$3000 Streetbike Surgery: Suzuki SV650

Building the R-model Suzuki should have

Suzuki has sold untold thousands of SV650 motorcycles since the model's inception in 1999, and for good reason. Its sub-$6000 price tag, tractable V-twin motor, light handling and neutral ergonomics attracted newbies like moths to a flame. The bike's sporting attributes have also made it a popular choice amongst more experienced riders. Over the years, the SV has been many things to many people. In stock form the bike is stone-reliable and entertaining transportation. But it can be modified to suit other purposes, from club-level roadracer to show-stopping streetfighter; even supermoto and chopper versions have been attempted by the legions of passionate and industrious owners.

Although riders had been begging for one for years, hopes of an up-spec SV650R were dashed when Suzuki introduced the $6899 Gladius in 2009, simultaneously cutting the unfaired SV650N from the lineup and leaving the $7499 fully faired SV650S as the sole bearer of the name. After road-testing the Gladius (MC, August 2009), we lamented Suzuki's decision to give the SV a makeover without attending to its suspension and brakes-its only real weaknesses. We suggested that for the price of a new Gladius, one could buy and upgrade a used SV and end up with a more capable and refined machine. But could that actually be done, and would the result really be better? We made it our goal to find out.

Our surgically enhanced SV650 stands head and shoulders above the bike that replaced it.Joe Neric

Our subject was a stock 2005 SV650N in excellent condition with a Kelley Blue Book value of $3340, leaving nearly an equal amount to work with. While Suzuki made the Gladius softer and gentler, our first objective was to make our SV firmer. The suspension thread of every SV owners forum is a hundred pages deep with suggestions on ways to fix the bike's budget suspenders. While the rigid aluminum frame is up to sporting tasks, the flaccid damper-rod fork and under-damped shock are bad enough that even novice riders take note. While drop-in springs and cartridge kits (such as Race Tech's Gold Valve Emulators) are one way to deal with the fork's brake dive, every SV rider's Holy Grail is a GSX-R front end. Not only is the Gixxer fork inverted and fully adjustable, it comes with some seriously powerful braking components, killing the proverbial two birds with one gold-anodized stone. Purchasing the bits piece by piece from a dealership would have obliterated our budget, so we scoured Craigslist where we found a mostly complete GSX-R750 front end for a mere $600. Numerous models can serve as donors, and if you get the right parts it's a direct swap. While the transplant may seem daunting, it's a straightforward procedure that has been documented extensively on www.svrider.com. Do your research before committing to the project.

upgraded SV650
Our upgraded SV650 features GSX-R suspension components at both ends that complement the bike's rigid aluminum-trellis frame. The improvements in control and stability are enough to encourage some seriously hooligan behavior.Joe Neric

We tapped into the GSX-R lineup to fix the SV's back end as well. eBay is rife with cast-off shocks from racebike builds, and we picked up an unused one from a GSX-R1000 for $45. The Gixxer shock has a stiffer spring, is fully adjustable and bolted right up, though the SV's battery box had to be trimmed to make room for the piggyback reservoir. Purchased on eBay at the same time as the shock, an $18 set of suspension links (nicknamed "dogbones") compensate for the shorter GSX-R damper to restore the SV's rear ride height.

fork-mounted instruments and headlight
Owners of faired S-model SVs will have an easier time with the front-end swap than we did on our naked N-model with its fork-mounted instruments and headlight.Joe Neric

The GSX-R front end was easy to install, but left some details to be sorted out. Mounting the SV's headlight and gauges posed a challenge, and the speedo drive had nowhere to go on the 750's front wheel. Once again we tapped the knowledge base at the SV forums for an answer. Eight magnets on the rotor and a hall-effect sensor now provide the electrical signal for the speedometer, and Scott Anderson of Aztec 8 makes brackets to hang the SV's instruments and trademark round headlight and bikini fairing. Our front end didn't come with a fender, so we ordered a Superbike piece from Hotbodies Racing, along with an undertail kit. The ABS-plastic parts match the SV's OE Candy Grand Blue paint perfectly, and the undertail does away with the stock duckbill rear fender while incorporating bright LED turn signals. Replacing the passenger seat with a Suzuki accessory cowl completed the transformation, accentuating the SV's sharp tail and giving the bike a much sportier appearance.

Delrin fork brackets
Delrin fork brackets from Aztec 8 were modified and used in conjunction with the OE parts to retain the stock headlight and mini-fairing, thereby preserving the SV's identifying features.Joe Neric

The SV is renowned for its neutral ergonomics, which we were keen to maintain. While the GSX-R clip-ons could have killed the 650's upright riding position, clip-on risers from recently-defunct Swatt Inc. successfully straighten out the rider's back. Custom-length braided stainless-steel brake lines from Galfer compensate for the added bar height while contributing to a firmer feel at the blue-and-gold Pazzo adjustable levers. Vortex adjustable rearsets offer a matrix of footpeg positions, allowing us to raise the pegs and eliminate that annoying grinding sound we kept hearing in corners.

Pazzo adjustable levers
A set of Pazzo adjustable levers carry the blue-and-gold color scheme sparked by the blue paint and gold fork legs. The levers offer six reach positions for a perfect fit.Joe Neric
520 chain-and-sprocket conversion
The #520 chain-and-sprocket conversion cut more than 4 pounds from the drivetrain and gave us the opportunity to lower the SV's gearing for quicker acceleration.Joe Neric

Suzuki outfitted the SV650 with a big #525 chain-and-sprocket combo to improve durability, but that's unnecessarily robust for a bike that barely puts out 70 horsepower. A popular modification amongst SV racers is to install a narrower and lighter #520 chain and matching sprockets. Not only does that cut weight off the drivetrain, it opens the door to a much wider range of sprocket sizes. We added a little bling to our SV with a gold Renthal R4 SRS 520 chain and gave it a little extra oomph via a Vortex 47-tooth aluminum sprocket in place of the stock 45-tooth steel job. Those changes added up to significantly better acceleration and better utilization of the SV's power, its comfortable highway cruising range now closer to legal limits.

GSX-R750 front-end transplant
The GSX-R750 front-end transplant made this project a proper "surgery." The SV's stock brakes aren't bad, but the Gixxer's Nissin four-piston calipers and bigger floating rotors are much better..Joe Neric

With its chassis and gearing sorted, our Suzuki felt tamer yet at the same time capable of much more aggressive behavior. Still, something was missing. The stock bazooka of a muffler muddies the 650's otherwise refined lines while muzzling its exhaust note, so we slid on a high-mount slip-on exhaust in satin black from SV specialist Holeshot Performance. Now the SV looks, works and sounds better.

fully adjustable unit from a GSX-R1000
The stock shock's weak damping and soft spring made the SV wallow mid-corner and run wide at the exit. A fully adjustable unit from a GSX-R1000 solved the problem.Joe Neric

Was our project a success? You'd better believe it! Our SV650R is an absolute hoot to ride, with firmer, better-controlled suspension movement and race-ready brakes. The gearing change and freer-flowing exhaust make the bike feel and sound significantly faster, and the Hotbodies fender and seat cowl, plus the gold forks and brakes, make the SV look even better than the Ducati Monster it was intended to mimic. Not only did we create a ripping, multi-talented SV, we came in under budget! With $175 left in the coffers, we ordered up a smorgasbord of blue-anodized aluminum and titanium Pro-Bolt Tasy Nuts fasteners to tie together the SV's color scheme and give it a custom look.

Equally at home commuting, shredding the canyons, at a track day or bike night, our surgically enhanced SV650 stands head and shoulders above the bike that replaced it. Told you so, Suzuki!

Aztec 8
333 Andalusia Ave. #2
Ormond Beach, FL 32174

Gauge mounting bracket $38
Fork tube bracket kit $48

Galfer Brakes
310 Irving Dr.
Oxnard, CA 93030

Front brake lines $109.95

Holeshot Performance Products Inc.
55 Fox Lane
Yerington, NV 89447

High-pipe slip-on exhaust $434

Hotbodies Racing
12925 Brookprinter Pl. #400
Poway, CA 92064

Superbike fender $199.95
Undertail $229.95

Pro-Bolt USA
10725 Royal Crest
Truckee CA 96161

Anodized fasteners $175

Pazzo Racing
19810 57a Ave.
Langley, BC Canada

Anodized adjustable levers $189.99

27636 Avenue Scott #A
Valencia, CA 91355

R4 SRS 520 chain $136.58

Suzuki Motor Corp. USA
P.O. Box 1100
Brea, CA 92822

Passenger seat cowl $89.95

Vortex Racing
1900 Gunn Hwy.
Odessa, FL 33556

Front sprocket $23.95
Rear sprocket $74.95
Rearsets $346.67
Used GSX-R750 front end $600
Unused GSX-R1000 shock $45
Suspension links $18
Clip-on risers $190
Speedo electronics $48
TOTAL $2997.94
Will these Streetbike Surgery mods make today's SV650 a better bike?Joe Neric