2013 Suzuki V-Strom 650 Adventure vs 2013 Honda CB500X Comparison Test

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The 2013 Honda CB500X and 2013 Suzuki V-Strom 650 ABS Adventure are both small to medium sized, affordable, road-oriented ADV bikes that punch way above their capacities and price tags. They’re not direct rivals, but looking at them together may help us understand their unique appeal.

What’s Different
The CB500X is a little larger than the other two bikes in Honda’s new 500 range, but like its stable mates, targets new riders looking for an accessible, fun bike or experienced riders looking to downsize into something more economical and practical. At 471cc, it’s much smaller than the class norm, but its low weight, slim dimensions and the astounding ease with which you can ride it make the CB500X uniquely appealing.

Until the Honda arrived on the ADV scene, the V-Strom 650 was considered the smallest bike in the class. “Small” fails to define the V-Strom to anyone who’s ridden one though; its torquey motor combines with the relatively light weight to provide performance on-par with the big, 1,000cc+ adventure bikes. The spacious ergonomics, too, are anything but small, providing all-day comfort for rider and passenger alike. It’s simply the most practical motorcycle on-sale today.

Together, these are two of RideApart’s favorite motorcycles of 2013.

Suzuki’s 645cc, liquid-cooled V-twin classifies it as a small- to mid-capacity Adventure bike. That motor makes a humble-sounding 62 bhp at 8,900 rpm and 41 lb.-ft. of torque at 6,400 rpm. It has a 5.3-gallon fuel tank, a 32-inch seat height and weighs 472 lbs (wet).

ABS is standard on the V-Strom, as is a comprehensive digital dash that includes readouts for fuel, two trip meters with their own average MPG readouts, a gear position indicator, external temperature gauge and even a clock.

Suzuki equips the V-Strom with preload-adjustable 43mm forks with 5.9 inches of travel and a preload/rebound-adjustable, linkage monoshock with 6.3 inches of travel.

The tested model you see here is the V-Strom 650 Adventure, which adds a tall, adjustable windscreen, engine crash bars and the widest-set lockable panniers you’ve ever seen. It brings a $1,500 premium over the base V-Strom, but no mechanical differentiation.

The Honda CB500X is considered a small Adventure bike by virtue of its 471cc, liquid-cooled parallel-twin. The same motor found in the 2013 Honda CB500F and 2013 Honda CBR500R. Designed to meet Europe’s new A2 license tier for new riders, which specifies that capacity, power level and even power-to-weight, that motor develops 47 bhp at 8,500 rpm and 32 lb.-ft. of torque. The CB500X weighs 430 lbs (wet).

The CB500X uses non-adjustable 41mm forks with 5.5 inches of travel and a linkage monoshock that’s (difficulty) adjustable for preload only and has 4.7 inches of travel. Different forks to the other two 500 models, but the same shock.

Tested here is the 2013 Honda CB500X ABS, which carries a $500 premium for its superior braking setup.

The Ride
Headed to the launch of the 2014 Yamaha FZ-09 in San Francisco, we slogged up from LA on the 5 freeway, then took the fun way home, coming back down Pacific Coast Highway.

We’ve also spent the last few weeks riding both bikes around Los Angeles, in everything from dense urban traffic to some of the best mountain roads in the country.

Around town, you’d be hard pressed to find two better motorcycles. Once shorn of its panniers, the V-Strom feels nimble, light and well-balanced. Quick steering makes low-speed maneuvering a cinch. The clutch is light enough that it doesn’t punish your left hand in heavy traffic. The seat, while higher than that of a naked or sport bike, doesn’t prohibit a solid footing, even on uneven terrain.

In fact, the V-Strom feels like the perfect city bike, until you try the Honda…

Riding them back-to-back, the CB500X suddenly makes the Suzuki feel sluggish. While not all that light on paper, the Honda feels incredibly light. That combines with relatively narrow bars and slim hips to make squeezing through traffic almost effortless.

Both motorcycles also excel at touring. We expected the larger V-Strom to have a huge advantage of the Honda, but neither is bothered by an 80-85 mph cruise. We used the Suzuki’s panniers to hold our computers, camera, repair kit and extra riding gear, then strapped a couple North Face bags to the back of it to hold our street clothes. The extra weight of the panniers and luggage leveled the performance gap between the two bikes.

Due to that heavy load and gusty wind conditions, fuel economy on the Suzuki fell from a 52-55 mpg average to 40 mpg during the trip. Meanwhile, the little Honda (without any additional weight, aside from one bag strapped to the seat) was able to maintain 50 mpg, despite working harder at high revs to keep up.

The V-Strom was better able to accelerate from highway speeds to make a pass, but loaded down, it was also subject to speed wobbles above 85 mph.

Both bikes are great for carrying passengers, but the Suzuki is obviously more comfortable two-up thanks to its larger proportions and additional torque. We’d keep two-up trips on the Honda to around town or short freeway jaunts.

Up Angeles Crest Highway or riding down PCH, it’s again the Honda that surprises with a greater turn of speed over the course of real road conditions. Riding it while RideApart staffer Wes Siler was on the V-Strom was one of the only times I’ve ever been faster. It’s simply light, friendly, communicative and confidence-inspiring to a more significant degree than the Suzuki, which already excels at all those traits.

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  • Travis McCartney

    I would be interested in how you feel the Honda stacks up against the Kawasaki Versys. They seem to be closer in spirit. Does the Honda render the Kawasaki moot?

    • Eric

      I have a Versys and I’ve ridden a 500X. They’re not the same bike, the Versys is night and day faster, more torque, more a handful to ride. Hence it’s price. Versys is still a Ninja 650 with a few tweaks to the motor and tall legs. I’m enjoying the Versys very much. But if I had ended up with the 500X I would have been just as happy to be sure. Great bikes.

  • MichaelEhrgott

    I have a SV650 and I agree that the motor on the Strom is an absolute gem. Once it gets past 7k RPMS you better hang on. :) Never ridden the CB though.

  • JerseyRider

    love the content but where are the video’s you guys have been promising for months?

    • http://RideApart.com/ Wes Siler

      We’re entering production on season 3 shortly.

      • Joe Bielski

        Yay, more Jamie…meow ;)

  • HellomynameisAG

    Old layout, old layout, old layout. Please. Pretty please.

  • TheUst

    I started riding last May and its write ups like these that put the CB500X at the top of my list for my step up. Awesome seeing experienced riders reviewing lower displacement bikes and still admitting they are fun to ride. Around my neck of the woods you get a lot of posers who will do nothing but tell you how bored you will get on anything less than a 600cc sports bike. I think I’ll stick to building my skills on a practical and fun bike while leaving the other guys to going down the interstate with their T shirts crawling up their acne covered backs.

    • CruisingTroll

      ouch!

    • Davidabl2

      Great, great line there about the other guys…

  • Scott

    What about the NC700x, would you pick that over the V-Strom?

    • http://RideApart.com/ Wes Siler

      Like the CB500X, it’d just depend on the rider. The NC will be easier to ride off-road than the V-strom, the suzuki will be a little more capable.

    • http://www.twitter.com/seanmacdonald sean macdonald

      for me, it was between the v-strom and nc for a long time, with the 500x replacing the 700 for me.

  • Stuki

    Do any of these have ANY business off pavement beyond any other bike? Could you put the 17″ knobbies from your desert test of the NC700x on them, and go anywhere at all that a Street Triple couldn’t go on similar tires?

    Also, what about the Duke 690? And the G650GS? Any reason to recommend either one over these two? The KTM seems very popular in Europe, where people actually get to test ride their bikes before buying….

    • http://RideApart.com/ Wes Siler

      Well, KTM is unable to provide motorcycles for media access. So don’t expect to see us cover them anytime soon.

      And the G650GS? I’ve just never been a fan. It’s heavy, slow and just not very capable.

      • jonoabq

        I’ve ridden the 650GS, Mini Strom, and the KLR(pre-07′ update I liked better than the new one). I’d put the the GS at the bottom of that list without hesitation.
        btw, Why no media access to the KTM?

      • HoldenL

        KTM provided Top Gear (UK version) some KTM dirt bikes once. I guess the Top Gear guys are more equal than others. It’s annoying that KTM made that one exception.

        Well, I suppose Top Gear could have bought the bikes. I doubt it, though.

        It was an episode where the Brits competed against Australians, and the KTMs exemplified an “Austrian-Australian what’s the diff” joke.

        • Kenneth

          Kevin Duke did a video review of the 690 Duke.

      • http://www.takoyaki.org barron

        “And the G650GS? I’ve just never been a fan. It’s heavy, slow and just not very capable.”

        The small GS is lighter than both bikes in this review. It’s great for shorter riders, gets around 63mpg, has been taken RTW (any bike can, really). Not sure what you mean by “not very capable”. Sure, there are some things to dislike, as with any bike, but not the things you mention.

    • Khali

      A very good point about those two, is that they have manteinance intervals of 10.000km instead of the usual 6.000km.
      The KTM 690′s must be a real blast to ride…really light, torquey and with good power.

  • tobykeller

    I used to own a V-Strom 650 and have rented a new Honda CB500 series for a day. I would say most of this is spot-on — the Honda is strangely fluid and easy to ride, turning in much better than the Strom with its 19″ front tire.

    But I would say the V-Strom has two major advantages that aren’t stressed enough here.

    1) it’s actually a capable off-roader if you throw a TKC-80 on the front. I used to keep up with a buddy on his DR650 on OHV trails. I took that thing everywhere, and aside from being a pig when dropped, it was willing and able.

    And 2) the power difference is very obvious. The CB500s just feel a bit pokey in a straight line or on the freeway.

  • JimMac

    I would love to make the CB500X my first bike. Unfortunately, my wife has other ideas.

    • jonoabq

      she is wrong.

      • JimMac

        Got a CBR250 instead. Wife still not pleased!

  • Brian Corcoran

    Any chance you could throw the 650 Versys into a review like this? I’m interested in all three, but coming up short on info about the Versys. As a tall rider it’s seat height appeals and while neither the V-Strom nor the Versys escaped a beating with the ugly stick, the V-Strom definitely got the worst of it…

    • http://www.twitter.com/seanmacdonald sean macdonald

      we’re getting some time on the Versys shortly!

      • UrbanMoto

        I’m really interested in hearing about the Versys 1000 Grand Tourer. Since we’re throwing out requests….

        • http://www.twitter.com/seanmacdonald sean macdonald

          Looks a) awesome and b) only in Europe.

    • HollywoodRider

      Versys should kill these guys in the fun department. It can tour better than the 500 and carve better than the Wee. IMO best all-rounder out right now for the price. Versys is the poor mans Multistrada, Wee is the poor mans GSA, 500 is the poor mans NC700X.

  • Piglet2010

    How about taking the bikes down a gravel road next time?

    • Generic42

      This, I’d really like to know how the Adventure part performs.

    • orangelion03

      And they missed an opportunity to ride the most spectacular gravel/dirt road on the Cali coast. Look up Old Coast Road, Big Sur. Right across the road from where they posed at the bridge.

  • http://www.lonewolfexpeditions.com/ Chad Berger

    Honda knows how to make great 500 class bikes!

  • Khali

    I own a previous model V-Strom.
    My tips for anyone thinking on buying a V-Strom:

    - You dont want the standard screen (buffeting even on the new model). Buy it directly with the touring screen (the one with the adjusting spoiler). If you are really tall or wear a dual sport helmet with peak, chances are that you will still have some buffeting. Remove the inferior screws and add a couple of washers to them, so the screen is a bit more inclinated towards you. This will solve it :)

    - Highway wobbling. I found that riding behind anything bigger than a small hatchback the bike wobbles at high speeds due to the wind the front vehicle is displacing. I added a fork brace to my wee, which eliminates this problem up to really high speeds. It also makes it more stable and responsive in any situations, plus hardens a bit the front suspensión. The best thing you can add to your v-strom.

    - Hard panniers: Dont buy them with the bike. Instead buy a big top case. You can still filter between cars with a top case (wich is always narrower than handlebars) and it will cover 90% of your luggage neccesities. It is also Handy as a backrest for the passenger. For hard panniers the best solution is SW-Motech quick lock hard supports. You bolt them in <5min to your bike, and can directly bolt any hard case (for example a Pelican case, or an ammunition box) to the supports. This is cheaper than any other configuration available, and covers all your luggage needs for any long travel.

    It is a great motorcycle, if you are not into speeding too much, it will cover any of your motorcyling needs. And it is a total blast in slow, curvy, mountain roads. The slower the road is, the more fun you will have.

  • roma258

    I thought y’all don’t do comparison tests :)

  • John

    Would have been more curious about the NC700X versus the V-Strom. These reviews are always Apple vs Orange with the verdict that the Apple makes a better apple and the Orange makes a better orange.

  • Chris Cope

    I really value these reviews. I’ve been thinking a lot about getting the V-Strom 650 but am hesitant because I very often end up having my wife join me on trips. She’s not heavy or any such thing, and y’all have said the V-Strom 650 is one of the best for two-up. I wonder if that’s true over distances of 70-150 miles, with a bit of luggage. I prefer dealing with a lighter bike, but should I be looking at the new V-Strom 1000?

    • http://www.lonewolfexpeditions.com/ Chad Berger

      The 650 is just fine for 2-up riding!

  • socalutilityrider

    I own a 2008 DL650 and ride two up on it with my girlfriend on long trips, at crazy socal freeway speeds/ traffic where you need bursts of velocity while already going fast to avoid being run over, with two panniers and Givi’s biggest top case all the time and it does phenomenal. Last trip was up and over a mountain that went from sea level to 5,500 feet in short order with constant hairpin turns (Mt.Palomar South Grade), always more than enough power on tap. When riding solo, its nice to not have the extra uneeded weight of the 1000 as well.

  • orangelion03

    Would have been interesting to see how they stack up if you had turned left at the north end of Bixby Bridge and taken Old Coast Road. I know these are really not intended for serious off-road work, but they are nominally “adventure” bikes, and could handle graded/groomed dirt roads. A few guys in my moto-club take their Wee-Stroms into the back country, and while no KLR, they manage.

  • Paul

    Great write up! Which one of these would handle a 240lb rider better? V-strom because of the bigger engine?