2003 Naked Twins

Nice Little Bikes, And The Runaway Winner: SV650 :: M800 :: XB9S

story by John Burns, Photograph by Fonzie, Created Jun. 24, 2003
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Y'know, not liking the new Suzuki SV650 must be right up there with being opposed to the war in Iraq or being a NAMBLA lobbyist (North American Man/Boy Love Association). Sorry we're late with our review of the new SV, but we've taken the time to actually put a few miles on ours, and read all about it in the print mags and elsewhere, where the new for `03 SV has received universal praise for being all things to all people. I agree, it's a lot of bike for $5,899, and it does a lot of things right--but all I can think, astride or beside it, is "two-wheeled Yugo." I am underwhelmed. Uninspired. Bored even. I'll start with the looks: Yick. The original SV frame was inspired by the oval-tube aluminum jobs produced by OVER Racing of Japan, and was probably the single most expensive part Suzuki ever built for anything.

The new frame seems inspired by Hot Wheels--all stamped-out plasticky--and the "styling" of the whole bike unravels from there. Looks like to me Suzuki's response to the success of the original SV was to attempt to cash in by making the bike even cheaper to produce--though the new frame is claimed to be stiffer and of course, better in every way.

The SV goes down the road well enough, too, but that old-tech damper-rod fork went out of style years ago. It gets the job done, but without the supple feel of a modern cartridge, none of the adjustability, and a complete absence of the manly confidence that comes from being publicly rigged with a pair of large-diamter upside downy fork tubings.

You got a problem with American sportbikes?

The SV's okay on smooth pavement, but smooth pavement's about as common as a nice summer thunderstorm round here.

It's jarring over bumps and up and down the ol' superslab on the daily commute.

In sport use, she's light and tossable (and powerless) enough to get away with it, but as a spoilt and jaded motojournalist I'd be bummed if I bought a 2003 motorcycle that rides like an old GS500.

What saves the SV is that it's sprung soft enough so's you don't notice the cheap damping as much--and in fact the seat and ergoes for a shorter person like me, at least, are near perfection.

Then too, for the money you can get an SV, an Ohlins shock, and a set of those cartridge emulators from Race-Tech, and well, then you've got a cheap butane lighter of a bike that you've sunk a lot of money into.

I also keep reading about how wonderfully smooth the SV's 90-degree twin is all the way to 11,000 rpm. Bollox. Twins are supposed to lope; the SV needs a bit more than 6000 rpm to run with an 80-mph pack, and it is not at all wonderfully smooth when doing so; "thrashy" is a more fitting descriptor for MO's test unit.

The little twin will pull up past 100 in sixth, but actually labors a bit to do it; the other two bikes here blow through the ton easily.

Suzuki makes some very nice snikkety gearboxes, but the SV doesn't get one; its throws feel less precise, the lever requires a longer throw, and there's quite a bit of drivetrain lash in general. I hate to be cruel (okay, maybe I don't), but Suzuki will sell plenty of SV650s whatever I have to say about the bike, so just be glad you are a MO sophisticate of discriminating taste.

And really, we tailor MO content to the motorcycling intelligentsia that is our clientele (talk about your oxyMOrons), guys who can swing the $11.94 a year.

That being the case, an absolute rock-bottom sticker price is less important than maximizing one's motorcycling experience, isn't it? You don't drink gallon-jug Gallo do you?

"Take it from us, if it's an exciting lightweight everyday-useable friendly twin you want, you need to spend a few dollars more."

The Big MOBoys don't look quite as silly onboard the M800 as they do...

Which segues nicely into the new Ducati Monster 800.

You've already read here about it and the new dual-plug Monster 1000Si.e. The 1000 is a very nice bike, but for that kind of cake--$11,095-- you might want the Aprilia Tuono. Cast your eyeballs downward a notch in the Monster line-up and let them come to rest upon the MONSTER 800--newly injected just like the 1000.

The Monster is much more like it, if ya ask me, and in general feels like a much more solid machine than the SV650.

...on the diminutive SV650S.

Instead of the Suzuki's gentle woman-gas exhaust note, the Ducati actually has a little harumph to it--and while peak power figures are very close between it and the SV, the Monster's extra displacement means greater low and midrange torque for easier wheelies, while running higher gearing: Instead of 6000 rpm at 80 mph, the Ducati lopes along at just below 5000--and much more smoothly than the SV. Along with the other Monsters, Ducati gave the M800 excellent, flat-spot-free fuel injection which also sees the Monster returning around 50 mpg. The Monster's gearbox is superior to the Suzuki's too, with short, positive throws (though limp-wristed types complain of heavy clutch pull) in the new six-speed gearbox.

Other things that happened in the transition from 750 to 802cc include increasing stroke from 61.5 to 66mm, getting rid of the oil line to the (wet) clutch and replacing it with an internal galley, replacing all those steel clutch components with lighter, aluminum ones, and using scissors primary gears and various rubber dampers to reduce noise and drivetrain lash. It's all very tight and precise. New, lighter pistons ride upon lighter, stronger rods, which reciprocate upon a new, more rigid and stronger forged crankshaft which also results in reduced vibration. I'll vouch.

The SV's ergoes are a little better for most people. Monsters have always been a little thick between the ankles, and the handlebar on this one's a little low for around town--which turns out to be a good thing cruising at 90 mph. (And anyway, it's a handlebar. Put a cool aluminum dirt bike one on if you want a higher or different bend, for like $80.)

You don't get much in the way of suspension adjustability on this bike either, aside from rear shock preload and rebound damping, but the Ducati's inverted 43mm cartridge fork and Sachs shock give the bike a much more solid, connected-to-the-road feel than the Suzuki without feeling like anything needs adjusting.

"A good thing about an old design, in the case of the Monster at least, is that it's now a highly refined piece."

Page2The Brembo brakes are stronger and feelier, too, with their standard steel braided lines. A good thing about an old design, in the case of the Monster at least, is that it's now a highly refined piece. It's so refined it's not even the same frame; the 30-percent stiffer one in this Monster and the new 1000 is from last year's S4 Monstrosity. It goes good, feels good, also taut and compact, and is worth $8,695 if you've got it--though I bet you could drive a harder bargain. I hate to jiggle the H-D peanut gallery by saying Ducatis hold their value pretty well, but I'll say it anyway. (And I for one could be about 90-percent as happy on a left-over 750 Dark Monster for not much more than what you'd have to give for an SV650.)

What's not to like about this Monster? One thing: The M800 gets stuck with a 4.5-inch rear wheel and a measly 160/70 tire (same sizes as the SV650). From behind, the Ducati looks a little more emasculated than the Suzuki, because it's more aggressive and muscular everywhere else.

Nope, if you want a nice fat tire under yourself, you'll have to look to our third small twin finalist--the smallest twin with the biggest pair o' cylinders, that is--the BUELL XB9S. Right, now you're looking at a $9,995 motorcycle, but like many of life's finer underappreciated things, you won't be paying that much unless you just don't care about saving money--the price for a new XB9S seems to be hovering at around 9K, and it will go lower as the summer wears on...

How do I love this Buell, let me count the ways. I love everything about it 'cept the clutch is a little stiff of pull (keeping the cable well-lubed makes a big difference).

The "S" we now have at MO has 3000 miles showing, and the gearbox is now easier if still not quite Japanese. (The Italian clutch/gearbox actually sets the standard in this group.) Ergonomically, the Buell is for me the finest moto on the planet, with a low, comfy, sculpted seat and a handlebar that sits in your lap and purrs.

Zero vibration up at 80 mph and 4500 rpm, with the nicest ride of the group filtering up through its all-way adjustable suspension. A bike this small has no right to be as comfy as the XB9S is in everyday use.

Yes, it's that archaic Harley Sportster engine again (and if you're basing your opinion of it solely on what you've read and heard from guys who owned a Sportster 10 years ago, maybe you need to test ride one). Even cooler, then, that using that old lump, Buell still winds up with the lightest bike of the trio, the shortest wheelbase, the most power, and the nicest-riding, best-handling bike of this trio. Excuse me, is one definition of archaic "most maintenance- free"? Hydraulic lifters mean no valve adjustments ever. Change the oil and filters and you're done.

We thought the old tube frame looked better.

Don't bother to lube the drive belt or adjust it. And oh yeah, don't forget the Buell makes more peak power and more torque too. If all you want is cheap, go with the SV. If you're like me, you also want a cool motorcycle. Twenty years from now, you'll be able to stand around your lovingly cared-for Buell, which will be somewhat rare, and you can `splain to the kids how it was the first bike to carry its gas in the frame, first with the perimeter front brake, how you and Ann-Margret used to bomb round `Vegas on it. In other words it will still be cool. The Guggenheim might call to borrow it. Meanwhile, you might see the occasional ratty SV650 parked on the street in a shabby neighborhood or over at KPaul's with a plastic milk crate bungeed to the back seat and duct tape covering the holes in the faded seat, smelling of cat urine.

We thought the old tube frame looked better.

Do you see where I'm going with this? There's more to this stuff than the bottom line, and even the bottom line is not what it appears to be when you think long-term. My dad drove a series of station wagons and AMC's and thought guys in Corvettes were crazy for spending that kind of money on a car--perpetual sophomores, he called them.

Now, of course, a mid-60s Vette is worth considerably more than a Kingswood Estate wagon with flip-down third seat. Don't get me started about the perfect `68 GT500KR convertible Shelby Mustang I tried to get him to buy for $6000 in 1978, which even had a back seat. He bought a new Plymouth Volare wagon instead for about the same money. I saw a Mustang exactly like that one (may have been the same car) sell for 60K the other day; the Volare went to the scrap heap years ago.

I'm not really meaning to compare the SV to a Volare wagon, but you get the idea. The difference between spending 6K and 8K isn't that much. The SV is a nice enough little bike. The Ducati's just cooler, better put together with nicer components, and more fun to ride. The Buell is a cutting-edge masterpiece of a motorcycle, unique, beautiful, tiny, and just quirky enough to be endearing. Sometimes it's true: You get what you pay for.

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