Suzuki SV650 (2016): First full ride review

By Marc Potter
marcpotter Tested every new bike since 1994, loves anything on two wheels, runs Potski Media, ex-BikeSocial boss. Recently discovered elbow-down riding - likely to end in tears.

From modified club racer to commuter, Suzuki’s SV650 has long been a favourite with riders looking for a cheap(ish) bike capable of everything from track days to touring.

Relegated to the Suzuki graveyard at the end of 2008 when the Suzuki SVF650 Gladius stepped in to its place, the naked Suzuki SV650 is back for 2016.

It has been through a fitness programme to make sure it’s better than ever with 60 different components in the engine alone, and 140 total chassis changes on the bike.

It now weighs in 8kg lighter than the Gladius and makes 5bhp more too. The Gladius weighed 205kg wet, the ABS-equipped SV650 is 197kg wet. Compare that to an ABS-spec MT-07 at 182kg wet, and a Kawasaki ER-6n at 204kg and the Suzuki slots in the middle. Though Suzuki claim the SV650 has the best fuel economy at 73.5mpg, and the best torque in the class when compared to the Yamaha MT-07 and the Kawasaki ER-6n

Marc Potter rides Suzuki's new SV650

You'd be forgiven for thinking  the new SV650 might look just a bit like the Gladius, but next to each other the two bikes are styled very differently and a host of changes make them very different to ride.

Where the Gladius was always seen as a bit of a girl’s bike (cue hate mail and poo emojis), the SV650 retains its manly, sporty character, but a lady rider wouldn’t look out of place on one, of course.

For the record, 21,895 SV650 and SV650S' have been sold in the UK since 1999, and a massive 195,658 worldwide, if you combine the SV650S and the Sv650 sales. It's an incredible result for Suzuki and one reason why they've updated the SV650, even though the half-faired SV650S continues in the current range.

It can't be long until that bike gets the same updates though, and Suzuki's engineers at the launch were keen to ask questions about what features an S version should have... but for now the naked SV650 gets the update treatment.

***VIDEO REVIEW***

Suzuki also admitted that a certain Yamaha MT-07 may also have lead them to develop the SV650 and bring it back to the range.

So, for 2016 the SV650 gets:

  • A tweaked 645cc V-twin motor but featuring 60 new parts. It makes 5bhp more power than the old bike, putting it at a claimed 75bhp. That includes new throttle bodies, longer 10-hole injectors, new cylinders, air box, new pistons, a dual-spark cylinder head, and a simplified, lighter exhaust system which helps give it more mid and low range torque.
  • A new feature called low RPM assist which helps riders when pulling away by increasing the revs slightly as the clutch engages from standstill. Plus, it gets the Suzuki Easy start system, where you push the starter and let go until it fires.
  • The same trellis style chassis, as the Gladius but it now weighs in some 8kg lighter than the old ABS model. It also has new wheels, and a lighter Nissin ABS brake system
  • A new wider radiator to improve cooling and a really narrow tank.
  • New styling, new seat, new bodywork, new LCD clocks, a lowest in class 785mm seat height and tweaked forks and rear shock
  • A new headlight (round because the market said they preferred it to funky LED headlights, apparently), and an LED tail light from the GSX-S.
  • The lowest claimed seat height in its class, at 785mm.
It's essentially a brand new bike

It's essentially a new bike, even if some of the components like the basic chassis are shared with the Gladius. Okay, so it might not look as cool as the Yamaha MT-07 (in my opinion), but, what you may have forgotten about the SV650 is that they handle. Sublimely. So well that soon after leaving the hotel in Lloret de Mar on the Spanish coast, we hit one of Europe’s finest roads – the road from Lloret de Mar to Tosa de Mar - a fact that won’t have escaped Suzuki’s test riders and engineers who were obviously confident in the SV’s sporting ability.

It’s a road that would tie many bikes in this class in knots, and as good as the Yamaha MT-07 is, the Suzuki definitely would have the advantage in the handling stakes. The Suzuki feels alive, the Yamaha always feels underdamped.

The Suzuki’s chassis is mint. On paper it’s nothing special. There’s non-adjustable front forks, a pre-load only adjustable rear shock, Dunlop Qualifier tyres and that Gladius-based trellis frame. But it’s rapid on challenging roads and makes full use of everything its got.

It turns well, holds a line, and leans over till the long hero blobs and exhaust are dragging if you want. After 20 miles up and down the road for pictures the tyre looked like it had done a track day as it was all working so well together. But more than what it has or hasn’t got, it’s more than a sum of its parts. It’s flickable, fast and agile. And behind Suzuki’s test rider, Jurgen, it’s a firework display of sparks coming off his footrests as he lays it further and further over.

Make a mistake on the Tosa de Mar to Lloret de Mar road and you’d pay for it in a big way. There are rock faces on one side and 200 feet cliffs down to the Mediterranean on the other. But the bike simply works at a level that way outplays its spec sheet. It’s hilarious, addictive fun chucking it from side-to-side and letting the engine and chassis do the work.

Knee down in riding jeans - not the smartest move

There’s no traction-control getting in the way, no riding modes to play with, yet on dry roads it finds grip at full lean that would leave you believing there’s some electronic intervention going on, such is the level of drive you can dial in thanks to accurate, smooth fuelling.

At low-speed the V-twin motor is flexible, it will actually pull 30mph in top gear, just. That’s some feat for a fairly small engine. But stay around 3000rpm and there’s always enough grunt on tap and a beautiful, V-twin rumble that’s way more characterful than the Kawasaki ER6f and the fairly mute Yamaha MT-07.

On one road where the bike stayed in third gear for most of the time, it pulled cleanly out at 3000rpm, up to around 7000rpm before the next corner forced me to shut-off. It felt lovely burbling along using the V-twin’s low down revs. If you want to go faster than the bike is really in the sweet spot at 5000rpm, and it’s from here to around 9000rpm where the meat of the power and torque is. It will rev to 10,500rpm but falls a but flat at the top. It’s much better to keep it in the middle and make the most of that mid-range.

The bike is in a really sweet spot about 5000rpm

If you’re not in the mood for riding fast, the Suzuki’s motor is so flexible and torquey you can let it rev ridiculously low and it will still pull you out of a bend or roundabout cleanly. Impressive.

The seat designer told me that the seat is set harder than normal for sporty riding, and you can tell that it’s designed to be hung off, knee out in the breeze. So much so that I ground my knee in Kevlar jeans following a test rider.  What a Muppet. It’s not something I’d recommend!

Okay, so start riding it really fast and the brakes may not be quite up to the job of the rest of the chassis, but they’re fine. The ABS cuts in if you really hang the brakes on through the span-adjustable lever, but they’re more than up to the job. And most of the tike you wouldn’t be trying to bend the SV650 in half like we were.

At a more sedate pace the brakes are fine and it’s dead easy to ride in town too. For new riders there are few bike easier to slot through town than the SV650. I couldn’t quite feel exactly what the low RPM assist was doing, but knew it was there and knew something was working to smooth out the bike’s revs in town.

Suzuki's new SV650, reborn for 2016.

And on the motorway the bike is good for an indicated 140mph and even flat-out it’s stable too and I reckon you could ride it a decent distance in relative comfort. We did around 150 miles in one day on a real mixture of roads.

At a more reasonable 80mph the bike is doing roughly 5000rpm and it’s comfortable to sit at this speed, tucked down in the low, low seat. If you’re lanky like me then yes, the seat is too low and a higher seat option would be good, but I am 6ft 4”. That's lanky in anyone's book.

For everyone else, it’s narrow, easy to manouvre, and the seat is incredibly low, meaning anyone could jump on it and get both feet flat on the floor. Suzuki showed an image of a test rider who’s 5ft 3” to illustrate that point.

On the practical side, what you see is pretty much what you get. The mirrors work, the switchgear works, the clocks feature average MPG which was 45mpg on my bike, but bear in mind that I did put it through hell. You’d struggle to get worse MPG, so I’d say that’s pretty good.

Hidden under the seat are straps for bungeeing a bag to on the back seat, and there’s no underseat storage, but few bikes have that any more unfortunately.

Pillions get a seat strap, but no grab rails, and there’s a host of accessories available from tank bags to, flat-track style side panels, a fly screen, grey and black Suzuki Katana style seat, and a Yoshi pipe.

Like Yamaha with the MT-range, the idea is that you can turn the bike into anything you want. But as standard, as a blank canvas for a do-it-all bike that errs to the edge of sportiness, the Suzuki SV650 is the best-handling bike in its class yet still offers ease of riding that would flatter new riders. And at £5499 it’s a massive steal. Get a test ride on one if you can.

Note: UK colour options are black, white and blue. We rode the white one which looked boss with blue wheels and a blue stripe on the tank. There may be a red bike available in the UK at a later stage.

 

SV650 in detail

Technical specifications:

 SV650

 

Engine

4-stroke, liquid-cooled, DOHC, V-Twin

Displacement

645cc

Max. Power

75bhp /56Kw@ 8500rpm

Max. Torque

47 ft-lbs @ 8100rpm

Suspension

Front: Telescopic forks, 41.0 mm inner tube, 125 mm travel

Rear:Pre-load adjustable rear shock , 63mm stroke

Brakes

Front: Hydraulic 290mm double discs, two-piston calipers, option of Nissin ABS.

Rear: Hydraulic single disc,

Tyres

Front: 120/70 x 17

Rear: 160/60 x 17

Dimensions

L: 2140mm

W: 760mm

H: 1090mm

Seat Height

785mm

Wheel Base

1445mm

Weight (wet)

195kg non-ABS/197kg ABS model

Fuel Tank

13.8litre

Price

£5499