Because of the strict licensing regulations in Japan back in the '80s and '90s that made it very difficult to legally ride a motorcycle over 400cc, the Japanese domestic market at that time was chock full of 400cc sportbikes. Although most were inline-fours, one particular V-twin made its debut in '98—the Suzuki SV400. Available in both naked and half-faired versions, the SV400 didn't really catch on in Japan—but it would provide the basis for one of Suzuki's most popular models worldwide the following year.
Enlarging the SV400's engine to 645cc via a larger bore and longer stroke, Suzuki created the SV650, a bike intended to offer serious motorcycling fun at a budget price. The new SV didn't make that much of an impact in its debut year due to being overshadowed by the introduction of the famed Hayabusa that same year. But when the SV's bargain price of $5699 became known, the little V-twin turned out to be $2000 less than the typical 600cc supersport machines of the day, making it very attractive to budget-conscious riders who had been yearning for an affordable sportbike.
The 90-degree liquid-cooled V-twin sported DOHC 4-valve heads, and in the early years was equipped with a pair of 39mm carbs. While the engine wasn't the most high-tech unit around, it nonetheless produced a solid 65-plus horsepower and more than 42 ft-lb of torque. The engine's oversquare 81mm x 62.6mm bore/stroke layout allowed it to rev easily past its 10,500 rpm redline; compression ratio was 11.5:1, and it could run on 87 octane fuel. Fuel mileage could range from as low as 35 mpg if you were really twisting the throttle to 45 mpg for highway duty.
The frame was a perimeter truss design made from oval aluminum tubing similar to the TL1000 Suzuki. The 55.7-inch wheelbase and sharpish steering geometry made for one of the more agile V-twins around. The suspension, however, was where the designers saved a lot of their budget, as the forks were conventional 41mm non-adjustable models, while the rear duties were handled by a single rear shock that was spring-preload-adjustable only. The 3.5 x 17-inch front and 4.5 x 17-inch rear wheels were shod with Metzeler MEZ4 tires, although unlike the suspension, the brakes were up to par despite being only a pair of 290mm rotors gripped by twin-piston slide-pin calipers. The rear braking was handled by a single 240mm disc and a twin piston caliper.
In 2001, Suzuki finally relented...
In 2001, Suzuki finally relented and brought over the half-faired version of the SV650. The SV650S not only came with a TL-inspired fairing, but also lower clip-on bars, slightly rearset footpegs, and different gearing.
Clean and simple gauges are...
Clean and simple gauges are in the '01 SV650S cockpit. Clip-on bars are more than five inches lower than the standard SV, transforming the bike's character significantly.
Bathed in gray paint on the...
Bathed in gray paint on the SVS, the 645cc eight-valve V-twin is otherwise identical to the naked SV. Nice broad powerband and user-friendly character endeared it to many.
With a wet weight of 413 pounds, the little V-twin had enough steam to propel it down the quarter-mile in about 12 seconds at just over 105 mph. Top speed was about 120 mph depending on the headwind; remember, this was a true naked bike with no fairing (In '01 Suzuki brought over the half-faired SV650S that sold for $6199. The S model not only had lower bars and more rear-set pegs, it also had a one-tooth-smaller rear sprocket and a higher top speed of 127mph). Power delivery was one of its highlights except for being slightly cold natured, and some minor flat spots around 3600-3800 rpm and again at 5500 rpm. Overall the little twin made for a lot of fun on the street as long as you didn't push it hard enough to uncover the suspension weaknesses. The bike was very popular among new riders and women in particular, but some of its biggest fans were experienced riders due to its surprising performance. Since it had a relatively small engine displacement, it was also cheap to insure.