revamped its popular V-Strom 650 for 2012 and it represents the street-biased side of the 2012 650 Adventure Touring Shootout. A muscular V-Twin sets the stage for the Wee-Strom which uses its extra power to its advantage. Total displacement is only 645cc but the additional cylinder from the 90-degree configuration really makes a difference.
The V-Strom easily outpaces its single-cylinder competitors with a healthy 64.43 horsepower that comes at 9000 rpm, just 700 before the rev limiter kicks in. Perfect fueling from the EFI allows the rider to dial in exactly how much they need. The power pulls from way down in the rpm all the way to redline with maximum torque (42.7 lb-ft) coming at 6600 rpm. The torque curve is virtually flat, refusing to taper off until the it nears the 8000 rpm mark. This spread of torque is excellent for street and dirt use where riders can shift less often and make better use of the wide powerplant.
“The V-Strom has one amazing motor,” raves our tour guide. “I simply cannot find fault with it. It pulls smoothly from just above idle, is responsive, happy to rev and makes totally seamless power throughout the rev range.”
Madson backed that up, saying: “The Wee Strom clearly stomps its 650 rivals in the engine department. Not only is it way more powerful with that extra cylinder, the V-Twin is smooth and refined where the other bikes seem crude.”
It was to be a common theme across the board when comparing the Suzuki to the other bikes. It has a clear advantage in refinement. V-Strom engineers have the bike so dialed it’s easy to appreciate it in almost any scenario. The six-speed transmission operates flawlessly, complementing the engine and giving the bike much better highway manners.
“The Suzuki has a somewhat narrow clutch engagement,” notes Dave. “Beyond that I think the clutch, gearbox and final drive work in perfect harmony with the Strom’s excellent motor, giving the rider total control of output and revs for every situation. The V-Strom’s smooth-shifting six-speed is a huge advantage over the Singles’ less refined five-speed trannys.”
The Suzuki is a great street bike, but also handles lightly off-road without issue. The V-Twin engine is pure gold, though it offers an exposed oil filter and exhaust to potential damage.
Rider protection is also a standout feature with a three-position adjustable windscreen. Tall footpegs make the ergonomics cramped for taller riders, but it boasts the greatest clearance when hustling through twisty pavement. Standing is awkward but the seat is comfortable and the ergos allow the rider to tuck behind the small cowling. The handlebars are a long reach even for our tall trio of riders, but they are narrow, keeping the elbows in and minimizing the amount of wind pressure on the shoulders. Side-to-side transitions are smooth and swift, though it’s noticeably heavier than the other bikes at 472 pounds. The 5.3-gallon fuel tank is in the traditional location and with a 50-miles-per-gallon average it’s good for about 265 miles.
Comfort and stability are excellent with a 43mm fork and hand-adjustable shock. Unlike the other bikes we never felt the desire to make any changes. The fork is non-adjustable anyway, but damping and spring rates are fantastic on the street and adequate for improved dirt. There’s plenty of feedback through the suspension and chassis, giving the rider more confidence in the pavement handling than any of the other bikes. It doesn’t transition quite as quickly as the Singles, but it’s more predictable and consistent. It stays planted like nobody’s business and is easy to gather up when the pilot makes an error. Part of the equation stems from an excellent set of brakes.
The electronic package is by far the best in general and is highlighted by a sweet ABS system. The brakes are powerful and modulate easily in all conditions. Dual front rotors are grabbed by two-piston calipers while a single rear disc handles the back end. The ABS is not switchable, but we never felt the need to disable it in the dirt thanks to its unobtrusive nature. The Suzuki was fine everywhere in the dirt except for a few muddy spots where the Trail Wing tires and heavier front end weren’t happy. Even still, the brakes were never an issue.
“The Suzuki has amazing brakes,” exclaims our world traveler. “Great feel, totally progressive and powerful – the first ABS system I’ve felt really comfortable with in the dirt. It only cuts braking power at the very limit of traction and then only gives gentle pulsing at the levers rather than the violent reactions of most systems.”
Standing is awkward with very high footpegs.
The digital menu has plenty of available information which is accessed by a left-side handlebar switch, but the tach is analog, which we prefer.
“There’s a lot of useful data to access – particularly the ambient temperature, fuel gauge and gear position indicator,” says our tech-hungry Managing Editor. “I love that everything can be shuffled around via switchgear info button too. The Suzuki backlight can also be adjusted, a nice feature.”
Many will argue that the V-Strom isn’t a true adventure bike. Granted, it’s the most vulnerable and will fare the worst if it gets dropped. But then again, many - or even most - adventure riders never get further away from pavement than an occasional gravel road. Even we weren’t sure if the V-Strom really belonged in this test to begin with, but after trolling through forums, fielding questions from adventure riders and scanning the details of the new Wee-Strom, it’s clear that the Suzuki is a solid competitor with the two Singles. The engine is dangerously exposed with the oil filter dangling off the front and the exhaust header routed underneath. This forces extreme caution around any bigger obstacle, even if that’s hopping over parking curbs. The Suzuki 650 ranks last in off-road performance, but takes the top spot in touring performance.
“Off-road the Wee-Strom performs well enough for the typical adventure touring rider’s realistic OHV journeys – well groomed gravel and dirt,” confirms Madson, who enjoyed the 2012 Suzuki V-Strom 650 Adventure First Ride
“The V-Strom’s ultra-smooth motor and chassis and better wind protection would make it best by miles,” says Riant of the Suzuki’s long-distance comfort. “For those under 5'10" and riding 80% street and 20% good dirt, the V-Strom is a far superior motorcycle,” assures our pickiest test rider.
All of our testers were happy to give the Suzuki high marks. The stellar performance from its engine, transmission and brakes make it an easy bike to enjoy.
Clearly the V-Strom is no trail bike, but the Suzuki can easily handle moderate dirt. It offers a similar type of street/dirt performance and capability that we expect from a big adventure machine – basically the rider needs to respect its limitations a bit more than the other motorcycles. But, unlike the big luxo-AT machines, the 650 offers versatile touring performance in a much more manageable package. Our time with the 650 ABS proves that it’s a comfortable and pleasant all-around companion. It might not be as good off-road as its competitors, but it makes up for it as the only bike in this test that could comfortably handle two-up riding. Our test riders were happy to hand out first-place votes for the Suzuki in multiple categories and the engine performance put it a notch above in the hard data. It’s a winner in our books and on our scoresheets as well.