by Gus Breiland
The old standard for brides on their wedding day is something old, something new, something borrowed, and something blue. While I am not a bride, I have been on a mission for a life partner this summer – a life-riding partner that is. So this month, we take you for a spin on a borrowed Silver 2003 Suzuki V-Strom. This is a new player in the dual sport liter bikes with not a lot of old on it other than my riding ability.
Over the course of the summer riding season, my friends and acquaintances have offered their bikes to me a weekend or a week at a time to see what I think. Some are underhanded attempts to con me into their brand of bikes, others have broken bones and I have taken advantage of them, while other are just trying to give me the opportunity to ride bikes.
Chuck Banks is just that guy. His new toy for the summer is the 2003 Suzuki V-Strom. I had ridden around Duluth with Mr. Banks and his new steed for the Aerostich Very Boring Rally and he offered to let me borrow it for a bit a little later this summer. I, of course, said “How bout the rest of the summer?” He said “NO!” Apparently he wanted to ride it too, selfish guy that he is.
The phone call came a little later. Chuck and his wife were going away for a bit and would I be interested in baby-sitting the V-Strom for the weekend? This is why you have friends, folks. I hope someday to return such generosities, but for now I will take advantage of someone offering a bike any day.
I had ridden the Suzuki V-Strom’s cousin earlier this summer, the SV1000S (MMM #60 August). As far as inbreeding is concerned, the V-Strom is genetically very similar to the SV. Other than obvious differences such as riding position, under seat exhaust and ground clearance galore, the only real change from one bike to the other is the throttle body size. (52mm on the SV and 45mm on the V-Strom.)
With a bike to be ridden and a responsibility to entertain MMM’s readership, I broke the shackles of domestic harmony and bliss and set out on a short adventure over the horizon far away from the promised electrical work on the house and oil changes on the cars.
Looking on the map on the best place to entertain myself on a motorcycle, my eyes and bike were headed for the river in what was going to be a gorgeous day for hunting twisties and seeing if speed and luck hold out for one more day of police free entertainment.
The number one thing you need to know about the V-Strom is it is a cornering monster. This motorcycle is at home running through the contours of the countryside while offering a comfortable seating position. This is another bike that offers “wide ratio 6-speed transmission” with 6th gear overdrive and an oversized clutch plate that translates into a light hydraulic clutch pull on the handlebars. I know I ride slowly but nothing proves this fact as the V-Strom. Yet again, this forced me to have a reason for using 6th gear with minimal use of 5th. 6th gear is nice, but I am still not sold it is necessary. However, the industry standard seems to be heading this way. I guess I just have to learn how to ride faster.
The transmission is powered by a TL1000-based 996cc 90 degree V-Twin, DOHC 8-valve liquid cooled engine. It has been “de-tuned” from the SV1000 motor for better low and mid range torque. Electronic fuel injection to the 45mm throttle bodies has me looking forward to the future of bikes where carburetion is surpassed by the performance and response of fuel injection. Not only is the engine liquid cooled; there is also a compact oil cooler on the bike.
OK, so you have a strong motor, plenty of gears for carving up the road, comfortable riding position on top of a 5.8-gallon tank. What is wrong with it? Anything? Of course! I would not be a reviewer if flaws were not pointed out, now would I?
Personally, I do not have an issue with the styling, however it was the first comment of most people. The quote was typically “Who beat your bike with the ugly stick? It’s Mother?” What some would call ugly, I consider yet another very nice bike from Suzuki.
With all of its positives, my number one complaint of almost all motorcycles has been the headlights. If you remember, or revisit the review of the SV1000, you will see that I consider the SV1000S headlights some of the best on the road. Again, I must say that Suzuki has done it again. There is nothing in the world more frightening that not being able to see while your running throughout the back roads of America. The V-Strom gives you so much light out front that it makes night riding a joy. The sources of this flood of light are 2 large, multi-reflector 60/55W headlights.
The high-mounted stainless steel exhaust system with aluminum mufflers is nicely tucked up under your passenger seat. This smooth fit makes the bike nice and slender compared to some of the other adventure touring bikes out there, but it will cause your hard bag system like Givi’s stick out a bit.
I was riding with the taller windscreen Chuck purchased for it. It kicked the wind up and out of your face just over your helmet. It did offer a little bit of feedback at speed, but nothing your couldn’t live with. It did such a nice job of kicking wind out of my face that I tended to miss a little airflow through the helmet.
For the most part, the V-Strom comes off the floor ready for some fun. Factory engine guards and hand guards keep your engine vitals protected and your digits safe from the slap of a tree or just the doorjamb of the garage. An odd accessory is the center stand. I consider this odd in the sense that I feel damn near every bike should have a center stand. Considering the height and leverage you have with V-Strom, I feel the center stand should be stock.
While the V-Strom was with me, I headed up to a bike and car show just up the river in Osceola, Wisconsin. The bike performed very well, allowing me to get past some of the folks “saving lives” while keeping up with a group that were having a spirited ride. With its’ tall inseam, I was concerned what the bike would be too top heavy and therefore too clumsy for low speed maneuvers while in town. Its’ stability and balance were spot on. The handlebars off tons of leverage and lumping through town was as easy as sitting in a chair.
Suspension consists of a cartridge-style 43mm front fork with a link type rear suspension that features a piggyback shock absorber with adjustable rebound and pre-load. The front end felt a little soft in stop and go traffic, but out on the road it floated over the grooves and bumps effortlessly.
Maybe it’s a sign of getting old or maybe it’s just the need for comfort, but my summer of riding motorcycles has taught me one thing – comfort is what it’s all about. While riding the V-Strom up the river and passing the poor fools who feel their bike makes them look cool, I get concerned for their spine. It just doesn’t look comfortable which to me, translates into they only ride on the weekend. That is a shame, considering the amount of money it costs to look cool these days.
The V-Strom comes in at a paltry M.S.R.P of $8899.00, with some local dealers wheeling and dealing on the price. What is nice about a motorcycle that is comfortable is when you get stuck behind a piece of garage art out on the road you can easily out-last them. While their arms are aching from keeping a death grip on their mini-apes, you’re blissfully sweeping in and out of traffic enjoying your surroundings rather than focusing on their rear.
If you’re looking for an affordable commuter and/or a comfortable mileage hound, go find the Suzuki V-Strom. It offers the performance most need, with the comfort most don’t. Otherwise, find a friend that is taking off for the weekend and baby sit. It will have you second-guessing the love in your garage for a slightly less attractive and cheaper object of your affection. You will come to enjoy the other qualities of riding far greater than the joy you have now in cleaning a bike because it is too damn uncomfortable to ride.
Thank you to Chuck Banks for the opportunity to ride the 2003 Suzuki V-Strom. It was a real treat and if you ever need a baby sitter, let me know. I will be glad to take care of her again. In fact, why don’t you take a nice long vacation next summer, say from April to November? I am sure the V-Strom and I can find plenty to do.
by Chuck Banks
So, what kind of bike is that?” is a very common question I get at the gas pump with my 2003 Suzuki V-Strom DL1000. I usually try to gauge the questioners motorcycle knowledge before directly answering. If they know something about bikes, I will tell them that it is an “Adventure Tour” type of bike. If the questioner seems to know nothing about bikes, I have learned to tell them it is a sport bike. Technically, that’s not really wrong, but not really right, just easier to get away.
The V-Strom, from here on out I will refer to it as “the Strom”, is a very modern combination of various types of motorcycle groups. It is part sport bike, dirt bike, and sport touring bike all rolled into one bike. Usually, this comes off from most manufactures as a disaster, but Suzuki has it down with this bike.
First, I will start with the basics, the technical stuff. The motor is a 90-degree V-twin, displacing 996 c.c.’s. It was designed with less horsepower and wider torque curve than the similar motor in the SV1000/S Suzuki standard and sport bike. The transmission is a six speed, with sixth gear being an overdrive. I have owned other bikes with a similar quoted set up, but this is truly an overdrive.
The Strom uses an aluminum frame unique to the bike, but is influenced heavily by the frames Suzuki uses for their GSXR series bikes. The brakes are pretty standard Japanese set up, dual disc up front, single disc rear brake. The Strom’s wheels are a three spoke rims, shod with a street/dirt type of tire. The front wheel is 19″ diameter, the rear being 17″. The suspension is also nothing revolutionary, especially if you are used to modern dirt bikes. There is just more travel to it than most street riders are used to. The front fork is 43 mm, and the Strom uses a single shock rear, both with 6 inches of travel. The fork and rear shock both have spring preload adjustment, and the rear shock offers damping adjustment.
The seating position is considered upright, those of you who ride older dirt bikes will be very familiar with how it sits and the position of the handlebars and foot pegs. The seat is very comfy, and easily accommodates two-up riding. The Strom comes standard with a smallish windshield, and the rest of the body and controls are usual Japanese manufacturer quality. One added feature the Strom offers is plastic hand guards, very nice in keeping wind off the hands. The upright seating position, with great legroom and comfy seat, provides all day riding with few leg or arm cramps. The down side is the bike does sit taller than most. I have a 32″ inseam, and find I have to “tippy-toe” a little when stopped. This does add a benefit of sitting higher, and being able to see over traffic. Very similar to why SUV’s are so popular. One other item of note is the headlights. Suzuki has found some way to make a standard 55/65 watt headlight seem much brighter than other bikes. Many times I have had “cagers” flash their high beams at me, then I let’em have with the high beam, great fun!
So, what is the Strom like to ride? My best example of the Strom’s ability is to recount a ride I did this summer. It combined Interstate, two lane and single lane highway and county roads. Cruising the interstate allowed use of the overdrive 6th gear. The only time I use it is when traveling above an indicated 70 mph. Below that speed, in overdrive, the motor is lugging along below 4000 rpm. Although good for mileage, this is a bit below the Strom’s torque and power curve, requiring downshifting for acceleration or going up any incline. Whether in 5th gear or 6th, the motors smoothness made things really pleasant, just a little vibration felt when above 5000 rpm.
One of the county roads was C.R. 116, other wise known as the Echo Trail that winds through the BWCA north of Ely.The Echo Trail is 40+ miles of gravel. After getting acclimated to the road surface, I was able to comfortably travel up to 60 mph. Try that on your sport bike! The suspension, dirt/street tires and handling allowed this, and really adds to the character and versatility of this bike.
After reaching Ely, I then rode Highway 1 to Lake Superior. Here, the combination of handling, braking, and engine performance got a chance to shine. I was diving into corners much faster than I ever dared with my old “sport tourer”, and with all of the torque from the V-twin, accelerating out of the corner harder. I never touched down any pegs, more my riding style than the bikes. It was a warm day, and the road had recently had crack repairs done. This meant those ribbons of tar I was crossing were greasy, but the Strom’s ability to change lines at any place in the corners made them disappear.
I like the idea of the name “Adventure Tourer” to describe the Strom. It handles as well as a lot of sport bikes, goes as fast as I can handle, and when exploring back roads, is not afraid of a little dirt. The Strom is more comfortable than my last sport-touring bike, and is much easier to negotiate in town. Another plus, is Suzuki is offering a wide selection of accessories, such as a taller windscreen, (I have added it to mine) centerstand, hard and soft luggage, and many other items. MSRP is 8899.00, and for what this bike offers, I find it to be great bargain. Sorry, but I refer to mine as “The Perfect Strom”, I couldn’t resist, this bike is exactly what I was looking for.
by Chip Miller
First, a little background info. I currently own about 20 “vintage” motorcycles in rideable condition. They run the gamut from German to Italian to American, but most are Japanese. I rotate insurance on 14 of them at a time year to year. My regular daily rider, until I took delivery of the V-Strom in May, was a 1980 Suzuki GS1000E. The GS was the newest bike I owned at the time I purchased the V-Strom. It was a fine machine in most respects, and one that had never let me down, with more than adequate power and decent enough handling. I still feel pangs of guilt when I pass her by to mount the V-Strom.
The purchase of the V-Strom was based mostly on the reports I had read in various industry magazines and the fact that a friend had just purchased a new BMW and I wanted (needed?) to be able to at least keep up. Being a Suzuki kind of guy and 6’3″ tall, this bike seemed to fit the bill pretty well. I learned much on my first ride. The seat height and riding position were fine. The windshield was not. Much too short for me, causing unacceptable wind noise levels and helmet buffeting. There also was no center stand. Nothing like needing two people to safely check your oil level. I really don’t know what was on their minds at Suzuki. The company that had brought me such refined little gizmos as a digital gear indicator and electric start on their early 70’s two stroke triples skimping on something as essential as a center stand? It seemed out of character to me. I immediately ordered the optional stand, the taller windshield, and the full Kappa bags and tail pack. The stand installed easily and the bags are of high quality. Two helmets fit nicely in the tail pack. The taller windshield is still too short for me and earplugs are the norm, even for short rides. I am currently in contact with a company, Cee Baily’s Aircraft Plastics, who claim their shield will solve my problem. We’ll see.
Other than those few specific complaints, this bike has been better than I had expected. Gosh, brakes sure have come a long way since 1980. Low speed maneuvers require very careful application of the front brake. Now, the brakes on all my vintage bikes seem wimpy at best, scary at worst. The motor’s power is more than I will ever use and the handling far better than any machine I have owned. I was skeptical of the tread pattern on the supplied Bridgestones (for on or off road use, ha ha), but they stick very well on the pavement. I find myself turning faster and faster as I grow to trust them. Fuel economy has been a pleasant surprise as well; over 50 mpg is not uncommon. The six-speed transmission seems spaced just right for me and the terrific torque of this V-twin motor will pull 35 mph in sixth gear with little complaint. It starts instantly from cold and I have learned to modulate my own habits to cope with the abrupt throttle response of the fuel injection system. The front wheel will lift easily in first gear with any hasty turn of the throttle. The effect of engine braking is also much more noticeable than on any of my other machines. It’s even greater than on my ’77 Harley XLCR.
I have only put about 1600 miles on this machine since purchased. As stated earlier, I have other machines needing exercise as well. It has, of course, used no oil to date. I had made up my mind that my new bike would be the V-Strom or the Bandit 1200S. The seating position, my 51-year old back, and the torque of the V-Strom made up my mind. I am still happy with my decision. I just wish they had kept the digital gear indicator. Oh well, I can always hop on one of the GT750 Water Buffaloes that patiently wait their turn.