2020 Suzuki V-Strom 1050XT: The Reasonable Adventurer

Text: Kevin Duke • Photography: Stephen Gregory

Since you’re reading this magazine, you obviously enjoy traveling to interesting places on a motorcycle. When it comes to choosing a mount for two-wheel travel, adventure-touring bikes are the hottest segment on the market and can’t be ignored.

Time aboard the 2020 V-Strom 1050XT reminds us why ADV bikes are popular, even if many owners rarely ride them off-road. The Strom is roomy without being too tall, has sporty steering responses to help it unwind twisty roads, and it has enough performance and manageability to be as adept at interstate travel as it is at commuting.

DR Bigger

Suzuki made a multitude of changes to the Strom for 2020, but the most noticeable is the motorcycle’s fresh appearance that borrows cues from Suzuki’s DR750S and DR800S, aka “DR Big,” the 700-plus-cc adventure bike that made a splash when it entered the global scene in 1988 and continued into the 1990s. The styling makes a neo-retro statement that’s far bolder than the previous Strom. You might also notice the new instrument panel, headlight, and front turn signals, which are items also seen on the latest Katana.

The bones of the V-Strom stretch back to 2002 when this platform first debuted. Its 996cc V-twin was enlarged to 1037cc in 2014, and it gained a new frame in 2018, the same year its electronics were updated with an inertial measurement unit.

This latest V-Strom’s “1050” designation implies a larger engine, but it actually retains the same displacement. However, it is blessed with new pistons, camshafts, and throttle bodies to supply six extra horsepower, a purported 106 hp.

Electronic Peacefare

The XT version of the V-Strom 1050 tested here features an advanced electronics system, including a six-axis IMU, adjustable cornering-ABS, and hill-hold control. The fancy IMU and associated electronics are fitted only to the XT range, leaving the $ 13,399 base model with a less-advanced ABS and fewer electronic features.

The XT version also includes many desirable hardware upgrades: tubeless wire-spoke wheels, a hand-adjustable windscreen, engine guards, a centerstand, hand guards, and cruise control for a $ 1,400 premium. If you’d like aluminum panniers, heated grips, and LED fog lamps, go all the way to the XT Adventure model, which lists at a pricey $ 16,999.

So, the Strom is updated and more technically advanced, but it remains largely what it previously was, which is actually a really nice motorcycle. One press of the starter switch brings the 90-degree V-twin to life, settling into its Ducati-like cadence. The slip/assist clutch is easy to pull, and Suzuki’s clever system that automatically raises engine revs as the lever is let out makes the V-Strom almost impossible to stall.

The Strom’s updated engine proves to be very flexible, pulling with authority from bottom to top. Some other brands pull harder, but the Suzuki is at least plenty adequate if not remarkable. Three ride modes allow you to choose from slightly soggy to kinda snappy; the middle ground is the preferred choice in most situations. Traction control has three levels and can be switched off if desired. Happily, it remains off even after cycling the ignition.

Road Adventuring

At 33.5 inches, the V-Strom’s seat is low for an adventure bike but still a reach for short legs. A narrow waistline is helpful when reaching for the ground or when standing up while riding off-road. The saddle is flat and accommodating but not thickly padded. Footpegs are fitted with rubber inserts to damp vibration and are placed farther back and higher than those on dirt-focused ADV bikes. Long legs may wish for greater seat-to-peg distance while draining all 5.3 gallons of fuel in the tank.

You’ll feel fortunate to have a twisty road in front of you while on a V-Strom. At 545 pounds full of fuel, it’s lighter than most adventure bikes with engines larger than 1000cc, and its 19-/17-inch tire combo is preferred on paved roads over anything with a 21-inch front. Suspension control is quite good thanks to a fully adjustable fork and a shock with hand-tunable preload adjustment as well as rebound damping, both ends with a modest (for an ADV) 6.3 inches of travel.

The new LCD instrument panel is quite attractive, fairly easy to navigate, and can present a bunch of information. The white-on-black layout can be difficult to read in direct sun and/or when dusty, making us wish for a TFT color screen. The new cruise control operates seamlessly and is welcome during highway travel. Also, if we have an IMU, why can’t we have self-canceling turn signals like so many other contemporary bikes?

Ups and Downs

The windshield deserves praise and a raspberry. It’s remarkably effective at sheltering a rider from the elements, and it’s adjustable with a latch mechanism over a 2-inch range to suit most rider sizes. Alas, the cam-type latch is on the forward side of the shield, which makes on-the-fly adjustments ill-advised and inconvenient.

The 1050’s brakes are almost completely terrific. There is excellent power and feel from the pair of Tokico monoblock calipers up front, and the Bosch IMU works its magic behind the scenes to prevent skidding even while cornering. The system will also apply rear brake to mitigate excessive forward pitching without you even realizing it. The ABS has a choice of two settings but, sadly, no ability to switch it off like one would when riding off-road.

The 1050XT actually works quite well on unpaved roads and two-track trails thanks to its agility and relative lightness, but its street-biased Bridgestone Battlax Adventure tires aren’t grippy enough for securely navigating sand or mud. Changing rubber would improve off-road traction, but it wouldn’t rid the Strom of its occasionally snatchy throttle that saps confidence in tricky situations, or the terror of feeling the anti-lock brakes freewheel while descending a rocky hill.

A Sports Adventure-Tourer

Yep, a KTM Adventure or a BMW GS would be better choices for traversing gnarly trails, but there’s a case to be made for the Strom 1050XT if dirt is a chosen sideline rather than a mainline. Its relatively low seat height makes commutes easier, its performance on mountain roads is exemplary, and it’s equipped with state-of-the-art electronic rider aids.

If your travels consist of mostly paved roads and away from technical off-road terrain, this latest V-Strom 1050 makes a strong case as a fine sports adventure-tourer.