2017 Suzuki V-Strom 650/650XT

Editor Score: 87.75%
Engine 18.25/20
Suspension/Handling 13.0/15
Transmission/Clutch 8.5/10
Brakes 8.0/10
Instruments/Controls4.5/5
Ergonomics/Comfort 9.0/10
Appearance/Quality 9.25/10
Desirability 8.0/10
Value 9.25/10
Overall Score87.75/100

Last week, we learned all about the considerable changes Suzuki made to the somewhat venerable V-Strom 650, now in its 17th year of production. Today, we answer the age-old question: What’s it like? The short answer is it’s a lot like it was but better. The long answer is:

When we last threw the friendly little Suzuki into a comparison of its peers, the V-Strom in fact finished third behind the newly revamped Kawasaki Versys 650 and the Honda NC700X, but that was a semi-unfair comparison because the ’Strom is more “adventurey” than those two, with its 19-inch front wheel, and in that comparo we didn’t venture off-pavement much. What was most impressive about the V-Strom was its 645cc 90-degree V-Twin, which cranked out 63.2 Ducati-esque horses to the Versys’ 54.9 as well as a couple more pound-feet of torque. For the new bike, Suzuki has played to that strength, giving the ’Strom the same engine it put in the current model SV650, which we happily just dynoed a couple weeks ago: That puppy put out 71.6 horses at 8700 rpm and 45.4 lb-ft at 8000 rpm. It’s a stout, spunky little motor.

Still with possibly the easiest-access oil filter in all of motorcycling. SV650 cams and things give it even more power as well as Euro4 cleanliness. Dual catalyzers live in the muffler.

Still with possibly the easiest-access oil filter in all of motorcycling. SV650 cams and things give it even more power as well as Euro4 cleanliness. Dual catalyzers live in the muffler.

Not only is it powerful for a 650, the new 10-hole injectors Suzuki stuck into its 39mm SDTV throttle bodies, working with its new dual-plug heads, exhaust, and all the rest of the things to make the engine Euro4 compliant, conspire to make it really responsive to the throttle as well – to which it’s attached by classic dual throttle cables. At the 650’s coming-out party, 7000 feet up in the San Bernardino mountains above L.A., we swapped back and forth between it and new V-Strom 1000s – and it was no big sacrifice to hop from the big bike to the smaller one. Especially since claimed weight for the 650 is 470 pounds to the 1000’s claimed 511 lb. wet weight. (Our scales read 474 for the old 650.)

Actually there are two V-Strom 650s: this is the XT, which comes with tubeless wire-spoke wheels, handguards and a black plastic lower engine cowl, for $9,299…

Actually there are two V-Strom 650s: this is the XT, which comes with tubeless wire-spoke wheels, handguards and a black plastic lower engine cowl, for $9,299…

… and the base model, in Glacier White with 19- and 17-inch cast wheels (lighter than before) for $8,799. Both roll on the same Bridgestone dual-sport tires.

… and the base model, in Glacier White with 19- and 17-inch cast wheels (lighter than before) for $8,799. Both roll on the same Bridgestone dual-sport tires.

Even at 7000 feet, the little ’Strom has plenty of juice in the low and midrange, and is happy to twist its analog tach needle into the red zone if you insist – though you will feel a little secondary vibration through the steel handlebar at higher engine rpm. The slip-assist clutch makes slipping between gears a lubricious breeze, and drivetrain snatch is minimal. Overall, the engine provides a great compromise in its ability to segue between relaxing low-rev dirt-road plonking along and maniacal peg-dragging back on the pavement (though bikes with 17-inch front wheels are a bit better at the latter, if not by much). That 19-inch front, though, allows the V-Strom to be way better as an ADV bike, should you reach the point where you want to throw on knobbier tires like the ubiquitous Conti TKC80 or Michelin Anakee.

060617-2017-suzuki-v-strom-650xt-d4n3085

Speaking of off-road, we did venture down a short stretch of dusty graded mountain dirt road – a good chance to sample the bike’s new traction-control system, which is just like the three-position one the V-Strom 1000 got a few years ago (Suzuki’s first TC system) – the three positions being 1, 2 and Off. It’s super easy to toggle between settings, and of course a few guys turned it off to impress the rest of us with impressive roostertails of dust. Personally, I’ve said almost all I have to say about TC on these kinds of bikes in a Whatever column a few years ago, and nothing’s changed my mind since. With TC on 1 (less intrusive), you can whack the ’Stroms throttle open on loose surfaces and it might spin a little, but never enough to come around and throw you to the ground. Which I appreciate. It’s also unobtrusive, I can only tell it’s working if I catch a glimpse of the TC light flickering on the dash.

The new dash is much like the one on the V-Strom 1000, including its traction-control monitor. There’s also a big gear-position indicator, trip computer, freeze warning, etc.... the 12-volt cigarette lighter plug is just off to the left; charging output is 390 watts at 5000 rpm.

The new dash is much like the one on the V-Strom 1000, including its traction-control monitor. There’s also a big gear-position indicator, trip computer, freeze warning, etc…. the 12-volt cigarette lighter plug is just off to the left; charging output is 390 watts at 5000 rpm.

Things you cannot turn off, however, include the now-standard antilock braking system. Really that’s only a problem if you start down a steep hill of loose shale or whatever, but bikes like the little V-Strom have a way of encouraging you to get into exactly those kinds of situations, don’t they? Don’t ask me how I know. Nearly all other manufacturers of ADV bikes have a way to switch ABS off, or at least a mode that loosens ABS parameters and lets the rider lock up the rear tire. It’s quite the bummer to grab some brakes in a hairball downhill situation only to learn that ABS suddenly stands for ABandon Ship.

That’s my only mechanical complaint, and the V-Strom’s been around long enough that there must be all kinds of DIY work-arounds if you plan to tackle steeper terrain. In fact, there’s a dedicated ABS Fuse according to the service manual Suzuki provided.

If you’re a rank beginner, there’s also a “Low RPM Assist” feature, which bumps engine speed up a bit when you’re taking off from a stop to keep you from stalling out, not to mention Easy Start, which means the starter motor will crank as long as it needs to (not long) with just one quick jab of the button from you.

Quite Stylish…

060617-2017-suzuki-v-strom-650-d4n1713

We can be a bit shallow; the previous V-Strom 650’s sheer homeliness would’ve kept me from owning one. Now that they’ve modelled the new bike after the 1000, it appears to be a much more put-together motorcycle and less an assemblage of parts. The new beak and stacked halogen -headlight fairing look less cartoonish than before, and the bigger new height-adjustable windshield also offers more protection from the elements. It flows gracefully into the 5.3-gallon fuel tank (which should offer easy 200-mile range), and then into a restuffed seat that’s narrower at the front to make it easier for shorties to reach the ground from the 32.9-inch seat.

Four rubber nuts let you move the shield up and down with your fingers.

Four rubber nuts let you move the shield up and down with your fingers.

The twin-spar aluminum frame appears to be same-same as before, with a revised subframe to clip saddlebags onto where the old bike’s undertail exhaust used to be. For now, there’s a plastic luggage rack flush behind the generous passenger seat, and lots of places for bungee hooks or ropes for people who know how to tie knots.

Ya got yer LED brake and tail lights and turn signals. For 5-foot-8 me, ergos are great for sitting and pretty good for standing.

Ya got yer LED brake and tail lights and turn signals. For 5-foot-8 me, ergos are great for sitting and pretty good for standing.

The 43mm fork and rear shock both feel fully up to the task even with a passenger, with a handy preload adjuster knob out back. The front wheel strokes through 5.9 inches of travel, the rear through 6.3 inches, and both ends manage to feel well-damped on the road without being harsh off it.

The base V-Strom is nice enough, but if you’re serious about the middleweight ADV thing, the V-Strom 650XT and its wire wheels are kind of the only game in town for under $10k. Comparable units from BMW and the new KTM 790 Twin, when it gets here, will be way pricier. The little Wee Strom’s always been something of a cult bike. With the improvements Suzuki’s made for 2017, I could see the cult expanding to a much larger general audience. The XT in particular, is a competent and great-looking bike that should be able to take you just about anywhere.

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  • Kenneth

    I’ve long felt this is the bike I *should* own, but couldn’t get past the appearance. That problem looks to have now been resolved (just enough). Another issue was that all previous V-Strom windscreens have caused head buffeting; has that finally been remedied, or will it still require an extra-tall aftermarket (or no) screen?

    • JMDGT

      Something was bothering me about the V-Stroms. I just couldn’t figure out what it was. I think that they look cheap somehow. I have no problem with the beak but maybe it’s the color scheme and the wheels.

    • Travis Donald Stanley

      That is always a personal thing. You have to demo ride. But, the liter bike and Wee have had some R & D time in the wind tunnel, so it should be better.

    • Stuki Moi

      No adventure bike will have good wind management. Upright seating, wide bars and good steering lock, puts you too far from a too narrow screen. Aeroflow used to make a half fairing for the GS, but stopped with the demise of the 1150. That thing did work well, but it made the bike about as crashproof /adventurey as a tall RT.

      The new Strom is probably even less endowed than the outgoing one as far as wind protection goes. Suzuki wanted to reduce the “visual mass” in front of the rider with the new 1000, and now 650, fairing. To make the bike feel more like the NC700 when transitioned side to side, rather than like a tall building toppling over in front of you as you lean. Supposedly, the “top heaviness” many liked to complain about with the outgoing Vstrom, was due more to “visual mass,” than to actual, as measured on a scale, mass and center of gravity.

      The result is less wind protection where it matters most: Below the windshield. The 1000 definitely has more wind than the outgoing 650. And, in many ways worse still: You can’t do much about it. On the outgoing 650, a bigger shield can make it pretty well protected. On the 1000, a bigger shield just creates a more powerful vacuum behind it; and without much in the way of a fairing protecting you from below, wind rushes up under your helmet, buffeting your head. And even your shoulders/elbows, making the bike less stable. The smaller feel is a great compromise for urban and slower speed riding. But not really ideal for extended high speed droning, where what you want is the great coverage in the below, and in front of, hands position; that only a big fairing can provide.

      • hipsabad

        ^ All this is generally true. Of course everything depends on one’s size etc. Like when commenting about seat comfort or ergos–it’s relative. The real scandal, imho, is the lack of adjustability on motorbikes in general. Imagine selling a car in 2017 that had no fore n aft seat adjustability, let alone seatback incline or steering wheel angle or seat height–you’d be laughed out of the market, despite there always being SOME folks who fit the standard. Another issue that constantly gets passed over is the noise and buffeting of windshields, which as Stuki Moi mentions, is mostly due to the distance from rider to shield. My best windshield experiences have been on sportbikes where the rider’s head is lower, closer to screen

  • Old MOron

    “ABandon Ship,” har har har.
    You can’t get this sort of stuff anywhere else, folks!

  • DickRuble

    Nice bike. 70lbs too heavy though. Versys-Vstrom head to head should be interesting.

    But what is this

    http://motorcycle.com.vsassets.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2017/06/060617-2017-suzuki-v-strom-650-v-strom-650xt-DR-BIG-438×388.jpg

    • Travis Donald Stanley

      They did a good three bike shoot out a couple of years ago, like he mintioned. The new Wee still lacks the SUSPENSION to make me pass on the 2015+ Versys 650. Instead, buying a used 2015 XT as a platform to make your all -Rounder touring bike is the way to go. If Sean Alexander is in the shoot out, the Verys will still be the best. The ergo package and wheel base on the Versys is what I like the most. I’ve never liked the ergos on the Wee.

    • Travis Donald Stanley

      Sadly the DL250 is just 74lbs lighter and Suzuki claims 24 horsepower at 8,500 rpm and 16 pound-feet of torque at 6,500 rpm (on the GW250). That makes the 650 seem like a sport touring bike! A MC that is {{lighter}} than the DL250 and has about 15 more horses is the Versys X 300. What do you think of her?

    • Travis Donald Stanley

      Hopefully the new 2017 Ninja 650, which lost like 42lbs of weight, will allow us to have a 445lbs Versys 650 in a couple of years. That P. Twin Ninja is for real!

      • Stuki Moi

        Even more than the weight savings, switching to a linkage rear suspension, can’t help but make the Versys less hyperactively pitchy. The ‘Strom is still much more to my liking overall (better balance, the all around, pound for pound, greatest engine in all of motorcycle history), but the long wheelbase and 19″ front, make it stick too far into traffic when backed in between parallel parked cars on tight streets….. Bloody thing is as long as a Harley.

        • hipsabad

          + to linkage comment! pound for pound–and dollar for dollar! i too would love a shorter wheelbase. Sadly, 90 degree v-twins longitudinally ensconced are inherently limited in that way. Thinking of Ducati’s MotoGP handling struggles. Ironically for me, a non-linkage set-up has potential to shorten wheelbase. Aargh!!!

    • hipsabad

      ya just know that the KTM 790’s gonna be that 70 lbs lighter

      • spiff

        Ruble on a KTM? 🙂

        • Born to Ride

          Not unless he is willing to file the requisite “I am a huge hypocrite” forms at the dealership.

      • Born to Ride

        Wild speculation is wild…

        • Travis Donald Stanley

          A 435-455lbs wet 790 would be grand. I do not see a 404lbs wet 790 beast. In the last few years KTM has been adding dry mass with their bikes. A counter balancer​ comes to mind and a hardy frame. The 1090 r is about the same exact weight of the Africa Twin. But the KTM has two more gallons and 51cc of more displacement. Sean A. did great shoot out last month.

          • Born to Ride

            I could see 425-435 for the Duke 790. Add 20-30 lbs for the ADV version. The KTM twins are not particularly light. I don’t understand why everyone thinks their new platform is going to as light as their 690 singles.

          • hipsabad

            i was being a touch sarcastic in my initial reply to da ruble, however, i’ve had a few KTMs–have one now, even– and based on the weights of the current 690 duke i think they could actually make a 790 Duke or SM that came in at 404. Not an ADV, however; those tend to drown in added amenities

      • Sentinel

        And have an engine that blows up left and right…

    • Born to Ride

      We would be in agreement on the weight issue if Suzuki were trying to sell this bike as a hardcore adventure bike. The 98/2% “dual purpose” tires exemplify the intent of this machine. That being said, a ~400-lb rally style bike like the one you posted, powered by the SV650 engine and purpose built as an enduro would sell by the truckload. Looking forward to seeing if the new Tenere 700 hits the mark.

  • Travis Donald Stanley

    Another sigh: “When is Suzuki going to make the suspension worthy of the spoke wheels, which have been on there since 2015.”
    On a positive note, this bike would make a great commuter or a 2up travel bike. Plenty of beans or excellent fuel economy, take your pick. 12 volt is standard and TC is nice for those rainy days. Good to see more cargo room with the new pipe set up.

  • W.Wilkins

    The “new” dual-plug heads aren’t new. In fact, aside from aesthetics and a few gizmos, this Wee is pretty similar to the Wee’s we see everywhere.

  • Vrooom

    I think the first year of the V-Strom 650 was 2005, so 12 years old, not 17. The 1000 came out in 2002. I have put hundreds of thousand s of miles on 1000s, and have ridden the 650 a lot, but not owned one. I of course haven’t ridden this new one, but am wondering about the suspension. The motor was always a gem in the 650, each iteration it’s been the star, I’m a big guy (6’1 and 220) and the suspension always struck me as not adequate, especially the front forks. I’m sure dynojet has a fix for that. The thousand always used to come with better suspension, especially the forks which were cartridge style rather than damping rod in the 650. More please.

  • KLRJUNE .

    To heavy with fake engine protection.

  • Anto

    I feel kinda bummed I bought the 2016, if they’d had these features and the extra hp back then I’d have bought the XT and suspect I’d still be part of the Wee-Strom family, instead of switching to BMW after only 3,000kms. ‘ totally agree with you about the Loony-toons styling also – why I couldn’t bring myself to get the XT in 2016.

  • johnny mars

    I’ve gone from a 2006 Vee to a 2012 Glee (650) and I like the smoother, lighter, less expensive, and more economical 650. Now with ABS and TC, looks like the Gen 3 will be my next bike, unless somebody comes out with an affordable EV with 200+ miles of range, or a 444 lbs. FJ-07 with TC and ABS for $8500.

    With a combination of versatility, reliability, comfortable riding position, economy, durability, handling, quality, electronics, safety, and FUN for the money, this dl650 could be the best bike in the world.