Suzuki’s not aiming to give you heart palpitations with its 2017 V-Strom 650. Rather, the goal is to provide a flexible motorcycle with broad appeal. One with an approachable character and the chops to handle long-range touring and commuting alike. As such, newer riders to experienced motorcyclists can find something to love in the V-Strom 650… more so than ever considering Suzuki’s abundance of updates this year.
That’s not to say the ‘Strom 650 is some kind of dud, either. You want triple digits? No problem, you’ll have gears to spare. Want to run up a fire road? Completely capable, even more confidently in XT dress with skid plate, hand guards and wire-spoke wheels. Mountain twisties your thing? Even with its 19-inch front, 17-inch rear wheel set-up and prosaic suspension, the 650 is steady and tractable when carving.
An Engine for the Masses
The liquid-cooled 645cc V-Twin is updated with more than 60 new components, including resin coated pistons and exhaust camshafts also used on the SV650. Other touches like an updated airbox and new injectors that contribute to creating smooth, instantly responsive fueling and, of course, meeting stricter Euro 4 emissions standards.
Apart from getting right with the government’s demands, the powerplant is also intended to provide better low- and mid-range torque. This is definitely the range where the V-Strom 650 delivers the most meat. Off the line you have some snap to the throttle that belies its 470-pound curb weight. Keep ramping it up and the engine pulls steadily, no noticeable peaks or valleys in the power delivery, just smooth, linear performance.
Vibration sets in a bit around 7000 rpm, but it’s minor. Cruising at 65 mph on the freeway has you right at 5000 rpm, so longer hauls are buzz-free. You lose some of the pep on the top end of sixth, so rolling on for a pass doesn’t yield the same kind of performance you get in the lower gears, but it’s not sluggish either.
I really enjoyed the engine overall. You can make stop and go traffic a little more fun with the playful bottom end and cover a lot of miles in comfort with the velvety top-end. It’s not a beast itching to run at a full sprint, but a reliable traveling companion that can put up a respectable showing in a 100-yard dash when needed.
Suzuki ticked a lot of improvement boxes with the new down-type exhaust, too. Lighter bike weight (down two pounds overall from 2016), mass centralization, improved fuel efficiency (we averaged 42 mpg, according to the readout on the updated instrument panel, netting a range of 222.6 miles per 5.3-gallon tank) and convenience. The exhaust now provides plenty of clearance for Suzuki’s optional three-piece luggage system.
It also sounds good. At lower speeds it’s respectful of your neighbors, but emits a throaty, low-tone growl as the rpms increase. Not quite to the cadence of an aftermarket can, but the V-Twin is well represented aurally, even meeting Euro 4 standards.
Electronic Conveniences Coalesce
Three updates change the character of the V-Strom 650. Low RPM Assist, Easy Start and a three-mode traction control system provide assistance from the moment you fire the engine.
Of the three, Easy Start is the enhancement I could do without most. Rather than having to hold the start button down until the engine turns over, riders can give it a quick press and the bike comes to life. A computerized ECM cuts the starter motor directly after the engine is running, so likely helps to reduce wear and tear on that part.
Low RPM Assist is kind of cool though. When the clutch beings to engage, the system raises idle speed. You can feather the clutch just past the friction point and creep along at a snail’s pace without having to turn the throttle. On hills it gives a little forward roll too. If you typically ride older and more conventional motorcycles, It takes a few times to get used to, since the bike wants to move before you’ve given it any gas.
The clutch itself is light and smooth, easily manipulated with two fingers. The six-speed transmission is precise and the gears are spaced well for around town riding and highway travel alike. There’s no need to short shift the ‘Strom 650, you can wind it out to just below its 10,000 rpm ceiling and be just fine.
And when you’re finally out of town, wailing up some mountain pass, the traction control system will help keep your traction true. The ECM monitors throttle position, wheel speed, gear position and crank position, reducing engine output when wheel spin is detected. Level 2 is the highest amount of intervention, Level 1 the least and the system can also be turned off. Adjustment can be made on the fly, when the throttle is closed.
On the road, intervention is barely noticeable at average or slightly above average pace. On gravel roads the traction control character becomes a lot more pronounced. In Level 2 the bike hooks up well and it takes a concerted effort to get some wheel slip, less so in Level 1 and when off you can have a little fun. Since the V-Strom 650 is built to travel, this will likely be a boon to many who find themselves dealing with unexpectedly precarious road conditions.
Bring that ‘Strom to a Stop
The Bosch ABS system, carried over from last year, is certainly more noticeable off the beaten path. Intervention is pronounced when you stab the rear, the pedal pulsing dramatically underfoot. Same goes for the front brake when you give it a good pull. There’s no option to switch ABS off, either.
On road, the braking package is better – basic, without jarring initial bite and decent, progressive feel. You get a five-position adjustable brake lever that’s helpful when refining the bike’s fit to your hand. It gets the job done reliably and isn’t so sensitive that a new rider, or one foggy after a long haul, will be caught unaware by sloppy input.
Hold Your Line
While the non-adjustable fork (5.91 inches travel) and link type, coil spring shock (6.26 inches travel) are also basic, they too perform to task when pressed. Compression and rebound at the front end is smooth when braking into and exiting turns, and doesn’t dive too harshly when performing a quick stop in a straight line. An externally positioned preload adjustment dial at the rear is a nice convenience when accounting for luggage and/or a passenger.
Minor road imperfections are soaked up well, contributing to a comfy, smooth-feeling ride. Things get a little more hairy when bounding up the fire road, but the package isn’t terrible for a road-biased bike.
I was actually surprised by the ‘Strom when the road turned from gravel to dirt during one outing where incline increased and some decent sized ruts and rocks had to be tackled. In TC2 the bike didn’t slip and the Bridgestone Trail Wing tires held true. Standing on the pegs was comfortable and low-end delivery proved more than adept at keeping the momentum up. The suspension kept the bike from jouncing around too much and there was plenty of confidence inspired to take the following hill with even more gusto.
The curb weight and slightly top-heavy feel were the biggest impediments to really going for it. But then again, this isn’t an RM-Z dirt bike. It’s good to know that the V-Strom is as much up to adventure as you are.
Expanded Creature Comforts
The 2017 V-Strom 650 becomes an even more adept touring rig as a result of a bevy of additional updates.
A slightly thicker seat is all day comfortable and the .3-inch taller, three-position windscreen does a fine job creating a calm pocket of air in the perch. In the mid position, there was some noticeable helmet buffeting, but that was largely alleviated with a quick adjustment.
There’s now a 12V DC outlet located to the left and beneath the updated instrument panel, borrowed from the V-Strom 1000. The stacked headlight and LED taillight are taken from the 1000 as well.
An updated rear rack proved useful when fitting the Suzuki Dry Bag when I had to cart along a few extra items. There are a broad variety of accessory options available to fit the 650 in fact in addition to the three-piece hard bags. There’s a center stand, grip heaters, touring screen, chain guard, LED fog lamps, crash protection and seat updates as well.
All told, the seat and wind-protected, neutral ride position create a very cozy bike.
The aluminum, twin spar frame is unchanged, but Suzuki eliminated the plastic parts that used to surround the tank to create a slimmer feel in the cockpit. This also helps to make reaching the ground a bit easier, however the 32.7-inch seat height still proves a little tall. I’m 6ft with a 32-inch inseam and am not fully flat-footed at a stop. Almost, but not quite. For smaller riders, stops may prove to be a bit unsteady. Suzuki does have a lower seat accessory, which brings measurement down to 31.9 inches.
The Bottom Line
Suzuki raised the price of the V-Strom 650 by $400 bucks for 2017, to carry a base MSRP of $8799. The XT, which comes with more off-road centered features like wire spoke wheels, hand guards and skid plate along with more color choices, is $9299. The V-Strom 650 as tested is $4200 less than the standard V-Strom 1000, making a strong financial case for going middleweight when the weight of your pocket book is a concern.
And underneath the price tag is a well-balanced machine. Suzuki’s efforts to maintain the broad appeal of the V-Strom 650 are achieved and the deal is sweetened further by way of a nice selection of contemporary upgrades. Manageable yet enjoyable performance that’s adept in a variety of situations, the V-Strom 650 is a solid choice if you’re looking for middleweight adventure.