Motorcycle Review: 2018 Suzuki V-Strom 1000

If you liked the original Suzuki V-strom 1000, you'll love the newest one

The one thing that becomes clear after 35 years spent testing bikes — yes, my first foray into motojournalism was way back in 1983 — is that motorcycles have a ‘DNA.’ Superbikes dominated by their engines has always been a Kawasaki trait. Pin-point, razor sharp handling has been the defining characteristic of GSX-Rs since the first Gixxer hit tracks in 1985. And Hondas, well, they’ve always been the sensible motorcycles next door ever since Soichiro Honda mated a 49-cc two-stroke lawn mower engine with a bicycle and called the result “Type A.”

No motorcycle, at least no modern motorcycle, exhibits this genetic continuity, perhaps, than Suzuki’s V-Strom 1000. I first tested the big yellow bird back in 2003 (and eventually bought the very bike I tested), lauding its sensibility, lightweight and comfort. Fast forward 15 years and there’s another V-Strom 1000 in my driveway and again, it’s yellow, imminently sensible, and with one possible exception, extremely comfortable.

Now, of course, one can claim that what I am labeling DNA is just V-Strom’s engineering continuity. The 2018’s double overhead cam V-twin engine, for instance, is direct descendant — hell, it’s based on the same cases and cylinders — as the original 2002’s. Oh, its been punched out to 1,037 cubic centimetres — up from 998 — and it’s now Euro4 emissions-friendly, but anyone who’s ever ridden — or worked on — the original will instantly recognize its thrum and the valve inspection process.

In fact, despite all the years, the bigger pistons and the tighter fuel injection, the darned thing produces almost exactly the same horsepower as the original. XTs have been variously dyno’d with between 92 and 96 horsepower, and if my memory still serves, that’s exactly the same range we recorded a decade and a half ago. Plus que ca change, plus que ca reste le meme, goes the French axiom — and Lord, it applies here.

That’s not say there hasn’t been changes — improvement, even — over the last 16 years. For one thing, the big twin’s peak power may remain the same, but its production of torque is far more prodigious. It may have only gained 39 cubic centimetres of displacement, but it feels like produces about 500-cc more low-end grunt. Indeed, peak torque is not in the 3,500 to 4,000 rpm range and though there be lots — OK, pretty much all — of other large adventure bikes that pump out more horsepower, few out-torque the XT at three grand. Suzuki credits a heavier flywheel and, while that may be so, it doesn’t feel heavier as the new engine revs as freely as the first-generation bike.

The other big improvement, perhaps an even greater boon than the increased torque, is how much smoother the new V-Strom is than the old in precisely the same rev range. As smooth as the original was above 4,000, it was a bit of a recalcitrant beast at low revs. So never mind the growth in displacement or any perceived increase in power, the new engine’s absence of low-speed vibration is the newest V-Strom’s biggest powertrain improvement.

The other trait that remains constant is the 2018’s light weight. While other adventure bikes — BMW’s R1200 GS currently weighs 244 kilograms and will likely gain another six to eight in transitioning to the new 1250-cc ShiftCam engine — the second-gen V-Strom, at 233 kilograms, is actually lighter than the first. Indeed, if there’s a reason to remain loyal — or being conquested to — to the big yellow bird, it’s that compared with the 1,000 to 1,300-cc monsters that dominate the segment, the XT feels like a 600. Whether that ease is a deciding factor in your purchase pretty much determines whether the V-Strom is at the top — or the bottom — of your shopping list.

That’s because the sacrifice the Suzuki makes to light weight is high-tech features. There are no electronically adjustable suspenders on the V-Strom, not even the supposedly up market and more off-road friendly XT I tested. The windscreen is adjustable, but manually so, nary an electric motor to be seen. Cruise control is not available, the TFT screen is pretty basic and the seat, unlike the last Triumph I tested, is not electronically heated. The only concessions to modernity are a three-mode traction control system and ABS. This last, however, is up-to-date high-tech, it’s five-axis controller preventing wheel lockup even when leaned over. Cornering ABS may be the V-Strom’s one concession to modernity but Suzuki chose wisely.

Said paucity of high-tech baubles comes with advantages. One might not be able to adjust suspension on the fly, but play with the manually adjustable rear shock — basically jacking up the preload to sharpen the steering — and the V-strom steers as sharply as an Multistrada.

If there’s a penalty for Suzuki’s frugality — another of V-strom’s genetic predispositions is that, at $14,099 (2018), the DL1000 XT is amongst the cheapest bikes in its segment — it’s in the suspension department. Though the front fork is relatively well-tuned — the spring rate, rebound damping and the like — it’s not a sophisticated affair. Yes, it has damping adjustments for both compression and rebound, bit they are largely ineffectual, their twiddler screws there for adornment rather than any real effect on the ride. As, for the rear shock — surprise, surprise — just like the original, the spring is too soft and the compression damping too stiff, my significant other complaining about the suspension bottoming harshly and tossing her from the seat every time we hit one of the enormous potholes that seem to grow in Quebec side roads.

That condemnation aside, just like, again, way back when, I bought the new V-strom that I tested. Oh, I took a serious look at Ducati’s Multistrada, Triumph’s big Tiger 1200 and even BMW’s R1200 GS, not to mention various KTMs. All were either too heavy or too complicated, most often both. The V-strom is the lightest, simplest large displacement adventure-touring bike available. It is also, just like the original, comfortable, nimble and gloriously reliable.

As for the suspension, thanks to the sweet deals Suzuki Canada is offering, I can afford to replace both front fork and rear shock and still save money compared with all those high-tech beasts. I’ve now got three motorcycles in the Booth garage and two of them are bright yellow.

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