LONG TERM V-STROM 650 – Part 1 (the test)
Older, more crusty CMGers may recall the last time we had a 650 V-Strom as a long termer.
It was in the year of our Lord 2005 (two years after its introduction) and after testing the bike out in the previous year we were smitten by its general all-round usability.
Yes, road racing. That was about the most terrifying day that I’ve had on a track and we won’t be going anywhere near that madness this time round, but we were somewhat intrigued by its dirt capability. We added the usual assortment of bashplates and crash bars, but the Achilles heel of the Strom were its cast wheels that would dent rather easily and limited the stuff that the bike could go through.
Fast forward to 2012, and although the new Strom still retains the cast wheels, there’s a company called RAD manufacturing that make wire wheel hubs for the beast. That means that all we needed to do was to find a company to supply suitable spokes and rims … but I’m getting ahead of myself. Suffice to say that Suzuki revamped their 650 V-Strom and we decided it would make a good long termer ‘cause we can do some very interesting things to it now.
But to kick this series off we need to test the thing in stock form, and that was done when ‘Arris flew into Toronto to pick it up and ride back ‘ome to the Maritimes after a four-day scout of potential Mad bastard Scooter Rally routes and a DYR recce through Quebec’s Saguenay region.
So let’s start there shall we?
Before we get into the test review a quick run down of what Suzuki has done to the 650 Strom to make it a considerably changed machine.
The obvious change is cosmetic and they’ve done a great job. Although some die-hard Strom fans may deny it, the original machine was somewhat fugly. Although like a buck-toothed librarian with third-degree burns, once you get to know the luscious character underneath, the fugly somewhat faded away.
The new model’s fairing gets a reworking along with the screen (higher and closer) that was the cause of much grief due to the previous model’s penchant for buffeting the head and causing your vision to jiggle in the process. Like the previous one, it is adjustable in three positions by unbolting and rebolting it into place, though the clunky mounting plate has gone.
The seat is all new (the old one was rather uncomfortable), narrower at the front and gains 15 mm in height (though a taller and lower seat by +/- 20 mm is an option – we’ve asked for the taller one ‘cause we’re all on the lanky side), which may also explain an additional 10 mm of ground clearance.
The fuel tank has shrunk by 2 litres to 20 litres but Suzuki claim that by changing to single valve springs, tweaking cam profiles and adding larger valves, using iridium plugs, and fitting a new ECU and fuel injectors they’ve not only increased low- to mid-range torque and top end power, but also managed to improve fuel consumption and keep the same fuel range – which would make the 2012 V-Strom 10 per cent more fuel efficient.
ABS continues from the previous model, but the new system has been tweaked for better performance and comes in at less than half the weight (@ 0.7kg). Although the Strom comes with Adventure styling, sadly the ABS cannot be turned off to aid in off-road shenanigans.
Oh, and the three-spoke cast wheels remain, further limiting the off-roadability, though Suzuki’s own research indicates that 97% of V-Strom riders never take their bike off-road. As a result, the 2012 model leaves the more off-road orientated adventure market to BMW’s F800GS and Triumph’s Tiger 800XC, which is a bit of a shame.
Other tweaks include a new muffler (although it’s still welded to the midsection making slip-ons tricky), a new clutch actuation mechanism, resin rear rack, reshaped fender (claimed to offer better airflow to the rad), new instrument cluster (with freeze indicator), slightly stiffer suspension and theft protection system that uses a chip in the key. Oh and the oil cooler has gone, the oil now being cooled by a water coolant feed to the oil cooler.
All these tweaks mean a claimed reduction in weight of 6 Kg with a claimed new curb mass of 214 Kg, but also a more esthetically appealing bike. Sounds like Suzuki did their homework!
Despite Suzuki’s claims the updated bike is more comfortable, I almost immediately found the seat a tad hard, the distance between arse and peg a tad short and at the upper end of highway speeds (120 and up) the screen’s buffeting was still sufficient to really blur my vision.
However the seat did not get any harder as the day drew on, and only started to make my (and it must be said) very sensitive arse ache after a bout of cumulative high-mileage days, so there’s definite improvement there.
I seem to remember that the screen buffeting came in earlier on the previous model, so I guess that’s an improvement, albeit somewhat disappointing, especially as Suzuki stressed that they’d spent a good deal of work redesigning the fairing. As for the leg spacing there’s some aftermarket fixes for that, the easiest being the optional +20 mm taller seat.
But then there’s that motor. Such a sweet combination of power, smoothness and drivability. Yes, it would be nice to hear a little more of that 90 degree twin exhaust note, but the motor has always been the raison d’etre for the Wee Strom and in the 2012 model it feels smoother, stronger with claimed better fuel economy to boot.
On my way home from Suzuki HQ in Toronto to the CMG HQ in Sackville I found it cruised along happily at an indicated 130-140 km/h (actual 120-130), even through the never-ending rain storm that plagued me for the last two days.
The only fly in the ointment is the gear shifting, which is a little notchy – alarmingly so when I first picked it up with a mere 50 km on the clocks. It has smoothed off 5,000 km later, but it’s still not as smooth as I’ve come to expect from Suzuki, and somewhat shamed by the super smooth box on the NC700X we have on test right now.
Handling is tight and despite the slightly stiffer suspension it is still on the soft side. You can get as sporty as most roads will allow without complaint.
Surprisingly, I noticed a shimmy in the bars between 60 and 90 km/h that I’d also noticed on the previous model; then, I’d put that down to all the dents we’d put in the rims. It’s subtle, but taking your hands of the bars will show it visually. I’m going to mess around with the suspension to see if it can be dialed out, and if not we’ll try to get the wheel balanced before investigating further.
The brakes (also unchanged) suit the bike well, although this is the first time I’ve tried a Strom with ABS. I’d heard some complaints from owners of the previous generation that it was a little slow to respond and would cut in suddenly at times. So far so good with the new system but we’ll see if it’s too sensitive for gravel.
So, some (minor) issues for sure, but the balance and agility that makes up the soul of the Wee-Strom is still firmly intact and I’m looking forward to rekindling our relationship and seeing just what we can do to it to make it even better.
COMING IN PART 2
We’ve been busy doing the research into what we think we need to not only improve on the stock Strom but to also give it a little more adventure and tourability.
If all goes to plan (ha! -Ed. Kurylyk) then we should end up with something rather special, beyond the usual bags and bash protection.
Tune in next month to find out exactly what that is.
Check out all the pics that go with this story! Click on the main sized pic to transition to the next or just press play to show in a slideshow.