Stop! Having good brakes is something we don’t notice…until we ride a motorcycle with sub-par stoppers. After a couple of years on a Triumph Street Triple R—a motorcycle with such powerful front brakes I made it a point to warn anyone riding my bike about them—the brakes on my 2000 Suzuki SV650 seemed so weak, flaccid and wooden I started wishing I had huge feet like Fred Flintstone so I could help them out.
What to do? I had a 1999 SV650 back when it was almost new, but I didn’t remember the brakes being so bad. But I knew the 13-year-old Tokicos’ faults could be corrected by a caliper and master-cylinder rebuild, steel-braided lines and fresh pads and fluid—standard treatment for any used bike. So I called up Holeshot Performance (which specializes in SVs as well as many other bikes of all eras) to recommend lines. Dale “Holeshot” Walker, the roadracer/dragracer/performance junkie in charge, sent me a set of braided stainless Galfer lines for the front brakes ($95). The two-line kit (it eliminates the crossover and includes a longer banjo bolt for the master cylinder) is a perfect match for the naked or half-faired S model. He sells kits for all years of the SV.
But before I bolted the lines on, I saw something really cool in a web-surfing session. A guy was selling a V-Strom equipped with a set of adapter plates that allowed him to mount early-2000s four-piston calipers, vastly improving braking power with little addition of weight. The V-Strom and SV650 have a very similar fork/caliper combination—would it work for me?
Yes! SV Racing Parts.com is just what it sounds like and offers a very cool product. $75 gets you a set of nicely finished aluminum brackets and stainless-steel hardware ready to bolt up to your choice of either Tokico or Nissin calipers (there are also kits for the V-Strom 650 and 1000). The four-pot Tokico units in question lived on the front of the 200-2003 GSX-R600, the 2000-2003 GSX-R750, and all model years of the SV1000, according to SV Racing Parts. The Nissin equivalent was on just about every Honda sportbike from that era, including the F4, F4i, 929, 954, Superhawk, VFR800, RC-51 and even the first-generation CBR600RR.
I went with the Nissin setup for several reasons. I figured they’d be easier to find, would have better parts availability, and would work with the stock master cylinder and brake lines. And I was right! I was able to find a complete front system for just $70 on eBay, but I’ll bet you could find a set for even less. And finding pads (I ordered EBC Double-H pads, about $40 a pair) and bolting everything up was less than an hour, including bleeding the fresh DOT-4 fluid the old-fashioned way.
I took it easy on my first ride, as the directions that came with the pad advised me the pads could take up to 250 miles to bed in to the rotors. I could have thrown caution to the wind—right away, the difference in feel and power was stunning. Even without rebuilding the master cylinder and calipers, the brakes felt as strong and sensitive as I remember this generation of brakes feeling new.
All in, these modifications would run you around $250 (you could save $100 using stock rubber lines and even more using bargain-bin pads)—is it worth it?
Well, I love the confidence the new brakes give me, but I’m starting to think this series is headed towards the inevitable: the Big Swap. Swapping the front end from a Suzuki GSX-R or other sportbike will not only give me even better brakes (like the radial-mount four-piston calipers that were pretty much standard on all sportbikes by 2005), but superior suspension for a cost of about $500-750. But modifying the stock stuff lets me keep a stock appearance (like handlebars, headlight bracket and instruments) and is easier to do. I’ll see how far that approach gets me.
Still to come: Suspension, tires, cosmetics, fueling and exhaust.
Gabe Ets-Hokin is the Editor of City Bike Magazine, and a frequent contributor to MotorcycleDaily.com