How does one decide on an adventure-touring bike? All of the choices out there can turn your mind into Play-Doh. One way to narrow them down is by the front wheel size that suits your riding style.
Planning a lot of off-road riding? You need a skinny 21-inch front to carve up the loose stuff and roll effortlessly over ruts and obstacles — you’ll find one on a Honda Africa Twin or Kawasaki KLR650.
No dirt in your future? A 17-inch front wheel will give the bike sharper handling on the street and a good variety of sport-touring tire choices–the Ducati Multistrada 1260, Yamaha Tracer 900 GT and larger Kawasaki Versys models all have 17s up front.
For most of us a compromise is in order. You have dreams of conquering the Atacama Desert or Dalton Highway, but will probably spend most of your time in the Lower 48 on paved roads, and about 10 percent on dirt byways and 4×4 trails connecting them. That reality has made 19-inch fronts common among ADV bikes because they’re a (mostly) happy medium between street and dirt.
Now, winnow out the expensive European machines with 19s and the pricey (and kinda heavy) Yamaha Super Ténéré, and you’re left with just two bikes–the Suzuki V-Strom 1000 and 650. That’s a good problem to have, though, because both are extremely competent on-road and can tackle some dirt as well.
You would think that choosing between them would be easy because of their size difference, but there’s actually a long-running debate over which is the better bike overall, largely because the V-Strom 650 is so versatile and a lot less moolah. Rider typically only compares similar bikes from different manufacturers, so we’ve never attempted to resolve the V-Strom 650/1000 debate. Let’s do it!
For this story Managing Editor Jenny “Slim” Smith and Yours “Gas Hog” Truly planned a long street ride with a chunk of rutted dirt road to close the loop, so we requested the XT variants of the V-Strom 650 and 1000, which are an additional $500. This gets you tubeless spoked wheels that can take some abuse, hand guards with larger bar end weights and an engine cowl on the 650XT. The 1000XT gets the spoked wheels plus a Renthal Fat Bar handlebar; the rest is already standard on the base model. The plastic cowls offer some protection for the vulnerable bits in front (like the oil filter) from stones and debris, but are no replacement for a good skid plate.
Suzuki took things a step further by adding quite functional accessory top and side cases, tank bags, centerstands and “accessory bars,” a.k.a. bash bars, which are a good place to mount things like auxiliary lighting and may help protect the fairing in a tipover. The accessories added $2,636 to the $9,299 retail price of the 650XT and $2,413 to the $13,299 cost of the 1000XT.
At the crux of the big debate between the 650 and 1000 are the similarities between the two machines. Both are powered by liquid-cooled, 90-degree V-twins with DOHC and 4 valves per cylinder, and have six-speed transmissions, chain final drive and the same 14,500-mile valve inspection interval. Engines are mounted as stressed members in twin-spar aluminum frames, which have aluminum swingarms and bolt-on steel seat subframes, and both use the same wheel and tire sizes.
Following a major redesign for the 1000 for 2014 and some updates for 2018, and a redesign for the 650 for 2017, the rugged styling and bodywork from their “beaks” in front to the luggage racks/passenger grabrails in back is similar now, and the stacked halogen headlights, instrument panels and LED taillights are identical. Both hold 5.3 gallons of fuel, though the 1000 requires 90-octane premium or better and the 650 is happy with 87.
Riders at opposite ends of the size chart will find this an easy choice, since the 650XT is lighter and lower for the vertically challenged, and the 1000XT has more power and legroom for the Paul Bunyans out there. Unless budgetary concerns are paramount, however, those in the middle have more to mull over.
Riders of almost all sizes own and love their V-Strom 650s thanks to its moderate seat height, 467-pound wet weight (without accessories) and lively engine, which made 68.7 horsepower at 9,100 rpm and 44.2 lb-ft of torque at 6,500 on the Jett Tuning dyno at the rear wheel, though the torque curve is so usefully flat that you have to hunt for the peak. It offers plenty of power for solo touring or two-up day rides, enough that even at 6 feet, 3 inches tall and 220 pounds, contributor Clement Salvadori recently bought one.
Although the 650 feels and looks smaller than the 1000, seating and comfort are similar, with wide tubular handlebars, footpegs well located under the rider and wide, compliant seats that are plenty comfortable from fill-up to fill-up.
The 1000 has a bit more legroom but its seat is about an inch higher — I can nearly plant my feet on the ground sitting on the 650 but I’m on the balls of my feet on the 1000. Although the 1000’s fairing is ever-so-slightly larger and its toolless 3-position windscreen does a better job of redirecting the wind than the 650’s (which also adjusts but requires tools), for the most part the two bikes provide a similar amount of wind protection. Passenger seating is pretty good, with the nod actually going to the 650 when saddlebags are installed, since its lower footpegs provide more foot and legroom.
If the V-Strom 1000 didn’t exist, one would find very little to complain about on the 650, but it does and many riders think that bigger is better now. For starters there’s the additional power; with 91.8 horsepower at 9,100 rpm and 66.2 lb-ft of torque at 3,900 — though redline is a touch lower at 9,200 rpm vs. 10,000 — the 1000 pulls much harder at high rpm, and there’s roughly a third more torque much lower in the powerband.
Though the bike weighs 44 pounds more, its added engine grunt makes highway cruising and passing (especially uphill) much more relaxed and two-up and fully loaded touring a breeze, and the bike squirts from corner to corner quicker with a lot less shifting. The 1000 also has an assist-and-slipper clutch that eases shifting a little.
In general, however, riding solo on the road we found that the 1000’s draw is less its additional power than it is the bike’s superior suspension and brakes. Rear binders are identical, but in place of the 650’s 2-piston floating calipers up front the 1000 gets radial-mount opposed 4-piston clampers, and a stout, 43mm inverted fully-adjustable cartridge fork on the 1000 replaces the 650’s 43mm standard damper-rod unit.
Rear shocks have convenient remote preload and rebound damping adjustment and the same travel, but the 1000’s beefier shock looks as if it ate the 650’s for breakfast. Both the 650’s quick, light handling and the 1000’s smoother, more neutral feel in corners have their virtues, but we found the 1000 much more stable and planted on bumpy roads and in turns, and its front brakes strong enough for any stopping task where the 650’s are just adequate.
Suzuki Motion Track ABS and Combined Braking is also standard on the 1000, which uses a 5-axis IMU to help the ABS work in corners, and proportions braking force front and rear under certain conditions when the front lever is applied. In the long run, though the 650 can get through tight corners quicker and slices up traffic, we preferred the added stability, more predictable handling and braking and better overall ride of the 1000.
Depending upon your personal pucker factor and where you’re riding off-road, climbing on the 650XT after riding the 1000XT in the dirt will either feel like a huge relief or something of a disappointment. Their stock 90/10 ADV tires are comparable, but the 650 definitely has the advantage of less weight and a lower seat height.
While that doesn’t make much difference on graded dirt roads, in sand, tight turns and on hills it inspires more confidence, particularly at the lower speeds most of us mortals will be carrying off-road on these big bikes. But a skilled ADV rider will definitely prefer the 1000’s more robust brakes and suspension, and probably won’t be bothered by the additional weight.
Helmet: G-Max GM11
Jacket: Rev’It Tornado 2
Pants: Joe Rocket Alter Ego
Boots: Sidi Deep Rain
Switchable traction control systems work well and identically in the dirt on both bikes, with two levels and Off, but should the need arise (like encountering a steep dirt downhill) the only way to turn the ABS off on either is by removing the seat and one of the ABS fuses. It only takes a few seconds, and the warning light will remind you to put the fuse back, but switchable ABS should be a standard feature on an ADV bike. DIY switch instructions are readily available online.
So, if it boiled down to owning one of these two bikes and nothing else, with no mods allowed, we ended up choosing the 1000, particularly if only a small amount or no off-road riding is involved. And even if there were a fair amount of dirt in front of us, we’d probably stick with the 1000 and just try to get better at riding it.
Helmet: Shoei Hornet X2
Jacket: Spidi 4Season H2Out
Pants: Olympia Airglide
Boots: Tourmaster Epic Air
A solo rider can easily make a case for the V-Strom 650’s superior fuel economy, and using the $4,000 saved by purchasing it instead to upgrade its suspension and brakes and buy a few aftermarket bits (like a good skid plate) to ready it for any adventure. But the 1000 is not that much bigger, heavier or taller than the 650, and with its extra power would also handle our two-up touring needs just fine while the 650 struggles with a passenger and full load.
There was a time in these models’ histories when the gap between them was wider and the V-Strom 650 was clearly the better choice. Both of these bikes are hugely competent and fun, but for 2018 the gap has narrowed, and now we think that bigger is better.
2018 Suzuki V-Strom 1000XT / 650XT Specs
Base Price: $13,299 / $9,299
Price as Tested: $15,712 / $11,935 (Top Case, Side Cases, Tankbag, Centerstand, Accessory Bar)
Warranty: 1 yr., unltd. miles
Type: Liquid-cooled, transverse 90-degree V-twin
Displacement: 1,037cc / 645cc
Bore x Stroke: 100.0 x 66.0mm / 81.0 x 62.6mm
Compression Ratio: 11.3:1 / 11.2:1
Valve Train: DOHC, 4 valves per cyl.
Valve Insp. Interval: 14,500 miles
Fuel Delivery: DFI w/ SDTV & 45 / 39mm throttle bodies x 2
Lubrication System: Wet sump, 3.7- / 2.7-qt. cap.
Transmission: 6-speed, hydraulically-actuated wet assist-and-slipper clutch / cable-actuated wet clutch
Final Drive: O-ring chain
Ignition: Electronic transistorized
Charging Output: 490 / 390 watts max.
Battery: 12V 12AH / 10AH
Frame: Twin-spar aluminum w/ tubular (or box) steel subframe & cast aluminum swingarm
Wheelbase: 61.2 / 61.4 in.
Rake/Trail: 26.5 degrees/4.4 in. / 25.4/4.2
Seat Height: 33.5 / 32.9 in.
Suspension, Front: 43mm USD fork, fully adj. w/ 6.3-in. travel / 43mm stanchions, adj. preload, 5.9-in. travel
Rear: Linked shock, adj. for spring preload (remote) & rebound damping w/ 6.3-in. travel
Brakes, Front: Dual 310mm discs w/ opposed 4-piston radial calipers & ABS / 2-piston pin-slide calipers & ABS
Rear: Single 260mm disc w/ 1-piston pin-slide caliper & ABS
Wheels, Front: Cast, 2.5 x 19 in.
Rear: Cast, 4.0 x 17 in.
Tires, Front: 110/80-R19
Wet Weight: 515 / 467 lbs.
Load Capacity: 450 / 448 lbs.
GVWR: 965 / 915 lbs.
Fuel Capacity: 5.3 gals., last 1.2 gals. warning light on
MPG: 91 / 87 PON min. (low/avg/high) 40.8/44.2/47.6 / 47.5/50.5/70.6
Estimated Range: 234 / 268 miles
Indicated RPM at 60 MPH: 3,500 / 4,400