The motorcycle mix we see down here at our Shoreditch HQ is about as varied as it gets, and although many of the riders would love to be fully immersed the in the not so new wave custom culture, that’s not always an option. So what do you do if you need a new, reliable mode of transport and haven’t got the luxury of a garage packed with projects and the tools to make them go? Well, in case you hadn’t noticed the main manufactures have been clamouring for your attention over the last couple of years with a host of options that adhere to the custom style guide while offering all the benefits of riding modern equipment. Which, for us in London, is becoming increasingly important as the misguided policy makers plan to make us all pay through the nose for riding pre-2007 vehicles in the city. And before you northerners and out-of-towners mock, punity is coming your way soon.
How to choose is obviously down to personal taste and of course budget and there’s a bevy of decent looking café racer style bikes to choose from. There’s Triumph’s Street Cup, the Scrambler Ducati Cafe Racer, Kawasaki’s Z900RS and although Husqvarna would hate me for tarring their Vitpilen 701 with the cafe brush – it has got clipon type bars. All excellent bikes in their own right but if you’ve got champagne taste and craft beer money the Suzuki SV650X might be worth a look.
Based on the faithful SV that provided the first taste of big bikes nearly two decades ago for some of us this new version is Suzuki’s rather late attempt to join the custom fray. That sounds like I’m singling them out, I’m not. It’s only Yamaha that paved the way for the rest of the manufacturers to feel comfortable dipping their tow in these relatively untested waters, the rest of the big Japanese corporations have only just jumped on the bandwagon in the last couple of years. So what better way to join in than to re-skin a tried and tested classic.
The SV’s 645cc V-twin has been overhauled to meet the ever restrictive emissions regs and now features two spark plugs per cylinder for a cleaner burn and redesigned throttle bodies that sip fuel at an incredibly economical rate. But has all this tech blunted the SV’s soul? I called the nice man at Suzuki and asked to borrow one for a few days to find out.
Aesthetically the Suzuki designers have tried. The mini fairing and tail unit look considered, especially with the gunmetal and black paint-job, subtle and classy. Everything else is either powder coated or painted back to meet the expectations of those demanding the current murdered-out trend. Beneath all this is a fairly good looking steel trellis frame which should keep the nostalgists happy.
The riding position is at it looks, relatively high clipons mean you can still hunker down yet maintain a decent position for commuting with a view over the top of most traffic. For me personally I can’t cope with anything other than being upright so my fight through east London’s congestion wasn’t all that pleasurable. Helped though by a smooth clutch and velvety fuelling. There’s ‘Low RPM Assist’ gadgetry in the new throttle bodies that helps the engine around idle so there’s no sudden drop in revs and then a surge if you’re a bit hamfisted with the clutch while filtering.
I headed out to the Essex countryside in the hunt for roads not covered in snow (this review is rather late) and although there was still evidence of the Beast From The East the tarmac itself was dry enough to press on at a spirited pace. I’ve never owned an SV but plenty of my mates have and I see what they were harping on about – the motor is a peach. Not big and boomy or little and whizzy, nicely in the middle with plenty of torque on tap and a reward near the redline in the form of a lovely engine note, although the latter required concentration and the removal of earplugs to hear properly as the exhaust is pretty large and over baffled. There is a Termignoni dealer-fit option but it’s quite punchy at £750 for just an end can. SC Project produce a carbon can for about half that and there are undoubtedly full systems for that price on the eBay, although probably not manufacturer warranty friendly.
With an amplified soundtrack you’d be forgiven for feeling like you’re on something that should be a lot more intimidating, the SV is a real pussycat and won’t bite unless you do something very stupid. The brakes are perfectly decent and direction changes require very little input. I found myself hustling along at speeds that should have unearthed any shortfalls with chassis but the Suzuki proved to be a better bike than I am a rider. The large LED digi-dash suggested I reign it in and stop being stupid – there were still knee deep snow drifts in the corner of most fields and my fingers had gone rigid with the onset of frostbite. After chatting to other journo mates the general consensus seemed to be that the SV would run rings around some of the other similarly styled bikes in this sector. I’ll take their word for that as I’ve only had the chance to ride a few.
It may be a slightly dated donor with merely a fresh suit from the tailors to help it fit in with the new, old school crowd but the SV650X is well worth a test ride if you’re in the market for a first proper bike after a couple of seasons on a 125, or perhaps you can’t bring yourself to commute on something dull. As an everyday, versatile tool with weekend scratching potential for not a lot of money it’d be worth a look.
Cheesy vid featuring flat whites, handsome chap and hot crumpet, but also importantly the stock engine note for reference.