2012 Suzuki V-Strom ABS & ABS Adventure

Text: Christa Neuhauser • Photography: Enrico Pavia, John Howell

Combining spirited V-twin performance with excellent comfort and good handling at a reasonable price, Suzuki’s versatile V-Strom models have created a near cult following over the years.

We got to test ride the new 2012 V-Strom 650 ABS and ABS Adventure models at the U.S. press launch in the mountainous Piedmont region of the Carolinas. Exclusive to the U.S. market, the V-Strom 650 Adventure adds a touring windscreen, crash bars, and aluminum panniers with mounts made by SW-Motech. The two-day route started and finished in Charlotte, NC, with an overnight in the quaint town of Little Switzerland. The tour along the famous Blue Ridge Parkway and environs, with light traffic and lots of twisties, was a perfect venue for evaluating the new bikes.

Powertrain & Performance

Although the original V-Strom 650 used the SV650’s engine, the 2012 model is powered by the same engine as Suzuki’s Gladius. This lively, 645cc V-twin shares the 81mm bore and 62.6mm stroke but receives different pistons, cylinders, intake camshafts, and valve springs. A redesigned crankshaft enhances V-twin feel, and a scissors-type primary gear reduces mechanical noise. Single valve springs (which replace doubles) reduce internal friction, and a high-speed 32-bit ECU plus fine-atomization fuel injectors improve efficiency, for a claimed 10 percent gain in mileage.

Suzuki reports improvement in the critical 4,000 to 6,000 rpm range, although it doesn’t offer power numbers. Engine performance isn’t overwhelming, but it’s certainly strong, especially when riding solo. V-Strom’s 650 engine delivers pleasing street-friendly power over a wide rpm range. You have power at 3,000 rpm as well as 8,000; it feels mellow at low revs, with a substantial midrange. The top-end pull provides some thrills, and it can deliver triple digits when asked. At high rpm some vibrations reach the rider, but generally the bike feels smooth. V-Strom’s docile and civilized nature makes it a good choice for beginners or intermediate riders; it will also appeal to some grizzled veterans.

Suzuki changed the clutch-release mechanism in the new model; lever effort is moderate and engagement is chatter free. The six-speed transmission shifts smoothly with no false neutrals or missed gears. A low first-gear ratio allows easy launches, while sixth gear’s overdrive purrs along at 70 mph at five grand. I did find some switchbacks where first gear was too low and second gear was too tall, but overall the gearbox is satisfactory. I also like the gear-position indicator on the instrument cluster.

Riding a mix of curvy terrain and interstates, we saw a best-indicated fuel mileage of 59 mpg without side cases. However, the other riders (with side cases) reported 45–47 mpg; it’s likely the mileage calculator is optimistic, so we’ll go with 46 mpg. Even considering the half-gallon smaller tank on the 2012 model, its 5.3 gallons still should deliver more than 200 miles of range.

Chassis & Handling

Suzuki states the V-Strom is the only model in its class that has an aluminum swingarm and twin-spar frame (both unchanged on the 2012 models). A conventional Showa 43mm front fork with 5.9 inches of travel features five-way spring-preload adjustment, and the swingarm works with a link-type rear suspension through 6.3 inches of travel. The single Showa rear shock has a stepless rebound-damping adjuster and a five-way spring-preload adjuster that can be set by turning a remote knob.

Front preload is increased, and the rear shock has a heavier spring plus an extra 0.4-inches of travel. Ride compliance is improved, and the additional height provides more cornering clearance. To route airflow to the radiator and aid cooling efficiency, the front fender was redesigned and wind-directing plates added to push engine heat away from the rider’s feet.

The Strom handles well, with easy steering and good stability, and feels considerably lighter than it is. Bridgestone Trail Wing tires provide ample grip on pavement, dirt, or gravel. V-Strom’s triple-disc brake system is also unchanged, but the standard Bosch ABS unit is now lighter and operates faster. Braking performance from the non-radial-mount Tokico calipers is smooth and effective but requires a firm tug at the lever for maximum braking. The ABS works well, without premature or harsh activation, but you can’t switch it off for dirt riding.

Features & Ergonomics

Revamped styling offers better wind protection and routes engine heat away from the rider. The windscreen was revised to reduce wind buffeting and is three-position adjustable within a two-inch range, but it requires an Allen wrench to adjust. There’s little turbulence with the standard model, and the Adventure version has a laminar-lip windscreen that’s even more effective. Thanks to nice, big mirrors with no vibration blurring, it’s also easy to see behind you.

Instrumentation is improved, with the cluster positioned higher for better visibility. An analog tach remains, but the speedometer is replaced with a digital readout on a brightness-adjustable LCD display. The unit also shows coolant temperature, fuel level, clock/ambient temp, and has a dual trip/fuel consumption/odometer. A button on the left handlebar easily changes the functions, and there’s an LED freeze-warning indicator.

Seating posture is comfy, with the handlebar at a reasonable height, and footpeg positions allow a good compromise between legroom and ground clearance when cornering. The new saddle is wide and flat and has 25 percent more padding. Combined with rear suspension changes, seat height is increased from 32.3 to 32.9 inches. However, the front of the saddle is narrower, which makes it just as easy to put your feet down. With my 30-inch inseam, I had no problem reaching the ground. Suzuki offers optional lower (32.1-inch) and taller (33.7-inch) seats. There’s plenty of room to move around; I could easily ride 150 miles before I felt like squirming. However, the so-called suede-finish seat did not allow me to slide around on the seat, which is an unusual feeling. Passenger accommodations are plush, and the standard luggage rack has built-in grab handles. The rack is made of resin plastic instead of aluminum and has a cover that can be removed to install an accessory trunk.

Adventure models come with aluminum side cases that are large enough to hold a full-face helmet, but you can only open the cases with the ignition key. It’s annoying because you have to shut off the engine every time you want to use the cases. Also, the cases extend well past the mirrors and make the bike really wide; riders bumped into each other several times. A slight rattling coming from the mounting brackets was also noticeable.

Final Thoughts

The V-Strom 650 ABS is available in Metallic Fox Orange and Glass Sparkle Black for ,299; its closest rival is Kawasaki’s Versys, which lists for ,899. The Adventure version retails for ,799 (only available in black), rivaling the prices of the new Triumph Tiger 800XC and the BMW G 800 GS.

Suzuki’s updates for the V-Strom 650 series are welcome, and some would say overdue. For those who were pining for the V-Strom 1000, that has also returned to the U.S. after a two-year hiatus. While it’s at home on pavement, the V-Strom is more than capable of taking on dirt and gravel roads; we recommend adding a skid plate, and there are also many accessories available, such as heated grips, center stands, and more. The new models are better in many ways, with crisper styling, improved engine performance and suspension compliance, less weight, greater comfort, and more wind protection.