First Ride: 2006 Suzuki V-Strom 1000 GT review

Suzuki's V-Strom never hit the big time but it's been a solid seller, loved by owners. But is it any good on a blast to France?

This review is part of the Monster Trailies Lap France mega-test review. Click the link for the rivals.

I'm glad to get out of our rats' nest hotel on the outskirts of wherever and hit the bloody road. This is becoming as much a test of personal endurance as of motorcycles but we've got a job to do and I have to stay positive. I've got enough Codeine to stun an entire Columbian platoon so my back shouldn't cause serious problems, I have an unusually mellow hangover and I happen to be riding the most comfortable bike in this pack, which also happens to be fitted with heated grips. Result.

Comfort is pretty much the only consideration when huge distances lie ahead. Thirty years of motorcycling has had a punishing effect on my brittle chassis so I'm relieved to be heading out (into what will be another very long day in the saddle) on the Suzuki V-Strom. With the exception of the Buell, all the bikes here are fit for the long haul, but the Suzuki narrowly pips its competitors in the comfort stakes. The relationship between the screen, bars, seat and foot pegs is spot-on and makes for a perfectly relaxed riding position.

It's always uplifting to start the day with quality Tarmac and that's precisely how it begins: smooth, fast, twisty and mainly dry. I know all the others are smiling behind their visors too as the monotonous damp horror of the previous day's travel quickly evaporates. Comfort is the obvious ace in Suzuki's pack, but it'll handle aggressive bend slinging without getting flustered. It's fair to say that it hardly excels in any other department, but nor does it disappoint - it just gets on with it, quietly, competently and without fuss.

Fun aside, we know we have to maximise the rain break and find our fabled waterside campsite. After all, the V-Strom's luggage bears the tools of the experienced outdoorsman - including electric inflatable bed and my entire personal travel knife collection: 2 x cooking, 1 x hunting, 1 x fighting, 1 x throwing. I'd forgotten my axe (left it on the ferry) but I've a blade for most occasions.

This of course means getting back on the motorway and hightailing it over to Tours for provisions and deranged campfire shenanigans. The Suzuki is restricted by luggage-based aerodynamics to a cruising speed of around 95mph (above 105mph it develops into a weave). This speed works well though, because you get an acceptable balance of wind noise, buffeting and fuel consumption - the latter averaging out at 40mpg, which is impressive for a 1000cc bike with full luggage, and good for a minimum of 150 miles between fuel stops.


As happy as I am snugly ensconced on the Suzuki with the grips set at half heat, motorways inevitably become a drag - if you're on them for long enough - because there's nothing to do but get it done. Thankfully, Niall is clearly getting bored too, so he lays on some comical entertainment for the troops by whacking traffic cones with his army-styled KTM panniers.

A good clout sends them pirouetting skywards but landing back where they started, the right way up. It's great being an adult and going on road trips with idiots.

Having been separated from the rest of the group during a series of failed covert speed traps, I eventually find them in a Tours hypermarket shopping irresponsibly like frenzied hogs. Armed with boxes of wood, meat, coal, wine and a king sized duvet, we look like a bunch of city dimwits on a Duke of Edinburgh picnic. I bite my tongue and focus on cramming as many wine boxes into the Suzuki as possible - this had better turn into a booze-fuelled Deliverance-styled nightmare or I just might throw the mother of all tantrums.

With its ample panniers visibly bulging, we trundle across the car park and almost reach the exit before the top box groans and pops its lid open. Alex, with all the patience of a racing Cobra, has done his usual disappearing act and shot off Dakar-style into the rush hour throng. I think I see him bobbing and weaving through distant traffic, perching on the Ulysses like a monkey on horseback. But my back pains flare up suddenly and I'm distracted, rummaging like a madman for more Codeine. So within two minutes we're separated and lost. But soon I'm back on track and happily ignoring my fast developing twitch - accelerating hard onto a dual carriageway, blissfully ignorant of my wide-open pannier that's rapidly shedding meat and glass and knives and chillies straight into the eyes of my fellow commuters. Urry kindly stops and rescues what he can as I perspire quietly at the roadside, preparing to re-pack sensibly one last time.

I'm grateful for the calming influence of the Suzuki and am fully composed as we arrive at our home for the night. On one side a beautiful slow flowing river, butterflies, otters and fishing boats. On the other, a dual carriageway, juggernauts, factories and murderers. Perfect. I'm sure we'll be visited by junkies and weirdos throughout the night so I get the wine open fast. If you hang out with Hearn for any period of time, you'll learn a lot about inexpensive (and revolting) French wine so I'm pretty hardened to it. I'm not, however, so used to the effect of gut-rot vin rouge blended with three types of painkillers, so this is where my memory becomes patchy. Suffice to say that anything you read about my behaviour on this fateful night is probably untrue.

So let's end on a positive. Although the Suzuki's fuelling is a little fluffy under 3000rpm and it's not so happy cruising at stupidly high speeds, it is well balanced, comfortable, practical and capable. It's also, given the extras, a hell of a bargain.