ALUN DAVIES HEADS OVER TO TARRAGONA IN SPAIN TO CHECK OUT THE UPDATED BIG STROM
I find travelling to airports more stressful than childbirth, though admittedly, that’s coming from a male perspective. Experience has taught me that unless I’m prepared to plan on arriving six hours before take-off, I’m faced with the constant anxiety of being sat on the M25 or M11 as the captain is announcing altitude, wind speed and weather at the destination to those on board.
Why airline pilots think it essential to inform stag and hen parties that they’re getting legless at 35,000ft whilst facing a headwind of 140 knots has always passed over me, but then I digress. Anyway, with my pre-trip anxiety levels cruising in the stratosphere, taking the bike to airports, and hopefully avoiding sitting in a motorway jam, should be a no brainer.
But when you’re packing for a two-bike press launch and there’s a desperate, compelling though inexplicable need to colour co-ordinate for the photoshoots, that’s a hell of a lot of gear to fit on a bike. Consequently, gear anxiety and packing stress takes precedence over pre-arrival motorway apprehension.
There was a time when I’d just sling a clean t-shirt and a pair of undies in a Tesco bag and think nothing more of it, but that all changed around the age of 25. I’ve found that there are three things you can count on as you get older, and they become more terrifying by the year: your hair grows in places you’d prefer it not to, you sit there shouting and raging at the TV during Question Time, and packing for an overseas trip takes far more time than the trip itself.
And so, I found myself in Tarragona on the northeast coast of Spain, highly flustered and absurdly overpacked for the launch of the 2017 Suzuki V-Strom 650 and 1000. If you’ve read the last issue of ABR then you’ll be aware that day one was spent checking out the new 650, and day two was devoted to the 2017 V-Strom 1000.
I hesitate to mention the word ‘new’ when it comes to describing the latest incarnation of the 1000 Strom as the changes are more akin to the rider having a new haircut, shave and change of shirt, rather than a full sleeve tattoo, facial piercings and a six- month body makeover down at the gym.
Whilst the updated 650 has been fully worked over, the 1000 has had more subtle updates both in technology and form. In my opinion, these changes are not compelling enough to inspire any current V-Strom owner to charge down the dealers for an upgrade, but they certainly add further appeal to any potential new owner.
First and foremost, the engine has been modified to keep the emission evangelists over in Brussels from blowing a gasket and is now fully Euro 4 compliant. For anyone with a keen interest
in Euro diktats, Euro 4 essentially means; reducing CO (carbon monoxide) levels from 2.0 g/kg (grams per kilogram) to 1.14 g/kg; reducing NOx (oxides of nitrogen) from 0.15g/kg to 0.09 g/kg and hydrocarbons from 0.3g/km to 0.17g/kg. In addition, Euro 4 im- poses tougher regulations to ensure that engines maintain these lower emissions as they get older.
In summary, that’s a reduction of around 50% in emissions which is a pain in the arse for manufacturers, a cause for celebration in iceberg appreciation societies and justification for a fair few jobs over in Belgium.
Photo: Bryn Davies
Fortunately for Suzuki, with the V-Strom 1000 being only just over three years old and built with further regulations in mind, the modifications required to conform with Euro 4 were not substantial and just required a few tweaks of the ECU maps, fuel injection and exhaust system – by contrast the new 650 required over 60 engine enhancements to meet the regulations. The net result is no change in peak power (101bhp) and a slight reduction in torque, from 75lb-ft to 74. In other words, you’d be hard pushed to notice any difference between the engine performance of the old and updated 1000cc V-Strom.
What is new however, is the cornering ABS system which first appeared on the all-new 2017 GSX-R 1000 superbike. Suzuki have included a three-axis Bosch Inertial Measurement Unit (IMU) to identify changes in roll, yaw and pitch, and it works in combination with a new combined braking system. What’s neat here is that not only can you grab a handful of brake mid-corner with a realistic chance of making it home in one piece, but the braking system also senses over enthusiastic use of the front or rear discs and reduces the effects on the overused brake whilst adding braking to the underused brake.
That’s a hell of a sophisticated system and I can only but imagine the speed at which the electronic wizardry is pulsing away under the covers. But what I can tell you is on the occasions when I found myself entering bends far too fast, other than helping me reduce speed and alter direction mid-corner, the effect of the lean-friendly ABS and combined braking was completely transparent in operation – it just did its job and I was simply not aware of the intervention. A very welcome upgrade.
Photo: Bryn Davies
A couple of other electronic improvements are the additions of an ‘Easy Start’ and ‘Low-Speed Assist’ systems. The Easy Start is also found on the new 650 and it makes starting a bike a lot like starting a newish car… Push the button, release and let the auto fire up procedure take over with nothing more to do.
The low-speed assist is there to help on those low RPM manoeuvres and makes sure you don’t go so low as to do something that could cause embarrassment, something that never happens to me, of course.
There’s also an upgraded clutch system, based on the unit used in the GSX-R1000, which offers a lighter feel at the lever and more slippage for engine braking. The traction control stays as is, with three degrees of adjustment including the ability to switch it off.
Photo: Bryn Davies
In the cosmetic department, the new V-Strom has a few enhancements which all add up to the bike looking very much like the old bike, but a bit sharper and sleeker. There’s a new paint job (love the yellow) and the front cowling features a re-styled beak, headlamps and comes with a taller, manual and mechanical adjustable screen.
Speaking of the screen, you still need to use an Allen key to adjust the height, and Suzuki have once again failed to include one in the toolkit. Where the manual adjustment comes in is that you have three degrees of tilt which can be controlled on the fly. In my experience, the manual adjustment ranged between eye wobbling discomfort to head ripping trauma, a very similar effect to the older version when set at the lowest setting. The good news is, this is an easy fix if you own an Allen key
To complete the picture, hand guards and a plastic belly pan come as standard, plus there’s an upgrade to a more comfortable seat, though in fairness I never thought the saddle on the old model was an uneasy place to hang out.
What’s not changed is the comfortable ergonomics of the Suzuki. Just like the previous V-Strom, I found the seat, hands and feet triangle spot on for that commanding, upright adventure stance and for long-distance comfort.
Photo: Bryn Davies
At a standstill, and in comparison to most other 1000cc adventure bikes, the Suzuki ‘feels’ smaller, less bulky and not as intimidating. Its dimensions are just about the same as the 650 Strom, but it comes across as more compact with less of a stretch to the bars. I’d imagine there’s a lot of sub-6ft riders out there who would feel far more at ease and confident handling slow-speed car park manoeuvres on a 1000cc V-Strom than they would on other large capacity and taller machines.
One of the main concerns I pick up from the older, less agile and shorter riders in the adventure community is the problem of placing feet on the ground for low-speed stability. A quick visual and verbal check with the shorter riders in the test group confirmed there didn’t appear to be any problems or concerns in that department.
Where the V Strom 1000 differs from the smaller capacity 650 is, as you’d expect, in performance. From the off, the low-down grunt of the big twin is immediately apparent and, as the pace picks up, the overall feel of the bike transforms into a firmer, stronger and better handling machine than its smaller capacity namesake.
We’ve spent plenty of time over the past few years on the older version of the Strom, and I must say it was a bike that grew on us the more we rode it. The Suzuki is not at the glamour or prestigious end of the desire scale, but it’s proved to be a solid, dependable machine that’s comfortable on long trips and possesses plenty enough power and torque for fun and excitement on the twisties.
Photo: Bryn Davies
Which is just as well, as the roads surrounding Tarragona barely feature a straight over 50m long and most of the bends come with terrifying drop-offs should things get out of control. During a high-speed run of over 150 miles, I have to say that the Suzuki was a pleasure to ride. It’s the sort of bike that demands more rider input than say, the BMW GS, which tends to just roll on rails with no more effort than the rider thinking, ‘I want to go around that bend’. The Strom needs you to be part of the ride rather than just a passenger on it.
There were very few occasions where I could ride the Suzuki as I would on a long-distance tour, or cruise at motorway speeds, nor did I have the opportunity to check out the performance with a pillion on board, though experience tells me there aren’t going to be any problems in those areas.
One thing that did surprise, and Suzuki need to be congratulated on this, is that at the end of the road ride we were given the green light to head off unaccompanied into the hills above the hotel and check out the off-road capabilities of the bike on the dusty, rocky trails.
Once again there were no surprises here, as I’d already had extensive experience of riding one of the previous Stroms off-road. It’s no enduro bike, and it is a big, heavy lump, but in the right hands it’ll perform at a level most riders would only aspire to. Let’s put it this way, if you ride at a sensible speed and avoid the seriously gnarly stuff, then the V-Strom 1000 will get you to most places you’d like to go.
Photo: Bryn Davies
As a commuter
We’ve put plenty of miles on the older version of the V-Strom bopping between the ABR office and home, and are more than happy to do so on our new long termer.
As a weekend tourer
The Suzuki is a spot-on adventure tourer with plenty of low down grunt and more than enough power to perform well above legal limits in comfort.
As an off-roader
Its big, heavy and off-road ability has not been at the forefront of the Suzuki design and production team. Once you get over that and focus on what it can do, this bike will be more capable off-road than most riders. It’ll need a bit of beefing up though.
As a continental road tourer
Will carry all the gear and a pillion and you’ll hardly notice. Experience tells us it’s comfy for long days in the saddle, stress-free at motorway speeds and a blast on twisty Alpine roads. What more do you want?
As an RTW overlander
Any bike can be an RTW overlander it just depends on the routes you want to pick off and the speed you intend to do them. The V-Strom 1000 would be more than capable for checking out desert piste, Mongolian steppe and long, never-ending highways.
As a pillion carrier
If a pillion is a regular feature on your rides the V-Strom is not the best or the plushest carrier, but in our experience, you’re unlikely to have any complaints from the rear seat.
Photo: Bryn Davies
There was not a lot wrong with the previous version of the V-Strom 1000, and this enhanced 2017 version has only made it a better all-round bike. The price is competitive, it comes with proven reliability, comfort and all-around performance and handling ability. I can’t think of a reason why anyone looking to buy in this sector of the market should not book a test ride.