Why I bought the SV650S
Why the SV650?
As a new rider who wanted a good first bike but not break the bank, I was looking for something to get me into riding without worrying about dropping the bike or financial loss if I decided that riding wasn't something I wanted to do in the long term.
I searched all over, looking at cruisers, sport bikes and everything in between. It didn't take me long to realize I was drawn towards the sport bikes. My inexperience had me leary of the super sports who had high end performance, but also low tolerance for mistakes. At the same time, I didn't want a bike that yelled "noob" (or "squid" in biker's terms) by going with a 250 cc motorcycle. Not so much because of the low power a 250 cc makes, but because I didn't want something that I would outgrow in 2 weeks. Trying to sell a bike in today's economy is asking for trouble...
As I researched online what motorcycles were recommended for beginners that would also grow along with the rider, I kept hearing about the Suzuki SV650. Great for beginners, but also many very experienced riders also favored it. So much so that riders who have garages with dozens of bikes still said the SV650 was one of their favorites. What was going on? How can a beginner bike be fun for experienced riders too?
To give you a hint:
The SV650 was recently named as Cycle World magazine's Best Standard Motorcycle and Motorcyclist magazine's Best Bang for the Buck.
The relatively low purchase price and excellent handling characteristics allowed the SV650 to became widely popular with racers and prompted a rebirth of the "lightweight twins" racing classes in North America. This in turn fueled demand for aftermarket mods and has resulted with the SV650 not only being a great chassis and platform, but it has one of the most prolific aftermarket support to boot.
There is a drawback to people racing them though - you will find demand for engine internals and other "consumables", as racers swap certain parts frequently. On the other hand, parts that racers toss, will be available for next to nothing. The biggest boon to racers using the SV650 is that just about any mechanic who works on bikes is likely familiar with the SV. More on that later...
On paper, the specs of the SV650 sound OK, but they aren't earth shattering. In fact, the specs sounds rather bland, if not unappealing:
- 645 cc, four-stroke, liquid-cooled, 90° V-twin, DOHC, 8-valves, TSCC
- 72.5 hp (54 kW) @ 9,000 rpm
- 47.2 ft·lbf (65 Nm) @7500 rpm
- 376 lb dry weight
If you ignore the specs for a moment, and instead look at the performance, you'll see it's more than adequate. It can do 0-60 in 3.5 seconds while still getting anywhere from 50-60 mpg.
With the v-twin engine, it makes a lot of torque from almost a stand still. It has quite a bit of get up and go. Where the bike lacks, is top end. Max speed is approx 130 mph. Due to the torque, you can still blast away in 6th gear from 90 mph, so there is virtually no situation on the streets where a typical rider will find fault with the performance of the SV650. If you have friends with 600cc and even 1000cc machines, you will be able to hang with them in the twisties. It's only in the straights that you will have trouble once you're over the legal speed limits.
Good for Noobs?
What exactly makes the SV650 a good platform for beginners? I mentioned price earlier - it is easy to get into, and easy to replace parts if you drop it. But what makes it better than a super sport 600 is the engine. A V-twin engine has linear throttle control and won't ramp up rapidly in the upper rpms. It has a nice smooth torque curve that starts at very low revs. This means better control and less revs needed to get moving. The instant torque also means you can be in just about any gear and it won't matter if you need to get moving.
Is the SV650 perfect? No. To make the low price point, Suzuki had to skimp on something. It was the suspension. The rear shock is not serviceable. The front suspension is soft and it's design is from the middle ages. There is nothing there that you would write home about. But remember the thing I mentioned about aftermarket support and racers using the SV650? You guessed it, suspension is an easy fix, for just a few bucks you can swap the fork oil and drop in heavier springs. Alternatively, you can install emulators and update the front forks into something more technologically advanced. A third option is to swap the front end with one of many different bikes and get upgraded calipers/brakes in the process.
For the average individual looking to properly upgrade the suspension, plan to spend somewhere in the neighborhood of $500 to get the job done. The result is an amazing handling bike and changes the characteristics of a great bike into one that is superb.
One of the first things many want to do is upgrade the power. The bad news is that the bike comes well designed from the factory. You won't get much with a Power Commander III, K&N intake, or even a full exhaust system. If you want more gains, rebuild the engine, but the lifespan of a SV650 that makes more than 70 hp is severely lessened. I strongly suggest using the SV650 and enjoy it for what it is. If you want big power, buy a different bike and add it to your stable. Spending $6000 to rework your engine on a bike that likely cost you less than $6000 is simply not logical.
Speaking of power upgrades, if you research the SV650, you will of course hear of it's bigger brother, the SV1000. The SV1K makes 50 more hp than the 650.. while at the same time it looks just about the same as the SV650. The differences are small, but typically the dual exhaust pipes on each side give it away. While the SV650 can be described as a great bike, the SV1000 can only be described as a good bike. It has more power but it's not amazing at anything. More of a jack of all trades that won't blow you away in any one category. This has been reflected in it's sales - never doing anywhere as well as the SV650.
Which One to Get?
The SV650 has been selling since 1999. There are a ton of them for sale. Which one should you get?
The model years can best be grouped into 3 categories.
- 1999 till 2002 (First generation)
- 2003 (Lost generation???)
- 2004+ (Second generation)
As seen above, the 1999 - 2002 units are most easily recognized by the silver frame and curvy body work. So much so that SV riders affectionately refer to them as "curvy". 2003 is in it's own category because it was an in-between year from the first gen and second, so they ended up being the odd man out with many things unique to themselves. For example, exhaust systems for first gen and second gen will not fit a 2003. Thus if you owned a 2003, you can only buy exhausts specifically designed for a 2003.
The 2004+ are considered second generation. They have fuel injection and typically can be regonized by black frame and more sharp body work. Affectionately refered to as "pointy". The frame thing is a bit more complicated due to the 2003 and 2004 having silver, but the rule of thumb is that black frame = 2nd gen.
In 2007+, Suzuki added two more spark plugs, but the bike didn't make more power. It was more of an emissions change than anything else. So no reason to aim for it. They did however add an O2 bung and the electronics allow it to get slightly better fuel economy than the earlier vehicles. ABS brakes also became an available option.
My personal opinion is to get a 2005+ SV650. The price drops after a few years stops declining and so a 2003 sells for close to a 2006. In Florida I see 2005 and 2006 SV650's with ~3,000 miles selling for $3,000.
The SV650 can be anything you want. From a full faired race bike, to a naked street fighter with a belly pan. The bike can be made to look however you want. The "S" models have lower handlebars that result with a more sporty riding position, but it only costs about $20 to swap it to a touring height that is better for cruising. Here are a few examples of the SV in costume.
Longevity and Reliability
Now that we've gotten over the superficial looks of the SV650, we can move on to something with substance. At the heart of any vehicle purchase, is the desire to buy something that has reliability and won't end up being a lemon with random things falling apart. Fortunately you can leave the high cost of ownership to the Ducati owners - the SV650 has a tried and true engine design that hasn't changed much since it's inception. As long as you don't try to do anything besides power commander / exhaust mods, and leave the engine internals alone, you should find that with routine maintenance that the bike will last you 50k, 70k, even over 100k miles without much of a problem. Scouring the SV650 forums, I found several people with over 130,000 miles and the only real issue they had was replacing the clutch at 100k. The SV650 is truly the Toyota Corolla of motorcycles.
There is one small caveat to mention. The V-twin engine does not like wheelies. You can do them once in a while, but any prolonged wheelie will cause the front cylinder to starve of oil and that will not make for a happy engine.
You'd be stupid to not buy one.