Motorcycles

Review: Suzuki's SV650 squeezes big fun into a small, compact, naked roadster

Review: Suzuki's SV650 squeeze...
Suzuki SV650: small bike, big fun in a package that just about any rider will be able to make the most of
Suzuki SV650: small bike, big fun in a package that just about any rider will be able to make the most of
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Suzuki SV650: very much at home in the urban jungle
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Suzuki SV650: very much at home in the urban jungle
Suzuki SV650: rounded trellis frame recalls the original SV650 that ran from 1999-2002
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Suzuki SV650: rounded trellis frame recalls the original SV650 that ran from 1999-2002
Suzuki SV650: narrow tank holds just 13.8 liters, but with excellent fuel economy that's good for some 3-400 km between fill-ups.
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Suzuki SV650: narrow tank holds just 13.8 liters, but with excellent fuel economy that's good for some 3-400 km between fill-ups.
Suzuki SV650: narrow waist and low seat height will make this a very appealing bike for beginners and shorter riders
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Suzuki SV650: narrow waist and low seat height will make this a very appealing bike for beginners and shorter riders
Suzuki SV650: racing stripe design only appears on the red model – white and black are the other colour options
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Suzuki SV650: racing stripe design only appears on the red model – white and black are the other colour options
Suzuki SV650: an attractive naked sportster, if a little anonymous
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Suzuki SV650: an attractive naked sportster, if a little anonymous
Suzuki SV650: feels like a 300 to sit on, but packs an extra wallop of torque
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Suzuki SV650: feels like a 300 to sit on, but packs an extra wallop of torque
Suzuki SV650: only available as a restricted LAMS bike in Australia
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Suzuki SV650: only available as a restricted LAMS bike in Australia
Suzuki SV650: single bucket headlight is another throwback to the original bike
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Suzuki SV650: single bucket headlight is another throwback to the original bike
Suzuki SV650: short of the Ducati Monster 696, this is the only v-twin in the middleweight class - and it's a very proven motor platform
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Suzuki SV650: short of the Ducati Monster 696, this is the only v-twin in the middleweight class - and it's a very proven motor platform
Suzuki SV650: digital dash is a standout feature. Nice big speedo readout, clock, tacho, fuel gauge, trip meter and range to empty - plus a gear position indicator, which is nice.
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Suzuki SV650: digital dash is a standout feature. Nice big speedo readout, clock, tacho, fuel gauge, trip meter and range to empty - plus a gear position indicator, which is nice.
Suzuki SV650: slim tail section and... Not the most accommodating pilllion seat we've ever seen
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Suzuki SV650: slim tail section and... Not the most accommodating pilllion seat we've ever seen
Suzuki SV650: nice fine detailing on the side panels
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Suzuki SV650: nice fine detailing on the side panels
Suzuki gets back to the roots of the SV650: trellis frame, nice big v-twin punch, lightweight, slim and low seat height. This will be a brilliant all-rounder for beginners, shorties and newbies
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Suzuki gets back to the roots of the SV650: trellis frame, nice big v-twin punch, lightweight, slim and low seat height. This will be a brilliant all-rounder for beginners, shorties and newbies
Ordinary weather but a great little bike
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Ordinary weather but a great little bike
Throwing this low, lightweight little beast around is a barrel of fun.
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Throwing this low, lightweight little beast around is a barrel of fun.
Suzuki SV650: small bike, big fun in a package that just about any rider will be able to make the most of
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Suzuki SV650: small bike, big fun in a package that just about any rider will be able to make the most of
Suzuki SV650: an excellent ride to go with classic looks
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Suzuki SV650: an excellent ride to go with classic looks
Suzuki SV650: ships with sticky Dunlop Qualifier tires - a good indication of how hard it's capable of cornering
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Suzuki SV650: ships with sticky Dunlop Qualifier tires - a good indication of how hard it's capable of cornering
Suzuki SV650: basic, fun motorcycling done very well
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Suzuki SV650: basic, fun motorcycling done very well
Suzuki SV650: the sort of bike you feel immediately comfortable and confident on
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Suzuki SV650: the sort of bike you feel immediately comfortable and confident on
Suzuki has brought back one of its most popular v-twins.
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Suzuki has brought back one of its most popular v-twins.
The SV650's LED taillights are a nice touch
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The SV650's LED taillights are a nice touch
A welcoming and encouraging bike for learners, but also has a huge "little bike, big fun" factor for more experienced riders
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A welcoming and encouraging bike for learners, but also has a huge "little bike, big fun" factor for more experienced riders
Suzuki SV650: Suzuki is renowned for putting together bikes that feel tight, slick and "sorted" – the SV is no exception
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Suzuki SV650: Suzuki is renowned for putting together bikes that feel tight, slick and "sorted" – the SV is no exception
Suzuki SV650: standard exhaust looks fine, but doesn't offer much sonic excitement. These 650cc v-twins can sound absolutely thunderous with an aftermarket pipe
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Suzuki SV650: standard exhaust looks fine, but doesn't offer much sonic excitement. These 650cc v-twins can sound absolutely thunderous with an aftermarket pipe
Suzuki SV650: a fun and accessible all-round sports nakedbike
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Suzuki SV650: a fun and accessible all-round sports nakedbike

Light, quick bikes... They rule. When Suzuki decided to re-launch its hugely popular SV650 mid-range v-twin sportsbike, it took a look in the rear view mirror to get back to the classic, trellis-framed styling that made it such a hit in the first place. Its low seat height and narrow waist make it super-accessible for newbies and those of shorter stature without feeling cramped or insubstantial, and its punchy power curve and lightweight handling are brilliant for confidence building. The same things make it a lightweight riot of a thing for more experienced riders. Gizmag's Loz Blain spent a week with a resurrected legend.

Suzuki's original SV650 popped up in 1999, some six years after the Ducati Monster that clearly inspired it. The natty trellis frame, free from Italian electrics, moved a lot of units, as did the low seat height and light weight. It was sporty enough to be proper fun, but practical enough for commuting and touring, and its key advantage was that it was approachable enough for inexperienced riders and shorter riders. It sold by the bucketload.

It was replaced by a more angular update in 2003, then by the weird and bulbous Gladius in 2009, but nobody seemed to like those as much. Still, the basic 645cc v-twin engine platform was always a winner, seeing duty in all these bikes plus the venerable but fugly V-Strom 650. All told, Suzuki has sold more than 400,000 bikes based on this mid-size v-twin.

Suzuki SV650: an attractive naked sportster, if a little anonymous
Suzuki SV650: an attractive naked sportster, if a little anonymous

The idea with the 2016 Suzuki SV650 is to get back to basics with a style overhaul that takes the SV back toward that original tube trellis frame, with an engine refresh thrown in for more power, torque and efficiency. You can judge for yourself how Suzuki did with the styling; I think it looks fine, if a little anonymous, with a very comprehensive digital dash being the standout feature to my eye.

Suzuki SV650: digital dash is a standout feature. Nice big speedo readout, clock, tacho, fuel gauge, trip meter and range to empty - plus a gear position indicator, which is nice.
Suzuki SV650: digital dash is a standout feature. Nice big speedo readout, clock, tacho, fuel gauge, trip meter and range to empty - plus a gear position indicator, which is nice.

Hop on board though, and I'm genuinely shocked to discover this bike weighs 197 kg (395 lb) wet. It feels incredibly light and compact, and preposterously slim – something like a Honda VTR250 on steroids. That's high praise as the VTR has been my go-to recommendation for learner bikes for something like the last 10 years, because it's so easy to ride that it builds confidence quicker than just about anything I've ever seen.

That leads me to how I test learner bikes these days, because it's been many years since I was able to look at a motorcycle through proper beginner's eyes. What I do now is pay attention to how quickly the bike makes me confident enough to start being stupid on it, because that same confidence is what encourages learners to get out there and start enjoying themselves. With the SV I start feeling devilish within about 100 meters of Suzuki's driveway. Pop a tick in that box, then.

Suzuki SV650: standard exhaust looks fine, but doesn't offer much sonic excitement. These 650cc v-twins can sound absolutely thunderous with an aftermarket pipe
Suzuki SV650: standard exhaust looks fine, but doesn't offer much sonic excitement. These 650cc v-twins can sound absolutely thunderous with an aftermarket pipe

The ride

The one we're riding is the Australian SV650L, which is the LAMS (Learner Approved Motorcycle Scheme) power restricted version that doesn't benefit much from the engine updates. Instead of the full-fat 75 horsepower and 64 Nm (47 lb-ft), it's been ECU-tuned down to 47 horses and 56.5 Nm (42 lb-ft).

The result is a completely non-threatening throttle mapping that delivers solid, grunty drive with no surprises. It's a thoroughly learner-friendly experience, but frankly a little dangerous with yours truly on board, because when there's no fear wide open at the throttle stop, that's where I tend to stay.

I stay there with no fear that I'm being cruel to it, because it's an understressed version of a pretty much faultlessly reliable donk. The gearbox is light and positive, which fits with Suzuki's reputation for making brilliant cogs, and the clutch is feather-light.

The riding position is fairly roomy, encouraging you to climb around on the bike in the twisties. It's also pretty comfy, save for the bars that feel an inch or two narrow for a big boofer like me. Mind you, you appreciate the narrow bars when you're filtering between lanes. And on the opposite side, the mirrors are fantastic for looking in, but sit out just wide enough to get in the way when you're in between four-wheel drives. A nice low seat height of 785 mm (30.9 in), combined with a super slim tank and body, make this one of the most accessible sportsbikes on the market for shortypantses.

The suspension feels a bit old-school, in that it's quite soft and lightly damped, but I don't actually have a problem with this setup given the target market. As a big bloke I'd want to be putting heavier oil in the forks and maybe getting the shock revalved for more control and less bounce in quicker bumpy corners. There's not much adjustment – just preload on the shock – but smaller folk will probably find the standard setup very useable.

The brakes, Tokico 2-piston calipers on twin 290mm front discs, are adequate without being exciting and are perfect for the brief. Suzuki has gone with a Nissin ABS system, and after a few quick tests on gravel and oily tarmac, I can't fault it.

Suzuki SV650: narrow tank holds just 13.8 liters, but with excellent fuel economy that's good for some 3-400 km between fill-ups.
Suzuki SV650: narrow tank holds just 13.8 liters, but with excellent fuel economy that's good for some 3-400 km between fill-ups.

As for the handling… well, it's so damn light on its feet that the SV corners on a dime. Feet up U-turns are a breeze, and in tight, twisty bends it feels like a cheat code. It comes from the factory with sticky Dunlop Qualifier tires on and a slimmish 160/60/17 on the back makes it track and change lines beautifully. Mind you, such sticky rubber strikes me as an odd choice for learners because although the tires grip beautifully, they do need some time to warm up.

Still, once you're there the SV is well and truly up for a sporty ride, turning in quick and powering out nicely on the gas. It does get a little wallowy in quicker sweepers due to that soft suspension.

The real key here for a beginner is whether it's easy to handle at slow speeds, getting around in traffic. And here the SV absolutely shines. A low RPM assist system gives it a little squirt of fuel when you go to let the clutch out, making it very difficult to stall, and it's supremely maneuverable at all times.

Suzuki SV650: Suzuki is renowned for putting together bikes that feel tight, slick and "sorted" – the SV is no exception
Suzuki SV650: Suzuki is renowned for putting together bikes that feel tight, slick and "sorted" – the SV is no exception

Another happy little nugget is that Suzuki has finally decided to let you start the bike without the clutch in – and on a one-touch ignition button that cranks the starter until the bike fires over without you having to hold your thumb down. Perhaps a carryover from the car world, but why not, eh?

I absolutely love this little bike. I think it's a superb starter bike or commute killer, and I'll be recommending it to well-off beginners that can come at the AU$9,990 pricetag (it's US$6,999 derestricted in the US, or US$7,499 with ABS). I sure hope Suzuki opts to bring the unrestricted version out to Australia as well, because the extra power would make it a sensational all-rounder or mid-size twins racebike with some suspension tweaks.

The competition

In the SV650's category are a pair of excellent (and more modern and distinctive looking) parallel twins from Kawasaki and Yamaha: the ER-6N and MT-07/FZ07. There's also the lovely but expensive Ducati Monster 696, which offers the only other V-twin engine in the class, although the 659 LAMS restricted version has apparently been discontinued in Australia.

Suzuki gets back to the roots of the SV650: trellis frame, nice big v-twin punch, lightweight, slim and low seat height. This will be a brilliant all-rounder for beginners, shorties and newbies
Suzuki gets back to the roots of the SV650: trellis frame, nice big v-twin punch, lightweight, slim and low seat height. This will be a brilliant all-rounder for beginners, shorties and newbies

I think the SV will appeal to learners on its classic style, on its ability to be tricked up with a few bolt-on additions, and on its v-twin engine, which hammers away in a muted fashion with the standard exhaust but can be made to sound properly butch and bassy like a v-twin should with pretty much any aftermarket pipe. Seriously, these things sound house-shakingly huge when you open them up.

Most importantly, though, it's low, it's narrow, and it's light, making it highly accessible and fantastic for building confidence on. It's the size of a 300 with the grunt of a 650. It's got my missus hunting through the cupboard for her leathers, and it's got me giggling like a lunatic as I take it through the back streets. Welcome back, SV650, we've missed you.

Product page: Suzuki SV650

2 comments
JoelF
Great, thorough review of a classic Suzuki design. One comment, though, is the propensity of manufacturers to make seats lower and pegs higher, thinking this will broaden their market. I'm 5' 9" but feel like a pretzel on one of these bikes and can scarcely stay on it for more than an hour's ride. The seats on these shorter bikes are typically inclined forward, so you're always trying to fight gravity, and the seat width is far too narrow. I've been searching in vain for a lightweight bike for years that's got both grunt below and room above for both local and longer rides.
maxielias
Totally incorrect about the design. Suzuki has that design, from the old bandit 400 of the year 1989, and ducati was based a lot on that bike. The SV650 is obviously based on the old bandit 400