A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines.
I just bought a used motorcycle. What manner of rare exotica did this veteran motojournalist buy to supplement his lavish one-bike collection? A Kawasaki H2R project bike? A jewel-bedecked 1929 Brough Superior formerly owned by the Raj of some far-off province? Maybe a Ducati Desmosedici RR streetfighter, customized by Roland Sands and then hand-painted by Bjork’s orthodontist? Sorry to disappoint you (and me), but I merely shelled out less than 20 portraits of Ben Franklin for yet another carb-equipped, first-generation Suzuki SV650, my third. Yawnsville.
Why? Well, I’m broke, so that limits me to budget motorcycles. There are new budget bikes, like the Ninja 300 or maybe the Yamaha FZ-07. Then there are used budget bargains, late-ish models just a few years old with low miles and price tags under $5,000. Then you get close to the bottom of the barrel, the $1,500-$2,500 range.
Unless you have the ability to make your own motorcycle in your basement machine shop (and I know you’re out there), spending less than $1,500 is often what we experts call “a bad idea.” You will likely find a salvage-title CBR600F4i that lacks the undamaged bodywork to cover a grilled-cheese sandwich, or perhaps a 1993 FZR600 a meth addict spray-painted international orange and then decorated with a Beadazzler.
Not into sportbikes? Fine. Perhaps we can interest you in a 20-year-old KLR with four complete circumnavigations of the globe and so many missing parts it looks like found art. Or maybe cruisers are your thing? How about a 1996 Honda Rebel 250 that’s been so indifferently maintained it won’t start unless you read to it from Leo Buscaglia’s comforting 1982 classic, The Fall of Freddie the Leaf? Want something bigger? How about a 1997 Yamaha V-Star 650 with 9 miles on it that somebody crashed, then stored behind a dumpster at a Chinese restaurant for 18 years? “Ran when parked! Tires have good tread! May smell like oyster sauce on hot days. Probably needs battery.”
But if you have two or three thousand bucks to spend, want something that’s light, sporty, comfortable, sufficiently fast, reliable, in plentiful supply, with good resale value that looks good, what is there? There is one, that’s right, just one choice in my opinion, and it’s the SV650. In fact, the SV is such a good freaking value, so much bike for the money, that there’s no point in looking for anything else, unless you like peeking inside stranger’s garages (“let me move the jogging stroller and snowblower and you can crawl over the rowboat so you can sit on the bike. Oh, you’ll have to put on that giant Mardi Gras costume head because the paint isn’t dry yet and there’s no room on the dryer to set it down.”).
Hop onto your local Craigslist and set a price range between $1,500 and $2,500 and you will see a lot of interesting stuff, but not much you could make a sound case for purchasing, unless you are stocking a museum of mediocre motorsports products.* Sure, a 1992 BMW K75S with 175,000 miles sounds great (one owner!), as does a 1995 Honda CBR900RR with polished frame and trailer hitch, but are they bargains at $2,500? Remember the old saw about buying an elephant for a nickel? It’s only a good deal if you have a nickel and need an elephant.
The SV’s dominance in the bargain-sportbike category is almost comedic. Here’s what you get for a low initial investment: a rigid aluminum frame that’s ready for racing, linkage-type rear suspension and a reliable, revvy and peppy engine that makes 65 to 70 horsepower at the back wheel, a number still unmatched by middleweight V-Twins 17 years after the SV’s introduction in 1998. Suzuki has its weaknesses as a brand, but knowing how to build race bikes – and how to keep racers buying its products – isn’t one of them. The little SV looks like a mild commuter, but it has the bones of a workhorse race machine and packs the lightweight sportbike grids all over the world. Does anybody have a bad word to say about the SV? If he or she does, I have yet to meet this person.
I’m not a completely mindless SV fan. I know it’s not the best bike in the world, ever. But I found myself with $3,000 to spend on a motorcycle, and I wanted light, fast, good-handling and comfortable. People pointed at the first-generation Honda VFR800 – you can find them for about $3,000 – but I want a little more comfort and a little less weight. I don’t travel much. Others mentioned the Suzuki Bandit 1200, which is also chronically underpriced, but it’s also chronically overweight and just doesn’t handle like an SV.
Once I realized I couldn’t match an SV without spending over $3,000, I started looking for SVs under $2,000 – and found a decent example in a few days. I rode my third SV650 home. This example – a weather-beaten ’99 that runs every bit as well as the almost-new one I purchased in 2000 – has a few choice mods but needs a little TLC, including tires, front suspension and maybe a better seat, but riding it 15 miles back home, I was yet again in awe of how much motorcycle I had purchased for so little money. Now, how was I going to spend that $1,000 I had left over before my wife found it?
Could I have made a better purchase? I’m convinced I could not, and that’s a pretty fine feeling, my friends. Post below and tell me I’m wrong – if I agree your choice of a (widely available for!) $2,000 motorcycle is better than mine, I’ll mail you an interesting item of moto-swag from my personal collection.
Gabe Ets-Hokin’s self-help book, Magic! How Mailing Gabe Ets-Hokin a $20 Bill Every Month Cured my Impetigo Forever is now available as an audiobook read by Helen Mirin and the re-animated skull of Richard Nixon.
*The Museum of Mediocre Motorsports is scheduled to open in Modesto, California in August, 2021. The curatorial staff is accepting donations of 4th-8th place trophies, Bieffe helmets and Suzuki MotoGP bikes. Please, no more than 12 of each item.