Carole Nash
Content Writer
Published: 20th June 2008

suzuki sv650The 600cc bike class is one of the most popular in the UK and it isn’t hard to see the appeal of a bike which does almost everything a 1,000cc sports machine can, with cheaper running costs thrown in to make life more bearable.

The Suzuki SV650S has been one of the biggest success stories of the last two years.

Practical enough to commute to work, relatively cheap to insure, yet possessed of 130mph performance should you fancy a trackday session. Plus it’s a V-twin, which means it sounds pretty funky too. Insidebikes has had a load of requests to review this one, so here’s the lowdown on one of the best bargains in motorcycling today.

As soon as you hear the phrase `like a mini TL1000’ you know this is going to be a great motorcycle. The TL1000’s appeal is in the sheer raw power the engine makes, which the chassis can’t quite tame entirely. But a sleeved down, 645cc version, kicking out a user friendly 68bhp sounds just the thing. Add on a half fairing to keep the windblast at bay, plus extremely adroit handling and suddenly the world seems a happy place. The SV650S is one of those classic `feel good’ bikes, just like its soul-mate, the Bandit 600. But the Suzuki Bandit 600 has one flaw; it feels a bit like weak, milky tea compared to the big brother 1200cc variant. However, the SV650 feels much more of a complete motorcycle than the ill-fated TL1000. True, it can seem underpowered in the company of big bikes on the track. But the Suzy SV650 has the sort of torquey punch that slaps a grin on your face every time you exit a corner – it doesn’t just go, it lunges. Its light weight also helps level the playing field on the public roads, where sheer power doesn’t matter quite so much as the finely honed skills of cutting through traffic and dealing with the hundreds of hazards that lurk around every other blind bend.

Even when you compare the SV650 to a class rival, like the Yamaha Fazer, it’s anorexia is plain and obvious, with a 20 kilo advantage over the more than adequately performing Fazer. The punchy (and very compact) 90 degree, liquid cooled, four valves per cylinder, SV motor is a gem. It runs with a slightly lower (11.5:1) compression ratio than the Hornet and Fazer and makes it peak power at 9,000rpm, rather then the heady 11,500 mark where most 600cc class fours peak.

There are no balance shafts inside the Suzuki twin, which means it generates some vibration, but because it’s relatively small in size, it isn’t a problem. What it shares with the big TL1000, or a Duke for that matter, can be summed up in one word; guts. That counts on the open road, time after time, when being caught in the wrong gear happens to the best of us. On the SV650, you always feel that a little bit more throttle will be all the bike needs to slingshot past that lorry a tad quicker.

One area where the Suzuki does feel a bit outclassed however, is in the six speed gearbox, which is much stiffer to operate compared to the Honda Hornet or Yamaha Fazer for example. There’s nothing seriously wrong with it, and it certainly feels smooth and precise compared to a Ducati, but it is still just a bit notchy. The unfaired version of the SV650 also has an extra tooth on the final drive sprocket over its twin brother faired S model, which lowers the overall gearing, making it a totally different bike to ride – so you might want to ride both Suzuki twins back to back, to see which one suits you best. There’s only 500 notes difference between both SV650 models, and even the faired version is still a bargain – currently retailing for around £4500 on the road.

If you’ve got it, flick it

As Ducati have known for decades, people like the immediate `snap’ of acceleration out of corners that a V-twin delivers.

The SV650 gives you that same, visceral kick, but the Suzuki also pulls off the neat trick of feeling totally balanced, beautifully controlled too. It may not have a great spread of power like a 996, but the SV lets you use all the poke that its engine makes. Precious few motorcycles can match that feat and even a Ducati can twitch its head quite alarmingly if you give it serious stick – fact is, most 996 owners can’t use more than 70% of their bike’s potential anyway… so they think the Italian bikes are the ultimate handling twins.

Having ridden the SV650 at some speed around Continental tyres’ specially built handling track in Germany, I have news for all those with a blind allegiance to all things Italian; you can have a great handling motorcycle on the cheap. The simple fact is that I could lean this bike over further, and ride around the outside of other journos on CBR600s, Bandits, Honda X11s, Fireblades and a whole lot of other stuff. And I’m not that good on a track, believe me.

The reason? Instant confidence. You see the SV650 never feels like it’s gonna put a wheel wrong. The whole thing remains compliant, easy-going and totally composed, even when fully cranked over at over 120mph. Very few bikes give me the same level of confidence on a racetrack as the SV650, which make it deceptively fast – you don’t realise how close to the limit you are until you catch up to another rider showering sparks and twitching merrily away in front, then you understand how damn easy the Suzy twin is to ride at high speed. Less is more, end of story.

The Suzuki has a simple frame, which lets the engine hang from it, a simple trellis, very much like a Duke. The oval section frame and firm suspension look more modern than the Ducati’s tubes and give the bike a feeling of rigidity. The SV650 will eventually shake its bars a little bit if you nail it over serious bumpy bits, but interestingly, it lacks the rotary damped monoshock system that the TL has, yet feels much more composed all round.

In terms of braking ability, the SV650 has a set-up that is extremely user-friendly, especially for relatively inexperienced riders. The two front discs are easily up to the job of repeated trackday use, yet they lack the sudden bite of an out-and-out sports machine like the Yamaha R6, GSXR600 or CBR600F etc. Sometimes, you might wish for a little more braking power, but not often, as the SV650S is so light, it stops pretty much where you want it to, with loads of feel ’ at the lever. Just like its handling characteristics, the Suzy’s brakes, breed confidence – a much underrated quality.

The Suzuki has a slightly racy, tucked in riding position too, which helps you get into sportbiking mode, although the stepped seating is far more comfortable for long distance riding than any Ducati, save the ST2/4 series. For a little, compact bike, there’s a reasonable amount of room – more so than on bikes like the R6, ZX6 Kawasaki, or the GSXR600/750 series.

Having said that, a Bandit 600, or a Fazer 600, would feel like a pair of Parker Knoll recliners by comparison. If it’s true, all day long comfort you want in your 600 machine, look elsewhere – the SV650S is a sports machine.

Downtown teaser

The SV650 is such a good time on a twisty road that you expect it to be less fun in town, but the bike is brilliant here too. The secret lies in its low gearing, which gives the V-twin motor an unlimited number of chances to show off its sheer grunt. Power arrives from just over tickover, making the Suzuki one rapid bike away from the traffic lights. Scotty had it up so often in Leeds city centre he was taking `phone numbers from women on the top decks of buses.

The narrow profile of the SV also lets you play dirty in busy traffic and slide through gaps as you sneak your way to the front of the queue at the next red light. Ask yourself what you want in a commuter bike; agility, great brakes, instant grunt. That sums up the SV650 to a tee. The business. Does commutability matter? Yes of course – ask yourself how many miles you queued up to get into your last BSB meeting? Damn traffic’s everywhere…

Styling is another area where the Suzuki scores high marks, and let’s face it, these things matter or we’d all be riding brown Honda Deauvilles, wearing Derriboots. The SV650 has got a bit of aggression and flair, with the tail section looking really good. It’s not as stunning as a Ducati to look at, but it’s better than the anonymous Honda CBR600 for example.

It’s very different from the 80s revival Fazer too, which isn’t everyone’s cuppa style-wise, despite being a great bike to ride. Then there’s the noise. You can’t beat a twin, especially a Vee shaped one, for reminding you that you’re on a motorcycle, something that can incite an illegal act on the highway in the next ten seconds. The SV650, like its big brother TL1000, will sound gorgeous – no, make that throbbingly good – with a replacement exhaust system on it. In fact, any V-twin needs saucy end cans, so just do it.

You having it then sonny?

The middleweight market is getting more crowded by the day. Suzuki have two Bandits at 600cc, a sport-tourer GSX600 that’s based on an 80s design, plus the new GSXR600 sportster and two SV650 models. That’s just one manufacturer.

But few 600cc class bikes have the sheer balls of the Suzuki SV650, it is a cliche, but this feels like a real motorbike. And it’s cheap too. The half faired SV650 is a good looking machine, with a grunty engine and user-friendly handling.

It’s hard to think of a package which is better than this, at the #4500 mark – in fact, there aren’t many motorcycles at £5500 that beat the little Suzy twin. My one enduring memory of the SV650 is how rapidly the bike seemed to catch up to the Honda CBR600F on the banking at the Contidrome. Tucked in behind the fairing, the Suzuki was able to slipstream a bike with an extra claimed 30bhp and stay in touch, although it never quite seemed able to overtake the four cylinder bike ahead. Yet getting so close to beating what is accepted as the benchmark middleweight motorcycle is an impressive feat for the SV650.

This bike is a winner, whichever way you look at it.

Get Suzuki motorbike insurance for the suzuki sv650.

Vital Statistics

Engine DOHC V-Twin, 4 stroke, water cooled
cc 645cc
Claimed power (bhp) 70bhp @ 9,000rpm
Compression ratio 11.5:1
Transmission 6 speed

Cycle parts
Frame; Oval section, trellis type, aluminium alloy
Forks; Non adjustable 41mm
Rear suspension; Monoshock, 7 way adjustable for pre-load
Brakes; Tokico twin 290mm discs front, 240mm single disc rear
Tyres/Wheels; 120/60 ZR17 front
160/60 ZR17 Rear
Dry weight; 169kgs/373lbs
Seat height; 805mm
Wheelbase; 1420mm
Estimated mpg; 35mpg hard riding, 45mpg touring
Colours; Black, Blue, Red, Yellow

Top speed 130 mph
Fuel capacity 16 litres