2020 Suzuki V-Strom 1050XT Review – First Ride

John Burns
by John Burns

ADV for Everyman, now with more power and cruise control

How can any red-blooded American not love Suzuki, the blue-collar working motorcycle so many of us thrashed as youths, left parked in alleys with no loss of sleep, covered in fur for a brief period there in the (I think) ’90s… In spite of all the abuse we dished out, Suzuki’s loyalty was never in question.

2020 Suzuki V-Strom 1050XT

Editor Score: 88%
Engine 18.0/20
Suspension/Handling 13.0/15
Transmission/Clutch 9.0/10
Brakes 8.5/10
Ergonomics/Comfort 9.5/10
Appearance/Quality 8.5/10
Desirability 8.5/10
Value 9.0/10
Overall Score88/100

2020 Suzuki V-Strom 1050 First Look

Of all the GSX-Rs, GSX-Fs, SVs, RMs and TLs that have graced the editorial garage, I think the big V-Strom has emerged as my favorite, even if it wasn’t clear what role the first DL1000 was supposed to play in 2002? Back then, it was all about the GSX-R. As the bolus of baby boomers passes further through the snake of life’s alimentary canal, though, the size Large V-Strom makes more and more sense.

The man behind the beak, Ichiro Miyata designed the original DR 750 and 800, also RM-Z450, etc. When I told him the new V-Strom reminds me of an ’80s Toyota Supra or MR2, he didn’t take it well. Personally I dig the new bike a lot, and those cars. (JB iPhone photo)

This latest 2020 iteration, which harkens back to its DR BIG beginnings and even its designer, retains all the simple charms that endear it to anyone who’s ever driven a tractor or replaced a toilet flapper valve. But the new bike bristles with all the electronic gew-gaws modern riders require, including, that’s right, cruise control. And now that Ride-by-wire is finally here to replace those old cables, Suzuki just went whole hog and added a bunch of other features that enhance the bike’s safety and performance without diluting its purity.

The new R-b-W throttle system is simpler, lighter and more compact than the previous mechanical throttle, with 49mm bores replacing the 45mm ones of old. An independent throttle is installed to each cylinder, and each one has but a single butterfly valve opened and closed by its own motor, with one 10-hole injector per cylinder.

Bigger intake tracts begat more horsepower up top, which is always nice, especially if there’s no trade-off at low rpm. Well, there is, but it’s worth the trade-off. Suzuki says the previous engine made maximum torque of 74.5 pound-feet at 4000 rpm; the new one produces 73.8 at 6000 rpm, so call it a wash.

The new bike spins up so freely, you never mind waiting the extra rpm. Furthermore, where the old engine made 99 horsepower at 8000 rpm, the new claim is 106 hp at 8500 rpm. In use, the new motor feels just as torquey down low as the old one, and more revvable up top too.

Along with the bigger intake tracts and exhaust ones, new cams with more lift and slightly less overlap contribute to better combustion efficiency, higher output and low fuel consumption.

Anyway, the V-Strom’s never been about all-out horsepower even though 100 or so is plenty. The real beauty of the ’Strom has always been its balance of power and weight. We could make it more powerful, says Chief Engineer Satoru Terada, but then we’d also have to make it bigger and heavier. Here’s what Brent J. said in our 2018 Big-Bore Adventure Shootout Part 2 The Dirt:

At 554 lbs., the Suzuki is the lightest bike here, with a 25-pound advantage over its next heaviest competitor, the Yamaha Super Ténéré. A few pounds here or there usually makes little discernible difference, but 25, 30, or even 88 pounds (the difference between the ’Strom and the BMW GS) is more of a night-and-day affair. After all, riding and muscling these rigs around off-road requires substantially more effort than on the street. Aside from the Honda Africa Twin and KTM Super Adventure R, the Suzuki was by far the easiest to acclimate to and ride aggressively.

The old ’Strom was equally impressive in the street portion of that big shootout, and nicely summed up as, “Bang-for-the-buck winner. Hands down.”

In Adventure Touring circles, the V-Strom 1050 has been a staple. It doesn't necessarily outclass the competition in any particular category, but as a sum of its parts, the 'Strom is an amazing and capable motorcycle.

The bucks for 2020 are up a tad with all the upgrades, but the base XT remains below $15k – $14,799 to be exact – and for that money you get more bang than before, now including the aforementioned cruise control. Heated grips aren’t included, but the XT does get the tubeless spoked wheels, an aluminum semi-skid plate on the sides, an accessory/crash bar, handguards and a center stand. The rider’s seat can be easily adjusted 20mm higher than the standard 33.5 inches. The windscreen height can be adjusted up and down two inches without any tools, but it’s not easy to do from the saddle since they put the clamp down low and on the front. There’s a 12V DC socket under the back seat, in addition to the USB plug up front, LED lighting…

There’s also, for the US market only, the XT Adventure, which adds aluminum panniers, heated grips and driving lights, for $16,999. (Those things are available separately as accessories everywhere.)

Where the screen height adjuster should be, at least there’s a nice bar to mount your phone. (JB GoPro photo)

Even with the XT’s wire wheels, Suzuki admits the ’Stroms are road-biased machines, which is fine by me as I’m a road-biased guy, though who doesn’t like to head down the occasional dirt road?

On its new bespoke Bridgestone Battlax Adventure A41 tires and billiard table-smooth Spanish pavement, it’s difficult to conceive of a more rapid way to get from Marbella to Ronda on two wheels. That low- and midrange intensive V-twin spreads the power thickest right where you need it most, from 30 to 100 mph, and the sit-up ergos of the thing and wide aluminum handlebar place you in complete, comfortable control.

At lean angles where you think things should begin to drag in all those second and third-gear corners, nothing at all does, and where you think you should be worried about using too much throttle, you remember you don’t have to worry because of the bike’s new improved traction control: Feel free to roll it all the way open leaned way over, and the rear tire helps you finish the corner by sliding just enough to make you feel like a hero as the TC light blinks at you conspiratorially. Why didn’t they invent this years ago? (I left my bike’s throttle map in A mode and felt no abruptness; other people more sensitive than I switched to B and were happier. There’s an even less aggressive C.) On the road, more horsepower than the ’Strom’s got would just be wasted – unless blasting down the straights is your thing.

It’s still hard to trust the lean-sensing anti-lock brakes that much, but for 2020 they’re another thing Suzuki has upgraded and fine-tuned. Now there’s a 3-axis Inertial Measurement Unit (IMU) measuring in six directions, the new “motion track” brake system combines information on “the posture of the vehicle” with front and rear wheel speeds to activate not only in a straight line but also when leaning. It’s a combined system now, too, which automatically applies pressure to the rear brake to stabilize the bike when front brake pressure approaches lock-up. There are two levels of ABS intervention, and if you want to turn it off, you’ll need to yank the fuse under the seat.

There’s also this: Load Dependent braking control. The ABS unit constantly learns changes in deceleration by monitoring hydraulic pressure and rate of decel. If you’re riding with a passenger or heavy load, it senses that as you ride and adjusts the ABS intervention point accordingly. Smart.

These powerful 310mm discs and four-piston Tokico calipers have more tricks than David Blaine. They’re a tad grabby initially but who cares since you’ve got such excellent ABS? I think you could fix it by adding more compression damping to the fork, which has softer settings than the previous bike, but I turned up the rebound by mistake and the engineers smiled and said “please do not do that again.” Actually the fork did feel better, but I think it’s because we rode a bit slower post-adjustment.

Also don’t forget the new Hill Hold system, and even the Slope Dependent function, which keeps you from doing accidental stoppies when riding down hill.

For an ADV bike, the V-Strom’s also narrow, and the new seat makes it easy to slide around and forward to weight the front tire, just like on a real motorcycle. For 5’8” me, the ergonomics are close to perfect. Even so, the tank holds 5.3 gallons. Riding semi-maniacally, the computer kept reading around 35 mpg.

Meanwhile on the motorway, I did hear a few complaints about the seat from known complainers, but my own (over-seasoned) butt seemed fine after four or five hours in the saddle. Suspension that’s almost too compliant for aggressive curve-slaying soaks up what few bumps have somehow escaped the Spanish graders. The 43mm inverted KYB fork is all-way adjustable; the rear shock has a convenient knob to set spring preload, and also offers rebound adjustment. If you take the bike onto dirt roads, which we did just enough of to get a taste, the slightly softer damping should be just right. Sorry, there’s no electronic suspension or Off-road mode on this bike. There’s no quickshifter either, but the slip/assist clutch and gearbox are so refined, I don’t miss it a bit on the ’Strom.

It’s a nice use of space to incorporate the mode switches into the cruise control in the left switchgear, where it’s easy to accurately set your speed.

Cruising along, I feel no vibes except a comforting V-Twin throb. Above 6500 or 7000 rpm, when you’re flogging it, a bit of vibration finds its way into the grips.

For me, the new wind-tunnel tested windscreen was buffet-free or maybe it was my size L Vemar modular helmet? There’s room for a happy passenger and a milk crate. If you trade in your old V-Strom, its bags will clamp onto the new one.

More Fun with Parts

They’ve been refining this now-1037 cc V-twin since the 1997 TL1000S. A large-volume catalyzer reduces emissions of hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide, and nitrogen oxides, enabling the new beast to meet Euro 5.
Two spark plugs per cylinder: The primary plug is used for all rpm ranges, resulting in increased top end power. The secondary plug is mainly used to improve combustion at low rpm and for smoother power delivery characteristics and improved fuel economy. Hybrid gear drive allows cams to be lifted out easily for valve adjustments.
New, conical machining within the wrist-pin holes of the 100mm forged pistons changes the distribution of load on the hole, reducing stress on the piston crown and improving durability. The piston heads are anodized to enhance durability.
Now we’re using CAN wiring (Controller Area Network), an interconnected information network. This latest style of wiring makes it possible for the vehicle to be lighter and simpler, and makes it easier to perform network control for the electronic control systems. Fewer wires, faster data transmission allows the ECMs to better communicate with each other and share a large amount of information, while providing a single location for diagnosing problems. (Illo above is the ABS diagram.)
So it’s not a TFT, the new cluster is still big and easy to read, and you’re going to mount your phone above it anyway. The gear position indicator right in the middle is easy to spot, the computer gives you real-time fuel consumption, average fuel consumption, range, fuel level indicator, engine coolant temperature, ambient air temperature, a clock, voltage meter, service reminder, SDMS mode, traction control mode, ABS mode, cruise control indicator, hill hold indicator, freeze indicator light, turn signal, traction control indicator light, ABS indicator, yada yada yada.
A new radiator has increased cooling capacity from 22.7kW to 26.1kW in conjunction with the new engine’s higher power output. There’s also a new liquid-cooled oil cooler under the oil filter.
New, wider, steel footpegs add control and comfort especially in clunky dirt boots.
New vertically stacked LED headlight with a unique rectangular shape, reminiscent of mid-’80s Toyotas, is probably hella bright, but we did not ride at night. Tail and stoplights are also LEDs, the XT’s behind a clear lens for high style and excellent visibility – turn signals too. Flipping that clamp up lets you adjust windscreen height. Maybe you can do it with the cc on?

It’s hard not to come off like a paid spokesperson when it comes to the V-Strom. This thing strikes such an excellent balance of comfort, performance, utilitarianism and now even technology – and my humble beginnings won’t allow me to overlook price.

Speaking of price, the non-XT base model price is $13,999, but you won’t be getting cruise control, a centerstand, handguards, a no-tools adjustable screen, etc…

For me, there seems to be a huge difference between a 550-pound bike (Suzuki claims 545 wet) and a 650-pound one. On pavement it’s no big deal. Off pavement, where these things encourage you to go, it has the potential to be a huge deal. Give me the V-Strom over anything bigger and more expensive!

Wait, what’s this? Honda claims its newest Africa Twin weighs in at just 501 wet, it too has gained cruise control for 2020, and retails for $14,399 (with $450 destination charge).

My whining seems to be paying off; lighter and more comfortable are trending. All that’s changed are the letters and our requirements: What once was GSX-R vs CBR-R, has now become DL vs CRF. We may need another ADV Shootout.

2020 Suzuki V-Strom 1050 XT

+ Highs

  • Now with magic CC button!
  • Runs smoother, cleaner and with more power than ever
  • If you could only have one motorcycle…

– Sighs

  • Heated grips are extra $$
  • Serious off-road dudes can’t turn ABS off with a button
  • 2020 Africa Twin makes it not a brainless decision


2020 Suzuki V-Strom 1050

2020 Suzuki V-Strom 1050XT

2020 Suzuki V-Strom 1050XT Adventure

Engine1037cc, 4-stroke, liquid-cooled, DOHC, 90˚ V-twin
Bore x Stroke100.0 mm x 66.0 mm (3.9 in. x 2.6 inches
Compression Ratio11.5:1
Fuel SystemFuel injection, Ride-by-Wire equipped
LubricationWet sump
ClutchWet, multi-plate type
Transmission6-speed constant mesh
Final DriveChain, O-ring type, RK525SMOZ8, 116 links
Front SuspensionInverted telescopic, coil spring, oil damped
Rear SuspensionLink type, single shock, coil spring, oil damped
Brakes FrontTokico, 4-piston calipers, twin disc
Brakes RearNissin, 2-piston, single disc
Tires Front110/80R19 M/C (59V), tubeless
Tires Rear150/70R17 M/C (69V), tubeless
Fuel Capacity5.3 US gallons
IgnitionElectronic ignition (transistorized)
Tail LightLED
Overall Length89.2 inches
Overall Width34.3 inches37.0 inches37.0 inches
Overall Height59.6 inches57.7 inches57.7 inches
Wheelbase61.2 inches
Ground Clearance6.5 inches6.3 inches6.3 inches
Seat Height33.7 inches33.5 inches33.5 inches
Curb Weight520.4 pounds (claimed)544.6 pounds (claimed)544.6 pounds (claimed)
Warranty12-month unlimited mileage limited warranty
ExtensionLonger coverage periods with other benefits available through Suzuki Extended Protection (SEP).
ColorsGlass Sparkle Black / Solid Iron GrayPearl Brilliant White/Glass Blaze Orange or Champion Yellow No. 2Glass Sparkle Black
John Burns
John Burns

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3 of 83 comments
  • Tom P. Tom P. on Feb 10, 2020

    I've always wished this bike had cruise control and now it does - with caveats. It's only available on the up-spec version at a dramatically higher price. And at that price, not having TFT, a quick shifter, or ESA is surprising. Not that I'd need or want all that stuff but it's hard to see how it's going to compete with others in that price range. And 35mpg - what's up with that? Even flogged, that seems mighty low.

  • W.Wilkins W.Wilkins on Feb 21, 2020

    Truly, I just don’t get it. I’m a huge ‘Strom fan; bought three new and ridden them long and hard, well over 200 000 trouble free kilometers. But 80% of what I see here exists on the last model - you know, the ‘18 - ‘19 models with the better seat? The ones that are still available in the dealerships that they couldn’t sell even with great “package” incentives? Despite the marketing, it’s virtually the same engine, suspension, brakes as the previous model. I postponed buying until I test rode the new ‘Strom, but now I doubt I’ll even bother. Sorry Suzuki, I’m neither buying the hype nor the bike . . . truly, I just don’t get it.

    • Born to Ride Born to Ride on Mar 03, 2020

      More power, more electronics, 80s neo-retro facelift. Pretty simple to understand really.

      Also don't forget the tapered aluminum handlebar!