Review: 2017 Suzuki SV650

The last time I hopped on an SV was about 10 years ago. It was my boyfriend’s motorcycle and I drove it back from storage for him after he broke a collarbone. My rider’s licence still had that new card smell and my man commented about how much of my buttcrack he could see following me in the car, instead of telling me how good I looked on his bike. Low rise pants. Slow head nod. That comment stuck with me and to this day, you’ll see me pull my top and jacket down while riding to make sure nobody’s getting the goods for free.

ProfileThis was the second generation of the model first introduced in 1999. Doesn’t that feel like a lifetime ago! The good news is that this second generation lasted almost an entire decade, so when I dumped the boyfriend along with any other immediate chance of getting on an SV, I didn’t miss out all that much. The other good news is that the SV650 is making a comeback and the 2017 model-year is new from the bottom up. Lighter, slimmer, more powerful; quite the tasty introduction.

A total of 140 components have apparently been reworked and it now features a handful of new technologies, including the mysterious “Low RPM Assist”. What that technically means is that the bike won’t ever die again, even when you drop the clutch and skip a beat. Will this new system be smooth enough to go unnoticed or will it alter the driving dynamics?

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It’s a bit lower and it’s a bit noisier, but is it only a bit better to ride? It depends how far you’re going.

CHANGES FOR 2017

I didn’t quite know what to expect of the all-new 2017 Suzuki SV650. That last time on an SV was ages ago, on that former boyfriend’s heavily-damaged and fully repaired, S package SV650, with clip-ons and a massive tank-and-fairing duo. If it left me with little interest in the model and a lifetime of modesty-related trauma, the 2017 version might have changed it all. The years have been good to the model and the hiatus has been beneficial. If on the inside, the SV sports the latest technology, on the surface, it travels back in time for a retro look and a primal sound.

For 2017, the returning SV650 gets quite a few changes. In the spirit of the current retro trend, the SV reverts back to a single, round headlight, which is a huge improvement over the ovoid one from the last generation. The silhouette is much more sophisticated and the frame, with its exposed metal tubing, has a European feel to it.

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A bit of Europe, a bit of Turkey Point – the SV 650 has it all, except for a fairing.

Looking at the motorcycle from the top, you notice the slimmer gas tank that’s managed to retain the exact same capacity as its bulgy predecessor. Think Harry Potter’s magical tent or Doctor Who’s tardis – small on the outside, bigger on the inside. The seat is lowered to make it more accessible, now sitting at 785 mm above the ground, and the new design shed 8 kilos in the process.

If I usually have a soft spot for sportier-looking bikes, this one is a real eye-catcher and head-turner. People with any interest in motorcycles seemed to have a feeling of déjà vue when they saw the bike: you could read on their faces that they recognized the model, but were left second-guessing themselves because it didn’t quite look the same.

Here’s a cautionary tale of aesthetics and beauty, though. The model is available in white with blue accents, blue with white accents or metallic matte black. I was hoping for a matte black SV and that’s what I got – the paint looks really good and fancy and mysterious and all. But be ready to have your heart broken: that good-looking paint is thin and each scratch looks like a highlight on the gas tank.

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Matte black – mmmmmmm! Scratches in the thin paint of the matte black – not so mmmm.

HANG ON TO THOSE BARS!

The riding position is fairly relaxed – at least until you start actually riding. Your hands are positioned at shoulder-width and the feet are kicked up and shifted very slightly toward the back. I thought a lower seat would mean cramped legs, but it doesn’t.

A 320-kilometre trip to and from Turkey Point Provincial Park on Lake Erie put both bike and body to the test. The bike was fine, but I couldn’t say the same about me, especially on the two-hour ride back home without any stops. As with any naked bike, highway trips are the equivalent of a demanding session at the gym. Wind pressure is on the rider and there’s no small fairing to relieve it, so I sometimes felt I was just holding onto the handlebars instead of controlling the motorcycle. Some riders like this; I don’t. To each their own.

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There’s all kinds of technology hiding in that instrument cluster. We ain’t afraid of no clutch!

New this year is Suzuki’s “LRA”, or Low RPM Assist technology. You can dump the clutch completely without stalling the engine, which I took as a challenge. I tried. And I failed. I like to compare the process to an automatic car. Once you put the transmission into “Drive” mode, the vehicle moves forward as you release the brake pedal. The process feels very similar with the SV, even if the technology behind it is quite different: you gently let go of the clutch lever and it drives forward smoothly. This eliminates the newbie stress – or thrill – of mastering the art of the clutch-transmission-throttle play, even when in traffic. It’s also great if you’re trying to nail your takeoff to impress people.

Also new to this year, the SV borrows the Gixxer 1000’s Easy Start system, so that instead of holding the starter until the engine fires up, you only need to press it once and let go. Technology will do the rest.

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Here’s the best part – no tinny pop song any more, but a true rock and roll classic.

AN EARGASMIC V-TWIN

I’ve kept the best for last: the V-twin. Owners of previous generations raved about how well the V-twin performs, but the exhaust was often compared to a tin-can. Bottom line: it sounded whiny, like a crappy pop song. The new SV650, fitted with a new and fancier pipe, commands respect: the note is an eargasm, like a rock-and roll classic.

The engine sounds rich and runs very smoothly, due in no small part to the dual spark plug system and to Suzuki’s SDTV system. This is not a TV channel, but a Dual Throttle Valve system, which helps get rid of any tiring vibrations in the handlebars. It also offers a really impressive range of torque. From the low 2,000s up to 7,000 rpm or so, power is readily available, whenever you need it, no matter how fast you need it, whichever gear you’re in. The result is a very agile motorcycle that will overtake easily and power out of curves, without having to juggle gears or plan  ahead.

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When it overtakes cars easily, this is what the drivers will see.

It was a nice 10-year reunion with the Suzuki SV650. There was no awkwardness or boring discussion, and no mention of my buttcrack – we just dove right into it and picked up where we left off. If I’ve gained maturity in the last decade, so has the SV and I’m glad to see it back for 2017.

With a price tag starting at $7,799, the 2017 Suzuki SV650 is a fine middle-ground motorcycle. It’ll be easier to swallow for your insurer without having to sacrifice the thrill of the ride.

 

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