The completely revised 2014 V-Strom 1000 is arguably Suzuki’s most important new model in nearly a decade. Buyers and sellers alike have held their breath for months now, awaiting its arrival. Does it live up to the hype?
You could say Noaki Hirooka knows a thing or two about what’s going on at Suzuki. As an executive within the company’s motorcycle marketing division, he’s one of the few “in the know” close to the complex and sometimes obscure decision making process that dictates which models get to production and which don’t. With a calm demeanour typical of Japanese men this high up the ladder, he is soft spoken and his talk is precise and to the point. He just finished presenting the new-for-2014 V-Strom 1000 to the first of several waves of motorcycle writers from around the globe.
We’re in the conference room of a posh hotel in Almeria, Spain and he’s now stepping aside after inviting the assembled press to take a closer look at the bike. Instead of rushing in, I go stand beside him.
“So that prototype you guys showed last year really was the production V-Strom,” I say to him.
Hirooka smiles politely, and patiently accepts my small talk.
“Pretty important bike for Suzuki, right? “ I venture.
“Very,” he answers, quickly glancing at me.
“So, if I may ask you this, what was the last bike you remember to be so important, so significant for the Suzuki brand?”
This time, he turns to face me, hums, and pauses before opining, “Well, the GSX-Rs are very important to us …”
“Sure, the GSX-Rs. But which one model would you say had the company holding its breath as much or as excited as this one?”
He pauses again, mentions that the M109R could possibly be one of those, then, thinking out loud goes back to the original 2002 V-Strom 1000, but sort of stops there, although obviously still mentally going through a list of past Suzukis.
“Definitely one of the most important machines for you guys in recent memory, then.”
This time, there’s something tense in his voice, something deep and serious. I could dig more, but instead, I switch to more technical stuff about the new bike, which brings a more joyful tone from of my interlocutor. Really, I was asking questions with obvious answers, but I had to see his reaction. Marketing types sometimes (often) play games, but he was being honest. The fact of the matter is Suzuki hasn’t released a whole lot of new and exciting stuff for a long time now. Combine that with their recent announcement about cars (Suzuki stopped selling automobiles in North America last year) and it’s enough for some to wonder about the future of Suzuki motorcycles. There are a few things to clarify, here.
One, Suzuki isn’t pulling out of the car business, just the North American side of that business. Two, according to the manufacturer, that move will help the brand better concentrate on its motorcycle, ATV and marine businesses. And three, although some models may be a bit long in the tooth, Suzuki motorcycles are actually selling quite well.
While there isn’t any doomsday scenario lurking over Suzuki in the short term, one thing remains undeniably clear: everyone is eager to see the Hamamatsu brand get back in the action, which is precisely why the eagerly awaited new V-Strom 1000 is so significant. Had it been a simple refresh like the new 650 was a few years ago, it would have flown under the radar, but as the audacious all-new design that it is, the upcoming big V-Strom becomes no less than a statement boldly affirming Suzuki is making a comeback.
One aspect of the new V-Strom 1000 that would indeed indicate the Hamamatsu brand is back to its old ways is its styling. Gone is the now dated, timid and confused look of the original 2002 machine. In its place is a shape many will immediately associate with BMW’s R-GSs because of its beaky nose, but actually it was Suzuki that first used the feature way back in the late ‘80s with its Dr. Big single.
The important thing here is that the new V-Strom 1000’s look is anything but anonymous and probably even a little daring, a “trick” new and important Suzuki models regularly used in the past.
The early 1980s Katana 1100, the first GSX-Rs, the first non double-cradle framed GSX-Rs, the TL1000R/S and more recently the M109R cruiser are all examples of Suzuki’s old habit of pushing the styling envelope with significant new models.
The 2014 V-Strom might not be the most radically styled bike at the moment, but it’s definitely distinctive, offers many interesting details and angles and will probably age well.
Technically, the motorcycle is completely new. While the 90-degree V-Twin’s architecture essentially hasn’t changed, very few parts are carried over from the previous model. Heads, cylinders, pistons, cases, rods, crank, clutch are all, new. Bore is up two millimetres to 100mm, raising displacement from 996 to 1037cc. Power, up by two horses to an even 100, has barely progressed, but the story is all about torque on this one. Not in terms of a number, which here too is only marginally better at 76 ft/lbs., but rather in terms of peak rpm, which drops from 6,400 all the way down to 4,000 rpm. More on that later.
Some may have expected more from a new engine and an all-new bike, like 1200cc and much more horsepower, as is the trend in the adventure class. But Suzuki’s logic for staying at 1000cc is actually very interesting as it positions the big V-Strom right in the middle of the 800s and 1200s both in terms of displacement and price point.
It is worth mentioning here that key personnel at Suzuki Canada fought for the new 1000 to sell in our market for $11,999 with traction control and ABS as standard. That’s just slightly more than the price of the old model, but also less than our friends south of the border will pay for theirs.
An additional thousand bucks will buy a Canada-only SE version equipped with hand guards, centre stand and complete set of side luggage.
As far as the rolling chassis is concerned, nothing is shared with the old bike. The stiffer new frame (lighter by 13 per cent) is a blend of pressed and cast aluminum parts. The swingarm is all new, and so is the rear shock with knob adjustable preload. The 43mm inverted fork is now fully adjustable for preload and both compression and rebound damping. The wheels sport a new 10-spoke design and are held by bigger axles. The 19-inch front and 17-inch rear diameters remain the same; while the brakes have new sportbike-like monobloc radially mounted calipers and ABS. Finally, chain drive is kept, mainly for cost reasons.
Unlike many new bikes, the new V-Strom is fitted with a limited and refreshingly user-friendly set of electronic functions. There is no power mode and ABS cannot be deactivated (as per some sort of gentlemen’s agreement between Japanese manufacturers), so the only choice the rider is faced with is traction control, which can be set to either of two levels or turned off. This can be accessed by a big switch on the left handlebar, along with the numerous functions of the easy-to-read and well laid-out instrumentation, which includes range, fuel consumption, trips, battery voltage, ambient temperature, gear position, hour, etc. No menus! Plus, changes to TC can be made while riding and retained even after the ignition has been turned off.
For a bike that undercuts the competition by that much, some roughness around the edges would almost be expected. But the new V-Strom is actually quite well done. There are a few additional characteristics some will wish for like heated grips or adjustable seat height (the grips and either a low or high seat can be purchased as accessories) but considering the price these are minor details. Pretty much everywhere you look, there’s attention to detail. The complex shape of various parts, the excellent instrumentation, the nicely finished one-piece seat, the high specs of chassis parts like suspension and brakes … The list goes on and seems to position the V-Strom as a bona fide deal before it’s even turned a wheel. But get on the bike and start that wonderful V-Twin, and every moment spent in the saddle will transform this impression into fact. The 2014 V-Strom brings us back to the good old days when Suzuki got ordinary folks on the road with the machine they dreamed of, but at a significantly lower cost.
The V-Strom may not be the most off-road capable model of the class, but it still offers an honest adventure bike feel in terms of ergonomics. You sit tall with your hands instinctively falling on handlebars that have been pulled back 34mm while your feet rest on pegs that have been moved back 15mm. Nothing is unnatural and everything makes the rider feel relaxed and in control.
The reach to the ground is reasonable while the seat itself is shaped to allow some movement back and forth. It’s a good one and remains comfortable for hours. The only comfort fault I found was with the windscreen. It offers good protection, pushing air over neck level and about shoulder width, but it creates buffeting at higher speeds, even more so when the smart and easy to use ratchet-type adjustable windscreen is set to the highest of its three positions. Suzuki offers a larger accessory screen (as will the aftermarket), but I didn’t get to try it.
The Spanish coast around Almeria is reminiscent of the California landscape with its ocean views, hills, mountains and serpentine roads. Here, the V-Strom behaved beautifully. It feels narrow and agile as corner entries and direction changes are characterized by a fine balance between steering lightness and stability without one ever exceeding the other. There’s no hint of nervousness and whatever effort is necessary to lean the bike only makes the rider feel involved.
Suspension settings clearly feel biased toward road use. The V-Strom’s fork and shock never feel harsh, but they’re still set up on the firm side. And yet, there’s enough plushness in the 160mm of travel to allow bumpy roads to be attacked with a level of aggression that would completely upset a serious sportbike. Strong unlinked brakes, if a bit abrupt initially, are assisted by an ABS system that works uneventfully.
As far as the off-road capabilities of the new V-Strom are concerned, they remain unknown, as Suzuki’s plans during the launch did not include the slightest stretch of unpaved road. Realistically, I would expect it to handle light duty stuff like dirt or gravel roads decently well. But for anyone intending to venture much deeper into off-road territory, it may not be the best bike.
With its 100 horsepower—the equivalent of what bikes like KTM and Ducati produce in their low-power modes—the V-Strom 1000 won’t be breaking land speed records any time soon (I saw a GPS-confirmed 192 kmh with a little bit left). But dismissing it based on those numbers alone would be a mistake. That V-Twin may not have the top-end pull of a 150-hp Multistrada, but at low and mid revs, it’s downright exceptional.
Actually, for any engine outside of cruiserdom to generate peak torque at such low rpm is unheard of. What this means from the saddle is very simple: strong and instantaneous acceleration straight off idle and right up to upper mid-range. The trade-off is a lack of punch approaching the relatively low 9,200 rpm redline, but that doesn’t mean the V-Twin falls flat on top either, just that the strong initial pull isn’t followed by something even stronger, as is the case for most street bikes. The choice Suzuki made tuning the V-Strom 1000 this way may be unusual, but it makes plenty of sense on the road where you can basically enjoy the best the engine has to give every time you accelerate instead of only occasionally and at high revs.
Another very pleasant aspect of the V-Strom’s engine is its character. It smoothly pulses in a way that is never bothersome and it emits a wonderful mix of V-Twin rumble and gear-driven cam whine. It’s an engine that commanded praise ever since it first appeared on the TL1000s, and every time it evolves and is used again, we’re reminded why.
Actually, the entire new V-Strom 1000 package, with its torquey gem of a motor, solid chassis, all-day ergonomics and enticing price point is a reminder of how Suzuki got to sell so many motorcycles at some point. I have no doubt this one will be a resounding success for the brand, but if I’m honest, that’s not really what I care about. I’m just happy for those with a limited budget. It’s their turn to get a great bike.
By Bertrand Gahel