The looks are neat rather than knockout, but the riding experience could easily win you over
Whenever a new LAMS bike appears on the market, a wave of excitement passes over my little learner corner of the office. Regardless of how many great bikes I’ve already ridden, I can’t help but wonder if this new model might be ‘the one’. And sure enough, when I heard about Suzuki’s new SV650 LAMS, I got that tingle of anticipation. Youngy jetted off to the Sunshine Coast in June for the launch and on his return he had that glint he gets in his eye when he talks about some bikes (actually, all bikes, but still) and that came through in his test report. So when he said that we would have one in Gassit garage for this urban comparo, and then handed me the keys, I was delighted.
We were given the white and blue version – it also comes in red and matte black – and first impressions were positive. The GT stripe chimes perfectly with the blue five-spoke wheels, and the pearlescent finish on the paint adds a hint of sophistication without trying too hard. Youngy described the SV650 as a café racer at heart, but I ally had to tilt my head to one side and squint to see that. To me, it looks more like a straight-forward nakedbike with its trellis frame and that unadorned V-twin on display.
It’s certainly not as deliberately stylised as the other bikes in this test, and in some ways that’s its strength. Here is a blank canvas for customising that allows your imagination to wander a little more freely than it might with the other models, whose customising paths are already mapped out for you in extensive aftermarket catalogues. I can easily see the SV with a belly pan and radiator guard for a sportier semi-faired look; equally, I can envisage it with clip-on bars and round mirrors to complement that round headlight and really bring out the inner café-racer lurking beneath the skin.
With a seat height of 800mm, the SV will be on the radar for Youngy-sized learners and many female riders. Just after our urban test an old friend of AMCN came past to have a Captain Cook. His wife has an older model, and his daughter was planning on getting a new example, and I’m sure they won’t be the only women joining the SV set. And yet, when I settled my 189cm frame into the saddle I was surprised how well it fit me. You do feel low to the ground, but not excessively so, and given the upright seating position you still get a great view in traffic.
Then it was time to wake up little Suzie. A quick thumb of the starter – no need to hold it down thanks to Suzuki’s Easy Start system brought over from the GSX-S1000 – and the 645cc V-twin snarls into life with a pleasing throaty note. Obviously it’s no big-bore bark, but keep in mind that learners have not yet built up a tolerance to things like speed and sound, so we get intoxicated a little more easily. I would love to hear this engine through an aftermarket pipe.
Getting into motion, another piece of Suzuki technology makes itself felt – the Low RPM assist. This basically helps you take off without stalling by raising the revs slightly. What this means in practical terms is that instead of searching for the friction point, you can get rolling just by leaving the throttle closed and slowly releasing the clutch. It is still possible to stall it, but you really have to try. Though it’s a bit unsettling at first, you soon get used to it, and it takes all the stress out of traffic light launches.
When it comes to moving through traffic – hugely important for commuters – I have not ridden another bike that feels as planted and stable as the SV650 at low speeds. With a wet weight of 198.35kg, it’s not the lightest learner bike out there, but somehow that bulk actually helps in slow manoeuvres. The only caveat here is the turning circle. Parking, doing U-turns in smaller streets and negotiating the laneways – as we did on our run through the city – does not feel as easy as expected, and this was borne out by our test results. I was flabbergasted that a bike with front-end geometry like the SV could be out-turned by a Harley-Davidson. Closer investigation revealed that the radiator placement limits the lock angle, so it’s something you’ll just have to live with.
Once you get up to speed, however, you’ll find the steering sharp and encouraging. Out of the city and into the winding roads north of Melbourne the SV gave me all the confidence I needed to enjoy the curves. The assurance from the steering was complemented by strong power delivery throughout the rev range – you can open that throttle completely, but for the most part there is grunt to spare out of corners and in the cut and thrust of traffic. Freeway speeds of 100km/h are easily reached, as the graph shows, and even when travelling in fifth gear you have enough in reserve to zip ahead when necessary. Interestingly, after riding the bike for a week or so, I had to adjust the mirrors as the SV slowly coaxed me forward over the bars.
As for stopping, the Nissin units (two 290mm discs at the front and a single 240mm at the rear) with ABS are well matched to a bike of this size. Mind you, about the most serious stopping tests I’ve given it have been pulling up at lights coming down the Princes Highway at about 80km, but they gave a good account of themselves. Likewise, suspension doesn’t get a major workout in the bitumen jungle, but the SV handled dips and bumps well.
Where the SV has the edge on the other bikes in this urban test is price. It’s the cheapest of the quartet, and with fuel consumption of 4.1L per 100km, you’ll keep saving once you’re on the road. And that’s exactly where this little Suzie makes me want to be. More than once I found myself inventing excuses for taking the long way home, even if it was just on my daily city commute. So is it a keeper? Stick it on your test-ride list and you be the judge. For me, it’s a yes.
- Superb get up and go
- Confidence inspiring handling
- Almost impossible to stall
- Big turning circle
- Exposed V-twin a bit on the ugly side
- Not huge on the ‘look at me’ scale (which as a learner suits me fine)
- by MARK VENDER