2012 Suzuki V-Strom 650 ABS

Story by Glenn Roberts// Photos by Glenn Roberts
November 1 2011

2012 V-Strom Review

Croatia is a beautiful country and an up-and-coming vacation spot for many Europeans. And it’s no wonder. The eastern edge of the Adriatic Sea is strewn with hundreds of islands, the coastline slopes gradually into the sea, and a little farther inland from our host city of Split are mountains offering breathtaking vistas of the coastline. Hairpin turns, rough roads at times, and high-speed highways combine to make a perfect location to put the redesigned 2012 Suzuki V-Strom DL650 ABS through its paces at the international press launch.

As with many press launches on foreign ground, the speeds far exceeded the pace of everyday riding which I am accustomed to. Most of the hairpin turns on the mountain roads were devoid of guardrails; only steep drop-offs separated the road from the ground below. Complete attention was mandatory. The day was hot, and with the exception of my rear tire sliding a bit on one highly polished corner, the new V-Strom held on like glue – a testament to the sporting abilities of the bike.

Introduced in 2003, the 650 has garnered a bit of a cult status in the mid-size adventure touring market. Its following is well deserved. It was the darling of the world’s press when it hit the streets, with little or no negative comment other than about its looks. A bit of an ugly duckling, the bike’s aesthetics were really its only downfall if form over function was that important to you.

The wee-Strom, as it is affectionately known in comparison to the bigger 1000 V-Strom, quickly made a name for itself as being a jack-of-all-trades but a master of none. It handled well but couldn’t compete on a race track; it is an excellent light-weight tourer but lacked the size, weight and weather protection of a full-blown touring motorcycle; it could handle mediocre bush trails, but not like a dedicated trail or off-road bike could; in short, it was, and still is, a great, all-around, multi-purpose motorcycle that does everything really well.

The 650 V-Strom has consistently been the bestseller in its class, and what better time to update it and keep it at the top of the charts? Rumours had the new Strom being released with an 800 cc engine to compete head-to-head with the BMW F800GS and the newly released Triumph Tiger 800XC. But really, why change a good thing? Suzuki’s 650 V-Twin has stood the test of time; released in the 1999 SV650, it has proven itself a long-lasting, bullet-proof design.

Suzuki didn’t unleash any details other than that a new motorcycle was on its way, and only offered a stylized outline of it on their website, leaving the rest to everyone’s imagination. Even before seeing the outline, I suspected it was a V-Strom based on the fact that the bike has a huge following; after a production run of nine years, it was time for an upgrade.

Most noticeable at first glance is the redesigned body style. The fairing doesn’t stick out over the front wheel quite as much, and what were once large plastic panels jutting forward on each side are now truncated and include vents to help displace hot air from the radiator. The gas tank is shapelier and taller, and the foot peg-to- seat distance has been increased 10 mm. While the seat height has increased, so has the ground clearance by 10 mm and the wheelbase by 5 mm. The new V-Strom looks to be in better proportion overall.

I had an opportunity to speak with 36-year-old Satoshi Isokari, the new 650’s designer and also lead designer for the GSF1250 and the futuristic – but now discontinued – B-King. He stated that the initial design was done in Germany at Suzuki International Europe before being refined and produced in Japan, and that, in a rare case, the final production model is sportier and lighter than what the initial design called for. The 13-year Suzuki veteran said Suzuki’s goal with the new V-Strom was to be ‘tough and smart,” like a Swiss Army knife. Part of his mandate was to give the bike a more comfortable seating position and better wind protection. He also mentioned that there are more OEM accessories available for the new model, making the bike more customizable and functional, depending on the type of riding the customer wished to do.

The remodelled fairing includes a redesigned windscreen and does deliver very good upper-body wind protection, with only minimal wind hitting my shoulders and barely skimming the top of my helmet. The stock windscreen is easily adjustable to three positions by removing four screws and moving the windscreen up or down to the next set of holes. All of the bikes with stock windscreens were set on the standard middle setting, and we did not have the opportunity to try out the other two positions. Some of the test bikes were outfitted with a full complement of accessories, including a touring windscreen with a seven-position adjustable wind deflector mounted to the top of it. Unfortunately, it takes two hands to move the deflector, so while riding this is not recommended, but it does make quite a difference in the airflow at helmet level during highway speeds, and eliminated what little buffeting there was with the stock windshield.

Our lead guide was riding a previous-version 650 V-Strom, so after a couple of hundred kilometres on the new edition, I traded bikes with him for a comparison of old to new. In 2008, I spent 14 days on a 650 Strom (Sept./Oct. 2008 issue) while riding through the Yukon and Alaska, and loved every minute of riding that bike. During my comparison, I realized after only a half an hour that while the previous seat worked fine for 14 long days in the saddle, the new seat is even more comfortable, thanks to upgraded materials. The new Strom has a slightly taller seating position and the rider is a bit closer to the handlebar, but I couldn’t really distinguish between the two. Both riding positions are comfortable, with legs below the thighs and an easy reach to the handgrips. There are also two optional seats available – one is 20 mm (0.8 in.) taller, while the other is 20 mm shorter than the stock seat. Even with the new height of the stock seat at 835 mm (32.9 in.) with my 812 mm (32 in.) inseam I found no problem touching the ground with both feet, since the redesigned seat is narrower at the front. Suzuki claims that this new seat provides a more comfortable pillion position as well.

The instrument cluster has changed considerably. An analog tachometer takes up the left side of the cluster and a large multi-function LCD takes up the bulk of the right side. Included in the LCD are the legacy dual trip meters and odometer, fuel gauge, coolant temperature and clock, but new to the 2012 display are the gear indicator, ambient air temperature, average fuel consumption and a brightness control. A button on the left switchgear activates the switchable modes so that your hand doesn’t have to leave the handgrip. Also new is a freeze indicator LED to let you know that ice may be present.

Comparing the previous 650 V-Strom to the new one, the new 645 cc engine is quieter and smoother, and the peak torque range is now more prominent in the low- to mid-rpm range, which in turn delivers a wider power band. This change in torque is due to a redesigned camshaft and valve springs, specially coated cylinders and new types of pistons and rings, which provide a more compact combustion chamber that uses larger-diameter valves. The new engine uses Suzuki’s dual-throttle valve system to meter the air and a 10-hole fine atomization fuel injector to deliver fuel. Combustion is completed with twin iridium spark plugs. This combination provides more get-up-and-go where it’s needed in an everyday riding scenario and, not surprisingly, the revised 650’s acceleration was smooth and getting up to speed was quite brisk. One of the European journos in our group was constantly popping wheelies, which not only provided entertainment, but also was a great display of the bike’s low-range torque.

With barely a hint of engine vibration in the seat at high rpm, the liquid-cooled, DOHC V-Twin was vibration-free in the foot pegs and the handgrips throughout the rev range.

While it was impossible for me to get any fuel usage numbers, Suzuki claims that the redesigned engine will provide a 10 percent improvement in fuel economy, and with its 20-litre fuel tank, should provide plenty of kilometres between fuel stops. Based on my fuel consumption during my 2008 trip, a 10 percent saving should put the V-Strom around 4L/100 km (70.6 mpg), and about 500 km per tank.

Shifting is smooth and light in all gears, and finding neutral was never an issue. The cable-operated clutch is smooth, and I was surprised at how easy the non-adjustable clutch lever is to pull. A predictable and comfortable friction point adds up to a nice combination when stuck in rush-hour traffic, as we were during the return trip from our fun and frivolity in the mountains.

The front 43 mm fork offers a 5-position spring adjuster that allows the rider to fine-tune the front suspension depending on personal preference and road conditions. Suspension travel for the front stays the same as the previous model at 150 mm (5.9 in.). The rear suspension gives up 159 mm (6.26 in.) of travel from its linkage-type mono shock, which has a stepless rebound damping adjuster and spring preload is handled by an adjustment knob within easy access under the right thigh.

I found that the suspension seemed soft on most of the bikes I rode. We regularly changed bikes back and forth, so trying to adjust and fine-tune the suspension would have been futile. During our mountain hairpin carving, the bike railed around the corners, and given time to dial in the suspension settings, handling should have gotten even better. Some of the Europeans I was riding with were much more experienced on these types of roads and were dragging their knees in some of the corners.

Holding on to the tarmac are a pair of specially designed tubeless Bridgestone Trail Wing tires, a 110/80R19 up front while a 150/70R17 sits out back, mounted onto lightweight, three-spoke aluminum wheels.

I realized I was a little too hot coming into a few of the corners, and I was grateful to have excellent brakes. A pair of two-piston calipers clamping floating rotors up front gave good feedback, slowing the bike fast with only a light squeeze on the adjustable brake lever. The new Strom comes with ABS as standard equipment, and although it cannot be turned off, that shouldn’t be a problem for the vast majority of V-Strom riders. Interestingly, the compact, high-performance ABS weighs in at only 0.7 kg (1.5 lb.) – that’s less half the weight of the previous 650’s ABS unit.

The new 650 V-Strom has a number of OEM accessories available, and a few of the bikes we rode were fully decked out. The touring windshield was the most apparent from the perspective of the rider. Knuckle guards and heated grips are an important addition for our colder riding months, as is a 12-volt accessory plug for heated clothing. A centre stand is useful to maintain the final drive chain, while the lower engine cowling (it’s not a skid plate) and the crash bars help when the going gets rough.

Because the new V-Strom is a viable touring bike, the most useful accessories are the types of available luggage. The new mounting hardware allows the side cases and top box to be easily removed, as well as most of the mounting system if you choose to ride without bags. That’s a nice touch.

There are two type of bags available using the same mounting hardware, the traditional resin clamshell side cases and top box, or for the adventure rider, the adventure-style aluminum luggage and top box.

The resin top box holds 42 litres and, while I didn’t try it, Suzuki literature says it will hold one full-face helmet.

The side cases vary in size thanks to the clearance required for the muffler. The volume of the right case is 30 litres while the left hand unit is 40.
The aluminum cases have a volume of 45 and 37 litres for the left and right, respectively, and 38 litres for the top case. They have a simple-to-use locking latch system, as do the resin cases, but the box-shaped aluminum cases have a top-loading, hinged lid. Both the clam-shell and the aluminum cases have their benefits, but personally, I prefer the top-loading luggage.

Regardless of type of case, they both make the bike’s rear-end look fat and seriously increase the width of the bike. This extra girth catches some air and seems to make the bike weave a bit at high speeds. While it is noticeable, I never once worried that this weave might cause a problem. The bags were empty, and adding weight to them may make a difference.

With a curb mass of 214 kg (472 lb.), down 6 kg (13 lb.) from the previous model, the V-Strom is easy to manouevre in the city, and with the tall seat height, it is easy to see over the regular traffic. And having a ground clearance of 175 mm (6.9 in.), it is equally adept at taking the path less travelled.

While the previous version is still an ideal bike, the new 2012 V-Strom is more refined in many ways. It’s still a jack of all trades, but I think it is a little bit smoother and quicker. And who doesn’t want that in an ideal all-around performer? Like the previous model, it can easily be regarded as a competent touring machine or an exciting canyon carver.

For those of you wondering about the 1000 V-Strom, it is not being redesigned for the 2012 model year.

At press time, a final retail figure had not been determined, but by the time you read this, the new V-Strom should be arriving on showroom floors.

(Specifications Chart)

MODEL 2012 V-Strom DL650 ABS
List Price N/A (at press time)
Warranty 12 Month unlimited mileage limited warranty
Engine Type 4-stroke, liquid-cooled, DOHC, 90° V-Twin
Displacement 645 cc
Power (claimed) 50.7 kW (68 hp) at 8,800 rpm
Torque (claimed) 59.7 Nm (44 lb-ft) at 6,400 rpm
Bore and Stroke 81.0 mm x 62.6 mm
Compression Ratio 11.2:1
Fuel Delivery Fuel injection
Transmission 6-speed constant mesh
Final Drive Type Chain
Front Suspension Telescopic, coil spring, oil damped
Rear Suspension Link type, coil spring, oil damped
Wheel Travel Front: 150 mm (5.9 in), Rear: 159 mm (6.3 in)
Brakes Front: Dual disc brake with two-piston callipers, Rear: disc brake with single-piston caliper
Wheelbase 1560 mm (61.4 in)
Rake and Trail 26°/ 110 mm
Tires Front: 110/80R19, Rear: 150/70R17
Weight (wet) 214 kg (472 lbs)
Seat Height 835 mm (32.9 in)
Fuel Capacity 20.0 Litres
Fuel Economy (observed) N/A
Fuel Range (estimated) N/A



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