Monday, March 13, 2023

Suzuki V-Strom 1050DE vs Honda CRF1100 Africa Twin


Ride impressions from the perspective of an Africa Twin owner.

So, today I had the privilege to be one of the first SA Bike Journo’s to ride the new Suzuki V-Strom 1050DE. My time with it was limited so this is not an extensive bike review, just some thoughts and riding impressions.

Full disclosure. I own an Africa Twin 1100 DCT, this bike’s direct rival, so I will make a lot of comparisons between my bike and Suzuki’s new offering.

Firstly, what’s new?

The 2023 V-Strom 1050 has numerous updates, with the V-Strom 1050XT replaced by the V-Strom 1050DE which is geared toward more off-road-oriented adventures.

The DE models feature a 21-inch front wheel up from the previous 19-inch. The DE model has unique features in the Suzuki Intelligent Ride System (SIRS), including new Gravel (G) traction control and the ability to switch off ABS at the rear wheel. The ground clearance is higher and the handlebar grip is wider and cast in thicker tubing from a softer grade of aluminum which allows more flex and better shock absorption.

The V-Strom 1050 feature a 6-axis Inertial Measurement Unit (IMU) and the Suzuki Intelligent Ride System (SIRS) electronics suite, which includes ride modes, cornering ABS, multimode traction control, cruise control, and braking systems that compensate for hill starts, slope, and load. Supporting these electronic systems are an updated throttle-by-wire system, a new ABS control unit, a new CAN (Controller Area Network) wiring system, and a new 32-bit ECM (Engine Control Module). Other changes include an up/down quick shifter, a new 5-inch TFT display, a new 12-volt power outlet under the passenger seat, revised mirrors, and revised LED turn signals and taillight. Under the bike is a new cowl that protects the oil filter, exhaust header, and engine. A new engine protector made of a 3mm-thick aluminum plate shields the front and bottom of the frame, exhaust header, and engine.

This is a significant shift towards a more off-road orientated bike at a time when a lot of brands’ bigger Adv bikes are becoming “softer”. This also represents a direct competitor for the Africa Twin which previously sat in a niche between and competing with both the 800 and 1200 Adv bikes.

Some comparisons between the V-Strom (V-S) and Africa Twin (AT).

Looks and styling is subjective so I won’t spend much time on that apart from saying that I really like that Suzuki kept the heritage look paying tribute to the DR Big of old. It catches the eye and got a lot of compliments from bystanders.

The AT has a more extensive dash, including Apple Car Play and Android Auto, along with a myriad of buttons needed to operate it. It is a schlep to learn and not all Adventure Riders are into all that tech, but I do use it. The V-S has a crisp clear screen with all the necessary info and some extra nice to have’s like the outside temp etc. and it is really easy and intuitive to operate. I suspect some riders will prefer this.

I love my AT but the one thing I really do not like is the uncomfortable seat. The V-S is better in this regard and even my pillion said she preferred the Suzuki’s seat over the AT’s. The sides of the rider and pillion seats are covered with high-grip texture material to help the rider and pillion stay connected to the motorcycle. Secondly, I am a heavy dude and I was astonished about how well the suspension took my weight. Then loading a pillion as well and the suspension hardly flinched. The suspension can be adjusted both front and rear and while I did not experience the suspension at speed over rough terrain, in the application we did experience it, it did very, very well indeed. The V-S seat is definitely higher at 880cm vs the AT’s 870 (or 850 in low position which I use). I am 5’10” and could only tippy-toe the bike. According to the Suzuki info, a 30mm lower seat is available though.

The AT, being the more off-road model comes with tubed tires, while the more touring biased AT Adventure Sport comes with tubeless tyres. The V-Strom comes with a tubed 21” front (for heavier off-road work) and a 17” tubeless rear. I like this compromise as it is not as easy to remove a rear wheel out in Baviaans or somewhere similar. Change the front tube, plug the rear tyre.

I did some light gravel only and the bike behaved perfectly. In a full review the gravel performance vs the AT will be what everyone would be interested in but comparing this V-S demo bike with Dunlop Trailmax tyres after half an hour of good gravel, to my AX41 knobbly shod AT would not be comparing apples to apples. Having said that, there are three levels of traction control settings as well as a “Gravel” TC setting. This allows you to hang the tail out right up to the “Oh sh*t!” moment and then reels it back in. Once you are used to this you can’t stop playing. Other bikes have this too of course, but I liked that the TC stayed in Gravel mode when set, even if you turn off the bike.

Likewise comparing my AT’s DCT box to the V-Strom’s manual would be pointless, but the V-S’s six-speed manual comes standard with a quick shifter (up and down) that works a treat. The AT pushes out 100hp and coupled with the DCT box accelerates seamlessly. The V-S pushes 107hp and when you take it to the redline through the gears it really pulls hard. It would be interesting to see a dice between these two.

There are OEM hard panniers available and these attach to the bike without the unsightly frames usually needed to accommodate panniers. If you prefer soft luggage the rackless Turkana gear will work a treat. No need for the bike to look like a teen with braces.

The V-S comes with lower crash bars, aluminium bashplate, centrestand, and the rear luggage rack is fitted as standard. So there is a lot less to spend after the initial buy than the standard AT.

Having said that, the manual Africa Twin is listed at R250 600 on the Honda SA website. The V-Strom 1050 DE will land in SA towards the end of April and will be priced around R259 000. So in this too, these bikes are very even.

If this was the Adventure Bike standing in my garage I would have had no problem with living with it whatsoever. It’s a good bike. Adventure riders have never been this spoilt for choice!

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