Big trailies might be a bit too big and heavy to tackle any serious dirt riding. But they can perform many other roles, and do so with great flair and competence. They are some of the best all-rounders on the market.
The Suzuki V-Strom is no exception. The big V-twin engined bike has plenty of power and practicality. It´s very easy to ride, and comfortable for however long you choose to sit in its plush seat. And above all it´s a great laugh.
I had the advantage of testing the V-Strom in one of the very best places on Earth to ride a bike – South Africa. But though the sun, scenery, and superb roads can easily seduce you into thinking any bike you ride there is good, the pleasurable venue has such a wide variety of road types that it´s also a very tough proving ground. If you come away with a positive view of a bike after riding it along the routes I did, then it has to get top marks. And the V-Strom deserves plenty of those.
It has to be said it´s not one of the best looking machines on the market. And it could be criticised for having a bulbous and bulky appearance. But beauty is of course in the eye of the beholder, and my opinion of its style definitely improved as the test went on. But that´s probably because I warmed to the Suzuki´s qualities so much that looks became a secondary issue anyway.
The positive view didn´t start straightway though. And I was worried by the fact that I couldn´t get both feet on the ground when I climbed onto its lofty perch. I thought this might give me some problems while I rode through the traffic-infested streets of Cape Town and needed to stop from time to time. But the poise and balance of the V-Strom made it much easier to manage than I expected, and tip-toeing was always good enough to keep it on an even keel.
The fact that it´s also light and agile for a bike in this class, with only a 207 kilo dry weight, and has quite racy chassis geometry, meant it was dead easy to negotiate any hazards that either car drivers or pedestrians suddenly presented.
But as their threat to my progress diminished as we rode out into the suburbs, and then towards the hillier and twistier zones well out of the city, the real virtues of the V-Strom became instantly obvious. Especially as the speeds rose.
The Suzuki has plenty of virtues to praise, but let´s start with the engine which has a familiar feel to it. And that´s because it´s basically the same motor which was fitted to the now discontinued TL1000S sportsbike. The 90 degree fuel-injected V-twin has plenty of power and grunt and gives the V-Strom a fair turn of speed whenever you yank on the twistgrip. But internal changes designed to make it even more gruntier and flexible give the motor even more flexibility and useability.
Lower lift and shorter duration cams, together with smaller inlet valves boost midrange torque. And the twin butterfly arrangement in the throttle bodies, combined with lighter pistons and con-rods give a sharper and more precise throttle response to the V-Strom´s engine compared to the TL´s – itself no peaky or revvy unit.
Bar some snatching at lower rpm in the taller gears, the V-Strom´s motor is refined and well-mannered, and its slick gearbox doesn´t have to be troubled much when you want to accelerate.
It is tempting to spin it up to higher rpm at times, because there are even more thrills to be had when you do that. But it´s not essential to set a fast engine pace. Taking the engine to the limit through the gears will see just over 140mph registered on the analogue speedo, which should equate to a genuine 130mph. And at that speed the motor is only turning over at a leisurely 7,500 rpm, thanks to the overdrive sixth gear.
Throttle response from the engine isn´t so quick in the top cog. And when you´re looking for a more urgent reaction from the twistgrip, it´s best to leave it in fifth.
The floods of torque and power do help to make it one of the most relaxing engines to use. Though it has to be said that when you´re revving it very hard it becomes quite harsh. And though the vibes aren´t bad enough to blur the mirrors, or cause any tingling sensations in your limbs, it can´t ever be described as truly smooth. Though once it´s settled down and is being held at a more constant rpm, the harshness all but disappears.
No such criticisms can be made of the V-Strom´s handling. And though some of the very tight and sinuous mountain roads I rode on demanded maximum concentration to avoid any mishaps, the Suzuki took them all into its stride and showed no signs of being flustered. Even when I rode it as hard as I dared.
The same balance and poise which the V-Strom had showed earlier in town, was still very evident even when the bike was being flicked around suddenly at speed. Those high and wide bars give lots of leverage when you need to change direction quickly, and the composure of the bike is exceptional thanks to its excellent suspension.
Not all the roads I used were smooth, but even when the bike´s footrests were clattering against them when the bike was being heeled right over, both the forks and shock´s suppleness gave me the impression the surface was much less bumpy and rippled than it actually was. The suspension´s control and composure helped the Bridgestone tyres to stick well even under the heavy pressure generated by the hard riding. And when they did eventually come unstuck, they did so progressively and predictably enough to back off and get things in line again.
When you do have to slow down suddenly the Tokico brakes perform much better than their spec suggests they might be. Twin-piston calipers might not sound up to much, but they´re powerful and progressive enough to make even sudden slowing safe and predictable.
With a strong motor, plus solid, accurate handling and stopping power, the V-Strom´s sporting potential is not in doubt. But it´s got more to its portfolio than just scratching, and spending two long days in the seat proved it´s got plenty of mile-eating prowess too.
Thanks to the relaxed upright riding position, very good protection offered by the fairing and screen, useful rack, and long tank range, the V-Strom will undoubtedly be a very competent tourer. And the aftermarket accessories including hard luggage, a taller screen, centrestand, and heated grips will make it even more useful and civilised.
I really enjoyed my time on the V-Strom. There seemed to be very little it couldn´t do well which underlined the fact that it has the qualities of many bikes rolled into one very useful, and very entertaining package. It´s been a while since Suzuki built a bike in this class. But it´s been well worth the wait.
Get Suzuki motorbike insurance for the suzuki v strom.
Engine Liquid cooled 90degree V-twin, 8 valve, four stroke
Claimed power (bhp) 98bhp @ 7,600rpm
Compression ratio 11.3:1
Transmission Six speed
Frame; Alloy twin spar
Front suspension; 43mm telescopic forks, no adjustment
Steering head angle; 26.3 degrees
Rear suspension; rising-rate monoshock, adjustable for pre-load and rebound damping
Front brakes; Twin 310mm discs, twin-piston Tokico calipers
Rear brake; Single 260mm disc, single piston Nissin caliper
Wheelbase; 1535 mm
Top speed 130mph (est)
Fuel capacity 22 litres
Current price £7,350 (otr)