The venerable V-Strom hasn’t changed much in its nearly two-decade history, which is testament to the fact that Suzuki pretty much got it right back in 2002, when it became the first Japanese manufacturer to enter the large-displacement ADV market in the U.S. The 2002 DL1000 V-Strom was powered by a proven 90-degree twin with a superbike pedigree and had tallish suspension, a 19-inch front wheel and the user friendliness and reliability that might’ve been lacking in its contemporaries. This Goldilocks adventure tourer helped define the niche and quite possibly aided its explosion into mainstream popularity; almost 20 years later, the ADV segment is booming, with even Harley-Davidson acknowledging the fact with an adventure bike prototype of its own.
We’re big fans of the V-Stroms here at Rider, both the 650 and 1,000cc variations. The larger version especially checks all the ADV touring boxes—plenty of power, bulletproof reliability (and a large dealer network just in case), ample luggage-carrying capacity, tons of aftermarket farkles and the ability to comfortably carry a rider (and passenger) over vast distances and terrain ranging from smooth pavement to dirt or gravel forest roads. If you want something more off-road oriented there are better choices, but for the vast majority of adventure riders the V-Strom is an ideal mount.
Most of the model’s updates and changes over the last 18 years have focused on technology and performance, and this last one was a doozy. For 2020, the V-Strom 1050 gets a new throttle-by-wire system with three ride modes, updated traction control and—on the mid-level XT and top-of-the-line XT Adventure versions—the Suzuki Intelligent Ride System (SIRS), with a 6-axis IMU, cruise control, cornering/combined ABS, hill hold control and slope/load-dependent braking. Despite the nomenclature change, engine displacement is actually the same as before (1,037cc), though it is now Euro 5 compliant—quite an accomplishment considering it’s based on a design first used in 1990s-era TL1000S/R sportbikes. Peak horsepower is up, with the Jett Tuning dyno registering 96.3 at 8,500 rpm (compared to 91.8 at 9,100 on our 2018 test bike), and peak torque is unchanged with 66.1 lb-ft at 6,300 rpm (compared to 66.2 at 3,900). The fully adjustable 43mm inverted fork and rebound- and remote preload-adjustable rear shock, both with 6.3 inches of travel, are unchanged except for minor spring and damping rate adjustments. Rounding out the updates, of course, is the total styling redesign by Ichiro Miyata, the designer of the 1980s DR-Big dual-sport that was the inspiration for the new Strom’s throwback style. (You can get more details about the updates for the 2020 V-Strom 1050 in the April 2020 issue, or in our 2020 V-Strom 1050XT First Ride Review.)
We knew we wanted to snag a test bike and hit the road for some much-needed throttle therapy, and as we noted in the Ridden & Rated review referenced above, we knew we had to have one of the two awesome retro color schemes. This meant getting an XT—the base model only comes in Glass Sparkle Black/Solid Iron Gray. The XT Adventure, which is an XT with hard aluminum panniers and heated grips, only comes in Glass Sparkle Black. Being June, the heated grips weren’t a problem, but we definitely needed luggage. The Adventure’s panniers will bolt right onto the XT, but because of COVID-related delays we weren’t able to get a set in time, so we dropped on Suzuki’s standard plastic side cases, strapped a Nelson-Rigg waterproof duffel to the rear rack and called it good. Now…where to go?
Ever since a 2017 visit to Sequoia National Forest was squelched due to a wildfire, I’ve been dying to ride there and see the famous trees. A member of the redwood family, giant sequoias are the most massive individual trees on earth, and are among the oldest living organisms—the oldest giant sequoia is around 3,200 years old. They grow to an average height of 164 to 279 feet, with trunks that range from 20 to 26 feet in diameter. Unlike their coast redwood cousins, giant sequoias have a very limited natural range, a strip along California’s Western Sierra Nevada just 20 miles wide by about 270 miles long. To stand in their presence is to appreciate the power of nature, incapable of feeling anything other than awe and humility among the towering giants.
Campgrounds were just starting to reopen when I planned the trip, so I snapped up a reserved tent site in the Sequoia National Forest at Redwood Meadow Campground, which is adjacent to the Trail of a Hundred Giants. This paved walking path meanders through a grove of giant sequoias, with interpretive signs and several benches where you can sit and bask in the dappled sunlight beneath 2,000-year-old trees. A bit farther north are Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, and past those lies Yosemite National Park, making this a good southern starting point for Sierra Nevada exploration. Unfortunately, my time was limited so I focused on achieving my objective—visiting the sequoias—and enjoying the ride there and back on the new V-Strom 1050XT.
The first couple of hours were spent just getting away from the Los Angeles metro sprawl and then across the hot, dusty Central Valley, giving me a great opportunity to assess the Strom’s comfort and wind protection. I left the seat in the higher position (34.3/33.5 inches) because my long legs appreciated the more relaxed knee bend (although it was still noticeably tighter than the Tiger 900 Rally Pro I’d just tour tested a few days prior). I started with the windscreen near the top of its adjustment range but was experiencing some buffeting; by the end of the trip I found that the middle was the sweet spot for me—fairly clean air, and just enough across the top of my helmet to keep it flowing through the vents. Unfortunately, adjustments are a bit of a pain because the lever locking the screen into place is located on the front, directly above the headlight. So not only must you stop the bike, you must also dismount and walk to the front in order to adjust the screen up and down. Despite the long bar end weights, I was feeling a considerable amount of vibration in the grips and was grateful for the new cruise control. However, the cruise control set/resume/speed up/down buttons on the left switchgear are the same ones used to scroll through some of the information available on the LCD instrument, so you won’t be able to view important info like fuel range unless you already have it on the screen when you turn on the cruise. Speaking of the LCD, it includes a lot of useful info but is dark, crowded with tiny letters and numbers, and susceptible to glare, all of which can make it tough to read at a glance. That said, I did find it easy to navigate through the various SDMS (throttle response) modes and ABS and traction control settings. The new, wider footpegs have thick rubber inserts that dampen vibes and are quite comfortable when standing up off-road, but it was a nagging annoyance that they tended to catch my riding pants whenever I’d put my feet down.
As nitpicks went, that was it. Turning onto twisty, bumpy, beautiful Caliente Bodfish Road, I knew I was in the Strom’s element. It’s long and low but tips into corners on its street-oriented Bridgestone Battlax Adventure A41 tires with ease, compliant suspension soaking up the many pavement irregularities on this barely two-lane mountain road. Suspension can be a sore point for me, with less-expensive non-adjustable setups almost always set too stiffly for a rider of my size, and even some adjustable units can be tough to properly dial in. But the V-Strom 1050XT was a pleasure, and on the occasions when I ventured off-pavement in search of a nice view it didn’t bounce me around and made it easy to maintain balance and throttle control.
The new ride modes are well-sorted, with three choices, A, B and C. I found A mode to be too abrupt for my personal taste, and C is rather mellow, best for rainy or slick conditions. Whether on-road or off, I preferred B mode and its natural feel, with no on/off hiccups and linear response. The engine has plenty of mid- and higher-range get-up-and-go and is geared rather tall, which put me in the unexpected (for a V-twin) position of having to shift a fair amount on tighter, more technical roads. Third gear, for example, will easily carry 50 mph, and I didn’t need sixth until well past 70. Even so, there’s enough torque on tap to pull you out of a tight corner if you’re feeling lazy—or don’t have a sporty friend you’re trying to keep up with. And if you’re feeling your oats and spur the big Strom to a faster pace, its user-friendly character really starts to shine. It’s stable and responsive, the throttle, chassis, engine and suspension working together to create a drama-free, just-enjoy-the-ride experience, and the radially mounted Tokico 4-piston front calipers and Nissin single-piston rear caliper provide plenty of peace of mind. As we noted in our initial review, the brakes have good initial bite and feel but then go a bit vague, though actual performance doesn’t fade. Befitting the V-Strom’s more street-oriented adventure personality, the cornering/combined ABS has two modes for more/less intervention, but it cannot be disabled.
Climbing out of the little town of Kernville, southern gateway to the Western Sierra, the temperature gauge on the LCD started dropping from its high of 102 to the mid-80s, and at a photo stop along the beautiful Kern River, famed for its rafting and fly fishing opportunities, I dropped the windscreen into its lowest position to best take advantage of the cooler mountain air. Mountain Highway 99 follows the river upstream before making a turn to the west and continuing to climb deeper into the Sequoia National Forest, past the granite dome of Capitol Rock and the tiny private community of Johnsondale. After Johnsondale, the road changes names to Mountain Highway 50 and continues climbing; my temperature gauge moved in direct opposition to the altitude, dropping into the 70s, and the air was now scented with cedar and pine. Roughly 10 miles later, a well-marked right turn at a four-way stop onto Mountain Highway 90, a.k.a. the Great Western Divide Highway, leads to the Redwood Meadow Campground, my stopping point for the night.
After setting up camp and emptying my side cases, I backtracked to the store in Johnsondale for provisions—water, snacks and a sandwich for dinner. I’d strapped my stretchy cargo net across the Strom’s pillion seat and rear rack—there are plenty of tie-down points and hooks—expecting to buy some firewood as well, but as it turned out the Forest Service was doing some dead fuel clearing so I relieved one pile of a few smaller, conveniently-cut logs and foraged around my campsite for starter wood. Provisions and firewood unloaded from my trusty steed, it was time to stretch my legs with a stroll on the Trail of a Hundred Giants, finally getting my chance to see these magnificent trees in person.
The next morning, after an a surprise delay caused by a cattle drive—complete with seven cowboys and four dogs helping the mooing bovines along—I backtracked down the mountain, now watching the temperature go up as the altitude dropped, and aimed my front wheel toward home. The V-Strom 1050XT had proven it’s still one of the best adventure touring values out there, with technological improvements that keep it on par with its competition, a retro-cool new look and the same mix of friendly personality and performance that’s made it a stalwart favorite for the last 20 years.
2020 Suzuki V-Strom 1050XT Specs:
Base Price: $14,799
Price as Tested: $15,594.95 (side cases)
Warranty: 1 yr., unltd. miles
Type: Liquid-cooled, transverse 90-degree V-twin
Bore x Stroke: 100.0 x 66.0mm
Compression Ratio: 11.5:1
Valve Train: DOHC w/ 4 valves per cyl.
Valve Insp. Interval: 14,500 miles
Fuel Delivery: Fuel injection w/ throttle-by-wire & 49mm throttle bodies x 2
Lubrication System: Wet sump, 3.2-qt. cap.
Transmission: 6-speed, hydraulically-actuated wet assist-and-slipper clutch
Final Drive: O-ring chain
Ignition: Electronic transistorized
Charging Output: 490 watts max.
Battery: 12V 11.2AH
Frame: Twin-spar aluminum w/ tubular steel subframe & cast aluminum swingarm
Wheelbase: 61.2 in.
Rake/Trail: 25.3 degrees/4.3 in.
Seat Height: 33.5/34.3 in.
Suspension, Front: 43mm USD fork, fully adj.
w/ 6.3-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
Rear: Single 260mm disc w/ 1-piston pin-slide caliper & ABS
Wheels, Front: Tubeless spoked, 2.5 x 19-in.
Rear: Tubeless spoked, 4.0 x 17 in.
Wet Weight: 566 lbs. (as tested)
Load Capacity: 399 lbs. (as tested)
GVWR: 965 lbs.
Horsepower: 96.3 horsepower @ 8,500 rpm (as tested)
Torque: 66.1 lb-ft @ 6,300 rpm (as tested)
Fuel Capacity: 5.3 gals., last 1.2 gals. warning light on
MPG: 91 AKI min. (low/avg/high) 44.2/49.8/54.0
Estimated Range: 264 miles
Indicated RPM at 60 MPH: 3,500
Photography by Jenny Smith and Kevin Wing (Action)