he V-Strom 650 XT is Suzuki’s new edition of the 650 that was introduced a few years back. We headed over to the very south of Ireland to put the bike through a day of riding the country roads and drinking Guinness.
Several years back Suzuki were a brand in serious trouble. The global financial crash, combined with a shrinking market share, left the Japanese brand on their knees and begging for mercy. Times were tough. The Japanese company re-structured, put high end motorcycle development to one side and went to make some money selling junk loads of cheap bikes in far flung countries. Then, almost two years ago, they introduced the V-Strom 1000 and things dramatically increased from there forwards.
Suzuki re-vamped the smaller sibling V-Strom 650 in 2012 and sales, much to many people’s surprise, tick along at a very steady and positive pace. Year-on-year, it’s one of the brand’s best-sellers and the “adventure” styled 1000 has slotted alongside it nicely. In-fact the styling of the 1000 did so well for Suzuki they’ve decided that putting more eggs in our beloved adventure market hoping it will do well for them. Which is where the new 650 XT edition comes in.
Essentially the XT edition is a V-Strom 650 with bits. Those bits are aimed at making it look more off-road capable while adding a dose of protection and long-range comfort. While that might not sound particularly exciting to a lot of people, what is does mean is that Suzuki are healthy again. They’re pushing forward instead of standing in the corner wondering what the heck happened. You’ll rarely see positivity from a struggling manufacturer.
Firstly, we need to poke someone over this. I’m not really sure who, or why the person that was given the job of naming the bike, settled upon the “XT”. But what sir, what were you thinking? Yamaha’s XT has been a trail and adventure stalwart since the dawn of time, so sure two other letters would’ve sufficed? Anyway…
The V-Strom 650 is a unique bike in the small/mid-capacity bike range. Unlike many of it’s 650-sized competition the V-Strom turns up at the start line with an extra cylinder. From a road riding perspective the 90 degree v-twin should be a great deal more pleasurable for cruising the miles out. Suzuki is also claiming the 650 pulls an impressive 71mpg (25km/l) all while making a decent 68bhp (50.5kW) and 44lb/ft (60nm) of torque.
As you’d expect from a mid-range bike, most of it’s kept rather simple. Outright performance is never the goal and the bike fits in line with this. The suspension is simply preload adjustable and little touches like the steel bars don’t suggest it’s a bike priced at £10k.
A rigidly designed, twin-spar aluminium frame holds the engine and suspension together and is another area that helps the V-Strom stand apart from European rivals.
The differences to the standard spec bike are actually pretty nice but it’s worth noting at this point that the UK model we slung our leg over is a country specific selection. Whatever your country, it’s worth checking what Suzuki HQ have chosen for you.
The UK bikes come with set of accessories that for the budding traveller could be the deal breaker. The addition of tubeless, spoked wheels in a standard 19-inch 110/80 and 17-inch 150/70 sizing opens things up to plethora of off-road and travel friendly tyres. On top of that you get some decent looking crash bars, moulded plastic handgaurds for some better wind protection and an aluminium sump guard. Honestly, the sump guard doesn’t look like it’s an item worthy of being smashed repeatedly into the earth like some of the aftermarket ones, but for the purpose of protecting the cases and preventing the odd rock making sweet carnage to the naked underbelly it should be okay.
The chassis was responsive and positive, holding its line in corners with a sure-footed feeling
On top of that you get ABS as standard, a decent looking colour contrast seat and an adjustable screen. The final piece to the adventure puzzle comes in the form of a ‘beak’. The addition of the front fender thingy appears to be the defining characteristic of building an adventure bike and so Suzuki dropped one on and are claiming homage to the 1988 DR that graced the Dakar rally. Frankly, we think it looks like a penguin, but everyone has there own tastes…
As for optional extra’s you can add a higher screen, heated grips and fit your bike out with some Suzuki made plastic or aluminium luggage.
Being entirely new to the 650 V-Strom experience, I honestly didn’t have expectations of an enthralling, exciting ride. The V-Strom isn’t a bike that sets itself out to be as such, it is however aimed at being easy, small and manageable while still providing a decent ride.
As we left the small Irish village of Killarney to set off on our 150 mile mini adventure the first thing that struck me was how ‘road’ the bike felt. It’s instantly handles more like a road bike than some of it’s rivals, the feel of the chassis, the relatively slow turning around town and so on. I was a little unsure of it at first, but the more we rode, and the more open the road got the better the V-Strom felt. On sweeping roads and turns the bike handled superbly. The chassis was responsive and positive, holding its line in corners with a sure-footed feeling. Over the course of the day it became more instinctual to ride and I began to enjoy the handling.
The potential crux for the 650 is on the really small back roads. We spent a lot of time on this type of road across the day and it’s not the V-Strom strongest point. Flicking around the country lanes, it’s definitely not bad. In-fact it’s perfectly capable, but there are better bikes in this class at this. Overall however, the turning ability is very good and for anyone who is riding decent twisty tarmac the V-Strom will be an enjoyable and positive, consistent handling machine to ride.
For a 650 it’s feels solid and planted on the road, it’s got a bigger feel to it than some others. By that, I don’t mean the seat height or the weight specifically, it just feels like a more substantial creature than some of the single 650’s and carries more ‘big bike presence’ across the ground.
On some of the older, bumpy and quite fast back roads it wallowed around a little but it’s nothing you wouldn’t expect from a bike whose sole design is to be middle of the road. This isn’t a 1200 GS in dynamic mode and it doesn’t pretend to be. You could ride this bike for months and probably not notice the suspension in any way. I did feel like the bike was slightly raked out and adding more preload to shock absorber helped the bike tip into turns a little better but at 90kg’s I’m a little bigger than the average human.
The 650 engine is rightly Suzuki’s proudest element of this bike. It’s something I totally agree with and it’s proved itself over many years in many road bike guises. At no point would I ever describe this V-Twin as exciting but damn it’s easy to ride. It’s smooth, perky and ticks along in an extremely constant and efficient fashion. The engine is one of the most gentle and friendly to ride in this class and that makes it a great road engine.
Right from the very bottom it’s linear and cruises along. There are no lumps, flat spots or anything quirky about it. It does what it needs to, does nothing more and if you’re after a bike that’ll swallow miles, not being intimidating and let you be in control from breakfast till tea-time, this V-Strom is on the money. It makes good power too, posses a good chunk of torque and works. It’s almost a difficult engine to describe, purely because of its normality.
A small nudge left or right felt like a big wallowy change in direction and really that is where the difference between this and a more off-road centric machine lie
Ergonomically the V-Strom is surprisingly good. The handlebars, despite looking like they cost 17p in Costco, are a good bend. On the Tarmac they were comfortable for me and even when we ventured into the small area of off-road they were far from offensive. ADV bikes have a habit of being fitted with vile bars but the Zook, much like the rest of the bike, was very neutral. However, if you did take a few spills on the dirt I really wouldn’t expect them to take much of battering.
The seat was decently comfy too. Over the course of the day my bum never got uncomfortable and the different colour scheme looks pretty jazzy too. The seat-to-footpeg gap for someone of my size (I’m pushing 190cm tall) was slightly cramped but for smaller riders it worked, especially when coupled with the low option seat.
The V-Strom 650 XT was also fitted with the optional heated grips. These definitely have the appearance of an afterthought, which are functional but far from polished-looking. The weather was pretty damn cold on this test but even so, as hot grips go they aren’t the warmest I’ve ever wrapped my hands around. With a thin summer glove on they more than did the job of keeping the hands warm but swapping to thick glove negated any warming gained.
The ABS system was most inoffensive and all up that’s the aim. A couple of times in the wet a heavy foot to rear brake or some strong braking in general resulted in the odd reverse twitch through the levers but all-in-all the system did it’s job. On the flip side, the ABS isn’t hugely off-road friendly and doesn’t pretend it is. The only downside to that is the lack of switch to turn the ABS off. If you want to shut it down, say for off-road work, then this is achieved by the removal of a fuse. Not ideal but also not difficult.
Like the rest of the bike the brakes are functional and effective but you’ll never write an essay about the incredible performance nor the stupendous lack of power. They do the job. You pull, the bike slows down. It’s simple, average and very, well, V-Strom.
Whilst Suzuki have never really pushed the V-Strom as an adventure bike with huge off-road potential, it’s been used in ADV circles for many years. It’s got a strong following and rightly so. Our little dabble off-road consisted of a super cool 30-odd minutes cruising around a wet beach front, playing in the surf, riding over little tracks in the grass and finding piles of loose beach rocks to mess about in. It wasn’t technical stuff but it was damn fun.
The V-Strom’s off-road ability is a thing often brought into question and it seems a little on the harsh side. It’s as capable as you can expect it to be given the physical limitations of the ground clearance. But the smooth, gentle and easy power delivery actually makes it surprisingly capable. It made controlling the power to the back wheel very easy and reliable. That’s half the battle with a road-orientated bike, they often lack the flywheel required, but much like 1000cc big brother, the 650’s engine doesn’t hold it back.
The restrictions really come from the ground clearance and chassis design. The nimble, small direction changes required for more challenging off-road were met with a slightly lethargic response. A small nudge left or right felt like a big wallowy change in direction and really that is where the difference between this and a more off-road centric machine lie. For the majority of riding you’ll do on an adventure bike, the V-Strom is capable of getting you to the end and because the XT is essentially the same as the standard V-Strom 650, you’ll find this the same on both models. It won’t be fast, it won’t be as good as other bikes but it’s not incapable and to suggest so wouldn’t be true.
So where does that leave the V-Strom? In the class in which is sits, it’s a good bike. Nothing about the V-Strom is great, in-fact every element of it is normal, efficient and not a whole lot more. It’s nice to ride on the road, the chassis is good and the engine likewise. The engine and chassis combo on the tarmac is definitely one of the best options in the 650 adventure bike class. I enjoyed the bike but it didn’t excite and really that’s the V-Strom’s biggest selling point. It’ll manage dirt roads and the odd trickier patch of off-road and you’ll never become a victim of the bike either. It might not excite but it won’t bite either.
It works because there is nothing to intimidate, overwhelm, frighten or really go too wrong. It’s a simple motorcycle, built like many other bikes with very few quirks. It has a low seat height but with the low seat option in place, it’s around about 800mm and if this is the market you’re in you could do far, far worse than swing your leg over a V-Strom for you next adventure.
At £7735 the V-Strom 650 XT sits at the top end of this class but it’s ready to travel and one of the better bikes available. On top of that Suzuki have got some great 0% finance deals currently available.
- Good Engine.
- Good Handling On Open Road
- Not Particularly Exciting