You have to credit Suzuki with being one of the first Japanese manufacturers to jump into the Adventure Touring category here in the United States with both feet when it introduced the V-Strom 1000 and its little brother, the V-Strom 650 in the early 2000s. Although both bikes had a face only a mother could love, just one ride could produce an affinity that would continue to grow over time. Indeed, it is hard to argue that the original V-Strom 650 isn’t one of the most fun, versatile and practical motorcycles we have ever tested. When it was redesigned for the 2012 model year, we reported on the significant changes. We have finally tested the revised model, but before reporting our findings, let’s talk about some of those changes.
The new styling is obvious, and certainly an improvement in our opinion (hard not to be, perhaps). The standard seat is entirely new and taller (roughly 1/2 an inch), but the bike is a bit narrower at the knees thanks to a slightly smaller fuel tank (now holding 5.3 gallons). As a result, the reach to the ground is easier than most competing Adventure models we have tested. The new side cowlings are claimed to improve air management, from both a cooling and rider protection standpoint. The front fender is a new shape, which purportedly improves air flow to the radiator. Finally, the rear luggage rack is lighter and incorporates passenger grab handles.
The 90 degree v-twin engine still displaces 645cc, but features revised cam profiles to improve low-to-mid power. Single valve springs replace double springs, reducing mechanical losses. The crank shaft and primary gear were redesigned, reducing mechanical noise and roughness. Suzuki also claims the bike is easier to start in cold weather.
A liquid cooled oil cooler helps stabilize oil temperatures, and the clutch release mechanism is now a cam type. The clutch cover is thicker to reduce mechanical noise. The engine breathes through a redesigned muffler, and all of these changes contribute to equal, or better horsepower and torque throughout the rev range, while offering a claimed 10% increase in fuel economy. Braking includes a lighter, more sophisticated ABS system, while suspension continues to include spring preload adjustment in the fork with preload adjustment in the shock (via a convenient hand-operated knob – see picture), along with rebound adjustment.
The wheels continue to be 17″ rear and 19″ front. An entirely new instrument cluster has new functions, including a gear position indicator, ambient temperature and fuel consumption meter. By holding down the meter select button, located on the left handlebar, for approximately one second, you can switch the LCD display to show either the clock or the thermometer.
One of the strong-suits of both V-Strom models has been their dual H-4 bulb headlight system. The dual low beams and the dual high beams match the output of many automobiles and are very welcome when traveling at higher speeds at night. Fortunately, Suzuki chose to keep this headlight system in the new V-Strom 650.
In riding the new V-Strom, we felt an improvement in suspension action. Damping seems more refined, and ride quality has improved, despite added firmness that reduced dive and pitch. Just as we had done with earlier V-Stroms, we ended up raising the forks approximately 10mm in the triple clamps to improve steering feel and precision. After doing so, we felt the same old nimble, yet stable handling that seemed to put a smile on our face every time we rode the bike. The stock Bridgestone Trail Wing tires offered good grip and comfort on the street, while still featuring large tread blocks for extra traction in off-road conditions.
As a street bike, the V-Strom 650 offers excellent comfort from an upright seating position with good leg room, a much improved seat and a three-position adjustable windshield. Different test riders were able to dial in a windshield height that minimized buffeting at the helmet level. This is a big improvement over the prior model.
While the V-Strom 650 can handle light off-roading, it is still primarily a street bike. Don’t expect the stock tires to grab like full knobbies off-road. Added ground clearance and the 19″ front wheel do offer significant advantages when compared to most street bikes, however.
The engine is largely the same jewel we discovered in the earlier model, with perhaps a bit stronger power delivery. The compact twin has a surprisingly broad spread of power and torque that allows you to short shift the bike, or rev it out . . . depending on your mood. Both methods will move you along smartly, and many Adventure bike enthusiasts have found the power more than adequate, and a worthwhile trade-off when compared to the more powerful, but often far less nimble, large-displacement Adventure bikes.
The vibration felt from the twin is generally a pleasant sensation, not tiring, and the gear box shifts precisely and with low effort. Stricter emissions regulations may contribute to what we perceived as a slightly “less perfect” throttle response (from closed throttle to opened).
The brakes continue to be adequate, if not stellar, and the ABS system was a welcome addition to a bike likely to be ridden long and hard. This V-twin has proven to be bullet proof, with many owners reporting well over 100,000 miles with only basic maintenance performed. The new instrument panel is legible and informative, but both speed and fuel mileage seem to be optimistic by a good margin (something other owners have reported). A simple clock readout would be a welcome addition, as well.
So we have found the redesigned Suzuki V-Strom 650 to be a slightly refined and improved version of the original, but that has to be taken as a compliment. The original “Wee Strom” is a cult favorite for good reason. In many ways, it represents an almost perfect balance of performance and light weight. When you have a do-it-all bike that just happens to be loads of fun to ride, you have a winner. Suzuki already had that, and the new V-Strom 650 is even better in many respects.
The 2013 Suzuki V-Strom 650 ABS is available in the following color options: Pearl Glacier White and Pearl Vigor Blue at an U.S. MSRP of $8,499. A separate, accessorized model, known as the V-Strom 650 ABS Adventure, is also available at a U.S. MSRP at $9,999 (featuring saddlebags, for instance). For additional details and specifications, take a look at Suzuki’s web site.