Spinning through Joshua Tree National Park at a leisurely pace allowed me time to observe the interesting terrain. A group of Joshua trees to my right, a clump of weird cacti to my left, and a pile of remarkably smooth boulders ahead on the horizon. The sun, for the most part, had the sky to itself, and the air temperature was close to 20°C.
Beneath me, the all-new Suzuki 650 V-Strom was feeling like an old friend as it handled the rough, twisting road with ease. Light and comfortable, I was completely relaxed and thoroughly enjoying my ride.
This new 650 is simply not intimidating and doesn’t demand to be ridden hard. Instead, it encourages you to sit back on the comfortable perch and take some time to sniff the proverbial roses.
It carries you back to a simpler time in life, a time before voice mail, e-mail, cell phones, and call forwarding began invading our every wakening moment. Its inherent simplicity, and ease of operation, had me breathing out, as I felt myself unwinding with each passing mile.
That is not to say the new Suzuki V-Strom 650 is out of date, far from it. Boasting a spiffy 650cc fuel-injected engine, borrowed from the highly successful middleweight SV 650, the V-Strom bristles with modern technology.
There is no kick-start or choke lever needed here, just a light touch on the starter button as the electronic ignition fires the two cylinders eagerly to life. Suzuki’s Auto Fast Idle System (AFIS) eliminates the need for a fast-idle control (the equivalent of the old choke lever).
Managing this system is the engine control module (ECM) that reads the coolant temperature to get the correct information. With a 16-bit central processing unit (CPU) doing its stuff, the ECM sends electrical signals to a DC motor. Its job is to open the second of the two throttle valves to the desired position, which in turn opens the primary as they are joined by a linkage.
Once on the move, the dual throttle bodies are responsible for the strong, steady pull of acceleration that is available from just off idle until the rev limiter shuts things down at 10,000 rpm. When you twist the throttle, the primary throttle valve is opened. This alerts a throttle position sensor that tells the ECM to activate the DC motor so the secondary throttle valve can get to work. Before it gives its orders, the ECM also takes information from a crankshaft position sensor and a gear position sensor. The system also increases the engine’s torque for a noticeable bulge in the mid-range. Things taper off in the upper rpm reaches, but the engine will pull redline in all but top gear if you need it to.
Having done sterling duty in Suzuki’s highly successful SV 650 since 1999, it seems logical for this engine to be reused in another application. Just as with the air/oil cooled GSX-R1100 engine that was relaxed and slotted into Suzuki’s long-selling 1200 Bandit.
For the V-Strom 650, the SV engine remains basically the same: A 90-degree, water-cooled, V-twin, with an 81mm bore and a 62.6mm stroke. Each cylinder gets four valves, with both intake and exhaust being opened and closed by their own camshaft. Here the V-Strom engine differs from the SV, with more relaxed cam profiles. This helps boost the power approximately 5 percent right where you need it, between 4,000 and 6,500 rpm. To enhance this gain, subtle changes have taken place inside the airbox and exhaust.
There is one more change, and this is found in the bottom of the engine. The crankshaft inertia has been increased by 4 percent to smooth some of the V-twins pulses.
Keeping the air clean, and the neighbourhood quiet, the fuel-injected Suzuki gets rid of the burned fuel through a two-into-one exhaust system. (The bigger 1000 V-Strom uses a two-into-two) This comes with an oxygen sensor in the pipes, and a catalytic converter in the muffler to pass all emission laws. The pipe actually sounds pretty good when it goes by on full throttle, but there is little to be heard from the saddle.
The V-Strom 650 gets the SV’s six-speed transmission and gear ratios. It doesn’t keep the same final drive however, as the rear sprocket gains three teeth for a 47/15 combination, compared to the SV’s 44/15. While this adds acceleration at the expense of top-end, most owners are going to appreciate the extra pickup away from the lights. Out on the road it makes for a very flexible top gear that is able to run down as low as 2500 rpm and still pull away. Don’t expect stump-pulling torque at these lowly rpm. But if you are stuck in slow-moving traffic, you won’t be tap dancing on the gear lever to make progress.
Providing a home for this gutsy little V-twin, Suzuki has opted to use the existing V-Strom 1000 frame. Subtle changes see a revised swingarm and front fork setup. The spec charts list the 650’s weight nearly 20kg lighter than its big brother. I think a lot of this must come from the exhaust system, as the swingarm doesn’t look too much lighter.
The rear shock is by Showa, and comes with a handy-dandy hydraulic preload adjuster. Just crank the large, black wheel located on the left-hand side of the bike in or out, depending on your preference. The rebound damping is also adjustable but the compression isn’t.
Providing a home for the front wheel, the forks are also made by Showa, and are adjustable for preload only. Overall the suspension performs very well and will work just fine for new or inexperienced riders. As tested the preload was too soft, while the rebound was a tad stiff, but it was certainly not a problem.
Braking is good, and the front binders were easily able to outperform the front forks as tested. Adding some preload would have allowed me to take better advantage of the dual discs. These are 310mm in diameter, and get worked on by their own two-piston pin-slide style calipers. They perform well, and with the addition of the single piston caliper set up in the rear, provide plenty of strong, safe stopping power.
Giving the tyres something to wrap around, the V-Strom uses three-spoke alloy wheels. Here the bike takes on its own identity using a unique size combination. Whereas most dual-purpose enduros use a 21-inch front, the V-Strom is not touting its dirt capabilities, so uses a 19-incher. Out back it runs a more sport orientated 150/17R-17 inch tire.
The net result is a light and lively handling machine that turns into corners with little more than a nudge on the wide bars. While not lightening quick like its sporty cousin, the GSX-R600, the V-Strom changes direction easily without sacrificing any feeling of stability. The bike will also inspire confidence in new riders with its ease of action.
As you can tell, I was very impressed with the bright blue tiddler in most of the important areas. The one thing I couldn’t immediately get to grips with was the bikes looks. I found the bike a little too futuristic and angular looking with more front end than Pamela Anderson. It did grow on me the more I rode it, and just because it’s not my style doesn’t mean it is not a good-looking machine.
New owners will be voting with their hard earned dollars, and the 650 V-Strom’s $9,999 price tag will be looking mighty fine when it comes time to get the cheque book out.
While the 650 appears almost identical to its bigger brother, look a little closer and you will notice an adjustable windshield. This has three settings and can move a total of 50mm. I am not a compulsive fiddler and left it on the lowest setting, but some of the taller riders did move it up to gain extra protection.
Responsible for the V-Strom’s distinctive facial expression are dual multi-reflector headlights that do an outstanding job at night. Putting out 120 Watts of power on main beam, they were much appreciated negotiating the Park’s unlit, twisting roads after dark.