First ride: 2020 Suzuki V-Strom 1050 XA

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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!

Bert finds himself in motorcycle paradise on the new V-Strom 1050 XA in Spain.

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.

Test ride: 2019 Suzuki V-Strom 1000 and 650

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.

What’s new?

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 engine might sound like it’s larger, being called a 1050 now instead of a 1000, but it’s still the same 1037 cc displacement.

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.

The automatic brake system is considerably more advanced than the ABS on the previous model, learning from its rider’s useage.

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.

Hey Bert – this is an adventure-tourer, not a sportbike!

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.

Bert gets ready to turn on the afterburners after blowing past the photographer.

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 windscreen does a good job of sheltering the rider from buffeting, but it’s not as easily adjustable as before.

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.

Bert goes off-road to fully test the new V-Strom’s abilities, which are pretty much limited to gravel roads.

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.

LED lights and signals come standard now, as well as that new DR Big beak.

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.

The new V-Strom is far more technically capable than before, though it’s still far from cutting edge.

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.

Get used to seeing this while driving if Bert’s in the V-Strom’s saddle.
Key Specs: 2020 Suzuki V-Strom 1050/XA
Base price: $14,399/16,099
Engine: 1,037 cc 90-degree V-Twin
Curb weight:  236/247 kg
Power:  106 hp @ 8,500 rpm
Torque:  73.8 lbs.-ft. @ 6,000 rpm
Rake/Trail:  25.3 degrees/ 109 mm
Wheelbase:  1,555 mm
Seat height: 855/850 mm
Brakes: Front: Tokico monobloc, radial mount, 4-piston calipers, twin 310 mm discs with ABS/cornering, linked ABS. Rear: single-piston caliper, 260 mm disc with ABS/cornering, linked ABS
Front suspension: KYB 43 mm inverted fork adjustable for spring preload; compression and rebound damping
Rear suspension: KYB shock adjustable for spring preload; rebound damping
Tires: Bridgestone Battlax Adventure A41 110/80R19;  Bridgestone Battlax Adventure A41 150/70R17

16 COMMENTS

  1. I had a 2005 V strom 1000. Amazing bike and the oem seat was the best seat I have ever had, oem or aftermarket. I still remember riding hard and fast with my cousin on his Kawi Connie 1400, his gas light would come on at 200 km. He took 18 Litres, the Strom 12. I now have a 2010 R1200RT. The biggest reasons were much better weather protection, shaft drive, heated goodies and cruise control. The Beemer is more expensive to run, no question, but I am now officially spoiled. 1,000 km in 11 hours, not even tired. That is the bike for people who like to run big km. It has 120 K km, still waiting for my shaft drive to blow up. It should never happen, especially for the price, but I believe that the least reliable bikes are BMW and HD. What do you expect when you pay outrageous prices, consumers are so fussy! If you want reliable buy Japanese. Cam

  2. I’m a little disappointed that Suzuki has chosen to only make certain important features available on the XA model with the wire wheels, which I don’t particularly care for. I’d rather have the cast wheels.

    And the cruise control should be standard on all of the models. Hopefully there will be a reasonably priced aftermarket solution that makes use of the (presumably) same RBW electronics in the base model.

  3. After having traveled over 200 000 trouble free kilometers over tundra and through jungles on three new ‘Stroms (‘09, ‘12, ‘15) I believe I can call myself A Big fan. In fact, one of my bikes is still a Wee. So, I waited eagerly for this new model to arrive – wallet in hand. Sadly, I’m less than impressed. Aside from compulsory compliance to Euro 5 standards, all evidence suggests, relative to other 2020 models in the genre in similar price zones, there’s little here to celebrate. On the bottom of that, a possible downgrade for where one’s ass resides? Nope, I’ll respect my memories of a great motorcycle, but my wallet is safe for now. Very safe.

  4. I always disliked the included jingles “for the price” or “ cost effective alternative “ when discussing the Suzuki V Strom in either 650 or 1000/1050. Dependability and service costs over a lengthy period of ownership should take the stage first. Both V Strom’s are excellent in those two categories where several other larger displacement alternatives have gained “unique “ personalities for road service calls and wallet thinning scheduled maintenance. It’s not only the buy in that matters.

    • It’s inevitable, as they always lack the features of their more expensive counterparts, so the affordability is their high point. I certainly don’t think it’s a bad thing. I think the only real issue with the stroms is that they have chain drive.

      • Ask long term GS owners how many have had shaft drive issues. I was touring in Europe on a Tiger Explorer with 13k kms and had the rear seal develop a leak. Fortunately I made it back to the hotel before it seized, and because it was on an organized tour, it was their problem, not mine. I was given a replacement bike, and as I recall, that bike never did get put back into service in their fleet.

        Chain lube and minor cleaning on tour is pretty easy, especially with a centre stand. And unlike a shaft, chains give you plenty of warning as they deteriorate, and are much easier faster and cheaper to replace while on the road. Shafts add significantly to weight and price, so wouldn’t that just detract from the positive characteristics of the Strom?

        • I reckon it’s a matter of perspective. BMW shaft drives have a reputation for grenading, and have had that rep for years. Honda, however, doesn’t have that rep, and has put shaft drives on some fairly affordable models. It *is* doable.

          My line of thinking is simply that if the big Strom is obviously road-oriented, why not make it a better tourer? If not a shaft drive, then how about an OEM chain oiler? I think the original Z1 came with that equipment, so it CAN be done.

          • “If not a shaft drive, then how about an OEM chain oiler?”
            Or a fully enclosed chain ?
            The 1981 relic I just bought has one, its not that complicated.

          • It’s surprisingly how many bikes in the 80s had shaft drive. The smallest one I recall was the Honda 500 V twin. Can’t remember hearing of any issues with any of them.

            • I’ve never heard of a final drive failure for any of those old Hondas. I’m sure it happened, but I’ve never heard of it.

              • The original GL1000/1100s got a reputation for wearing out the final driven gear but that came mostly after very high mileage and lack of lubrication/maintenance. Good luck finding a replacement now if you have one that’s FUBARED.

        • While you’re looking for those GS owners, look for Super Tenere owners too, and ask them how many final drive failures they have had,

  5. I sat on the new Strom this weekend and like all the updates except the two piece seat, it’s a disaster. They should have kept the original so that guys like me who have bought a replacement can just swap it. And seeing that the grips on Suzuki’s are diabolical to remove, then heated grips should be standard.

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