to mention the fatigue that accompanies having your helmet buffeted incessantly.

That helmet jostling might be remedied by buying the Adventure model, whose $13,999 price includes a taller windscreen, the hard luggage shown here, plus hand guards, a centerstand, a bellypan, and accessory bars. We would have included that version for this test, but Suzuki didn’t have one in the press fleet. The Adventure is a good value compared to the $12,699 base model, but compared to the Versys ($1,200 less) and the FJ-09 ($2,251 less as tested) it’s expensive. And since the V-Strom is “stuck in the middle and in the shadow of both,” as Associate Editor Zack Courts put it, the Suzuki finished third.

Suzuki V-Strom
Suzuki V-StromJustin Kosman

But if your intended path includes any dirt or even a sizable helping of bumpy back roads, the V-Strom should jump from the bottom of our list to the top of yours. With its 19-inch front wheel and longer-travel suspension, the Suzuki is the only bike here with any off-road DNA. Its tire sizes—same as the previous BMW GS—give you access to a much wider range of dirt-capable tires. And the V-Strom is easily the most flexible when it comes to variable riding surfaces, coping with small and large bumps alike thanks to more finely tuned (and fully adjustable) suspension that’s a step above the Kawasaki’s and the Yamaha’s setups. Besides adding spring preload to the shock via the hydraulic adjuster, we didn’t feel the need to make changes.

There are things we like about the ’Strom: The traction-control settings are saved when you remove the key—so TC stays off—and you can adjust the windscreen angle on the fly. The Suzuki also has the most sophisticated suspension and the best brakes by a fair margin. Bottom line, though: It’s more expensive than the others but not necessarily better. That’s a third-place finish to us.

2nd place

Because it’s built on the bones of the rambunctious FZ-09, we knew one thing about the FJ-09 before we even threw a leg over it: We’d love the engine. Yamaha’s 847cc triple is charismatic and punches way above its weight—our test bike belted out 104 hp and 60 pound-feet of torque at peak—and it’s more enjoyable than before thanks to revised fueling that’s done away with (most) of the FZ-09’s annoying abruptness. In fact, the FJ has, overall, the best throttle response here.

Yamaha FZ-09
Yamaha FZ-09Justin Kosman

Other aspects of the ADV-themed transformation include reworked suspension (with nearly double the baseline damping front and rear), a new fairing with an adjustable windscreen, a longer subframe, a new adjustable-height seat, LED headlights, centerstand, a 1.1-gallon larger fuel tank, traction control, ABS, and more. The factory saddlebags we added cost $974 including mounts and key, and our bike came equipped with Yamaha’s excellent heated grips, a $284 accessory. The bike’s base price is just $10,490, but all told this adventure-ready FJ rings in at $11,748—still the least expensive bike here by more than $1,000.

Overall the FJ-09 is more comfortable and better behaved than the FZ-09, but in this company it’s still the rowdy bad boy. Compared to the recliner-esque V-Strom and the long Versys, the FJ-09 feels almost supermoto-like in its control arrangement, with a compact, upright riding position. And it feels wonderfully light, at a standstill and in motion. With the same geometry as the FZ-09 and an even wider handlebar, steering is immediate if not completely composed. “It’s the sportbike of the group, no question,” Zack said. “I like the directness and responsiveness,” Marc added. “I just wish the chassis were a bit more settled.”

Yamaha FZ-09
Yamaha FZ-09Justin Kosman

Considering the FJ uses the same suspension components as the FZ-09 and still has very soft springs, it’s no surprise this bike required the most fettling. We ended up maxing out the rear spring preload and adding a fair amount of damping to improve chassis support, but that left the bike feeling jittery over sharp-edged bumps, and everyone complained about a lack of feedback at full lean. “I’m not sure the ideal setup is in there with the stock components,” Marc said, “and while it’s better than the FZ, the FJ doesn’t have the overall refinement you get with the V-Strom.”

That lack of refinement extends to several other aspects of the FJ, such as crummy aerodynamics, fussy windshield adjustment, and balky luggage latches. The factory side cases hug the FJ’s flanks neatly, but they require a second key to open and the hasps were frustrating to operate. Lubricating the pivots and lock mechanism helped, and chamfering the edges of the stamped-steel locking tab would likely improve the action as well. As they come, however, the latches elicited complaints every time we used them. We definitely expect more from a $974 luggage set.

Yamaha FZ-09
Yamaha FZ-09Justin Kosman

The accessory heated grips, on the other hand, integrate seamlessly and crank out major heat. If they were included on the base model the FJ’s value proposition would shoot sky-high, but even as it stands the bike is still a good deal. It’s the most affordable and offers the liveliest character, least weight (at 497 pounds fully fueled), and the best performance of the bunch. As Zack put it, the FJ-09 is “the immature choice in a mature category.” The Yamaha isn’t the best mile-eater of the group and feels unfinished in some ways, but if you’re drawn to sporty handling and love a powerful, lively engine, you’ll learn to live with the FJ’s shortcomings.

1st place

This part of the ADV category is all about compromise, and when it comes down to it, Kawasaki’s new Versys 1000 LT offers the best balance of comfort, performance, and price. As Zack put it, “It’s calm but powerful, comfortable but sporty, and all at a cost that isn’t outrageous.”

Versys 1000 LT
Versys 1000 LTJustin Kosman

Fit is a concern when your destination is on the other side of the state, and the Kawasaki suited us all the best. It’s big and roomy, with well-positioned controls, a soft seat, and the best weather protection and aero here (though that’s not saying much). The suspension is calibrated well for the mission, offering up good compliance and adequate support. “It’s reasonably supple most of the time and keeps the big chassis on a fairly even keel,” Marc said. We liked the suspension despite the fact that we had to resort to almost max damping adjustments (rebound only) to get the ride we wanted.

Compared to the Ninja 1000 on which it’s based, the Versys has a slacker steering-head angle (by 2.5 degrees) and nearly an inch more suspension travel front and rear, which provides a cushier, more relaxed ride. The engine was updated with milder cams, a lower compression ratio, revised transmission ratios (shorter in first and second and taller everywhere else), and more vibration-damping rubber engine mounts in place of the Ninja’s rigid fittings.

Versys 1000 LT
Versys 1000 LTJustin Kosman

The engine is a freight train, pulling hard off idle and offering up a buttery smooth and torque-rich midrange and an exciting top-end rush. It’s not as thrilling as the FJ’s engine but more dynamic than the V-Strom’s and more powerful than both. Kawi’s inline-four dishes up 110.3 hp at 8,800 rpm and 70.6 pound-feet of torque at 7,000 rpm. Vibration creeps into the seat above 5,500 rpm and gets stronger as the revs rise, but with 5,000 rpm putting an indicated 80 mph on the speedo in sixth, there’s rarely reason to rev the bike out. The only interruption in the Versys’ seamless flow of power is at off/on and on/off throttle transitions, where there’s a big hiccup. And we all noticed a throbbing sensation in the clutch lever during initial engagement.

In terms of handling, the Versys splits the difference between the laid-back V-Strom and the frenetic FJ. Steering is heavy at single-digit speeds but lightens appreciably once underway and feels light and accurate at higher speeds. The chassis felt the best in fast sweepers, but the bike handles tighter stuff too; you just have to respect its considerable heft. With the 5.5-gallon tank full, the Versys weighs 570 pounds. It’s the heaviest rig here by more than 60 pounds, but it carries its weight well.

Versys 1000 LT
Versys 1000 LTJustin Kosman

Offered as the Versys 1000 LT in the US, the Kawasaki comes with hand guards, a centerstand, three-level (plus off) TC, ABS, two ride modes, and luggage standard. Priced at $12,799, the Versys slots in between the other two bikes while equaling both in most respects and even surpassing them in others. We’re a fan of Kawasaki’s simple electronics interface and easy windscreen adjustment, and the luggage is the best, hands down. You can fit more in the bags and they’re easier to use.

“Kawasaki has produced a real alternative to the Concours 14 as a sport-touring machine,” Marc said of the Versys. Indeed, this bike certainly hews to the touring end of the spectrum but still maintains a high level of day-to-day practicality and enough sportiness to satisfy you on weekends. And compared to both the V-Strom and FJ-09, it’s the best all-around performer. In a category that’s slightly nebulous already, the Versys navigates the compromises best. That’s a winning combination to us.

Versys 1000 LT
Versys 1000 LTJustin Kosman

Off the Record

ZACK COURTS
ASSOCIATE EDITOR
AGE: 31
HEIGHT: 6'2"
WEIGHT: 185 lb.
INSEAM: 34 in.

This group of bikes is inherently limited by compromise. The FJ is a fun and lively adaptation of the naked FZ-09, but you’ll only be surprised how low the price is until you feel the brakes and suspension. It’s a surprisingly rowdy choice in this category, so if you want a sport-touring bike with a splash of immaturity, that’s your choice. On the flipside is the white-muzzled black lab of motorcycles, the V-Strom, which loped along obeying commands all day without any spring in its step. Yes, it has arguably the best off-road capability, but for that money why not buy a BMW F800GS? The Suzuki is extremely competent and amazingly boring.

Kawasaki’s Versys 1000 is the best balance. It’s calm, poised, and all-day comfortable, plus it has the best saddlebags by far. It’s also got lots of torque and plenty of sporting pedigree, with shared DNA from the Ninja 1000. Yeah, it’s big and heavy, but for someone my size it fits just right and has the best aerodynamics of the group. I just wish it were available in green!

MARC COOK
EDITOR IN CHIEF
AGE: 51
HEIGHT: 5'9"
WEIGHT: 190 lb.
INSEAM: 32 in.

On our three-day trip, I kept fussing with the FJ-09’s suspension to find compliance over small bumps along with mid-stroke control. (By “mid-stroke” I mean that the bike felt under-damped in the middle of the suspension’s travel, which made the chassis move too easily and feel unsettled.) I never found the sweet spot. We adjusted the Versys once or twice and basically left the V-Strom on the baseline settings. I know that the Suzuki can be made a little better with some fine-tuning, but it was already so far ahead of the others we just didn’t bother.

Far worse a transgression is the FJ’s aero coverage. As someone who owns the torso of a 5-foot-6 man (got it at Costco), I’m right in the war zone as the windblast, accelerated as it comes up the nose and past the over-styled demi windscreen, gets deposited straight onto my face shield. As such, this is one of the most aerodynamically boisterous motorcycles I’ve ridden in a long time. Not turbulent, just insanely loud. I’m going to experiment in the weeks ahead with the Yamaha accessory touring screen and might just see if trimming the stock shield can reduce the noise. (Look for an update on our website.) Why would I bother? Because otherwise this is my favorite of the three in this comparo.

ARI HENNING
ROAD TEST EDITOR
AGE: 30
HEIGHT: 5'10"
WEIGHT: 175 lb.
INSEAM: 33 in.

I’m not sure if it’s the price point we’re working with here or the bikes’ provenance, but the Kawasaki and Suzuki just don’t do it for me. They’re both adequate and entirely functional motorcycles, but they don’t excite, and neither machine is without its flaws. Within the context of this test the Versys is objectively the best all-rounder, but it’s too big and goofy-looking for me. I’d likely choose the Ninja 1000 instead. And while I respect the V-Strom for its stoic efficiency, it’s too pricey and too boring to ever live in my garage.

When it comes down to it I’m the kind of guy who straps a tail pack and tank bag to a 600cc supersport and calls it a sport-tourer. I favor performance over comfort and always try to find the twistiest route from Point A to Point B. That being the case (and due to the fact that I love triples), I’d take the FJ. I’m as disappointed with the Yamaha’s shortcomings as my fellow testers, but at least it gets my heart rate going. And, to me, motorcycling is as much about the excitement of operating the machine as it is about the pleasure of the journey

ERGOS
The Versys ranked highest in terms of ergonomics with its spacious yet sporty layout and adequate weather protection. A long reach to high bars and forward-set footpegs make the V-Strom feel awkward. The FJ-09 sticks to the sporty side of things with its compact cockpit arrangement.

DYNOS
Kawasaki's 1,043cc inline-four charts the smoothest, tallest curves. That's 60 pound-feet of torque available off idle. The FJ-09 doesn't achieve that figure until 8,300 rpm, but its light weight and quick-revving engine make it feel plenty fast. The V-Strom's big V-twin offers a stout bottom end, but power trails off fast beyond 7,000 rpm.

Dyno Chart
Dyno ChartJustin Kosman
Dyno Chart
Dyno ChartJustin Kosman

TECH SPEC

KAWASAKI VERSYS 1000 LT
Kawasaki Versys 1000LTJustin Kosman
KAWASAKI VERSYS 1000 LT  
PRICE $12,799
ENGINE 1043cc, liquid-cooled inline-four
BORE x STROKE 77.0 x 56.0mm
COMPRESSION RATIO 10.3:1
VALVE TRAIN DOHC, 16v
FUEL SYSTEM EFI
CLUTCH Wet, multi-plate slipper
TRANSMISSION/FINAL DRIVE 6-speed/chain
FRAME Aluminum twin-spar
FRONT SUSPENSION KYB 43mm fork adjustable for spring preload and rebound damping; 5.9-in. travel
REAR SUSPENSION KYB shock adjustable for spring preload and rebound damping; 5.9-in. travel
FRONT BRAKE Tokico four-piston calipers, 310mm discs with ABS
REAR BRAKE Tokico one-piston caliper, 250mm disc with ABS
FRONT TIRE 120/70ZR-17 Bridgestone T30
REAR TIRE 180/55ZR-17 Bridgestone T30
RAKE/TRAIL 27.0º/4.0 in.
WHEELBASE 59.8 in.
SEAT HEIGHT 33.1 in.
MEASURED WEIGHT (TANK FULL/EMPTY) 570/537 lb.
FUEL CAPACITY 5.5 gal.
FUEL ECONOMY (HIGH/LOW/AVERAGE) 42/37/40 mpg
RANGE (INCLUDING RESERVE) 220 miles
CORRECTED 1/4-MILE 11.69 sec. @ 116.5 mph
TOP-GEAR ROLL-ON (60-80 MPH) 4.5 sec.
WARRANTY 24 month, unlimited miles
CONTACT [kawasaki.com][]
YAMAHA FJ-09
Yamaha FJ-09Justin Kosman
YAMAHA FJ-09  
PRICE $11,748 (as tested)
ENGINE 847cc, liquid-cooled inline-triple
BORE x STROKE 78.0 x 59.1mm
COMPRESSION RATIO 11.5:1
VALVE TRAIN DOHC, 12v
FUEL SYSTEM EFI ride by wire
CLUTCH Wet, multi-plate
TRANSMISSION/FINAL DRIVE 6-speed/chain
FRAME Aluminum twin-spar
FRONT SUSPENSION KYB 41mm fork adjustable for spring preload and rebound damping; 5.4-in. travel
REAR SUSPENSION KYB shock adjustable for spring preload and rebound damping; 5.1-in. travel
FRONT BRAKE Advics four-piston calipers, 298mm discs with ABS
REAR BRAKE Nissin one-piston caliper, 245mm disc with ABS
FRONT TIRE 120/70ZR-17 Dunlop Sportmax D222
REAR TIRE 180/55ZR-17 Dunlop Sportmax D222
RAKE/TRAIL 24.0º/3.9 in.
WHEELBASE 56.7 in.
SEAT HEIGHT 33.3/33.9 in.
MEASURED WEIGHT (TANK FULL/EMPTY) 497/468 lb
FUEL CAPACITY 4.8 gal
FUEL ECONOMY (HIGH/LOW/AVERAGE) 46/36/39 mpg
RANGE (INCLUDING RESERVE) 187 miles
CORRECTED 1/4-MILE 11.60 sec. @ 112.5 mph
TOP-GEAR ROLL-ON (60-80 MPH) 4.5 sec.
WARRANTY 12 month, unlimited miles
CONTACT [yamahamotorsports.com][]
SUZUKI V-STROM 1000 ABS
Suzuki V-Storm 1000 ABSJustin Kosman
SUZUKI V-STROM 1000 ABS  
PRICE $13,929 (as tested)
ENGINE 1037cc, liquid-cooled 90° V-twin
BORE x STROKE 100.0 x 66.0mm
COMPRESSION RATIO 11.3:1
VALVE TRAIN DOHC, 8v
FUEL SYSTEM EFI
CLUTCH Wet, multi-plate slipper
TRANSMISSION/FINAL DRIVE 6-speed/chain
FRAME Aluminum twin-spar
FRONT SUSPENSION KYB 43mm fork adjustable for spring preload, compression and rebound damping; 6.3-in. travel
REAR SUSPENSION KYB shock adjustable for spring preload, compression and rebound damping; 6.3-in. travel
FRONT BRAKE Tokico four-piston calipers, 310mm discs with ABS
REAR BRAKE Tokico one-piston caliper, 260mm disc with ABS
FRONT TIRE 110/80R-19 Bridgestone Battle Wing
REAR TIRE 150/70R-17 Bridgestone Battle Wing
RAKE/TRAIL 25.3°/4.3 in.
WHEELBASE 61.2 in
SEAT HEIGHT 33.5 in
MEASURED WEIGHT (TANK FULL/EMPTY) 529/497 lb.
FUEL CAPACITY 5.3 gal
FUEL ECONOMY (HIGH/LOW/AVERAGE) 44/36/40 mpg
RANGE (INCLUDING RESERVE) 212 miles
CORRECTED 1/4-MILE 12.10 sec. @ 110.2 mph
TOP-GEAR ROLL-ON (60-80 MPH) 3.9 sec.
WARRANTY 12 month, unlimited miles
CONTACT [suzukicycles.com][]

THE WINDSHIELD FACTOR

YAMAHA

FJ-09
The FJ-09’s windscreen has height adjustments covering a 30mm range. This bike’s small fairing and a narrow windscreen that tapers from top to bottom allow a fair amount of wind to reach the rider. Something about the complex angles of that front end creates light tubulence and a lot of wind noise. Note the tidy luggage.Justin Kosman

SUZUKI

V-Strom
The short, wide windscreen on the V-Strom is three-position angle adjustable (on the fly) and three-position height adjustable with tools. Weather protection is adequate, if the least of these three, but turbulence behind the screen is excessive. We ran the screen in the lowest, steepest position in an attempt to minimize the discomfort.Justin Kosman

KAWASAKI

Kawasaki
The Kawasaki’s wider nose, more extensive fairing, and tall, well-shaped windscreen offer up the best weather protection, though turbulence is still an issue. The Kawasaki’s windscreen is easily adjustable through a 75mm range via threaded knobs. Standard hand guards are simple and effective.Justin Kosman