2003 Suzuki SV650 review

Its faired brother is more suited to motorway miles, but how does the naked 2003 SV650 handle rush hour traffic?

After a slight hiatus in production, Suzuki's 'naked' 2003 SV650 is now in the shops.

When we tested the 2003 SV650S both on its own and against the rest of the middle-weight competition there was always one nagging problem with the bike. Through town the 'S' version's clip-ons put a lot of the rider's weight onto their wrists which made the bike a pain, literally, at slow speed. At the time the naked version hadn't yet been launched so we just had to imagine what the new SV would be like with flat-bars.

And guess what...it's just like the faired SV, but with flat bars. Well no surprises there then. Suzuki has kept as many parts as possible common between the S and naked versions. The engine is identical and has Suzuki's dual-butterfly throttle valve fuel injection system, the chassis is the same aluminium-alloy truss and the suspension, brakes, tank and seat unit are the same too.

At the front end the half-fairing has been replaced by a single front headlight, flat bars sit above the top yoke and the plastic mirrors that were mounted on the fairing are replaced by metal handlebar mounted ones. But as well as the obvious changes there are also some subtle ones. The foot pegs have been dropped slightly to give a more relaxed riding position, the gearing is lowered to take into account that top speed isn't as important on a naked bike, and the wheelbase is slightly longer.

Subtle as they are the changes to the bike have produced two distinct models. Where the faired SV is an all-rounder, the naked version is perfect for commuting and dodging city traffic.

Riding through the centre of London the benefit of the flat bars was instantly apparent. The riding position feels much more upright compared to the S, and because your body isn't angled downwards you get a much clearer view over cars stuck in traffic and can spot the odd pedestrian waiting to jump out in front of you. Stopping at traffic lights there is none of the wrist exercises that usually follow a short town journey on the S with its clip-ons. The flat bars make the naked SV far easier to manoeuvre through tight gaps between queues of cars. The bars and mirrors are at the perfect height to avoid car's mirrors, which is very useful to avoid road rage. And despite the rectangular mirrors looking slightly tacky they are actually very good as the long stalks move them far enough away from the bike to avoid showing too much of your elbows.

So far so good, but even the new riding position can't hide the discomfort of the new Suzuki seat. Gus, whose bird owns an old-style naked SV which he nicks all the time, says he can ride it for a full tank of petrol before the seat starts to feel uncomfortable. Not so with the new SV. Riding from my squalid flat in Croydon to the office in Teddington is only a 20-mile journey but even on this route numb bum starts to kick in, which is a bit crap. The actual riding position is very comfortable, it's just the seat that lets the whole package down.

But seat apart the rest of the bike is as good as you would expect the best selling bike in Europe to be. The new injected motor feels stronger than the old carbed one and the Suzuki dual-valve injection system performs almost perfectly, the only slight niggle is that it can feel a bit fierce going from a closed throttle to partially open but really, it's hard to fault. On the move the revs pick up quickly and the gearbox is the usual super-slick affair you would expect from Suzuki. With the standard exhaust the motor can sound a bit farty but at least your neighbours won't complain when you go out on an early Sunday morning blast.

Congested towns are never much of a test for a chassis, however the naked SV feels just as good as the faired version, which is to be expected seeing as they are virtually identical. The extra 10mm added to the naked's wheelbase makes next to no difference to the bike's handling and anyway, the extra leverage you get from the flat bars overcomes any slowing down of the steering that a lengthened wheelbase produces. Through town the 167kg of the lightweight naked bike, compared to the 171kg of the faired version, makes it easy to paddle around - useful for when some envious car driver decides to shut that gap and you need to back up a few feet. And should the worst happen, the naked SV is an easy bike to pick up again. Also with the abundance of SVs around, spare parts are very easy to come by.

On the few occasions that I had to use the brakes in an emergency, usually when some idiot suddenly notices that the queue next to him is travelling 1mph faster and decides to switch lanes, the brakes did feel a bit weak. It is the same complaint I had with the SV650S as they both share the same two-piston sliding calipers. Gus reckons that a set of steel-braided lines and some high friction pads sort this out but personally, I would rather Suzuki sorted it out by supplying the bike with better brakes as standard. And while they are at it could someone at Suzuki please put an order in for a fuel gauge - fuel lights are a thing of the past.

Should you buy a 2003 SV650?

I spent a week commuting on the SV and I really enjoyed the experience. When it comes to town riding the baby Suzuki is a difficult bike to fault. My main complaints are the hard seat and slightly weak brakes, but neither of these are glaring problems and can be solved with a few more pies to add padding to my ass, and a set of higher friction brake pads. The naked SV should also be an insurance group lower than the faired version, although this is still to be confirmed, and you save £300 by not having a fairing.

As purely a town bike the Hornet would run it close, but in my opinion, the revy nature of the Honda and its truly pathetic tank range make it harder work in town. If your ride involves a lot of motorway miles then it may be worth considering the faired SV or the Yamaha Fazer 600, but as purely a city commuter I would go for the naked SV over both of them.

Give it a few months and I reckon that a new-style SV650 will be at the front of every set of traffic lights in most major cities, vying for space with its previous model.

2003 SV650 specs

  • PRICE NEW - £4849
  • POWER - 70bhp@9000rpm
  • TORQUE - 45lb.ft@7500rpm   
  • WEIGHT - 167kg
  • SEAT HEIGHT - N/A   
  • TOP SPEED - 130mph
  • 0-60     - n/a