There’s a photo floating around the internet somewhere of a dug-out log canoe crossing a body of water, somewhere in Central America, I think. Dumped unceremoniously into the boat is a motorcycle—a Suzuki V-Strom, specifically, scratched and battered but clearly still going strong. That’s the first time I remember laying eyes on Suzuki’s plucky ADV, and I’ve had an unbending respect for it ever since. It’s only been since 2002 that the original DL1000 debuted, followed two years later by the smaller, SV650-power DL650 (affectionately known as the Wee-Strom), but the following the bike has created is massive.
For 2017 the littler V-Strom gets a bunch of updates, some predictable and others not so much. What we saw coming was the new styling, with a vertically stacked headlight to match its 1,000cc big brother, as well as the updated dash (also derived from the V-Strom 1000). And then there’s the engine, which has been made to basically match the spec of the 2017 SV650—that means a dual-spark head and updated cams—and makes five more peak horsepower, as well as incorporating the “low-rpm assist” feature that helps keep new or meat-fisted riders from stalling.
Less expected was the addition of traction control. First, because the 650 ‘Strom is priced to be at the low end of the adventure-touring market, and also because 60-something smoothly delivered horsepower isn’t exactly looking for a fight. Still, there it is—two levels of TC intervention, plus the ability to turn it off. There’s a slightly adjustable windscreen, too, provided you’ve got a 5mm hex wrench and a few minutes.
Riding the V-Strom 650 is much the same as it’s always been. The seat is almost 33 inches high, but it feels two inches lower than that. It’s low, well balanced, and incredibly easy to ride. At 6-foot-2 I wished for more legroom, but if you’re in the same boat the aftermarket will likely be awash with seat options to raise, lower, widen, or otherwise alter the stock saddle’s character.
When it comes time to slow down all 69 claimed ponies the brakes are linear and plenty strong, with mild enough pads that they won’t surprise less experienced riders. If you’re sensing a theme, yes, the Wee-Strom’s friendly reputation is something Suzuki is all-too-keen to take advantage of and maintain as this new model hits showrooms. Fear not the V-Strom 650, it won’t bite.
I tested traction control a bit, at one point. Or, I tried to, but realistically when pavement conditions were ideal I couldn’t get the rear wheel to spin at all. Luckily, we ventured down a mile or two of dirt road where I could make the little ‘Strom misbehave enough that the TC kicked in. It’s not super advanced, but Level 1 definitely let me get away with more than the extremely conservative Level 2. I still preferred Level “off” because even when the 650 spun up on the dirt it was smooth and gradual. Still, less confident off-roaders will appreciate that Suzuki equipped the V-Strom 650 with the technology.
I didn’t spend much time above 60 mph, but when I did I was impressed with the 650’s comfort. Wind protection seemed more than adequate, and there weren’t a lot of vibes from the engine despite being geared a little short. On a twisty road, it’s the same story as ever with the 650 ‘Strom—nice, light handling from the 17/19 wheelset and very predictable feedback from the chassis. It’s put together really well for a bike that starts at $8,799.
For those Wee-Strommers looking for a slightly tougher aesthetic and a shade more capability, plus some differentiation from the aforementioned Versys, there’s also an XT model for 2017. The V-Strom 650 XT comes standard with wire-spoked wheels, hand guards, and bar-end weights that are twice as heavy (the idea being to further quell engine vibration). It also comes in a flashy yellow paint scheme, that either hearkens back to the DR-Z 800 “Dr Big” of the early 1990s or just attracts more bees. Maybe both. Either way there’s a $500 upcharge, putting the XT’s MSRP at $9,299.
Aside from Kawasaki’s Versys 650, there’s hardly a more loveable and easygoing travel companion than the V-Strom 650. If there’s one complaint about the Wee-Strom it could be that it’s pretty mundane. You probably won’t see it in a James Bond movie, or jumping off a bridge on to a yacht in Mission Impossible. Glamour and spotlights and red carpets aren’t really the V-Strom 650’s… “thing.” If you’re canoeing across a river in Central America, though, you might just see one. And that’s more than most bikes can say.
|The venerable V-Strom 650 gets styling and electronic updates.|
|Kawasaki Versys 650, Honda CB500X & NC700X|
|ENGINE||645cc liquid-cooled 90-degree V-twin|
|CLAIMED HORSEPOWER||69.73 hp @ 8800 rpm|
|CLAIMED TORQUE||n/a lb.-ft. @ n/a rpm|
|FRONT SUSPENSION||43mm fork; 5.9-in. travel|
|REAR SUSPENSION||Single shock, adjustable for spring preload and rebound damping; 6.3-in. travel|
|FRONT BRAKE||Tokico two-piston calipers|
|REAR BRAKE||Nissin single-piston caliper|
|SEAT HEIGHT||32.9 in.|
|FUEL CAPACITY||5.3 gal.|
|CLAIMED WEIGHT||470 lb. (476 lb. for XT)|
|An upgraded version of a very comfortable and easy-going machine. Sense of adventure not included.|