Great sportbikes of the past: 1999-present Suzuki SV650

Suzuki scores with a bargain sportbike with performance that's anything but

Suzuki SV650 Motorcycle
1999 Suzuki SV650
1999 Suzuki SV650
In 2001, Suzuki finally relented and brought over the half-faired version of the SV650. The SV650S not only came with a TL-inspired fairing, but also lower clip-on bars, slightly rearset footpegs, and different gearing.
Clean and simple gauges are in the '01 SV650S cockpit. Clip-on bars are more than five inches lower than the standard SV, transforming the bike's character significantly.
Bathed in gray paint on the SVS, the 645cc eight-valve V-twin is otherwise identical to the naked SV. Nice broad powerband and user-friendly character endeared it to many.
In 2003, Suzuki instilled major upgrades to the little SV, with a precision die-cast aluminum frame replacing the previous oval-tube unit.
Connecticut resident Lawrence Somma built this incredibly trick '01 SV with the help of Scott Kolb of Kolb Machine. Just a sampling of the trick parts: complete front end from an '04 GSX-R600, Honda VFR750 single-sided swingarm, Ducati 916 rear wheel, headlights and fairing by Ghezzi-Brian.
The '03 upgrades included ditching the 39mm carburetors with Mikuni EFI sporting 39mm throttle bodies and Suzuki's SDTV electronically controlled secondary throttle valve setup.

Because of the strict licensing regulations in Japan back in the '80s and '90s that made it very difficult to legally ride a motorcycle over 400cc, the Japanese domestic market at that time was chock full of 400cc sportbikes. Although most were inline-fours, one particular V-twin made its debut in '98—the Suzuki SV400. Available in both naked and half-faired versions, the SV400 didn't really catch on in Japan—but it would provide the basis for one of Suzuki's most popular models worldwide the following year.

Enlarging the SV400's engine to 645cc via a larger bore and longer stroke, Suzuki created the SV650, a bike intended to offer serious motorcycling fun at a budget price. The new SV didn't make that much of an impact in its debut year due to being overshadowed by the introduction of the famed Hayabusa that same year. But when the SV's bargain price of $5699 became known, the little V-twin turned out to be $2000 less than the typical 600cc supersport machines of the day, making it very attractive to budget-conscious riders who had been yearning for an affordable sportbike.

The 90-degree liquid-cooled V-twin sported DOHC 4-valve heads, and in the early years was equipped with a pair of 39mm carbs. While the engine wasn't the most high-tech unit around, it nonetheless produced a solid 65-plus horsepower and more than 42 ft-lb of torque. The engine's oversquare 81mm x 62.6mm bore/stroke layout allowed it to rev easily past its 10,500 rpm redline; compression ratio was 11.5:1, and it could run on 87 octane fuel. Fuel mileage could range from as low as 35 mpg if you were really twisting the throttle to 45 mpg for highway duty.

The frame was a perimeter truss design made from oval aluminum tubing similar to the TL1000 Suzuki. The 55.7-inch wheelbase and sharpish steering geometry made for one of the more agile V-twins around. The suspension, however, was where the designers saved a lot of their budget, as the forks were conventional 41mm non-adjustable models, while the rear duties were handled by a single rear shock that was spring-preload-adjustable only. The 3.5 x 17-inch front and 4.5 x 17-inch rear wheels were shod with Metzeler MEZ4 tires, although unlike the suspension, the brakes were up to par despite being only a pair of 290mm rotors gripped by twin-piston slide-pin calipers. The rear braking was handled by a single 240mm disc and a twin piston caliper.

With a wet weight of 413 pounds, the little V-twin had enough steam to propel it down the quarter-mile in about 12 seconds at just over 105 mph. Top speed was about 120 mph depending on the headwind; remember, this was a true naked bike with no fairing (In '01 Suzuki brought over the half-faired SV650S that sold for $6199. The S model not only had lower bars and more rear-set pegs, it also had a one-tooth-smaller rear sprocket and a higher top speed of 127mph). Power delivery was one of its highlights except for being slightly cold natured, and some minor flat spots around 3600-3800 rpm and again at 5500 rpm. Overall the little twin made for a lot of fun on the street as long as you didn't push it hard enough to uncover the suspension weaknesses. The bike was very popular among new riders and women in particular, but some of its biggest fans were experienced riders due to its surprising performance. Since it had a relatively small engine displacement, it was also cheap to insure.

Suzuki gave both bikes a full upgrade in '03 that started with the engine. The carburetors were dumped in favor of a pair of 39mm throttle bodies utilizing Suzuki's SDTV secondary throttle valve system to smooth out throttle response. A more powerful 16-bit ECU and a larger airbox (from 5.8L to 8.5L volume) were combined with cams with more lift and duration, new connecting rods, and a larger muffler (5.2L to 6.5L volume) to considerably improve overall power; the flat spots in the powerband were all but gone, and the end result was a 500-rpm higher redline (now 11,000 rpm), 72 horsepower at the rear wheel and 47 ft-lb of torque, plus a new top speed of 129mph. An oil cooler was added to deal with the extra heat.

The suspension was also slightly upgraded with front and rear preload adjustments now standard. Pricing increased to $5899, with the S model $400 more. The frame now featured a vacuum die-cast aluminum design that was cheaper to construct while offering improved rigidity. A new swingarm, shock, and linkage provided 30 percent more wheel travel; the naked SV also gained a slightly longer swingarm and wheelbase, and a hair more trail thanks to triple clamps with 1.5mm less offset. The gauge cluster included a digital speedometer plus a clock and engine temp-pretty cool for a budget bike at that time.

By this time Suzuki had also helped sales by supporting a special racing series. Not only did this help move units on the retail level, it also helped develop a growing SV aftermarket. The suspension was the biggest weakness, so some owners simply added new springs and oil while others went a step farther and installed Race Tech Gold Valve Emulator kits. Enterprising individuals even retro-fitted a GSX-R fork and a GSX-R or Kawasaki ZX rear shock to gain better suspension and full adjustability. Another area for handling improvements was to ditch the sport-touring based tires and go for sportier rubber. Tire choice is not as wide as you may think due to the 4.5-inch-wide rear wheel, which leads to another popular mod: retro-fitting a 5.5-inch GSX-R rear wheel. An easier modification is retrofitting Honda CBR600F3 rear wheels, though the rear is only five inches wide.

Obviously the exhaust is another popular mod, with replacements available from countless suppliers. Depending on the model year, the fueling must also be adjusted with either a jet kit or a Power Commander. For the racing types, or those looking to squeeze the most out of the first generation SVs, flatslide carburetors were also a popular modification. Obviously one needs to check their local race organization's rulebook for legality before performing this mod.

If you are really set on improving the bike's engine performance, there are numerous shops that specialize in SV hop-up. Some SV aficionados claim the 81mm pistons from the Hayabusa will drop right in (the SV has the same bore size) and bump compression, although we'd recommend consulting with an engine specialist first before simply dropping in a crucial engine component that wasn't made specifically for the SV. If you do decide to experiment with the Busa pistons on your first generation SV, now is also a good time to perform the popular camshaft mod. In essence, the procedure is simply replacing the exhaust camshafts in favor of the intake camshafts from the second generation SVs ('03 and up). The added duration provides noticeable gains throughout the powerband, especially on top. Pay extra attention when timing the "new" cams as the standard markings on the cam gears will no longer be relevant. Of course, detailed information on this and the rest of these modifications can also be found on www.svrider.com.

Bob Guirlinger of Deland, Florida, is typical of SV650 owners. "I have had many bikes in my 54 years; big cruisers to a Hayabusa to an FJR and my current BMW K1200GT, as well as several others. I can say with no hesitation that my SV offers the most all-around fun of any motorcycle that I have owned. It's a great little bike."

The SV650 and SV650S are great bikes no matter if you are a beginner or an experienced rider and the fact that the SV has continued to be one of Suzuki's best sellers in this country since its inception a decade ago is testament to how good of a bike it really is. If you are looking for one on the used market they are also a great bargain. Today, used '99 models run around $1855 according to NADA values. Moving up to the '02 models, you can find standards going for $2520 while the S models are fetching an average of $2690. Step up another few years to a '05 model and prices jump to $3680 and $3995 while a used '07 will bring $4905 for an S or $4210 for a standard model. Combine these prices with good fuel mileage and cheap insurance and you have a recipe that may produce the most fun per dollar that you can have on two wheels.