THE SUZUKI V-Strom 650 is a bike that has always been just-so.
It’s a bike with a strong existing image of being sensible, functional and great value; a bike that does what it is meant to and not a huge deal more. In short, it's always been lacked that something that made me excited to ride one.
When testing bikes, context is everything. Putting a bike in its optimum environment can transform your opinion of it. For example, if you take a litre sports bike trail riding, it’ll suck. But you wouldn’t do it because it is an inherently dumb idea.
There is a point to my rambling: the Suzuki V-Strom 650 is a great bike. Let me tell you why.
All my previous V-Strom experiences have been in a non-suitable riding arena: a V-Strom on a dried riverbed, a V-Strom up a dirt track in the depths of a forest, or a V-Strom on an icy winter's day without heated grips.
The point of this extended introduction is that on the V-Strom 650 launch, Suzuki put the bike in an environment where it shone far brighter than I knew it could, as it ate up endless epic ribbons of grippy tarmac.
But did the change of scenery make me think the bike was different? Has the 2017 V-Strom 650 become a radically different machine?
No. The difference now is that it’s apparent to me just why those hordes of V-Strom fans have so much affection for this little 650 adventure-styled sports tourer.
The V-Strom has always been solid, reliable and good value. It does what it does well, and no more. If you’re a V-Strom fan, then you can rejoice because almost none of that has changed alongside the 2017 bike's plentiful updates including Euro4 compliance and a hefty styling refresh.
The penguin-style beak has gone and the little 650 now looks almost identical to its big brother, the V-Strom 1000. There are new colour schemes and the same two model lines - a stock cast wheel version and the aluminium spoked-wheel XT version. Performance is identical, but the XT has a more adventurous aesthetic.
Euro 4 also means a host of new goodies have been added to the 650. The engine has received a chunky update - 60 new parts to be precise. That means a touch more power and torque across the curve, despite the more restrictive exhaust. Traction control has also been added to the package. It’s the same system you'll find on the bigger V-Strom, using the same dash and switchgear to control everything.
The new aesthetics bring a manually adjustable screen and a new narrower but still-comfortable seat design. The seat height is medium at 840mm, with low and high options available that sit at 810mm and 870mm respectively.
Suzuki has also shed a single kilogram from the weight and added the Easy Start system you’ll find on the SV650. Prod and release the starter button once and the motor turns until the engine starts. The days of holding the start button until your bike fires are numbered. The last real new addition to the V-Strom is ‘Low RPM Assist’ - when releasing the clutch the ECU picks up the revs slightly to make it less likely to stall – a system that's also found on the SV650.
This review started with a bold statement. I called a V-Strom great. It’s a bike that is renowned not for being exciting, but for getting the job done without fuss, for a relatively low price, and that hasn’t really changed.