As regular readers of this site will know, I rather like my Suzuki V-Strom 650. It’s comfortable, economical, practical and, most importantly, fun. Because if a motorcycle isn’t fun to ride, then we might as well all drive Toyota Priuses. But what if someone told you that there was a motorcycle that combined all the practical things you loved about your V-Strom 650 with the intoxicating, brutal acceleration and brakes of your Street Triple R? Wouldn’t you be tempted to have all of the things, all of the time, rather than have to make a choice every time you opened the garage?
My brother believes that anything that compromises the performance of a motorcycle is a bad thing. He reckons that sportsbikes are the purest expression of the art, and will happily tour for 12-hour days with throw-over luggage on his Honda VTR1000. I, on the other hand, like to be warm, dry and comfortable as well, hence a long string of upright, faired and hard-luggaged motorcycles. A course of advanced motorcycle training taught me how to exploit every one of those 70 horsepowers and safely keep up with most sportsbikes on the road, much to the bemusement of their riders. When my Bandit was destroyed in a crash I decided to see how the other half lives, and purchased a Triumph Street Triple R, and it is brilliant. But when it’s -7 celsius you really want heated grips and a windshield, and touring in Europe really is a lot easier with lockable hard luggage.
After 13,000 miles on my V-Strom I’ve got most things set up the way I want, and have either installed or bookmarked all the upgrades I’d like. I didn’t even look at the V-Strom 1000 when I was shopping for the 650 because the retail on a basic, unadorned model was £10,000 in the UK, making a loaded model with all the stuff I’d want (luggage, handguards, centre stand etc.) a £12,000 motorcycle. Compared to the lightly-used & fully-loaded £5k 650 I located, there wasn’t even a contest.
But as time and miles pass things change. For the sort of riding I do my V-Strom 650 could really benefit with a new shock and some serious upgrades to the front forks. The brakes are good, especially compared to some of the competition, but there is nevertheless some serious room for improvement. And while the engine output is more than adequate for most occasions, two-up overtakes require a lot of planning and quite a long stretch of clear road to execute. It might not matter if I’d never ridden anything faster – but my Street Triple will hurl you forward in the right gear, allowing the rider to take advantage of much smaller gaps. It’s also an awful, awful lot of fun.
So here we have a V-Strom 650 that “needs” £1300 worth of suspension and £300 worth of brake upgrades, and a Street Triple R that Triumph want to charge me £1000 to perform the 24k mile valve check on. We also have a market full of low-mileage, fully-loaded V-Strom 1000’s for around £7-8k. I think you can see where I’m going with this. Could I swap two bikes for one that could do both jobs? There was only one way to find out.
First impressions are odd. The 1000 looks and feels smaller than its lower-capacity sibling, with divisive looks that take the V-Strom brand in a completely different direction than even the 2012 V-Strom 650 refresh that my own bike is derived from. This gives it a reduced frontal area that reduces the size of the air bubble behind the fairing and windshield, but brings it more in-line with the current industry styling trend towards skinny and beaky.
Sitting on the bike it doesn’t feel any heavier than the on-paper lighter 650, although the firmer suspension does mean the seat height remains higher. It’s not enough to trouble me at 5’10, and lowering links etc. are easy enough to install for shorter riders. Setting off, the ride feels instantly improved – communicative, yet supple – you can feel the surface the road through the handlebars, but all the hard edges are taken off the big bumps. The result is tremendously confidence inspiring, and shows just how soft and soggy the stock suspension on the 650 is. Leaning into turns you don’t get the same flopping effect caused by the suspension trying to extend away from you, making mid-corner adjustments much easier.
Once you’ve finished enjoying the ride quality and touch the brakes you find that the forks are well-damped under braking too. And they’d have to be – a single-finger pull of the radially-mounted four-pot calipers on the front two disks will bring the V-Strom 1000 to a very dramatic halt. They’re so sharp that they could catch out a less experienced rider, but everyone else will enjoy the sheer stopping power and tremendous feel they offer.
Of course, once you’ve slowed down you’ll want to speed up again, and a twist of the smooth cable-operated throttle will have the bike launching forward with surprising urgency. Suzuki rebuilt and retuned their original TL1000 V-Twin by giving it additional capacity (1,037cc now) and flattening the torque curve to the point where peak shove arrives at just 4,000 RPM. To anyone used to having to spin up an engine to 7,000RPM just to get going this will come as a real surprise – and a real treat. You can short-shift whenever you want and still have enough power to launch the bike past any obstructive traffic. Overtakes suddenly become very easy indeed.
This is the first bike Suzuki ever fitted a traction control system to, and it’s easy enough to adjust with the handlebar-mounted controls. I was riding on warm, dry roads and so wasn’t able to get the system to interfere no matter what I did, but I suppose it’ll be nice to have on slippery winter mornings. It can also be switched off should you be inclined to save some wear and tear on the front tyre and hoist it into the air for safe keeping. ABS is, of course, standard, and can be invoked at will even on dry roads. It’s never been the best system, and can’t be disabled, but I’d rather have it than not.
The rest of the toys are all based in the dashboard itself. No-one can accuse Suzuki of not understanding their audience, and every piece of information imaginable, every feature that owners added to their bikes from the aftermarket is present in this tiny LCD screen. It’s a little crowded, as most of the data can be displayed at once, but when Kawasaki still isn’t offering gear position indicators (their tacky standalone modules don’t count) and BMW still puts analogue speedometers on 180mph motorcycles, Suzuki still have the best instrument clusters in motorcycling. Big analogue tachometer and clear digital speedo are like old friends – instantly recognisable and endlessly helpful.
Integrated luggage is available, tucking neatly under the tail to maximise capacity and minimise width – a far cry from the outriggers on the ‘650, and a 12V socket is present right there in the dash. I’m not sure why, as it would be useless in wet weather, when any serious owner would be using directly wired-in and sealed connections for phone chargers, GPS etc. And I certainly wouldn’t want to string the cable for a heated vest over the top of the handlebars where it would inevitably become tangled up.
The rear shock has a standard preload adjuster, just like the smaller V-Strom, and it shares the same 110/80/19 and 150/70/17 tyre sizes too; these are standard in the Adventure-Touring segment, and compatible with a wide variety of road or mixed-use tyres. The standard-fit Bridgestone Battlewings ride well in the dry and lasted a long time on my 650, but I’d recommend a pure road-focused alternative such as Michelin’s Pilot Road 4 for year-round riding. The front wheel also features something not seen standard on a motorcycle outside of a full-dress cruiser – proper fenders!
So, clearly I want one. It feels as fast as an R1200GS, yet weighs less, is easier to manage at low speeds, handles better thanks to traditional front suspension and doesn’t require you to take out a mortgage for something with more pointless electronic gadgets than an over-stocked Maplins. It’s my beloved V-Strom, with a big extra helping of power and torque, with brakes and suspension to support a very fast riding style. And, if you want one new, Suzuki took a permanent £1000 off the price earlier in the year and created a variety of accessory-rich versions for those who were going to add all that stuff anyway. It is remarkable value for money and makes a lot of the higher-spec European Adventure-Sports bikes look rather excessive.
But…there’s a fly in the ointment. For me, it’s a big one; others might not mind so much. Sure, the standard screen, while cleverly adjustable, isn’t very good, and the single headlight suggests logically that it won’t be able to beat the twin beams of the smaller-capacity V-Strom for sheer light output on dark evenings. But the big problem is the fuel consumption.
Arguments about riding style, heavy vs light throttle use etc. are all well and good, and I’ll only know for sure if I bought and then lived with one for several weeks. But I ran the V-Strom 1000 back-to-back with my own bike on some fast, twisty roads and more relaxed, slower residential areas. In mixed riding the 650 will return 65mpg, dropping to 60 if you really flog the thing. Zeroing the average MPG readout revealed that the bigger twin-cylinder engine consumed 50% more fuel than the 650cc V-Strom, returning just 45mpg. Gentler riding might maybe bring that up to 50mpg, which I would consider the bare minimum for any kind of long-term practical vehicle.
I’ve written extended articles (read: rants) about fuel economy before, not least because I seem to be the only person who cares, but Suzuki boasted about how much they’d improved consumption on this model when it launched last year. Fuelly reckons that I was being unreasonably heavy-handed that day, and most owners will do the maths and realise that for the amount they ride the extra fuel used won’t add up to much over the course of their ownership period. The 20 litre tank suggests you could just about manage 200 miles to a tankful, which will be plenty for many owners. To those people I say: go buy one. Or at least ride one before you buy the traditional BMW or KTM.
But I total more than 25,000 miles per year on my two bikes. At current fuel prices that’s a £900 a year more on fuel to feed that bigger, thirstier engine. I’d also lose my amazing tank range, and probably find that chains and tyres wear out sooner with the extra power. And at the end of the day, I’m managing just fine with the 70bhp of my 650. I just have to decide how much that addictive rush of acceleration is worth to me. You’ll have to make the same decision.