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2002 Suzuki V-Strom: MD Ride Review

The 2002 Suzuki V-Strom is a motorcycle MD had looked forward to testing ever since Suzuki announced this unusual looking machine in October, 2001 (see our preview article here).

A very newsworthy machine for 2002, MD wanted to be among the first to test the V-Strom in the United States and the first to provide our readers with a ride review. Circumstances prevented this from happening (not the least of which was the failure of yours truly to obtain quality photographs of our first test unit — you will note we rode, and took photos of both color options available in the U.S. this year).

By now, most of our readers have already heard what a great bike the V-Strom is. I really fell in love with the V-Strom . . . there is no other way to put it. It is a machine that is tremendously functional (utilitarian), and, simultaneously, creates an emotional bond with the rider that is, in that sense, similar to an Italian V-twin (a Ducati or Moto Guzzi, for example).

I had possession of 2 test units at different times (see my reference to the photography fiasco above) and put plenty of seat time and mileage on this new model from Suzuki. With plenty of other great motorcycles at my disposal, I still miss the V-Strom.

Suzuki calls the V-Strom the first “Sport Enduro Tourer.” When you look at the V-Strom, you are reminded of a class of motorcycles populated with the likes of the Triumph Tiger, the BMW GS1150, and the Honda Varadero, among others. With their 19-inch front wheels, long travel suspension, and semi-knobby tires, they appeal to a wide audience in Europe.

In the U.S., it is a different story. although some of these machines are available (including, the Tiger and the GS), unit sales are relatively small. Honda doesn’t even bother to import the Varadero to the U.S.

Although the V-Strom, with its small fairing, upright seating position, and 1000cc engine, appears to belong to this same club, at least one significant difference stands out from the specifications page — the weight. At a claimed 456 pounds dry, the V-Strom significantly undercuts the weight of these rivals. In fact, it is lighter than most sport tourers, and just a bit heavier than the V-twin superbikes offered by Honda and Ducati.

Suzuki had the advantage of starting with a very light V-Twin engine. An engine originally designed for a sportbike and for superbike racing. This engine made its debut in the TL1000S the same year Honda introduced its Super Hawk. Both bikes had excellent 1000cc V-twins, but it was the Suzuki motor that the press drooled over, world-wide. It made the TL a fun, exciting wheelie machine, with a significant horsepower advantage over the Super Hawk.

Interestingly, the Suzuki machines utilizing this engine, the TL1000S and the superbike TL1000R (introduced a couple of years after the “S”) have been less spectacularly known than some of the other manufacturers’ bikes that utilize the same engine. Suzuki supplies this superb motor to Cagiva, for instance, for use in its Raptor naked bike and Gran Canyon adventure tourer, while Bimota (before its demise) built a superbly exotic V-twin superbike around this engine — a superbike raced to WSB victory by Anthony Gobert a few years ago on a wet Philip Island track.

The V-Strom engine lives up to its fine pedigree. Enhanced with a new fuel injection system similar to the system employed on the GSX-R sportbikes, the 90 degree, 996cc V-twin has efficient, gear driven cams and vertically staggered transmission shafts that result in a physically small and light configuration.

In the V-Strom, the powerful and torque-filled engine is coupled to a wide-ratio, six-speed transmission. Sixth gear is literally an overdrive (and it is labeled as such on the dashboard, which lights to remind you have selected this gear), and the broad spread of power means you have more than enough ratios at your disposal.

The rangey wheelbase can make the V-Strom seem a bit slow to turn until you jack up the rear end with the external preload adjuster (trust me — keep turning this preload adjuster in until the rear ride height gives you the proper, responsive handling). So adjusted, the V-Strom remains very stable, but changes directions much better and drops into turns effortlessly with the wide, dirtbike-style handlebars providing plenty of leverage to initiate the turn.

The suspension is well balanced and very compliant — due, in part, to the extra travel built into the forks and the shock. The shock actually seems to rebound better with the extra preload we dialed in. The V-Strom soaked up large and small bumps with equal aplomb.

The ergonomics of the V-Strom are similar to those of a relaxed sport tourer. The seating position is bolt upright with those dirtbike-style bars within easy reach. Both rider and passenger seats are generously proportioned and comfortable (if a bit too slippery — Suzuki needs to add some texture to the seat cover). The location of the pegs is a good distance from the seat, allowing generous leg room.

While on the subject of generous leg room, it must be noted that the V-Strom (particularly, after raising the rear ride height with additional preload to the shock) is a tall motorcycle. Riders under 5’8″ will definitely be on tippy toes, and should carefully gauge the seat height in the showroom floor of their dealer, as well as their own comfort level with riding such a tall motorcycle.

Wind protection from the bikini fairing is surprisingly good, although buffeting at helmet level is mildly annoying at elevated speeds. Apparently, Suzuki has an optional, larger windscreen available that might improve things in this respect.

Instrumentation is legible and thorough (a photo of the instrument panel is contained in our preview article), and the multi-reflector dual headlights provide excellent nighttime vision. With our observed 36 miles per gallon and the 5.8 gallon tank, the V-Strom has a pretty decent range — a range you can easily utilize without getting fatigued due to the comfortable riding environment.

The brakes provide good feel and decent power. Not up to the standards set by modern sportbikes (such as the phenomenal power provided by Kawasaki’s ZX-9R brakes, for example), but very good for this class of machine, nonetheless. Indeed, the brakes, engine performance and chassis sweetness all combine to make the V-Strom one of the most entertaining bikes I have ridden in years.

The V-Strom just has a special feel when you are riding it. The motor, the light weight, the upright seating position (combined with the tall saddle that gives you excellent vision through, and even over, traffic), all contribute to a package that is hard to beat for entertainment.

What is most remarkable is the fact that the V-Strom entertains while providing very comfortable, practical transportation. It is a bike you would readily choose for a long highway trip, for instance, despite having several other capable machines at your disposal. If you can be extremely comfortable and highly entertained at the same time, why not?

We concluded that the light, nimble feel of the V-Strom is also the result of the smallish, 150 section rear tire. Smaller rear tires create lighter, quicker handling machines (remember when Suzuki stepped back from a 190 section rear tire in its GSX-R750 when it introduced the entirely new 2000 model — the 180 section tire was utilized for quicker steering). By the way, the 19 inch front wheel adds to the compliant, fearless nature of the front suspension for exactly the same reason a motocross bike handles best with a 21 inch front wheel. The larger diameter wheel (and the tire wrapped around it) effectively makes bumps smaller and less noticeable to the rider.

Although Suzuki painstakingly points out that the V-Strom was not intended for off-road travel, we did some light off-roading with it, nonetheless. For smooth, fire road-like conditions, the V-Strom does quite well, and the stock tires provide far better traction than standard street tires. The bike clearly is not intended for aggressive off-road riding , however, and the suspension settings are far too soft to handle this type of riding without bottoming repeatedly.

What else can we say? The Suzuki V-Strom is fast, functional, and one of the most enjoyable two-wheel vehicles on the planet. It’s cheap, too, at a U.S. MSRP of $8,899. Visit Suzuki’s website for further details and specifications.