I write stuff. A lot of it is about cars and motorcycles.

Time Travel

2014 Suzuki V-Strom 1000 ABS

Suzuki is best known for two motorcycles: the Hyabusa, long known as the fastest production motorcycle in the world, and the GSX-R750, a bike that provides nearly suberbike performance at the weight of a 650cc supersport. But, alongside those two motorcycles is a third model that holds a special place in many people’s hearts: the V-Strom.

2014 Suzuki V Strom 1000 ABS

For 2014, Suzuki has given the V-Strom a complete overhaul. Not that they had a choice. New adventure bikes like the Yamaha Super Tenere and KTM 1190 Adventure, and old standbys like the BMW R1200GS were becoming so noticeably superior that Suzuki had to step up to the plate and modernize the V-Strom.

Which has always been a problem with Suzuki. Suzuki sort of likes to find something that works, and then stick with it for as long as the sun burns hot in space. They don’t go in for much of that modern foolishness like single-sided swingarms or shaft drives or complicated electronics. Frankly, Suzukis always strike me as being a bit…industrial. Not flashy. Workmanlike.

So, how has the V-Strom’s retooling worked out?

How it looks

The V-Strom is—theoretically at least—an adventure bike. That means it’s ugly, and has a useless beak in front. The BMW GS is the 800 pound gorilla of the adventure bike world, and it has a beak; therefore, all adventure bikes must have a beak. Except for the KTM 1190, which has no beak, and looks every bit as odd as every other KTM motorcycle.

The V-Strom is a tall bike, and looks top-heavy with its long-travel suspension. The windscreen is fairly small, yet offers decent wind protection. In fact, overall wind protection is decent despite the V-Strom being completely unfaired, though some head buffeting is evident at higher speeds.

The base model V-Strom is also missing a number of things that are required to be a true adventure bike. There’s no luggage. There’s also no skid plate, which means the easily-accessible oil filter protrudes noticeably from the front of the engine. That makes it not only easily accessible to service technicians at oil change time, but to large stones in the wilderness, which will happily bash the oil filter to bits. This means that your engine will seize up, stranding you in the desert, where you’ll quickly die in horrific agony. Clearly, the base V-Strom 1000 is meant for city streets.

In lieu of lots of adventure traveling gear, what you get with the base model is a sticker price of $12,699. But let’s say you want the full-on Adventure model, with hard saddlebags, steel crash protectors, and skid plate. How badly will Suzuki batter your wallet on options pricing? Basically…not at all. The V-Strom 1000 Adventure will cost only $13,999. That’s just ridiculous.

The base-model BMW R1200GS starts at $16,175. The Yamaha Super Tenere starts at $15,090. KTM doesn’t even put the base MSRP on their own web site, probably because it’s $16,499. So, a fully-loaded V-Strom 1000 Adventure ABS costs $1,000 less than the cheapest base price of its nearest competitor. A fully kitted-out competitor bike will cost you $3,000 to $4,000 more than the V-Strom Adventure.

Instrument cluster

The V-Strom’s instrument cluster is confusingly detailed when you look at it carefully, which you shouldn’t, unless you want to get absorbed in your reading and crash into a tree. Happily, the important parts are quite easy to see, with a large analog tach, and large LCD Speedometer and gear indicator.

How it rides

Sitting astride the V-Strom, you’re immediately struck by how tall it is. Seat height is 33.4 inches, which means I was tippy-toeing it, as my 32 inch inseam didn’t allow me to stand flat-footed.

Bringing the 1,037cc V-Twin to life rewards you with hearty “Braaaaap” from the tailpipe, and immediate vibration, which never goes away. It’s not a harsh or buzzy vibration, just part of the character of what feels like an old-school V-Twin, despite lots of engine updates for 2014. It’s good vibration, a vibration of charm and character.

The second the V-Strom moves, all of its 507 lbs falls away, and accessible torque is available pretty much anywhere in the rev range. The odd thing about the V-Strom is that it doesn’t feel fast. And, by the numbers, it shouldn’t be fast. The V-Strom’s motor puts out about 92 peak HP at the rear wheel, with about 68 lb.-ft. of torque. From the seat of your pants, the V-Strom 1000 feels like a moderately powered machine, until you realize that you left a stoplight 3.1 seconds ago and you’re already doing 60 MPH. Give it 11.6 seconds, and you’ve traveled ¼ mile and have reached 113 MPH. The V-Strom won’t go much faster than that, but it gets to speed way faster than it has any business doing.

It handles better than you’d think too. The wide handlebars make it easy to transition from side to side in the curves, and the top-heaviness makes it eager to drop into a lean. It feels a bit odd to ride a first, as if you’re perched on top of the bike, but the willingness to lean, then stay rock-steady in the line of a turn, is very confidence inspiring. In addition, the long-travel suspension soaks up pavement imperfections, whether in a straight line, or in a turn, with aplomb. This, coupled with the all-day comfort of the wide seat, gives the V-Strom surprisingly good ride quality.

2014 Suzuki V-Strom 1000 ABS

The clutch pull is light, and requires very little effort, so that’s good. But the industrial nature of a Suzuki is readily apparent when shifting, and the transmission is a bit clunky, switching gears with a noticeable “thunk”. Still, I never hit a false neutral, so the 6-speed transmission is reliably easy to operate, despite the seeming clunkiness.

The only real electronic aids on the V-Strom are the ABS brakes and traction control. There’s no electronic suspension adjustment or power modes, or, really, any of the high-end electronic doo-dads you find on most of the competitors in this segment.

The traction control works well in the standard setting, and isn’t too intrusive, jumping in to sort things out only when it’s needed. In mode two, the traction control doesn’t jump in to stop wheel spin suddenly, but seems rather to mute the power of the engine, and moderate the power delivery overall, creating a more mellow ride. In standard mode, opening the ride-by-wire throttle from idle is a bit abrupt, making the bike lurch forward, which catches you by surprise until you get used to it. A ride-by-wire system should have better off-idle throttle response.

The ABS is great for the road, but is a bit of a mixed blessing. It can’t be turned off, which means that if you do decide to go off pavement, you’ll need to exercise caution, because on slick bits of dirt roads when you want to stop…well…you won’t. Which brings us back to the whole agonizing death in the desert bit, again. Otherwise, on pavement, the front brake is a bit grabby, which is sort of the braking counterpart to the off-idle throttle response.

Final drive on the V-Strom is a chain, so before buying one, you’ll have to reconcile yourself to weekly chain lubrication, along with new chains and sprockets every 10,000 miles or so.

The dominant impression you get from riding the V-Strom is that it’s not really a modern bike. There are very few electronic aids. The V-Twin’s character is a throwback to older motorcycles, before counterbalancers and cross-plane crankshafts. It’s like riding a fast, comfortable motorcycle from the 1990s, but without all the tedious fiddling about with carburetors.

What’s good about it

2014 Suzuki V-Strom 1000 ABS

The Suzuki V-Strom 1000 ABS is comfortable, with good ergonomics. It’s very responsive and even flickable for a bike its size, and remains rock steady in the corners. It falls into line easily, and responds well to counter-steering, as well as shifting your weight. The V-Twin motor has a lot of character—though that will be a love it or hate it sort of thing. Traction control isn’t overly intrusive, and the ABS brakes can be a lifesaver on pavement. The price is significantly lower than any competitor, so the value proposition is outstanding.

What’s bad about it

ABS can’t be turned off on dirt or gravel, so caution is needed. The transmission feels clunky, if reliable. There’s some buffeting from the small windscreen at higher speeds. The front brake and off-idle throttle response is too abrupt. There’s a lot of detailed information on the instrument panel, in tiny LCD letters and numbers. With a seat height greater than 33 inches, shorter riders need not apply. It’s not a pretty motorcycle, it’s an industrial tool.

Conclusion

The 1990s were an exciting time for motorcycling, as the huge innovations of the 1980s began to mature. BMW’s oilhead R1100GS became the first truly modern adventure bike. Supersports bikes like the Kawasaki ZX-11 (ZZ-R1100) and Honda CBR1100RR Super Blackbird—possibly the best motorcycle ever made up to that point—first appeared. The Ducati 919 transformed sportbikes into what they are today.

It was an exciting time, and nothing more reminds me of that time than than riding a V-Strom 1000 ABS. It has a feel and character that a lot of modern bikes are missing. In some cases, like the character of the V-twin engine vibration, that’s a good thing. In other cases, like the clunky transmission, it isn’t.

What’s hard to get past with the Suzuki V-Strom, though, is the value proposition. Suzuki may be slow when it comes to stuffing new goodies on their motorcycles, but it’s all part of their strategy to stay in the segment of price-conscious buyers. If you can live without things like BMW’s Electronic Suspension Adjustment or tire pressure monitoring, it’s very hard to make an argument against the value for money that the V-Strom represents.

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