1999 Suzuki SV650

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.

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