Suzuki targeted the 2014 V-Strom to fill the increasingly large gap between the 650cc singles and the big bikes. The $12,699 MSRP is about like a BMW F800GS, and thousands less than any other bike in the 1000cc range. Even when you add the $1300 premium for the V-Strom Adventure version, which is outfitted with bags and accessories, the bike is still much more affordable than the BMW R1200GS, KTM 1190 or even the Yamaha Super Tenere.
In terms of performance, the Suzuki is a legitimate player in the big-boy pen. The motor was redesigned almost from scratch. About all that remains from the original V-Strom, which came out in 2002, is the 90-degree V-Twin configuration. The engine now displaces 1037cc and produces 99 horsepower. It uses the same dual-throttle-valve EFI design that Suzuki uses on many of its street bikes, where one throttle butterfly is operated by the rider and another by a computer. It has a slipper clutch, a six-speed gearbox and antilock brakes. The chassis is new too, but it’s most significant improvement is in the suspension department, where it got a new shock and a 43mm KYB inverted fork, both adjustable. The bike also has a new look, which is very BMW-like with the “beak” in front. Suzuki engineers are quick to point out that they were actually the first to jump in the beak pool back in the ‘80s, with Euro models like the DR Big.
From an engineering standpoint, the biggest news is that this is Suzuki’s first attempt at traction control. The controller uses five different sensors to measure wheelspin, then uses that second throttle valve as well as engine timing to get things back under control. Suzuki is planning on using this technology for future street models, so it’s not exclusively designed for, or aimed at, dirt riding.
Riding the new V-Strom is a kick in the pants. To be honest, riding anything with 1000cc in the dirt or on the street is fun, but the Suzuki is particularly good because it’s all torque. When a bike makes all its power on top, it becomes a demanding, adrenalin rush. That has its place, too. But the Suzuki’s powerband is sweet, because it’s always there, always ready. The combination of the slipper clutch and the EFI system makes it super easy to ride. With many big EFI bikes, the transition from throttle-off to throttle open is particularly harsh. Suzuki’s dual-throttle-valve system makes small throttle openings easy to manage, and the engine braking is mild. The result is a sweet, easy ride with lots of instant gratification. In terms of acceleration, the Suzuki’s isn’t in the same league as a new BMW R1200GS or the KTM 1190, but on a good day it can hang with a Yamaha Super Tenere. The fuel range is comparable to the other machines in the class. It carries 5.3 gallons and seems to squeak out around 50mpg on the road. That means it will go farther than the BMW, which has the same size than but is more thirsty, but not quite as far as the Yamaha, which gets poor mileage, but carries a gallon more.
It does feel smaller and lighter than the other 1000cc+ machines. It’s about 40 pounds lighter than the Yamaha and 20 pounds lighter than the new R1200GS. It’s also lower and narrower. That makes the bike fairly manageable in the dirt. Our introduction to the bike had only brief off-road time, but it was enough to demonstrate that it is a legitimate candidate for real adventure rides. The suspension is acceptable and the overall layout allows you to stand up comfortably in choppy terrain. The ABS and traction control, as usual, are of very little use for aggressive off-road riding. The ABS is always on, so you have to deal constant brake chattering. The traction control has three settings, which can be selected on the fly. Mode one is very aggressive, and suddenly chops the throttle as soon as any wheelspin is detected. Mode two lets you have a little fun, but the best setting for real dirt is “off.” Handling a 500 pounder in the dirt requires that you steer the bike with the rear wheel. That means you either brake slide or power slide to get through a turn effectively. When you have both techniques taken out of your bag a tricks, it can make for very slow, tedious dirt adventures. With the traction control turned off, the Suzuki can be ridden very aggressively. Mode one is useful for dirty, broken paved roads where you don’t need or want rear wheel spin. On full pavement, you don’t really notice the TC, but a little light on the instrument cluster tells you it’s working surprisingly often. If you were going to ride in the dirt often, you would need to accessorize the bike with things like a skid plate and, of course, more dirt worthy tires. The footpegs are passable if you remove the rubber inserts, but the small-diameter handlebar is unusually flexy.
Suzuki scores well in the comfort department. The windscreen can be tilted forward or back on the fly, the seat is good and the overall ride is smooth and excellent. We haven’t had enough time on the bike to give it a true numb-butt test, but we will. Check out the April issue of Dirt Bike for more info.