Another year, another British winner of that there Tour de France. Fair play to Chris Froome ? although it's the saying of another, less lauded, TdF winner which rings in my ears as I head out for another blast on Suzuki's new-for-2016 SV650. Lance Armstrong is about as popular in the cycling world these days as Jeremy Clarkson driving a skip lorry with broken wing mirrors through London. But the title of his autobiography was 'It's not about the bike". The meaning is manifold of course, the book was about his fight with cancer, and his path to the top of the sport. Winning wasn't about the bike he was on. And since he was also fighting for his life, the bike was even more peripheral.
The reason I had Armstrong's quote in my head was the pure fun I'd had on the SV650 over the previous few days. I'd ridden to Suzuki GB on a GSX-S1000, a much more powerful, capable bike. I had a ball on the way up to Milton Keynes of course: the GSX-S has a variant on the old GSX-R1000 K5 engine, a mythical lump if ever there was one. And with 140-odd bhp on the end of the throttle cable, you'd be pushed not to have fun on it.
But heading home, as I launched myself through the hundred-and-seventy-three Milton-Keynesian roundabouts between Suzuki HQ and the M1, I was having just as much fun on the little V-twin roadster as I'd had on the superbike-based four, with almost double the power. The little SV feels super light, nimble and sharp, the engine is strong from low-down, and even the brakes and tyres impress, with feedback and control in spades.
I say 'even the brakes and tyres', because five minutes earlier, in Suzuki's press workshop, I'd given the SV a quick once-over, and my gast was thoroughly non-flabbered. The brake calipers, swingarm, suspension and tyres all looked like properly basic commuter fare: sliding twin-piston calipers, plain extruded swingarm, and budget-spec Dunlops. But as I hoik up a cheeky wee wheelie out of the final roundabout and down the sliproad onto the M1, the SV feels nothing like the bargain-basement parts-bin-special it looked like on the sidestand.
In fact, I'm reminded of nothing so much as my old Yamaha Fazer 600 from ages ago. I bought MCN's ex-long term test bike when I worked there 18 years ago, and spent a couple of years wheelying its cock off, and generally having a ball. Like the SV650, the old Fazer 600 was marketed as a budget roadster, but in reality, it was far more fun than many more serious sportsbikes, and could show plenty of them a clean pair of heels down a twisty backroad. Thrashing a good Fazer 6 round Brands Indy or the like was the very definition of 'not about the bike'.
The SV650 was around back in those days too actually: the first version appeared in 1999, a couple of years after the Fazer 600. It was a step below the inline-fours in terms of power, the V-twin motor putting out 20-odd bhp less than the 600cc motors of the Fazer and Honda's Hornet. But the SV was narrower and gruntier, and a little bit lighter, so was a match in many ways for the bigger fours, particularly round town or on twistier roads.
Fast-forward seventeen years, and the SV is back, in this latest Euro-4 compliant spec, carrying a few more kilos, but also pumping out an extra ten bhp or so. Much of the Euro-4 spec is down to mundane enviro-geek stuff like an activated charcoal canister that absorbs fumes from the petrol tank, stopping them escaping into the atmosphere. It also means you get some snazzy new side reflectors ? which are certain to stop anyone ever being T-boned by a dozy car driver ever again of course?
The 2016 bike has had a few other updates as well. There's a smart LCD dash, wihich is very similar to the one on the GSX-S1000, with a useful fuel range countdown, gear indicator and other stuff. It's not as comprehensive as on the bigger bike, and of course, doesn?t have the Traction Control readouts, since the little bike doesn't have TC, or power modes, or any other rider aids really. It's a simple beastie, and the (perfectly decent) ABS system which is prescribed by those Euro rules is about it for rider aids. We're back in the good old days folks, and if you're hankering for a simple, no-fuss bike to get around on, the SV definitely fits that bill.
I get the SV home, with the usual faint background dread that I've been snapped by a police camera, doing something heinous. The little SV might have half the bhp of the GSX-S1000, but I didn't feel like my ride home had been any less felonious than the ride up to MK. It was the same the next day, when I took a ride out to see my old mate at his cafÇ ? the SV is a proper hooligan tool, in mini form. The punchy motor has oodles of grunt, and if you give it some, it'll wheelie off the gas in first, and second over a rise. Bring the light clutch into play, and you'll be horn-monoing all the way to work.
But there's more to the wee beastie than just a lively front end. Those brakes might look like the very worst in low-fi 1990s tech ? and on paper, they are. But on the road, the dual disc, twin-piston sliding calipers are great: plenty of power and feel for a bike that will see its fair share of novice owners. One caveat ? sliding calipers are the worst for losing performance over time, so if you do buy an SV, keep the calipers clean and serviced: they'll quickly go bad if you let winter rot into them?
The rest of the chassis does pretty well too. Okay, the suspension is a bit on the boingy side, and is largely unadjustable ? but what do you expect for a smidge over ú5.5k? Stuff like the rear swingarm looks properly basic ? but it all works really well, and never gets in the way of having fun on a ride. The Dunlop Qualifier rubber was great (in the dry anyway, we didn't get any wet miles in sadly/luckily), and you wouldn't necessarily need to rush to swap them out for something better.
So, there you have it. A ride out on the new SV650 is in many ways, not about the bike. The little Suzuki keeps a low profile, and just lets you get on with the job ? whether that's getting to work each day on minimal nudget, or spending the weekends at the local industrial estate polishing your standup wheelies. The motor is tried, tested and proven, so won't be letting you down, and while Suzuki build quality still isn't quite up to a few British winters, a bit of TLC during the salty season will stand you in good stead. She's a pretty little thing too ? okay, not a natural beauty, but very solid girl-next-door stuff. I'd not be sad to open the garage door of a Monday morning and see this sat waiting for me, particularly with a wee Yoshi end can, some braided lines and a couple of teeth added onto the back sprocket?
Same basic 90¯ V-twin 645cc layout as we've had since 1999, but with 60 new parts compared with the old SVF650 Gladius. Head now has duel spark ignition, to clean up emissions on the stone-age combustion chamber, and probably also gives a bit more pep. New pistons have resin coating on the skirts, and are redesigned to be lighter and stronger, yada yada. Bore and stroke and compression ratio are all as you were. Radiator, airbox and exhaust are all new too.
New SDTV dual-valve throttle bodies with uprated injectors, and a cunning idle speed control circuit, that raises the revs slightly when you let the clutch out, or when running at low speeds. It helps novices avoid stalling round town.
New LCD dash has clock, gear position, fuel consumption and fuel range displays. The SV also has Suzuki's new one-touch starter system: just push the start button once, and it keeps spinning till the engine catches. No more bothersome 'holding down the button for two seconds' for Suzuki owners!!
Unadjustable RWU forks, preload-adjust rear shock for carrying pillions, dual twin-piston front brake calipers, 290mm discs. ABS as standard. Suzuki's made it narrower and lighter than before too: 8kg less than the ABS Gladius, which is pretty decent. There are 70 new chassis parts over the old bike. Finally, seat height is just 785mm, the lowest in the class. Perfect for stumpy folks like me!
Engine: l/c, 90¯ V-twin, DOHC, 8v, 645cc
Bore x stroke: 81.0mm x 62.6mm
Compression ratio: 11.2:1
Maximum power: 75bhp@8,500 rpm
Maximum torque: 64Nm@8,100 rpm
Fuel system: Dual-valve fuel injection, 39mm bodies
Transmission: wet clutch, six-speed gearbox, chain final drive
Frame: aluminium trellis
Front suspension: RWU unadjustable forks
Rear suspension: Preload-adjustable monoshock
Brakes: dual 290mm discs, twin-piston calipers (front), single disc (rear)
Wheels/tyres: cast aluminium/Dunlop Qualifier, 120/70 17 (front), 160/60 17 (rear)
Rake/Trail: 25 degrees/104mm
Seat height: 785mm
Wet weight: 197kg
Fuel tank capacity: 13.8 litres (3 gallons)