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The 2020 Suzuki V-Strom 1050XT Doesn't Need Roads, Does Well on Them Anyway

Engine and electronics improvements in Suzuki's big bike mean more power, better control.

© TONY DONALDSON   Engine and electronics improvements in Suzuki's big bike mean more power, better control.

By Mark Vaughn, Autoweek

It’s hard to pin down the exact moment when “adventure touring” became a thing, but it did, and the moto world is all the better for it. In the early days of motorcycles, like about 100 years ago, all motorcycles were adventure tourers, since half the time there were no roads to ride on. By the late 1960s there were a lot of dirt bikes with headlights and taillights attached and even a place to hang a license plate, but those weren’t adventure touring rigs in the sense of today’s big bikes. Certainly the BMW motorcycles that conquered Paris-Dakar were pivotal in the development of the class. The first and most influential was the R 80 G/S Hubert Auriol rode to win Dakar in 1981. So maybe we can trace the class back to 1981.

The idea was to have a bike with enough power and enough suspension travel to surmount any obstacle North Africa could throw at it yet still be comfortable enough to ride all day and be able to stand in line at the bivouac for your taco dinner that night.

© Tony Donaldson   Suzuki V-Strom on the way to the trail.

Now there are many such motorcycles: the BMW R 1200 GS, of course, where the G stands for gelande and the S for strasse, basically dirt and street; the sumptuously comfortable Honda Africa Twin; the Ducati Multistrada 1200 Enduro; Yamaha XT 1200Z; and the KTM 1290 Super Adventure, to name just some.

Suzuki entered the fray 18 years ago when it launched its first V-Strom and the marque continues today with a new third-generation bike, my 2020 V-Strom 1050XT being just one of several Suzukis with the V-Strom name.

Several improvements benefit my test-bike, the third generation. Peak horsepower is up to 106 thanks to lightweight pistons, slippery cylinder bores and increased lift on both the intake and exhaust valves, as well as a reduction in valve overlap timing. The 1037-cc longitudinally mounted 90-degree V-Twin, or L-Twin if you like, also gets larger throttle bodies – 49 mm vs. 45 mm, and electronic controls including a ride-by-wire throttle and transistorized digital ignition operating the two spark plugs per cylinder. The trademark low-end torquey grunt this engine is known for is still present, but its peak stays the same 74 lb-ft at 6000 rpm. Only the horsepower rises. Suzuki claims the L-Twin configuration is so well-set up, neither balance shafts nor rubber engine mounts are necessary, something I found to be true, for the most part. Even the rearview mirrors didn’t shake out of focus.

Like most adventure tourers, the Suzuki is a little on the heavy side at 545 lbs, and that weight is not carried down low, either. But the bike is stiff and snug in a carryover twin-spar aluminum frame. And since the cylinders are lined up fore-and-aft, or north-south as it were, they are stowed nicely out of the way — not that a BMW flat twin or Moto Guzzi transverse V-Twin layout ever really got in anyone’s way.

The bike is held up by an inverted KYB fork in front, adjustable for both jounce and rebound as well as spring pre-load adjustment; with a dual-swing-arm rear controlled by an also-adjustable rear monoshock in the rear. The rear adjust knob pokes out of the side from under the seat and is, indeed, easy as pie to crank. The front shocks require a screwdriver to tweak.

The electronics might be the most-impressive improvements to this V-Strom. A new Bosch six-directional IMU (inertial measuring unit) detects and monitors the bike's movement along pitch, roll and yaw. This unit allows or assists all kinds of safety and stability controls, from traction control and ABS to Suzuki’s Intelligent Ride System. An updated traction control system now offers four modes of adjustment, while the new Suzuki Drive Mode Selector lets you choose from three different engine power settings. The Suzuki Intelligent Ride System offers greater ABS control as well as two levels of driver-selected ABS sensitivity, but no off setting. ABS is always on. The S-DMS lets you set throttle response to your choice of three levels. You also get cruise control that works from 30 to 100 mph, thanks to that throttle-by-wire.

How does it all work? As I was riding back from picking it up down at Suzuki headquarters, I happened to look down at the large, new LCD display screen and saw that not only was I in sixth gear at medium rpm, but I was going 94 mph. Yes, this is a smooth powertrain.

The windscreen adjusts to any of 11 heights but you have to get off the bike and walk around front to do it. No nifty electric adjustments here. I had it at the highest position and felt perfectly free of wind buffeting on my ride. I had the S-DMS throttle set at A, for the sharpest response, but the ABS on max, you know, just in case. The cruise control does, indeed, work splendidly on the freeway and at speeds that were indeed close to the claimed top end for the system.

Likewise, the Bridgestone Battlax Adventure A41 tires on 19-inch front spoked wheels and 17-inch rears, were perfectly comfortable on high-speed pavement. The seat was likewise comfy enough at first, but my unusually skinny keister may have felt a little worn after subsequent longer days in the saddle. Maybe your shape is better suited. I had no such problems, minor as they were, on the Africa Twin and BMW GS of previous rides.

Since it was an adventure bike, I found a dirt road that was not gated shut, 3N17 up in the local hills, and rode down it for a while. Granted, I did not lower the tire pressures as I should have and the Battlaxes were perhaps more at home on pavement than off, as far as I pushed them, which wasn’t as far as you would have. Here the V-Strom felt all of the high and heavy curb weight of this class of bike, not unlike the Africa Twin, GS and probably other adventure bikes I haven’t ridden yet. It takes a little bit of dirt-riding skill to fully exploit this rig out here, which is where the electronics can be a real help. If you’re a dirt demon, power-sliding around corners and spraying gravel in your wake, leave S-DMS in A for the sharpest throttle response and drop the ABS to the less-intrusive setting. If you’re less confident, do the opposite. I didn’t drop the bike on the trail – or anywhere else for that matter – and neither will you. Thanks, Suzuki.

Despite spirited riding I found I had gotten 42.8 mpg in the bike’s first couple hundred miles. With a 5.3-gallon tank, that suggests a more than a 200-mile range, 226.84 to be exact. That’s good news for adventure riders heading to Saline Valley, The Maze or points beyond. For real adventure, Suzuki offers those big hard cases on the sides and the top rear of the bike. Combined with the tall and narrow windscreen and the readouts on the LCD dash, you can imagine you’re in your own, private Paris Dakar.

Base MSRP is listed at $14,799 before you add those hard cases. That base price is about four grand less than the class-leading BMW R1200 GS Adventure, $4,700 less than the KTM 1290 Super Adventure, and $6500 less than a Ducati Multistrada 1260 Enduro. Of course, those are the top-of-the-line bikes with 200 more ccs of displacement. The KTM 1090 Adventure R and Yamaha Super Tenere ES are only about a grand or a grand-and-a-half more than a V-Strom. And the KTM 1090R Adventure R and Honda Africa Twin are almost the same price as the Suzuki. Below all those is the Moto Guzzi V85TT for less than $12,000.

So which one should you buy? You gotta love the V-Strom’s short, declarative razor snout, jutting out into the wind like a sharpened welcoming committee to suicidal insects. And the high windscreen makes long rides a breeze. Torque down low from the big V-twin makes city riding easy as a scooter, while the engine’s vibration-free horsepower up at the top of the tach make it an all-around performer. So ride this, ride an Africa Twin and ride the BMW GS and decide which one you like. The Suzuki’s price is more than competitive, and this new bike's improvements go a long way toward making this a player in the increasingly crowded adventure touring field.

See more at: Autoweek

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Autos Magazine: The 2020 Suzuki V-Strom 1050XT Doesn't Need Roads, Does Well on Them Anyway
The 2020 Suzuki V-Strom 1050XT Doesn't Need Roads, Does Well on Them Anyway
Engine and electronics improvements in Suzuki's big bike mean more power, better control.
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