SECOND THOUGHTS ABOUT FIRST IMPRESSIONS - 2018 SUZUKI V-STROM 1000XT

Words: Scot Harden  Photos: Simon Cudby

Words: Scot Harden  Photos: Simon Cudby

It’s no secret we live in an age of information overload which means first impressions are more important than ever. Everyday we make judgments based on our initial response to a given stimulus; those important first few seconds where we formulate an opinion based on a first reaction. We rely on this more so today than at any other time, almost by necessity.  First impressions save us time and, if we are any good at all, we are usually pretty much on target in the end. The only problem with first impressions is that over time companies evolve, people change, products develop and yet we stick to our first impression along with the built in biases that come along with them. Take the 2018 Suzuki V-Strom 1000XT, for example: I formed my first impression about Suzuki’s V-Strom line long ago. To sum it up I viewed the V-Strom as an “econo-adventure” or “adventure-light” motorcycle.  A motorcycle styled as an adventure but in reality just another street bike with an upright seating position and a high front fender, a decent motorcycle for the money but not a serious adventure motorcycle.

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Had I not had the opportunity to spend time on one with Greg and Simon recently I probably would have gone on thinking just that. And that would have been a shame because at the end of the day the V-Strom line was never what I thought it was. More importantly it has evolved. The new 1000XT is a lot more than just some pretender in the ever-growing adventure motorcycle marketplace. It’s a legitimate adventure motorcycle capable of handling a wide range of on and off-road duties competently and confidently.  My experience with the bike over the course of the past month has been nothing short of revelatory. I really like this motorcycle and found it more than capable for the application it is designed for, exceeding my expectations every step of the way. What changed my first impression? Let’s break it down.

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Power plant: Suzuki’s tried and true DOHC 1035cc V-twin 90 degree four-stroke power plant is a proven commodity. Originally developed for racing, it produces broad, linear power (claimed 92hp and 69 ft lb torque) over a very wide 8300 RPM range. It launches effortlessly from corner to corner and comes equipped with Traction Control that includes a low sensitivity primary setting for everyday use, a high sensitivity rain or cold road setting and, last but not least, an “off“ setting for hard core off-road applications.  Our test bikes came equipped with Yoshimura aftermarket slip-ons, which not only saved a substantial amount of weight and looked cool but also seemed to improve fuel mileage. Best of all they are CARB certified. The power is smooth, abundant and vibration free.

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Chassis/Suspension: The twin spar chassis is a dream to ride, changing direction with minimal rider input due to its relatively light 511 pound overall weight (without panniers or any other accessories).  43mm KYB inverted forks handle the suspension requirements up front while the rear shock has a hand crank for easy pre-load adjustment. Stock suspension settings are very compliant for on road use and will work for 80% of the riders off road, while more aggressive compression damping will be required for more extreme off road riding situations. The overall handling is very neutral with both a comfortable seated and stand-up riding position.

Wheels/Brakes: The XT comes with 17”/19” wire wheel combinations and for purposes of our test, we outfitted the bike with more aggressive Shinko Adventure Trail tires so we could test in real off road settings.  The Shinkos are amongst the best big adventure dual sport tires I have ever tested. Great on/off road performance and they seem to wear like iron. Highly recommended. ABS is augmented by Suzuki’s new IMU “lean sensitive” braking system that automatically adjusts for available traction between the front and rear wheel depending on lean angle and weight bias front or rear. The only negative is that the ABS system cannot be turned off (without some aftermarket manipulation) for hard-core off road use. The 310mmm floating dual discs and Tokico four-piston monoblock calipers up front provide serious stopping power while Nissin two-piston calipers and single disc take care of the braking needs out back.

Miscellaneous: All the plastic was subtly reworked for 2018 with refined styling and a new slightly taller and wider adjustable windscreen with three different angle positions adjustable “on the fly” as well as (with a tool) height adjustment. The new shape provides adequate wind resistance and comfort on road and because you can quickly move it forward it’s less obtrusive for off road when standing. The seat is comfortable with a 32.9-inch height that makes this machine approachable for most riders.  The dash is a mixture of digital and analog. While very functional and easy to navigate via a switch on the left handlebar, it’s starting to look a little outdated compared to some of the new higher end adventure m/c offerings.

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The more time I spent on Suzuki’s 1000XT the more I realized how much things are changing, especially in the adventure motorcycle market and how much my original impression missed the mark when it came to thinking about this particular motorcycle. On our ride through the eastern Sierras, we took plenty of off road options and I never felt out of control or lacking for dirt performance. The torque and light weight made the bike plenty ridable even in nasty conditions. Only by logging tens of thousands of miles could I report on how well the bike holds up over time, but for the time I was on it, the 1000XT seemed very well put together. I never experienced any odd sensations or feedback that I was over-riding the bike beyond its design capabilities.  I’ve developed a pretty good sense for when I’m abusing the machine and I never felt that way when riding the big Zook. 

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It’s no secret that adventure motorcycling is receiving a lot of attention these days. Every OEM is upgrading its product offering.  After all, it’s the only growth market in the U.S. motorcycle industry today so everyone is really paying attention. No longer solely the dominion of the Europeans, the Japanese have struck back in their own way with varying degrees of success, from the much anticipated and highly regarded new Honda Africa Twin to Yamaha’s sleek Tenere. Now Suzuki has thrown its hat back in the ring (although in its typically understated way) with an updated version of its V-Strom line. Maybe because it has launched so many new models in such a short period of time or maybe because it simply doesn’t know just how good a motorcycle it has on its hands, Suzuki should be banging the drum very loudly over the new 1000XT as well as for the entire V-Strom range and for good reason: Value and performance!

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Just look at the huge social media following V-Stroms draw on sites like ADVrider.com and StromTroopers.com.  There is no question it has found a fairly sizable niche with a certain rider and market demographic. Typically referred to by motorcycle industry marketing wonks like myself as “no frills” adventure enthusiasts or maybe perhaps the “cost-conscious” adventure crowd, maybe even “adventure-dabblers” the typical V-Strom owner has long since been defined as the entry level adventure rider, the beginner adventurer. I’m not so sure anymore. These guys and gals may just be the smartest bunch of the whole group. Instead of paying $15,000 to $20,000 to support their adventure motorcycle habit, they have realized you can have almost the exact same experience on a machine that offers similar performance, excitement and pride of ownership as anything else in the category and for thousands of dollars less. MSRP: $13,299. 

This brings me back to my original topic about first impressions and biases. Do I still trust my gut reaction? Sure I do, more than ever. I just remember now to give every first impression a second thought. For more information go to www.suzukicycles.com.

Chris Glaspell

Upshift, 23986 Aliso Creek Road Suite 450, Laguna Niguel, CA 92677

The success of any online publication depends on the quality of execution, and
in this respect UpShift Online’s success is virtually assured.  It was founded by veteran motorcycle industry professionals: English-born photographer Simon Cudby, the premier photographer in the world of motocross, and Chris Glaspell, creative director with firms serving clients that include Suzuki, Yamaha, Kawasaki, Cycle World and Yoshimura. This, plus Upshift’s veteran editorial staff and unrivaled journalism, will gives readers unparalleled views of adventure motorcycling.