First Ride Review
There are times when a manufacturer gets a motorcycle just right, when price, style and mechanics come together with all of the intangibles to create exactly what the rider wants. The V-Strom 650 (or “Wee-Strom,” as it’s affectionately known) is one of those bikes.
We had a hint that Suzuki would be updating the popular Wee-Strom when it released the new SV650 in spring 2016, and last October our suspicions were confirmed when Suzuki officially announced the 2017 V-Strom 650 ABS and V-Strom 1000 ABS. But then…crickets. We journalists are impatient types; once we get release information, the actual launch of the bike never seems to happen fast enough. Here at Rider that’s been especially true for the V-Strom, where we’ve been watching our inboxes for our press launch invite like anxious high school students awaiting their college admission letters.
That invite still hasn’t arrived.
So we decided that we couldn’t wait. We flew to Slovenia, where the new 2017 V-Strom 650 ABS is already available, and rode it on a weeklong tour of Slovenia, Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina with Adriatic Moto Tours (which you can read about in the August 2017 issue of Rider). OK, maybe that’s not entirely true…but when we discovered that the new V-Strom was one of the bikes available on this tour, which we’d already planned to take, it seemed like fate. The motorcycling gods were smiling upon us.
As a result, this isn’t your usual First Ride Review. You won’t find any flashy, peg-scraping photography, and the ride wasn’t a one-day trip carefully curated by the manufacturer. This was a weeklong, real-world ride on unfamiliar roads that ranged from a barely-paved goat trail in Bosnia to narrow city streets to fast, sweeping curves of perfect pavement along the coast in Croatia. We spent 6-7 hours in the saddle every day, riding the Wee-Strom the way you’re likely to: touring.
While the 2017 V-Strom 650 looks quite different from the 2016 model, climbing aboard it actually feels rather familiar. The 32.7-inch seat is only 0.2-inch lower than before, although Suzuki redesigned the fuel tank to make it slimmer in the back for an easier reach to the ground, while maintaining the same 5.3-gallon capacity. The dished seat is wide at the back and as comfortable as ever, and as far as I could tell the riding position and ergonomics are unchanged.
Some of the new styling is mostly for looks (the 10-spoke cast aluminum wheels, LED taillight, and V-Strom 1000-style “beak” and vertically stacked headlight, for example), while other changes are surprisingly functional: the lowered exhaust allows the optional side luggage—previously only available on the V-Strom 1000—to be mounted closer to the bike, a 12V outlet is now standard and a new 3-position adjustable windscreen is physically smaller but allows for greater control over wind flow. A new multi-function analog/LCD instrument panel displays tons of useful information, such as fuel level, range, temperature and time, in addition to speed and engine rpm.
Thumbing the starter and dropping into gear, it’s apparent the new V-Strom is even more user-friendly. Suzuki has equipped it with the Easy Start System and Low RPM Assist, so maneuvering along the narrow, cobblestoned streets of the numerous villages we explored was a breeze. The new Euro4-compliant engine is the same as that used in the new SV650, and it proved to be smooth and powerful enough to keep a sporting pace when the roads opened into endless sweeping curves along the coast. Since there were no Suzuki representatives on hand to question, exact details about the engine will have to wait until the official U.S. press launch, but from what we know so far the new V-Strom uses the same resin-coated pistons and exhaust camshaft as the SV650, but it gets its own intake port and camshaft design for the powerful feel of the SV650 with the easygoing nature of the V-Strom.
One of the major changes to the new V-Strom 650 is the addition of the traction control system previously only available on the V-Strom 1000. There are three settings: 1, 2 and off. The first setting is for normal riding conditions, and allows a small amount of rear wheel spin for sporty rides or when riding on a dirt road, while the second setting increases intervention for slippery or rainy conditions.
So what was it like to live with the new Wee-Strom for a week? In a word, great. The revamped 645cc 90-degree V-twin, with its increase in low- to mid-range power and torque, is better than ever, and everything else about the bike is comfortable and well thought-out. For one-up touring, it’s darn near perfect, and on the (relatively frequent) occasions that we encountered rough pavement, gravelly construction zones and off-camber, 90-degree-plus first gear turns on slippery cobblestones, it was easy to handle. I opted to stand up through many of the gravel sections, finding it easier to ride that way, and the handlebars were high enough that I wasn’t bent over.
The suspension and brakes, including the Bosch ABS, are unchanged from the previous model. On a particularly rough, single lane rollercoaster of a road through scrubby hills in Bosnia, the V-Strom soaked up the bumps confidently, yet when I was pushing hard on technical twisties and fast sweepers to keep up with our guide, who was riding a new BMW R 1200 GS, the Wee-Strom never felt out of sorts.
My bike was equipped with a Givi top case, Suzuki hand guards and Oxford heated grips. With temperatures ranging from near freezing on the first morning, to near 80 degrees as we neared the coast, I was able to adjust the windscreen and heated grips to stay comfortable. Despite being smaller overall than before, the windscreen is actually 9mm taller and provided ample protection with little buffeting, although it was a bit noisy.
You can expect to see more details on the 2017 V-Strom 650 when it launches here in the U.S., and it’s likely we’ll pick one up for more thorough testing, including a run on the Jett Tuning dyno. But if this weeklong “First Ride” was any indication, the new Wee-Strom looks to be the best one yet, and at $8,799 it’s still a bargain.