The 2015 model year is seemingly about the resurgence of the liter class superbike. However, another area gaining momentum for the new year is the adventure (and psuedo-adventure) market, with KTM, Ducati, Kawasaki, Yamaha and BMW but a few of the OEMs throwing their hats in the ring. One of the OG players in the game is Suzuki, with its V-Strom 650, and in this week’s Church feature we’ll take a look at this very bike, from the eyes of then-MO-Chief-turned-MO-Editorial-Director Sean Alexander. What’s amazing is that the V-Strom is still around today. It’s been updated in many ways, but that fantastic V-Twin engine from the SV650 lives on! Read on to see Sean’s thoughts about what is now a hugely popular go anywhere, do anything motorcycle. Also, be sure to check out the photo gallery for a plethora of pictures of Sean, uh, shall we say, thoroughly enjoying his time on the V-Strom.
Suzuki V-Strom 650
Mar. 21, 2004
It’s difficult to argue with the success of the Suzuki’s SV-650 or to argue with the acclaim that the DL1000 V-Strom has earned from the press. Suzuki isn’t run by dummies, they know what they have and they act accordingly, thus we are now blessed with the DL650 V-Strom.
The DL650 uses much of the mechanical and running gear from the SV-650, but it’s wrapped in adventure touring bodywork and graced with upright bars, and a long travel suspension like the original DL1000. The original V-Strom has earned a reputation for being surprisingly nimble and easy to ride for a 1000cc bike. This would lead one to guess that the lighter and lower 650 version would be one of the most nimble and easiest to ride bikes you could possibly create. Does reality meet expectations? Yes and No.
In the twisty stuff, or on dirt, gravel and other unimproved roads, the DL650 V-Strom is even better than I expected it to be. It changes direction effortlessly, while maintaining good stability and inspiring a feeling of confidence. I was afraid that it might be a little flighty or twitchy, but even after riding the thing like a loon, my fears turned out to be entirely unfounded. On highways and interstates, the 650 offers good wind protection and the adjustable windscreen allowed me to create a cruising environment that was free from the annoying buffeting that often plagues faired bikes.
My day at the V-Strom 650 Press Intro started out with a 25mile ride East from Palm Springs, on Interstate 10. That leg was unremarkable and less than inspiring, but it did serve to validate the 650s use as an unobtrusive transportation tool. Likewise, our group ride from interstate 10 up to the ranger station at Joshua Tree was rather bland in that controlled stay-inside-the lines sort of way. However, after we stopped and lollygagged at the station, we were allowed to break-off in smaller groups for the 35 mile ride to our next rendezvous point. I quickly hooked-up with one of my fellow “we don’t follow the rules” journalists and we blasted off down the desert two-lane at Paris-Dakar speeds. I can’t go into too many details, for fear that uncle Sam will come knocking on my door. I will however, say that the DL650 makes a hell of a good canyon carver and will change direction super-fast and super-easy while offering good feedback from the contact patch out front and allowing its rider to maintain a reasonable blood pressure reading.
The road we were on has a lot of S-turn sections and some questionable sight-lines, so the friendly little DL is a good bike to have along for this type of dogfight. About 15 miles into this blast, I spotted a turnoff for a graded dirt road, which leads back about a mile to a turnaround loop. I signaled to my partner in crime and we quickly disappeared off the beaten path. After we had some fun blasting each other with roost, we stopped at the turnaround for a few photos and a quick video of the DL650 playing in the dirt. Suzuki says the V-Strom isn’t actually intended for dirt use, but I think they might be missing the point. The V-Strom 650 actually works better on unpaved roads, than most of the outright “dual-purpose” bikes that I’ve had the pleasure to ride.
Suzuki gave the 650 the same beefy 43mm fork tubes from the V-Strom 1000, but they dropped the cartridge internals, in favor of less expensive “free valve” damping. The stiffer forks help the 650 feel planted and to my surprise the damping and overall suspension action worked well in every type of riding that I could throw at it. The 110/80 R19 front and 150/70 R17 rear Bridgestone Trail Wing tires proved quite sure footed on tarmac and surprisingly competent off-road, as long as you don’t get carried away with the lean angle. I think they’re a good match for the DL’s suspension and would be inclined to replace them with the exact same tire, once they’re worn-out. How many OEM tires can you say that about?
Unfortunately, there are a couple of issues that stand in the way of this neat Suzuki becoming the perfect do-it-all bike. First and foremost, Suzuki decided that it would be a good idea (I don’t think it really ever is a good idea) to retune the SV-650 based motor, “to fit the V-Strom 650’s character as a Sport Enduro Tourer”. This involved swapping-out the SV-650’s cams, for a set with significantly milder intake and exhaust timing. They also increased crank inertia (flywheel effect) by 4% using a redesigned starter clutch. When you couple this milder state of tune with a bike that weighs a claimed417Lbs (about 54Lbs more than claimed for the SV-650), you get a noticeable decrease in straight-line performance.
Another annoyance was that in parking lot maneuvers, the new fairing lends a slightly more top-heavy feeling to the DL650. I’m not sure if this is actually from added weight, or merely a sense of awkwardness imparted by the acres of plastic in your field of view. Softened engine aside, I’m simply picking nits. Please don’t get the impression that the bike is anything other than nimble and friendly to ride. It has plenty of power for cruising, exploring and canyon strafing. On the open road, I was able to coax and indicated 130Mph out of my test bike, which means that the engine is still making plenty of power for the real world, just don’t expect effortless wheelies, drag race victories or full-lock sliding corner exits (unless you’re on dirt).
After spending some time with the little V-Strom, I’m pleased to report that it is indeed a fun and nimble bike. It flows effortlessly through canyon, secondary and even dirt or gravel fire roads. The upright seating position and wide bars coupled with the little 650cc V-Twin engine mean that quick transitions and the tightest of corners are handled with ease. It has a reasonably low seat height for its class and the ergos remained comfortable throughout a 10 hour day of riding. When you couple the added bonus of being able to have some mild off-road fun with an inexpensive and highly capable street bike, you get a package that pleases on quite a few more levels than expected. Be sure to test ride one if you get the chance.