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words - Rod Chapman
In the market for a learner bike with a sporty edge? Suzuki's SV650SU LAMS model will keep novices smiling throughout their learner and provision licence periods, and well beyond


  • Superb handling
  • Razor-sharp looks
  • Easy to manage


  • A little cramped for taller riders

Overall rating: 5.0/5.0
Engine/chassis: 4.5/5.0
Price, packaging and practicality: 4.5/5.0
Behind the bars: 5.0/5.0
X-factor (for learners): 5.0/5.0

Suzuki has sold a gazillion middleweight SVs since the model first hit the scene back in 1999, and for good reason. With a bulletproof and lively 645cc V-twin engine, pinpoint handling, potent brakes and minimal weight, the faired SV650S and (since 2001) naked SV650 have thrilled and delighted riders around the globe.

It's a capable all-rounder - nimble and spirited along a winding road, at home in the cut and thrust of congested city traffic, and - if you don't find the sporty ride position too testing - entirely capable of an interstate tour. Sharp looks and Suzuki's red hot pricing are the proverbial icing on this motorcycling cake, and the market has embraced the model accordingly.

Ten years after the SV650S first turned a wheel, the model is joined in Australia by a variant that falls under the umbrella of the Learner Approved Motorcycle Scheme (LAMS). Now operating throughout Oz bar Western Australia and Queensland, the LAMS system allows holders of learner permits and provisional licences to ride a wide variety of bikes up to an engine capacity of 660cc, provided they don't exceed a power-to-weight ratio of 150kW per tonne.

Suzuki's SV650SU is essentially identical to the standard SV650S, but it's only available in a distinctive metallic blue paint scheme and it's fitted with a LAMS-friendly Electronic Control Unit (ECU), which determines the bike's the fuel and ignition map. In LAMS guise this ECU shaves off a considerable amount of top-end go, while still allowing novices access to the low-down and midrange grunt that's essential for safe motorcycling.

Of course some learners may ponder the prospect of replacing the LAMS ECU with a standard ECU, but Suzuki Australia says the cost of purchasing the standard item, de-registering an SV as a LAMS bike and then re-registering it as a standard one is prohibitive. Suzuki Australia also says that numbers of the SV650SU will be limited, so there should always be enough learners coming through the ranks to ensure resale values remain high.

Those contemplating the dodgy route of throwing on an aftermarket ECU will (hopefully) find it difficult to source a shop willing to carry out the swap and then dyno-tune the bike - after all, it's in everyone's interests that the LAMS scheme succeeds, and if state road and transport bodies think it's being abused, they'll move swiftly to can the entire project. In any case, with bikes like the SV650SU, there's plenty of performance on offer to keep learners more than content.

The SV650SU is priced at a super-competitive $10,290 plus ORC - just like the standard SV650S, and the GSX650S LAMS, the latter powered by an in-line four-cylinder engine. For your money you get a small front fairing and screen, and alloy truss beam frame and a liquid-cooled, 645cc, DOHC, eight-valve 90-degree V-twin engine, fed via electronic fuel injection.

This powerplant has been mated with a six-speed gearbox, which delivers the go via cable clutch. Stopping the show is down to twin 290mm discs with twin-piston calipers up the front, helped along by a 220mm disc and twin-piston caliper down the back.

The instrumentation underlines the bike's sporty intent, with a large analogue tachometer sitting above a digital LCD speedo, the latter also displaying the time, plus one of two trip meters or the odometer.

Suzuki claims the bike tips the scales at 196kg wet, and it comes with a 17lt tank. An 800mm seat height may seem a tad high for some learners, but don't knock it until you've thrown a leg over it - the seat is also fairly narrow, aiding the stretch to the ground.

Across a wide variety of backdrops, the SV650SU is a sheer delight. All the controls are super light and responsive, and its light weight makes it eminently manageable in inexperienced hands.

Like Suzuki's GSX650F LAMS model, the SV feels virtually identical to the standard bike up until about 50 per cent throttle - from this point on the urge tails off significantly, and it doesn't take long to realise you're far better off simply making the most of what you've got in the midrange.

I'll draw a few comparisons to the GSX650F LAMS machine here, as prospective learner buyers will undoubtedly consider both when they turn their attention to the Suzuki stable. The bottom line is the SV is a fair bit sportier than the GSX. The SV's seat is 30mm taller, while its wheelbase is 45mm shorter, while - most importantly - it's significantly lighter. Then there's the fact the SV's V-twin has a distinctly different character to the GSX's in-line four - some will like the 'rawer' edge of the SV, coupled with it's additional low-down grunt, while others will prefer the smoother 'refinement' of the GSX. Finally, the SV's ride position is sportier - closer to a racer's crouch than the more upright ride position of the GSX.

Taller types may find the GSX a better bet if touring is high up on their agenda, but if carving up a winding road is more your bag, you'll accept the more cramped cockpit conditions of the SV so you can revel in its sporting talents.

On a tight road the SV has the wherewithal to keep up with far more powerful fare. It's supremely agile, and while you'll need to keep on top of that six-speed gearbox to keep the engine on the boil, it's a typically Suzuki-slick 'box that simply gets on with the job at hand.

The indicated redline is set at 11,000rpm, but because of the LAMS restriction there's little point in revving it past 7000rpm - you're far better off short shifting at this point and surfing its available torque. At 100km/h in top gear you'll be pulling 4750rpm - that reflects its middleweight status, but it's still relaxed enough for all-day highway mile munching.

The suspension is really quite basic - a 41mm fork and a rear monoshock, with adjustment of both limited to preload. However, combined they do an excellent job - and together with the rigid platform afforded by the alloy truss beam frame, the SV will slice through a corner with ease, making light work of the majority of bumps it's likely to encounter. Cornering clearance is excellent, and Dunlop Sportsmax tyres allow you to make the most of it.

The brakes hold up their end of the bargain well too. Once again, there's nothing particularly special about twin-piston front stoppers, but remember this is a light machine, and they haul the thing down from speed with more than adequate power and feel. There's not much in the way of initial bite, just smooth, progressive power, and the rear has plenty of strength behind it too - no bad thing for anyone earning their stripes in stop-start city traffic.

Topping off a brilliant package is a frugal 20km/lt fuel economy. Given the SV's 17lt tank, it's good for around 300km before you need to search for a servo. That's bound to be appreciated on the long haul, where it's screen and a couple of ockie strap tie down points will also smooth the way forward.

When I first sampled Suzuki's GSX650F LAMS bike, I was thoroughly impressed. Being partial to the odd Sunday sprint up a tight mountain road, I liked the SV650SU even more. Suzuki has taken all the best points of this evergreen model and served them up in a format simply perfect for learner consumption. But best of all, an SV650SU will keep learners interested all the way through until they attain their unrestricted licence. Throw in racy good looks and a bargain basement price, and learners have never had it so good.

Type: 645cc, liquid-cooled, DOHC, eight-valve, four-stroke, 90-degree V-twin
Bore x stroke: 81.0mm x 62.6mm
Compression ratio: 11.5:1
Fuel system: Electronic fuel injection
Type: Six-speed
Final drive: Chain
Frame type: Alloy truss beam
Front suspension: Conventional 41mm telescopic fork, adjustable for preload
Rear suspension: Monoshock, adjustable for preload
Front brakes: Twin 290mm discs with twin-piston calipers
Rear brakes: Single 220mm disc with twin-piston caliper
Wet weight: 196kg
Seat height: 800mm
Wheelbase: 1470mm
Fuel capacity: 17lt
Max. power: N/A
Max. torque: N/A
Price: $9990 plus ORC
Colours: Metallic blue
Bike supplied by: Suzuki Australia (;
Warranty: 24 months, unlimited kilometres




Published : Wednesday, 11 February 2009
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