After touring the back roads of South Africa, which included a memorable rest stop at Cape of Good Hope, I had a feeling that Suzuki just might have a hit on its hands. This bike is pretty damn cool, I remember thinking. That was a little over 10 years ago when Suzuki introduced the very first V-Strom, the DL1000 – a fun, versatile and practical adventure bike that, unfortunately, had the looks only a plastic surgeon could love. As it turned out, though, that really wouldn’t be an issue for most riders who were looking for a practical and affordable all-around motorcycle. The V-Strom turned out to be that bike and is now one of the company’s best-selling streetbikes, as is the V-Strom 650, which came two years later. The ‘Strom has been a hit for many good reasons, but probably none more so than for its great all-around performance. After all, no one buys a V-Strom for its handsome looks. And when you think about it, that says a lot about the machine.
Yes, the V-Strom might not be a beauty queen but that hasn’t kept people from asking it out on dates. The bike has so many other great qualities that many long-term relationships have been formed between bike and rider, including the V-Strom 650 and V-Strom 650 Adventure, the model we’re focusing on here. The 650 was just as big a hit as the 1000, much of which had to do with its dollar-to-performance ratio. At well under $10,000, the V-Strom 650 was simply a bargain.
In 2012, the V-Strom 650 enjoyed its first major overhaul since its 2004 debut. It got a much-needed facelift, engine updates to improve torque and fuel economy, chassis mods to improve handling, and many tweaks throughout to improve ergonomics and overall riding enjoyment. Suzuki also introduced the Adventure version, which is exactly the same bike but fitted with factory aluminum side cases, touring windscreen and accessory bar – the things that most people buy for their V-Stroms right away.
I rode the revamped 2012 V-Strom for a short time when it first came out, but more recently got the chance to actually live with the 2013 V-Strom 650 ABS Adventure for a while and found myself again thinking: What a cool bike.
The V-Strom 650 ABS wears many hats. It’s an entry-level bike, an adventure/tourer, a fun back roads weekend bike, a commuter, an around-towner and, to some extent, an off-road bike. You name it, the V-Strom pretty much does it. I used it mostly as a commuter while it was in my possession, and what a great machine it is for that.
Hung in a twin-spar aluminum chassis, the 645cc 90-degree V-twin liquid-cooled motor, which was significantly massaged in 2012, has a broad spread of power and enough of it overall to keep up with the flow of traffic. And there is enough left in the bank to overtake cars quite easily while already at speed. I never felt at a horsepower disadvantage on the road despite its relatively small powerplant. Sometimes vibration can be somewhat of an issue for any sub-750cc streetbike, even for twins, but not with the ‘Strom. It’s not really an issue at all. You feel some vibes as the revs pick up, but you quickly forget about it when the meat of the power kicks in somewhere between 4000 and 6000 rpm.
Fueling is crisp and clean, making for smooth launches and precise throttle control.
Shifting is also smooth and clutch pull is light but not nearly as light as that of the soon-to-be released KTM 1190 Adventure I just sampled. But the KTM is, or should I say will be, a $17,000 (I’m guessing) motorcycle versus the $9999 V-Strom Adventure.
The six-speed transmission changes gears nicely; first gear is quite low for easy slow-speed riding and top (sixth) gear will easily pull you into the 90 mph-plus range and then some.
The V-Strom and my wallet got along just fine. My 122-mile highway commute soaked up just 2.2 gallons of gas, which is contained now in a slightly smaller fuel tank. It holds about a half-gallon less at 5.3 gallons, but the trade-off might be worth it since the tank is slimmer between your legs and the new-generation V-Strom 650 gets 10 percent better fuel economy (according to Suzuki) to help make up the difference. Still, you can go plenty far on a tank.
The three-step adjustable windscreen also works well. From the middle setting, it’ll raise 24mm and slant rearward 8mm, and will lower and slant forward 18mm. I generally left it in the middle position, mainly because I was too lazy to break out the wrench and remove the four bolts every time I wanted to raise or lower it. I’d like to see Suzuki change that and make it adjustable without the need for tools. The little louver on the Adventure’s screen really does seem to make a difference for the better when it comes to turbulence, so I didn’t feel the real need to make adjustments anyway.
I had a love/hate relationship with the aluminum side bags. They do hold a lot of stuff, which I loved, but are so wide (a lot of which has to do with the mounts) that they aren’t practical for everyday use. The bags make lane splitting in California nearly impossible and riding up along side fuel pumps risky business. And you never clear them with your leg when mounting the bike the first time before every ride.
The bags are light and simple to operate and take on and off, but they dent, ding and scratch easily. If this was my bike, I’d quickly give up on trying to keep them looking like new and just let them get beat up, which would give it that true adventure look – maybe even slap on a few travel stickers to boot.
The bags also seal extremely well – almost too well. They are so air tight that it’s hard to break the seal and pull the door open after a ride down from the mountain. The bags’ top-cover latching mechanism works fine, but the lock itself is flimsy; ours eventually got mucked up and we couldn’t insert the key and open it anymore. I basically left the bags in my garage and mounted them up only when I really needed them.
As good a daily commuter the V-Strom is, it is most happy on the back roads. It loves the twisties where it feels light, nimble and plenty powerful. The tires (19-inch front, 17-inch rear) offer excellent grip on the pavement, and the overall ride is smooth and fun.
The V-Strom Showa-fitted suspension is relatively plush yet still very balanced. It feels a bit stiffer than the previous-generation ‘Strom, which gave me more confidence when I decided to pick up the speed on the new one. If you need a bit more firmness, say when you’re carrying a passenger or have the bags filled, the rear shock has an external preload adjuster that is easy to use.
What’s a true adventure ride without at least a little bit of dirt? We found some for the V-Strom, but it is by no means a dirt bike. The V-Strom is a handful on anything more than super-smooth and perfectly groomed hard-packed dirt roads, which did permit some great sliding on the ‘Strom. The suspension, however, is way too soft for moderately fast riding over ruts, small G-outs and loose rocks, which we also feared would damage or puncture the seemingly vulnerable oil filter under the motor. It did, however, survive our testing just fine, even with our ace test rider Jason “Air It Out” Abbott at the controls. It does have decent ground clearance and more than five inches of wheel travel at both ends – far more than your average streetbike.
ABS is no longer an option for the V-Strom 650; it’s now standard equipment. The Bosh system been updated from the previous version – and it’s lighter and refined. It can’t be turned off, but that didn’t seem to matter off-road, since you can’t really ride the ‘Strom that fast on the dirt anyway for the ABS to become a nuisance. But on the street, the V-Strom’s ABS works well and you hardly know it’s there, though you certainly do when you need it.
Overall braking performance is adequate from the Tokico calipers; the all-important front brake feels soft but strong enough.
Adventure rides usually means long days in the saddle and the V-Strom is set up perfectly for that. Seating position is fairly straight up and relaxed with no obvious stress-points on the body. Although seat height increased a tad over the previous-generation V-Strom due to the stouter suspension, it’s still quite low at 32.9 inches. Suzuki does offer optional high or low seat heights of 20mm.
Heat doesn’t radiate from the motor as much as I remembered, which most likely has to do with better airflow Suzuki designed in and around the bike.
There is plenty of knowledge to take in via the V-Strom instrument cluster – it’s all right there in easy-to-read format with analog readout on the left and digital on the right. You have all the usual necessity info on top, including dual trip meters, a gear-select indicator, ambient temperature, clock and even a road freeze warning indicator.
Overall, there isn’t much not to like about the Suzuki V-Strom 650 ABS. It’s a machine that can carry you comfortably anywhere you want to go and maybe even where you don’t want to go – like the office. But that all changes on the weekend. Slap on the bags and the V-Strom is instantly ready for an overnight getaway adventure. And for just $8499 for the standard V-Strom 650 and $9999 for the “fully loaded” Adventure, the V-Strom is truly an adventure in versatility.
2013 Suzuki V-Strom 650 ABS Adventure
ENGINE: Liquid-cooled, DOHC, 90-degree V-Twin
COMPRESSION RATIO: 11.2:1
FUEL SYSTEM: Suzuki Fuel-Injection/ Suzuki Dual Throttle Valve (SDTV) System
LUBRICATION: Wet Sump
TRANSMISSION: 6-speed, constant mesh
IGNITION: Electronic (transistorized)
FINAL DRIVE: Chain D.I.D #520V8
CHASSIS: Twin-spar aluminum
FRONT SUSPENSION: Telescopic fork w/5-way spring-preload adj
REAR SUSPENSION: Link type, single-shock w/stepless rebound damping adj and 5-way spring preload adj.
FRONT WHEEL TRAVEL: 5.9 in.
REAR WHEEL TRAVEL: 6.3 in.
FRONT BRAKE: Dual disc w/ABS
REAR BRAKE: Single disc w/ABS
FRONT TIRE: 110/80R19M/C 59H, tubeless
REAR TIRE: 150/70R17M/C 69H, tubeless
FUEL CAPACITY: 5.3 gal.
WHEELBASE: 61.4 in.
GROUND CLEARANCE: 6.9 in.
SEAT HEIGHT: 32.9 in.
COLOR: Metallic Thunder Gray
BASE MSRP: $9,999