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
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.

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…

… 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.

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.

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…

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.

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.

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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