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Review: 2014 Suzuki V-Strom 1000 ABS

V-strom-1000-top

With KTM announcing a 1290 Super Adventure to top its already best-in-class 1190 Adventure, it’s safe to say this whole adventure-touring craze is in full swing. Despite being on the lower end of the totem pole, and not being the sexiest of all packages, Suzuki’s all-new V-Strom 1000 makes a strong case for being the best of the bunch. Hear me out.

The Bike

The 2014 Suzuki V-Strom 1000 is all-new from the ground up — for the most part. The engine is actually based on the same 996 cc V-twin as the previous version, but gets a 2 mm bore increase to reach its 1,037 cc displacement. It also gets dual-plug heads, a slipper clutch, new pistons, a new alternator, and a heavier flywheel.

Suzuki V-Strom 1000

Suzuki claims research showed people were mostly satisfied with the power the bike made, but wanted improvements in torque. Consequently, the revised engine makes just 4 horsepower more (99.2, compared to 95.5), while moving the torque curve down and making it fatter. Maximum torque is now 76 foot-pounds, instead of 74.5, and reaches its peak at 4,000 rpm instead of 6,400 rpm.

Everything else on the V-Strom 1000 is genuinely new. The aluminum frame is 13 percent lighter and has 33 percent more torsional rigidity. The swingarm pivot has been moved slightly forward (957 mm, versus 963 mm, from the front axle) and the swingarm made 20 mm longer, resulting in slightly faster steering, while improving stability. Rake and trail are slightly more aggressive, which increases the steering angle from 36 degrees to 40 degrees, further speeding up steering.

Front suspension is provided by a new 43 mm inverted Kayaba fork, adjustable for damping and preload, which provides 6.3 inches of travel. The rear shock is adjustable for preload only.

The 2014 Suzuki V-Strom 1000 is the first V-Strom to come with electronic rider aids. In addition to the anti-lock brakes, the Strom has a three-position traction control system (off, TC1 for light intervention, TC2 for heavy).

Testing the V-Strom 1000

In an attempt to put the V-Strom 1000 through the paces, I’ve had our loaner for a few months now. The first two weeks I had it included a 1,070-mile, 36-hour trip to San Francisco and back to preview the Skully AR-1 and a five-day trip to my family’s cabin on a small lake near Yosemite. Both trips involved as little freeway and as much rural highway as I could manage, which made for about a 50-50 split. Since those trips, I’ve ridden it a great deal around the greater Los Angeles area, ridden two-up on it, and taken it on 10-hour ride to play on the twisties in Big Bear and do what I was told were some “super-easy dirt roads.”

The V-Strom 1000 is pretty much perfect for my normal touring needs. It is both completely stable at speeds up into the triple digits (I’ve heard), and still capable when the route decides to give you something to do. The adjustable windscreen takes the bulk of the wind off your shoulders without trading it for mass amounts of buffeting, and the seat and riding position were about as all-day comfortable as I’ve ever experienced. If I were going to be riding across the country and sticking to the flat stuff, I could see wanting something bigger that chugged along at slightly lower revs and that felt a little more planted at high speeds, but short of that, this thing is just right.

Around town, the Strom doesn’t actually feel like a massive adventure-touring bike. Clutch pull is light and easy and gear engagement is seamless. Paired with a low-ish center of gravity, that makes slow-speed maneuvering confidence-inspiring, which is not the case with many adventure-tourers. The new torque curve makes moving through traffic incredibly easy, as it provides plenty of power across the entire rev range so you can get up and out of the way. I’ve been a long-time supporter of the V-Strom 650 as the ultimate commuter, but after riding its big brother, I believe the only reason to choose the 650 over the 1000 is price. Both are equally suited for urban duty.

The V-Strom really shines when the roads get fun. On the way home from San Francisco, I took a detour coming down U.S. 101 across Highway 166 and then down Highway 33 into Ojai. Despite being tired from a seven-hour riding day, and having a bag strapped to the back with my computer and new camera, the Strom was so confidence-inspiring I couldn’t help but fly through at a gentleman’s pace. I came more prepared for our day trip to Big Bear, and found myself catching everyone from guys on other ADV bikes to sportbikes in the twisties. Obviously, if I were timing the rides, I’d be faster on something designed with “go-fast” in mind, but the Strom is set up nicely to be pushed.

The dirt is where we finally found difficulty. The stiff suspension that let me hang off the whole way up to Big Bear gave me a terrible time in the dirt — and that’s before factoring in ABS that can’t be disengaged. Riding with three guys on BMW F800GSs, I suddenly found myself longing for that 21-inch front wheel (the Strom's is 19 inches) and that bouncy suspension. I was actually doing alright, despite being with guys on more appropriate bikes and with much higher off-road skill levels, until the group decided to stop in a rut filled with sand heading up a steep hill. Needless to say, the ride back into town was missing the right footpeg until a new one was fashioned from a framing L bracket from the local hardware shop.

V-Strom 1000 highlights

I have to admit, I’m a big fan of the new V-Strom’s looks. Somehow I became a fan of the whole beak thing, and I think the total package looks really nice.

gauges

The gauges are intuitive, easy to read, and informative, and make the cockpit feel worth every penny of the MSRP. The seat is comfy, and makes both sitting for hours or spirited riding easily attainable.

Performance wise, I like that the bike is a little more road-centric than something like the BMW. It’s so good at touring, day-to-day riding, and playing in the fun stuff, that I wouldn’t want to sacrifice any of that for better off-road capabilities. When I dropped it in Big Bear, the best rider in our group rode the Strom with its missing footpeg, and I switched to his F800GS, so he could deal with the dirt. It was incredible to me how much better his F800GS felt, comparatively. However, as soon as we got to the pavement, I was ready to get back on the Strom, even lacking a footpeg.

The overall package doesn’t feel any larger that its little brother, the Suzuki V-Strom 650. In fact, this new iteration is actually narrower between the legs than the Wee-Strom, which is a noticeable difference.

The emphasis on increasing torque and shifting the torque curve makes the V-Strom an engaging and fun motorcycle to ride, even if it’s down on power from its 1200cc competitors. The gearbox is what you expect from the Japanese manufacturers — slick and solid.

Suzuki’s first attempt at traction control actually works quite nicely. I only felt TC1 kick in once, and it was definitely needed. TC2 only really engaged when I first hit the dirt.

The headlight, as with many Suzukis, does a fantastic job at illuminating the road at night. I can’t tell you how many bikes get this wrong, or how much I appreciate Suzuki always nailing it.

V-Strom 1000 lowlights

The brakes’ initial bite could be considered harsh, and would definitely make any sort of off-road riding more troublesome. I happen to like more initial grab, but from an objective standpoint I can recognize that’s an area where I’m in the minority.

The windscreen, even at its tallest setting, still provided some buffeting for my 6-foot-1-inch frame. If you’re under 5 feet 11 inches, I think you’re safe, but I would love to see them address this issue a little better for taller riders.

The crash protection that comes stock is laughable for a supposed adventure bike. My 4 mph topple left me without a footpeg and also snapped off the end of the brake lever. If you’re going to claim any sort of off-road appropriateness, the bike should be able to tip over without snapping off anything important.

The competition

This is where the V-Strom 1000 really shines. MSRP for the big Suzuki is $12,699 — insanely low, given the bike’s abilities. Even better is the Suzuki V-Strom 1000 Adventure that, for $1,300 more, packs in a much-needed engine guard, improved windscreen, hand guards, accessory bars, and hard panniers. For reference, two similar bikes, the Yamaha Super Ténéré and Triumph Tiger Explorer, come in at $14,790 and $15,690, respectively. The KTM 1190 Adventure and BMW R 1200 GS will run circles around the V-Strom in the dirt, but are going to cost you $16,500 or $17,600. I like to think of the Suzuki V-Strom 1000 as a budget Ducati Multistrada ($16,995), because it has many of the same strengths and similar looks, but costs 75 percent of the Ducati's price.

Conclusion

First of all, the idea of these massive adventure bikes as off-road machines is simply silly to me. Having ridden most of them in the dirt, the only one that I think really has any business off road in the hands of your average Joe is the BMW F800GS, and as far as I’m concerned, you'd better have a pretty good reason for not being on a Honda XR650L.

All of that said, I think the segment is perfect for any kind of on-road adventure or long tour. Personally, I find the riding position more comfortable than most cruisers, and think the adventure bikes handle much better when the roads get fun. I think it’s fantastic that some of the manufacturers are recognizing that the bikes in this segment face mostly tarmac-filled futures. It’s time we started calling them what they are and judging them on that basis, instead of holding them up to off-road standards.

The 2014 Suzuki V-Strom 1000 ABS is a simply fantastic motorcycle. I’ve already tried to bully three friends into getting one, upon finding out they were looking at other options in the adventure-touring segment. It’s a near-perfect motorcycle for any sort of on-road duty, and won’t kill you in the dirt should you end up there for an afternoon.

Yes, I know there will be outliers among you who are capable of riding these big bikes in the dirt, but for the general public, or the guy who's all enthused because he just watched Long Way Round, this is generally the advice I give: If you’re looking to buy an adventure-touring bike, get the Multi if you have money you don’t know what to do with, the V-Strom 1000 if the word "budget" has a place in your normal vocabulary, or the F800GS if you plan to ride in the dirt much, unless you're both a bad ass and have the cash to spare. In which case, it's the Katoom all day.

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