Pros: Good price, great looks, loves to go fast in all gears, great engine sound
Cons: Terrible suspension that affects all aspects of bike until corrected, needs better sounding exhaust
My last bike was a 1973.5 R60/5 BMW that I could ride all day on the interstates or the country roads outside Philadelphia, and not be tuckered out at all. However, it was neither especially quick nor sporty. It was a solid, touring workhorse that did its job exactly as it was built to do.
When I decided to return to bikes last spring after a couple dozen years of working hard, finishing degrees, and the other responsible things we're expected to do, I started to look for a reasonably priced, sport-type bike that wouldn't be outrageous to insure and would have a high fun-factor. I didn't "need" this bike for my primary transportation; its real purpose was to blow out the stuff from my psyche that needed to be frequently removed. I also needed a relatively light bike to maneuver and park in a large shed in my rear yard.
After lots of research on the web, the SV650 kept surfacing. I drove the 2001S model because it looked very cool, but I was unused to the bent-low racing stance, and the pressure on my wrists from the tilted-forward stance was unwelcome. I was used to a more upright, standard riding position. The 2001 naked SV felt good when I took it out for a test ride, and I was given an out the door price of $5,708. The bike retails for $5,799, so I think I did good.
My surprise when I started to put some miles on the bike was twofold: it was torquey fast (as advertised), BUT....the marshmellow front forks and the pogo stick rear shock made the bike, for me, anyway, hard to handle at first. The 90 degree V Twin engine was very different from my Beemer (and a 69' 305 Suzuki, my first bike, and Hondas and Triumphs and Yamahas I had ridden), and required learning a new kind of acceleration/shifting feel. However, while learning this, any kind of bump resulted in a front end thumping that affected my shifting, especially at slow speeds, and, I often found my rear end skyward if I hit a decent ripple on an interstate at any speed.
It was so bad, after two months, I considered selling the bike. However, a part's guy at the dealership where I bought the bike used to race an SV, and he argued that I would discover a whole new bike if I corrected Suzuki's sub-standard suspension. I liked the naked looks and the many favorable comments from folks all over the place when I was on the bike, so I gave it a try.
After $735 for new Race Tech fork springs, a Race Tech emulator, better fork oil, a Progressive shock, and labor (from the part's guy who, when asked, did the work for half the cost of the dealer's shop), the bike is now feeling properly connected to the road. The seat needs more comfort, and the exhaust sound does not do the engine justice, but there are dozens of after-market products to handle this. With a Suzuki flyscreen, the wind is off my chest on the open road, and I'm finally beginning to discover the fun-factor.
Update: April 2002 - I now have 2,400 miles on the bike and have learned a bunch about this machine and myself. First, it often seemed like it was going much faster than it was due to engine noise (a good but loud v-twin sound above 6,000 rpm when the sedate commuter transforms into a rabid howler) and the wind blast in my Arai Quantum helmet. The addition of quality foam earplugs, and now I feel the bike's engine through my legs (a good feeling) rather than hear the wind and motor. The result? The sense of speed matches the needle on the speedometer.
Second, once I let my legs slide some into the indentations on the gas tank and gripped the tank with mild pressure, softened my arms so that my elbows dropped, and guided the bike with relaxed hands, the sport-aspect of this bike came alive for me. I didn't have to COMMAND the SV to do anything. I only had to offer it a twisty road with a decent sight line and a dash of common sense, and it did the rest. Even in nasty winter cross winds on open highways, this light bike has held its course with solid confidence (once I got mine).
Maybe I'm a slow learner, or maybe I was just used to the more "sit-up-straight" posture of the bikes I rode in the 1970s, but when I became relaxed and merged my body with this machine, everything changed. I now feel more connected to this bike than to any I've ever ridden. It's been an amazing learning experience!
Update: June 2002 - My learning curve continues. I couldn't figure out why my throttle hand had become so rusty since my riding days in the late 70s. I thought I was accelerating smoothly, especially in the lower gears, but often the SV had a herky-jerky, rabbit-on-speed feel. After going to SVrider.com and SV650.org, I discovered that these bikes, and many others these days, suffer from "surging," an uneven acceleration caused by overly lean carbs and tons of emissions stuff in the stock exhaust. So, in addition to making the powerful SV engine sound like a sleepy sewing machine, the exhaust (and carbs) were detracting from the smooth operation of the bike. So...I had a full Micron system (low stainless steel pipes and polished oval aluminum cannister - $500), a Micron jet kit (made by Dynojet - $76), and a K & N air filter ($55) installed. The rabbit-on-speed has transformed into a dragon, both in sound and performance. It growls low at a light, roars on the open road, and flies through the air with a smoothness and fluid power that makes my cheeks hurt from smiling in my helmet.
Update: May 2004 - Now have just over 7,000 miles on this bike. The addition of a 3/4" natural sheepskin cover from Alaska Leather (www.alaskaleather.com) for $44.95 has fixed the stock seat burn after 60 minutes. I tried the Suzuki gel seat but the seat felt sguishy and dropped my 31" inseam too low to the foot pegs. Not a lick of problems with the bike. (I did catch a nail in the sidewall of the front tire but that was not the bike's fault.)This bike REALLY like to tear. Rev it past 7,000 RPMs and it GOES in each gear. It doesn't feel good with a rider (to me). I have ordered a Aprila Scarabeo 500 for longer rides with my wife but will not sell this bike. It is way too much fun! Tuck your legs into the tank, relax your wrists, merge completely with the machine, and you are on a willing stead that wants to romp!! (Please note: Progressive Insurance wanted to considerably increase my insurance after the first year, with no points or accidents, after they announced that the SV is really more of a sport bike than a standard. I have been with Dairyland Insurance since.)
Update: August 2005 - I sold my 2001 Naked SV650 this past April after 7,800 miles. Why? I decided to go with a heavier bike that would be more stable in 65+ mph winds and wanted to return to the in-line 4 cylinder bikes that I used to ride in the 1970s. My choice? After riding a Yamaha FZ6 and a Kawasaki Z750S, I bought a 2005 Suzuki Bandit 1200S for the same price that I would have paid OTD for either of those bikes. The Bandit has a smooth, powerful 1200cc engine, a small frame-mounted fairing that takes the wind off your chest, a solid 500 lb weight for a more sport touring feel, and very reasonable insurance. Look for my review on the Bandit here at Epinions.