Is the Suzuki SV650 Really a Good Beginner Motorcycle Recommendation?

Typically, many recommended beginner motorcycles are small-capacity machines. Bikes like the Kawasaki Ninja 400, or the Honda Grom and its 125cc cousins, the Super Cub and Monkey. However, there’s another bike, with a noticeably larger engine, that’s also often recommended to newer riders: the Suzuki SV650. But is it actually suitable for beginners?

The Suzuki SV650 over the years

A red 2020 Suzuki Hayabusa against a lighter-red 'Hayabusa' kanji background
2020 Suzuki Hayabusa | Suzuki via Instagram

Released in 1999, the Suzuki SV650 was initially overshadowed a bit by the faster, more-powerful Hayabusa, Cycle World reports. However, while the ‘Busa had high-speed thrills, the SV650 was more affordable and more approachable.

A blue 1st-gen Suzuki SV650
1st-gen Suzuki SV650 | Suzuki via Instagram

The 1st-gen Suzuki SV650 comes in two forms: the naked SV650, and the fairing-equipped S. Both have a 645cc carbureted V-twin, rated at 69 hp and 45 lb-ft, and linked to a 6-speed transmission, reports. Between the two, the SV650S is arguably sportier, with its lower bars and more rear-set footpegs. However, with a wet weight of 395 pounds, both bikes are fairly light given their engines.

The 2nd-gen Suzuki SV650 and SV650S arrived in 2003 with a host of upgrades, Motorcyclist reports. In addition to a new frame and swingarm, the bike’s 645cc V-twin has fuel injection. Power output is roughly the same, but the bike is lighter. And starting in 2007, Suzuki offered the SV650 with optional ABS.

In 2009, Suzuki released the 3rd-gen SV650, first called ‘Gladius,’ and renamed ‘SFV650’ in 2013. It still has the 645cc V-twin, upgraded to 71 hp and 47 lb-ft. However, although it had a new frame with a lower seat height, it weighed more than the outgoing model, Cycle World reports. And unlike the previous gens, the 3rd-gen Suzuki SV650 is purely a naked bike: no fairing-equipped model.

The current 4th-gen Suzuki SV650 was released in 2017, Motorcyclist reports. It’s lighter than the outgoing model, CW reports, as well as narrower and slightly more powerful. ABS is still optional, but low-rpm assist, which adds a bit of extra throttle to smooth off-the-line take-offs, is standard. There’s no S model, but there is the café-racer-inspired SV650X, CW reports, which has different bodywork, a headlight cowl, clip-on bars, and ABS.

Riding the SV650

The biggest complaint many have about earlier Suzuki SV650s is the suspension, Jalopnik reports. It’s comfortable and adequate for commuting, but for spirited riding, an upgrade is highly recommended.

That being said, there’s a reason why RideApart considers the SV650 one of the best all-around motorcycles. In base form it’s a standard, meaning relaxed upright ergonomics combined with sportbike agility, Carole Nash explains. It’s nimble and light, but not overtly sporty like, say, a Ducati Panigale. And with the right mods, it’s possible to turn the Suzuki SV650 into a track bike or a tourer.

Used Suzuki SV650s are also fairly affordable and reliable. Parts are plentiful, and you can get a decent 2nd-gen example for $3000-$4000 on CycleTrader.

Also, the latest version addresses a few of the previous models’ shortcomings, Revzilla, and Bennetts report. The suspension isn’t drastically better, but if you’re not track-racing, it’s by no means horrible. And the brakes’ somewhat-soft initial bite is beneficial for newer riders, CW reports, who can be turned off something more aggressive. The throttle, though, can be a bit tricky to handle at low speeds.

Plus, despite the clip-on bars and sportier riding position, the new SV650X makes for a decent long-distance bike, CW reports. At 439 pounds, it’s not as light as the Yamaha MT-03. However, it’s less than 20 pounds heavier than the Honda Rebel 500, which is a great beginner motorcycle.

But does that mean the SV650 is one, too?

Can the Suzuki SV650 be a beginner motorcycle?

It’s almost a cliché at this point to recommend the Suzuki SV650 as a beginner motorcycle. Motorcyclist, Visordown, BikeBandit, and Cycle World report the bike has something to offer beginners and more experienced riders. That being said, Motorcyclist also states that motorcycles with 600cc and larger engines are typically better-suited for riders with more experience. So, what’s the final verdict?

Red 2012 Triumph Street Triple R from the rider's right side
2012 Triumph Street Triple R right side | Matthew Skwarczek

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On the one hand, my 2012 Triumph Street Triple R weighs about 20 pounds less but has about 35 more horsepower than the latest SV650. By that metric, the Suzuki is arguably the better beginner motorcycle—it’s theoretically easier to handle. But it’s still going to be more difficult to handle than a bike like the KTM 390 Duke because it weighs more and has more power. And if you’re a complete novice, you may not be able to handle it if something goes wrong.

Ultimately, the only way to know for sure is to try one out for yourself.

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