On paper, the Suzuki V-Strom has never been an incredibly sexy bike. It's got a modest powertrain that produces perfectly adequate power and torque. It's got an unflashy suspension and brake setup that works as well as you'd want it to. On paper, it's boring. But in practice, it's brilliant.
The V-Strom 1050xt is an absolute workhorse of a motorcycle. It's comfortable for hours in the saddle and it's tall (like most adventure bikes), so visibility is fantastic. It's got anti-lock brakes and traction control, so it never feels like it wants to bite you, and it's also now a bike making power in the low triple digits, so it's not slow. The V-Strom is something you buy as a first or second bike and then never bother getting rid of or upgrading. It just does everything well.
The V-Strom is powered by a 1,037-cc, 90-degree V-twin engine, which means it has a bit more character than some of the other parallel-twin-powered bikes in the category. This engine has been around for over a decade, having received countless incremental upgrades over the years to the point where it feels virtually unflappable. This is a similar tactic to other Suzuki models like the Katana, where the company keeps iterating on an old engine and it ends up being characterful and pleasant and perfect for its new life. Like the Katana, the V-Strom has multiple user-selectable ride modes to help tweak throttle response to the rider's liking.
The 1050xt makes a healthy 106 horsepower and 74 pound-feet of torque -- nothing Earth-shattering, even for the adventure category, but the way it delivers power is effortless and intimidating. That engine is paired with a six-speed sequential gearbox and a wet multiplate clutch. The gearbox is lovely to use, requiring minimal effort to shift. The clutch is light at the lever and easy to modulate, adding to the Strom's easy-to-ride nature.
The V-Strom's suspension isn't especially visually impressive. Still, the level of adjustability is good enough, and the ride -- while on the soft side -- is excellent, especially for longer stints. It's not the world's most competent canyon carver, even compared with other adventure bikes, but it's also not as expensive as those other bikes, so it's a good trade-off.
The front Tokico brakes use dual four-piston calipers that clamp onto 310-millimeter rotors. The back brake uses a two-piston Nissin caliper and a single, 260-millimeter rotor. The brakes are totally fine for all but the most aggressive road use, and I appreciate the amount of initial bite followed by plenty of easy modulation up to the point of ABS engagement. The lever feel is acceptable but would benefit from the addition of braided stainless-steel lines to firm things up. Another high point is Suzuki's decision to include tubeless spoked wheels, not something typically seen at this price point.
While the V-Strom isn't exactly packed to the gunwales with creature comforts on the level of, say, a BMW GS, it isn't totally without them, either. It has a manually adjustable windscreen that is totally toolless and very clever -- even though it isn't safely adjustable while riding. The mechanism is a big, milled aluminum toggle lever on the front of the screen that, when pulled out, offers a few inches of adjustment.
Cruise control is also standard thanks to the Strom's ride-by-wire throttle and works very well. This is especially useful on long riding days to help avoid hand cramp. The standard device-mounting bar above the digital instrument panel is a very nice feature, and something that would cost extra on, say, a BMW. It's at the perfect height for legibility and to avoid interfering with the view of the speedometer. The USB plug is also a short distance away from the mounting bar meaning you won't have lots of cords tangling things up.
The mark of any truly good adventure bike is just how comfortable it is on a very long ride. To test the V-Strom in this way, I went on a 12-hour ride with some friends to celebrate the life of my late friend Davey G. Johnson. The ride started in Ojai, California, and went north through canyons and forests and even an 18-mile stretch of dirt road along California's San Andreas fault called the Carrizo Plain. Through all of it, the Strom performed flawlessly. It never skipped a beat mechanically, was a riot in the canyons despite its modest performance figures and only got to be genuinely uncomfortable around hour 10.5 as I was riding home to Los Angeles. The V-Strom's big 5.3-gallon gas tank also made the long transits between fuel stops a nonissue.
The bike also excels in the city during daily use. It's tall, and that makes visibility in traffic excellent. It also has a light clutch, which means your hand doesn't get so tired in stop-and-go traffic. The V-Strom is relatively narrow by adventure bike standards, so splitting lanes is generally an option, even on city streets. On highways, splitting is a breeze.
Finding a motorcycle that does everything well is incredibly tough. Motorcycles, by their very nature, are defined by their specified tasks. The things that make a sport bike brilliant on track make it compromised on the street and a total no-go on anything resembling dirt. However, the adventure bike class comes the closest to the center of the various motorcycle Venn diagrams. It's not perfect at anything, but you're not going to find yourself missing out on activities because you're on the wrong bike.
The V-Strom 1050xt is a perfect example of this versatility. It offers you access to nearly every kind of motorcycling that you might want to do and handles each task with surprising competency. The fact that the V-Strom is also reasonably priced, well-equipped and mechanically unflappable (if history is anything to go by) means it would make for one hell of a first or second bike, or even the last one you'll ever need.