Saturday, October 12, 2013

Suzuki V-Strom 650 review

After taking some time to digest the ride (and make a pot pie - from scratch, yes) here are my impressions of the bike.    Note that these aren't arrived at via any sort of left-brained metrics, they're all right-brained impressions.  Your mileage may vary, void where prohibited, do not remove tag under penalty of law.

The Good

There's a lot going for this bike.  That's what attracted me to it in the first place, duh.


This is an intermediate size between what I have (Honda Rebel 250) and a big cruising bike like a Harley or a Goldwing (or a Yamaha Boulevard, which looks pretty interesting).  Quite frankly the reason I wanted my first bike to be pretty small was because the size factor was less intimidating.  While more intimidating (perhaps the wrong word, there, but you get my drift) than a Rebel, it's no where near what a big old Hog would be.


This bike will do long distance touring, with plenty of attach points for baggage carriers.  It will do sport rides, like Tail Of The Dragon (that's why they call it a "Sport Touring Bike").  It will do commutes in stop and go traffic (ask me how I know).  It will (I'm told) do some off-road as well, although I'd think you'd want some different tires.  Basically, it's a what-do-you-want-to-do-today sort of bike: hit the Interstate to the beach, head to the hills for the twisties, maybe seek out some places the Harleys can't follow.

Easy handling

My little Rebel will go on the highway, and I've even had it up to 70 MPH.  But the wind blast is pretty harsh, and will wear you out if you do it for a long time.  The V-Strom has a much more highway friendly design, and the one I rode only had a sort of mini-faring.  Put a bigger front faring and a bigger windscreen, and the miles will melt away.

Great Mileage

Today's ride took me from Roswell GA to Marietta via surface highways, up Interstate 575 to Jasper, across the foothill twisty roads to Interstate 75, back south I-75 to Marietta to the downtown square (circle until you find a parking space because the Marietta Town Fathers don't seem to believe in Motorcycle parking).  Lots of different types of driving including stop and go, 170 miles in all.  I used 3 gallons of gas, so I was getting north of 55 MPG.  On something that cruises happily at 80 MPH.

The Not So Good

Every design is a compromise, and this bike is no different.

Lordy, this is a tall bike

I'm taller than average at a hair over 6 feet, but this bike was a challenge for me.  Even in my Tony Lamas (which are actually pretty sweet riding boots) with their 1 1/2" heels I was on tip toes when the bike was stopped.  It was quite uncomfortable (not to mention intimidating considering the weight - that will be next).  I'm told that you can have the suspension lowered, but this would need to be dropped by a minimum of two inches - and that's for someone two inches taller than average.  I actually think that this is the biggest knock against the bike.

Lordy, this is a heavy bike

The Rebel's dry weight is 300 lbs, which makes it pretty hard to drop.  Two guys could pretty easily lift it completely off the ground.  The V-Strom 650 clocks in at a cool 900 (!) pounds.  Add luggage and a passenger and you're looking at 1200.  And this is a mid sized bike.

[blink] [blink]

Quite honestly, I can't say that this is a knock against the bike, it's likely a knock against me - at least until I have some more riding under my belt.  But remember the bike's height conspires to make things wobbly, and with 900 lbs if it leans over it's going down.

UPDATE: See the end of the post.

The riding position is uncomfortable

This is very subjective, but the seating is straight up in the saddle, just like you were on a horse.  In a way that was comfortable - my back has been hurting for a few days but the upright posture felt pretty good.  What didn't feel good was all my weight pushing straight down on my, err, loins.  Four hours after I turned the bike back in, "The Boys" are still mad at me, if you catch my drift.  No doubt a different seat would fix this, but would also almost certainly add more to the height problem.

The Bottom Line

I'm not going to get one.  I may try a cruiser style - the local Harley dealer has "Demo Day" tomorrow.  While I don't want to go up to an even heavier bike, if it's lower to the ground (i.e. both feet flat on the ground) then that may be more comfortable.

The search continues, the game's afoot.  Onward!

UPDATE 12 October 2013 22:32: Both Chris Byrne and Sevesteen in the comments point out that my weight numbers are whack.  What caused the confusion is that I read the GVW off of the motorcycle side plate.  I think (on retrospect) that this is the total *loaded* weight that the bike is set to handle.  IOW, using Chris Bytne's stated 480 lbs dry weight, you have another 430 or so lbs of rider plus luggage.

That said, this is WAY heavier than my Honda, which was my point.  If it weren't so tall, that might not me a problem.  Chris says that you can lower the bike by around 2" (after market seat and suspension adjustment), which might address the issue.  But remember, I'm 2" taller than average (and Chris is even bigger than I am).  Suzuki clearly did not design this for the mass market.  Or they did, and they missed this point.


Dave H said...

Did you mean the Suzuki Boulevard? I've been looking at those myself. They're heavier than my America but they're still low to the ground, which helps offset some of the disadvantage of greater weight.

My biggest complaint about cruisers is the forward foot controls. They force my lower back into an outward bow that gets uncomfortable quickly. (They do take some of the load off of the family jewels though.) Mid controls (below the seat, like the V-Strom's) are more comfortable for me, but they need to be on a taller bike or else your knees will be in your face.

AnarchAngel said...

1. your weight number on the V-Strom is WAY off...

A GOLDWING, which is a limo on two wheels, weighs 900lbs.

The v-strom 650 weighs 460lbs. The 1000, which I own, weighs the same.

2. Yeah, the height is a challenge... I'm 6'2" and it's tall for me... but the problem with not being able to stand flatfooted, is probably that your suspension is adjusted to maximum preload and compression, and maximum ride height.

The strom has an adjustable suspension, and once your weight is on it, if it's ajusted properly, you should be able to stand flatfooted just fine.

3. all the good things about the 650, the 1000 has, but more of.

AnarchAngel said...

Oh and the "loins" problem is one with the factory seat.

About 30% of people have the same problem. You'll have the same problem with a lot of other bikes as well.

This is why they make aftermarket seats. Do a search for v-strom seat and you'll see this is a common issue with some very good solutions.

AnarchAngel said...

Oh and one more thing as to weight... The vstrom is actually one of the lightest bikes in its class; and in it's displacement (excluding high end sport bikes and actual dirt bikes, both of which are optimized for light weight).

I've actually completely picked mine up a couple times and I have no problem wheeling it up a ramp unpowered, or picking up the rear tire (from the grab bars) and moving it.

Cruisers tend to be a LOT heavier...

AnarchAngel said...

Crap, keep forgetting stuff...

The aftermarket seats actually tend to LOWER the seat height... some by as much as 2".

And the factory suspension can be lowered by 1" in the front and 1" in the back, with adjustment; and another 2-3/4" with an aftermarket part.

Sevesteen said...

I'm pretty sure (and Google confirms) that the Vstrom 650 isn't 900 lbs--that must be gross capacity, combined weight of bike, riders and cargo. 900 lbs is 1800cc, 6 cyl Goldwing territory.

The height would amplify the weight difference between it and the Rebel--I think that's the problem rather than the weight.

As for picking it up...With the right technique picking up even a Goldwing isn't that bad. I've practiced this on a junk, untitled 1100 Goldwing and it wa surprisingly easy.

If I were looking at new bikes, I'd check out one of Honda's 700cc twins, CTX700 or NC700. Same engine and basic bike with different layouts and riding positions. I'd also drool over the CB1100, but I don't know one way or the other if it would be the best choice for what you want.

covertress said...

must needs more on pot pie - from scratch...

Anonymous said...

What Chris said. Honda ST1100 riders complain about the seat height, too, which is why you see a lot of Corbin seats on 1100s to get the seat about 1.5" closer to the ground. It's also why Honda lowered the seat position when they replaced the ST1100 with the ST1300.

If you still have the Vstrom, go by the landfill, or anyplace with vehicle scales. They'll weigh you and the bike, deduct what your bathroom scale says you weigh in riding gear. I think you'll find that 900 figure is bike, fuel, rider and probably some accessories.

Speaking of accessories, consider what's available when you select a bike. You mentioned windshield - the stock ST1100 windshield looks great but sucks in motion, which is why there are several companies making taller aftermarket windshields. When you narrow your choices, cruise the forums. Steinar Fremme shut down his site last year, but there are some contact links on the dead page there. Popular bikes, like guns, all have active forums, use them.

As for The Boys, try bicycle shorts as underwear, or athletic compression underwear, then either lose weight or find better fitting trousers, or both. What's happening is you're sliding forward and your jeans aren't. Seat design also affects this. Quite a few years back I used to do weekend round trips about once a month between DC and Central Florida, first on a Honda 750K2, then a Vetter-equipped BMW R90/6 (that'll tell you how long it's been). When you start "doing distance" on a bike - DC to Cocoa is 856 each way, about 15 hours down on Thursday night, the same back on Sunday night - you realize that you need to accommodate that environment, because it won't accommodate you, and you quickly learn what works for you. Find some Iron Butt riders and ask what they do. Harley riders and most sport bikers won't care because they need fuel stops; my R90 had a 9 gallon Krauser tank so it didn't.

Glen Filthie said...

Good move, BP. The V-Strom may be a 'do-it-all' bike but it does it all very poorly. The 1000cc V-Strom is even worse, in my opinion. I traded mine off in disgust.

I will get beat up for it...but: Unless you buy into the romance of the Harley mystique I would avoid them. They are not junkers as some people claim - but they are faar more expensive than they need to be. If all you do is ride the metric bikes are the way to go.

Keep us posted BP. I can't wait to see where you end up as you search for the perfect bike!

LoFan John said...

Another thing about the V-Strom is that, when you look for a bike that claims some off-road capability, you get a tall bike. The standard SV-650 was not so tall. Look for a standard road bike like the Yamaha FZ-6 or FZ-8 or something comparable. Even a Honda 500 might be a more comfortable step up.

ZerCool said...

I'm late to this party and far from an experienced rider, but I enjoyed my Vulcan 500 while I had it. Only downside was size - I was cramped on it, at 6'1. They also make a 750 which probably would have been more height-friendly.