photos: July Behl & JB
I was a little bit stunned. Within half an hour no less than four people had complimented the new V-Strom XT on its good looks. That’s not a huge number but back in 2014 not one person had said so much as a ‘nice bike, mate’ about the old model in the weeks I had that one. Most I got then was ‘that’s a bit big for off-road, good luck’. But the new V-Strom XT, with looks that echo the Marlboro- sponsored DR-Big Dakar racer Gaston Rahier rode in 1988, is something of a glamour puss.
And it’s curious how that makes you feel a little more benevolent towards a bike. With the old V-Strom 1000, and even the 650XT model I rode for 18 months, you kind of explained to people that they needed to look beyond the aesthetic and understand the real-world virtues. So you started on the back foot. But here on the 2020 1050XT I’m not apologizing, and in fact even in the company of mate July’s awesome BMW R 1200 GS Rallye I’m out there, loud and proud. And yes, it turns out the orange and white paintwork is louder than the Rallye’s wonderfully fruity Bos exhaust.
Obviously – and it’s a fact – we judge a book by its cover. And so given this pretty exciting new cover, the 1050XT is a more likely read (ride) than anytime in the V-Strom’s 18 year history. So we’re excited and much more ready to delve deeper, learn more. You know, it’s a possibility…
And given the looks it would be nice to say that Suzuki has indeed gone back to the drawing board with this year’s revamp. All-new this and that, ra-ra-ra… But that isn’t so. Reality is it’s kind of 50/50 old to new. Strip the bodywork off, take it back to bare bones engine, frame, suspension and wheels and it’s not very far at all from the old model. Only the engine is now Euro5 compliant and in addressing this – like many manufacturers – Suzuki has taken the opportunity to lift the power, from 100 to 107hp, by way of new cam profiles and timing, and bigger throttle bodies (increased from 45 to 49mm). There’s obviously a new exhaust system, again to meet the new restrictions. And cooling capacity has been increased, through a 15% bigger radiator and now there’s an oil cooler, too.
So, frame, wheels and suspension kind of as before. But now, under that eye-catching new bodywork is a whole new electronics package, with the many now familiar clever modern doodads. Care of the usual suspect (Bosch) there’s the now seemingly ubiquitous six-direction, three-axis IMU that enables a bunch of sophisticated rider aids. So yes, the braking system now features ABS that’s super refined with cornering ABS, front-back link and it’s even load adjusting (taking into account pillion, luggage etc). Then there’s hill hold and slope detection. Meanwhile the throttle bodies go fly-by-wire and you can imagine the traction control again is more refined for having the IMU. It’s been thoroughly brought up to date. Only –just so you know this is still the V-Strom – Suzuki hasn’t yet gone TFT with the dash, the new LCD is only four years out of date, not eight years like the old analogue tacho etc. And it’s worth noting that the wiring is now of CAN type – controller area network – which is a very different thing to traditional wiring (older readers might recall BMW went CANbus as long ago as 2004/5).
HOW DOES IT FEEL?
How does it feel? It feels different – but the same. To begin with, when you’re sat on it, it feels very much more modern. With proper tapered alloy bars and a neat slim look around the screen and instruments there’s a rally-esque feel to it. And the way the tank and fairing’s angular (DR-Big inspired) lines point forward, again these makes for a cool feeling. The bike feels to sit and look right. Yep, you feel like you’re on a 2020 model, and a spunky one at that.
That V-twin motor has some punch, for sure. Always has, although given its heritage (the engine starting life in the 125hp TL1000S sports bike back in 1997) there’s huge scope for it to punch even harder. So it’s kind of curious that Suzuki has stopped at 107hp when BMW and KTM have gone for bigger numbers – for the V-Strom has the capability to match them. But as ever, the motor still feels muscular and strong and in the midrange onwards it feels lusty enough. The gearing is long too, so big speeds are not an issue. Certainly if you crack the throttle with the traction control on you’ll see the TC blink rapidly as the IMU etc work to keep everything on the level. In fact in the default setting the traction control feels to be a proper killjoy. In the prevailing dry, super-grippy conditions I’ve currently got it set to ‘off’.
It is then a proper 1000cc ADV with solid punch and high-speed cruise authority (by the way capacity is unchanged, the old 1000 was also a 1037cc, it would seem Suzuki just rounded up this time as a means to creating new model distinction). Day to day it’s going to be every bit as quick as the BMW or KTM mega-ADVs. Probably only in a shoot-out drag race would you notice the power difference.
Handling on road is very secure. It’s got a 19”/17” wheel combo, although interestingly Suzuki has stuck with a 150-section rear tyre (like Yamaha and Honda) and not gone 170 like Triumph, BMW and KTM. Tubeless though. Anyway, the Bridgestone A41s are a decent road tyre and it sticks to the road well enough, while the roll rate seems adequately speedy. The brakes are strong enough, although – and I’ve had this on other bikes – sometimes the ABS feels just a little more intrusive than I’d like in sketchy conditions (where the lever pulses slightly and there’s a momentary sense of freewheeling). As with others that do this, I try to remember to not leave my braking too late on dusty rural T-junctions…
Comfort so far is all right. The seat feels slightly square-edged, I suffered a little discomfort despite modest miles and so I definitely need to adjust it to the higher (870mm) setting to better suit my height. However, the general ergos feel spot on. I like the perch, the screen (set on its lowest position) works without being intrusive and despite highish pegs it feels about right when stood up (we rode a couple of dry green lanes).
So there’s a slight contradiction here. The V-Strom looks more off-roady than it ever has, thanks to its (retro) Dakar styling, yet the set-up is still very much road rather than dirt-biased. It’s not feeling like it’s sitting with the GSs and Super Adventure Rs, it’s not Africa Twin stylee either. It quite different to a Tiger 1200, yet you can see it appealing to riders who – like the Triumph riders – understand that big ADVs generally ride 95% tar seal 5% dirt.
Only through experience with the last (2014) V-Strom 1000, I know you can do proper dirt rides on the V-Strom, probably more so with this XT version. I have in the past wondered what this bike would be like with another inch (25mm) of suspension travel. But I also wonder whether that extra inch would destabilize the package, lifting that fair engine mass too high.
So in all, we’re talking lots of positives. Not least on accont it has, probably for the first time, some street cred (in a dirt bike cred way). Anyway, this is a quick spin appraisal. So I’ll stop the writing now and carry on with the riding. We’ll see if I change my mind on any of these matters at the end of the test in a few weeks time…