After having test-ridden a few (including having owned an SV1000), examined a lot and read everything on the internet, here's everything I've learned on buying one of the most under-appreciated motorcycles of all time: the Suzuki SV650. a used (or new) Suzuki SV650, for my own and your reference. Here is a guide to the SV650: all the motorcycle you need*.
* "Need". Not "want". It's OK to want a Yamaha R1.
In this guide...
- What makes the SV650 so popular — it's cheap, it looks great, it has character, and it keeps up with most until speeds get crazy
- A quick guide to which one you should buy (for whatever budget)
- A history of the three generations of the Suzuki SV650
- Alternatives to the Suzuki SV650, including the SV1000, the Wee-Strom (V-Strom) and the Kawasaki Ninja 650
- What to look for when buying each generation of the Suzuki SV650
The Suzuki SV650 is one of the most well-loved motorcycles of all time.
Not because it's amazing at any one thing. Because it's so amazingly good for the price, both new and used.
Don't take my word for it. I'll pepper this article with quotes from reviewers, forum posts and bloggers who will unanimously agree.
More than half of us have owned SVs, and we’ve all recommended the bike to others. Repeatedly. (Motorcyclist, 2017)
The Suzuki SV650 is known for so many things, but among them, it's known for
- Balance: Not overpowered (this is from the same generation as the Hayabusa, also from Suzuki), but not slow enough that you'll get bored of it.
- Versatility: A usable power band for the city, but high enough rev range for the track for a beginner.
- Character: A burbling 645cc v-twin felt and sounded great. Especially with aftermarket pipes on it.
- Style: Especially as a naked, the trellis frame and simple motorcycle looks were attractive without trying too hard.
The SV is light, nimble, easy to ride, predictable and fast. It also looks like a real motorcycle, with its frame and engine contributing to its essential, functional style. Motorcycle Daily, 2000
Yes, 'cafe racers' are so over. But I love them. So when the SV650X was released for 2018, I thought... time to bite the bullet and maybe get a new motorcycle!
But you may not want a brand new one. In fact, I wanted a used one for years.
I've been following these motorcycles for so long (ever since they were first heralded as a "poor man's Ducati" for their trellis frame combined with a v-twin engine) that I thought I'd put down what I know about them.
The SV650 and SV650S are great bikes no matter if you are a beginner or an experienced rider and the fact that the SV has continued to be one of Suzuki's best sellers in this country since its inception a decade ago is testament to how good of a bike it really is. (Cycle World, 2010)
Overall: What should you buy?
My overall recommendation boils down to
- You can buy a second-gen one, but only if you're extremely confident it has been well taken care of (valve inspections, power commander with exhaust mods, no parts typically replaced from crash damage), and don't pay more than US$2,500 for it anyway.
- Get a SFV650 ("Gladius") for a steal. Not because they're worse, but because they're unloved.
- Buy a third gen SV650 with more confidence, but with the same caveats, and for not much more ($4,000).
- Or buy one new. Why not? They're not expensive.
Compared: The alternatives to consider (or not)
There are a number of worthy alternatives to the SV650. Really, since about the year 2000, there have been few "bad" motorcycles. All of these motorcycles stand on their own two feet, and one in good condition will always be worthy of picking up. But here are the differences and why you should or shouldn't get one.
The SV650 vs SV1000 (and SV1000S)
The SV1000 (and SV1000S) is a fine, cheap and fun bike, produced in the same era as the second-generation SV650. I rode the snot out of one for a month and enjoyed it, but didn't fall in love.
It's well-liked as another "poor man's Ducati". The SV1000 produces a healthy 89kW (120hp) and gob-loads of torque (peaking at 102 Nm/75 ft-lb), with a lot of it coming all through the rev range. It has a sweet exhaust note from a 996cc fuel-injected V-twin. It is slightly heavier than the SV650 (218kg for the SV1000S, vs 198kg for the SV650S of the same era) but still handles similarly, and has more than enough of a power upgrade to make up for it.
The SV1000 is just as reliable, too. The one I was on was pushing 100,000 kilometers (65,000 miles) and still purred, started easily and hadn't needed any major service in over 50,000 kilometers. In fact, at the last few valve service intervals they hadn't needed any adjusting, and given the low resale value of the bike (and the expense of the service), there was no economic sense in continuing to do them.
The main criticism of the SV1000 is that they were an upgrade in the engine, but still a cheap-feeling motorcycle. Looking at forum comments, while buyers thought it was OK for a middleweight utilitarian motorcycle to use lower grade components, they weren't as quick to excuse a liter-class motorcycle, which they compared with high-end machines like the Fireblade, GSXR-1000 etc. that were more highly spec'd in comparison.
This isn't an objective criticism; it's a great motorcycle. Get one in good nick and you'll like it.
The SV650 vs the Ninja 650 (or EX650)
The Ninja 650 (not the 636 or 600, both very different four-cylinder, high-revving and high-horsepower machines) is a similar motorcycle to the SV650, producing similar power from a comparable engine. The engine was a 649cc parallel twin with a 180 degree firing order, which meant it also had a burbling note, not unlike the SV650's note. The SV650's sound found more favour, though.
For me, the most compelling aspect of the Ninja 650 for me is the fact that it's a parallel twin which means it only has one cam cover. This cuts down maintenance time a lot when it's time to adjust valves. It also is fewer gaskets to replace, fewer bolts to risk accidentally stripping, and so on.
The main differences between them, apart from the engine configuration, is:
- The controls: The Ninja 650 with fairings has handlebars, whereas the SV650S (which has fairings) has clip-ons.
- Weight: The Ninja 650 is slightly heavier, by about 10kgs or 22lbs. This varied slightly among model years.
Without going into all the various differences between the two motorcycles, it should be said that they're both very similar. You will probably best choose between them on a test ride and seeing what fits your frame best, based on availability.
The SV650 vs various middleweight "non-supersport" fours (Honda CBR650F, Hornet 599, Suzuki GSX650)
These motorcycles are in the same price range and you will like any of them/not hate any of them. Each rider may have a personal favourite due to a riding position or personal experience.
They're not quite in the same category, purely because these are four-cylinder motorcycles and produce a different feel and sound. I've ridden Hornets and CBRs and they're great. I particularly loved the CBR600F4i, and will soon be a proud owner. If you're interested in getting one, here's my detailed buyers guide to the CBR600F series.
The SV650 vs DL650 V-Strom (aka the Wee-Strom)
The "wee-strom", as it's affectionately called, is a cult motorcycle of its own. It's a slightly de-tuned SV650 motor in a more upright chassis with wide handlebars.
The wee-strom is a favourite for long-distance touring and light adventuring. Later models are even good for more serious adventuring, with better crash protection and bigger (19 inch) spoked wheel options.
Both machines have the same engine block, though in the V-Strom it's detuned slightly, resulting in around 3 less kW (5 less horsepower), and more low-down torque. The body is also around 10kg (22 lbs) heavier than the SV650S. On the road, this isn't noticeable; the most noticeable difference is definitely the high riding position of the V-Strom.
According to one SVRider.org forum member who put it concisely:
"You'd choose the DL if you want to ride your SV long distances or in the rain/cold and comfort is your top priority, with performance a close second behind. You'd choose the SV if you want to take corners quickly and don't mind sacrificing a small amount of little comfort."
Or Carole Nash, an insurer:
Longer journeys aren’t really its strong point and it’s much more of a point and squirt option, but if touring is your thing the V-Strom 650 was launched in 2004 using the same engine. These V-Stroms have a strong following as entry level adventure bikes.
Brief history of the Suzuki SV650
Basically there are four phases of the SV650.
- First generation SV650, released in 1999. This had carburettors, and the original great. If you're OK with carbs, go for it.
- Second generation SV650, released in 2003. This was fuel injected, and later got ABS. It ended between 2009 and 2012, depending where you're based.
- The controversial "Gladius"/SVF650 Generation
- The new incarnation, from 2016 onwards, which is secretly a Gladius with better skin.
All of the generations are good. However, there isn't much of a price difference between the first and second generations (maybe $500), assuming a motorcycle is well-kept. This is because of the way motorcycle prices tend to plateau. Old bikes, if they're well-maintained, are essentially always around US$2K (or the equivalent in other currencies). You'd only pay a tiny bit more for the significant improvements in second generation. So unless you're a diehard fan of carburettors, get the second gen onward.
The First Generation Suzuki SV650: Carburettors (1999-2002)
This was the SV650 that started it all.
In the era speed wars of the Suzuki Hayabusa vs the Honda Blackbird, and just as the market for litre bikes was hotting up from the recently released Yamaha R1 (see my full buyer's guide for the R1 here) throwing the gauntlet down at the CBR900RR, the SV650 slipped in as a casual competitor to the Ducati Monster.
(Want to just get a Monster? See my complete model history and buying guide.)
The SV650 was originally released as a naked. Its basic specs were:
- 645cc 90-degree L-twin. Two carburettors, liquid-cooled, 8 valves per cylinder
- Wet clutch, six-speed transmission
- 48kW (64 hp) @ 9,000 rpm, 57 Nm (42 ft-lb) @ 7,200 rpm
- 189 kg (417 lb) wet weight
It might not sound like much power or torque, but in stock form, the first-generation SV650 did an under 12 second quarter mile, and a 0-100km/h (0-60mph) of just over 3 seconds. This is thanks to the way the torque is delivered, plus the stock gearing ratios. It takes a LOT more torque and power to get closer to 3 seconds or under, not to mention skills shifting (and a track to do it on).
Buying guide for the first-generation SV650
You can still buy first generation SV650 motorcycles and they're not expensive. In fact, you can get them for US$1,500 with a bit of haggling and in very good condition, though they're often listed for more. From a good local motorcycle dealer I'd pay US$2,000 or so depending on miles. If it needs any service (and it almost definitely does, unless you're buying it from a dealer), I wouldn't pay more than $1,000.
Still, this isn't much of a discount on the second generation, which was significantly improved. I'd only buy this model if you're really strapped for cash.
A general word of caution for early SV650 models: They probably haven't been treated well.
These were always cheap and cheerful motorcycles, giving huge bang for their buck. They're often recommended either as a first motorcycle (in the US), or as a first "step-up" motorcycle in the UK or Australia. For this reason, a lot of them have been abused to a degree just from the normal learning curve. They almost definitely have been dropped at low speeds or a standstill. The clutch has been abused from inexperience. They might have been poorly maintained.
Just think how your average punter would treat a first or second motorcycle they're definitely planning to move up from. Would they be fastidious about changing the oil, spending $3-500 on planed service intervals, changing the fork oil or brake lines or preventing tank rust? Probably not.
There are a whole host of things to check for on any motorcycle, and I've made a comprehensive guide and checklist here. More guides coming soon, particularly on the major components like the tyres, suspension, chain/sprockets, and the electrical system.
Aside from that, on the SV650, check for these things
- Charging system: The regulator/rectifier can go bad on these (as any motorcycle this age). Make sure the seller isn't pretending everything is fine by having trickle-charged it overnight to mask the issue. Take a multi-meter, and make sure the voltage at the battery holds steady when on the gas (it should be lower at idle, then increase with mild throttle, and then not spike up with heaps of throttle). The lights should not dim when off the throttle, either.
- Exhausts: If it has an aftermarket exhaust and it hesitates or misfires, then it probably hasn't been jetted. Jetting isn't as easy as dropping in a Power Commander unit and uploading the correct map, so many don't do it. Unless you're willing to buy the kit (cheap) and install it (expensive, even if it's your time), don't buy it.
- Rust in the tank: Easy to see if the paint isn't well maintained. If there's a tank bra on it, take it off and have a look underneath. Open the gas cap; if the petrol isn't full to the top, you might see rust right below the level.
Second generation Suzuki SV650 — Fuel Injected (2003-2008)
In 2003, Suzuki updated their SV650 considerably. This version was sold in the US only until 2008, until the next "Gladius" model took over in 2019. In Australia and in the UK though, you could get the same SV650S model until 2012.
The biggest changes for the second-generation SV650 were:
- Fuel injection + a digital display
- More power & torque: 73 hp (55kw) @ 8800 rpm, and 47 ft-lbs (64 Nm) at 7000 rpm)
- Updated powder-coated aluminium truss frame, making it look awesome
- Wet weight for S version: 198 kg/437 lbs. This is 9 kg (22 lbs) up from the previous generation.
Like the earlier models, this one came in both naked and faired.
So why do people love the second-generation SV650 so much?
- Affordable: New or used, the SV650 has always bee described as being great value, as a beginner (in the US, or in Australia with restrictions) or experienced (Australia) motorcycle. In the UK, you can pick one up for 1-2K pounds. In the US, you can get one in great condition for US$2-3K. In Australia, for A$2.5-4K. The prices stabilise at the lower end of this range. Even new, SV650s are
- It can keep up with middleweight inline-four motorcycles until highway speeds: Since the SV650 produces all its torque down low, it'll keep with faster motorcycles until around 100 km/h or 60 mph. After that, it's game over. "But just because the upright riding position of the naked SV makes it more usable in the real world, does not mean that it gives up performance. From 0-60, it will hang right near the GSX-R 750. The figures say the Gixxer is .05 seconds faster to 60, but if you’re debating margins that small, you must be a real hoot at parties." - Jalopnik
- They're reliable: SV650s have a "reputation for reliability", whatever that means. It means on average that people don't complain about them as much as they might about older Aprilia or Ducati motorcycles. "They say a cockroach is the only thing that’ll survive a nuclear strike. Well, that’s horseshit, as the SV650 could endure two. Despite the modest grunt and zippy motor, chasing tenths wasn’t in the design brief so engine longevity is a significant benefit. Spanked, revved, bounced off the limiter and munching miles: you’d have to try exceptionally hard to make one go BANG." - 44teeth
Buying guide for the second-generation SV650
Generally speaking, not a lot goes wrong with the SV650 fundamentally.
From a motorcycle dealer, I'd pay about US$2,500 depending on miles. Privately $2,000 for one in good condition not needing any imminent service, and less than $1,500 if it does.
Like the first-generation SV650, most of these are getting long in the tooth as of 2019. Apart from this, they were cheap to start with, and often recommended as a first or second motorcycle (depending on licensing restrictions in different countries). This means they probably were not treated too well, because the person who bought it knew they'd sell it within two years. If most people know that, they're unlikely to do things like replace brake lines, add power commanders and so on.
If you're willing to live with that, buy used! Otherwise, buy a new one (see below).
Things to look for include
- Charging system. Just like the earlier models, these are getting long in the tooth, and the reg/rec is the first part to go bad.
- Brakes. You can almost expect them to be soft. Most people don't change their lines. One with braided lines is definitely higher in value, even though the work isn't hard!
- Cam chain tensioner: These can get worn and noisy. But it's a cheap fix - about an hour's labour.
- Rear sprocket: Check things are as they should be. The S version should have a 44 tooth rear, and the naked version a 45 tooth rear. Count them! Of course, if you want the way it has been modified, so be it.
- Leaky forks. It might have been wheelied. This is a side product of motorcycles capable of doing wheelies!
- Evidence of being tracked. Look for pilling on the sides of the tires, especially the rear. Not a bad thing in itself, because the engine is very reliable, but make sure the seller is being honest with you.
- Worn suspension: If it hasn't been done, plan on refreshing the fork springs and oil, and maybe replacing the rear shock. This is transformative in improving handling.
- Aftermarket exhausts without a remap. Many install an exhaust without a remap, or install a Power Commander without installing the appropriate fuelling map. The result can be a slide reduction in performance, even if it's an improvement in sound. This tends (anecdotally) to happen more on cheaper motorcycles, maybe because of literal "bang for buck", especially if people know they won't on-sell the motorcycle.
Some common modifications to SV650s that are fine are
- Better protection for the radiator. It can get damaged at highway speeds easily.
- Protection for the front cylinder's plug, that can sometimes be affected by rain. People either extend the front fender, or put some grease or silicone sealant around the spark plug to avoid water from entering.
The Controversial Suzuki Gladius/SFV650 Generation (2009-2015)
In 2009 Suzuki replaced the SV with the disappointing SFV650 Gladius, a misfire that in every significant way (weight, performance, looks, and price) was worse than the SV. Like your Uncle Carl who lives out in your backyard in a rusting Airstream with a one-eyed pit bull named Slash, the less said about the Gladius the better. - Motorcyclist
Wow, Motorcyclist. Tell us how you really feel. Is it really that bad? What happened?
So many people would never consider the Suzuki Gladius (or SFV650 as it was renamed in 2013) to be even the same motorcycle. Ostensibly it was supposed to replace the SV650, but the things that changed made it lose favour with the faithful were mostly aesthetic.
Here's what changed:
- An improved engine, with more torque down low and a similar peak. This came via new camshaft profiles (with more lift, for more power at higher revs), 10% more crankshaft inertia (smoothing things out), and modified and balanced intake/exhaust tracts (to bolster the mid-range).
- Lower seat height: 31 inches, vs the 32 inches of the earlier SV
- Similar spec: 71hp (53 kW), 2 hp down from the SV650 (but this is kind of a rounding error), 47 ft-lbs, which is 5 more, and tuned down low.
- The new styling: Described as "bulbous" or "feminine", including the front headlight which became more modern rather than the traditional round headlight
- The name, "Gladius", which many equated to "Gladys"
- It was slightly heavier, at 202kg (446 lbs) wet, about almost 30 lbs (14kgs) up, largely from the tubular steel chassis (the SV650 used aluminium).
People didn't really like this. They really didn't like the look.
It's non-aggressive in an almost feminine manner – certainly in the pinky-purple colour option, although if that's too girlie for you a blokey black is available. - Telegraph
Nonetheless, some people think it's a better motorcycle, especially after the 2012 update that improved how it looked.
Sport riders will simply love the handling of the SFV [compared to the 2015 Yamaha FZ-07 and Ducati Monster 821]. - MotoUSA
Regardless, it deserves a mention. One thing's for sure: The Gladius/SFV650 will be harder to sell than a SV650, so you can also get it for less. For one thing, it's no longer made, which means fewer people are doing searches for them. For another, it was neither popular nor good enough to reach cult status, which means nobody will lust after it.
However, if you find one for cheap and it's in good condition, you can examine it through the same lens as an SV650 and know you'll enjoy it a lot. Maybe a little more.
Buyer's guide to the Suzuki Gladius/SFV650
Because the SFV is less in demand than the SV, it has a smaller market. Fewer people will look for them and lust after them.
This, coupled with the fact that they're newer motorcycles, means you can get a similar motorcycle for less than you'd have paid for a newer SV650. Looking on online classifieds, I can see several for around US$2,500, or $3K from dealers. Great price. Just be warned: you might have to keep it, or expect a loss.
If you're wondering what can go wrong with the SFV650, it's a very similar list to the SV650 2nd gen, with just the difference of them being newer so not being as worn. The reg/rec, for example, is less likely to have gone wrong.
Fewer Gladius models were tracked, too.
Third generation Suzuki SV650 2016+: New frame, style.
In 2016, after years of being begged to do so, Suzuki brought back the SV650.
They kept it as light as possible, with the ABS model weighing basically what the last model weighed, despite everything needed to keep it EURO 4 compliant.
Major changes for the third-generation SV650 include:
- New, lighter frame than the Gladius. Still steel.
- Retuned engine, produciing 3 more kW (4 more hp), and similar peak torque as earlier of 64 Nm (47 ft-lb). However, it makes this torque higher in the rev range at 8,100 rpm, vs the earlier model, which made it at 7,200 rpm.
- Maintained the Gladius' low seat height of 31 inches
- Similar weight of 197 kg/434 lbs for ABS (actually 1 kg or 2 lbs lighter)
- Moar electronics! (see below, "Why buy a 3rd gen?"
All this, brand new for $7,500. So why not?
The electronics they added to it are designed to make this user-friendly motorcycle even more user-friendly. Here's what they added.
Why buy a 3rd gen SV650?
It's easy to look back and just buy one of the earlier ones. There are still a few features only available on the third-gen one though that make them worthwhile.
- Low RPM Assist: This basically makes them stall-proof. An SV650 is not easy to stall anyway, but I would be lying if I said it never happened to me at the traffic lights. Considering the SV650 gets many entry-level riders, this is a nice plus.
- ABS: Available as an option previously, now this is standard (for a bike of the same weight)
- Better display: A bright display shows all kinds of stuff, including average fuel consumption, range, water temp and a fuel gauge.
- Easy start: OK I'm including this because it seems silly. One new "feature" is that you can start the motorcycle in neutral without pulling the clutch lever in.
The main reasons I'd buy one is to have the refinements of the Gladius in the smaller, lighter SV650 package.
Plus, they updated the styling a LOT. Like the below example of the SV650X Cafe:
So what's it like? The SV650 is just like you remember it — lightweight, easy to use, with manageable power and versatility that won't let you down whether in the city or in the twisties.
The only let down is that the torque is made higher up. I'm sure this is a consequence of the motor having to be retuned for EURO-4 compliance. Nobody would do it on purpose. Perhaps an exhaust and remap would take care of it. It's not really noticeable while riding it, unless you're riding it on a dyno.
Here's what others say about it:
- "The Suzuki SV650X is like owning a puppy. It's as impractical as a puppy, but you still love it." - Motorcycle News
- "The engine is a treat, it churns out lovely dollops of poke in a way only a V twin configuration can provide, that cool exhaust note adding to the pleasure." - Bennets UK
- "Arguably one of the most sensible bikes on the road today." - Superbike Online