all BMW's fault. If they hadn't come along and proved that
great big in-yer-face trail bikes could be an absolute hoot, nobody
would build them. But they did, and as a result everyone is now
producing large, comfortable and fairly bizarre looking trail cum
tourer cum commuter cum whatever bikes. They all have a different
class name, of course, because none of them can possibly be seen
to be copying each other. Despite the fact that they patently are.
The latest to hit the streets
is the Suzuki V-Strom. They call the class "Adventure Sports" which,
to be fair, is as good a name for it as any. Apparently the name
comes from the engine layout (V) and the German phrase for "a stream
of wind" (Strom). Quite.
First impressions, they say, count
for a lot. And this bike makes a big first impression. Did I say
big? I meant enormous. The numbers don't do it justice - this bike
is huge. Everything that first catches your eye - the headlights,
the twin exhausts, the massive tank - seems that much bigger than
usual. The feeling is reinforced when you climb aboard. Despite
being a reasonable size I struggled to get both feet on the ground
and mainly found myself sliding a cheek off the saddle and resting
it on one foot. This is greatly eased, though, by the fact that
despite its size the V-Strom is not especially heavy and is particularly
the risk of overusing a slightly tired cliché, the size and weight
simply disappear as soon as you start moving. For such a big bike
the V-Strom is quite extraordinarily agile. While obviously not
a sports bike, the wide bars give great leverage and allow it to
be thrown around like something far smaller. That it manages this
while still remaining stable and predictable is even more impressive.
Once the pace hots up, handling seems to be on a par with the benchmark
for the breed, the evergreen BMW GS with only a slightly soft front
end raising a slight question mark when braking hard.
As far as performance is concerned,
the V-Strom has plenty. It is a fast bike. Not "Oh my God" fast,
but certainly real world fast. Lets face it, most of the time 140mph
is more than enough, and it's an unusually irresponsible rider who
really craves the ability to cruise all day at more than 120 or
so. In which case the V-Strom is just fine. The big vee twin pulls
hard as well. There's plenty of urge for overtaking, even in top,
which is tall enough to justify the overdrive light on the dash.
Like most big vees with a sporting bent,
the V-Strom drives well out of corners and is deceptive in the way
that it builds speed. In fact, if you were so inclined you could
really upset a few sportsbike riders at track days. Especially if
you left the optional hard luggage fitted.
Dynamically, the only fly in the
ointment is the brakes. Not that there's anything wrong with them
per se, it's just that they seem to lack a bit of feel and bite.
They stop the bike perfectly adequately and I never had any problems
with them, they just don't inspire confidence in the way that the
rest of the bike does.
You'd think that long gearing
combined with a huge fuel tank would give truly intercontinental
range. And you'd be right. Well, if your continents are less than
250 miles across, anyway. But. The fuel gauge starts to cry wolf
after just 160 miles, when 40 miles later there are still 3½ litres
(or nigh on another 40 miles) in the tank. Actually, that's another
gripe, because the gauge doesn't actually cry wolf, it more sort
of mutters it quietly. As in flashing a really discreet little black
pump symbol on a grey LCD background. Now correct me if I'm wrong
but when you don't fill a bike up that often (and with a tank this
size you don't) I
think you need to be told it needs filling up. Give me flashing
lights and even a buzzer if you like, but with no reserve tap I
want to know I'm about to start pushing before the engine dies,
please. Thank you.
Minor instrumentation gripes apart,
the overall impression is one of quality. The bike is clearly very
well screwed together, everything is neat and tidy and there is
a refreshing attention to detail often missing on bikes like this.
The mirrors, for example, are not only a decent size but they actually
show what is behind you rather than just your elbows. And they don't
blur into uselessness at high speed, either. The integrated rack
is well made and useful, complete with it's moulded in bungee hooks.
The lights are excellent and the clocks (apart from that darn fuel
gauge) are a model of clarity. The alloy silencers look as though
they should get in the way but don't, although I'm sure that the
bike would benefit from something just a trifle more vocal than
the standard set up.
I mentioned optional hard luggage
earlier. With or without the options, the V-Strom would, I'm sure,
make an excellent tourer. It's certainly got the range and it's
comfortable enough to be able to carry on happily even after a fuel
stop. It's fast enough to make the journey bearable and handles
well enough to have a laugh when you get there.
All in all, then, we have a bike
which handles well, goes well and is built well. It's comfortable,
practical and it doesn't look bad either. It has a strange name,
but I've never yet bought a bike because of its name. Or been put
off by it. Hopefully you won't either, because if you're looking
for a large, comfortable bike that will take pretty well everything
you throw at it and looks different to boot then you could do a
whole lot worse than this.
After living with the V-Strom
for a couple of weeks day in, day out, I can honestly say that I
failed to find anything it didn't do well and managed to find lots
of things it did brilliantly. I had some initial misgivings about
the sheer size of the thing and the style is an acquired taste,
but after just a few minutes the size worries faded, and who cares
what it looks like when it goes and handles this well? I never thought
I'd say it, but I'd buy one. It really grew on me that much.
Suzuki DL 1000 V-Strom
Capacity: 998cc V twin
Tank capacity/ave range: 22l/240 miles
Seat height: 830mm
Rating: 4 Stars