SWM RS650R - FIRST LOOK

The resurrected SWM marque has built the RS650R, powered by an engine originally developed for Cagiva-owned Husqvarna.

SWM RS650R static side view

The Italian motorcycle industry is never serene like a perfectly calm Alpine lake. Rather, the wind is always stirring up the waves. Moto Morini, for instance, appears to be in suspended animation. I was supposed to visit the new, small premises near Pavia (where the two Milanese entrepreneurs that acquired the glorious make moved production), but when I called them I learned that the PR man was gone. And a few days later, one of the top managers quit. The Morini-Motorcycles website is frozen back at November 2014.

Whatever that means, it is very sad; Moto Morini was a symbol of the creativeness and determination of a whole generation of great project engineers and equally great managers and entrepreneurs who shared the common passion for motorcycling at the highest level. While that saddens me, there is a reason to feel better: SWM has been resurrected.

This name might sound familiar to a very limited number of American enthusiasts, mostly those focused on motocross and ISDT competition. SWM was established in the early 1970s when motocross and ISDT bikes enjoyed lots of success in Italy and a number of other European markets. As was the case with most of the Italian specialists of the time, SWM's first-generation models were powered by Sachs 50cc and 125cc two-stroke singles. Then, when the demand for larger displacement versions increased, SWM turned to Rotax and built a very solid reputation. SWM became the main local competitor to KTM, and, from there, grew into a key player on the international scene, thanks also to the marque's successes at various editions of the ISDT.

SWM RS650R being built in factory production line

The assembly line of the RS650R ISDT model at the SWM plant in Biandronno.

The sudden crash of the ISDT and enduro-bike market caused the collapse of most of the Italian specialists. They were too small and had no real technical R&D; after all, they were just assemblers. SWM shut down as most did.

Now, former Cagiva and Aprilia project engineer Ampelio Macchi found an investor from China: Daxing Gong, owner of Shineray Group, which is active in two- and four-wheel vehicles, plus agricultural equipment and power generators. Macchi was able to convince Gong that the time was right to invest in a highly specialized Italian motorcycle with a name that would still strike a chord with ISDT and Supermoto enthusiasts: SWM.

This resurrected SWM acquired the former Husqvarna premises that the late Claudio Castiglioni had established in Biandronno, a few miles from the formerly Cagiva now MV Agusta factory. The Biandronno factory covers an area of 484,375 square feet and is modern and functional in both its layout and in its state-of-the-art tooling and dyno rooms.

Ampelio Macchi and the SWM RS650R

Dr. Ampelio Macchi and the first SWM RS650R that rolled off the assembly line.

Manpower is 60 specialists at present. Chief project engineer Macchi has lots of experience with high-performance four-stroke singles and light twins, having designed and brought to full development all Cagiva, Cagiva-owned Husqvarna, and Aprilia singles, plus the hill fated, but very creative “supermoto” 350/450cc 77-degree V-twins. And he never quit refining his concepts and projects, mostly focused on four-stroke singles for ISDT and supermoto bikes, the motorcycling specialties in line with the tradition of the original SWM brand.

Thanks to the prompt and massive investments the Shineray Group poured into the Biandronno factory, Macchi needed only nine months to turn one of his earlier projects he had developed into a real bike. His determination paid off. The first model to roll off the assembly line is the RS650R, a beautiful, lean and aggressive enduro bike powered by the DOHC four-stroke single that Macchi had designed for the then Cagiva-owned Husqvarna and that BMW never utilized when they acquired the brand from Cagiva. Nor did KTM use this engine when it got Husqvarna from BMW.

Now, that strong single is home again, largely refurbished by the man who designed it originally. Although it’s dubbed a 650, this 100mm by 76.4mm liquid-cooled DOHC four valver displaces a real 600cc and is equipped with an electric starter and a six-speed gearbox. Fed by a Mikuni fuel injection system sporting a 45mm throttle body, this engine, with a compression ratio of 12.4:1, is claimed to produce in excess of 50 horsepower, with plenty of torque. This same unit also will power the SM650R SuperMoto model that will enter production by the end of the month.

SWM RS650R engines in production

SWM’s DOHC 650 single actually displaces only 600cc, and it features individual runners per each exhaust valve.

The mighty single is harnessed by a steel tube frame with a single upper backbone and a double lower cradle. The bike rides on knobby tires, size 90/90-21 in front, 140/80-18 in back, and the classic spoke-type wheels have aluminum rims. Disc brakes are by Brembo: a 260mm front rotor has a two-piston floating caliper, a 220mm rear teams with a single-pistonfloating caliper. The front suspension features an inverted Marzocchi fork with 45mm tubes; the rear suspension has an aluminum swingarm and a Sachs link-actuated shock absorber. Front wheel travel is 8.3 in., rear wheel travel is 10.6 in. Seat height is a “professional” 35.4 inches, though this model is intended primarily for amateur use. Curb weight is a lean 317.5 pounds.

As mentioned, the range of SWM models will soon expand with the addition of the SM650R SuperMoto, followed by the “professional” RS300R and RS500R ISDT and SM500R SuperMoto models. Later, SWM will add two low-cost general-purpose runabouts to the lineup: the Silver Vase 440 scrambler, and the Gran Milano 440 touring. These are powered by air-cooled SOHC engines originally designed by the Chinese technicians at the Shineray Group and then enlarged to a real 435cc displacement (90mm bore, 70mm stroke) and upgraded with a new, more effective lubrication system that has oil jets to cool the inner face of the piston top. These models will be marketed at very low price and are intended primarily for the far and south east markets. Macchi is very positive about the future of the SWM, thanks to the quality of the products and the booming Asian market.

The assembly line of the RS650R ISDT model at the SWM plant in Biandronno.
The classic structure of the RS650R frame features an upper single backbone and a double cradle lower section. It?s very sturdy.
SWM?s DOHC 650 single actually displaces only 600cc, and it features individual runners per each exhaust valve.
Dr. Ampelio Macchi and the first SWM RS650R that rolled off the assembly line.
The first SWM RS650R still on the assembly line holder.
Svelte styling and pleasant graphics?that?s the SWM RS650R.
Detail showing the aluminum swingarm, link-actuated Sachs shock absorber, and rear disc brake, which features a fixed rotor and a floating single-piston caliper.
Inverted Marzocchi fork has 45mm tubes. Individual exhaust runners lead to individual manifolds and mufflers.
The front brake features a fixed rotor and a two-piston floating caliper. Note offset of the front axle.
SWM?s RS650R.