-- 2012 Suzuki DL650 Review
Looking upon the long-awaited update to Suzuki’s venerable and hugely successful DL650 V-Strom, one can be forgiven for not expecting all that much. Almost a decade on from the well lauded original, the specification sheet for 2012 claims a few less kilos, a slimmer profile and an engine update and yet, it’s hard to get excited over a bike that is a little ugly, and which - to the uninitiated - promises little.
One good strop in the hills on this modest machine is all it takes to have those expectations blown away, to discover just how outrageously competent and surprisingly sporting the V-Strom is.
The chassis is simply amazing, the steering sublime. Push hard and deep into corners and the Strom gets better the harder you push as the geometry changes under load. The transition back to power, with oodles more bottom end and mid-range grunt than before, is equally as smooth and satisfying.
Combine those brilliant handling traits with almost ergonomic perfection and for $10,890 (+ORC), you have arguably the best value for money motorcycle on the market.
The engine has been thoroughly updated through changes to the crankshaft, cylinder head and camshafts. This has not resulted in any discernible increase in top end power and Suzuki claim 68hp @ 8800rpm. Forget about dyno charts though, on the road the difference is chalk and cheese.
The torque benefits from the overhauled engine are clearly felt from idle well into the mid-range with the 650 Strom exhibiting a lot more ‘grunt’ factor than before.
It is definitely not a powerhouse by any stretch, but there is more urge available at corner exit than before and this translates into a more satisfying riding experience.
One-wheel antics are child’s play through the first few gears and in stark contrast to how hard you had to work its predecessor for the front to loft. The difference really is quite massive.
Many of these engine changes were first released on the SFV650 Gladius. Disappointingly, the sweet induction and exhaust sounds on Suzuki’s little naked have not made it across to the Strom, thus it does miss out on a little character. I could not own this bike without fitting an aftermarket muffler to let the little twin clear its lungs in a more evocative manner.
Some of the nuts and bolts of the machine certainly give it a built-down-to-a-price appearance but when the ride is this competent and the price this affordable, much can be forgiven. In contrast, the supple and supportive seat on this latest model is beautifully finished with coloured stitching and tasteful embossing.
The Strom has always been one of the most comfortable motorcycles on the market and the latest iteration continues the theme but the cockpit is finished to a higher quality level than seen before. The new lipped screen is manually adjustable through three positions and developed through wind tunnel testing.
The reasonable 835mm seat height, 15mm higher than the previous model, can be raised or lowered by 20mm via optional lower or higher seats.
The gearbox is fuss free. The clutch and shift mechanism have been tweaked for 2012.
Brakes look low rent but do the job well. Get in too hot and squeeze them really hard and the forks start to struggle, upsetting the ABS, but you are way beyond good fast riding by then and well into the loose and ragged zone. Unfortunately, only the ABS version is available in Australia and with the ABS not switchable it renders the 2012 Strom even less of an off-roader than its predecessors. Many hoped the updated Strom would be more off-road capable than its predecessor but alas this latest Strom is more of a road bike than ever.
Overall the forks and shock do an admirable job, even when tested to the extremes by my ‘cough’ above average girth; on tight and tortuous roads the Strom never wallowed or got upset. I was constantly amazed at the excellent pace the Strom scythed along Eildon-Jamieson Road and the twisting climb up Mount Buller. The stroke of the 43mm forks remains 150mm and is adjustable for preload only. The rear suspension retains the useful hand-wheel preload adjuster.
So confidence inspiring, so sure footed and with steering that makes you feel almost invincible add up to a cracking pace. When the roads are tight and the surface less than perfect, the Strom is capable of pulling away from sportsbikes. The Strom has a proper alloy twin-spar frame and when the pace hots up, it shows. Cornering clearance is also far superior to big brother DL1000, and better than earlier DL650 models. This is a machine that clearly flatters the rider. I believe there are a huge amount of sportsbike riders out there that would be faster on any given stretch of twisty road on the Strom than they would on their sportsbike. They wouldn't look as cool outside the coffee shop though of course...
Off road, the improved engine makes for much more satisfying and controllable slides but there is a lot of hardware hanging around in the breeze to get smashed off by any errant logs or rocks, thus many modifications will have to be undertaken to ready the Strom for any semi-serious adventure at anything more than a very slow and cautious pace.
Luggage options are plentiful for the V-Strom with a vast array of aftermarket everything available for the model and a large luggage rack is standard.
If Suzuki did a version with a bit more clearance and suspension travel along with spoked rims and some crash protection then it would be a killer adventure bike.
As it is now the updated Strom is one of the most comfortable and competent road bikes ever devised. At a price that’s hard to argue with.
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