The Suzuki V-Strom has, for the most part, slipped under my radar. There’s nothing wrong with bike, but it never really stood out as being an outstanding machine by adventure bike standards. By contrast, BMW’s big GS has been around since Blondie’s Call Me was a number-one hit, and over the decades, has built a reputation as the mother of all adventure bikes.
KTM, meanwhile, specializes in off-road motorcycles and has a number of Dakar wins to boost its bona fides; its Adventure models are renowned for their off-road prowess. Not far behind is the Honda Africa Twin, which despite its more recent arrival into the adventure-bike genre, has already gained a reputation for tackling hard off-roading with ease, while exhibiting exemplary roadworthiness. There’s a couple of other noteworthy adventure bikes — and then, well, in my previous estimation there was the lowly Suzuki V-Strom.
But there’s much more to the V-Strom than meets the eye. For one thing, this year Suzuki has given the V-Strom a makeover. Two models will still be available: The base V-Strom 1050A, and the higher-spec V-Strom 1050XA, the latter of which is the bike we came to Spain to ride.
The XA comes equipped with a crash bar, hand guards, lower cowling, a centre stand, mounts for plastic saddlebags, a tool-free adjustable windscreen, a 12-volt socket under the passenger seat, the adjustable seat itself, LED turn signals, and a more comprehensive electronics package compared to the base 1050A. It also has tubeless spoke wheels, as opposed to the 1050A’s cast wheels. A lightly ‘farkled’ 1050XA Adventure will also be available with dealer-installed aluminum panniers and top case, but pricing for that hasn’t yet been released.
As it turns out, my initial impression of the V-Strom was a little off base. When it comes to on-road performance and bang for the buck, the V-Strom scores big. And after riding it, Suzuki proved there’s no reason someone should overlook this adventure bike — unless your intention is a serious thrash off road, in which case the aforementioned KTMs and BMWs might be a better choice. But if you pile on countless kilometres in a combination of sport riding, long-distance touring, and commuting — with occasional forays onto gravel roads — the 2020 V-Strom 1050XA, with its comfortable and upright riding position, modest weather protection, and sport-bike-like handling, really does fit the bill.
Speaking of bills, the V-Strom 1050 has a new one. Its beak, if you’re even a bit of a motorcycling historian, strikes a familiar silhouette — but not the one you may think. While this overhanging protrusion is new to the V-Strom, it’s not new to Suzuki. When someone commented on social media how “everybody copies the BMW beak” after I posted a picture of the new V-Strom online, I had to point out Suzuki was actually referencing its own 1988 DR750S — better known as DR Big — which predated the first duckbilled BMW by six years.
Also part of the makeover is LED lighting, including the headlight, taillight, and (on the XA, at least) turn signals. A new, two-piece seat replaces the former one-piece perch, and on the XA is adjustable to two positions (850 and 870 millimetres), though you’ll need some tools to do it.
The frame, swingarm, and chassis geometry are unchanged — because why fix something if it ain’t broke? The suspension is mostly unchanged, returning with a fully adjustable, 43-millimetre inverted fork, and a single shock adjustable for rebound damping and preload. Shock calibration is altered with a slightly firmer spring, and increased high-speed compression damping upon initial stroke. This actually resolves some of harshness of the former model since the shock now rides higher in its stroke.
The 1,037-cc, 90-degree V-twin — which originated in the TL1000 sport bike and has been around for ages — gets new cams, larger throttle-body bores, and ride-by-wire throttle control. It is now Euro 5 compliant, while producing six horsepower more, now at 105. Peak torque is down a scant half a foot-pound, to 74 lb.-ft. Fuel consumption remains unchanged, with Euro specs claiming 4.9 L/100 kilometres.
The real technological advancements for 2020 are the new electronics. The V-Strom 1050XA comes standard with lean-sensing traction control and ABS, both of which are adjustable. It also has Suzuki’s Drive Mode Selector (SDMS) throttle settings, a hill-hold function, and load- and slope-dependent ABS, which monitors brake pressure and deceleration rate and adjusts braking force accordingly. For convenience, there’s now a 5-volt USB outlet in the dashboard — excellent placement to charge GPS systems — and an under-seat 12-volt outlet to power other accessories. In probably the most welcome news of all, the new XA also features cruise control, a feature V-Strom enthusiasts — ‘Stromtroopers’, as they call themselves — have been demanding for years.
Firing up the new ‘Strom greets you with a rich, deep V-twin rumble. Clutch effort is light and the gearbox shifts with short, precise jabs at the lever. Of the three SDMS settings — A, B, and C — my default became B, thanks to its softer response than the borderline-abrupt A setting, but was livelier than C, which would be ideal in rain or on dirt. There’s nothing outstanding about the V-Strom’s handling — if by nothing outstanding you mean that it carves corners like a sport bike, is stable on the highway, and can transition through tight esses quickly with little effort on the handlebar.
The new seat, though, is only so-so. While it’s flat, level, and wide, it’s perhaps too firm to keep your posterior from begging for a quick break after about an hour. The windscreen does a very good job of keeping wind off your upper body, though in its highest position, helmet buffeting is present but altogether tolerable. The down side is the release lever used to adjust the windscreen is at the front, meaning unlike the current V-Strom 1000, it’s not adjustable while riding.
The V-Strom gets big props for the way the ride modes, traction control, and ABS settings are selected. All three parameters are always displayed in the digital instrument panel, with a button and a rocker switch used to make the various selections, on the fly. You don’t have to call up any menus; just press the Mode switch to highlight which parameter you wish to change — SDMS, TC, or ABS — and with the throttle closed, scroll to the level mode you want, and that’s it. No need for further confirmation, and the V-Strom gets extra brownie points for retaining all of your selections after switching the bike off, even if you turn the TC off. No need to reconfigure the electronics after starting up again. The instrument panel screen does scratch quite easily, though.
For a bike in this price range, however, there are a couple of omissions. The forgivable one is the lack of self-cancelling turn signals. The inexcusable one is the lack of standard heated grips, especially on the premium version of Suzuki’s big adventure bike.
All of these changes have driven up the price, and the 2020 Suzuki V-Strom 1050A now starts at $14,399 — up from $13,499. The more fully-featured 1050XA starts at $16,099, up $2,000. Despite a couple of kinks, the 2020 V-Strom 1050XA has everything it takes to get the attention of prospective adventure bike buyers. After finally having ridden it, it certainly got mine.