Suzuki V-Strom 650 Review | Words: Syed Shiraz Pictures: Javed Ali Khan
Confession:This Suzuki V-Strom 650 review wouldn’t have seen the light of the day had I given in to my fear of riding adventure motorcycles… Yes, I used to think that I would never be able to test an ADV (the informal abbreviation for ‘adventure’) bike. In fact, I was so petrified that for long I even contemplated requesting our editor Saad to take this one. See, it would have been a quick and easy decision had Suzuki India sent the invite only a few days in advance like most manufacturers. But, their meticulous PR team sent the invite almost a month before the ride, leaving me in a state of anxious dilemma for more than 20 days! And then the tickets were booked. “Eff the effin fear; let’s see what happens”, I said to myself, and off we went to Jaipur—the location of the media ride—to test the motorcycle, and myself.
I must tell you that usually a motorcycle’s first media ride is a day long event, but the actual saddle time you get might range between just 10 minutes to around a couple of hours at max, if you’re lucky. However, with the V-Strom media ride, the chaps at Suzuki have raised the bar so high that other manufacturers are going to get a severe complex when they get to hear about it.
Suzuki kept it a three-journos-per-day affair from 8-18 October, where all the 30 journos and bloggers invited got to ride the motorcycle from 6 am to 6 pm! Usually, the trip meters at the end of the first rides show anywhere between 10-15 km and 50-60 km at best, and here we rode the bikes for more than 300 km. We rode from Jaipur to Pushkar and back – a nice route to check an adventure tourer’s highway manners, and you can trust us to always take a short detour to click a few photographs off-road while attempting to test the bike’s behavior on a loose surface.
By the way, if you haven’t already guessed the reason of my fear, let me share it now. Okay, wait, let’s begin the V-Strom review with its design, instrumentation, and ergonomics, which will also divulge the reason behind my apprehension towards riding a big ADV motorcycle.
Suzuki V-Strom 650 Review: Design & Ergonomics
Keen readers might remember that I have not really been a fan of big ADV bikes. First of all, I never liked how they looked; I thought that more than the core reason of “form following function” (which should always be the case) the bigger reason why ADV bikes are designed like this is to scare the small forms of wildlife the owners might encounter while passing through forest trails and such. Secondly, I just couldn’t agree to the notion that India needs 200-plus kg motorcycles to ride on dirt. What if you drop the motorcycle upon seeing a bigger form of wildlife?
I will have to resist the urge here of sharing a real life incident involving my father, my coward brother-in-law, a KB100, and a tiger blocking the three’s way. I think I can keep that one for when I test the Triumph Tiger. Right now it would suffice to say that all four of them are alive. Okay, it’s been more than twenty years so the tiger must have completed his innings a long time ago.
Coming back to the reasons behind my total abhorrence for adventure bikes, I should admit that upon deeper introspection I now realize that the classic case of sour grapes was also responsible, albeit by a minor degree. Now that the grapes aren’t sour anymore, let me look at the design and other aspects as well from a fresh perspective.
This is a nice looking motorcycle; pleasant and friendly would be two more adjectives that I would use for the V-Strom’s design. Mind you, despite my aforementioned hatred, this is not the first time I am praising an adventure bike’s shape. Check my Monster 797 review and you’ll know. But I never thought that I would use more than a word to applaud an ADV bike’s design; I guess it’s the clutter free form of this motorcycle that made me say nice things. Moreover, despite being a big motorcycle, it has a non-threatening demeanor. So it’s a lot more approachable than other adventure bikes.
I also like the fact that its beak is not longer than the front mudguard – most adventure bikes have such long noses that they can be sued for invasion of privacy.
It’s being offered in only two colour-schemes right now – White/Black and Yellow/Black. I rode the White/Black motorcycle, but it’s the Yellow/Black that’s more appealing, thanks to the coloured wheels. Yellow is also Suzuki’s official off-road-race colour (Blue for track racing) so I expect to see the majority of V-Strom 650’s in this shade.
And man, am I loving the return of the big side-mounted exhausts!
I am old school and have always hated the underbelly exhausts. I mean, I was still okay with the under-arse exhausts, but the moment I laid my eyes on the first bike with the underbelly exhaust, I thought that’s a sign of doomsday being near. See, underbelly exhausts make me feel that the manufacturer is trying to hide a bad job; it’s like they’re ashamed of it. A side-mounted exhaust can is almost an organic part of a bike’s design and I’ll take this opportunity to request all manufacturers, who are reading this, to retain them, or bring them back if you’re a manufacturer who has bowed to the unpopular convention.
Please note that our test bikes were equipped with a few accessories – top box (55-liter capacity) and its adapter plate, crash guard (which doubles up as an accessory bar to fix those additional lights), center stand, and an aluminium chain cover (stock bike comes with a plastic unit). Suzuki says that this accessory pack will be given to the buyer for INR 77,467 whereas the total price of the items if bought separately comes to 89,751. Speaking of accessories, they also have a 20 mm lower seat, which also reminds me to finally tell you about my reluctance to go near an adventure tourer – its saddle height.
I think manufacturers believe that only those suffering from gigantism go out looking for adventure bikes. What else would explain a seat height ranging between 850 mm and 890 mm? And it’s not that low saddle height and good ground clearance can’t be achieved together. The two-lakh rupee RE Himalayan has an astounding ground clearance of 220 mm and a very accessible 800 mm saddle. The holy grail of adventure bikes, the BMW R1200 GS, has 200 mm ground clearance but the seat height ranges from 850 mm to 890 mm depending upon the variant you buy.
BMW, Triumph, and I believe Ducati as well, do have low seats in their accessories catalogues, but I am yet to see one at a press ride. Listen up manufacturers, especially the product teams – when you can load up the press bikes with accessories like panniers, top boxes, etc., you can provide a couple of bikes with the low seats as well. (Suzuki, now that you have set the benchmark in media first-rides, how about adding one more feather in your cap by keeping the low seat option open while scheduling the follow-up short-term rides?)
Why? Let me explain. Being just over five-feet and a few cm, the only bike I can flat foot on is the Indian Scout, whose seat height is 635 mm. Motorcycles with a saddle height ranging between 780 mm to 795 mm (Suzuki Gixxer, Yamaha YZF-R3, FZ-16, and FZ-250) are also comfortable for me as they still have the balls of my feet on the ground, while those with 800 mm high seats (R15 V2, first-gen Duke 390) comprise the highest I can go and still plant a toe or two on both sides at the same time. The only exception would be the Triumph Street Triple S (810 mm) where I can do the same, thanks to its slim seat, but then my legs on either side appear straighter than the supporting leg of a ballerina performing arabesque.
- Jacket: Cramster Eclipse
- Gloves: TBG Sport
- Helmet: LS2 FF351
Please keep in mind that you cannot blindly go by the numbers as the seat width is a crucial factor too. Bikes that have ‘touring’ anywhere in their nomenclature or intent will mostly have fatter and/or wider seats as they need to be comfortable over long distances.
Naturally then, the thought of not being able to even tip-toe on the V-Stromm 650’s 835 mm high saddle was giving me jitters. Thankfully, before testing the GSX-S750 (820 mm high seat), I had gotten my friendly neighborhood cobbler to add a layer of sole to my already thick-soled boots. Now my ground clearance is raised by a shade more than three inches. I intend to lift it further to a maximum of six inches (why should girls have all the fun, right?) – that’s exactly how much I need to be able to tip-toe on the sky high saddle heights of MX bikes like the recently launched Suzuki RM-Z450.
Still, even right now, swinging my leg over the V-Strom 650 for the first time, lifting it off its side stand, with my right foot automatically touching the ground was nothing short of absolute bliss! Taller people would never understand this, but being able to touch both feet on the ground at the same time on a stock adventure motorcycle for a five-footer is not any less satisfying than Mia Khalifa visiting a porn addict when he’s home alone.
By the way, our photographer for the day, Javed, is 5’11” and he found the V-Strom’s ergonomics perfect for him. I reckon that all from 5’6” to 6’2” will find the V-Strom’s ergonomics to be comfortable. People shorter than 5’6” should opt for the low accessory seat and/or get thick-soled boots like I have.
Suzuki V-Strom 650 Review: Electronics & Instrumentation
So, reveling in the fact that I was now fully in command of an adventure tourer, I confidently stashed the sidestand away, switched the ignition on, and feathered the one-touch starter button. Suzuki have equipped this motorcycle with both the Easy Start System and Low Rpm Assist features and you will have to check my GSX-S750 review to get a lowdown on them; I ain’t explaining the features again.
The V-Strom comes to life with a half-muted thrum that will never wake up your neighbors. I like. I reset the two trip meters, and put the two-stage traction control at level 1, which is the lesser intrusive setting of the two – TC 2 is best left for rains and slush. Just so you know, forget the Kawasaki Versys 650, even the 12-lakh-rupee (ex-showroom) Tiger 800 XR doesn’t get traction control.
And I like the traditional layout of the instrument console. I love the BIG analogue tachometer which has digital displays alongside which provide a host of information without appearing cluttered. So you have big readouts for speed and gear position in the top LCD, while the one below it shows you the odo, trip meters, traction control modes, engine temperature (bar-type gauge), ambient temperature, time, fuel range (distance to empty), average fuel consumption, real time fuel consumption, voltage meter, and your latest electricity bill. The last one was a joke; if you’re not bright enough to get it, fret not, you can at least adjust the brightness of the instrument cluster. I am not, so I chose to keep it at its max.
Suzuki V-Strom 650 Review: Performance – Engine, Gearbox, Ride, Handling, and Braking
Instrument console essentials completely set, I adjust the old-school squarish mirrors, pull the light clutch, select first, take a quick glance over the shoulder, and start rolling. Good Lord! The fueling on this motor is unbelievable! This cannot be a human’s work. It’s smoother than the smoothest we have ever tested! And this is really something that Ducati may learn from Suzuki. Have you seen the movie Bulletproof Monk? If yes, then you must have noticed the calmness of the monk (played by Chow Yun-fat) in dodging bullets, fighting the bad guys, and in other stressful situations – that’s the V-Strom’s fueling for you. No matter what you do with your right hand (on the throttle, I mean) nothing upsets the equilibrium of this motorcycle’s 645 cc 90-degree V-twin motor.
That superhero in this case is SDTV (Suzuki Dual Throttle Valve) Fuel Injection System. It basically means that there are two butterfly valves per cylinder and while one (from each pair) butterfly valve is directly controlled by your right hand, the other is operated by the ECM, which takes into account the information thrown by the Throttle Position Sensor, Engine Speed Sensor, and Gear Position Sensor. In simple words, it doesn’t matter whether you’re a total buffoon or a highly skilled rider; on the V-Strom, you’ll always have an invisible co-rider with you, sitting in a small box beneath the seat, who knows better.
I had switched the traction control off in the first five minutes of riding and then it remained that way for the next 300 km – even in the little bit of off-roading that we did. But I recommend you put it in TC1 where it would only intrude when absolutely necessary. It didn’t, in the first five minutes of my riding, and I didn’t have a hairy situation with TC off either, which should also tell you something about the nice on-road grip of the specially-made-for-this-bike Bridgestone Battlax Adventure A40 tyres. I’ll talk about them in just a bit, but let me just wind up telling you about the traction control and when ideally you should be using it.
See, I categorically didn’t switch the traction control on in the dirt for a little tail-out action, and you shouldn’t too if you have some experience of riding big bikes – heck, if you’re someone who’s ridden an RD350 or a Duke 390 like they should be ridden, don’t bother switching TC on in this one. However, if this is your first big bike, you should. Let me make it simple for you – on tarmac, put it in TC1 and forget about it. Choose TC2 when you’re off road, especially on sand and in slush. Once you’ve gained experience, switch the TC off to have a lot more fun.
Now coming back to the Bridgestones on the V-Strom, one look at them and you can tell that these are road tyres primarily but with grooves that are much deeper than conventional road tyres to aid some light off-roading. And that’s exactly how they should be on such a motorcycle that will be used predominantly on road, and occasionally on some off-road trails. These tyres don’t like sand but since first timers like Javed and I didn’t fall even once, I’ll call it reason enough to believe that the tyres did a bloody good job!
And a big pat on Suzuki’s back for providing wire wheels with tubeless tyres – that combo is something that is not available in any of the Triumph Tiger 800 variants, and only the 17-lakh-rupee (ex-showroom) Tiger 1200 gets it! Of course, the Versys 650 can’t even dream of it. Just so you know, spoke wheels offer more flex than alloy wheels and feminists, and that’s why they (the spoke wheels, I mean) are the preferred choice for all off-road motorcycles. A bent spoke is far easier to replace than a bent alloy wheel. In fact, it would be much easier for you to ride back home on a bike with a few bent spokes than on a bike with a bent alloy wheel.
But all’s not good, obviously. Suzuki have given this motorcycle a plastic bash plate! Okay it’s not just a plate but a proper cage-like cover that forms the first and the only line of defense between V-Strom’s low hanging exhaust header and oil filter and the serial offenders such as flying debris and stuff. But it’s made of plastic! I know it’s not a motocross bike, but a metal skid plate is a must-have for any motorcycle that even thinks of going off road. I feel that Suzuki will introduce it sooner or later, but this is something that should have been provided from day one, period.
However, in all fairness, let me also bring to light that despite the three media units being continually thrashed at the hands of enthusiastic journos for ten days, all panels and parts, including this plastic cover, remained intact! If we couldn’t break it, the owner won’t be able to as he would be a lot more careful. We weren’t. That should also tell you that the V-Strom’s 170 mm ground clearance (same as the Versys 650’s) is good enough as well. I must also add here that the quality of parts, and fit and finish, is top notch as usual.
We also didn’t give too hoots for those nagging series of speed breakers present before every toll collection point. In fact, I actually feel that while doing the survey / market research for this bike, the conversation between Suzuki and potential customers would have gone something like this:
Suzuki representative: “What’s your first priority in an adventure tourer?”
Potential customer: “Well, it should be good enough to tackle those bowel-displacing series of speed breakers, at more than pedestrian speeds, without actually displacing our bowels.”
Suzuki rep. (looking back at his junior): “Bring one V-Strom 650, please.”
This motorcycle just glides over those speed humps in a manner that until now was the sole preserve of expensive SUVs! I’m sure it must have always been like this with the adventure tourers but I have to mention what I experienced, and this kind of ride quality I had experienced only in high-end automobiles until now. Yes, this is the motorcycle with the best ride quality that we’ve tested yet at BikeAdvice. The icing on the cake is that the suspension never gets squishy, which gives you confidence to take corners at a fair clip. I had kept the monoshock preload at its softest, and you do not require any tools for that. It’s also adjustable for rebound damping, but I didn’t find the need to play with it.
This motorcycle remains super stable in corners, and the story isn’t any different on the highways. It’s a given, really, as this has the longest wheelbase in the segment – at 1,560 mm this Suzuki’s wheelbase is bigger not only than the Versys 650’s (1,415 mm), but all the Tigers’ too (1,520 mm – 1,545 mm), the Tiger 1200 included. But don’t for a moment think that it would make the V-Strom a slow turning bike, because that’s not the case! In fact, it’s amazing to see how a bike with lazy rake (26°) and trail (107 mm) numbers (it’s a tourer after all) turns in quickly, and even the side to side transitions are done with equal ease – this bike feels LIGHT, despite weighing 216 kg fully fueled! How did you manage that, Suzuki? That calls for another pat on your back. And this is the second one today, right?
Okay, make that three now for giving the V-Strom 310 mm rotors at the front and a 260 mm unit at the rear. And why does that call for a pat on the back? Because the Versys 650 comes with 300 mm discs at the front and a 250 mm disc at the rear, and even the most expensive Tiger 800 makes do with 305 mm units at the front and a 255 mm one at the rear! And it’s not just the discs’ size that is impressive; the braking is spot on for this kind of a motorcycle. The bite is progressive and there’s good feel at the lever. The best part is that the ABS is not too intrusive. I’ll share the acceleration and top speed video below in a while, which will also show you a glimpse of the V-Strom’s braking ability.
The steering lock is way too generous on this one! It’s almost never ending, which is a boon in city traffic. And talking about city traffic also reminds me to tell you that this bike doesn’t overheat. We did get a lot of traffic upon entering Jaipur in the evening, but the bike did not protest or fume a bit. Remember the Bulletproof Monk reference? Do see the movie if you haven’t.
Well, the mention of entering Jaipur and the culmination of our ride signals that we have almost reached the end of this V-Strom 650 review, and I did not even tell you the power and torque figures! I know you’re here to know about how the bike feels, and not for the numbers, but let me share them anyway. So, the V-Strom 650 produces 71 hp at 8,800 rpm and 62 Nm at 6,500 rpm.
This is a very tractable motor, which basically means you don’t have to change gears a lot in traffic. At 50 km/h in 6th gear, the tacho needle hovers around 2,000 rpm, and you can even bring it down to the low 40s, roll on the throttle without downshifting, and there won’t be any snatching, lurching, or drama whatsoever – just smooth, yet strong, forward motion. The gearbox too is as slick as they get, and you’d have to be a really special person to get a false neutral on this motorcycle.
But don’t let all that friendliness fool you into believing that this is not a quick or a fast bike, because it’s both. How quick and fast? I’ll let the video below do the talking:
There are no vibrations up until 130 km/h in 6th gear, where the tacho needle sits at 6,000 rpm. Even post that, there are no vibrations in the handlebar; there’s just a slight buzz that you can feel at the pegs, and maybe half of that from the seat – which means that you might not even notice any if you’re cruising at 120-140 km/h.
And the V-Strom’s saddle is the most comfortable motorcycle saddle I have rested my derriere on.
Okay, it’s a tie between the V-Strom and the big Indians (the Chiefs and the Chieftains), which is a big compliment for a bike that costs less than half of the least expensive big Indian. It’s three in the morning right now and I just remembered the second negative (the first one being the omission of a metal bash plate) of the V-Strom 650 – you need an Allen key to adjust the windshield height. Why is it a negative? Because the Kawasaki Versys 650 allows you to adjust its windshield height without using any tools. Anyway, it provided adequate wind protection to me, but I feel that taller riders might require a taller windshield.
I have written more than 3,500 words until now and fuel consumption and headlight efficiency are the only two things that remain to be tested. I shall do that when Suzuki gives me the bike in Delhi for a short spin again. Do let me know if there’s something that I have not covered and I shall do that in the follow up review. Even as of now I can tell you what the bike thought of its average fuel consumption in the return leg – 22.6 km/l.
I don’t doubt it but I have to test it nevertheless. It will be above 20 km/l any day on the highways, I reckon. So with a 20-liter fuel tank we are looking at a touring range of around 400 km. I can’t wait to test that!
Suzuki V-Strom 650 Review: Verdict
Are you kidding me? You still need one? Okay, I shall oblige. See, Suzuki have brought the top-end XT version to India that gets the wire wheels I talked about earlier, hand guards, and that plastic engine guard. It’s not an old bike, but the latest version they are selling globally, which received a host of updates last year (like traction control, 10-hole injectors, etc.) and you can read all about them on their website. It sells a lot because buyers know what they are buying – an adventure tourer, and not a motocross bike! This is what you have to remember while contemplating to buy any adventure motorcycle – these bikes are neither MX bikes, nor are they the two-wheeled equivalents of a Willys Jeep. But they are definitely the SUVs of the motorcycle world!
Therefore, just like the SUVs, they are meant to take you long distances on the highways in the most amount of comfort without breaking into a cold sweat upon a sudden sight of a big pothole or the aforementioned speed breakers. These bikes will not only dismiss the anomalies of the tarmac with aplomb, but also offer you enough ground clearance and grip to take a detour off road in case you happen to encounter those mile-long traffic jams that we still sometimes see on our highways.
Also, if you’re thinking whether this is the perfect bike for the Leh-Ladakh and Spiti circuits, the answer is a resounding YES! Plus, the people who transport their bikes to Delhi/Chandigarh, and then ride them to the mountains, can expect the V-Strom to egg them to ride all the way…