RideApart Review: 2013 Suzuki SFV650

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Gladius-top

Remember the Gladius? It had the unfortunate distinction of launching just before the bottom fell out of the economy — and the bike market — back in 2008. Now it’s back, simply known as the Suzuki SFV650.

What’s New
Not a lot has changed on this bike apart from dropping the Gladius title, bringing the SFV650 in line with the Suzuki’s new policy of giving its motorcycles numbers and not names.

The original SV650 that launched in 1999 was a bike that was specifically aimed at novice riders but, because of its agile handling and overall fun factor, it actually found a much broader appeal with more experienced riders.

Fast forward four years and, due to cost savings, Suzuki adopted the SV1000’s frame for the SV650. This meant the low seat was gone, which was one of the critical appeal factors for a novice on the SV650. And it wasn’t until 2009 when the SV650 was replaced by the SFV650 that its new rider appeal returned thanks the return of the low seat.

For 2013, Suzuki has continued using its popular liquid-cooled, fuel injected 645cc, 90-degree v-twin. But it now has a crankshaft with lower rotating inertia (which improves acceleration), new intake/exhaust tract lengths and a revised exhaust system. There’s still a conventional six-speed transmission and power is delivered to the rear wheel via a conventional chain final drive.

Re-launched last fall, the SFV is only available in the U.S. in black and it looks, well, sort of ho-hum.

There’s a naked sport bike feel to it and at some angles it looks terrific, while other design cues, to our eyes, look just plain weird. The oddly shaped headlamp doesn’t do the SFV650 any favors and, because of the way the SFV650 is set up, it appears it’s carrying all of its weight at the front of the all-steel, trellis frame. That chest-heavy appearance is perhaps accentuated by the big gap between the top of the rear tire and fender. So, on looks alone, we feel the SFV650 is a bit of a compromise.

At 445lbs (wet), it’s not especially heavy, but loses out to the lighter Honda CBR500R that weighs in at 425lbs, or Triumph’s Street Triple at 403lbs and Ducati’s perennial Monster 696 which is the lightest of them all at 402lbs. Only the 460lbs Kawasaki Ninja 650 is heavier.

The SFV’s upright seating position is good. The low seat at 30.9 inches is far better than the last-gen SV650 and most riders will be able to get both feet on the ground at a stop. The issue for us is that the seat is another compromise on the SFV. To achieve a good riding position, the SFV is equipped with a wafer thin seat, which for long legs or heavier riders will become just plain uncomfortable after time. There is a solution with an aftermarket seat from Suzuki that offers an extra bit of padding, but that in turn will make the seating position higher.

There’s not much equipment at all on this bike and all of the instrumentation is housed in a single pod in the center of the bars. LCD speedo, analog tacho and all the usual warning lights are there, including a gear indicator. However, there’s no fuel gauge but there is a low fuel warning light backed up by an LCD reserve trip meter. So you’ll have to keep an idea on the number of miles you are doing to know how much gas you’re going through.

With a 3.8-gallon tank and an around an average of 50mpg you should be good for at least 175 miles before needing to fill up.

The SFV’s bars are well positioned and should suit most riders bringing everything close at hand but there is a turned-out angle at the end of them, which for this reviewer, proved a little uncomfortable on the wrists.

Up front there are skinny 41mm front forks that are spring-preload adjustable, as too is progressive-link rear suspension that can be set at seven points. The ride is good. Not outstanding but sufficient for the job in hand. You can mess around with the settings to get a better set-up to suit your riding style, but there’s no huge discernable difference between them all.

The SFV has a triple disc brake set-up, which is best described as adequate, with twin 290mm floating front discs and a 240mm single rear disc. There’s reasonable bite from the brakes but there’s definitely room for more without them becoming too fierce.

ABS is not available on the SFV. Not even as an option. Suzuki does offer an ABS version of the SFV in other markets just not the U.S. That we think is an oversight as it would make a real difference to increasing the appeal of this bike to novice or inexperienced riders. But, in this competitively priced sector, that would probably tips the price scales and make the SFV even more expensive.

The Ride
The Suzuki SFV is not a difficult or a demanding bike to ride. In actual fact, it’s a pretty entertaining motorcycle thanks in part to its terrific v-twin engine that is always eager and willing. 71bhp at 8,400rpm and 47lb-ft and 6,400 delivers a flexible, easy powerband.

That’s more than enough to haul you out of corners at a fair rate and there is no hesitation from the SFV in getting past slower moving traffic. You don’t have to rev it too hard either as the power delivery is smooth and linear once you get over 3,500rpm. Then it will pull all the way up to the red line at 10,500rpm with no complaint. It sounds good too. At full chat there is an aggressive rasp to the exhaust note, which we really liked.

However, in slow speed traffic, the throttle on the SFV is a little tricky to get right. Close it down and then open it up slightly and there’s a slight lurch and, after time, this gets to be a little annoying. The throttle appears to be a little too sensitive at low speed and if you’re not paying attention you can make the bike surge forward in first gear. More experienced riders probably won’t even notice. But for some novices this could be a little intimidating.

On the move the SFV’s ride is compliant and we liked how direct and agile this Suzuki feels. It steers well too and gives a lot of rider feedback offering a good balance of agility and stability. Once you have learned some of its quirks it actually a pretty decent and fun motorcycle to ride.

The seat offers a good riding position. And because you’re more upright than on a sport bike you can see a long way ahead down the road. The problem is that unless you have a butt made from iron that thin seat offers no real support and gets pretty uncomfortable.

The Good
The SFV is an entertaining ride if that’s only what you’re looking for. Fit and finish is excellent, too, and the v-twin engine is a gem. As a starter motorcycle it’s worth considering because over time you’ll get to appreciate how entertaining and flexible that engine can be.

The Bad
Compromised looks. It’s not pig ugly but there are some design cues that are very odd. Maybe the SFV would look better in another color or with the frame painted in a contrasting color, which it did at its original launch. But black is the only choice we get here in the U.S. The brakes are adequate but ABS would be a really good addition particularly for a novice rider.

Low speed throttle control needs to be watched and the seat is just plain uncomfortable.

The Price
At $7,999 the SFV is not exactly cheap when compared to the huge range of bikes that a novice rider could consider. First port of call would be the Honda CB500F that has a smaller engine but is available with ABS at $5,499 or its sibling the CB500F at $5,999 with ABS. Both of these bikes have been given the thumbs up by RideApart staff in recent week. Ducati’s Monster has Italian good looks and better performance ,but for several thousand dollars more. Triumph’s Street Triple ($9,399) is a lot of motorcycle for the money, while the Kawasaki Ninja 650 is a positive steal at $7,599.

What Others Say
“This motorcycle is cued off the classic SV650 — a motorcycle cult favorite regarded for its performance-to-price ratio. Suzuki’s middleweight pumps out a smooth spread of useable power that makes it perfect for jetting around town courtesy of its liquid-cooled 645cc V-Twin engine.” — Motorcycle-USA

The Verdict
Since it was first launched in 2009 here in the U.S., which was then followed by several years in exile, Suzuki’s SFV is now up against some really tough competition.

As a novice rider’s bike the SFV could do several things a lot better – low-speed throttle control, improved seating and better brakes for a start. It is, though, a likeable, competent motorcycle, entertaining and rewarding to ride and, for some people, it will still make a lot of sense.

The challenge the SFV faces is that the world has moved on along with all of its competitors, who in some cases are now faster, better equipped and cheaper.

RideApart Rating: 6/10

Gear:
Helmet: HJC RPHA Max ($414, Highly Recommended)
Jacket: Alpinestars Viper Air ($200, Recommended)
Gloves: Alpinestars Scheme Kevlar ($60, Worth Considering)

  • deckard

    Please, stop with the radiator shrouds.

    • roma258

      Seriously, drop the shrouds and put a basic round headlight on it, might actually turn into a handsome motorcycle.

      • Damien CorruptMind Tigner

        Glad im not the only one who agrees with this.

      • Piglet2010

        If you want a pretty naked motorcycle for $8K, get to your Triumph dealer and pick up a Bonnie. Yes, this Suzuki and the Ninja 650 are objectively better motorcycles, but neither will make one smile the way the Bonnie does.

        • roma258

          Too late, I’m sort of in love with the CB1100.

          • Piglet2010

            I would be very tempted by the CB1100 if I did not have a Bonnie.

            But the CB1100 is a $10K and not an $8K bike.

    • John

      How are you going to go to battle with renegade robot samurais without radiator shrouds?!?

      Good grief, this is form following function. Motorcycling Feng Shui.

      Please. Don’t be ridiculous.

    • http://eticketride.org/wpblog/ Walt

      I thought those were good for another 10hp (5 ea). :-D

  • Arin Macchione

    1.How do you have a gear position display and not a fuel gauge?
    2. That rider/pillion peg mount looks like a headless fish.
    3.Having a swingarm made from box tubing is the biggest copout in motorcycle manufacturing.

    • Gonfern

      I dont see the big deal about a lack of fuel gauge. they are almost useless anyway. My Street triple has a gear indicator and no fuel gauge…whats so difficult about setting your trip when you gas up?

      • Arin Macchione

        There are many ways to get to the end of your fuel range. I know I’m getting worse mileage on Hwy 126 then I am on 99W. I rarely let it get close to empty, but when it’s running low I’d rather have a gauge then match the odo with a number in my head that I think I can reach based on completely different trips. That being said, I wish my Sprint ST had a gear indicator.

  • Sohl

    SFV.

  • Motorcycle Extremist

    Excellent review, and I agree with your main points, although I don’t think it looks as bad as some think it does. My main issues with it are that it’s a bit overpriced, and Suzuki really should at least offer ABS as an option.

  • Richard Gozinya

    When you were comparing weights, it seems you listed the dry weight of the Monster 696, its wet weight is 407 lbs, according to Ducati. Other than that, doesn’t seem like a bad bike, though when the FZ-09 comes along later this year, there’s not going to be much point in opting for this bike.

  • C.Stevens

    Kawasaki Ninja 650 is a positive steal at $7,599.

    I’ll take Suzuki build quality for an extra $400 over Kawasaki any day.

    • John

      Suzuki is no Honda.

      • C.Stevens

        True– Suzuki is still good though. I have owned various bikes from all three manufacturers. Honda well, is Honda. Suzuki is sturdy, if a little agricultural feeling. My Kawasaki was just plain cheap– the fasteners were pot metal and the frame was made from depleted uranium. All the plastic disintegrated. Had a great motor though.

        • Mr.Paynter

          My Ninja 650 dropped a valve 2 days before the warranty was up (thank God) but the rest of the bike was pristine, a guy stopped on the highway to see if I needed help and commented on the fact that it was broken down but looked like I had just left the showroom.

          Depends on the bike I guess.

  • Theodore P Smart

    I might add it retails in Canada as well. MSRP $8,299.

  • c s

    there’s nothing true about this sentence:

    “Fast forward four years and, due to cost savings, Suzuki adopted the
    SV1000’s frame for the SV650. This meant the low seat was gone, which
    was one of the critical appeal factors for a novice on the SV650.”

    In 2003 the sv650 and 1000 were all new. the 650 had a different motor, frame, forks, swingarm, subframe etc… The 2003 sv650, sv650s, and sv1000s all had a higher(steel) subframe, along with different passenger pegs and seat. the 2003 sv1000 had the same (aluminum) subframe/pegs/seat as every iteration of sv from 2004 onward. i started making race subframes and exhaust brackets in 2003. I had to make all new jigs after only a year, although some racers still want the higher 03 subframe.

    According to wikipedia and every other source, the seat height on the 03 (and up) bikes is lower than the 99-02.

    • Tim Watson

      I’ll concede you’re actually sort of right. Standard seat setting on a 99-2003 SV650 was 31.7 inches. On a 2003 and upwards it was 31.5 but that was at at the lowest possible suspension setting. When the 2003 left the factory with standard suspension set up seat height was actually higher than the previous model.

      • c s

        sort of = 100%. the 99-02 bikes might have felt closer to the ground because of the 3″ sag in the forks.

  • John

    If they spent less money making it ugly and more money on the seat, it would help.

  • Charles Quinn

    The SV650 did well because experienced riders liked it as well as novices. The Gladius looked like the motorcycling equivalent of a first-gen iMac, so all those experienced riders walked away. Painting it all black isn’t going to bring them back. A shame really because that engine is still a peach.

    There doesn’t seem much point in criticising its looks because I can’t think of a single Suzuki of recent years that would make me say, “Wow, great looking bike!”

  • Piglet2010

    “First port of call would be the Honda CB500F that has a smaller engine
    but is available with ABS at $5,499 or its sibling the CB500F at $5,999
    with ABS.”

    Should the second “CB500F” be “CB500X”?

    • Toly

      It should be “5499 without ABS and 5999 with it” Honestly, I see ABS as a waste of money on a bike like CB500.

      • appliance5000

        When you were typing this was there a moment when you realized the absurdity but muscle memory carried the day, or did your head just hit the keyboard and this sentence freakishly appeared. Inquiring minds want to know.

        • Toly

          For a range of Honda CB500 models and pricing pls check powersports.honda.com
          For applicability and relevance of ABS on a budget / learner bike pls check common sense.

          • appliance5000

            For items included on starter bike that will save lives please check your coat at the door.

      • Jai S.

        Wheels on small displacement bikes lock up too.

  • Piglet2010

    If I was at a Suzuki dealer and in a buying mood, I would walk past the SFV650 and get a Wee-Strom with ABS, as it will do everything the stock SFV650 will and much more.

  • Doug Erickson

    I agree on the seat (it is agony after an hour on the slab) and the radiator shrouds, but I love the weight and finish of the bike overall, especially when paired with this v-twin. The parallel twin and the plastic in the CB500 bikes make them feel trivial and a bit cheap, despite the Honda quality all around — they feel like bikes that are 2K less. I went with the SFV650 over the CB500F because the riding experience felt more substantial; and I went with it over the Monster 696 because the SFV is more reliable and maintainable for me. Does this make sense?

  • stowellt

    The jerky throttle response at slow speeds is a known issue with the SV650 and can easily be fixed by adjusting the throttle position sensor. http://forums.sv650.org/showthread.php?t=55459&highlight=throttle+position+sensor

  • Justin McClintock

    The SV was such a good bike, especially compared to this weak attempt at cashing in by the accountants. This thing weighs a good 20-30 lbs. more, by all accounts doesn’t handle or stop as well, and is straight up ugly. The SFV attempts to look modern by trying to make the frame look like a aluminum/steel hybrid (even though the aluminum looking bits are nothing more than plastic covers, and ugly ones at that) whereas the SV actually did have a rather advanced frame. And when the SFV was introduced in 2009, it was down about 5 hp on the SV it was replacing (although if the numbers above are to be believed, that may have finally been rectified).

    The SV wasn’t the end-all be-all of the motorcycling world, but it was a heck of a lot better bike than this bean counter designed replacement is.

    • george

      Suzuki, just bring back the SV. It was one of the best, most versatile motorcycles of all time. I hope the idiot at Suzuki that ditched the SV spends the rest of eternity riding this piece of crap on a group ride where everyone else has an SV.

      • Mike Campbell

        I can’t see why they stopped selling them in various countries. They’re still being made and are sold in Australia. I just bought a new one 4 weeks ago and love it. One of these SFV650′s was sitting next to the SV I bought and I couldn’t imagine why anyone would buy one over an SV (besides personal preference of course)

  • Spurdog1

    The SFV is an excellent bike that has been really badly marketed by Suzuki. In my opinion Suzuki need to try another restyle so that stupid name and the bikes effeminate reputation are forgotten. The engine is indeed superb, very smooth and powerful.

  • runrunny

    “remember the gladius?” vaguely, and i wish that i didn’t. what a travesty compared to the previous sv’s.

  • appliance5000

    For $1000 more you could have a 690 Duke with abs and all that wonderful dukeness.

    • DoctorNine

      So no more crunches for me! Woot!

      • appliance5000

        Correct: They include a fully developed 6 pack with each purchase.

  • Marc

    I’m going to keep harping on this, because RideApart keeps repeating the error: publishing dry weights is completely deceptive. Especially from Ducati (whose dry weight doesn’t include a battery), and especially next to a wet weight from other MFGs without clarifying which is which. The Ducati 696 is 406lbs, wet. Still lighter than the ‘Zook but a full 50lbs heavier than the article indicates.

    • Tim Watson

      Marc – good point. My mistake I overlooked the Ducati’s wet weight and should have used that to compare to the Suzuki instead of the dry weight. Thanks for raising it.

      • ColoradoS14

        Tim you should update the article when you find out that there is more accurate information than what you originally posted that is just good journalistic practice. Readers have pointed out that there may be two errors (frame discussion and weight) in the article and readers should not have to navigate to the comment section to know which is right. Keep up the great work otherwise!

        • Tim Watson

          Done.

      • Marc

        Right on, thanks!

    • Piglet2010

      Don’t we all ride without a battery, oil, fuel, and coolant???

      Why not take off the tires too when measuring dry weight???

  • DoctorNine

    I think I could get used to almost all the design elements on this bike, except that insectoid looking monstrosity of a combined rearset and passenger peg thingy. Lordy, that thing is ridiculous. They must be heavy too. If I had one of these bikes, I’d shed that pair of andirons pronto, for a custom rearset, and sell them for scrap. They must be worth a fortune as heavy as they are.

  • Peter Chen

    what a difference a “RED” frame makes…

    http://www.mobile01.com/newsdetail.php?id=13857

    makes the bike feels much more expensive :D

  • eddy2121 .

    Local dealer is blowing these out at $4999.

    • artist_formally_known_as_cWj

      feel free to show the location of that locale.

  • eddy21

    Power sports lake wales.