A Good Idea Gets Bigger: 2003 Suzuki SV1000S First Ride

Suzuki's wildly popular SV650 gets a big brother in the SV1000S

Isn't it amazing how a good idea-like offering a motorcycle with excellent, hospitable performance for a cheap price-can turn into a runaway best-seller? Go figure. Suzuki probably had no inkling that the SV650 was going to turn into such a huge sales success, but packing that kind of performance in a bike that costs only $5899 ($6299 for the faired S model) makes it somewhat difficult to imagine it becoming anything but. Give the motorcycling public great value for the money, and they will come. The fact that there wasn't a whole lot of R&D; resources spent on creating the SV650 was only icing on an already sweet cake; the little twin is basically a bored and stroked version of a domestic Japanese market model.

So it was reasonable to assume that Suzuki would capitalize on the little SV's popularity-and the growing naked/standard bike segment of the sportbike market-by bumping up the engine displacement to produce a literbike version of the SV650. And wouldn't you know it? The company had already developed a motorcycle that appeared practically custom-built for that role back in 1997: the TL1000S. Boy, this was going to be easy; just slap some new bodywork and paint on the ol' TL, then sit back and market it as the latest and greatest, right?

Nope. This is definitely not your basic warmed-over TL-S. The essential engine architecture may be the same, but there are a plethora of changes-300 of them, in fact-aimed at boosting the midrange power of the 996cc V-twin (already a midrange monster to begin with), right where most street riders could use it. Chassis and running gear received a similar facelift, with upgraded parts befitting the six years of development between the original TL1000S and now.

We were given the opportunity to sample the new SV1000S for two days of street riding in southern Spain. The routes laid out by our Spanish guides covered everything from miles of canyon curvature to threading through city (and small town) traffic to extended highway cruising, so we were able to get a pretty good idea of how the new SV would fare on U.S. pavement. In fact, our second day's ride was quite a bit longer than most new model introductory sojourns; our group covered 330 miles in about six hours of actual riding, so it wasn't just your usual zip-in/zip-out/quickie-style street ride.

We actually liked the original TL1000S, and were sorry to see it go, despite the nasty reputation it garnered from the British press that resulted in a factory update notice for steering damper installation. The fuel-injected V-twin motor had good upper midrange and top-end power, and overall chassis handling from the aluminum oval-tube trellis-style frame was fine for the majority of riding situations the bike would encounter.

Like any totally new motorcycle however, the TL was not without its warts. The rear suspension was difficult to set up for the average layman, with too-soft spring rates and inconsistent damping from the unique rotary damper unit possibly contributing to the handling problems encountered by the European press (but which we never experienced). The bike itself felt rather tall, exacerbated by a near-33-inch seat height that made the TL-S off-limits to the inseam challenged. With waning interest in such a soft-core V-twin sportbike, combined with the ill-fated TL1000R supersport machine that surely siphoned off some of the standard TL's potential market, the TL-S was discontinued last year.

In creating the SV1000S, Suzuki engineers were aiming at a slightly different market. Rather than class-leading performance, Suzuki engineers built what they term the "V-twin fun machine." A bike that would not only possess the ability to carve canyon roads with aplomb, but would offer easy access to that twisty pavement aptitude, while remaining comfortable enough to be practical for everyday use. What a concept!

All kidding aside, even though the TL engine was a perfectly acceptable powerplant for this role, Suzuki engineers concentrated on massaging the internal components to boost low-end and midrange power, while retaining as much of the original's top-end as possible. Biggest changes center around the motor's top end, with the cylinder heads getting smaller 36mm intake valves (from the TL's 40mm poppets), single instead of dual valve springs, reshaped intake ports, and retimed intake cams for more overlap. Lighter forged pistons (15 grams each) replace the cast TL units, with thinner and lighter connecting rods (30 grams each) and a smaller pitch cam chain for the hybrid gear/chain cam drive reducing reciprocating weight even further.

Bottom-end changes include switching the clutch from cable operation to hydraulic, with larger diameter clutch plates ensuring the increased torque will be transferred to the rear tire. The same slipper clutch assembly as the TL is retained on the SV, helping decrease wheel hop under deceleration. A new internal crankcase breather system was developed, eliminating the TL's external catch tank and dealing with the blow-by problems that cropped up on the original model.

Feeding this revamped motor is a new version of Suzuki's SDTV (Dual Throttle Valve) fuel injection. Throttle body diameter remains the same at 52mm, but utilizes the 32-bit ECU/servo-controlled secondary throttle plates to control intake fluctuations and eliminate abrupt throttle response at small throttle openings. Unique to the SV's system, however, is that the two throttle plates in each intake tract are positioned close together so that they overlap slightly at full throttle, which helps keep the throttle body assembly short for better top end power and increased airbox volume.

Although the basic chassis looks similar to the original oval-tube trellis frame of the TL at first glance, the SV frame's main section uses the high-vacuum die casting technology that seems to be in vogue this year, allowing the frame to be lighter while offering more precise control over rigidity. The precision made possible by the new die casting techniques also permitted the swingarm's pivot section to be shaped to allow more freedom for exhaust routing and an optimum rear suspension layout-which means that the SV does away with the TL's controversial rotary damper unit, and uses a conventional single shock.

Conventional also applies to the front suspension, as the TL's 43mm inverted fork was dropped in favor of a 46mm conventional cartridge fork. Since the SV's intended riding environment didn't require all-out braking capabilities, it sports smaller 310mm rotors instead of the TL's 320mm units, while using the same four-piston Tokico calipers. Weight was shed from the rear brake assembly by the usage of a single-piston Nissin caliper (instead of the previous two-piston piece) that is attached directly to the swingarm, eliminating the torque arm. Rear wheel width was also shrunk down, to a 5.5-inch width from the TL's 6.0-inch hoop.

The more hospitable character of the SV1000S is readily apparent the instant you swing a leg over it; the one-inch lower seat height and narrower saddle allow average people to plant both feet firmly on the ground. And although the seat-to-peg relationship is the same, the handlebars are set higher and closer to the rider, increasing comfort; while not as upright as the Yamaha FZ1, the Suzuki provides an excellent compromise between standard and sporty.

Firing up the 996cc V-twin only requires hitting the starter button, as the new fuel injection system is also equipped with a fast idle warm-up circuit that eliminates the "choke" lever of previous models. Getting underway and cruising through the city of Marbella on our way to the mountains shows yet another friendly trait of the SV: response from the dual-throttle-plate EFI is practically flawless at lower rpms, allowing you to literally lug the engine down to 1500 rpm and then accelerate back up without complaint. Throttle response is crisp without being overly responsive, and you can easily modulate your speed without any bucking or lurching at low rpms.

Opening up the throttle as we headed into the mountains showed that Suzuki's engine massaging paid dividends in the low-to-midrange power department. Where the TL seemed a bit fluffy down around 4000 rpm, the SV is getting into its stride, offering excellent acceleration at the twist of a wrist. And yet, in keeping with its intended friendly demeanor, the engine isn't abrupt or snappy; while the SV will promptly wheelie in the lower gears if provoked, the V-twin's quick acceleration isn't the type that could easily overwhelm a less-than-expert rider. But there's plenty of power to be had below 8500 rpm, and many will never see the need to exceed that point unless they're really interested in making serious time.

This was amply demonstrated once we hit the canyons near Spain's Sierra Nevada mountains. The Suzuki's beefy midrange combined with the well-sorted chassis to make short work of the twistier sections, and it was more enjoyable to use the motor's torque to jump off the turns, rather than winding up the rpm playing racer-boy. Suspension action from both ends was very good, and once we stiffened up the rebound damping on the front fork, front end feedback was good enough to make full use of the chassis' pleasant steering manners. Again, Suzuki engineers struck a nice balance with the SV in this area; turn-in is quick and easy enough to scythe through the tighter sections, but not so responsive as to seem overly nervous to the average rider. And while the SV may not be able to carve the tight lines of a supersport machine, it is agile and responsive enough to hold its own.

Ground clearance was never a problem on our rides, although again, if pushed the SV would start dragging the pegs; but if you consistently get to that point, you might want to try a sportier bike. The brakes are similarly positioned in performance. The downsized 310mm rotors were more than adequate up to an 8/10 pace, providing good response, power and feel, but any quicker than that and a bit of fade would creep into the picture.

Our banzai run back to the hotel along the autovia (Spain's version of the autobahn) showed us that the S-model's quarter-fairing-a standard SV1000 without fairing will be available for $7999, $600 less than the S model we rode-does a decent job of protecting the rider from the wind blast. It also made the SV's lack of top end power compared to the TL readily apparent; while much stronger in the low-end and midrange powerband, the SV motor starts to run out of breath above the 9500 rpm mark (curiously, the SV redlines at 11,000 rpm, while the sportier liter-size V-twins have been limited to 10,200 rpm). We should also mention that our butts weren't numb after the longer street ride on the second day, a testament to the improved comfort from the reshaped seat (some of the larger journalists complained, however).

We were impressed with Suzuki's latest entry into the rapidly growing standard/naked bike category. It's easy for some who remember the TL1000S to look at the SV and simply write it off as a rehashed TL, but one ride should convince them that Suzuki is definitely onto something good with the SV series. It should be interesting to see how the new SV1000S stacks up to established naked/standard bikes like Yamaha's FZ1.

Offering accessible performance like this for such a low price is an excellent alternative for those riders who want to carve the canyons without the commitment of a supersport bike, and use the same machine to ride to work on Monday. It can only bring more people into sportbikes, and that's good for the sport. And that's all right by our book.

This article originally appeared in the June, 2003, issue of Sport Rider.

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