Freelancing as art director for Cycle World's Big Twin magazine (R.I.P.) stirred a long-dormant need for two-wheel travel. It was an itch that had to be scratched, and when I asked CW editors for suggestions on a good bike to buy, the response was automatic: "SV650." "SV650." "SV650." It was 1999, the U.S. economy was robust and the only thing we had to fear was Y2K.
This then-new standard from Suzuki had apparently charmed the riding pants off everyone at the office. "So easy to flick back and forth that turning around and re-running ess-turns isn't just an option, it's a necessity,"Cycle World's May, 1999, issue declared. And shockingly, "Better performance numbers than Ducati's Monster 900." Other turn-ons included the short wheelbase, low center of gravity, relaxed riding position, competent suspension, decent brakes, smooth gearbox, narrow waist, wide handlebars and cozy passenger perch. The perfect companion for novice and hooligans alike. And stunning good looks to boot.
Easily modified, the little Suzi quickly became a track darling, and SV-spec roadracing series sprouted up like poppy fields in Afghanistan. It was an easy sell. A tubular aluminum frame cradled a torquey 645cc, 90-degree V-Twin, liquid-cooled and fed by two 39mm Mikuni carbs, cranking out a respectable 70 hp.I was sold, too, and paid Six Large in cash to a local dealer, then headed straight to the DMV for registration and a Class 2 license. Immediate mods included a gel seat and roaring Yoshimura pipe. Attempts at long-range sport-touring were a study in compromise, but shorter campaigns were the perfect escape. When personal finances became tighter than Pavarotti's corset, I reluctantly sold the SV. Desperate times indeed, but a good investment in the end. That annoying itch was now a habit. The best kind of habit you can have if you work at the world's largest motorcycle magazine.
So how has the SV changed since Y2K? Mikunis have been replaced by EFI, addition of ABS as an option, trick LED brake lights keep traffic off your tail, a (slightly) larger tank takes you farther between fill-ups, an integrated visor protects the flashy new digital instrument cluster and the once tubular frame is now more of an angular trellis. There also seem to be quite a few untidy mechanical bits cluttering up the bike's appearance, not endearing for one who appreciates visual simplicity. After riding the new model, I was surprised by a more aggressive roar emanating from the pipe than I remember my original SV producing, and throttle response is much more immediate. It seems to have a bit more giddy in its giddyup, as they say out on the farm.
Although I prefer the original SV's unpainted tube frame, flawless red paint and feline curves, what remains unchanged is the SV650's eager nature, ease of operation, torquey power and entry-level price. Still a charmer, in other words.