Suzuki SV650 Review

Sympathy for the Devil

Suzuki SV650
Suzuki SV650Sport Rider
Suzuki SV650
Suzuki SV650Sport Rider
Suzuki SV650
Suzuki SV650Sport Rider

In just two short years, Suzuki's SV650 has garnered quite a following. Combining the narrowness of a V-twin with the good looks of a naked bike, the SV seems to have found that magic combination of price and performance. The last bike to develop a similar cult following was Honda's Hawk 650—but it didn't really come into fashion until after Honda ceased manufacturing it.

The casual observer might be tempted to think that the SV650 is just a sleeved down TL. While the Suzuki SV650 has a family resemblance to the TL, no parts are shared between the two bikes. Although the SV undoubtedly carries a sporting slant, its styling doesn't imply the perceived commitment to performance riding of more hard-core sporting machinery, such as the GSX-R line.

Although the SV's engine may look similar to its big brother, the 90 degree V-twin was designed specifically for the SV. Displacing 645cc with an 81.0 x 62.6mm bore and stroke, the engine was designed for compactness. A steeper rake angle is made possible by lowering the chain driven exhaust cam 9.0mm compared to the intake, while the rear of the engine received a triangulated, stacked transmission to further shorten the powerplant. Using four valve heads to inhale through a pair of 39mm Mikunis and exhale via a sleek, stainless steel exhaust, the compact engine pumps out almost 70 horsepower.

Constructed of thin-walled aluminum tubing which Suzuki claims lowers the bike's weight without compromising stiffness, the frame looks similar to the TL1000S chassis, but was designed specifically for the SV. At either end of the 56.3-inch wheelbase, 17-inch wheels shod with grippy Metzeler ME Z4s handle the pavement/motorcycle interface. In a nod to the price point of this bike, the 41mm fork has no adjustments, while the rear lets riders fiddle only with the preload. A pair of 290mm stainless steel front discs and dual piston calipers transfer the braking forces from the road to the chassis, and a 240mm disc handles the rear.

The SV's riding position is decidedly upright, thanks to the superbike-style handlebar, and gives the rider a good forward view plus plenty of leverage to maneuver in the urban climes. The slightly rearward footpegs are roomy enough to keep from cramping all but the longest legged riders while not limiting ground clearance. Due to the perched-on-top-of-the-bike posture, the wind blast can be tiring on long rides.

Regardless, the SV loves to blast around corners. The quick-steering bike changes lines midcorner without incident and feels perfectly planted until rough pavement overwhelms the stock suspension. A typical test-note entry stated, "The bike felt light and nimble and made negotiating sharp curves effortless and fun." Accelerating out of corners with the engine spinning approximately 7000 rpm delivers enough power to lighten the front wheel. The firm, predictable front brakes plant the tire firmly back on the pavement.

The SV's carburetion makes transitions from off to on throttle somewhat abrupt, which novice riders may find disconcerting on corner entrances. (We've heard from a few reliable sources that a shim under the needles remedies the problem nicely.) Similarly, we expected our less experienced riders to initially struggle with the SV's slightly grabby clutch engagement. Instead, one commented that, "The clutch was much easier than what I am used to."

Our trio of novice sport riders agreed that the SV was nimble and equally at home both in town and out on the road. The abrupt throttle only posed a slight problem for them. A couple questioned the bike's long distance comfort due to the sporty riding position.

Riding the SV650 impressed upon us how much performance can be had for $5749. The SV offers benign enough power delivery to not be intimidating to neophytes while delivering a good top-end rush and a slick-shifting tranny to keep experienced riders entertained. And it has the sexy sound of a twin! Be careful, though. We've seen mild-mannered folks turn into hooligans with just a twist of its throttle.

Suggested retail price: $5749
Engine type: Liquid-cooled, 90 degree 4-stroke V-twin
Displacement: 645cc
Bore x stroke: 81.0 x 62.6mm
Transmission: 6-speed
Rake/trail: 25.0 deg./3.9 in. (100mm)
Wheelbase: 56.3 in. (1430mm)
Fuel capacity: 4.2 gal. (16.0L)
Wet weight: 415 lb. (188kg)

This article originally appeared in the December 2000 issue of Sport Rider.