Now this test didn’t afford much in the way of off-road testing. But there was some at least (in fact still more than a lot of adventure launches allow). So at one point we took off down a lane and ended up on a beach. The first section was all rocks, boulders and pebbles (wet of course) and despite first reservations the XT rode them sweetly enough, all feet-up, very much like any trail bike. Then we hit firm sand and we could play at skids. Again it was pleasing stuff, you could get your weight forward enough and the bars were high and wide enough for a regular off-road standing position to be adopted so you could steer from the front in a traditional way. The gearing was road-high, though, and I noticed I was doing most of my play in first gear, trying skids (you know, power slides) in second gear called for more commitment in terms of speed and technique and you could tell greater damage would result if you made a mistake.
We crossed a very shallow stream at one point, no real issue there, but if you’re used to wheelying off banks and popping the front for the far bank (enduro style) that’s not so easy to do with the XT. Like most bigger adventure bikes there’s just too much weight and not enough instant snap to do that, so you need to adopt a more pedestrian crossing technique. The suspension wasn’t sacking-out, but in reality we weren’t doing too much to test it. At the very least the XT was riding as well as any middle-to-big adventure bike in the conditions, and as much as when road-riding it was proving very easy to get on with and quite confidence inspiring.
The foot pegs are well placed – not too far forward as you can find with road bikes – but, alas, of a road type. A set of serrated type (with inset rubbers) would have been the better call. Likewise the gear change lever is a non-folding type and just a little too exposed for practicality (when ridden off-road). The handlebars are unbraced and of a bend that looks susceptible to bending given a fair drop so will probably want bracing or changing if you’re getting serious with off-road riding. The tyres are essentially cut-slicks but they didn’t do so bad on the rocks and sand all things considered. So in all, for serious work you’d want to implement a few up-specs.
Regarding the wheel sizing, we think Suzuki have taken the right approach in choosing the 19” front. You may recall that other middleweight adventure twin, the Honda Transalp, started out with a 21” front before downsizing to the 19-incher at its last revamp. There’s something to be said for this size wheel, it works far better on the tarmac, allows for the safety of the tubeless tyre but has enough bite and capability to go decently off-road – not exactly to Dakar-winning speeds, but plenty good enough. For 98% of owners this is probably the best spec.
Ultimately the V-Strom XT’s off-roading will be limited by its ground clearance. At 175mm this is not very much – a lot less than (say) the Yamaha XT660Z Ténéré’s 260mm. The difference is in the suspension travel – the Ténéré offering 9-inches (in old money) to the V-Strom XT’s 6-inches. So yes, for green lane riding you could find easier bikes to ride. Given the serious ruts many green lanes suffer (can I point accusingly at those nutters with their super-aggressive modified 4x4s, and winches? I really want to...) the V-Strom XT is going to struggle, even with wire spoke wheels, knobblies and a bash plate. But on less-abused, better-maintained green lanes it’ll be as much fun as any bigger adventure bike and should cope well. It’s actually quite cool that it doesn’t look as aggressive or imposing as some bikes do and it’s suitably quiet, so it shouldn’t cause any offence.
DEFINE: ADVENTURE BIKE
Of course, how highly you might rate the V-Strom XT depends on how you view adventure bikes. They can of course be anything you want them to be. If we’re talking Nathan Millward (recently featured in TBM), then arguably his Honda CT110 postie bike is an adventure bike. If you were me in Canada riding the BMW GS Trophy last September then we’re talking nothing less than a top-spec BMW R1200GS complete with oodles of crash protection and knobblies.
So the V-Strom XT pitches somewhere in the middle. It’s a seriously accomplished all-round performer and ultimately does exactly what an adventure bike should – offer you a low-stress platform from which to observe the world. There are bigger, faster adventure bikes, but if we’re honest with ourselves we’ll concede most of the additional benefits they boast are non-essential – more about bragging rights than real-world practicalities. There are also lighter, more agile adventure bikes, but as much of adventure isn’t about racing around like a Dakar hero – we’re simply riding un-made roads, not Hawkstone Park – then how much of their mile-high seat heights and enduro-spec wheels etc do we really need? The XT does, then, tread the middle ground. And that’s quite a brave thing to do, for it doesn’t write headlines.
What is even more creditable is that the buying public have been responding – which surely must be poking a pointed one up the rear-ends of the marketing types who extoll ‘more’ and ‘bigger’ as better. Plenty of people are clearly quite prepared to say ‘68hp is enough for my purposes’ – and all power to them. How many have been patiently waiting for the XT’s adventure upgrades remains to be seen, but here at TBM we certainly feel the need to applaud Suzuki for making it. If you serious analyse what you need in an overlanding round-the-world adventure bike the V-Strom XT pretty much fits the bill. Comfort, capability, reliability – it’s all there. Only now when tarmac turns to gravel you can really cut loose, or at least enjoy the road-less-travelled even more comfortably and confidently.