Suzuki SV650 -Back? Did it go anywhere? The twin returns – sort of

You could be forgiven for being  confused about the SV650. Is it new? Old? Was it gone? The answers are yes, kinda and sort of. The original Suzuki SV650 appeared back in 1999 and was a hit. In Canada the bike was available as a faired middleweight sport oriented machine or a naked version with a pie plate headlight, but the faired version was by far the more interesting.  Fairing aside it was the jewel of an engine—the smaller liquid cooled V-Twin—that made the SV special. This engine reappeared, though to greater acclaim, in the genre-creating V-Strom 650 where many preferred its smaller displacement to that of its bigger stablemate, the V-Strom 1000. 

The same preference seemed to hold sway over the sportbike crowd who again showed preference for the 650 despite the unique and generous character of the SV1000’s litre class motor. The SV650 had a price and performance level that satisfied a wide range of riders and if those riders wanted a cutting edge V-Twin in an everyman chassis that wasn’t a Ducati Monster this was their choice. 

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There was a lot to like about the bike:  horsepower in the very high 60s, a dry weight under 181 kg and an abundance  of character. In a world of inline fours the V-Twin was something different. 

Where it starts to get confusing is the following genealogy. The SV650 remained in the lineup but it was eventually joined and finally replaced by the Gladius (or SVF650) which was a separated-at-birth machine with styling and engineering differences and, if you were to believe some of Suzuki’s own marketing material, a more feminine appeal. 

Gone was the fairing replaced with a molded and shaped proboscis of a headlight. While the styling stance seemed a little far-fetched the Gladius, like the SV650, proved to be every bit as much an everyday, always fun machine. 

It is tempting to believe that Suzuki simply rehashed the Gladius with a mixing of the old SV to bring the new SV650 to market. It’s tempting because at a casual glance things do look remarkably similar especially in comparison to the original unfaired SV. But look closer and things aren’t all what they seem. 

Gone is the cast frame of the original SV replaced with a tubular trellis frame that is substantially lighter than the old frame. The fuel tank has lost its width, bulge and fussiness while retaining its fuel capacity (this must be some kind of miracle of engineering: smaller but bigger). 

Suzuki likes to point out that many pieces of the bike (over 130) that have been changed or redesigned aren’t as obvious as the slimmer tank, trellis frame and less sculpted exhaust. If an avid techie was to read through the detailed specs for the new bike they would find improvements like dual spark heads, new pistons, new plate technology for the cylinders, 10-hole long nosed fuel injectors, a redesigned airbox with staggered funnels and enlarged cooling fans for the radiator among less exciting items. Less exciting perhaps but the conclusion is more power (about five extra horses), less weight and stingier fuel consumption. 

Suzuki spent a lot of time engineering the inner workings of the bike while, arguably, paying far less attention to styling elements. The unit we rode was flat grey in colour and, if anything, made the SV650/Gladius/SV650 transitions and improvements seem less obvious in appearance. With its large radiator and exposed mechanicals the grey finish made the SV650 seem very industrial. A rejection of bling may be a current and appreciable trend in motorcycling but it doesn’t serve the SV650 well. Fortunately there are other, livelier colour options.

The good news is that all this doesn’t matter when you’re riding the bike. The original SV650 and its descendant Gladius were built to be inexpensive fun and those characteristics have a lot more to do with the unseen mechanical improvements than the giant radiator and utilitarian hoses. The interior tweaking was done for improved power, improved efficiency and the grin factor. The bike sounds fantastic—raspy and mechanical—while celebrating its V-Twin nature. The bike is now ridiculously narrow with a surprisingly comfortable seat and ergonomic layout. A six-foot rider can still be comfortable with the ergonomics and anyone shorter very confident. 

With equal aplomb the SV650 handles the broken, lumpy pavement as well as the twisty sections of a 285-km loop on Vancouver Island that we often use for road testing purposes. Better even than some of the far more aggressive and expensive bikes that we have taken on this same loop over the years. 

With 75 horsepower and a lighter chassis the bike pulls strongly out of corners howling away while embracing its simple character. Though hp has increased the max torque has remained the same while moving up the rpm range. The suspension of the SV is set between sporty and comfortable with an edge toward comfort. The 41mm forks are conventional with slightly under 127mm of travel set to accommodate a wide range of riding. Being intended as an all-purpose bike, the stock suspension serves the SV well and benefits those who don’t intend to push limits—really aggressive riding is not what the SV was ever about. 

Years ago, while riding an early V-Strom 650 around the loop we thought it could almost tackle most of it again without a fill of the tank. The new SV650, even with its smaller tank, could still take a sizable chunk out of the second lap without a refill.

There is always the cliché of getting back to the basics, and that less is more. But what Suzuki did with the SV650 is engineer the heck out of the basics to make less even more. 

Yes, it still looks a lot like the Gladius with a helping of original SV650 but it would be short sighted to conclude that’s what the new SV650 is. It’s a friendlier version (with ABS, low RPM assist and a Canadian MSRP of $7,799). And it’s a better machine no matter what its looks might lead you to believe.