2014 Suzuki V-Strom 1000 ABS: Dust in the Desert

Text: David Burbach • Photography: Brian Nelson, Enrico Pavia

Let’s get this over with. No, the new V-Strom is not a BMW GS clone. Yes, it has a beak, but it could be argued that BMW copied said beak from Suzuki’s 1988 DR-BIG and DR-Z. Who copied whom aside; Suzuki does have a legitimate claim to being the first to make a motorcycle with avian facial features, for what that’s worth.

I spent two days and nearly 500 miles putting the new V-Strom through its paces on a variety of Southern California roads. With the route including highways, twisty mountain two-lanes, and even some dirt, the V-Strom had ample opportunity to prove itself.

Powertrain and Performance

Though based on the 996cc motor that powered the previous generation, most of the liquid-cooled 90-degree V-twin’s parts are entirely new. The bore increases from 98 to 100mm for a gain in displacement to 1,037cc. This and other refinements bring the total horsepower up to 99.2 at 8,000 rpm. The real story, though, is the torque. The old bike made 74.5 lb-ft of twist at 6,400 rpm, but the 2014 V-Strom ups that to 76 lb-ft at a much lower 4,000 rpm. Since the engine is generating its torque peak in top gear at 70 mph, there’s plenty of passing power with no need to downshift. The engine is smooth too; not once did I feel any unwanted vibration coming through the seat or handlebars.

New ten-hole fuel injectors and twin iridium spark plugs combine for more efficient combustion and smoother fueling, though a low rpm throttle response could still use a bit of refining. The six-speed transmission shifts with admirable precision, and the ratios are well spaced. The clutch employs something called Suzuki Clutch Assist System (SCAS), which is supposed to work like a slipper clutch to smooth downshifts and reduce the lever pull. In practice, what I noticed was the reduced engine braking from allowing the clutch to slip.

With its prodigious low-end torque, respectable horsepower, and impressive refinement, this powertrain is certainly a gem.

Chassis and Handling

Like the engine, the chassis has been thoroughly worked over, and the new twin-spar aluminum frame is now both lighter and stiffer. Geometric revisions include a longer overall wheelbase, courtesy of a lengthened swingarm, which increases straight-line stability. To retain agility, the distance between the swingarm pivot and the front axle has actually been reduced. The suspension has also been completely upgraded. The 43mm KYB inverted front fork is adjustable for both preload and damping. The rear shock is also adjustable, and a handy preload dial means you don’t need tools to do it.

Though Suzuki brands them as adventure bikes, most V-Strom 1000s will spend the majority of their lives on asphalt, not dirt. For this reason, the suspension is surprisingly stiff, which translates into good on-road handling. Bumps and potholes do little to disturb the V-Strom, though a fair amount of impact force does get transmitted to the rider. Southern California’s strong cross winds truly tested the bike’s stability, and it performed well. Off-road, the bike continues to overachieve. It’s lighter (502 pounds) than any other 1,000cc-plus adventure bike, and the wide bars and narrow width make it easy to control. The ‘Strom should be fine exploring tame dirt roads and fire trails with decent tires and some crash protection.

The bike is equipped with Suzuki’s first traction control system. There are three modes, which can be easily selected via controls on the left handlebar. Mode one offers a little intervention; throttle response is snappy, and you can still spin the rear wheel. Mode two gives you a bit more electronic oversight; throttle response is less direct, and the system intervenes more quickly when wheel slip is detected. Mode three is traction control off. It’s simple and effective, and I can’t imagine wishing for more modes.

Bosch ABS comes standard and gets some high quality hardware to work with. Four piston Tokico monoblock calipers straddle 310mm floating discs up front with a single 260mm disc for the rear. The brakes have a fierce initial bite but are easy to modulate and allow for firm and decisive chassis inputs that inspire plenty of confidence. Unlike the traction control, ABS cannot be switched off.

Features and Ergonomics

The manually adjustable windscreen can be cycled through its three positions by simply pushing it forward and letting it come back. Overall wind protection is good, though riders taller than six feet or so will want to select Suzuki’s optional taller windscreen.

The seating position is upright with the wide bars set at a comfortable distance. The footpegs are situated directly below the shoulders, which is ideal both for long distance comfort and for standing during off-road excursions. The seat is well shaped, though quite hard; it’s narrow at the front to maximize a rider’s reach to the ground and wider toward the rear. Passenger accommodations are also generous with lots of room and large grab bars. In 500 miles, I was never uncomfortable on the bike. Some riders, however, will probably wish for a bit more padding.

A 12-volt plug in the dash and a comprehensive instrument display present a relatively short standard-feature list. Suzuki will be offering a variety of accessories to meet owners’ wishes. Some of these include: side and topcases (key matched to the bike’s ignition), various crash protection parts, alternate seat options, fog lamps, and more.

Conclusion

The 2014 V-Strom 1000 is happy devouring miles of interstate or scrubbing its sidewalls on twisty mountain roads, and it doesn’t mind getting dirty every once in a while either. I estimate fuel economy to be in the neighborhood of 40 mpg under hard riding, which, coupled with the 5.3-gallon fuel tank, equates to a decent range of around 200 miles.

At $ 12,699, the Suzuki V-Strom is positioned as a low-cost alternative to the rest of the exotic and expensive big-bore adventure bikes. The cost of ownership should also be much lower than the competition. While the V-Strom is in no single way superior to its contemporaries (except in price), it is a motorcycle that manages to exceed the sum of its parts and the contents of its spec sheet.