PH2 RIDDEN: 2012 SUZUKI V-STROM 650
Suzuki's V-twin all-rounder is now less fugly and still very good...
If you care a Strom is actually, according to Suzuki, the German name for a stream. Anyway, after a few years the 1,000cc V-Strom was joined in the range by a smaller brother, the V-Strom 650, using the commuter friendly SV650's V-twin 645cc engine. It retained all the ugliness of its sibling, but proved one of those guilty pleasures. A bit like a slightly thick but incredibly good looking girlfriend, the 650 was a superb machine, you just were just a bit embarrassed to introduce it to your mates.
Well for 2012 Suzuki has (eventually) done something about the V-Strom's looks. Having dropped the 1000 in 2009, the baby 650 is the only Strom on the streets and is now a bike you can actually be moderately proud of being seen on.
When I rode home and showed the bike to my actual girlfriend she declared it "quite pretty." To be fair I'm no oil painting so there is a chance her vision/sense of taste is a bit lacking, but all the same that is a vote of confidence in the new look.
Many experienced riders will doubtless (and unfairly) dismiss the 650 as a rookie's bike. While the 650 is certainly an excellent machine for less experienced riders, it is also a superb bike for old hands who just want hassle free commuting. Personally, I'd have a sports bike in the garage for weekends and use the Strom for the daily commute or dull motorway miles.
Thrash the super smooth V-twin engine and it will go over 100mph, but how often do you do this on a daily commute? When it comes to churning out the miles all you need is a comfortable ride, a vibration free motor and decent fuel range, which the V-Strom offers. But it doesn't stop there. Unlike the TMAX big scooter PH2 reviewed recently, the V-Strom can be used for trips away and even a bit of a laugh at weekends.
Introduce a set of corners into the equation and it'll surprise you with its agility. Long travel suspension helps deliver a smooth ride and though it can get a bit wobbly when you push really hard for fast and flowing riding it's pretty accomplished.
Add a pillion and the 650 does start to feel a little underpowered but my passenger reported the seat was comfortable and the ride not at all unpleasant. Which probably means I wasn't trying hard enough.
With a fine layer of winter grime on the road's surface I had more than enough opportunity to test the V-Strom's ABS system too. I always find pseudo off-road road tyres a bit lacking in grip, especially in the damp, but the Suzuki's ABS seemed to cope with my best attempts to annoy it and ABS on bikes is now so good I'd rather have it and not need it that not have it and end up in a hedge.
While the old V-Strom 650 was a guilty pleasure, I have to confess I would be more than happy to own a 2012 bike as my daily hack. Some may think it's a little under-endowed at just 650cc but for motorway miles it's more than fast enough and it's light and nippy around town, not to mention comfortable and fuel efficient.
The only question mark hangs over the build quality. The old 650 wasn't great, with disc carriers quickly turning rusty and the finish on the engine flaking off. Looking around the new model it seems as though Suzuki has made more effort with this version, though I would still keep on top of the cleaning, especially in winter.
And finally I know you are wondering, so here is a picture of the original bike. A face, like my own, that only a mother can love...
SUZUKI V-STROM 650
Engine: 645cc V-twin
Torque: 44lb ft
Top speed: 120mph (est)
MPG: 50 (est)