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Back-to-back test: Yamaha MT-07 vs Suzuki SV650

Is the latest incarnation of Suzuki’s SV650 enough to take on Yamaha’s game-changing MT-07?

Steve Farrell's picture
Submitted by Steve Farrell on Wed, 22/06/2016 - 12:04

REMEMBER the MT-07? Of course you do. It’s that cheap, wheelie-happy Yamaha that looks like it came from a Manga comic and was launched recently enough to still feel fresh. Remember the SV650? Of course you do. It’s that Suzuki that’s been around in one form or another literally since the last century, making it a little bit more difficult to get excited about even if it is still good. This is exactly the line of thinking Suzuki will be hoping you don’t take, but let’s get it out of the way. It’s the elephant in the garage next to these two bikes. Of course we’ve got a new SV for 2016. At least I thought we did, briefly at last year’s Milan show, before realising it was actually an updated SFV650 Gladius, itself a seven-year-old model. So is it enough? What’s quickly clear on our back-to-back road test is that, if the SV is to be seen as an older model than the MT then we should also say it was ahead its time, because the two are very closely matched. They make within a whisker of exactly the same power – the MT 74.8hp and the SV a round 75 – and they make it in a similar way, following a good, strong spread of twin-cylinder torque. Both have a hooligan feel as you accelerate away from some traffic lights. The MT-07 is known for its eagerness to wheelie. Sit back a bit, open the throttle in first and the geometry, torque and low weight does the rest. The SV’s front tyre skips off the tarmac with a head shake in second, never mind first. It’s when you brake for the next set of lights that the first big difference between the two makes itself known. Aside from the addition of ABS, the SV’s brakes look the same as they did 10 years ago. While the MT-07 has modern four-pot calipers on its front discs, the SV still relies on twin-pot sliding calipers. Jumping from one bike to another, the difference is unmistakable. Expecting MT levels of bite from the SV lever has you heading for the back of the bike in front. The brakes function – they’ll stop the bike quickly enough – but you just need to pull the lever harder, and because you’re pulling harder the sense of precision is reduced, and of vagueness increased. I own a 2013 half-faired SV650S, with a near identical brake set-up (minus ABS), so I can say that its limitations only really come to the fore when you have just ridden something better. The rest of the time, you’re used to having to pull the lever harder and so you do. I’m not sure it’s quite so possible to adapt to bad suspension, which is probably the MT-07’s biggest failing. It’s too soft and bouncy. The new SV650 has a basic, non-adjustable 41mm fork and shock, but it doesn’t matter because it works. In fact it works very well for a bike at this price, allowing you to aggressively chuck the SV from side-to-side without it pitching backward and forward as much as the MT-07 does. The MT-07 is a really fun machine. It’s lightweight, agile and cheeky, with an attitude in its styling that's lacking in the SV. It might have slightly stronger mid-range punch than the Suzuki, and peak torque is slightly higher. But find some bends and you’ll discover the SV can be pushed harder and with more confidence because its superior suspension makes it more stable and predictable. And it’s just as agile. You don’t even need bends. A simple road with a beginning and end will highlight the MT-07's tendency to pitch more. You might not notice under acceleration because you’ll be distracted by the bike’s eagerness to wheelie but you will when you get on the brakes. Because the forks dive so readily, too much load is placed on the front tyre when it hits minor bumps in the road, an effect experienced as a pulse through the MT-07 brake lever as the ABS activates. I should add that the SV’s ABS gave me a worrying moment too, when it activated unexpectedly on the approach to a roundabout. Although I was braking quite hard, I don’t believe there was ever any danger of the front tyre actually losing traction. As with the SV’s brakes, it’s the comparison between these two bikes that really shows the MT’s suspension for what it is. If you just rode the Yamaha, I’ve no doubt you could live it with happily, and love it. But chucking the SV into a bend, standing it up, nailing it and then getting on the (dated) brakes for the next one, we get a measure of how much better the Yamaha could be. Both are excellent town bikes, the upright riding positions good for weaving across traffic queues, but the SV feeks gawkier than the MT-07. The bars are a little too high, as if Suzuki wants to remind you you’re riding a budget commuter. It’s comfortable but has a dampening effect on enthusiasm. You feel like you could be on a scaled-up CG125. It feels too ordinary, like a GS500, and the very idea of that bores me as I ride through the city. I don’t mean to attack the GS500. I’m sure I’d love one at the right price but £5,499 is not it. The MT-07’s bars are high too but you sit closer to them, making a riding position that’s a bit more supermoto-like. The attitude is different. You’re not just going to work anymore. You’re going to a riot somewhere, probably to start it. And then there's the appearance of the two machines. No one is ever going to mistake an MT-07 for a GS500. Ever. While the SV’s bars may make for comfort the seat doesn’t. It’s hard, thin and angled downward towards the tank, and an hour was enough on it for me. The MT-07’s seat isn’t necessarily softer but it’s wider and flatter and I was happy to spend longer on it. The two bikes are closely matched for equipment. Both have a fuel gauge, gear indicator and average fuel consumption meters. The SV tells you your range till empty while the MT-07 has a fuel-reserve trip meter. Just looking at those clocks I’m reminded of what really separates these bikes: one is cooler than the other. One’s breaking the rules by having the clocks mounted right on top of the bars. One is keeping them in the traditional place, forward of the handlebar, in case it gets in trouble. I don’t need to say which is which. I’m going to break from Visordown tradition by not naming a winner of this back-to-back test. It’s not that clear cut and here’s why: If I was buying one, with my own money, it would be the MT-07, for its attitude and the joy of ownership that will bring. It’s as fun and useful as the SV in most settings, more in some, and I daresay it will hold its value better. But if you showed me an amazing twisty road and offered me a go on either machine, I’d take the SV, because in that setting it's the better tool for the job.



Model tested: Suzuki SV650

Price: £5,499

Engine: 645cc 90° DOHC V-twin

Power: 75hp @ 8,500rpm

Torque: 47lbft @ 8,100rpm

Kerb weight: 197kg

Frame: Steel

Suspension: Pre-load adjustable shock, non-adjustable 41mm fork

Brakes: Two-piston Tokico calipers on twin 290mm floating front discs; single Nissin caliper on 240mm rear disc, with ABS

Tyres: Dunlop Sportmax Qualifier 120/70-17 front, 160/60-17 rear

Seat height: 785mm

Tank capacity: 13.8 litres

Fuel economy on test: 62.8mpg

Range (based on achieved fuel economy): 190 miles

Colours: White, blue, black

Availability: Now

Model tested: Yamaha MT-07

Price: £5,749 (£5,349 without ABS)

Engine: 689cc parallel-twin

Power: 74.8hp @ 9,000rpm

Torque: 50.1lbft @ 6,500rpm

Kerb weight: 182kg (179kg without ABS)

Frame: Diamond-type steel with engine as stressed member

Suspension: Pre-load adjustable shock, non-adjustable 41mm fork

Brakes: Four-piston calipers on twin 282mm front discs; single-piston rear caliper on 245mm rear disc

Tyres: Bridgestone BT023 120/70-17 front, 180/55-17 rear

Seat height: 805mm

Tank capacity: 14 litres

Fuel economy on test: 58.8mpg

Range (based on achieved fuel economy): 181 miles

Colours: grey/yellow, silver/blue, red/black, grey/black

Availability: Now

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