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2012 Suzuki V-Strom 650 First Ride

Tuesday, October 18, 2011
Motorcycle USA will have an opportunity to test the all-new 2012 Suzuki V-Strom 650 ABS early next month, but our Memorable Motorcycles correspondent beat us to the punch. Our man Melling sampled the new and improved baby V-Strom from a dealer test ride in his native England. An enthusiastic owner of a V-Strom 1000, here’s Frank’s first ride take on its revitalized smaller sibling - MCUSA Ed
2012 Suzuki V-Strom 650
Our man Melling got first dibs on Suzuki's 2012 V-Strom 650 - the wee-strom a significant redesign of its predecessor.
If ever Suzuki had a difficult job to do in convincing a potential customer, it would be selling the DL650 to me. First, I did not rate the earlier incarnation of the baby V-Strom which I thought was bland, dull and overtly budget specification. Second, I didn’t believe that the now aged 650cc V-Twin engine could be successfully modernized and finally, I am the world’s biggest fan of the Suzuki DL1000 – the one true V-Strom.
But I hold up my hands and plead guilty. I badly misjudged Suzuki’s latest Adventure bike and I was in for a real shock when I rode Crooks-Suzuki’s demonstrator.
Start with first impressions. Even for hardcore V-Strom junkies like me there is no arguing that the V-Strom thou, and its baby sister were, and are, stunningly ugly bikes. You might want to get off a V-Strom thou and give it a cuddle for carrying you all day with sublime elegance but you never went into the garage to admire the bike’s beauty. Functional, effective and loyal – definitely yes. An object of lust – no, unless you fantasize about making love to a Marine Corps drill instructor with a broken nose.
By contrast, the new V-Strom really is a looker – and no argument. It is much slimmer and generally more svelte than either the Versys or Triumph Tiger 800 and has the appearance of a running back, compared with the offensive lineman's bulk of BMW’s GS1200. Adventure bikes don’t come any more appealing.
The finish is also much better than previous Suzukis with the pearlescent white of our test bike being particularly pleasing. I doubt whether Suzuki has reformed in terms of their consistently low standards of corrosion protection, so you will still have to hose the bike down regularly, but at least there will be the incentive to do so.
2012 Suzuki V-Strom 650
2012 Suzuki V-Strom 650
The '12 V-Strom 650 tantilizes the eyes better than its utilitarian predecessor and current 1000cc sibling.
The overall fit and finish is much better, too. A fault with the budget Suzukis has always been the accountants’ department trying to shave cents off every part on the bike but the baby V-Strom looks, and feels, very fair value for money. Who would have imagined the latest V-Strom’s genuine, fake carbon fiber appearing on its utilitarian predecessor?
Martin Crooks, owner of the legendary Crooks-Suzuki dealership, had fitted the optional lower saddle to our test bike and this too is interesting. With its anorexically thin waist, and low saddle, there is, at last, an Adventure bike which can be credibly sold to female customers. Anyone over 65 inches in height will get on fine with the V-Strom.
Allied with super model slim hips is a beautiful centralization of mass. This is worth an explanation. Take a bag of sugar and hold it next to your chest. Now, take the same bag and hold it out at arm’s length. It’s the same weight of sugar but it will appear to be much heavier when held a long way from your body.
The same holds true for a motorcycle. The nearer the bike’s mass is to the center line of the motorcycle, the lighter the bike will feel. In this respect a single-cylinder engine, or a V-Twin, is the best of all the engine configurations.
Suzuki also put the V-Strom on a diet and the new bike is 11 pounds lighter than its ancestor, now weighing in at very creditable 472 pounds – plus 40 something pounds for a full tank of fuel. This weight needs putting into perspective. Yamaha’s Super Tenere is a full 100 pounds heavier – that’s almost two full sacks of potatoes in extra weight, as us country living hillbillies will tell you.
In fact, the DL is only 59 pounds heavier than Yamaha’s outstanding XT660 Tenere Single (which us sad Americans do not get to see) – the Suzuki is that good!
Combine the new, light weight with the inherent advantages of the bike’s V-Twin layout and the outcome is a bike which is starting to feel much more like a big, single-cylinder trail bike than a middleweight Adventure motorcycle.
2012 Suzuki V-Strom 650
With a new claimed dry weight of 472 pounds the V-Strom is 11 pounds lighter.
The chassis is a case of good news and bad news. In some respects, the V-Strom is a class leader with an aluminum twin spar frame and swingarm which is, arguably, lighter and stronger than its competitors.
The brakes too are state of the art for a bike in this class, featuring the latest Bosch ABS system. At 310mm front and 260mm rear, they are seriously good anchors too. I am positive that they would have no problem in handling two-up, fully loaded riding even when dropping down off mountain passes.
Only the suspension shows that the bean counters still have active desks at Suzuki. Both the front and rear are less than they should be – not bad but just about adequate when the bike deserves better.
The ancillary bits and pieces really are on the pace. The fuel tank is well protected by panels which will save the V-Strom owner a lot of money in the case of a fall and the electronic dash is fun, effective and modern.
With gas costing over $9 a gallon in Britain, the fuel economy read out is now becoming an essential item of information for touring riders but I also liked the ambient temperature information. Here in Britain we’re getting to the time of the year when early evening frosts are possible and keeping an eye on falling temperatures is a sensible safety aid.
The fuel consumption read out also leads to an unconscionably smug feeling as you cruise past sports bike riders and car drivers. 50 mpg is no problem and it is possible to coax over 55 mpg – and more – with a bit of care. This means that the V-Strom will manage an easy 200 miles between re-fills of the 5.2 gallon tank - and that is top end performance for any motorcycle.
2012 Suzuki V-Strom 650
The 2012 V-Strom upgrades its powerplant from the older SV650 to the V-Twin powering the Gladius middleweight.
At first sight, the DL’s engine is back to the past. Launched in 1999 as the SV650, the motor has been used in everything from initial rider training machines to quite serious race bikes in the popular Mini-Twins series. Despite its undoubted success I have never been that keen on the mid-weight V-Twin for one simple reason: it has always been a characterless lump. Now, despite looking the same as earlier incarnations, Suzuki really have pulled off some clever engineering with the new motor.
In fact, despite being touted as an all-new engine, the DL650 isn’t. The truth is that it is largely lifted from the Gladius – Suzuki’s latest reincarnation of the venerable SV650.
In the DL650 version of the motor, this means twin plug heads and new pistons, fuel injectors and camshafts aimed at improving mid-range power. There is also a new crank and improved gas flow, linked into fresh ECU engine mapping.
The DL also has its own air box assembly and exhaust, again touted as improving mid-range power.
And the winner is…
Not only is the V-Strom the best engine in its class – and that includes the formidably good Triumph 800 – but it is also a challenger for the best motor in an Adventure bike, in any sector.
2012 Suzuki V-Strom 650
While the Suzuki's suspension felt adequate to the task, it had our tester wishing for more performance at times.
At one end of the scale, the DL650 will pull from literally tickover all the way to 10,000 rpm – and with turbine smoothness. As an experiment, I tried riding at 25 mph, two-up and loaded with photographic gear – in sixth gear! Simply open the throttle and the V-Strom pulls away with effortless grace.
At the other end of its performance range, the motor revs on like a two-stroke Twin. In all conditions it is sweet, inoffensive and willing.
Suzuki claim 69 horsepower for the engine and, in a way, this figure does a disservice to the real life power it makes. In practical terms, think more of a 90-hp touring machine and you will get a sense of the sort of power the rider feels is available. There are 44 lb-ft of torque at 6400rpm but again this is deceptive because of the utterly linear delivery of the power.
Linked with a completely outstanding powerplant is one of the sweetest gearboxes ever fitted to a motorcycle and a clutch so light that it is an almost single finger operation.
The single dominating factor with any Adventure bike has got to be that it gets on with the job without making a fuss. It’s okay nursing an MV Agusta F4 round the parking lot because you will be blinded by the lights from camera flashes as fans want to capture the image of your mechanical god.
You can tolerate spending ten minutes persuading a British classic to burst into life because that’s part of the lifestyle you choose but an Adventure bike has got to fade into the background and just do exactly what is required almost without you noticing it is there. In this key respect, the V-Strom is the master.
2012 Suzuki V-Strom 650
A tall windscreen and comfortable riding position had our contributor ready to tackle the highway for legitimate touring.
The first job in leaving Martin’s shop in the center of Barrow-in-Furness was to thread our way through the heavy lunch-time traffic. Narrow as a scooter, but with an imperiously high riding position which gave a bird’s eye view of the queuing traffic ahead, the V-Strom had us out of town with zero fuss.

Out on to County highways, the workload was minimal. Any gear, any throttle position and the V-Strom just got on with its business.

British roads are suffering from financial cut backs and so are now invariably rough through a lack of maintenance. In these conditions, the budget nature of the suspension could be felt. It’s not that the handling was frightening, or even bad, but rather that it could have been better. I know that a high riding position and soft(ish) suspension is not made for sports riding but you do get the “if only” feeling. If only Suzuki had spent another $50, at factory prices, on the suspension the result would be a quite outstanding motorcycle.

The riding position is excellent. The big screen provides plenty of protection but it is disappointing that the near essential hand guards are optional extras. Has no-one at Suzuki heard of rain and cold?

I would have preferred the normal seat height but even so the V-Strom was clearly designed for all day in the saddle. The pillion was just as well cared for and with a large top box to lean against we would have no problem with 200-300 miles, two up, in a day.

Finally, I decided to punish the bike with a real world test which should have ruined its day. Heading out of Barrow is a long, steep climb towards Ulverston. This extended haul simply killed the old 650 V-Strom and left the rider in no doubt that the DL 1000 was the answer. Now, the situation
2012 Suzuki V-Strom 650
While a bone-stock V-Strom isn't meant for heavy off-road use, simple additions like an engine guard could greatly increase its versatility and adventure quotient.   
is reversed. The new V-Strom flowed up, dismissing the climb as an irrelevance: really surprising and a very powerful demonstration of all that is best in Adventure bike riding.

Clearly, the DL is not aimed at the serious off-road market. It has only a 19” front wheel and the front cylinder is dangerously exposed to rocks or tree roots. Even so, there is an interesting twist to the bike’s potential. Crooks-Suzuki fit a plastic shield to all the bikes they sell which gives a lot of protection to the normally exposed oil filter and front exhaust pipe. With this shield, and a two teeth smaller gearbox sprocket – a simple job to change – the DL would easily manage routes like the Magruder Corridor which MCUSA used in its 2011 Adventure Touring Shootout – and give the rider a lot of pleasure in the process.

If European pricing is continued, the DL650 will sell at around $10,000, though US MSRP is still to be determined. But if $10K is the asking price, for this sort of money it has to be the best buy on the market. Add a crankcase shield, hand guards and a good sized top box and you will have a bike which will do everything from commuting, to a trip over the Great Divide – and everything in between.

In the final analysis, would I trade our much loved V-Strom 1000 for the new 650? Yes, quite simply because the baby V-Strom has moved Suzuki Adventure tourers on to the next level.

Our thanks to Crooks Suzuki for the loan of our test bike.
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2012 Suzuki V-Strom 650
2012 Suzuki V-Strom 650
Engine: Four-stroke, liquid-cooled, DOHC, V-Twin
Fuel Delivery: Fuel-injection
Transmission: 6-speed contant mesh
Front Suspension: Telescopic, coil spring, oil damped
Rear Suspension: Link type, coil spring, oil damped
Front Brakes: Disc brake, twin
Rear Brake: Disc brake
Front Wheel: 110/80R19M/C 59H
Rear Wheel: 150/70R17M/C 69H
Curb Weight: 472 lbs.
Wheelbase: 61.4 in.
Length: 90.2 in.
Seat Height: 32.9 in.
Fuel Capacity: 5.3 gal.
Warranty: 12 Months
Suzuki Dealer Locator
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Poncho167   October 26, 2011 04:05 PM
Way too much $$$ for this bike. It was a bargain at $7,200 or whatever it was a few years ago, but not $10,000. There are way to many bikes in this price range that are purpose built adventure tourers, this is not one of them.

Not even close to having the best engine in an adventurer tourer.
MCUSA Bart   October 26, 2011 03:55 PM
Sloride, fair enough.

Once the Wee-Stroms are available for more intensive road tests, I'm sure we'll get a comparison test, or maybe a Middleweight AT Shootout in the works.

Keep checking back, preferably daily!!! (That goes for all the rest of yous)
sloride   October 26, 2011 03:31 PM
Hi Bart. I was also going off the spec sheets for the Super Tenere, since that is what Frank did for the Wee. As for your weight of the Super Tenere in your test, you not only had the optional saddlebags, you had the optional engine/crash bars and skid plate. I guess we'll have to wait until you get test the 2012 Wee with optional bags, bars, etc and then weigh the bike before we can say that it is 100 pounds lighter than the Super Tenere.
Melling   October 26, 2011 01:58 PM
Thanks once again for all the perceptive and valid comments. The best that I can add is that the baby V-Strom is $10,000 compromise - and we should not lose sight of this key fact. It won't handle as well as a Multistrada; it won't gobble high speed miles in the manner of a 1050 Tiger and it will definitely not have the ultra cool pose status of a Beemer loaded with Metal Mule luggage. But, if you don't ride regularly through 10,000 feet high passes, or scorch around at a genuine 100mph, or grow stubble so that you can look real "round the world tough" the V-Strom is actually a brilliant, affordable compromise for those riders who, like me, can neither afford or need the best. And this card, in these days of tight finance, is typically clever Suzuki card in the same style as the hugely successful Bandit family.
MCUSA Bart   October 26, 2011 01:18 PM
sloride. Frank didn't have access to our scales to make an independent weight reading, so we have to go off the spec sheet claims for now.

What MotoUSA can say for certain is that topped off with fuel and with empty saddlebags, the Super Tenere weighed in at 636 pounds when we tested it in our 2011 Adventure-Touring Shootout http://www.motorcycle-usa.com/12/11079/Motorcycle-Article/2011-Adventure-Touring-Shootout.aspx

sloride   October 26, 2011 12:59 PM
Thank you for the fine review. I question your statement about the Super Tenere being a full 100 pounds heavier than the Wee Strom. You state the Wee is 472 pounds and then say to add 40 pounds for fuel, which would bring it up to 512. The Super Tenere is 575 pounds, including its 6 gallons of fuel already onboard. Not a big deal, just clarifying. The old Wee Strom is a fine bike, in my opinion and if this is better, it will be very good indeed.
Piglet2010   October 25, 2011 06:34 PM
With all the gravel roads around here, might consider the Wee if it handles loose surfaces well (the Battlax BT020 tires on my current bike do not like gravel). Fuel economy of the Wee seems only so-so to me, as my 50-pound heavier NT700V has almost the same power and is getting 60+ mpg after the 600 mile oil change - maybe the all-around tires have more rolling resistance?. Dealer service would be inconvenient, since I would go to the not so local dealer to avoid being second class (the local Suzuki dealer's primary interest is H-D, with Brand S being a sideline).
SGTBob   October 25, 2011 01:58 PM
I owned a weestrom for over 4 years. I sold it to my son in 2010. After a year without a Vstrom, I took a shot and purchased a Vstrom 1000. After riding the 1000 for a season, I have discovered that I like the "top end" speed of the 1000, but I really miss the wee, as most of my riding is at 60mph or lower. I have determined that I like the wee more than the 1000, so with a new version of the wee coming in 2012, I'll be trading the 1000 in on a new 2012 wee, come spring. I love that little wee even with all of its "faults".
mojave   October 23, 2011 07:46 PM
Piglet, I live at 2500 feet and almost everything around me is higher, sometimes much higher. I sometimes forget this.

But on another note, my Multistrada (MTS1000DS) probably made 80 RWHP but with it's big midrange and screaming topend it just seemed HUGE. Maybe Suzuki has found the Ducati secret.
Piglet2010   October 22, 2011 10:37 PM
One thing to keep in mind is that Melling rode the "Wee" at an elevation near sea level, while a normally aspirated engine will lose significant power (e.g. about 40% loss at the top of Loveland Pass in Colorado) at higher altitudes. Most mountain passes in the US are lower than Loveland, so altitude related power losses will generally be in the range of 30% or less for most riding.
mojave   October 22, 2011 07:23 AM
If the "fade" happens at a true 100mph, that's fine with me, means top speed is 115 or so. That's enough. Fade - the bike is feeling soft, the throttle is half open and giving it more creates modest acceleration you only detect by watching the speedo.

By way of background, the Wee's I've ridden start this at about 80mph GPS (90 on the dash!). Top speed sitting up is around 107-110 on my wrist GPS. I'll use the R1150GS as an example of a bike I thought had adequate power. It WOULD sit happily at 85 (GPS), even with a mild grade or headwind. I got that bike up to 122mph GPS once. Too bad it weighed 600 pounds.

The reason I've ridden the Wee is I like the format and I've tried to buy one three different times! But I just could not get past the engine. On the other hand, a friend of mind just LOVES his and has ridden it ALL over Mexico and Central America. He's in the process of getting a Tiger 800.

When I test rode the Tiger 800 I was really impressed with the low and mid range of the engine - the bike goes NOW. Not impressed so much with the top end, nonetheless, it had plenty. What I thought at the time was nice bike but no way am I dropping $13,000 OTD for it.

I'm impressed and interested by this review (still skeptical too). I appreciate Frank taking an interest in the murmurs of the readers. I have a short list of bikes I'm interested in (BCR sells today I hope!) but it is now one longer I think.

JC   October 21, 2011 04:17 PM
Wow, I can't wait to ride this bike! Frank sure makes it sound like a miracle of Suzuki engineering. I hope to be as pleasantly surprised as he is. Currently, Bart and I are battling over who gets to hit the American press launch.
Melling   October 21, 2011 08:26 AM
First, thanks to everyone for responding to this article. Please be assured that I am not over rating the either the motor or the whole bike. In fact, I was expecting very little and, as the story tells, the baby V-Strom amazed me.

In particular, be prepared for a shock with the motor. It will manage 80mph all day, uphill and fully loaded without a murmur. I am completely sure of this because of the way it simply ate the hills around Martin Crooks’ shop.

I am equally sure that it will fade above 100mph – particularly two-up and with full luggage. In these situations my choice would be the Tiger 1050.

Equally, you have to be honest with yourself. In every 100 hours riding how many of these will you spend above 100mph and how many below 50mph? In fact, how many hours will you be pottering around riding to the shopping mall or admiring beautiful scenery at 30mph? Except for the 100mph plus, the DL650 will be the bike to ride – and that’s fact.
themountain   October 20, 2011 08:22 AM
Looks much nicer , but with the weak suspension, still 50 pounds+ too much and this price ticket I doubt it will be a success as an adventure bike.
mojave   October 19, 2011 06:05 PM
I've ridden three different Wees, all different years, and no, there wasn't anything wrong with them. They were not nearly as stout as the 800. Why would they be? I've also ridden SV650's and DL1000's. It's well established that most wee owners are happy with the power of their bikes. I wasn't, though I liked the wee's other qualities.

It's not around town I mean, it's the open road. The wee's I've ridden start feeling a little up against it by 80 mph. Out in the open west what with head winds and grades 10 miles long the wee is underpowered (for me). Not so with the Tiger 800! Or the R1150GS I owned, or the Multistrada I owned.

I will ride a 2012 when I can. Who knows? Maybe it will be a miracle!

Seattle650   October 19, 2011 05:10 PM
mojave - have you ridden both the current 650 Strom and the Tiger 800? There is virtually no difference in engine performance until you get over 9,000 revs, where the Tiger keeps pulling and the Strom shifts. Over 60 the Tiger was fun, but I spend 99% of my time in town, on twisty roads, and in the dirt, where the Strom is just as good. Adding more meat to the bottom end is just going to make the Strom even better where it is already good. And piglet... no. The Strom 1000 is dead.
wibby   October 19, 2011 01:31 PM
Must have been something wrong the older 650 the writer rode :dunno I've never wished for more power, even fully loaded I've put over 92,000 miles on my Wee
curley   October 19, 2011 11:53 AM
the DL1000 would need a new clutch design and a drive shaft... Suzuki could do both but I believe euro emissions are the big hurdle to an upgraded DL1000 - sorry Mr."S", really like my DL1000..it's been a great partner, but going spend my future $s with that crossed tuning forks company.
neo1piv014   October 19, 2011 08:50 AM
If they pulled the engine from the Gladius, that means they basically pulled an engine comparable to an ER-6n/f. Yeah, that's a good engine for around town, but I don't see any way that's got the grunt and power for an adventure touring bike. I know you really like the bike, but too much over the top praise like that makes me wonder what else was an exaggeration that I just didn't catch.
mojave   October 19, 2011 06:44 AM
This reviewer seems a little breathless and absurd in his praise!

"Not only is the V-Strom the best engine in its class – and that includes the formidably good Triumph 800 – but it is also a challenger for the best motor in an Adventure bike, in any sector."

I've ridden three older Wee's and one Tiger 800. There is a HUGE difference in the engines.

As much as I would like what he says to be true - I would buy one! - I just don't believe it. I think it would take a miracle for Suzuki to make that weezy little 650 feel even equal to the mighty Tiger 800, let alone KTM 950/990, 1200/800GS, etc.

"Not only is the V-Strom the best engine in its class – and that includes the formidably good Triumph 800 – but it is also a challenger for the best motor in an Adventure bike, in any sector."

Piglet2010   October 18, 2011 06:39 PM
Will the "liter" V-Strom be getting the same updates as the "Wee-Strom"?