The Suzuki V-Strom has been around for most of this century, in both 650 cc and 1000 cc versions. The smaller DL650 is in its third generation now, and the larger DL1000 (which had sales suspended for a couple of years while it sorted out European emissions challenges) is about to move to its third generation for 2020. It will become the Suzuki DL1050, though its displacement isn’t actually changed.
We’ve not yet ridden the 2020 Strom, but we know it gets improved traction control and additional features, as well as new pistons and camshafts and electronic throttle bodies for a bump in horsepower. And there’s a price jump of $900 for the basic model and $2,000 for the “adventure” model.
(Newsflash: We’ve ridden it now! See Bert’s first ride review here.)
However, I have spent time on both 2019 bikes, which are unchanged from the 2018 models. Both years are still around in showrooms, and the 2018s are offered with screaming deals on equipment: almost $3,000 of aluminum, quick-release panniers and brackets, bar-end weights, crash bars, and mirror extenders (just on the 650, and they really work well), all thrown in to clear the bikes from the showrooms.
These “adventure kits” are no extra charge for the DL1000 and just an extra $500 for the DL650. Suzuki clearly brought in too many Stroms to Canada and you should seriously consider them before shelling out extra for the 2020 edition. But first, check out these impressions from my time in the saddles.
What are they?
I always thought I was going to buy a 1000 V-Strom. It came out in 2002; I rode it then and it was wonderful. When the 650 came out for 2004, most reviewers said the smaller edition was the better bike (and better value for money), but my heart was set on the 1000; I wanted the extra muscle for carrying a passenger.
I crossed North America on my dirt bike and spent the whole time assuming I would come home to buy either the V-Strom or the BMW R1200 GS. But then I saw a V-Strom parked in a long line-up of bikes at Sturgis and was struck by how unattractive it was: far too much bulbous, slabby plastic in the fairing, and no real redeeming features. I rode the 1200GS as well and decided against it too, because it just didn’t seem to fit me right. Instead, I bought a Harley-Davidson and the rest is history.
Around that time, I recommended the 650 V-Strom to my friend Richard. He bought a new one as his first-ever motorcycle, but he never liked it and sold it after only a few months. He said it was like riding a sewing machine. I think the real reason was that he wanted a more macho R1200 GS, which he bought that same season, fully kitted with immaculate Charley-and-Ewan accessories; he grew to regret it because it was a bit too much for him. He quit riding soon after and moved to Thailand. He probably has a scooter now.
Anyway, Suzuki kept making V-Stroms, though that withdrawal of the DL1000 from 2010-2011 means the larger bike basically skipped a generation. These 2019s, unchanged in all but colour options from the 2018s, are far better looking than that plasticky edition that turned me off a dozen years ago. They look great now, far more up to date and adventurous.
I rode the fancier “X” versions of each, which cost about $600 and $800 more than the base versions and give you wire wheels, handguards and an under-cowl. I’d break down the pricing more accurately, but Suzuki’s bouncing around with incentives to clear these bikes and whatever I find today may not exist tomorrow. If you’re interested, and the bike you want is still available at your local dealer, it’s best just to go straight to Suzuki’s website to see current pricing for yourself.
The DL650 V-Strom
There are all kinds of options for the 650 to make it fit you better – it’s been around a while, don’t forget. Different seats are available to lower or raise the sitting height and I rode with the lower seat, but in hindsight, I should have asked for the mid-height seat to better fit my 32-inch inseam.
Even with the lower seat, I raised the windscreen to as high as it would go, which was only an extra couple of centimetres or so. This is a tedious process that involves unscrewing and rescrewing four Allen bolts, so any owner would set it and forget it. In any case, the windscreen isn’t designed so much to block wind as just break down the pressure from the wind. The seating position is quite comfortable, but after an hour I’d start to squirm. (This may be more a reflection on me than on the bike, since I once happily put in a 1,500-km day on my dirtbike).
The 650 includes effective ABS brakes and effective traction control, governed through a 5-axis IMU. That’s kind of it, though. There’s no cruise control or ride control or other electronic trickery. The selector switch on the left handlebar looks clever, but it actually only changes the display to show things like fuel consumption (an average of 4.9 L/100 km, by the way), range (400 km on a full tank), and a couple of trip meters.
You can, at least, adjust the traction control on the fly between three different settings: off, mild and not-so-mild. These translate to off-road, normal and rain. The brakes are not linked, but you wouldn’t expect them to be at this price. This is a bike on a budget, and although it doesn’t look to be at a distance, especially with those sturdy panniers and the crash guards that double as mounts for extra lights, it really doesn’t offer any extras. The spring preload of the rear suspension is adjustable, but there’s nothing to change on the front forks. What you see is what you get.
I rode all week, usually dodging rain, and never needed extra power. The 90-degree 645 cc v-twin makes 70 hp and 46 lb-ft. of torque. Its throttle response is designed to be mild and easy-going, though Suzuki’s press information says it shares the exhaust camshaft of the SV650 for a feeling of greater power. Whatever. It’s no fire-breather, but it had no problems riding into the wind at the speed of traffic on the highway.
The DL1000 V-Strom
This is the beefier version of the 650, weighing an extra 16 kg and making an impressive total of 99 hp and 75 lbs.-ft. of torque. It feels bigger, but it’s not really: it’s only 5 mm longer than its little brother, with a wheelbase that’s actually 5 mm shorter. It’s a little wider, though, and its overall height is an extra 6.5 cm, despite 5mm less ground clearance.
This is the V-Strom you want if you plan to weigh yourself down with luggage or, more likely, if you want to carry a passenger without noticing the additional weight behind. It will cruise all day at 150 km/h and its seat felt more comfortable, though this may have been just my preconception from being on a bigger bike. The fuel tank holds 20 litres, just like on the 650, though premium gas is recommended for the 1000; it’s thirstier, at an average for me of 5.3L /100 km, which means a slightly shorter range.
The brakes are linked, with cornering ABS. The suspension is upgraded, with both front and rear adjustable for preload and compression/rebound damping.
To be honest, however, I expected more from the DL1000 for its extra $3,700. There’s no cruise control, which was surprising (though it’s not throttle-by-wire, so this isn’t such a straightforward option), and most of the rest of the bike was identical to the 650: same traction control settings, same instrument display and grip controls. The most noticeable difference was that the windscreen could be quickly adjusted on the fly to any of three different settings by just pushing on the screen; like the smaller bike, I preferred it on the higher setting, but did find myself fiddling with it more often.
As for riding it, I dunno – it looked great with its blue-accented rims and adventurous stance, but again, I was left wanting more. Riding the 1000 was all anyone should want, but for me, it was like kissing my sister. I know the electronic doohickeys that are available on other machines and I wanted them, like a TFT or LCD screen, selectable riding modes, six-axis IMU (wheelie control!), greater adjustment for the windscreen, USB ports for my phone instead of just a 12-volt charger. All these things are now available on the new 1050, for more money.
Which is for you?
This is simple. The 2018 and 2019 V-Stroms are both a really good deal, and especially the 2018s if you can still find them, thanks to the deal on the “adventure kit” extras.
If you want to carry a passenger comfortably, or cross the country, go for the bigger bike; if you ride alone and don’t need to spend hours in the saddle, save your cash (and insurance costs) and go for the smaller machine. Neither is an off-road bike, but they’re fine for gravel roads with their 19-inch front wheels and street-oriented tires.
Both sized Stroms look terrific, and both are value for money compared to their competition. The smaller DL650 is on a par with the Kawasaki Versys, though more costly than the $9,200 Honda NC750X. The bigger DL1000 is the real deal, though – it’s literally thousands less than the equivalent Yamaha Super Tenere, Kawasaki Versys or Honda Africa Twin.
Those are generally more technically advanced bikes, of course, and the new DL1050 is more comparably priced to take them on. However, if you’re not worried about having the latest and greatest, and you want a good-looking bike that’s capable, and you don’t mind kissing my sister, then the current V-Strom could be the bike that does it for you.