2012 Suzuki V-Strom 650 ABS First Ride

photography by John Howell & Enrico Pavia

Western North Carolina, home to all-consuming kudzu vines, fertile fields full of King Cotton and roads that wind their way through Appalachian hollows, coves and gaps, is a picture-perfect place to test the 2012 Suzuki V-Strom 650 ABS, especially in late autumn when crayon-colored leaves cover everything the kudzu doesn’t. Led by Bill Kniegge of Blue Strada Tours (www.bluestradatours.com), our two-day route began and ended in Charlotte, with an overnight in the cozy hamlet of Little Switzerland. We rode hundreds of miles on highways, on the 190-curves-in-12-miles Diamondback (NC 226A), on the incomparable Blue Ridge Parkway, and on topsy-turvy roads that only a local would know, like switchback-clogged Green River Cove Road and backwoods-graveled Curtis Creek Road. We spooked wild turkeys and deer, fortified ourselves with sweet tea and passed through Bat Cave, Gooch Gap and Suck Creek.

Since its debut in 2004, two years after Rider named the then-all-new V-Strom 1000 its Motorcycle of the Year, the V-Strom 650 has proven itself to be a popular middleweight adventure tourer. A peppy 645cc V-twin engine adapted from the beloved SV650, a rugged chassis borrowed from the V-Strom 1000 and effortless handling have made it the ideal do-it-all middleweight, even more so when you factor in its comfortable seating, 250-mile range and reasonable price. What’s not to love?

2012 Suzuki V-Strom 650 action
The 2012 V-Strom 650 ABS sports a new look and offers better wind protection.

Ah, but time and tide wait for no man, nor motorcycle. Updates over time included dual spark plugs, a longer wheelbase, optional ABS and a higher-output generator, but styling and everything else stayed the same. In the last few years, BMW and Triumph released more modern and capable mid-sized adventure bikes, leaving the V-Strom 650 looking and feeling a bit tired (which is why we picked the Triumph Tiger 800 over the V-Strom 650 in our last comparison, from which the BMW F 650 GS was notably absent; see Rider, June 2011). According to Derek Schoeberle, Product Marketing Manager at American Suzuki, after years of being the V-Strom 1000’s kid brother, aka the Wee Strom, “The time had come for the V-Strom 650 to stand on its own, to have its own personality.” Thus its long-overdue overhaul for 2012.

Development of the new model began with a survey of the European market, which revealed that the vast majority of V-Strom owners do not take their bikes off-road. No need, then, to spend time and money adding capability in that arena. Tireless engineers and project leaders also did extensive comparison testing of motorcycles in the Alps. Poor guys. From all of this back-breaking, nose-to-grindstone work, Suzuki settled on “the comfortable adventure tourer” as a concept to guide development, with the specific goals of improving running performance, versatility, comfort, wind protection and styling.

The 2012 V-Strom 650’s new look is sporty yet tough, with less painted plastic and more impact-resistant black resin body panels, less visual mass around the front fairing and tank, and a new front fender that hugs the tire and directs air flow to the radiator, which itself has wind-directing plates for better cooling and to channel engine heat away from the rider. Black wheels now match the frame and swingarm, and the engine was cleaned up by replacing the unsightly oil cooler with a compact, liquid-cooled heat exchanger behind the oil filter. The dual cat-eye headlights are smaller but just as bright as before, while the front-end and tail were pulled inward and the muffler overhang reduced to centralize mass. Suzuki says the new V-Strom is 13 pounds lighter than before, weighing 472 pounds fully fueled.

Suspension changes help the new V-Strom 650 stay more planted in the corners.

Adapted from the now-defunct Suzuki Gladius, successor to the SV650, the engine has the same dimensions and configuration as before: liquid-cooled, 645cc, 90-degree V-twin, 81.0 x 62.6mm bore/stroke, four-valve DOHC heads. Enhancements over the previous V-Strom include SCEM-plated cylinders for better heat dissipation and durability while reducing friction, and single rather than double valve springs to reduce weight and mechanical losses. Dual iridium spark plugs, a new ECU with a 32-bit processor, revised fuel injection and ignition maps, Suzuki Dual Throttle Valve fuel-injection system and a new, patented Throttle-body Integrated Idle Speed Control (TI-ISC) improve operating and combustion efficiency, while revised intake cam profiles give the engine a small bump in low-to-midrange torque. Compared to the previous model, Suzuki’s dyno charts show a modest increase in torque throughout the rev range and a boost in top-end horsepower. Other changes were made to improve sound and feel. A redesigned crankshaft enhances the V-twin beat, a scissors-type primary gear reduces mechanical noise at idle, and a double-layer clutch cover quiets things down during shifts.

2012 Suzuki V-Strom 650 engine
The V-Strom 650's V-twin engine is adapted from the Suzuki Gladius.

What we have, then, is a long-running engine that has been refined over time, its rough edges polished and its essential character retained. When we put a 2011 V-Strom 650 on the dyno, it made 63.5 horsepower and 41.2 lb-ft of torque, numbers which should be slightly higher on the current model. The new engine runs more smoothly and quietly, with good throttle response and rarely feeling overworked (though the power-to-weight ratio lends itself more to solo riding than two-up touring).

Hold your applause for a moment. One change is disappointing: the reduction in fuel capacity from 5.8 to 5.3 gallons. Sure, this change allowed a slimmer fuel tank design and a 3-pound reduction in curb weight. Also, conveniently enough, the 9-percent fuel capacity loss is offset by Suzuki’s claim that the engine is now 10-percent more fuel efficient, but we have our doubts. In our June comparison test, we recorded 45.9 mpg on the 2011 V-Strom (range: 266 miles). After confirming that the 2012 V-Strom’s new fuel consumption gauge is slightly optimistic (at the first fuel stop, I calculated 43.4 mpg and the computer read 44.3 mpg), at the end of our 400-plus mile ride, bikes swapped among throttle-happy journalists posted 47-49 mpg (range: 244-260 miles). A wash or a loss, but definitely not an improvement.

The sturdy frame and swingarm are unchanged, but front spring preload has been increased and the rear shock now has a heavier spring and an extra 0.4-inch of travel (6.3 inches). Suspension compliance is noticeably better, with the added benefit of an additional 0.4-inch of ground clearance and more cornering clearance. The V-Strom’s triple-disc brake setup is also unchanged, but its standard Bosch ABS unit is 1.5 pounds lighter, works faster and has improved feel at the lever. There’s plenty of easily modulated braking power, but a firm pull at the lever is required to get the most out of it. ABS pulsing was noticeable at the rear pedal, but not at the lever.

2012 Suzuki V-Strom 650 action
The V-Strom's upright riding position is comfortable, and the new seat has 25% more padding.

Adventure bikes’ long-travel suspension, wide handlebars and narrow tires make them much more nimble than their size and weight would lead you to believe, yet the V-Strom 650 seems particularly blessed with balance and agility. At the end of the first day, we rode to the hotel in the dark on a tight, steep, switchbacked road (NC 80, if you’re wondering). We were a swift-moving train of headlights and taillights on an unfamiliar road, something that would normally be a nerve-wracking experience. But even as the temperature dropped and my hands got numbingly cold, I dipped in and out of every corner with ease, feeling more joy than anxiety. Sure, the suspension can become overwhelmed if you hammer it too hard, but it’s easy to stay within reasonable limits and still have loads of fun. And the Bridgestone Trail Wing tires provide plenty of grip on the street and on dirt/gravel.

2012 Suzuki V-Strom 650 off-road
Most V-Strom owners don't venture off-road, but the bike is well-suited for groomed dirt and gravel roads.

The V-Strom’s seating position is mostly the same, which is a good thing. Handlebars are at a sensible height, the pegs strike a nice compromise between leg room and cornering clearance and the seat is broad and flat with plenty of room to move around. The standard seat now has 25 percent more padding, which, along with the rear suspension changes, has increased seat height from 32.3 to 32.9 inches. But the front of the seat was narrowed to make it just as easy to put your feet down. And as many other OEMs are doing these days, Suzuki will offer optional low (32.1 inches) and high (33.7 inches) seats. The standard and high seats were comfortable after hours in the saddle. As with the previous model, the windscreen is three-position adjustable (Allen wrench required), but its shape was revised to reduce wind noise and buffeting.

2012 Suzuki V-Strom 650 on Blue Ridge Parkway
The perfect way to enjoy an autumn afternoon on the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Instrumentation is greatly improved, with more functionality and the gauge panel positioned higher for better visibility. An analog tach remains, but the analog speedo was replaced with a digital readout on the multi-function, brightness-adjustable LCD display. In addition to speed, the display includes engine temp, fuel level, clock/ambient temp and dual trip/dual fuel consumption/odometer, and a button on the left handlebar toggles through functions. Also, there’s a new LED freeze-warning indicator. As before, there are generous passenger accommodations and a standard luggage rack with integrated grab handles. The rack is now made of resin instead of aluminum to save weight, and it has a rubber cover that can be removed to install the accessory top box. A full catalog of accessories will be available.

2012 Suzuki V-Strom 650 instruments
The new instrument panel is easier to read and has more functions.

The 2012 Suzuki V-Strom 650 ABS will be available in Metallic Fox Orange for $8,299 ($200 more than last year), and it should be in dealers in January or February. Exclusive to the U.S. market is the Suzuki V-Strom 650 ABS Adventure that adds a touring windscreen, crash bars and aluminum side cases with mounts made by SW-Motech. The Adventure will come in Glass Sparkle Black for $9,799 (an $800 savings over the a la carte accessory pricing), and should be in dealers in November or December.

Riding the Suzuki V-Strom 650 has always been a fun, low-stress experience. As a happy-medium middleweight, it isn’t too heavy or too powerful, nor excessively complicated or expensive. It’s most at home on the road but is more than capable for fire road forays (we recommend adding a skid plate, though). The new model is a step forward in many ways, with sharper styling, a smoother engine, better suspension compliance, less weight, more comfort and improved wind protection. Perfect for exploring the blue highways of the Deep South, or New England, or the Great Plains, Rockies, Desert Southwest, Pacific Northwest, Last Frontier, north or south of the border, and beyond.

2012 Suzuki V-Strom 650 ABS2012 Suzuki V-Strom 650 ABS Spec Chart

Base Price: $8,299


Type: Liquid-cooled, transverse, DOHC V-twin, 4 valves per cyl.

Displacement: 645cc

Bore x Stroke: 81.0 x 62.6mm

Transmission: 6-speed, cable-actuated wet clutch

Final Drive: O-ring chain

Wheelbase: 61.4 in.

Rake/Trail: 26 degrees/4.3 in.

Seat Height: 32.9 in.

Claimed Wet Weight: 472 lbs.

Fuel Capacity: 5.3 gals.

Average mpg: 48.0

Check out Our Video of the 2012 Suzuki V-Strom 650 ABS


    • I see a 2012 DL1000 is back on the US Suzuki website these days (or check the Canadian site for twice the model count) I’d LOVE to see a comparison test of both Vstroms. I’m a big guy and always figured I’d “Need” the 1000 , but my son just brought home an SV650s . I was pleasantly surprised with the motor on that bike ,but my 55 YO back’s a little out of sorts after 100 miles on it , the 20 year old can do 300 mile days and only complain about the saddle.
      On your test bike please add and review bags from HappyTrails / vs / Twisted Throttle’s , and a couple different saddles too ? Sargent – Corbin ?
      That’d be greaaaaaaaat , thenks

      • Most people used to big motor bikes are surprised at how flexible the 650 is; if you like the SV650s motor then you’ll like the DL650 version just fine. I just did a 1000+ mile ride over two days on my heavily loaded DL650 and it never missed a beat. It hummed along at 70+ mph just fine, pulled hard up hills, etc.

        The only real detraction I had was that the extra weight made the back end wallow some in agressive curves. If that gives you pause, the rear shock is relatively inexpensive and easy to upgrade.

        There are definite reasons to want a 1000: If you do a lot of two-up riding, or riding in mountains with loaded packs, or really love the torque and power, etc. (Personally I think an 800 that split the difference would be just perfect). Some people have had smoothness problems with the 1000 that generally aren’t reported with the 650, but I haven’t been following that too closely lately.

        Comfort-wise, the SVs and DL are utterly different. I have lower back problems and can’t ride most sport bikes or cruisers comfortably. More than an hour on either puts my back in agony. The middle posture of bikes like the DL make my back feel great: they force my spine into a better position than they’d be in a car or ordinary chair. YMMV, of course, as always.

  1. This is the kind of writing I really appreciate from RIDER. Good work, Greg. You captured the basic atmosphere of autumn in the Piedmont region–and the photos completed the sense of “you are there.” Best of all, you gave a real sense of how the Suzuki performed, with a great mix of data and personal analysis. If I was trading in my Caponord, I’d head right to Suzuki. Again, your magazine has a great blend of nuts-and-bolts, travel, and writing style. Much appreciated.

  2. Thanks for the great review. Did I understand the Adventure model won’t be available until November or December of 2012?
    Don’t think I can hold out that long! My 2007 is getting tired. Might have to buy the Tiger.

  3. How does the ABS behave in dirt/gravel? I know that they are de-emphasizing the off-road capabilities, but especially if they are going to make an Adventure version, I really wish they’d add some capacity to turn the ABS off (unless it somehow works well in dirt as the Super Tenere apparently does). I know, I know, liability and all that, but other manufacturers have figured out to do it…

  4. I have a motorcycle tour company in the Dominican Republic (www.MotoCaribe.com) with 11 2008 V-Strom DL650’s in our fleet.

    These are excellent tough-as-nails machines that are a joy to ride in virtually any environment, hardpacked roads to paved twisties, are comfortable for hours on end, run as hard as you want and require little maintenance. If Suzuki has made improvements I can only say “wow!”

    Great article, Greg!

  5. Love my 2005 DL650 V-Strom; but I’m baffled about why they dropped 1/2 gallon from the tank. The new tank styling makes this model look so small in comparison. I was disappointed when I finally saw one in NYC yesterday at the Progressive Show. It’s lost it’s appeal for me, even though it’s been a solid performer for years I can’t get past the smaller appearance. As a commuter I like the conspicuousness of the big bold tank. That’s gone now and they’ve decreased the range by 25 miles to boot.

  6. I’ve only experienced abs once, that was on an F 650 GS Dakar BMW, and it was completely useless on dirt. You just couldn’t stop the thing with the abs on. In my opinion you have to be able to lock the back wheel for true control on dirt. Once i switched it off, it was fine. The DL 650 really should have this option on its abs model.
    I live in North Eastern Australia, in the tropics, where the roads are crap, the weather is hot, and the women are more tattooed than the men. I had a 2006 DL 650 for six years, and it was perfect for these kind of roads. It also was capable of light dirt work. Having just stepped off an XR650 to the DL, i gave it a workout back then, and with a bit of brass, some skill, and a little luck, i found i could take the thing almost anywhere. I like the look of the new gen strom, although seeing the donk is new and unproven, i’d be inclined to wait for next years model to see if any bugs or recalls show up. Have to say tho that hands down my ’06 DL 650 was brilliant, and I have seller’s remorse now after reading a few about the new gen strom.


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