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MD Project: Building a Better SV650, Part I

No, this is not Gabe’s bike – rather it is a picture of a new SV650 of the same vintage.

The original SV650 frame is exceptional for the price point.

Here’s the problem: You need an all-purpose street motorcycle and you only have $3000. It has to be dependable and economical (because you’re obviously broke), but it also has to be fun to ride and fast enough to be interesting. There are few choices.

Sure, you can get a KLR650, or a Ninja 250, or a list of aging sportbikes. But the KLR (and other dual-sports) have limiting factors—they run out of breath at high freeway speeds and lack pavement-oriented suspension and brakes, for instance. The venerable Ninja 250 is a fine ride, and the pre-2008 models can be picked up very cheaply, but though they are certainly fun to ride, they have their limits, especially when the pace is over 80 mph. Aging sportbikes have their issues, too; in my experience, if they’re older than 10 years they’ve been beaten almost to death. Finding a nice one under that three-grand mark is a challenge.

And then there’s the Suzuki SV650. To say it’s been popular with the motorcycle press is like saying Kim Kardashian likes publicity. “If you’re looking for the most bike for the least dough, do yourself a favor and buy an SV,” wrote customizer Roland Sands in a Motorcycle.com story. Editor Edge told us “to say that I am impressed would be an understatement,” and the lovely Kimberly Edge (who went and bought a second-generation SV after riding MD’s test bike) said the SV gave her the “confidence to push myself to new limits.”  And in my moto-journalistic debut, comparing a 2004 model against three other bargain-priced standards, I declared it “just about perfect for me.” Prophetic words.

I’ve always thought of Suzuki as the quirkiest of Japanese factories. Some of the company’s products are hideous styling and mechanical disasters—I’ll spare Dirck the hate mail by not saying which models—and then some are incredible technological marvels, leaving the competition behind by years. The original GSX-R750 set the bar for the modern superbike in 1985—and then raised it again with the SRAD model in 1996.

V-Twins seemed to be the thing in the late ’90s. The attention went to the big ones—Honda’s VTR1000F Superhawk and Suzuki’s TL1000S. So when the smaller 647cc SV650 rolled into bike-show display booths in 1998, the assumption was that it was a sleeved-down TL1000S, a cheaper, slower version for budget buyers. Yawn. A reasonable assumption to make, given Suzuki’s reputation for parts-bin engineering and making smaller versions of bigger bikes like the Katana, GSX-R and Bandit, but nothing could be further from the truth.

In fact, I’d argue the SV is the improved TL. The big Twin was hampered by the 1000cc V’s height, requiring an unusual rotary-damper design to get a sportbike-ish wheelbase. The TL’s aluminum-truss frame (Suzuki’s first) looks industrial and awkward, and the powerplant was complex, with a hybrid gear/chain timing drive and fuel-injection that was less than satisfactory, according to contemporary accounts. The TL weighs in at something like 485 pounds gassed up, which takes some of the edge off the 113-horsepower motor. And we can’t forget the whole European tank-slapping controversy, which resulted in a worldwide recall to install steering dampers.

Gabe thinks this Over Racing OV-10, with a Ducati 900SS powerplant and
lovely oval-tube aluminum frame, may have been the inspiration for the
original SV650.

No such drama with the little SV, a perfect example of how less can often be more. The oval-section aluminum trellis frame is as pretty a thing as ever came from the Suzuki factory—I’ve heard a rumor that it was inspired by Over Racing’s Suzuka-winning frames from the ’90s, and though I can’t confirm that, there is a family resemblance. In fact, our own Editor Edge told us England’s Harris Racing—chassis builder to the stars—gave up trying to improve on the stock frame, it’s that good.

The liquid-cooled, carbureted dohc 645cc 90-degree V-Twin, sending an honest 68 horsepower to the rear wheel, is still, after 15 years, unmatched in its class. Front suspension uses stout 41mm conventional fork tubes (state of the art for contemporary middleweight sportbikes), and the rear shock, though adjustable only for preload, works through a linkage—extra complexity and expense on a commuter, de riguer on a serious sportbike. The rear swingarm, like the frame, is aluminum, and is equipped with lugs for swingarm spools. The front brakes are big 290mm discs.

The racers out there are nodding their heads. This is a serious racing platform disguised as a cute beginner-friendly budget commuter. If you’re a racer, you’ll swap out or modify most of the cheap-o stock stuff on whatever bike you’re running—suspension, brakes, exhaust—so the SV, for the discerning, yet cheap, enthusiast, is a bargain.

That’s what I was thinking when I sold my 2010 Triumph Street Triple R to MD contributor Courtney Olive and bought a 2000-model SV650 standard  from my friend Stephen. Sure, the Triumph is one of the best middleweight standards built, lighter than the SV and much faster. But I needed the dough, and besides, I never really bonded with that bike. It was fun, but the handling was too direct, too sensitive for me (the 2013 Street Triple has revised steering geometry that eliminates the nervous handling found in older models, including Gabe’s – ed.). I’m sensitive enough as it is.

This is a newer model SV with the revised frame.

You can find an older SV in red, as well.

Why buy such an old bike when Suzuki sold the SV naked version up to just a few years ago? Well, the price was right, and saving a few grand—I knew I’d need it for maintenance and upgrades—was important. SV’s hold their value a lot better than most entry-level and commuter machines—Kelly Blue Book’s surveys show that a dealer might fetch $1920 for a ’99 and $3895 for the standard (non-ABS) 2008 model, but here in Northern California, both shops and private parties typically get much more. I also liked the idea of being able to practice the lost art of carburetor tuning, as I have another project bike with carbs. Finally, I like the styling of the “first-gen” models, siding with many SV enthusiasts (ironic that even this community has a schism, which should be unsurprising if you read the Boss’ article on tribes) who refer to the bikes as “curvy” (first gen) or “pointy” (second gen). Don’t worry, boss: I still respect and get along with my pointy-riding brethren. I’d even let one marry my sister (you don’t have to go that far! – ed.).

My new bike needed work before I could ride it. It needed a battery, fresh fluids and a valve-clearance check. The Metzelers had good tread, but were six years old. And there was a loud clicking sound coming from the front cylinder. Uh oh. Maybe it wasn’t such a good deal. Would I get in sorted within my total (Bike plus repairs) $3000 budget?

The tune-up, fluids and battery weren’t too expensive, but the clicking was the “automatic*” cam-chain tensioner. You can replace them (and if you’re going to do the front one, you might as well do the back) for about $70 each—labor will add another $100-200—or use APE manual tensioners. I went with the stock ones, as my parts guy said the APE tensioners were back-ordered and I wanted to get it fixed right away. Installing the units was a challenge—they’re installed into the bike at the factory while the engine is out of the frame, which means you have to have little squirrel hands or a very long Allen wrench with a ball end (or both). Luckily, the Suzuki parts come with a little key you pull out after installation, which sets the tensioner—in the bad old days you had to buy a special tool, or make one yourself. Easy, as they say, if you know how.

And so I headed out on my 13-year-old SV650. My last SV was a 1999 model that I crashed (hard!) 3 times in six months, but I recall it was typically sure-footed, torquey and very fun. I sold it 10 years ago—would the intervening years and hundreds of exotic machines I’ve ridden since diminish the little blue bike?

Not at all. Sure, the motor felt slow and buzzy after the Triumph (and what wouldn’t?), but it was still fast enough to get me into trouble, with a strong drive in any gear and ample ability to cruise comfortably at very high speeds—while returning 40-plus mpg. Twist it over 7000 rpm and it pulls hard up to its 10,000 rpm redline, though you won’t mistake it for a four-cylinder sportbike (unless it’s a 1980 CB750K).

The motor is good enough, but the SV is all about handling, making it hard to avoid cliches when you describe it. A rumor that sticks with me is that CompuTrack, Australian Greg McDonald’s chain of suspension and chassis-tuning centers developed “sweet numbers,” rake, trail and other chassis-geometry measurements that would deliver optimal handling for any motorcycle—and the SV came from the factory with exactly those numbers. I don’t know if that’s true, but the SV is neutral, balanced, turns very quickly, feels lighter than its 400-ish pound wet weight and generally lacks any serious handling vices.

But this is a journalistic website, not an SV650 fanboi page, so let’s be objective. The stock SV’s suspension and brakes suck, and the stock exhaust note sounds like the aftermath of an all-you-can-eat Indian buffet. Luckily, the motorcycle aftermarket and legions of SV enthusiasts have developed solutions and work-arounds for all the bike’s shortcomings, real and imagined. Join me over the next few months as I:

  • Try different suspension solutions
  • Do something about the squishy, weak and wooden brakes
  • Swap the exhaust and fiddle with carbs
  • Ride the crap out of it! Stay tuned.

*And by “automatic,” I mean it will automatically fail at 15,000 miles.

90 Comments

  1. ziggy says:

    All this said it makes me wonder: Why can’t Suzuki build a better SV650?

    Report this comment

    • Dave says:

      Easy- 2 options:
      1. They did- the SV1000 (bigger engine, better suspension/brakes)
      2. not enough customers willing to pay for it. The Gladius will cancel with the news of Yamaha’s new rig.

      Report this comment

  2. Eric says:

    Curveys are best. I own a very low mileage (stock) yellow 2002 that is mint except for a ding in the muffler. I wish it had FI – hard to start in the Spring, and choking it while it warms up is a hassle. I get 55MPG consistently driving to/from work and 60+ when cruising around the countryside.

    When owners swap mufflers, they never get nearly as good MPG. My muffler has a ding in it (thanks to a woman doing a uturn into my side) so eventually I’ll replace it. I bought a replacement aftermarket muffler, Delkevic, which is very popular for the SV650. Best bang for the buck for sure.

    Report this comment

  3. John Brown says:

    Question for those in the know, if I build one up as a track bike, will it be enough to stay with, or outrun a well ridden and suspended TRX 850?

    Cheers John

    Report this comment

    • Gabe says:

      Depends on who’s riding the TRX and who’s riding the SV! The SV will be lighter, but not as fast on the straights. So a good rider on a technical track should be able to hang with an equal rider on the TRX, given equal gains in suspension and motor for both bikes.

      A good way to get a better answer than listening to me would be to check results and lap times from club races held on the racetracks where you ride (in Oz or New Zealand, I’m guessing?).

      Report this comment

    • Norm G. says:

      re: “if I build one up as a track bike, will it be enough to stay with, or outrun a well ridden and suspended TRX 850?”

      i’m going to go out on a limf and say, yes. I’VE been outridden by someone on an SV. in ’05 i conducted an impromptu experiment. granted i could’ve handily take this individual on the straights with my liter bike, but i deliberately stayed behind to see if i could match pace through the turns. i couldn’t do it. we circulated like this for about 5 or 6 laps. by about the 7th rotation, he’d pulled such a gap, i couldn’t even see him. true story.

      Report this comment

  4. Norm G. says:

    re: “But this is a journalistic website, not an SV650 fanboi page”

    it is now…!!! :)

    Report this comment

  5. Motogrin says:

    I’ve got an ’04 naked. Great little bike. Fun urban runabout or short distance commuter, a hoot in the twisties. But let’s be honest: even with a Sargent seat and wider bars, after an hour in the saddle this 47 year old 5’11″ frame is screaming to get off. A day-ride is out of the question. I remedied this by adding a ’12 DL650 to the mix. I’m a happy camper.

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  6. Gary says:

    I’m sure the frame is a thing of beauty, but the 650 lump is a real snoozer. At least it is in the V-Strom version I rode one time. Smooth, but uninspiring. Maybe invest in some lumpy cams?

    Report this comment

    • Jeremy in TX says:

      I don’t know if the V-Strom engine has a different tuning than the SV or not, but I have ridden the two bikes back to back and noticed the V-Strom felt much duller. Different cams, extra weight, psychosis? I don’t know. But the SV is a riot compared to the Strom the way I perceived it.

      Report this comment

    • Dave says:

      I have read that guys put 2nd gen cams in the 1st gen engine and that the 1st gen engine has a stronger bottom end.

      Report this comment

    • Gabe says:

      Imagine the V-strom with 5-10 more hp and 80 less pounds. It’s not going to overwhelm anybody expecting 600cc inline-four performance, but it does have a stronger midrange than most middleweight race-replicas of the era.

      Report this comment

    • powermad says:

      The strom is a mule, in no way meant to resemble any kind of sport bike.
      What it is good for is piling stuff on and taking a trip, especially if there are some dirt roads to explore. Its reliable and comfortable although I would not call it inspiring either even though I own one.
      Some of the guys do swap out the SV cams on their Strom and that is apparently the main difference in the engines but its still going to weigh more, hard to get around that.

      Report this comment

      • Gary says:

        power … if by “mule” you mean that V-Strom riders don’t have to strike a, “Come hither, Bubba” prison pose, then yes, by golly, the V-Strom is a mule. I owned a 1000 Strom several years, and in that time I zipped past a number of crotch rocketeers who were sure that one can only go fast when one subjects oneself to cruel, cruel ergonomics. I am still kicking myself for selling that bike, one of the most comfortable, reliable, practical, and yes, sporty bikes I’ve owned. Believe it or not. And, yeah … when loaded down with stuff, it is a mule, too.

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  7. Mike D. says:

    I bought a naked 2003 SV650 leftover in 2004 and I’ll never part with it. I’ve had 45,000 trouble free miles. I recently upgraded the suspension with a Penske rear shock and Traxxion Dynamics drop in emulators and replaced the brake lines with steel Goodridge lines. Unfortunately it’s been collecting dust as I haven’t had time to button her back up after I performed a recent valve clearance check. Luckily, I have my 2011 Speed Triple to ride, but she’ll be on the road again this summer.

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  8. Randy says:

    I’ve ridden two SV650 looking to buy but the bikes just let me down in the engine, pretty limp in the mid-range. I’m sure I could get used to it but I never felt excited by the bike.

    A couple years ago I picked up a Sprint RS 955i 19K miles, $2,500. That bike has an engine! I converted it to regular handlebar and it’s at least as comfy as a stock SV650. It’s a solid handling and smooth bike, though probably not as outright fun balls out as the SV650 on a morning blast.

    Report this comment

    • blackcayman says:

      what you gained in thrust, you lost twice that in handling.

      Report this comment

      • Randy says:

        Do you know or are you just guessing about the Sprint RS?

        Anyway, where I ride (South and North Sierras) handling at the extreme is moot. Pushing a bike to the extreme will result in a low side on sand or some other bad result. Corners change from morning to afternoon, it takes one horse trailer cutting the shoulder to dump a pile of sand into the road.

        Out on the track this might be a valid observation. On real world roads it comes down to trades. Do I want 40 pounds less and somewhat more nimble handling, or massive smooth seamless drive from 1500 RPM to redline (which the RS has) on a comfortable solid bike? I never feel grades, headwinds, or in fact effort up to any, any cruising speed I care to wear my tires out on. BTW, I don’t know if my RS is special but I routinely get 53 – 56 mpg in normal (kinda fast) riding in the mountains.

        I’ve done successive 500 mile days in the mountains of California on the RS and only stopped because of getting back home, out of time.

        Report this comment

  9. 01 SV FAN says:

    So far there have been no shortage of ideas of how to make the bike better–and this post will be no different! I think the costs will skyrocket if the writer goes too far with the mods (and just between us replacing the entire front end with a GSXr one just feels like cheating…at some point you should have just got a different bike!).

    Anyway I used to own a 2001 SV–and I did some mods to it–some useful, some not. But of the ones I found useful–this is what I would do on the cheap. He said he’s already getting better tires, which is key. The other budget minded mods I would do to improve the handling of the bike would be to replace the fork oil with a heavier weight oil, front stainless brake lines, better brake pads front and rear, rejet the carbs in conjunction with opening up the airbox–all this is less than $200. If there are a few more dollars to spend, I’d then get new mirrors–or extenders on the stock ones to make them more useful–and an upgraded exhaust–my favorite is the renegade exhaust. I think all of these mods can be done for less than $500–especially without the exhaust.

    Now if you remove the $ aspect…then I’m all for rebuilding the shocks from a race company…boring the motor…new inverted forks…etc. But at some point you’re building a whole new bike.

    Report this comment

  10. dman says:

    Gabe, if you keep the stock forks don’t waste money on new pads or lines for the stock calipers. Buy some used 4-piston Tokico or Nissin calipers on EBay, get new pads for those, and bolt ‘em on to the stock forks with SVRacing adaptors. Best investment you can make.

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  11. Widdy says:

    Just adding to the list of people who’ve exhorted their love of this little bike. After selling my first ’03 SV650 to get an SV1000, I found I wished I had both bikes. I managed to do so a few years later buying a used race-prepped ’00 SV650. Now I want to get my little racer to be road-legal so I can tool around on it every weekend! The big SV1k I’d keep as my commuter. Looking forward to reading about your SV adventure!

    Report this comment

  12. Tom Shields says:

    Gabe, this looks like a very interesting project and I’m looking forward to your updates!

    Report this comment

  13. PN says:

    I like the round frame of the first generation but prefer the efi of the second. Glad MCD took on this project.

    Report this comment

  14. Chris R says:

    I have a 2002 SV650 that I got from my dad when he stopped riding back in 2009. I use it exclusively for track days, but the upgrades I made would be just as useful for a street bike. I sent the front suspension over to RaceTech and the difference along with the Ohlins shock out back has been astonishing. Instead of wallowing and wiggling through the corners, she hunkers down like a fighter and grips tenaciously. EBC brake pads bring things to a halt much more assertively, a Givi A750n windscreen keeps the high speed wind at bay. A Yoshimura slip-on gives the sweet 650 a proper bark, rearset risers from SVRacing puts the feet up and back without spending a fortune on full rearsets. Lastly, Suburban machinery type 1 handlebar gives the SV a more committed riding position

    It’s an affordable, bulletproof grin machine. You can’t go wrong. I look forward to following the project.

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  15. KTMRyder says:

    I’ve got a 2002 model that is strictly my track bike.
    Ohlins shock ands full gsxr front end.
    A great confidence inspiring track bike that doesn’t eat tires too bad or cost me a fortune in maintenance costs.

    Report this comment

  16. endoman38 says:

    “…Some of the company’s products are hideous styling and mechanical disasters—I’ll spare Dirck the hate mail by not saying which models…”. I bet you’re thinking of the Gladius, which should have been called the Hideous.

    Report this comment

    • JohnH says:

      I actually like the little Gladius, just not the name. Looks like a great bike for track days. Always thought it would be fun to paint one Ducati red, put on a nice exhaust and call in a Munster 650. Everyone’s different with various tastes in bikes. It would make it a bunch easier for manufacturers if everyone’s wants and desires were identical, build just one model each year and everybody would be happy.

      Report this comment

    • Gabe says:

      Ha! I’ll never tell, but here’s a hint:a different kind of bladed weapon, but not the Katana.

      Report this comment

  17. Brian says:

    Good read and I am not just saying that because I had to sell my ’03 SV650 a few months ago…

    Report this comment

  18. Ed Chambers says:

    I just gave my 2000 to a friend with 48000 mi on it.It still runs great with the original automatic cam chain adjusters and still has all the original cables.It does however have a racetech front end with a GSXR rear shock and Factory config 30 kit and Yoshimura RS3 exhaust.In the 13 years that I owned it the only part to fail was a coil at right about 45000 mi.These are fun project bikes I look forward to reading updates.

    Report this comment

    • Norm G. says:

      re: “I just gave my 2000 to a friend with 48000 mi on it.It still runs great with the original automatic cam chain adjusters”

      omg, you are dancing with the devil. friends don’t let friends run OE tensioners. it ain’t right i tell ya. :)

      Report this comment

      • paulysr says:

        I rode one ’till it had 30k and another one up to 61k (both first gen). Never had any problems with tensioners or camchains, and it was nice to know that my camchains were always properly tensioned (how does a person figure out when to adjust the manual tensioners and how tight to make them?)

        Report this comment

  19. JohnA says:

    Kagato,

    My wife put 94,500 miles on her 2006 sv650n. She has 84,000 miles on her current 2008 sv650n. neither bike ever has had any problems at all. Wilbers shock and racetech in the forks. We picked up a 2007 low mileage sv650 in the garage now to replace her current ride. Suzuki Should have kept this in production forever. I’m 6’3 250 pounds or I would have one also. Closest I could get was a DL1000. (need the extra grunt to keep up with her)

    Report this comment

  20. powermad says:

    I might also say I got pretty good suspension results on my 650 Vstrom (very similar) by using racetech cartridge fork emulators and springs in the forks and having Racetech rebuild and modify the rear shock. IIRCC correctly the total bill was somewhere around $700 give or take a little.

    Report this comment

  21. Jeremy in TX says:

    I think the SV650 is one of the best bikes ever made. You could buy one cheap (new or used), enjoy as is or spend some chump change to make it a back road burner or track tool. A great platform for intermediate and advanced riders.

    I am surprised Suzuki killed the brand. Had SV sales slumped to nothing by the end? Why rebadge it as the Gladius and ditch the trick aluminum frame?

    Report this comment

    • Dave says:

      I think a contributing factor was economic change. They were probably having a hard time keeping the cost of production under control. The Gladius is now an $8k bike and that’s after some measures to make it cheaper to produce than the SV (frame you mention).

      Report this comment

      • Jeremy in TX says:

        No doubt the value of the Yen had a lot to do with the steel frame, though it seems like the aluminum frame’s design and tooling would have been a fully amortized by now. I can’t imagine they saved that much by going to a newly designed steel frame vs the old aluminum frame which, to me anyway, was one of those product differentiators that set the SV apart from competing bikes in the class.

        Regardless, I still don’t see why Suzuki would kill the SV as a brand though. The SV name had a lot of star power.

        Report this comment

    • Rob says:

      The SV650S is still a listed bike in Australia, as well as the Gladius models.

      Report this comment

  22. RobbieAG says:

    I’m looking forward to how this develops. Although I don’t have an SV and have no immediate plans to get one, I hope to apply some of what you do (mainly suspension) to my current bike (02 Nighthawk 750) if possible.

    Report this comment

  23. Starmag says:

    I knew the SV was a great bike, but I never realized the trail of regret it’s left in it’s wake of former owner’s (lovers). Good thing SV’s dont take you assests with them when they leave as well. You can always buy another used one.

    Report this comment

  24. Ralph says:

    The only bike I ever regret selling. I had an original ’99 round tube in red. RaceTech emulators/springs in the forks, Fox twin clicker shock, Galfer brake lines and pads, Factory stage 1 jet kit, and a Yoshi RS-3 oval slip on. Sold it to a buddy back in 2006, and he won’t sell it back to me. Dumb dumb dumb, it was a great bike.

    Report this comment

  25. powermad says:

    The SV is a good bike and you have to marvel how only Suzuki could follow it up with something called Gladius and damn near manage to tank the whole concept.
    Unfortunate because the Gladius frame looked good once you got the silly plastic covers off it and the motor is said to be refined but who thought of the name and ad campaign?

    Report this comment

    • Dave says:

      It is only an unfortunate name because it lacks backstory. Gladius is the name of the greek short sword, just doesn’t have the same ring as “Katana” (samurai sword).

      Report this comment

  26. blackcayman says:

    I bought a 1999 in early 2000 for $2500.00. It only had 1300 miles on it and it was in perfect condition. I was working at a Suzuki shop (it was a trade in) at the time and had a 2000 model as a demo, but knew I would want my own after riding one around. I also had a Hayabusa Demo so the little SV was just for fun.

    I kept it for 10 years. I’ve had faster bikes and better handling bikes, even better looking bikes. But the little SV just seemed to have an unbeatable combination of fun factors all in one bike. It was light and flickable, had a torquey thrust of acceleration and was somehow more fun than it should have been. Mine was exactly like the top picture.

    I came across another super low miles SV a few years back…this one a very rare, low miles, perfect condition 2003 SV1000 N. I got such a great deal on it I had to buy it. I was ready for a more powerful bike after that much time on the little SV, but the handling of the 1000 is not even close. It takes a lot of input to initiate a turn – but it’s become 2nd nature now – and that skill has translated to better control over my track bike (a 2008 GSX R750).

    I will always have fond memories of the little SV 650! If you never rode one – you just wouldn’t understand – or know what you missed. So go pick one up and ride it for a year!

    Report this comment

  27. jpj says:

    I certainly wish I could get my blue 2000 model back in my garage!!! Sold it 2010. It truly is just about a perfect all around motorcycle. Just as described. Neutral handling, good balance of power, (engine & brake) light weight. Mods? 520 conversion -1/+1 ratio, very common. Some good brake pads (EBC-HH or Vesrah RJL) and lines. Re-calibrate the carbs, pipe, and K&N filter. Motorcyclist did this a few years ago and swapped the front suspension with GSXR . Question is Why will Suzuki not produce this bike today ? Gladius is not the same.

  28. Mike G says:

    I’m just glad I scored my 2001 “s” model two months ago, before you all let the cat out of the bag (again) to remind everyone what a perfect street bike the SV is! Paid $2300 with 13,800 miles on it…never dropped…runs perfect. But I have a feeling prices are going up now :)

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    • Norm G. says:

      re: “I’m just glad I scored my 2001 “s” model two months ago, before you all let the cat out of the bag (again) to remind everyone what a perfect street bike the SV is!”

      what’s a ninja 300, ktm 390 again…?

      Report this comment

  29. Kagato says:

    I love the frame on the early SV’s, was much distressed when they changed it.

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    • Kagato says:

      btw, my Ninja 500 just clicked over 28,000 miles—would an SV engine hold up as well? Assuming the cam drives were changed or updated? haven’t touched the innards on my bike, except to adjust the valves (screw/locknut)

      Report this comment

      • mickey says:

        My nephew put 23,000 hard miles on his Suzuki 650 with nothing more than oil changes nd a chain adjustment or two. I rode it once on one of my favorite curvy roads and found I could ride it 5 to 10 mph faster than I could my Yamaha FZ-1. Nice little bike. Decent handler. A lot of fun.

        My son keeps talking about getting one of these even though he owns an FZ-1 and a Ducati Monster 696. Go figure.

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  30. Provologna says:

    A reasonably accurate paraphrase from the most active Ducati forum, the subject being track days, race tuning, and various Ducati models and vintages: “…proof of how little difference all this stuff makes was obvious when a particular race prepped SV650 went by everyone in our group like we had dropped anchor; his wake almost blew us off the track…”

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  31. Vrooom says:

    The SV is great bike, though I really loved those TL’s too. Those things were fast and handled awfully well compared to a lot of bikes in that category.

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  32. JEC says:

    Upgrading a SV is easy, cheap and fun. Basically you can just bolt whatever GSXR bits you like to it and away you go. I had a GSXR750 front end and rear shock, and six-piston Tokicos (that fixed the shitty brakes!). Take care to keep the geometry in check though, I ended up with an ass-high attitude do to the longer rear shock and it made it unstable without a damper. In hindsight a lowering link would have been smart.

    For a relatively inexpensive but sweet sounding exhaust, I recommend a Hindle full system. Considerably lighter than stock, sounds awesome, and when I got mine it was well under a grand for the whole setup including the end can. Not sure if they are still available (450-500$ retail excluding the end can, low or high mount), a quick check shows the second-gen is still available but no mention if that will work with the first gen as well.

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  33. Agent55 says:

    One of my favorite all-time motorcycles; tons of character, solid styling (the 1st-gen model at least) and one of the best street engines ever.

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  34. SausageCreature says:

    I’ve always liked SV’s (make mine a 2nd gen S model, please). They’re an iconic do-everything bike for a reason. That said, I have to take issue with a few things from the article

    “There are few choices.” A quick craigslist search yielded about a dozen bikes that would fit the bill quite nicely. Yamaha R6, Katana 600, Honda 599, ZX1100, F4i, etc. I’m not claiming that any of these would be necessarily better or worse than the SV, but clearly there are many choices.

    Also, you can say the SV “lacks any serious handling vices,” or you can say, “The stock SV’s suspension and brakes suck.” Pick one.

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    • Ralph says:

      The stock suspension was very soft, but if you rode smoothly you could still put a big hurtin’ on the repli-race guys. The tighter the road, the better the SV was. I still remember one day a long time ago when two buddies and I (all of us on SVs) tormented a couple of guys on R-1s on 60 north out of Suches, GA. On the straight stretches the liter bike guys would jet ahead, but in the twisty parts we’d catch and pass them. Rinse, repeat.

      Once I upgraded the suspension (RaceTech front, foxx twin clicker rear) it was a very formidable tight roads bike. I loved blasting the gap with that bike…

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    • Gabe says:

      Handling does not equal suspension! They are two different ideas.

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      • SausageCreature says:

        I’m going to have to disagree to a certain extent. Sure, “handling” is a broad term that includes much more than just suspension, but include suspension it most certainly does. Perhaps saying the suspension “sucks” was a bit of hyperbole on your part, but I reserve that term for something that is truly awful rather than “could be better”.

        I found the SV’s suspension to be a bit soft for my liking, but then again Suzuki likely didn’t have my 6’1″ 220 pound frame in mind when they designed it. Still, it only let me down when pushed and could likely be pushed harder with an average size rider. In my opinion, a truly awful suspension (one that “sucks”) doesn’t work correctly in several situations no matter how big/small the rider is…and that would definitely be a serious handling vice.

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        • Ralph says:

          I am 6’2″ and weights about 200# at the time. Yes, it was soft, but that bike teached smooth riding like no ther bike I’ve had before or since. I rode the bike for a long long time on that soft suspension, and I got to be pretty darned quick.

          At the time I also owned a CBR600F4, and the Honda sat and gathered dust most of the time.

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  35. Azi says:

    This sounds like a great project Gabe! I keep telling my disbelieving friends that now is the time to buy 1990s motorcycles as they are cheaper than ever and will become the classic bikes of 2020 onwards for the Gen X crowd. I’ve owned an SV650S previously and found it fun to ride, with the only major unfixable problem being the ergonomics not suiting my size. I look forward to reading about your journey.

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  36. MG says:

    I have an ’01, bought it used 5 years ago for $2300. upgraded with Yoshi pipe,and K&N filter ,runs great, and fun bike.

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  37. Dave Kent says:

    I’ve owned 4 of these over the years. One word of warning: This bike has an aftermarket upgrade industry greater than the annual GDP of Europe. If your plan is to keep your budget in the black, stay away from SVRider.com. They’ll plant enough seeds in your mind to guarantee domestic strife and a not so gradual slide into financial ruin.

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  38. Starmag says:

    A friend of mine bought one with 10k on for $1000(!) which may be the best performance for dollar deal of all time. He let me take it for a ride. What a great little bike. The engine still has nice v-twin sounds but feels racy because it doesn’t run out of breath at 6000rpm. My objecions are looks. While the frame is no doubt functionally great, and not ugly for it’s type (perimeter), you still can’t see the whole engine, (even on a naked),and this type of frame forces the use of the now common (and ugly) “wedge and a hump” gas tank. It makes me wonder how much cooler this bike could have been if it had been introduced with a frame like the way-ahead-of-it’s-time (see the Britten v1000 and the Panigale) Vincent. The bolt-the-headstock-and-swingarm-to-the-engine design allows the use of prettier gas tank designs and really shows off the engine in a naked. As far as the perfomance of this frame design, it may not prove to be as good as a perimeter in racing, (the jury is still out, see the Panigale in WSBK), but this is street bikes we’re talking about and it’s performance is fine for that and gives more leeway styling wise, to say nothing of lower weight. (oops, I guess I did say it.) I doubt you’ll go this route on a budget, but it would be interesting to see more manufacturers and customizers take a swing at this. Good luck with your project!

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  39. Christian A. says:

    We’ve upgraded quite a bit on my wife’s 2001 SV650. Aside from the cosmetic stuff (Rhino-liner instead of paint, mirros, HID lamp etc) the main two upgrades were to the suspension and brakes.

    Upgrading the brakes was easy: SS lines and new pads. The light weight of the bike doesn’t require more stopping power – I suppose a little more feel would be nice, but I’m not spending big bucks on new calipers and master cylinders for that.

    We installed an Ohlin’s shock, and for the front we found forks from a crashed 2005 GSXR-750. GP Suspension in Portland, Oregon modified the SV forks to accept the insides of the GSXR forks plus custom valves and new springs. They machined the SV forks to accept the GSXR caps, so we have preload and rebound adjusters. We could have spent more money to get a whole GSXR front end (wheel, triple tree, clipon’s etc) but we wanted the SV’s higher handlebars.

    This is now an awesomely fun and light ride!

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  40. bikerrandy says:

    I’ve owned 1 Suzuki MC, a `91 VX800, and I still have it w/85k miles on the odo. It’s The most bullet proof MC I’ve ever owned in 50 years of riding. I rode a `99 SV650 @ Daytona Bike Week and was not impressed with it’s supposed torque. In fact it didn’t even feel like a twin. You had to wind it out to get any acceleration out of it. Maybe my VX spoiled me with it’s linear power. But the SV650 was so good for it’s cost Suzuki didn’t even have promote them 15 years ago.

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    • Provologna says:

      Though I never rode one, I always wanted and highly admired the Suzuki VX800, very similar to my ’80 and ’81 Yamaha XV920R’s: enclosed chain final drive, upright riding position, sport/standard version of the ubiquitous Virago series. I still miss my new silver ’80 XV920R, one of my all time favorite bikes of about seventy-five bikes owned. But I estimate your VX has about 6″ longer wheelbase and about 75# on the SV. So the two bikes have quite different missions.

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      • bikerrandy says:

        The VX has a 60″ wheelbase and weighs 475# dry. It’s long swingarm completely cancels out any rear end lift of most then shafted MCs. With the stock handlebar the VX felt twitchy in handling. I installed a superbike bar and it completely transformed the handling of the VX. I added a Rifle sport faing, and Givi top case. It became my sport/tourer, 1 or 2up. Until I got an `00 MZ Tour single the VX was my best handling bike ever. The way I rode the VX it could have used another front disc brake. That was it’s only weakness in aggressive riding.

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        • Provologna says:

          Sorry, I only checked to confirm what I already knew. XV800 wheelbase is 61.6, closer to 62 as I mentioned than 60: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Suzuki_VX_800 Minus the SV650′s 55.9 = 5.7″ or only .3″ less than my estimate above.

          5.7″ is akin to a zip code for this spec. The longer the wheelbase the greater is lean angle for same velocity through any given cornering radius. Also, the greater is effort required for any change in attitude.

          Full tank curb weight difference is close to 100#. That is the second huge VX800 deficit considering similar peak hp (this 100# also levels or diminishes the XV800′s torque advantage).

          There could be rider X on a VX800 who might go round rider Y on an SV650. But between the two bikes, any particular rider would go through any set of corners much quicker on the SV, both bikes in similar condition and equipped similarly.

          Of that there is little to debate.

          Straight line, riders same weight, I think any SV could walk away from any XV, again, both bikes in similar condition/similar equipment.

          Two up is where the XV has it all over the SV, far more space and comfort, and it’s greater torque helps.

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          • Provologna says:

            sorry, I meant VX, not XV !

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          • bikerrandy says:

            Say what you want. I have never ground the VX sides going thru a corner but I do scrub the front tire going thru corners, just like real road racers. 1 time I caught up to a R1, 1000 GSXR, 600 GSXR and stayed with them on Hwy 49 east of Downieville. We were riding WAY over the 55 speed limit. I had never ridden the VX that fast before. We got pulled over by a CHP. They couldn’t believe I kept up with them.

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        • Dave says:

          Wiki says the vx weighs 524lb dry.It’s known to be a good standard but making it’s peak HP (63) @7,500rpm puts it’s engine squarely in the low rpm torque category with cruisers. The sv is very much a twin, just not like you’re used to.

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          • bikerrandy says:

            It has a top speed of 127 mph. How many cruisers can you say that about? It’s a real v-twin so it doesn’t have to rev high like crotch rockets. It has very linear power from off idle to red line. In the real street world that’s what you want. It wasn’t made for road racing but in the twisties it is more than capable. 1 time I had a street comparison w/a newer 1200 Buel, We were dead even in acceleration up to 100 mph, much to my surprise.

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  41. stinkywheels says:

    I’m a twin fan and am looking forward to seeing what comes out of this. Been scouring the SV forum for info on my project SV1000 to go with a pristine RC51 I just picked up. I know the V Strom is hot right now but these SVs are what I hated to see go.

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  42. DaveA says:

    Over my 7 years of racing, I raced lots of different bikes (even a TL1000R), and my all-time fave is the 1st gen SV that a couple of buddies and I built for WERA endurance racing. Stock forks with Honda F3 guts (to give externally adjustable rebound) w/ RaceTech valving, Penske shock, M4 pipe, 2mm over, Busa rods, mild head work, braided brake lines, a steering damper, and race bodywork. That was it, and it was awesome, It made 79hp at the wheel, a ton more torque than stock, and in general was a ball to ride.

    I don’t have a track bike these days, but I will, and when I do, it will be a copy of that bike. Not only is it cheap to operate as a track bike (cheap/plentiful parts, solid reliability, and easy on tires), it’s extra fun at a track day when you ride around the outside of a group of liter bike dudes :)

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  43. brad says:

    sv class (lightweight twins) is usually one of if not the biggest grid at club races all over the country. And the best class to race in if you weren’t raised at the track or blessed with a little bit of alien DNA

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  44. Norm G. says:

    re: “The racers out there are nodding their heads.”

    yeah we are.

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