Suzuki SV 650

Veteran competition and road rider Frank Melling gets some advice from ‘real bikers’ and smiles quietly to himself.

They were nice young men. Not brusque or arrogant but keen to offer the hand of biking friendship. We were sat on the wall drinking coffee and watching the sheep munch their way down to the Horseshoe Pass. Me, somewhat fat, balding and wrinkly and Carol, slightly past her first flush of maidenly lustre. And lolled contentedly on its side-stand was an SV 650 – the born again biker’s gateway to motorcycling.

The nice young men were interested in the bike – and interested in helping us understand the technicalities of the motorcycle. The SV, they explained, was ideal for middle-aged returnees to motorcycling. Its performance was modest, its nature benign and it was an ideal stepping stone to the world of real motorcycling as manifested in their Honda CBR 900 and Ducati 916. These were the bikes to which, when I had a little more experience of motorcycles and motorcycling, I would aspire.

Thus is the SV viewed by real motorcyclists: a pleasant enough bike for novices but of limited performance and aspirations.

Had they ever ridden an SV, they might well have had a different idea.

The problem the SV faces is that a large proportion of the motorcycling media is obsessed, with performance that has nothing to do with reality. Bike ‘A’ will only manage 168mph so it’s not a serious sports machine. Buy a tuning kit for bike ‘B’ so that you can break the 200mph barrier.

Where exactly does one run a road bike at 175mph in Britain? So, in real life, just how much does the SV suffer from having a top-speed of only 130mph? If you live for track days, probably quite substantially. For the rest of us…

The core of the SV is a thoroughly modern and sweet 645cc V-twin engine. If Suzuki wanted a calling card for its engine design abilities the SV would be it. Not only is the engine extremely narrow, in the best tradition of V-twins, but it is short too.

The TL1000 motor heavily influenced the power plant. This was a controversial motor when it was first launched and generated a lot of bad publicity for Suzuki. It is difficult to feel much sympathy for manufacturers who get things wrong but in this case one has to be sympathetic because the TL1000 engine is probably the best motorcycling power plant in production today.


The staggered output shafts, which contribute towards both motors’ short length, are carried over to the SV’s motor but there is nothing radical in the rest of the design. In fact, it is conservatively simple and all the better for this. The short stroke, 81 x 62.6mm engine follows the now industry standard dohc, four-valve design with the camshafts being chain driven. Being a 90-degree v-twin, primary balance factors are in harmony so there are no balance shafts and little else that has not already been done in other engines. There are, however, some beautiful details that make this motor outstanding without being ground-breaking.

The 90 degree cylinders are both arranged in an upright position, canted forward and backward respectively. Even the camshafts are staggered with the exhaust cams being carried 9mm lower than the inlets.

Because the SV is built to an extremely tight budget, the engine uses 39mm cv carburettors rather than fuel injection. Clearly, this policy would save money but it is still a shame that with an engine which was only launched at the end of 1998, the opportunity wasn’t taken to use the latest fuel control technology.

The result is still an outstanding motor that pulls like a train. From 2,500 rpm all the way to 10,500rpm the power delivery is almost linear. Suzuki claim 70ps @ 9,000rpm and 6.1nm of torque @ 7,400rpm – both figures which tend to indicate that the bike needs revving to be effective but it doesn’t. Just a few years ago, the SV’s engine would have been considered to be a mid-capacity class leader as either a serious sports motor – when revved hard – or fast tourer if used in the lower rev. ranges.

The big question is what the Cagiva Group will do with the engine when it is launched in the new ‘Raptorina’ (little Raptor). Miguel Angel Galluzzi transformed the TL1000 motor, used in the bigger Raptor, by clever use of new exhaust and intake systems and a complete re-working of the EFI mapping. Cagiva’s TL1000 makes less outright power but is much more flexible and is blisteringly fast in terms of acceleration in the 30-100mph range.

When I was discussing the ‘Raptorina’ with him, Miguel Angel said that with the SV’s engine, he has gone for a modest power increase, rather than a softer motor, so we might well see a somewhat crisper, more aggressive lump in the new baby Raptor.

What won’t change is the slick and light six-speed gearbox. It’s not quite as good as that found on the TL1000 but is markedly better than anything else in its class. The clutch too is race bike light and completely unaffected by hard use.

Suzuki SV 650

Even the motor’s aesthetics are pleasing – or at least as good as can be expected from a liquid cooled motor. Extensive coolant passages run inside the motor and this gives clean lines free of hoses. The engine looks a motorcycle power plant and this is an important part of enjoying the bike.

The alloy beam frame is impressive following standard Japanese practice of a duplex structure running from headstock to swinging arm and is gross over-kill for a 70bhp motor.

Clearly, the result is a positive one in terms of a flex- free ride but both the front and rear suspension are firmly at the budget end of the market. The forks are conventional modern units but are badly under sprung so that when the SV is pitched into corners with any joie de vivre, the front end tucks under reducing the effective trail to an uncomfortably short length. Fortunately, there is a cheap and easy fix. Ron Williams at Maxton Engineering (Tel: 01928 740531) does a heavier fork spring which drops in without any modification. This keeps the forks from depressing at the initiation of a turn and gives a nice, neutral feel to the front end.

The simple fix for the rear shock is to remove it and drop it into a skip. There’s nothing that can be done to help the thing except to run it hard to overcome a spring that is too soft and damping which is too hard. With the stiffer front fork springs, the end result is a pleasing sort of hoppity-skippity-classic-bike type ride that is very satisfying. It’s only when you ride something where the suspension is 21st. century directly after the SV that it feels lacking; otherwise, it works well.

The tyres come into play as a factor in road holding before the suspension’s failings. The Metzler MZ4s, which are fitted as standard, on the SV are fine all round tyres, with apparently a very long life, but they are not in the same class as sports rubber. This may, or may not, be a problem to you but if you do like to press on, then the squirming of the Metzlers when the bike is ridden very hard does become noticeable.

The riding position on the naked SV is superb with ample room between the saddle and footrests ensuring a comfortable riding position. The saddle too, can handle a full sized bum with no problem and the accommodation for the pillion passenger is just as good. On many occasions, I wished that I could have gone on longer than the 150 miles between tank re-fills. The tank holds a decent 18litres, 4 gallons in real language, with about a gallon left after the fuel warning light comes on. The SV returns around 50mpg ridden briskly – but not held constantly to the 10,500 red line,it will cruise all day at 100mph.

The naked SV we had on test is lower-geared than the faired SVS and the combination of a more comfortable riding position, sharper acceleration and a lower price is making the unfaired machine more popular. Perhaps if Suzuki had gone more for the sports-tourer look, as in Yamaha’s Diversion, the naked bike wouldn’t do so well.

The brakes are 290mm items, which the aficionados will tell you are fit only for basic commuter bikes – which is a load of bovine excrement. Two up, the front discs will lock the wheel at 60mph on dry tarmac. The SV only weighs around 370lbs (170kg) wet and if you need more braking than this you’re having a serious go in the fast group at a track day.

The rest of the bike is an example of one of Suzuki’s better attempts at producing a machine with a decent finish. Okay, so it’s not a Honda or Triumph, and you wouldn’t want to ride it with salt on the road and then leave it in the shed overnight, but it is a whole order of magnitude better than the Suzukis of a few years ago which would corrode before your eyes.

Suzuki SV 650 specification:
Engine: Liquid cooled 4 stroke
2 cylinder 90 degree v twin dohc.
4 valves per cylinder
Bore and Stroke:
81.0 x 62.6mm = 645cc
Compression ration – 11.5:1
Six speed gearbox
Rake/trail 24.8 degrees/ 100mm
Non-adjustable front forks
17″ wheels front and rear
Tyres: Metzler
Front: 120/60ZR17
Seat Height: 805mm – 31.7″
Wheelbase: 1415mm – 55.7″
Dry Weight: 165kg – 364lbs
Price on the road unfaired:
SV 650S (with fairing)

The retro styled headlamp brackets are cute and neat and the instruments sufficiently original and nicely finished to be worthy of mention.

Since the SV’s launch, Suzuki have had the baby v-twin sports market to themselves. The SV is light years better than Ducati’s M600 and the market shows how accurate was Suzuki’s initial assessment of the market. Want a deal on an SV? No chance, sir, we’re selling all we can get.

How much the new Raptorina will affect this situation remains to be seen. The Raptor chassis is superb with better suspension than the SV and better brakes too. But it is also cramped and you certainly wouldn’t want to ride a Raptor all day if you have standard male length legs.

The Raptor is also a much sexier package than the SV for the style conscious. Whereas the SV is seen as the domain of born again bikers, and newly qualified learners on the way to real motorcycling experience, the Raptor will offer aeons of street cred. It will also be more expensive than the Suz.

Will it be a better all round bike? I doubt it. If you are not image conscious, nothing in the motorcycling world offers more performance, handling and fun than the SV and all for £4549. But perhaps when I get a bit more experience, I’ll know better and want a Fireblade.

Our thanks to Crooks-Suzuki 01229 822342 for the loan of our test bike.