Suzuki V-Strom 650 & 1000: The Latest Adventure Duo

Text: Ken Freund • Photography: Enrico Pavia

It’s not every day that a motorcycle manufacturer holds a press launch for two motorcycles of different model years. Yet, that’s exactly what Suzuki did recently, high up in California’s lovely San Bernardino Mountains. Both 650 V-Stroms—the standard and XT versions—are listed as 2017 models, while the standard and XT 1000 V-Stroms are denoted as 2018 models. The 650 and 1000 V-Stroms are updated with a number of improvements. A restyled fairing adds a beaked look to the front end, and is also designed to reduce noise and buffeting.

Changes on the 650 include a new fairing with vertically stacked headlights, a manually adjustable windscreen, and styling that’s more adventure bike-oriented. Both the 650 and 1000 now look very similar. The 650 also gets adjustable Traction Control, Easy Start, Low RPM Assist feature, plus ABS. The 1000 versions come with an advanced electronics package that helps control braking and traction during cornering as well as in straight lines.

Powertrain and Performance

Both the 650 and 1000 models retain their same basic engines as before. The updated 645cc, 90-degree V-twin engine features new camshafts and resin-coated pistons running in Nikasil-coated bores. The result is said to be slightly more low-to-mid-range power, while retaining the high rpm power this engine series is known for.

Although the thinner air at the approximately 7,000-foot altitude where we rode saps about 21 percent of a naturally aspirated engine’s power, both engines ran well. They start instantly, idle well, are tractable, and accelerate strongly. Traction control is now standard on the V-Strom 650, with two settings: full power and reduced for slippery conditions, plus it can be switched off.

Chassis and Handling

The aluminum, twin-spar frame was designed with the latest finite-element analysis computer technology and stiffer and 13-percent lighter than the previous generation V-Strom. According to Suzuki, the only differences between the 650 and 1000 frames are the engine mounting points. The redesigned chassis has integrated mounting hard points for Suzuki’s V-Strom luggage, which look fine when the luggage is off, and make it easy to install or remove bags. By mounting the luggage inward, bikes with the hard bags mounted have an eight-inch-narrower profile.

The 1000 gets a premium 43mm KYB inverted fork with fully adjustable spring preload, compression, and rebound damping. The single-shock rear suspension features rebound damping adjustment plus a remote spring pre-load adjuster. The 650s have spring-preload adjustable 43-millimeter conventional front forks and single-shock rear suspension with rebound damping adjustment and a hand-operated spring preload adjuster. Both the 650 and 1000 models feel settled and secure on the road, and stable at high speeds. However, the 1000s have a noticeably plusher ride quality than the 650s.

All models have dual 310-millimeter-disc front brakes and a single rear 260-millimeter disc; the 1000s have upgraded Tokico monoblock front brake calipers. Braking is strong and easily modulated. The 1000 versions come with an advanced Inertial Measurement Unit (IMU) supported Motion Track ABS and Combined Braking System. Wheel speed and IMU measurements, plus brake lever or pedal pressure, are constantly calculated by the ABS control unit to instantly adjust pressure to the brake calipers if required. Additionally, this system can apply the rear brake when front brake pressure reaches a certain point. This contributes to stability and maneuverability during cornering, with noticeable improvement in braking performance. However, you can’t shut the ABS off on dirt.

The most obvious difference between the standard and XT models is the wheels; there are also handguards and a plastic “skidplate” on the XTs. Standard models have cast aluminum wheels fitted with Bridgestone Battle Wing tires, and XTs have aluminum rims with stainless steel wire spokes, wrapped with tubeless Bridgestone Battlax Adventure tires. The XT’s wire-spoked wheels are more durable in off-pavement conditions. Tire and wheel sizes are the same for both bikes.

Features and Ergonomics

The height- and angle-adjustable windscreen on the 1000 has a new shape and is about two inches (49 millimeters) taller. Windscreen angle can be easily adjusted by hand. The screen was developed through wind-tunnel testing and seems to effectively reduce wind noise and buffeting. The 650’s windscreen is adjustable in three steps through a small range, although Allen wrenches are needed. We’d like to see the screen on the 1000 adopted on the 650. 

A new multifunction, illumination-adjustable instrument panel helps with setting rider-assist features. It includes an analog tachometer and brightness-adjustable LCD speedometer and control panel. LCD readouts include odometer, dual trip meters, traction control modes, gear position, coolant and ambient temperature, fuel consumption, fuel gauge, and clock. LED indicators include an ABS alert and a freeze warning.

Seat heights for the 650 and 1000 are 32.9 and 33.5 inches respectively. The saddles are comfortable and provide decent seating for a passenger as well. A rear luggage rack is standard on all models, and it also provides a hand hold for pillion passengers. The optional side cases are large enough to fit a full-coverage helmet, and make it easy to carry enough gear for a weekend or more. Additional lock tumblers that match the bike’s ignition key are included so you can add Suzuki accessory luggage and have the convenience of one-key operation. 

A new 12V DC accessory outlet with SAE plug is mounted on the dash; it was an option on prior models. Genuine Suzuki accessories includes side- and topcases, engine guards, low and high profile seats, heated grips, handguards (standard on XT models) auxiliary lights, high and low profile seats, case guards, and more.

Final Thoughts

I found all of the V-Strom versions to be well made and better-looking than ever. Perhaps the guiding principle for these models is “bang for the buck.” V-Stroms give you most of the performance of higher-end adventure models at a considerably lower price.

Now, which one is right for you? Both the 650 and 1000 models are very similar, and for many folks the lower price tag on the 650 “Wee-Strom” will win out. It will get you anywhere the 1000 will take you, almost as fast. The V-Strom 1000 obviously has more power, which is nice for two-up touring on interstates, and it also has somewhat better brakes and suspension than the 650 models. On the other hand, the V-Strom 650XT is better on dirt than the 1000XT, and could even be better with knobbier tires. So be realistic about your needs and read the specs carefully.