2012 Suzuki V-Strom 650 - Review

What makes a motorcycle good? Is it big horsepower numbers and a long list of novel technology? Its ability to triple the highway speed limit? Is it presence in a TV show or its ability to impress your buddies on a motorcycle forum? This new 2012 Suzuki V-Strom 650 has none of that. When it leaked last year, we even called it boring. But, after spending over a month on it, that opinion has changed totally. The V-Strom might not be the sexiest motorcycle out there, but it is the most broadly capable we’ve ridden.

Photos: Sean Smith

Yikes

I didn’t want to ride the V-Strom. Totally content with the Triumph Tiger 800 XC I’d been cruising around on for a while, I didn’t even realize Sean and Grant had added it to our fleet. Then, while we were in Portland, Triumph picked its bike back up and I was left to hop back on whatever was waiting for me in Sean’s garage. It turned out that bike was the V-Strom.

Someone at Suzuki's design center forgot to sweep up.

Not so much plain as just hideously ugly, the Suzuki suffers from an unfortunate visual combination of Dame Edna headlamps, a hefty use of woefully fake carbon fiber, dumpy proportions, ugly mechanical components and just a general air of cheapness. In all black, at least, it’s so boring that you forget you’re looking at it.

That brings its own benefits. Running from Hollywood over to Inglewood the other day, to service one of Sean’s bell rings, I was too busy busting traffic to realize I’d entered a 25 zone in a neighborhood. On the wrong side of a double yellow, passing a line of stationary traffic, well over the speed limit, I passed a motor cop coming the other direction. He didn’t even blink; I don’t think the V-Strom even registered in his consciousness.

A Two-Wheeled Taxi Cab

And running around is what the V-Strom has been doing. Grant needed to run up to Willow Springs, an hour and a half of highway riding away, to scout a shoot we were doing. Did he take the KTM 990 Adventure, Aprilia Mana GT or that Tiger we had laying around? Nope, his go-to for highway comfort was the humble Suzuki.

Two weeks ago, I had to run to Brea so a 6’ 5” Frenchman could return a bike to the Victory dealer there. 45 minutes there, then an hour back, two up, with 385lbs and 12’ 7” of international bike journalist on board, through heavy LA rush hour traffic. After spending 30 seconds maxing out the rear preload via the handy remote adjuster, the little Suzuki didn’t just perform admirably carrying that load, it turned out to be probably the best passenger bike I’d ever ridden. Enough, that by the time we arrived home, David exclaimed at least six times, “I can’t believe I’m alive! I can’t believe I’m alive!”

The huge seat, low pillion pegs and enormous grab handles help there, obviously, but more important is the ability of the chassis to remain composed even carrying such an extraordinary load. Just a 68bhp 650, I was worried about the engine and brakes being up to the task too. I shouldn’t have been. From the first 1mph ride across the dealer’s parking lot to turn onto the road, it was clear that the V-Strom was going to remain utterly composed even with two big dudes on board. That remained true at 100mph, nearly fully leant over on a nice on-ramp and splitting up a gridlocked 101 at low speed to get home. The V-Strom was absolutely as good two-up as it is solo.

Stop!

The single best thing about this bike? The brakes. They’re not radials, there’s no braided steel lines, even Suzuki’s official spec sheet doesn’t make must mention of them, just listing “Disc brake, twin” in place of the typical marketing hullabaloo. There’s humble twin Tokico sliding calipers up front and an ABS sensor ring. It’s the latter that makes the difference. Squeeze the front lever as hard as you can, stomp on the rear, and the Suzuki just stops. No drama, no vibration, no weird feedback from the ABS unit. These are some of the most reassuring, powerful, easy-to-use motorcycle brakes ever. Reasonable quality damping means the front dives in a controlled manner while delivering excellent feedback through the Bridgestone Trailwings.

The brakes work equally well when you’re not panic braking too. Again, good damping and excellent feel through every component just equals complete confidence. That’s true trailing through high speed mountain corners, between lines of traffic in town or just before that cop with the radar gun sees you on the highway. If you’re not a believer in ABS on motorcycles yet, just try the V-Strom and prepare to be a total convert.

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