first bike we ever tested, about 100 years ago, was
the Suzuki V-Strom. It’s a great bike, with a wonderful
engine, surprisingly good handling and looks only its mother
could love. And now here we are testing the runt of the litter,
the V-Strom 650. And what’s changed? At first glance
very little. It’s still enormous, still as practical
as ever and still as ugly as a drunken brawl. In fact, the
only obvious difference between siblings is the single exhaust
on the smaller bike and a slightly less leery colour scheme.
Taking the 650 V-Strom home, then, was likely
to be something of an anticlimax. Especially as over the last
few weeks I had mainly been riding the GSX-R 1000 tested elsewhere.
One extreme to the other, you might say. And you’d be
dead right, of course. And completely wrong. Because, despite
its bulk and relatively small engine, the 650 V-Strom is not
a slow bike. Not by any means.
That little motor, more commonly seen in
everyone’s favourite first big bike the SV650, may only
produce 66ps but it does it in style. I am pushed to remember
the last time I rode a vee twin that revved this happily and
I certainly can’t think of one this small that went
Let’s look at the downsides, because
there must be some. And there are. The SV650 is not, by any
stretch of the imagination, a pretty bike. Understatement.
It’s as ugly as sin. Happily, though, it is also nearly
as much fun. The only other criticism I have is also aesthetic
and purely down to my own taste and memory. If the term ‘plastic
maggot’ means nothing to you then please feel free to
skip this bit.
Back in the late 70’s and early 80’s
there was a universally derided, mocked and generally disliked
bike called the CX500. It was also incredibly common because
at the time it was the only shaft drive liquid cooled bike
available that was a sensible size and had decent performance
so couriers across the land bought them and ran them ‘til
they broke. The styling and handling earned them the nickname
of the plastic maggot, and one of the most enduring memories
I have of them was the noise they made. Horrible
it was, and the 650 V-Strom sounds exactly like a plastic
maggot. That pipe has to go…
Riding the beast, of course, is a different
story. The noise gets left behind and all you have is the
experience. The handling is inevitably a little woolly. After
all, there’s a lot of fork between you and the wheel
and dual purpose tyres don’t help. But you can still
get your knee down if that sort of behaviour appeals, and
the bike tracks easily and accurately. The wide bars help
to lever it into corners fast and the geometry works well
to allow you to flick the hefty bike around quite easily.
The brakes are ample for a bike of this style, hampered as
they are by the yards of suspension movement. No fuss or dramas
though, even on gritty roads.
The V-Strom lives on back roads. The twistier
the road and dodgier the surface the better, at least within
reason. I spent much of the test period on country lanes I
normally avoid simply because the bike was such a laugh to
ride there. Ace visibility from the high seat and a forgiving
engine make for a great back roads tool, and this is one of
Comfort is a strong point as well. The big
seat is an ideal combination of soft padding and firm control
while the small screen is adjustable to provide pretty well
anyone with buffet free riding. The optional handguards and
heated grips would turn the little V_Strom into a fantastic
all weather bike, too.
Functionally everything does as you’d
expect. Mirrors and lights are both excellent, there s plenty
of space to strap stuff on and there is a range of luggage
available specially for it. Fuel consumption is miserly, though
the fuel gauge is still a little too discreet for my liking.
Overall this is a cracking little motorbike.
Well, not so little, actually. It would be ideal as a first
bigger bike for a large person, as a commuter or even as a
tourer for someone who doesn’t mind having to work a
little harder. The willing engine, smooth gearbox and enjoyable
handling make it one of the most fun bikes I’ve ridden
And isn’t that what biking is all about?