Adventure Riding With Cam Donald & Suzuki’s V-Strom 1000
Forget what you know about Suzuki’s old V-Strom 1000 – the new adventure tourer is a corner-carving cracker, says Cam Donald
Buyers in the ever-growing popular category of Adventure Touring are already spoilt for choice, but Suzuki felt its latest V-Strom 1000 ABS model would attract buyers who don’t want the bulk (or the bulky price tag) of the market-leading BMW, while wanting more performance than the V-Strom 650 offers.
The original 1000cc V-Strom was released in 2002 and, apart from a minor update in 2004, has remained pretty much the same ever since.
In 2011 the V-Strom’s 650cc little brother had a major makeover. With total sales of the V-Strom range worldwide around 187,000, there’s no doubt the two-bike range has been very successful.
Closer inspection of these sales figures reveals the 650 has outsold the 1000 by more than three to one. It was clearly time for the 1000 to lift its game.
Nobody would disagree that the old ’Strom was beginning to look… well, old. Enter the new litre-’Strom with a sleeker body, beak-type front guard and vertically stacked dual headlights – all very modern-day adventure style.
Suzuki claims inspiration for the beak came from its iconic, late-’80s model, the DR750 ‘BIG’.
From a side-on view, you can’t help but think BMW’s R 1200 GS had some influence too.
On board, the cockpit is neat and straightforward, providing a clear view of the road ahead. Look down and you’ll find an analogue tacho and LCD speedo/gear indicator, which can be easily read at a glance. Other dash-mounted LCD information includes odometer, dual trip meters, coolant and ambient temperatures, voltage, riding range, average fuel use, instantaneous fuel use, traction control mode, fuel gauge and clock. Last but not least on the dash is a convenient 12-volt socket.
The screen is neat and effective with three height settings at 15mm increments (tools required). You also have the option of three screen angle positions, easily adjusted at any time with one hand.
The 2014 V-Strom 1000 ABS is the first Suzuki to offer traction control.
Most thought it would surface first on the GSX-R1000 sportsbike, which currently only offers three power modes but no traction control.
The traction control system is straightforward to use and effective, with three mode settings. It monitors and compares front- and rear-wheel speeds, throttle position, crank and gear positions to manage engine output through ignition timing and air delivery. Mode one allows modest rear wheelspin while mode two will cut in with the slightest loss of traction. Mode three turns the system off and you can adjust modes at any time via a very simple switch on the left switchblock.
Same, But Different
The best way to describe the current V-Strom 1000 powerplant is the same, but different. Suzuki has stuck with the same 90-degree, DOHC, liquid-cooled V-twin, albeit with an impressive upgrade list.
There’s an engine-capacity increase from 996 to 1037cc, along with improvements to cylinder heads, cylinders, pistons, piston rings and pins, connecting rods, crankshaft, magneto and flywheel, clutch assembly, sixth transmission gear and sparkplugs. A more powerful ECU (from 16- to 32-bit) controls the system’s operation with more refinement too. Inside the cases, it’s pretty much a new engine.
Outright power hasn’t soared as you might expect – it’s up just two kilowatts to 74kW. The big performance improvement, however, is where the engine now delivers peak torque. Where the old model made 101Nm at 6400rpm, the new ’Strom musters 103Nm at 4000rpm. This effectively brings the engine’s sweet spot much lower in the rev range, thus becoming more usable. Nice.
Adding to that are a new mainframe and sub-frame, claimed to be 33 per cent stiffer and 13 per cent lighter than the outgoing model.
In Europe-based research, Suzuki learned that the vast majority of V-Strom owners used their bikes on-road only. This inspired Suzuki to focus on improving the new model’s sealed-road manners.
The wheelbase is stretched 20mm to 1555mm while the front axle to swingarm-pivot dimension is reduced by 6mm, both changes thanks to a longer swingarm. This improves stability and keeps more weight on the front wheel under acceleration.
On The Road
It takes no time to get accustomed with the bike – it’s easy to ride from the get-go. The riding position is ultra-comfortable and the seat rises up behind you to the pillion section, preventing your weight from sliding back. Handlebars and footpegs are mounted further back than previously too.
The ’bars have less sweep than before, giving them a more open feel while providing more steering leverage and control.
A narrower, 850mm-high seat helps get your feet to the ground.
The fuel tank has been slimmed down too, albeit at the expense of capacity, which has been reduced by two litres to 20. Suzuki says the bike is more fuel efficient (up by 16 per cent) with the introduction of a 10-hole fuel injection system replacing a four-hole system. That translates to covering around 400 kilometres per tank while on tour.
The ‘Strom is a bike that requires little input to change direction – just point and shoot. In these conditions the advantages of the new engine come to the fore. Thanks to its lower, meatier torque, it happily carries a higher gear through turns and calls for fewer gear shifts. This allows you to sit back, enjoy the view and clock up the kays.
There’s more to the bike’s improved handling than just an eight-kilogram weight loss. The V-Strom has a firmer, more nimble feel thanks to a combination of that stiffer chassis, a fully adjustable, 43mm inverted KYB forks and a rear shock with preload and rebound adjustability.
Don’t get me wrong – the V-Strom’s ride is still as plush as ever, but the new model boasts big handling improvements over the older version.
The single biggest improvement is its braking performance – an Achilles heel of the old model. If you currently ride an older V-Strom and think the brakes are okay then take a new one for a test ride: they’re chalk and cheese.
Radial-mounted Tokico twin-piston calipers and floating 310mm discs are a huge step forward in stopping power and feel. This, combined with a Bosch ABS system, gives you the confidence to brake hard over uncertain surfaces without fear of a lock-up.
In top gear, the tacho needle rests on a lazy 4000rpm while cruising at 110km/h and trucks passing from the opposite direction are of no concern: rider and bike remain rock solid on the road.
Handguards are sadly relegated to the options list, having been standard in years past, which is a shame because they effectively keep the weather off your hands.
With adventure bikes now offering to take you anywhere, it’s interesting that Suzuki has developed the new V-Strom 1000 ABS with a road-going focus. It’s not the first bike brand to do this and certainly won’t be the last. The V-Strom is now the SUV of the motorcycle world and that’s fine.
Even Suzuki’s design brief states it wanted to build a machine for “comfortable, on-road long-distance touring”. The engineers have achieved just that and the marketers have called it a “Sport Adventure Tourer” to better describe its intentions.
Many popular dual-sport bikes are offered in two variants – road or off-road – with the most distinguishing feature being cast alloy or wire-spoke wheels respectively. At this stage, however, Suzuki looks set to buck the trend and no plans to offer a more bush-biased version according to Suzuki Motorcycles marketing man, Lewis Croft.
Unlike in Europe, we Aussies love taking our adventure bikes off the beaten track in proper, rugged conditions, far from the comforts of hotels, let alone smooth bitumen. It’s supposed to be an adventure, right?
The V-Strom will happily dance on dirt roads for miles but anything more than that will be outside its intended design.
The ABS system proves too intrusive on loose gravel, a strong reminder that the system on all ABS-equipped bikes should be switchable. The traction control system and its various modes are effective.
The ABS is difficult to detect on the bitumen because the super-smooth power delivery doesn’t lend itself to spinning up the rear wheel. It’s there if needed of course, giving confidence in the wet.
A rocky river crossing is beyond the V-Strom’s design brief but man and machine manage to safely cross with little more than wet boots and tyres. An engine case protector and bash plate kit is available and it’s not a bad idea if your travels will see dirt. The front exhaust header pipe is mounted low and ground clearance isn’t huge, leaving the unprotected exhaust at risk of damage from a rut or washout.
Open Road Cruising
Back on the open road and again the V-Strom is doing what it does best: comfortable open-road touring. The chassis is stable and the suspension is compliant for a broad range of conditions. The bike doesn’t buck or shake even over mid-corner bumps at a decent lean angle.
The engine’s power delivery is linear and predictable with no surges to stretch your arms. It’s so smooth and vibe-free, you’d be forgiven for thinking it’s less powerful.
On busier roads the V-Strom happily fulfils the daily commuter role between weekend touring trips. The mirrors work well, the elevated seating position is good in traffic and a newly designed clutch is appreciatively lighter. The clutch is also a slipper type so the rear wheel won’t hop in protest if you pick up the pace and rush your downshifts.
Suzuki offers a long list of genuine accessories and much of it would be useful for touring. I also sampled a pannier-mounted model and with a medium load of luggage, there’s little on-road handling difference. If you do have a lot of kit plus a pillion, it’s a straightforward task to wind on some rear shock preload to support the extra payload.
So, will your riding adventures be in the bush or on the bitumen? It’s something you’d want to ask yourself before considering the V-Strom. On-road, it does its duties without fuss and for $16,990 ride-away, it provides good bang your bucks.
The advantages of a touring mount such as the latest V-Strom are clear. The ergonomics are more comfortable, you’re perched higher with a more commanding view of the road ahead, there’s plenty of room for luggage and when you do come across bumps and potholes, the bigger 19-inch front wheel will be far more forgiving than a 17-inch item.
Something comfortable to reel in the miles, to ride upright and take in and enjoy the scenery. Am I getting older or just wiser?
V-STROM SPEX | ENGINE:
TYPE: Liquid-cooled 90-degree V-twin with four valves per cylinder
BORE & STROKE: 100 x 66mm
COMPRESSION RATIO: 11.3:1
FUEL SYSTEM: EFI
TYPE: Six-speed constant mesh
FINAL DRIVE: Chain
CHASSIS & RUNNING GEAR:
FRAME TYPE: Alloy beam
FRONT SUSPENSION: 43mm KYB USD, fully-adjustable
REAR SUSPENSION: Monoshock, adjustable for rebound and spring preload
FRONT BRAKES: Four-piston, 310mm twin discs, with ABS
REAR BRAKE: Twin-piston, 260mm disc, with ABS
DIMENSIONS & CAPACITIES:
WET WEIGHT: 228kg
SEAT HEIGHT: 850mm
FUEL CAPACITY: 20 litres
WHEELS & TYRES:
WHEELS: 2.5 x 19-inch (f),
4.0 x 17-inch (r), multi-spoke alloy
TYRES: 110/80 R19 (f), 150/70 R17 (r), Bridgestone Battlewing (BW501/2)
POWER: 74kW at 8000rpm
TORQUE: 103Nm at 4000rpm
PRICE: $16,990 ride away
WARRANTY: 24 months/unlimited km
COLOURS: Candy Daring Red, Glass Sparkle Black
TEST BIKE SUPPLIED BY: