I’ve never been interested in Suzuki! I can’t remember the last time I rode a Suzuki with any enthusiasm. I think it was 2006 when I tried the old V-Strom which didn’t float my boat and it’s been at least 15 years since I’ve gone out of my way to visit a Suzuki show room. In my head Suzuki was mostly about race bikes and everything else on their production line never sparked my interest. I had no intention in test riding Suzuki’s new V-Strom either and it was only pure chance that I did.
I’m now back on the Isle of Man after 3 months exploring the dirt tracks and back roads of Spain’s Murcia deserts on my 2009 F800GS and now getting ready for my big trip in September on the new F800GSA. I’d just totted up the first 1,000km on the 800GSA and she was due for her 1st service. So last week I swung by Jason Griffiths Motorcycles to book her in and while having the customary chat over a cup of tea Jason said I might as well take the shiny new V-Strom sitting in the showroom for a spin while the work was being done.
After a quick gander at this curious new metal I had to admit it was a modern, smart looking bike and the promise of an all new V-Twin design tickled my fancy so I said yes. I was still not overly interested, nor did I want to get bogged down writing a review of something I’d never consider actually buying. But come the following Monday I took possession of the keys and off I went with low expectatons.
Suzuki V-Strom Test Ride
Any preconceived idea I had of this particular Suzuki could not have been more wrong!
Within 10 minutes of my test ride as I pulled out of Castletown past the start point of the IOM Southern 100 Circuit I got my ass handed to me on a platter and my idea of what to expect was drop kicked and duly shattered in the form of a shocked grin! This bike is nothing like the previous model. Apart from it’s complete, and badly needed visual re-design it’s 1st noticeable change on the road is it’s low and mid level torque – it’s absolutely bloody eye watering. What the hell was going on here?
Low and Mid Level Torque
Now yours truly has never been one for spewing out a load of numbers ‘cos when others do it I immediately revert to the same glassy eyed, zombie like status of deep set boredom that golf inflicts on me. But the following numbers are a major key to the new V-Strom‘s impersonation of the Millennium Falcon that relocated my testicles up into my stomach when I applied my first liberal twist of the throttle in 3rd gear. The old model had a peak torque of 101Nm at 6400revs, the 2014 model has 103Nm of torque which sounds a bit pointless on it’s own. Until that is you get on this baby and find that peak 103Nm of torques loitering with devious intent at just 4000revs, and oh boy does that number make a difference. So, in the real world of enforced top speeds of 130kph-ish / 80/90mph this bike pulls as rapidly as Errol Flynn after after a fist full of G & T’s and it does it just as smoothly.
With the peak torque set at 4,000rpm 3rd and 4th gears are stupendous fun on back roads. For me 3rd and 4th gears on any bike is where the fun is at, it’s these gears I use most getting my adrenalin fix when carving up country back roads or France’s D road twisties in the Alps or Pyrenees. And I can’t help think that this was the type of riding that was high on agenda for the V-Strom‘s designers as well as motorway fuel economy. So what if the bike starts to run out of steam at 6,500rpm in 6th gear? At this stage outside of a German motorway I’ll be moving fast enough to face a hefty fine or loss of licence anyway.
If you try this bike yourself and your taken by surprise at the massive pulling power of the V-Strom between 3,000 to 5,000rpm, like I was during one overtake, you have the security of traction control which has 3 settings, level 1 “the lowest” level 2 “the most invasive” probably perfect for wet greasy roads, and off. Make sure traction control is set to level one for a test ride in dry conditions. This traction control was also an eye opener for me to it’s purpose. During the overtake I pulled on the throttle as I would my F800GS which resulted in me being sling shot past the car quicker than my Tiger 800 could have done, firing me from 30mph to 75mph far quicker then I was expecting. At around 65mph (and still rapidly accelerating) while in 3rd gear I felt the front wheel lifting and a hint of the back loosing traction and kicking to the right. But before my conscious brain registered the danger and instructed my grip to lay off the steam the traction control (set at level one – the least invasive setting) magically and without fuss settled the V-Strom back into a controlled, well planted over-take. From this experience I will be re-evaluating my slightly negative opinion of rider aids on high torque bike models because as this experience shows, even an experienced rider of any skill level can get caught out. Note to self; there is a big fecken difference between a 798cc parallel twin and a 1037cc v-twin.
Don’t let me give you the idea that the torque of the new V-Strom is unmanageable in any way ‘cos it’s not, it was just slightly unexpected. And don’t forget I am now more used to 800cc/85hp bikes, so take this into account as to my impression of the 1000cc/100hp v-twin.
The 2014 V-Strom 1000 ABS is not trying to be like a super bike on stilts either like the Ducati Multistrada or KTM 1190, firstly any gentleman or lady of lower than average stature can get their feet on terra firma with the lower seat option. I’m of average height at 5’9″ and found the mid height seat a lot lower than I’m used to on the 800GS. Physically the bike looks like a heavyweight but does not feel big. It pulls the same trick as the big BMW’s – 1200GS/RT etc in that once you get it moving it becomes insensibly light and agile.
100 Brake Horsepower
Secondly it’s very user friendly 100 brake horsepower (just 6bhp more than the Tiger 800) with the peak torque in the right place for having fun at legal speeds. And don’t forget the torque is only there if you want it (effortless overtakes with pillion and luggage) and has smooth, predictable throttle action making this bike an excellent all round bike that most of us can appreciate. For example, I found the throttle action in 1st and 2nd gears on the Triumph Tiger 800 snatchy, jumpy and a pain in the arse in towns and slow tight corners and pottering city traffic not helped by a fairly high center of gravity. Not so with the 2014 V-Strom, the throttle is silky smooth and utterly predictable in every gear and effortless in traffic helped by a low center of gravity – another nice surprise. Keeping the bike at a constant and exact 20mph or 30mph, or simply moving from a steady 30mph to 35mph for example was just too easy and made riding through the narrow busy streets of Douglas a stress free affair. I see no reason why this bike will not be extremely popular to a big chunk of riders from all walks of life. Within minutes of getting on the bike I felt like the 2014 V-Strom was a solid, tight, perfectly balanced and purposeful machine.
I spent 15 minutes pissing around an empty car park performing slow u-turns, circles etc (the type of shit ye’ do for the CBT or early rider training) and everything I tried was a piece of cake with this bike. If I was to enter a gymkhana competition I think I’d do fairly well doing so on the 2014 Suzuki V-Strom. Simply put, this bike is really easy to ride but also capable of putting a wicked grin on advanced riders from all backgrounds. I found the V-Strom even more frisky and fun than the Tiger 800 but with more sense of control which is saying a lot. Suzuki are marketing this as an big adventure bike which it is, but it’s as manageable, flick-able and as much fun on the back roads as any 800cc or 1200cc, actually it’s better. So one does not need to be a long distance adv rider to enjoy this bike. It only took 20 minutes on this bike for me to realize that this is a bike built exactly for level headed practical people who want a solid performing, comfortable yet exciting long and short haul touring bike that can also work as a city commuter and aback road blaster. The only thing this bike seems to be lacking is the ball shriveling price tag that the wife would never stop reminding me of at every available opportunity. Suzuki’s accounts dept certainly did their sums right but I’ll get to this in a minute…
Another big surprise is how well the suspension works, along with the Bridgestone Battle Wing’s the bike was glued to the road at speeds slightly above what I’d normally feel safe doing on mountain roads on bikes other than on my old F800R. You only really get a sense of just how good the suspension is when belting along a bumpy mountain road at 70mph+. Honestly it takes this type of road as well as the new 1200GS, and it does it just as comfortably and control-ably. At no point on the mountain route I chose did the V-Strom’s steering feel vague or thrown to fits of fancy from the rough surface. It flew arrow straight and never felt like it wanted to drift off the line I chose while cornering. Once I realized the bikes suspension and perfectly balanced orchestra of engineering of the bike as a whole would keep me from deviating off course I could let my mind relax to enjoy the purity of a perfect ride. It’s at this point again that I get to appreciate the placement of the seemingly endless torque in 3rd and 4th on these mountain roads as there was rarely a need to shift out of 3rd gear, only shifting to 4th on slightly longer straight stretches. Between the 3,500 to 5,000 rev range I could either choose to ride sensibly or step up the pace while still controlling my corner entry speed then choose my moment to sling-shot out again without constantly shifting gear.
Brakes were also impressive, very powerful but with the ABS not over sensitive. Initially the brakes felt a tad too sharp until I realized I could easily compare them to the incredible stopping power of the brakes on the R1200RT they were that good. So, between the great suspension, low center of gravity, and first rate breaking power I’d be happy to take a pillion. This is something I’d choose not to do on many bikes, the F800R and F800GS being a good example of “not ideal for pillions” purely from a handling point of view, where-as in comparison taking a pillion on a R1200RT makes little difference to the bikes handling, or braking. The new V-Twin engine is also a beauty, actually this is the 1st V-Twin I’ve ridden that does not have the potential to lock up the back wheel when down shifting – some intentional and cleaver engineering here. The V-Twin is both smooth and grunty and most shockingly, despite not sparing the horses the V-Strom managed an average of 55mpg where my Tiger got 41mpg at similar speeds! So Suzuki’s claimed 59mpg is probably accurate if riding sensibly.
Design and Ergonomics
The beautifully engineered engine, suspension and gearing are not the only items to sing about on this all new V-Strom. The V-Strom is also very, very comfortable! The seat has a high grip finish (no slipping around) and felt as if it was custom made for my skinny arse, with a constant 2hrs in this saddle I had little need to shift around and the pegs were also perfectly placed so no mid-ride leg stretching or sore knees either. The standard screen was also very good and can easily be adjusted on the move with a quick push.
And it’s very good at it’s job, I don’t think I’d be bothered with ticking the box for the optional touring screen. All this considered, a solid 2 – 3 hours on the move can be covered before I’d feel the need to get off for a stretch. Handle bar placement is also spot on so no shoulder, back or wrist aches or pains either. So, taking it’s comfort, 20 liter tank and an excellent 55 – 59 mpg into account Suzuki’s claim that this bike is a long haul tourer is accurate in my view at least.
I also noticed all the handle bar switches – indicators, lights, computer toggle switch etc are intuitively and perfectly placed, everything is accessible without a seconds thought or taking ones eyes off the road. The only switch not accessible on the go is the reset switch for resetting the trip computer etc as it’s on the dash. However one really cool option with the reset button it’s ability to easily switch the computers digital readout clock from miles to kilometers, and back. This also changes the average mpg to average kpl and range in kilometers etc. To do this on any BMW F800 model it will take an engineer up to an hour to do the job which has to be done in the shop!
The mirrors I have to say I don’t find attractive. What they are however is a lesson in usability and practicality over visual design, the result being “while not pretty” they are possibly the most effective mirrors I’ve ever seen screwed to a bike. I’d happily swap the fashion conscious mirrors on my 800GS for ones that work this well. Initially I also found the lower digital readout a little small and cluttered as there is a lot of info crammed in there but I soon learned to get the info I wanted at a glance. All except for the engine temperature gauge which is impossible to read and should be moved to a more predominant location. The upper digital screen holds the most important stuff, speed, gear selection and is easily readable.
The panniers are more “city boxes” rather than touring boxes and won’t take a helmet. Certainly they are not big enough for two up touring for more than a weekend, eh, even that might be a stretch for some folk. But I don’t have a problem with that because I find massive panniers a pain in the arse, if you can’t filter then you’re stuck in the que like any other four wheeled muppet. The panniers on the V-Strom are small enough that I’d never bother taking them off, but plenty big enough for your daily business.
The addition of a tank bag and a 40ltr Givi or Oxford waterproof roll bag would easily sort me out for anything up to a two week trip with the heavier gear (oil, tools, camera, lock, food, water) in the side boxes.
Getting to Know Suzuki V-Strom
The devil is in the details, and there are so many other positive little details about this bike that I’d seriously urge to everyone who loves riding to at least take the new V-Strom for a 2 hour test ride, even if you have no intention of buying one. You really need a solid 2 hours on the bike to appreciate all the changes, and Suzuki know this. From what I have been tolled Suzuki are pushing dealers to allow potential customers to take the bike out for up to half a day. And this was what happened to me, I initially dropped the bike back after a 2hr ride, I was asked if I enjoyed it and after I said yes I was pushed to take it out again for the rest of the afternoon, which I most definitely did allowing me the time to really get to know the bike.
The Bike Cost and Kit
If in fact you are in the market for a adventure styled sporty touring motorbike then you would be a bit daft not to at least give it a try, and while your at it have a very close look at the price tag on this bike because this is the real game changer.
Fully kitted with ABS, Traction Control, Side Panniers and more, at just under £10K it works out cheaper then the BMW F800GSA Travel Edition or the Tiger 800XC with optonal side panniers. It’s a whole £1650 less than a bare bones basic (the one without ANY extras) 1200GS. The 1200GS is still of course the better bike, but is it 2 grand better? If you definitely intend to (and be honest with yourself) regularly ride muddy off-road tracks then yes, if not then you might want to have a serious think about where your hard earned money goes. From what I could see, the V-Strom is easily as capable on the road as a touring platform as a R1200GS or even a R1200RT and just as much fun if not as many gizmos.
Now, what would you say if I tolled you that you could shave off another £1,000 off the new V-Strom 1000 ABS making it a laughable £9,000 kitted up and ready to tour? Yesterday I also met with a very friendly chap called Peter Swift, Susuki’s regional manager who dropped me some more interesting, and potentially money saving info. Suzuki are aggressively pushing this bike and are getting dealers to show the demo bikes fully kitted, but here is the interesting bit. Suzuki want the dealers to turn these demo bikes around at least twice a year. Meaning, the bargain hunters among us can pick up a fully kitted, all bells and balls ex-demo V-Strom with just 400-800-ish miles on the clock for around £9k. Even at full price this bike is a hell of a lot of bike for the money.
Don’t worry about the bike being trashed or getting pushed over it’s breaking in rev limit, it’s a solid 1000cc V-Twin and built for it, I’ve never had a problem with buying an ex-demo. Spot yourself a demo early on, talk to the dealer, keep a close eye on the mileage and push your dealer to sell asap for £9K, he’ll be happy to sell and Suzuki will also be happy too give the dealer another demo anyway. Suzuki even have a seat exchange program, so if you get a 2nd hand or ex-demo and the seat is too high or low you can – at no extra cost – swap the seat for a new one to suit your height. I hope BMW wake up and smell the wind of change that’s blowing in from the land of the rising sun.
I confirmed the bike I borrowed from Jason Griffiths Motorcycles on the Isle of Man, the beauty in the photos, will be available for sale soon for £9k, simply put – you can’t go wrong. The Isle of Man is the ideal place to pick up an ex-demo as, being an island, has a limited supply of potential test riders and a very limited amount or road to roll up the miles. Jason can also organize for the bike to be delivered to mainland UK if anyone fancies a bargain. If you’d feel better about seeing this bike first hand there are daily cheap flights here, his shop is only a 10 minute slow walk from the airport and there is no reason for you not to avail of a test ride on the legendary IOM TT and Southern 100 Circuits while you’re here.
Some million dollar questions!
While many say the market for adventure bikes is swamped with choice, I disagree simply because the choice for anything half way decent is f%$*ing expensive! I am overjoyed to state – Suzuki Strikes Back and it looks like they are getting well stuck into this game with a hole in one!
My final statement for now is this – Thank you Mr. Suzuki for making the world of motorcycle touring more interesting, and certainly more affordable to those of us being strangled by the US Federal Reserve, corrupt banks, war mongering politicians, evil speculative investors, hedge fund managers and BMW’s accessories dept. My world is a little brighter today because for a fleeting few hours I forgot the worlds problems on the back of your new V-Strom…
If anyone i interested in visiting to Isle of Man Jason Griffiths Motorcycles have a fleet of motorcycles available to rent and located just a few minutes walk from the airport. Jason can also organize a guide to assure you get to see all this unique island has to offer as it’s not just about legendary roads
Contact Jason at;
Jason Griffiths Motorcycles Ltd.
Optical House, Harcourt Drive
Isle of Man
Phone: (01624) 825940
Fax: (01624) 825983