1999 Suzuki SV650

story by Motorcycle Online Staff, Photograph by MO Staff and American Suzuki, Created Mar. 19, 1999
Los Angeles, May 10, 1999 -- It's minutes before the convention hall doors for the annual IMS show in Long Beach, CA open to the public. Two bored MO Editors mill aimlessly in front of the Suzuki exhibit. Front and center stands a copper-colored GSX-1300R Hayabusa, Suzuki's entry into the top-speed wars. To the Editors' right is Suzuki's other significant, new-for-1999 motorcycle, the SV650. The Hayabusa looks fast, modern and high-tech. The SV650 looks good, very good in fact, with clean, minimal lines, but both Editors wonder openly why a faired version isn't displayed.

Soon, they're distracted, fidgety. One Editor remarks that the show looks smaller this year. The other suggests they make the courtesy rounds, flirt with the Aprilia girls, ride back to L.A. and perhaps catch a movie.

Suddenly the convention doors open and consumers fill the Suzuki exhibit. Primarily they congregate around the Hayabusa. The Editors join the crowd.

"It's not as fat as it looks in pictures," said one Editor.

"Yeah," said the other.

A large, pot-bellied and pale-faced man sporting two days of facial stubble and an Anaheim Angels baseball cap spoke loudly, ostensibly to his friend, a small, nervous man with an extraordinarily large head, dressed in a blue windbreaker and grey, stonewashed jeans, although in actuality the loud, fat man lectured to the assembled throng, making sure his opinions are heard.

"The wife of the guy-in-the-cubicle-next-to-mine's best friend once waited for the movie "Titanic" in the same line as some guy who sat next to the project leader of the Hayabusa on a flight to Hawaii and he said she said he said that he said ..."

Attractive and aggressive, yetThe small, nervous man bobbed his anatomically incorrect head incessantly as if it were on a stretched-out spring, not so much in agreement but more because the strain of supporting his humongous head seemed too great for his pencil-thin neck. The rest of the crowd took turns sitting on the motorcycle, for the most part ignoring the pot-bellied man's pronouncements. A Suzuki Rep stood aside with his hands folded behind his back (twiddling his thumbs) and a tight grin wrapped around his face, the type of grin that says he's heard this uninformed prattle before and he'll hear it again. And again. And again. Soon, the Suzuki Rep forced a yawn, took a deep breath, quickly hopped on his heels to jump-start his already flagging enthusiasm, forced yet another trade-show smile across what, upon inspection before the mirror that morning he discovered was a prematurely lined face (his wife, to his distress, agreed) and stepped forward dutifully, if not hesitantly, as a paid (though not enough, he often told his wife and friends) representative to impart inside-motorcycle-industry wisdom upon potential consumers.

"Interesting motorcycle, isn't it ... ?"

With generous torque wheelies are too tempting.

The MO Editors noticed a smaller crowd near the sensible looking SV650. Unlike the testosterone-fueled, bench-racing lies told at the Hayabusa circle, the SV650 crowd gathered around the motorcycle respectfully, almost tentatively, and asked a different Suzuki Rep (same generally worried-looking face but with a less-harried expression) questions rather than telling lies and delivering boorish opinions. When the Suzuki Rep answered that the MSRP for the SV650 was only $5699.00, the crowd emitted a collective "Ooooh!"

One of the Editors rushed forward.

"Hey, I could buy one, even on MO's salary," he said excitedly, although as his mouth was forming the words he realized that he in fact could not. Reality rarely enters through the front door, instead preferring to slip unannounced through an open window.

"No, I can't," he corrected himself, matter-of-factly. "Still, it's kind of cool."

"It's naked," said the other.

They giggled in unison: "Naked ..."

A few months later, one of the MO Editors arrived at the American Suzuki headquarters in Brea, California to pick upa GSX-R600 for their 600 Supersport Shootout. The Suzuki Press Representative, not the one at the Long Beach IMS show but the one who, because of his job description, is forced to work with the enthusiast press on a daily basis (not necessarily a more desirable fate than attending trade shows), helped load the bike. They talked about the upcoming Hayabusa intro in Spain, one to which MO was not invited (not that it was any surprise since Suzuki has invited MO to only one other intro in the magazine's four-year existence). That fact didn't necessarily sit well but the MO Editor has always found the Suzuki Press Rep to be a considerate, pleasant and agreeable fellow. Besides, the Press Rep doesn't decide who to invite for world-wide intros. He does, however, plan and organize American Suzuki intros and he's invited MO to attend one for the SV650.  

"The Hayabusa's fast," the Suzuki Press Rep says, "but the SV650 is a really fun bike."

"I think you'll like the SV650." 

"Hmmm ..." mumbled the MO Editor as he wrapped a soft-tie around one of the Gixxer's handle bars.

"I rode one all last weekend and I like it because it shows that a motorcycle doesn't have to produce insane amounts of power or be built with the very latest ultra-super-high-tech-bits in order to be fun."

The MO Editor nodded politely and held out a hand toward the Suzuki Rep.

"Anyway," said the Press Rep as he handed the MO Editor another soft-tie, "I think you'll like the SV650."

As MO Editor finished compressing the forks and tying down the bike the Suzuki Press Rep produced a liability release for the Editor to sign.

"It's just as well," said the MO Editor while scratching his illegible scrawl across the release form. "After my Arizona debacle, I guess I don't need to be going 200 mph for a while."

SV650 sans fuel tank cover and seat. Doesn't look much different, does it? Near the Palomar Mountain Observatory in Julian, California, about 50 miles Northeast of San Diego, the SV650 intro was held at a lodge that was either in severe decay or in the midst of remodeling, one's point-of-view depending on whether one was a half-empty or half-full kind of person. Being a half-empty kind of guy, the MO Editor initially suggested that a freelancer attend, but the only freelancer available was someone not held in the highest esteem at Suzuki, and the MO Editor showed up instead.

"You know," the MO Editor said between bites of homemade wild blueberry muffins that the next day caused some kind of strange allergic reaction, swelling and closing his throat and necessitating a trip to the ER that almost ended in a tracheotomy from one of the most attractive health-care professionals this side of that really hot doctor on the TV show Providence, played by an actress with an unpronounceable Greek last name, "I have to get back to the office, so I won't be able to stay for the ride. I'll have to truck the bike away."

"Of course," said the Suzuki Press Rep. "But please stay for the technical briefing. By the way, have another muffin."

The technical briefing was instructive, if for no other reason than it allowed Suzuki the opportunity to stress that the SV650 is not a downscale TL1000S knock-off but an entirely all-new model designed from the ground up that, of course, incorporated lessons and technology from the TL projects.

Clean tach, speedo,

Although it's not incorrect to describe the SV650 as a naked, downscale TL1000S, it's not entirely accurate either. True, the 645cc liquid-cooled, 90° V-twin engine borrows more than a few bits and pieces from Suzuki's high-performance TL bikes such as lower exhaust cams and triangularly arranged crank and transmission shafts to reduce engine height and length, a rear cylinder head pipe that routes through the swingarm, an internal water pump, and all-electric instrument gauges. But the SV650 also receives a few new tweaks of its own, such as an oil guide that sprays oil directly on the gear faces.

The SV650 also receives two 39mm Mikuni downdraft carburetors instead of fuel-injection, but considering the glitches we've experienced in the past with Suzuki's EFI, carburetion isn't that bad of an idea. The rear carb is fitted with a throttle position sensor that can be used to adjust ignition timing to suit riding conditions.

An adequate space to smuggle, er, transport your valuables. Certain design elements were incorporated to make maintenance easier. The air filter can be removed with a Phillips screwdriver. The outer clutch cover is plastic, which also helps reduces noise. Another design trick to assist in simplified maintenance is a 4.2 gallon gas tank that, similar to the hood of an automobile, pivots up and stays put with the help of a small prop stand. And, as on many Suzuki motorcycles, the passenger seat is easily removed with a key and has enough room to fit a small tool kit and a U-lock.

At a claimed dry weight of 363 pounds, the SV650 is light, something that was appreciated by the MO Editor as he loaded the bike into the MO van. Since it's naked and sports a handlebar rather than clip-ons, it's also easy to tie down. As the MO Editor was about to drive away, the Suzuki Press Rep waved him aside.

"Thanks for coming," he said. "I think you'll really like this bike."

"Sure," said the MO Editor as he swallowed hard.

"Anything wrong?"

"No, everything's fine." The MO Editor rubbed his Adam's apple. "But I do think I'm getting a sore throat."

"Must be the altitude."

"Yeah, the altitude." The MO Editor took another bite of a muffin, forced another difficult swallow, waved good-bye and drove away.

One week, two calls to the HMO, three hospital release-form signatures and a couple of prescriptions for steroids and Benadryl later, the MO Editor was sufficiently recovered from whatever it was that almost suffocated him, to suit up and go for a brisk ride through the Malibu coast mountains.

 While navigating through Westside Los Angeles traffic, the Editor noticed that the SV650 produced a consistent and generous amount of torque across the entire powerband.

This is a motorcycle that pulls away from low rpms quickly, and its slim profile and light, quick maneuverability make it ideal for urban commuting, although its lack of a windscreen is a liability on the freeway.

The acceleration is smooth, although on the test bike the MO Editor did feel slight lean surges while holding the throttle steady between 5000 and 6000 rpm. More of a test bike, carb needle and jetting issue than a design problem, the Editor thought.

A view of the front header pipe, which routes into a 2-into-1 exhaust system."This bike was designed to be an urban commuter that can do everything," the MO Editor remembered the Suzuki Press Rep saying. As a sporty urban commuter, the SV has little competition. With its less-than-intimidating styling and rider-friendly ergonomics (handlebars and relaxed footpeg position), the SV practically begs to be hopped on. A big reason, the Editor thought, is psychological. Think of one of the new 600 Supersports: Fully-faired with low clip-ons that hurt your wrists and shoulders while navigating through stop-and-go city traffic as well as higher, swept-back rear sets that will cramp your legs when not busy in the twisties. These bikes may ask to be pushed fast, yet they don't exactly invite themselves for a ride around town for errands. Even throwing a leg over seems to take a bit more effort: The rear seat tail is higher, and once on board, the concentration required is greater. In comparison, the SV650 almost feels like a scooter, albeit one that is way fast and way more fun.

"Splitting through weekend LA beach traffic is a breeze", the MO Editor said to himself while leaving the Pacific Coast Highway and riding into the Malibu Mountains. Now we'll see how the bike handles in the fun stuff.

"It rules. It's fun. Way fun."

Despite the relaxed riding position ground clearance was excellent. Unfortunately the suspension could be better. The front forks are old fashioned non-adjustable fork oil damper rod types. The rear shock is a single, link-type progressive linkage with seven-way adjustable spring pre-load. Clearly these were incorporated into the design in order to keep the cost down.

Max horsepower: 68.0hp @ 8750 rpmWhile fine for city driving and adequate for moderately aggressive sport riding, the state of the art chassis and engine more than compensated for the suspension's shortcomings. At 68.0 measured rear-wheel horsepower, the 645cc V-twin produces more power than some engines twice its size. The torque tops out at a respectable 44.5 ft/lbs doesn't dip below 37 ft/lbs throughout the usable powerband (it drops to 32.8 ft./lbs. at 10250 rpm, but you'll have shifted well before that) and short shifting is not only possible but desirable while railing through the corners. Also, unlike on larger displacement V-twins, very little vibration is transferred through the handlebars. This could also be due to the vibration reducing end weights on the handlebars. The clutch has a light pull and shifting is so seamless that even the MO Editor, who can find false neutrals in automatic transmissions, breezed through the gears.

The SV rack is state-of-the-art.Suzuki also didn't cut corners while developing a chassis to hold the excellent engine. Although the aluminum-truss style frame looks as thought it was borrowed from the TL1000S, it has been designed specifically for this bike. According to Suzuki, the truss-style frame, with its low weight and high torsional rigidity, takes better advantage of V-twin power delivery characteristics as opposed to the heavier twin-spar frames found on in-line fours. Although Suzuki wasn't confident enough in their design to incorporate it into the TL1000R, the truss frame is a great fit for the 650 engine. It's lighter and 20 millimeters shorter than the TL1000S frame, and it places the front wheel closer to the center of the motorcycle to produce quicker steering characteristics. folding, aluminum footpegs are mounted directly to the frame as well.

The SV650 is quick turning, to say the least. Because it's so light, 395-pounds measured wet, and the chassis is so tight, the SV flicks into turns almost effortlessly and holds its line. Remember that this is an unfaired motorcycle and the front end will feel a little loose when compared to a fully-faired sportbike, but it's still very stable. The SV650 flicks over so easily that at times the MO Editor had to ease up after going too far inside during a few turns. Increasing radius turns are a breeze on the SV. However, the suspension begins to feel mushy and the bike tends to wallow as it's pushed closer to a ten-tenths pace. Even so, the progressive dual front and single disc brakes rule and they'll slow you down if you find yourself a little overwhelmed. Certain design elements were incorporated to make riding easier, like good brakes.

At the Rock Store a small crowd gathered around the SV650 and the MO Editor soon found himself answering questions.

How do you like this bike?

"It rules. It's fun. Way fun." I was think of buying one for my wife. What do you think? "Maybe. Depends on how good of a rider is your wife is. Despite its entry-level price, the SV isn't necessarily a beginner's bike. It's an extremely light and quick turning motorcycle and throttle response is immediate and strong. But it's also forgiving and easy to ride."

How are the tires?

"Metzler ME4s. Good stock tires."

Does it come in any colors other than red and blue?

"Not this year."

How's the gas mileage?

"Well, lemme see. It has a 4.2 gallon tank, I've put 140 miles on the odometer and the fuel light has yet to come on (it would about 10 miles later on the way back down to the ocean), so, you do the math. Not bad. Oh yeah, it doesn't have a petcock."

Does it come with a fairing?

"Hmmm. That is a bone of contention for many Americans since a faired S version is available in Europe. The rationale is that American Suzuki believes they offer more than enough faired sport bikes. Personally, I suspect that they are afraid a faired SV650 will cannibalize Bandit and Katana sales, which it probably would. Still, Suzuki says the parts department is looking into a bikini-style fairing."

A few months and a couple of thousand miles later the Suzuki Press Rep called to wonder what was happening with the story.

"Um, nothing," said the MO Editor.

"Well, are you planning on posting a story?"

MO's token artsy shot: We call this New Japanese Two-Wheeled Technology in Front of Rusty American Station Wagon. Well, that is a difficult question. The deal with the enthusiast press is that the manufacturers give us brand new super-cool motorcycles to ride and impress folks with and in return we're supposed to write reviews. The MO Editor understood this part of the bargain, yet some stories are easier to write than others. Some bikes are so full of new high-tech materials and alloys that the story writes itself. Other bikes don't inspire tremendous passion, and these reviews are written quickly just so we can turn them in for something cooler. Then there are the bikes that don't easily lend themselves to prose, they just like to be ridden. The SV650 is one of these.

"Um, yeah, eventually, when we get enough miles on the bike."

"When will that be?"

"Soon," said the MO Editor with a hint of regret in his voice, since he knew it wouldn't be soon at all.

"But you know," the Editor said just as the Suzuki Press Rep was about to hang up, "I could write the review right now. I would simply say 'Just ride it'."

"You'll have to write more than that," said the Suzuki Press Rep.

"That says it all. But I'll try to think of something more to write."


Manufacturer: Suzuki           
Model:  SV650                            
Price:  $5699 (USD)                 
Engine: liquid cooled, DOHC, 90°V-twin                  
Compression ratio: 11.5:1       
Bore and Stroke:  81.0 x 62.6 mm       
Displacement: 645cc           
Carburetion: 2 Mikuni BSDR39             
Transmission: 6 speed, constant mesh           
Tires/Front: 3.5 in, 120/60 ZR17 Metzler            
Tires/Rear: 4.5 in, 160/60 ZR17 Metzler             
Wheelbase: 56.3 in (1430 mm)              
Seat Height: 31.7 in (805 mm)           
Fuel Capacity: 4.2 gal (16 L)         
Claimed Dry Weight: 363 lbs (165 kg) 
Measured wet weight: 395 lbs (179 kg)
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