I sat astride the 2014 Suzuki V-Strom 650 at the top of a large hill, eyeing my teammates training on the pitch below. I was late, I was wet, and I was cold. The hill was a quagmire, streams of mud and water slid down it as I watched, shivering.
A rain storm had caught me just as I had caught a traffic snarl. Roadworks cut a three-lane major road down to one – at peak hour – because Toronto. It seemed the dark clouds above were moving at the same pace I was as I snaked through traffic, and now I had arrived, 20 minutes late. Soaked to the bone.
It would take another 10 for me to make my way down the hill on foot – less if I lost my footing. Plus another five to change. Practice would be half over. But there was a bathroom building with an eave down near the pitch, down the hill.
“This is a dual sport, isn’t it?” I thought to myself. “Bugger it, I’m taking the bike down.”
I was sitting astride a 2014 Suzuki V-Strom 650 ABS SE, the upgraded model of the smaller V-Strom, the one with panniers and a top box for touring.
The tires, which had gripped so well on the rain-soaked roads were street tires, but still, this bike has a capable suspension setup and geometry. Tall and thin, it sits well between your legs, the narrow fuel tank, wide bars and well-placed pegs give good control in tricky situations.
I aimed it down the hill.
Second gear seemed the natural choice, enough power on hand to throttle steer, not enough to spin up and crash. It didn’t provide enough engine braking though so I geared back to first. I was going quicker than I wanted – “Brake.”
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“No! Not front brake!”
I stabbed the rear with way more force than I should have, the ABS kicked in and the rear kept turning, the bike was having more fun than I was now, but it soaked up the ruts and bumps with aplomb. The forks looked spindly to me at first, but they were taking on this challenge with relish. At the bottom, I parked under the eave, and opened the side box to retrieve my kit. It was dry as a bone. My first experience with panniers was proving positive, these sideboxes added to this SE edition of the V-Strom 650. I’d chuckled when I saw them, they looked ungainly. I was happy for them now.
The top box swallowed my helmet with ease, I put my sodden jacket and gloves over the seat to dry – wishful thinking.
After training I aimed the 654cc bike at the same hill, this time selecting a slightly less intense section that I hadn’t seen before, and powered up it with ease. One of my teammates was impressed, he ought not have been, the praise lay in the bike, not the rider.
The 650 is a good-sized engine for normal road cruising, not too small, nor too fast. The first five gears are close but the sixth is extremely tall. I found myself downshifting to fourth any time I wanted to make an overtake. A quick pass is a safe pass in my experience.
The V-twin is smooth and quiet, with a sonorous and unobtrusive note at highway speeds. The braking feel is adequate and the ABS as experienced on the hill was forgiving and welcome.
I found the turn-in to be a little slow for my taste, but it works for the nature of the beast. Long sweeping bends are beautiful, the V-Strom is surefooted and stable even over large potholes.
Wind buffeting is a minor issue, but I didn’t notice the three available phases of adjustment until I returned the bike. It’s likely I could have raised the screen and corrected that complaint. I have ridden other bikes with a dual-sport pedigree and found the front fender sometimes catches the wind, causing slight wobbles above 100 km/h. Not so on this bike, but I did find side winds a chore. The top box and panniers might have contributed to that.
A lack of centre-stand makes checking the oil in the sight glass a little difficult, especially with such a tall bike, but the oil filter is front and centre at the base of the engine making oil changes as simple as can be. The spark plugs are tucked away and hard to get to though.
Pre-load adjustment is simple thanks to a side-mounted turning screw that requires no tools. That’s particularly important for those who regularly fill the large boxes to capacity, or those who do a lot of pillion riding.
The base V-Strom comes in at $9,099 with the panniers and top box bringing the SE trim up $1,100 to $10,199. The fully specced V-Strom 650 ABS Expedition adds aluminum side and top cases, Vario windshield, an engine guard and belly fairing plus hand guards. It comes in at $10,899.
If versatility and practicality, with a hint of sporting adventure are your thing, or even if your favourite rides takes you over some rough ground, the Suzuki V-Strom 650 will satisfy.
I sat astride the 2014 Suzuki V-Strom 650 at the top of a large hill, eyeing my teammates training on the pitch below. 9/2/2014 6:30:43 AM 9/2/2014 6:30:43 AM