There are around a gazillion wannabe world bike tourists riding GS-model BMWs out there, so it's refreshing to know there's an alternative that is just as long-distance comfortable, just as easy to ride, and quite a bit lighter on the wallet, both to purchase and run.
Click photo at left for more views of Suzuki's V-Strom 650.
AT A GLANCE
|Engine: 645cc liquid-cooled DOHC 8v 90-degree V-twin stoked by fuel injection to develop 50.5kW (68bhp) at 8800rpm and 58Nm of torque at 6400rpm.|
|Transmission: Six-speed sequential gearbox, chain final drive.|
|Frame: Aluminium twin-spar frame with alloy swingarm, 43mm preload-adjustable front. Forks with 150mm of travel, preload/rebound-adjustable rear monoshock with 159mm of travel.|
|Price: $15,000 (ride-away, includes WOF and rego etc).|
|Hot: Retains all the rider-friendliness of the original DL while offering substantial improvements in visual appeal and engine efficiency.|
|Not: Soft front brake set-up mocks the addition of ABS; firmer rear monoshock damping works well on seal but gets choppy on gravel.|
The Strom has been a bit of a slow-burner when it comes to global sales.
It took three years for it to catch on in Europe thanks to a design that focused so completely on function that it seemed to forget all about form.
Then the word-of-mouth buzz began to slowly build, that behind the DL's unappealing looks and funny model name there lurked a bike of great value and worth. When Suzuki added ABS-equipped brakes to the European version of the Strom in 2006, it helped make the DL650 the best-selling middleweight motorcycle on the continent.
Hence the 2011 upgrade during a calendar year when Suzuki appeared to go into hibernation in regards to model development.
For the humble V-twin-powered DL650 had grown to become one of the jewels of its range, and was under siege from a number of new rivals, notably Kawasaki's recently revised Versys 650 and the rumoured arrival of Honda's new entry-level all-rounder, the NC700X.
So it was time for the Suzuki designers and engineers to vacate the underground bunker where they'd decided to wait out the global financial crisis, and give the world a new DL650.
In came in an upgraded yet mechanically similar new engine, a few quick suspension revisions, and new bodywork, instruments, and seat.
It's not a big list of changes, but the combination of them is surprisingly effective.
Take the once-contentious looks of the Suzuki. There's still a bug-eyed look to the headlights but some of the angular sharp lines of the Gladius streetbike have been successfully integrated into the new DL.
The detailing is quite a lot finer, as the red-stitched seat clad in a rubber-like material and new instruments have added the extra touches of class that the old DL was left bereft of.
The price of the Suzuki might have risen slightly thanks to the New Zealand model now receiving ABS brakes as standard equipment, however the $15,000 DL still rates as great value. The Versys is five bucks cheaper without ABS, and $16,795 with it, and while Honda's NC700X has now landed in our market at $12,495, it isn't capable of competing on equal terms dynamically with either of its more powerful Kawasaki or Suzuki rivals.
The Gladius didn't just donate its sharper sense of style to the DL, it gave it most of its engine as well.
In come new twin-plug combustion chambers, pistons, fuel injectors, throttle bodies and crankshaft, lending credence to Suzuki's statement that this is an entirely new engine (for a DL that is, rather than a Gladius).
The changes all improve refinement and response while reducing friction, allowing an impressive 10 per cent lift in fuel efficiency.
Given that the original DL was already a frugal bike to ride, the current model ranks with the BMW F800 and Honda NC700 as one of the most efficient twin- cylinder motorcycles on the market.
My riding, which included plenty of carefree wheel-spinning down gravel roads, some good thrashes in winding hilly terrain, and a bit of highway cruising and round-town work, left a 4.7 litres/100km average fuel consumption reading on the DL's legible trip computer.
With the ability to stash 20 litres in the tank, that accounts for a range of 420km between fuel stops.
The most brilliant thing about the Strom is that the levels of rider comfort are more than a match to that extensive tank range.
You could easily travel 400+km on this bike without feeling the need to stop thanks to the roomy ergos and a seat that's more comfy than that fitted to any GS. The latest DL's 15mm higher seat helps here, as it frees up more leg room that that of the old model.
The Gladius-derived engine is smoother than the previous Strom's motor but gets buzzier as the revs rise, encouraging short- shifts and letting the generous mid-range performance do most of the work. Used in this mode, it's a brisk rather than a fast ride, and it's the handling of the Strom's alloy beam frame that is the real dynamic delight.
Firmer suspension damping has added a sportier character to the Strom's handling, and it would be nice to be able to say that braking performance has been equally upgraded to match.
However, the latest Strom has the same mushy brake set-up as the old, and the lack of a master cylinder upgrade represents a missed opportunity for Suzuki.
That said, this affordable, comfortable, efficient and highly capable motorcycle would be right at the top of my shopping list if selecting a bike to ride around the world.