Test Ride: Suzuki SV650

Words: Rob Harris/Nick Smirniw Photos: Wilfrid Gaube/Nick Smirniw
Ahhh, spring has finally sprung and what better way to celebrate the dawn of summer than what is most likely the first Canadian motorcycle test ride of the year – we’re there for you Canada, albeit bloody cold!

Maybe one of the most talked about new models of 1999 is the Suzuki SV650S. This is a bit odd really because Suzuki pushed really hard to get all the press attention for their all new super fast (290 km/h plus) GSX1300R Hayabusa, and left the SV to creep in quietly through the back door. Bit of a shame really, because the SV must be one of the most charming and useful new bikes I’ve ever ridden.

It’s not going to rip your arms out of their sockets with acceleration. It’s not going to find its way onto the professional racing circuit and it’s certainly not going to make you into a pseudo bad ass biker either. However, the SV will let you do most anything you want it to, be it a long haul tourer or nimble urban warrior.

We took the SV out for a ride on the first plus 8 degree day of the year (still a few days short of Spring) and almost instantly fell in love. The engine is an all new liquid cooled, 645 cc, 90 degree, v-twin. It’s a real gem, pulling smoothly from as low down as 2000 rpm (even in sixth gear!) all the way to its red line of 10,500 rpm. The twin 39 mm carbs deliver fault free power throughout all rpm’s which is usable and predictable (no sudden power induced wheelies here), and exhaust is taken care of with a somewhat quiet two-into-one pipe.

Editor ‘arris takes ‘er ’round the bend on a cool southern Ontario day.

Yes, that’s snow in the background!

Highway cruising at 120 km/h shows just under 5,500 rpm’s on the fairing mounted tach. No intrusive vibes, no flat spots – ideal! Although the ergonomics err towards a slightly smaller rider then myself, I found the riding position to be near perfect, if not a little cramped at my knees.

The Canadian ‘S’ model comes with a half fairing, which is more decorative than functional when it comes to breaking the wind (unlike myself, who is purely functional when it comes to the breaking of the wind). The only way that you can (almost) tuck behind the screen is to lay your head face down on the tank. Which is not good if you like to see where you’re going! Twin serpent like head lights adorn the fairing, giving the S model an aggressive ‘don’t mess with me’ look.

Clip-on handlebars are high enough to keep the riders weight of his/hers wrists. Even after a chilly day in the saddle my wrists were ache free and my arse un-numbed, thanks to a reasonably well thought out seat.

A combination of light weight (169 Kg dry), good geometry and a flex free aluminum truss frame, make it predictable, highly flickable and instantly at-homeable (sorry, new word). The only worry that I came across was with the Metzeler MEZ-4 sport touring tires. A couple of times the rear momentarily let go under relatively gentle conditions. Nothing to cause the old ticker to miss a beat, but maybe excusable considering the cool conditions and dirty back roads on which we were traveling.

Two sets of twin piston calipers, gripping 290 mm discs up front provide stoppie inducing front brakes (and we’re talking good stoppies here folks). The rear sports a single twin piston caliper and 240 mm disc, which seemed a bit overly powerful – locking up the rear wheel on more than one occasion (tires?).

“Look into my eyes …”

The gearbox is smooth and light, except for the occasional reluctance to click from second into third, but this could be due to the newness of our test bike, which was still undergoing its break-in period.

Available colours are Pearl Jay Blue, Candy Saturn Black, Pearl Helios Red and Pearl Canyon Yellow. Our test model was in the yellow, which is surprisingly attractive and has the added bonus of counteracting the “sorry mate, didn’t see you” argument, so often offered by our four wheeled counterparts, as we drag our pride and joy up off the road.

In an odd marketing move, Suzuki Canada have opted to only import the S version. There is another model, the SV650, which comes with higher tubular bars, no fairing and a slightly lower gearing. The idea being to offer a more ‘relaxed’ riding posture and increased torque to create the ultimate city bike. The U.S. got this model, but not the S. Europe gets both. You could say Canada and the U.S. get half the cake each while Europe gets the whole cake and get to eat it too!

Considering that Suzuki is pushing this towards the new rider, I’d say that they’ve got just about the right mix. In a market where practicality is so often overlooked in favour of outrageous performance or classic styling, the SV650 is a breath of fresh air. Here we have a bike that is a joy whether you’re cutting through the chaos of downtown Toronto or cruising away a long weekend through the Provinces of Canada. Add to this a list price of only $7,699.00 and I fail to see how Suzuki can go wrong. If you’ve already bought one, then you won’t be disappointed. If you haven’t, then you’ll be fortunate if you can still find one for sale, such is their popularity already.


I’m not sure that I count how many times I’ve been asked about Suzuki’s new SV650 this winter (I’m lost once I run out of fingers). For a relatively simple new bike, it sure is generating a lot of interest.

Popular theory is that the SV is designed for new riders, short riders and female riders. Personally, I resent the implication that this bike should be classified like that. It’s a fantastic machine. A machine for which the market has been waiting.

It’s obvious that Suzuki has used its own controversial TL1000S as a rough template for the SV. There’s an enormous similarity in the frame, bodywork and engine configuration. On the SV, aside from the smaller, carbureted engine, the suspension has also been downgraded compared to the TL. In the case of the rear shock, a conventional setup as opposed to the TL’s rotary damper is used. I’m sure that’s strictly for budgetary reasons …

Styling and basic configuration are the only similarities to the TL however, and any comparison shall now cease.

Riding the SV is a blast. There really wasn’t anything that it didn’t do well. It has to be one of the easiest bikes in the world to ride. Everything about it – engine, controls, etc. – is smooth and easy. If I had to sum it up in one word it would be “fluid”.

“If you think I’m sexy and you want my body…”

The SV wouldn’t be out of place on a street corner in my Parkdale neighbourhood – Cheap and easy to ride (the SV that is).

Anywhere in its rev range the engine runs and pulls smoothly. A seat of the pants horsepower guess would be around 65 with reasonably impressive torque from about 4000 rpm and a surprising 4-cylinder like pull from 8000, all the way to the 10,500 redline. Despite the modest numbers, it is entertainingly quick – operating at a level that allows the average brain to process what’s happening before you find yourself in trouble.

Typical of Suzuki, the SV shifts beautifully. The only problem that I found was the shift lever being a little too close to the peg for my comfort. Maybe that’s because the SV is built just a bit smaller than one might expect. I also found the seat a little low for my liking, but still very comfortable, especially in combination with the nicely placed clip-ons.

Steering is very light and easy, only becoming a bit vague as you begin to push the front end. Perhaps it’s a result of the slightly cushy suspension, though it’s a worthy compromise for the additional comfort.

Now if this doesn’t seem like enough to you then you’re in motorcycling for a different reason, and nothing I can say to you to make you appreciate the SV. For the rest of you, you can’t go wrong with this bike.

It’s the perfect all-rounder. Maneuverability is excellent. In downtown traffic, no matter what gear you’re in, you can just point at an opening and squirt into it. On the highway, it will cruise happily all day at 140 km/h with much to spare. Bungee hooks under the passenger seat will help take your luggage to any destination you choose.

This leads me to use a descriptive word that, if attached to the SV, could be the death of it – “practical”.

Historically, to be a “practical” motorcycle has been suicidal. The closest “practical” comparison would be the ill-fated Honda Hawk of about 10 years ago. It was the bike that everybody asked for, and nobody bought. But try to find a Hawk on the market nowadays. The people who have them won’t sell them (they probably will now that the SV is available – ‘arris).

It seems to be an indication of how the market has changed in the last decade. The Hawks that couldn’t be given away are now being hoarded, and the Suzuki dealers that I’ve talked to have already sold out of their SV’s. If you’re thinking of buying one this year I’d hurry. You won’t be the first to realise that even at full retail price it’s a bargain.

Of course, you could wait until next year. I’m sure that another manufacturer will respond with a similar and competitive model. To which Suzuki will have to answer with an improved SV!. Perhaps a slightly larger one with 50% more engine, upgraded suspension, and with high tech features like fuel-injection and unconventional suspension…

Er … is it just me, or is that a little backwards…?


Suzuki SV650S

$7,699 (Canadian)

645 cc

Engine type
90 degree v-twin, liquid-cooled four stroke

2 x 39mm carburetors

Final drive
Six-speed, chain drive

Tires, front


Tires, rear

Brakes, front
Dual 290 mm floating discs with two piston calipers

Brakes, rear
Single 240 mm floating disc with two piston calipers

Seat height
805 mm

1,420 mm (S model) 1,415 mm (non faired model)

Dry weight
169 Kg (S model) 165 Kg (non faired model)

Canadian colours
Pearl Jay Blue, Candy Saturn Black, Pearl Helios Red and Pearl Canyon Yellow

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