The Little V-Twin You Really Should Try

Some years ago, I picked up a non-running 2001 Suzuki SV650 from a guy who just wanted it out of his garage. The poor bike had been abused and neglected, by numerous previous owners. My only reasons for taking it off his hands were (1) I got it dirt cheap and (2) I saw it as a fix/flip. After some wrenching, the SV was running again, and I soon found it a hoot to ride. I held on to it for awhile, enjoying thrashing it around in the countryside south of our home in north Georgia. Eventually, a younger friend of mine begged me to sell it to him, so I obliged. It’s been several years now, and he’s still rocking on that SV. Maybe I should have kept it…

First introduced in 1999 as Suzuki’s answer to the Ducati 620 Monster, the SV650 is considered by many to be among the first of what’s now called the “naked” or “street fighter” class. A true do-everything motorcycle, with a throaty v-twin growl and fantastic power and handling, dealerships couldn’t keep the bikes in stock on their showrooms. Equally embraced by beginners and veterans for its ease of use and maintenance, the SV was at home as a commuter, corner-carver, or track day toy. There are even some amateur racing classifications exclusively for the SV. They are easily discernible at the track, with a low, throaty v-twin roar amidst the screaming fours and triples. Suzuki had beaten Ducati at their own game.

The SV650 (and big brother 1000) is already being counted among the great bikes in Suzuki’s illustrious history. With various improvements over its years (save the ill-fated Gladius iteration), the SV has stayed wildly popular among new and seasoned riders, young and old(er), guys and gals. After a hiatus for several years, the beloved SV650 returned to the lineup in 2017, very much resembling the original, yet with modern amenities such as a digital dash (speed, gear, tach, miles to E, etc), one-touch “Easy Start”, Low-RPM Assist, and optional ABS, to name a few. Much has already been written on the specs and performance figures of this bike, so I’ll not rehash those. They are easily found on the Suzuki website (suzukicycles.com) and in any Suzuki dealership. I’ll endeavor to give my own riding impressions and recommendations.

I had arranged with the crew at Mountain Motorsports in Buford, Georgia to sign out a demo SV for a day’s check ride. The late December day turned out perfect, with abundant sunshine and temps hovering in the low 60s, somewhat unusual for us this time of year. Accompanied by one of my riding bros Mike Wood, we picked up the bike and took off for the day, me on the SV, Mike on his classic Honda 750 Nighthawk. We planned to ride the bike in thick commuter traffic, out on interstate, and along hilly, curvy country roads, all of which are readily available in our area. I’ve ridden many street motorcycles, across many years, under many circumstances, but I wanted Mike’s impressions too, being a relatively new street rider, having ridden dirt much of his life.

We found ourselves firstly in choking holiday shopper traffic around the Mall of Georgia, and I felt the SV to be light, well-balanced, and very easy to maneuver through the congestion. I’m 5’8″ tall, about 155lbs wet weight, and the SV fit me perfect. The seat felt a bit firm, but I’ve got a thinly padded posterior, which may have contributed. The footpegs are well-placed, enabling me to flat foot easily at stops, with no impediment of the foot controls. Handlebars give me a slightly forward lean but not aggressively so. It’s a mostly upright riding position, with my legs only mildly bent. It’s as if the engineers at Suzuki built the SV for folks like me in the 5′-something range. The bike fit me like a glove.

Hitting the highway, I opened it up, running hard up through gears to merge with interstate traffic. The SV’s throttle response is instantaneous, and acceleration is thrilling for this type of bike. The 90-degree v-twin mill makes solid power across the powerband in each gear, and I love the sound of these stock pipes! Throatier than previous SV 650s, the exhaust already has a nice v-twin rumble, but it absolutely roars above 4000-5000 rpm in each gear. We were running in the upper double digits most of our interstate stint, and the SV is planted, feels solid, and slices along through the atmosphere with minimal wind buffet on my helmet and chest. I never felt like a parachute, trying to hang on with no windshield. I felt some vibration in the bars, footpegs and at my knees hugging the tank, but I expected and actually liked it, being a v-twin. I felt connected to the bike.

Mike and I finally exited the highway toward the North Georgia foothills, taking the SV for some flogging among the rolling hills and curves away from the bustle of North Atlanta. It’s out here that Suzuki’s SV 650 really shines. With good ground clearance to accompany the great handling, the bike practically leans itself into corners. I actually never felt the need to lean off excessively. The steering is very neutral, the bike feels very light and is quite flickable, as I found on several roads with quick switchbacks. One particular section of blacktop started with several wide sweepers, then a fairly sharp descending left curve, down a straight quarter mile, followed by a fairly sharp right hander at the bottom of the hill. I affectionately call it “the roller coaster”. We took turns gunning the SV down and back up several times each, mainly to test the bike’s suspension and handling under those circumstances, but also for the sheer delight of it. And what a delight it was. I was howling in my helmet each time I blasted down and back up this section, feeling like Marquez (a little) with the thrill of deep corner leaning and sharp roll-on acceleration that is so easily achieved on this pint-size bike.

Mike said he absolutely loved the SV, quipping, “I love my Nighthawk, but man, I could sure see a place in the shed for this cool bike!”

A great commuter-check
A capable highway runner- check
A hilariously fun curve carver- check.

As the sun began to set on our short but beautiful December day, Mike and I pointed the bikes back toward Mountain Motorsports. We rode out of the foothills, and throttled hard back down the interstate, chasing the sun toward Buford, Georgia. I reluctantly returned the SV to the great folks at Mountain Moto, with three parting words- “I want one!”

This renewed iconic Suzuki checks all the boxes for me. A very comfortable, neutral riding position, sharp throttle response, decent brakes, fantastic handling, and that v-twin sound! I for one, am very happy Suzuki resurrected the SV 650.

Whether you are a new or veteran rider, cruiser or sport, wanting a do-everything bike or an addition to your stable, the SV 650 is well worth a consideration.

*first evaluated for our friends at BornToRide.com

4 Comments

  1. Avatar

    What is the fuel tank capacity? It looks like 4 gallons plus.

    Reply
    • Avatar

      You’re close, it’s just under that at 3.8 gal.

      Reply
  2. Avatar

    I had a 2007 model. I added a K&N air filter and a Two Brothers-in-law carbon fiber exhaust. It was one of my all time favorite bikes, and I have been riding for nearly 50 years now. When gas hit $4.00 a gallon I squeezed ove 70mpg out of it. I did average 45mpg otherwise riding normally. It is a real motorcycle for real world riding. I have seen it run on the track too and it nearly holds up against 1000cc machines.

    Reply
    • Avatar

      Yeah man, the Swiss Army knife of motorcycles. Dang, that SV back in my basement for some upgrades might have a stay awhile….

      Reply

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