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Wednesday 21st December 2011


PH2 RIDDEN: 2012 SUZUKI V-STROM 650

Suzuki's V-twin all-rounder is now less fugly and still very good...


When Suzuki pulled the covers off the original V-Strom 1000 in 2002 there was more than a slight intake of breath. Not only was the bike staggering ugly, it also had a stupid name that most assumed was the result of a mistranslation from English to Japanese. You can imagine the mobile phone conversation between two designers as one drops in and out of signal. "How about a V-Storm?" "A V-SUM?" "No, STORM." "STRUM?" "STORM!" "Ok, STROM" "No, oh sod it, yeah, whatever..."

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.

Hardly handsome but it IS improved
Hardly handsome but it IS improved
Eye of the beholder
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.

V-Strom works in and out of town
V-Strom works in and out of town
Which is where it will happily cruise at 70mph-plus. The seating position is supremely comfortable with nice wide bars and a deeply padded seat. The screen, which is two-stage adjustable for height, does a fairly decent job and when you are on the go the Suzuki feels like a big bike.

Easy rider
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.

Decent motorway protection from fairing
Decent motorway protection from fairing
The V-twin may only have a claimed 68hp but it's sprightly and torquey enough that you're not up and down the gears constantly. Not that it would matter if you were, the V-Strom having one of the slickest gearboxes around.

Two's company
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.

ABS handy on winter roads
ABS handy on winter roads
The 2012 V-Strom 650 has retained all of the features that made the older bike such a wonderful machine while removing the hideous look. With a price tag of 6,899 you get ABS included and a pannier set is 817 (1,083 including top box), making the Suzuki a bargain when compared to some larger capacity big trailies. To add to this value Suzuki has just unveiled three accessory packs for the V-Strom. The 'tourer pack' contains brush guards, a 14-litre tank bag, belly pan, accessories bar and a new chain guard for 499 including fitment, a saving of 121. The 'adventure pack' is the same as the 'tourer' with the tank bag replaced by a top box and a higher screen and centre stand added for 999, saving 291 while the 1,299 'GT pack' contains panniers, a top box, belly pan and centre stand for 360 less than retail.

The V-Strom in all its pre-facelift horror
The V-Strom in all its pre-facelift horror
More than just an ugly face
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
Power: 68hp
Torque: 44lb ft
Top speed: 120mph (est)
Weight: 214kg
MPG: 50 (est)
Price: 6,899


Author: Jon Urry