Am I simply too biased? I had one of my best ever rides on an SV650 in 1999 – the year the bike was launched – with my mate and I on a pair of them. The SV650 was a superb balance of light weight, small form, easy handling and a fun, but unintimidating engine. Seventeen years later the new machine feels just how I remember it. So why am I having to so passionately defend it to the other riders on this test?
Yamaha set the bar in 2014 with the MT-07 – a combination of an extraordinarily fun parallel-twin motor and a very low price. The styling was surprising then, but now, when parked next to the 2016 Suzuki SV650, the Yam looks the more complete design. The Suzuki’s ABS unit and pipework behind the footpegs look untidy, and combined with some poorly routed wiring, an exposed radiator fan and a chunky exhaust leaves the machine looking better from the left than the right.
Though while the matt-black colour of this bike doesn’t help, focusing on these niggling details of what is such a relatively cheap bike is to entirely miss the point of what makes the SV650 my motorcycle of choice. And that’s before you consider that the simple styling of the Suzuki makes it a very good base to tweak.
Back in the day, the 645cc motor made 69bhp and 46lb-ft. Now, while meeting Euro 4 regulations, it makes a little more power 500rpm earlier, and a fraction more torque 500rpm later. It’s not changed a great deal, but I’m glad Suzuki has stuck with it. A louder can would give it a little more character though.
The footpeg’s long heroblobs will touch down during enthusiastic cornering, but that’s partly down to it still being such a confidence-inspiring machine.While the unadjustable (besides the rear preload) suspension doesn’t feel particularly high-spec, it’s slightly more planted than the MT-07, if a touch vague in high-speed corners. It’s also quite harsh on potholes, which seems to be accentuated at low speed through town.
I’m 5ft 11in and found the 2016 Suzuki SV650 very comfortable, though the fairly thin saddle can impose after half an hour or so on the motorway. But that’s not where you should be – in fact, my bum spent little time on the seat as I was having too much fun moving around on the bike, climbing off slightly for corners and thoroughly enjoying the induction noise of the motor.
There’s no snatch to the V-twin, which is as much fun when enjoying its rev-happy nature as it is at low engine speeds in tight situations – a point at which that low, narrow form is once again an absolute pleasure. The gearbox is smooth and accurate, not requiring too much of a positive tap to engage. It gets a fair bit of use – as you’d expect – but I never once begrudged it.
The brakes are fine; there’s nothing new to see here, but they’re good enough for just two fingers in all but the most panicked of stops. It’s got ABS, and while hard-riding my friend considered it to be a too-basic system, I never came close to finding its limits.
The others thought the 2016 Suzuki SV650 to be the more sensible, rather than passionate choice in this middle-class group. I reckon the original SV had the more enticing styling, but I’m still a fan. Maybe that’s because I spent two weeks with it. And don’t for a moment brand it a beginner’s bike. It’s perfect for those new to riding, but us older-hands can have a huge amount of fun with it too.