A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, Self-Reliance

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.

Cycle, Motor: Sport/Commute, 650-class, SV650, One Each.

Cycle, Motor: Sport/Commute, 650-class, SV650, One Each.

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.

Japan's Over Racing built the sexy OV-10 as a kit for the two-valve air-cooled Ducati 900SS motor. The unconfirmed theory is that it inspired the SV650's similar-looking oval-section aluminum-tube frame.

Japan’s Over Racing built the sexy OV-10 as a kit for the two-valve air-cooled Ducati 900SS motor. The unconfirmed theory is that it inspired the SV650’s similar-looking oval-section aluminum-tube frame.

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.

Suzuki completely redid the SV for the 2003 model year, making the bike pointier and adding fuel injection.

Suzuki completely redid the SV for the 2003 model year, making the bike pointier and adding fuel injection.

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.

  • http://www.motorcycle.com/ Sean Alexander

    You Gabe Ets-Hairyback, are 100% correct. The SV-650 is the bee’s knees.

  • John B.

    You make a compelling argument! Good article. Perhaps the Chief will add a webpage to include a photograph and brief biography for each contributor. You know, something similar to the “Babes” page only with more clothing and fewer poles. I visit MO daily, nevertheless, I sometimes have difficulty keeping the contributors straight.

  • roma258

    I’ve got one- first gen Yammie FZ1. Cheap as chips, strong motor, solid chassis, comfy, handles, will tour with some luggage strapped on. Great, underrated bikes.

    • ‘Mike Smith

      2009 R1, guy was hiding it from the repo man. Had it 2/3 paid off but got behind, and I took it off his hands for the price of a really nice R6.

  • TheSeaward

    “and Suzuki MotoGP bikes”

    That was brutal. Will there be a “Hall of Lightly Used Leathers” in said museum?

  • Luke

    I wonder what bike in 10 years will the be the “under $3000 used bike of choice?” Curious if any of the relatively new models will have this kind of dependability and availability in that time.

  • Allison Sullivan

    I just sold my SV650 this summer, and I miss it already. $2500 for a 2003 with 31,000 km, ran like a dream, needed nothing, $1000 of Elka shock and race sprung fork, and a Ventura pack rack. I’m sure it will be as much of a kick-ass little bike for its new owner as it was for me. Sigh.

  • asdf

    1994 CBR 600 F2. (might need to mod the clipons to bars for the comfort factor)

  • Y.A.

    I’m seriously torn between getting a below-invoice leftover Z1000 or moving laterally from my Ninja 650R to the SV650. When I’m off the ER6 I’m complaining about needing more power, but when I’m on it I’m cranking the throttle to the stop in 6th and giggling like a school girl. SV is lighter with more power from the bottom to the top, with a linkage shock, dirt cheap GSX-R front end swaps (or even cheaper CBR600F3 cartridges), and an engine that will have bike heads swivelling madly to look for the oncoming Ducati.

    But the Z1000 rips from 60-100 in ~5 seconds….. IN TOP GEAR.

    Decisions decisions…….

    • Steve Slaughter

      Go for the SV. It’s an old truism: Better to ride a slow bike fast than a fast bike slow!

    • BDan75

      I have only a little time (like an hour) on an SV. It may not have been a particularly well cared-for example, but while I thought it was fun, it didn’t quite live up to the hype, in my opinion.

      I also own a 2014 Z1000. If I had the cash, I’d go for the Z every time. No comparison. Admittedly, I don’t have experience on 180-hp supersports…but even after a year of riding it, every time I get on the throttle I’m like, “Holy crap!”

  • Alex Tsinos

    It’s sad really: canada only got the naked version for two years (’06-’07 if memory serves). The 650s is simply too aggressive of a position. It’s a shame cuz the faired version is plentiful but I can’t find a used naked for the life of me! Importing a U.S. model doesn’t make a whole lot of sense given current exchange rate. Would swapping bars on the 650s work or would the fairing mess with the aerodynamics? Anyone have a solution? Thanks for the article – good read!

    • C. Walker Jr.

      your answer likely resides on svrider.com

  • Steve Slaughter

    Raced a 1st gen SV in Nervice classes. You said you needed new front suspension?! It’s an SV… OF COURSE it needed new front suspension.

  • Gferrando

    Okay I’ll do it: Hawk GT. Ok, a little slower, but so much cooler. Mine has 50k and runs like new.

    • Cletonius

      Mine has 36k. I agree on all counts

  • Robert Hayward

    I’ve only ever owned two bikes: my first was a Suzuki SV650s that we purchased for my wife (but she never rode it because she is so short), and a yamaha FZ1. I loved the SV, but being the opposite of my wife (6’4″ and 220lbs) I was never completely comfortable with its size. My FZ I bought used 3 years ago with only 4k miles on a carbureted ’01, and ride it everywhere. I’ve put 36k miles on it since. For someone my size, there is no comparison: FZ1 wins hands down.

  • fastfreddie

    Thank your maker you bought one before they turned it into a transformer-like monstrosity.Was close to buy it’s bigger brother this year,but price along with unsavoury looks made me choose the hornet 919.

    Congrats on a wise choice.Get some sticky rubber,and may I suggest progressive springs in front?

  • kenneth_moore

    I won’t say you’re wrong about the SV per se, but maybe there’s more to the story. “Budget” bikes usually mean you’d better have a big budget for upgrades. $1,500 here for a decent suspension, $1,200 there for stage-one types mods, maybe a set of lightweight wheels…. The upgrade list is nearly infinite, especially for that bike.

  • Brian Clasby

    I’ve only been riding a couple of years now. My first and so far only bike is an ’05 SV650. As a relative novice I’m glad I didn’t get anything bigger yet I don’t feel as though I’ll really ever outgrow it either. easy and mellow around town and scary (for me) fast when I want that. Perfect, and I love the look.

  • Paul Lucas

    Hyosung makes a Comet GT650 which is eerily similar to to the SV, They’re good bikes, My brother had one and it was very reliable, they can be had for less than 2K slightly used.

  • Branson

    2003-05 Yamaha YZF-R6.

    Comfortable for a sportbike (I’ve sport-toured on it). Super reliable with parts everywhere. Great track bike — can hang with the new 600s as long as you can. Fine suspension — maybe change the fluid — no upgrade $$ needed.

    Clean good looks.

    Decent examples can be found for $3k or less with medium effort.

    I love the SV, but the R6 is plainly a better bike.

  • Geddy

    I already own the SV’s larger sibling, the V Strom so I know how enjoyable the Suzuki V’s are. Just for grins I did a Craigslist local search and came up with a number of decent bikes in your range including the F4’s, a couple ZX7 bikes, an R6 there was a nicely equipped 98 VTR1000 but the fuel range killed that one. So… I ended up going full out heavy-weight fun with a turnkey Concours. http://fargo.craigslist.org/mcy/5179610048.html

  • Peter c

    The Yamaha TDM900 is a great budget choice. Powerful, suited to many road conditions, great torque from about 2500rpm, sits on 3900rpm at 110kph. Great ground clearance and ultimate comfort.

  • shwurr

    Had 3. Selling was always a bad decision but Im fickle. 1st gen the best and prettiest. Traded last one in with a GL1800 on a Guzzi Norge. NOW I’m happy!

  • Roman Nickelsen

    Though most of my bikes were purchased via screaming deals that aren’t considered “widely available”, here’s a list of a few bikes I purchased and their prices:

    1997 Honda VFR750 $1,500 (13,000 miles) *I still own this and never plan to sell it
    2001 Honda VFR800 $2,000 (30,000 miles)
    2003 Suzuki SV1000s $2,200 (14,000 miles) *I still own this and my buddy is buying it from me soon
    2008 Buell XB12ss $3,100 (12,000 miles)

  • Cletonius

    I picked up an ’88 Hawk GT for under $2k, it’s about the same as the SV but looks sexier with the ELF proarm.