First ride: Suzuki V-Strom 1000 review

Suzuki’s new adventure-tourer is good but feels more the product of sales strategy than any desire to outclass the competition

SUZUKI'S new V-Strom feels like an exercise in mopping up some sales. It’s a machine made for one purpose. Not to be the most powerful, or the best, but to exploit untapped potential in a phenomenally successful class. That's why it's slightly disappointing.

At 99hp, it’s a whole league down from Ducati’s 150hp Multistrada and KTM’s 148hp 1190 Adventure. There’s no pretence of it having any real off-road potential, unlike BMW’s R1200GS or KTM’s 990 Adventure (which has been discontinued in the UK). Despite being ‘inspired’ by the 1988 DR750S, AKA Dr Big, there’s no mention of ‘off-road’ in Suzuki’s press info, which says the V-Strom is for ‘on-road-oriented long-distance touring’.

There’s nothing wrong with it. In fact it’s good. The engine is strong, with plenty of torque, as you’d expect from a 1037cc V-twin. It also feels quite revyy, with power building linearly as the needle heads to the 9,000rpm red line, with a good, throaty roar from the two-into-one exhaust. It’s not insanely fast but you won’t have trouble overtaking.

The brakes are capable. They’re unlikely to surprise you with their power but also no grounds for complaint. 

Suzuki says the handling is ‘nimble’. I wouldn’t go that far. It feels like the 228kg long-legged tourer it is. Actually I’d have guess it weighed more.

The suspension felt a bit soft on standard settings. Suzuki says it’s ‘tuned for diverse conditions’. It’s definitely set more for long-distance comfort than performance. The forks are fully adjustable and the shock adjustable for preload and rebound damping. A few turns of the knob on the shock improved the rear but served to highlight the softness at the front.

It’s got ABS, which can’t be switched off, and two-stage traction control, which can be. Mode one allows some wheel spin; mode two intervenes sooner. I wondered whether 99hp actually requires traction control. On a 160hp machine, I might think twice about switching traction control off. On the V-Strom I had no such reservations and a gentle throttle hand kept everything under control on wet winter roads. No doubt it could get you out of trouble in the right (or wrong) circumstances, but if there were a cheaper edition with no traction control, I’d probably take my chances.

It's further well-equipped with a screen that’s manually adjustable for tilt angle, and a fuel range and mpg indicator in the digital clocks. I got an average of 48.8mpg, including town and open road, measured the old-fashioned way, with a petrol receipt and calculator. It’s a good number for a bike this size. There are 600cc machines which do worse. It gives a theoretical range of 214 miles from the 20-litre tank. Suzuki claim a more optimistic 50.9mpg and 259 miles. 

My test bike had panniers and a top box, a £1,200 option. They're easy to remove, sharing a key with the ignition. The panniers use the pillion footrest hangers as mounting points, so there’s no ugly frame left behind. The 35-litre top box was just big enough for my full-face Arai. The test bike also had optional handguards, crash bars and fog lights, with a little rubber trim that worked loose.

Personally, I have never got on a bike and thought ‘This is good, but what it really needs is a pair of fog lights.’ Heated grips, maybe. Fog lights seem to serve mainly to make the bike look the part. And that, I think, was a primary objective.

The seat height is surprisingly low, at 850mm. I’m 5”9’ and on tiptoes on an R1200GS. On the V-Strom I could put the balls of both feet on the ground. Its aim is to attract people who might buy an R1200GS or Multistrada or 1190 Adventure, if they weren’t so flaming big and expensive. Who’ve probably seen Charley Boorman on a GS, Ross Noble on his Multistrada and the Hairy Bikers on their 990 Adventures. Who want the adventure bike image but are willing to compromise on performance and don't want to go off-road.

I’ve no doubt such people are out there. From January to September last year, the R1200GS was the second best-selling bike in the country, beaten only by Honda’s CBF125. The slightly more off-road focussed R1200GS Adventure was number eight. Add the two versions together and the GS is number one.

Suzuki is banking on there still being unexploited potential in the market, with some people looking for something smaller. The press pack makes no secret of it, saying: 'Adventure touring machines are so big, bulky and heavy that they may prevent some riders from trying this category of motorcycle.'

I think they are right and the V-Strom will sell. I just wish they had done one of two things. The first is offer the V-Strom for about £1,500 less, maybe without traction control. At £8,500, I would say: ‘This is a great motorcycle for the money. Put the wife on the back and tour on it. Have a blast on it. Do everything on it. Buy it.’

The second, alternative thing I wish they had done is be the Suzuki of old. The marque that brought us the GSX-R1000, the Hayabusa, the RGV250. The marque that would set out to beat the competition, not exploit untapped potential and mop up sales. If they’d done that, and built a Multistrada beater, they could have charged more. As it is, with the V-Strom three grand less than the 1190 Adventure, one of the best road bikes I’ve ever ridden, I say find the extra money.   

Mode tested: V-Strom 1000 ABS

Price: £9,999 plus OTR

Power: 99hp

Torque: 75.9lbft

Kerb weight: 228kg

Seat height: 850mm

Colours: red, white, black, khaki

Availability: February 20