2017 Suzuki DL650 Tested in FNQ with Trevor Hedge
Suzuki’s DL650 V-Strom has been around since 2004 and has been a very popular model for the brand. The smaller sibling of the DL1000, the more affordable DL650 has outsold its big brother by almost three to one since its inception and the two models combined have achieved over a quarter of a million sales for the Hamamatsu based manufacturer.
If two words could be used to sum up the V-Strom machines they would be ‘budget’ and ‘bulletproof’. The same could be said for Suzuki’s full range of enduro-adventure machines from the soft-enduro single-cylinder DR-Z400E, through to the default budget adventure machine that is the DR650. It is a smart move as those two machines are always solid sellers for Suzuki, and quite often top their respective enduro or adventure sales segments.
Where pretty much all the other multi-cylinder adventure machines have pushed more and more upmarket, Suzuki have kept their Strom line-up relatively simple, allowing them to contain costs and keep DL650 prices more affordable than ever.
The DL650, even in its recently updated for 2017 guise, sells for $10,990. An XT version with spoked rims, handguards and an engine cowling will cost you a grand more. A step up to the DL1000 will set you back $15,790 +ORC, or $16,490 for the DL1000 XT.
On the bang for the buck ledger the DL650, as always, knocks the ball out of the park. 11k for a bike so comfortable, so versatile, yet still able to bang hard on the tarmac at such astonishing pace is testament that Suzuki have taken the right approach.
The engine received a serious update in 2011, which was a huge step forward in the performance for the model. Outright claimed numbers were not all that different, but the punch out of corners and torquey characteristics of the engine told the story on the road. If looking at secondhand models it is definitely worth paying a few more dollars for a 2011 onwards machine.
The 645cc 90-degree V-Twin has again been tweaked for 2017. A couple more Nm and another single pony has not brought a vast change, unlike the 2011 revamp which included a move to twin plug heads, but does deliver more higher rpm performance than before.
Torque peaks at 6500rpm with 62Nm while Suzuki claim 71 horsepower at 8800rpm and the DL650 pulls a little more enthusiastically towards 10,000rpm than its predecessor.
It is still strong and flexible down low, with 80 per cent of that torque peak available by 2500rpm. Suzuki’s provided dyno graph highlights the changes and from my seat of the pants that seems about right in reality. That little dip below 4000rpm is also felt in comparison to its predecessor, no doubt a result of some Euro4 specific emissions tuning required at that point of the rev range.
Some of the internal changes include new pistons with a special coating and improved rings, while the higher lift exhaust cam from the SV650 and larger valves contribute towards the more willing top end. Along with a move to higher-spec 10-hole injectors, there are more than 60 changes which have also added up to improved fuel consumption.
As much as 500km can be wrought from the 20-litre fuel tank if riding conservatively but 400km is a more reliable tank range in our experience. The small cowling to the front of the fuel tank has been reshaped to improve the flow of cooling air to the radiators.
Needless to say the bikes got a less hot and bothered than did their riders when we were plowing through the sands of FNQ up around Palmer River.
A switch to a new low-mount muffler not only improves the aesthetics out of sight but also brings a great boon in amenity via a new pannier mounting system. Earlier models were an absolute bus with hard panniers, so much so that Suzuki could not sell the OEM Suzuki pannier system in Australia as it exceeded the ADR maximum allowable width limits!
While this new slimmer tail-section of course makes the bike look a lot more athletic when panniered up, the dynamic benefits of positioning the luggage closer to the centreline can not be overstated. The 2017 DL650 is also a little slimmer between the knees than before.
I owned an earlier model V-Strom and even with an excellent Givi pannier system it felt like a whale when loaded. Thus off-road I would instead switch to Andy Strapz soft panniers to position the weight as close as possible to the bike.
Now the V-Strom can retain some of its welcome sprightliness even when fully loaded. For some people this will be the most welcome change of all in the 2017 model.
I mentioned previously just how sharp a scalpel the DL650 can be on a tight and twisting ribbon of blacktop. No doubt one of the main ingredients that realise that cornering prowess relates to the employment of a twin-spar alloy frame that certainly wouldn’t have looked all that out of place on an early GSX-R sportsbike.
Sturdy 43mm conventional forks offer a generous 150mm of travel. They are non adjustable but work quite well and, as you push deeper and firmer into turns the chassis geometry tightens as the forks compress, making the bike turn better the harder you push it.
They are of a fairly basic design, and are not adjustable, but Suzuki have done a good enough job tuning the damping to ensure the Strom rarely gets out of its depth.
On the launch, however, there were few opportunities to explore the tarmac limits of the Strom. Instead we were taking the road less travelled, well in many cases it wasn’t a road at all!
Roy Kunda from Cape York Motorcycle Adventures led us into some testing terrain complete with some deep sand and rocky river crossings. Our test bikes were 100 per cent bone stock, wore standard Battlax A40 tyres and had no bashplates or extra protection of any kind.
Roy has been running much of this route for decades, but there were sections we traversed on launch where he had never seen motorcycles shod with what were essentially full road tyres.
I am not surprised, it was certainly a gentle game of survival in some parts with the 110/80 19” front hoop darting around the place and threatening to fold. Never have I yearned for a set of TKC80s or Karoos so much as I did on this route.
Still, we all got through virtually unscathed. Which I still see as somewhat of a minor miracle and a testament to not only the bikes, but the cool heads of the small group of assembled riders. This was no place to get ahead of yourself.
Adjusting the rear preload is a smooth fuss free affair thanks to Suzuki’s familiar and easy hand-wheel adjuster. Rebound damping adjustment is also available which will further aid tuning of the bike for two-up duties or carrying luggage.
The twin-piston sliding calipers work well enough on a pair of 310mm discs to haul the 213kg Strom down quickly enough. A 260mm rear rotors helps further and is a handy aid in getting the bike to squat and turn more quickly when needed.
Bosch provides the non-switchable ABS system which is now, it must be said, getting a little long in the tooth. It does not cycle quickly enough for my liking, and is a generation or two behind the current game. But again, the DL650 sells for $10,990 +ORC, clearly they can’t deliver the best of everything and still arrive at that bargain price point.
2017 has brought traction control to the DL650 for the first time. Unlike the ABS, the traction control system can be switched off, and can also be cycled through two levels of intervention. It is a useful safety aid, particularly for those new riders that opt for the LAMS variant of the DL650.
I didn’t think the previous DL650 instrumentation looked too old hat but seen alongside the new instruments it certainly does look a generation behind. The new dash layout is attractive, logical, informative and perfectly functional.
The windscreen is taller than before and thus offers better protection and is also adjustable through three planes of angle to further customise it to individual tastes.
Seating arrangements on the DL650 have always been fairly sumptuous and the 2017 model is thicker again and sports a more attractive covering while the pillion seat now sits flush with the expansive standard rear carrier rack.
The 10-spoke alloy rims are made by specialist wheel manufacturer Enkei. They are lighter than before and really quite handsome in their design and finish.
Opting for the XT version of the DL650 sees the machine ride on DID spoked rims. Also handsome, and perhaps a little more suitable for hard core adventures, but are heavier than the standard alloy rims. I should also mention that we sustained no rim damage during the launch on bikes with either style of rim, so both options are certainly very tough.
While the spoked rims do add a certain pukka adventure look to the bike I would be tempted to stick with the standard version of the DL650 and its alloys, while putting the 1k saving towards some aftermarket engine protection and more serious barkbusters than the handguards fitted to the XT model.
The move away from the traditional DL650 twin headlight look to a single headlight does modernise the appearance of the machine. The taillight is now LED and a standard 12-volt socket resides in the left-hand fairing.
Again, I come back to bang for your buck. Since inception there has been little else on the market that marries such all-rounder performance for so little money as the DL650. This most recent update further modernises the machine both beneath the skin and above it, and this launch proved that as long as you ride to the conditions, and capabilities of the machine, it will also get you most places the megabuck adventure bikes will get you to.
And as for road manners and capabilities, apart from the obvious power/torque deficit to the much larger engined machines, it does not give much else away to its more expensive rivals. It is lighter, more svelte, more modern and more capable than ever before yet still sells for that bargain price of $10,990 +ORC.
The Launch video below features and pertains to both the 2017 DL650 and DL1000