The south of Spain is motorcycle paradise. But as spectacular as the Mediterranean coast is, heading inland is what it’s all about. Roads quickly begin twisting up and down around mountain ranges as breathtaking views become the norm and traffic all but disappears. It’s Nirvana, no less, and that’s exactly where I found myself testing Suzuki’s new-for-2020 V-Strom 1050 XA.
My ride began beside the sea in Marbella, then headed inland to Ronda for lunch before returning in the afternoon. It was a laid-back schedule, about 160 kilometres total, just the kind of ride you’d go for on a whim if you were to live here. It’s also the kind of environment a road-biased adventure class model like the V-Strom should excel in. So, let’s see!
What’s with that front end?
Although it isn’t all-new, the 2020 V-Strom 1050 represents a major update for the popular model; in Canada, it’s Suzuki’s second best-seller, just behind the V-Strom 650 that’s unchanged for this year.
You will immediately notice the DR Big-inspired styling of the new 1050. I have to say I’m a fan. The 1988 DR Big was one of those bikes that marked the youth for a lot of riders, and to bring back that silhouette on a machine like the V-Strom is probably a smart decision. Not only does it look cool — something that hasn’t exactly been said often about the V-Strom, let’s be honest — but it also gives the new bike its own visual identity. It’s not just another BMW GS look-alike.
The styling is also nicely complemented by tasteful classic colour choices and traditional Suzuki stripes, particularly on the XA version tested here, not to mention a level of attention to the finishes on the engine not previously seen on any V-Strom.
Under that new skin of the V-Strom 1050, some things are still unchanged, including most of the rolling chassis. The twin spar aluminum frame, the swing arm, wheels and major brake components are all left alone because, well, there was nothing wrong with them. Suzuki did, however, firm up the suspension slightly and upgrade the rubber to Bridgestone Battlax Adventure A41 tires.
From there, however, begins a considerably different list of changes, depending on the version.
The base $14,399 V-Strom 1050 (up from $13,499 in 2019) offers a revised engine that produces about 7 more horsepower than in 2019, now at 106 hp, and about the same 74 lbs.-ft. of torque. Suzuki’s excellent V-twin still displaces the same 1037 cc despite the new 1050 name, and remains mostly unchanged; it does benefit from improved cooling, different cams and valve timing, and a new exhaust, all of which help meet new Euro 5 emissions control standards.
The throttle is now Ride-by-Wire and the injectors use bigger bore throttle bodies, as well as Suzuki’s SDMS power map selector with 3 electronic settings: A for sharp throttle response, B for softer response and C for softest. Finally, there’s a new, all-digital instrument cluster, a new two-piece seat and an updated traction control system with four sensitivity settings.
The top of the line $16,099 V-Strom 1050 XA (up from $14,099 in 2019 and called XT elsewhere in the world) is where things get interesting, as it offers a slew of electronic features Suzuki calls SIRS, for Suzuki Intelligent Ride System.
Using a new six-axis Inertia Measurement Unit, the SIRS offers hill hold, rear-wheel lift prevention, cornering ABS and a combined braking system that’s both load sensitive and constantly self adjusting. According to Suzuki, the self-adjustment works by using the IMU to compare the deceleration rate with the brake pressure applied by the rider. If that pressure goes up for a set deceleration rate, the computer interprets the situation as an increased load on the motorcycle and the system compensates by increasing fluid pressure to the calipers. The rider then feels more deceleration for less braking effort. The system requires 10 decelerations to adjust itself.
Moreover, not only does the XA comes standard with cruise control, a first for the V-Strom, but it’s also equipped with a manually adjustable windshield, a height-adjustable rider’s seat, hand protectors, wire wheels, protection bars, aluminum under-cowling, LED turn signals, a centre stand, and an additional 12V socket under the seat.
All in all, there’s a lot packed in the XA’s extra $1,700. It’s also the only version with those cool yellow and orange/white colour schemes.
On the road
I only rode the higher-end V-Strom 1050 XA, but from the first few minutes in the saddle, the bike impressed with a highly refined general feel. The V-Twin is wonderfully smooth, quietly throaty and remarkably docile. Operation of the clutch and transmission was seamless and precise, and handling seemed effortless and instantly familiar.
As is the case for all adventure models, the V-Strom is relatively tall, although not extremely so. And while the seat is adjustable, it only allows for a 20 mm increase in height to give more leg room to taller riders.
Combined with the upright and well-balanced ergonomics, all these characteristics make the big V-Strom immediately feel like the proverbial old friend – even in a tight and busy urban environment, it seems as easy to ride as a bicycle.
Earlier, I asked Suzuki’s engineers here if they’d considered bumping the big V-Strom’s displacement to 1,200 cc or more, as is currently the trend; they said that with more displacement comes more weight, and they felt one litre is a good size. I couldn’t agree more. I certainly wouldn’t say no to another 20 horsepower, which would move the bike’s character from docile towards exciting, but there’s something to be said for the balance of the middle ground that a litre-bike offers, compared to the more stressed 800-900 cc and heavier 1200-1300 cc adventure models.
Already obvious in the city, that balance became evident once we hit the endlessly twisty mountain roads en route to Ronda. There, I could ride the V-Strom almost by instinct at a moderate pace, and with very little extra effort at a downright fast clip. I rode with a group, but often let the pack ahead disappear while I enjoyed the magnificent sights. After a few minutes of calm, with a clear road in front of me, I would then turn on the afterburners until I caught up with the pack.
Every time I had that chance, the V-Strom’s handling blew me away. Riding quick can become draining on a sportbike on those twisty and narrow roads with blind corners, imperfect pavement, stone on one side and ravines on the other. The V-Strom allowed for an even faster pace — yes, faster — with exactly zero drama and proved wonderfully solid and precise while doing so.
Those fast portions revealed a pretty good and buffeting-free wind management from the front fairing and windscreen. The screen can be manually moved vertically over 50 mm, but adjustments require the rider to stand in front of the parked bike, as that’s where the slightly-difficult-to-unlock latch is located. So, no adjustments on the fly with this one.
The engine’s power never has been, and still isn’t, very impressive, but the good low- to mid-range torque is a big reason why this type of pace is so effortless on the V-Strom. It also has very light and precise steering, an extremely well-balanced suspension and excellent braking.
The V-Strom 1050 uses a fully adjustable inverted fork and a rear shock that’s only missing compression-damping adjustability. Both can be set to offer a relatively firm ride or a plush one if desired, but adjustments have to be made manually.
As for braking, I initially wasn’t sure about the load-sensitive, self-learning combined system installed on the XA. For the first few minutes I rode the bike, I thought it was grabby and braked more aggressively than it should, considering the light pressure I applied at the lever. But that feeling quickly disappeared and the system became transparent and began to feel quite natural. I guess it did adjust itself to my needs, and Suzuki claims it would do so again with the added load of a passenger and luggage.
Can it go off-road?
Suzuki is pushing hard the adventure theme on the new V-Strom 1050, with a “Master of Adventure” tag line and rally-inspired styling, but in reality, the bike’s off-road capability remains essentially unchanged. This means it’s really only appropriate for light use on gravel or dirt.
For those riders who rarely leave the pavement, the 19-inch front wheel, soft suspension and decent wheel travel will do just fine, because they really do offer the chance to explore the occasional dirt or gravel roads. But the bike’s ABS system can’t be deactivated and while ground clearance is okay, it’s not sky-high. As with all earlier editions, the V-Strom is simply not a good choice for hardcore off-roaders.
Is it worth it?
I’ve always been a fan of both the big and small V-Strom, not because they were particularly exciting, but rather because they just worked so damn well, all with their discreet yet adorable V-Twin soundtrack. Now, with the cool new styling, this latest respects everything the big V-Strom has always been, while improving the formula in several ways.
Something, however, has changed on the 1050. The XA — which is the technically superior bike and the one you want — now retails for more than $16,000, a couple of grand more the previous 1000X. It’s still a good value, but as the price goes up, so does the right to expect more.
For instance, I would have liked a better seat. It’s fine as it is for everyday use, but the bike itself is truly capable of much longer distances with its excellent suspension, balanced ergonomics and impressive wind management. Likewise, I wished for heated handgrips in the morning when it was cold. They are offered as an option, but at the new, higher price, these are items you can legitimately begin to wish came standard.
After all, the V-Strom still isn’t the pinnacle of technology. For example, there is no quick shifter for the gears, no semi-active suspension, and no Bluetooth connectivity – all features now commonly offered by other manufacturers. However, I didn’t miss them at all on the V-Strom. On the contrary, I appreciated not having to find my way through menus to change this or that, and there’s no way I could justify the price climbing even more to get those characteristics. I guess I’d just like it if there was just a bit more included as standard, like heated grips.
Notwithstanding that, I just can’t find it in myself to dislike much about the new V-Strom 1050XA. It’s not aimed at hooligans looking to climb Everest on two wheels, and it isn’t for those yearning for the biggest and baddest adventure machine.
However, for the average rider with a limited budget, who realizes the numerous everyday riding advantages of the adventure formula and who only needs to step off the beaten path occasionally, it just might come very close to ticking all the boxes.