Suzuki has just never really pulled me in. Right or wrong, in my mind, they’ve always been the purveyor of low-cost, low-quality, low-inspiration-value motorcycles in the marketplace. Yeah, I know. The GSX-R 1000 was, for a long time, the gold standard of liter bikes. And the smaller-displacement models were (and are) no slouches. But when Spies moved on and Mladin faded away – not to mention the relentless onward march of european design and technology in the class – it’s hard not to notice that even the great Gixxer began to lose a bit of it’s luster. Besides, while Suzuki makes a great sportbike, there are many other classifications of motorcycles which apply more readily to the masses. Or at least to me.
Enter the 2014 V-Strom. A bike that promises to run the needle around the fun-o-meter while not skinning your checking account in the process. Is it inspirational in the vein of the Panigale S or S1000RR? Uhhh, no. But then it’s not meant to be. That’s missing the point entirely. What it is, is eminently livable, while not sacrificing the visceral joy of motorcycling at the altar of practicality. It’s the latest revision to Suzuki’s venerable line of do-anything bikes. The big trailie. The Adventure bike. Most of the manufacturers have one in their lineup these days. And most are skewed much more toward on-pavement adventures than ad copy would have you believe. The V-Strom fits that bill.
And to Suzuki’s credit, I haven’t seen them advertising the bike as anything other than what it is: A tall, comfortable street bike. But that’s what most riders really want, anyway. Americans are discovering, in ever-greater numbers, that the joy of having the room to stretch out, a ridiculously smooth ride, the ability to haul two week’s worth of gear, power to spare, and shockingly nimble handling long ago ceased to be mutually exclusive qualities.
There are a lot of well-engineered bikes in the segment, and Suzuki recognized their need to move to the next plateau in perceived quality. With this new Strom, they’ve definitely taken some steps up the mountain.
Pictures bely the trellis subframe and the broad tank, with wings extending up around the fork legs, and it’s easy to recognize the design influence of BMW’s GS. In the metal, though, the bike looks, to my eye, to be much more KTM-inspired than BMW, due in no small part, probably, to the cyclops appearance of the center mounted headlight.
The Strom – in both large and small(er) displacement, has garnered a cult-like following for it’s low cost, responsive handling, relatively light weight, and an engine which has surprising pull, and even more surprising smoothness at highway speeds. But it was looking dated, even among the homely adventure-touring set. Leaving cost out of the equation for the moment, this new bike has all of those things, but in even greater quantities, and in a decidedly modern package. The body panels and surface finishes of this bike are modern in appearance and feel. Panel gaps are straight and tight. Even small touches, like the neatly-placed, rectangular rear brake reservoir add to the air of quality and thoughtful design.
The new Strom has all the love-it-or-hate-it V-twin pulse and chatter of the old bike. I happen to really like the character of a twin, but coming from fours, it always takes a bit of settling-in for me. The engine is based on the original twin mill of the V-Strom of past years, but is heavily revised. Slightly bored cylinders bump displacement to 1037 cc’s – enough for a hp gain of around 3, and a small gain in torque of around 1-2 lb/ft. Not huge, but the torque is available farther down the tach, resulting in a feel from behind the handlebars of much snappier off-idle performance. And this while offering a (claimed) 16% increase in fuel efficiency. Coupled with a 5.3 gallon tank, the resulting estimated 40 mpg should clear the 200 miles-per-tank barrier. Just.
Turning the key causes the tach to do the familiar left-to-right-and-back-again sweep, followed by the small-but-tidy instrument panel coming into view. The interface is fairly simple, legible, and easy to navigate. A weatherproof SAE plug just below the tach face is a nice touch, and well-placed.
A quick thumb of the starter and the bike jumps to life without hesitation. The exhaust note through the stock can is quiet, as mandated (along with reams of safety stickers) by busloads of lawyers, but is definitely throaty. Lower in tone than the older version of the bike, it seemed to me, but very similar – as it should be.
While not low enough for stump-pulling duties, or really even putting around in sand washes, first gear is still sufficiently low to pull solidly from the line, with little feathering of the left lever necessary. There have been not a few reports of throttle jumpiness at low revs, but I noticed no such thing. It’s a very easy bike to ride, and ride smoothly. Dump the clutch, twist and go.
Clutch lever effort wasn’t particularly light, but not unduly heavy, either. Before that sounds like a copout, it was actually difficult to tell: The levers are flattened in the middle, yielding an unusually smooth feel. The result being a progressive and natural pull, not at all tiring.
Underway, I was once again smitten with the upright riding position and quick handling that defines this type of machine. Handlebars were wide, but not overly so. I found them just about perfect for long days in the saddle, while not leaving you feeling like you’ve been hugging a trash barrel in a wind tunnel for a day.
Windshield adjustment on the bike was quite clever: A ratcheting action allows the rider to grab the top of the shield and push it forward on the fly, to any angle among 9 detents. Push it past the last detent and it pulls back. Raising the shield up or down can be accomplished, but it’s a bit more involved – 4 screws removed and then re-installed will do the trick. The windshield seemed well suited for years of grabbing, pushing and pulling. It was thick, and didn’t flex or wobble noticeably. While I found the combination of the wide tank and the taller shield of the Adventure version provided a good amount of wind protection, the windshield is far enough forward that I really couldn’t discern much of a difference between windshield angles.
Perhaps a long day in high winds would provide more insight as to whether buffeting could be solved for different-sized pilots by shoving the shield up or back a bit. At the most rearward angle, there was no buffeting across my Shoei RF1200 on my 6’2” frame. The air wasn’t quiet, however, and I would imagine that shorter or taller stature, as well as helmet selection, might very well dictate whether or not the rider experiences turbulence.
The seat is extremely firm – almost board-like – but not in the way of a superbike. There is ample padding, and a few miles in the saddle made the seat more comfortable, rather than less-so. A long tour would be required to make any real judgement, but after my ride, the seat would not be the first thing I’d change.
Shifts were crisp, clean and quiet. No false neutrals, no missed shifts, just solid, Japanese refinement. But candidly, the benevolent twin really doesn’t care much what gear you select. Just find one close. Acceleration is very linear with throttle input. No surges or flat spots were immediately noticeable. While not God’s Hammer, the bike really does feel quite sporting when the loud handle is twisted in anger. And a feature I had forgotten about until I stomped a couple of gears down to slow for a quick light? A slipper clutch. A nice feature on a bike with a lot of suspension to contend with – and especially nice on a big-jugged twin.
There were no knee-dragging hijinks to be seen on my ride: The dealer had fitted a pair of Continental TKC-80’s to the bike, and while they upped the badass quotient considerably, aren’t the choice of pavement aficionados…not that I was planning any mid-city bravado, anyway. They stuck well enough, though, that some vibration at low speeds was the only real indicator they were even there.
Although there is plenty of acceleration available, this isn’t a bike that begs to be wrung-out. The spirit of the V-Strom isn’t found in mad dashes to the next turn, throwing it onto your knee, and powering out on the back wheel. I’m sure it’s capable of doing just that with a willing rider. The real beauty, though, as is the case with most of the ADV genre, comes in relaxing into the office-chair riding position, enjoying the view from the high, broad saddle, and riding the torque wave at lower revs.
The Adventure model, which I rode, has identical specs to the base model, save for a few add-ons, like a taller windshield. I would’ve liked to have seen Suzuki put a larger tank on one model or the other, but it’s really a convenience (laziness) issue, rather than a deal breaker. Both the standard bike and the Adventure variant are under 13 grand, so while it would be nice to have it all, you’re already paying for hamburger and eating steak, here.
Adventure bikes – or more aptly – tall tourers, are taking the US by
Strom storm at the moment. Suzuki has upped the substance of their entry into the fray to a formidable level. The price point at which they’ve chosen to do so makes the 2014 V-Strom a very, very dangerous bike to the competition.
It’s important for me to mention Thompson’s Motorsports in Terre Haute, IN. And in particular, Scott Westfall, the sales manager. He was fantastically helpful and amenable to setting up this bike for my evaluation. And not only this one. They sent me out aboard other motorcycles, which you’ll see in future reviews. I have zero affiliation with this dealership (other than having purchased my VFR1200 there), nor did they ask for, or have an opinion in, my review. But I can say unequivocally that I would not (and will not) hesitate to make bike purchases at this dealer. The staff rides, and is passionate about motorcycles. They are honest about what they like – and don’t – about specific bikes. And they’re knowledgable about their offerings. That should be a given, but anyone who has frequented as many bike shops as I have, knows that in today’s world, it is anything but.