Suzuki SV650s / Triumph Speed Four / Yamaha FZ6

Text: Chris Myers • Photography: Christian Neuhauser

Here in the good old US of A, it's no secret we like things big. Need an example? Just look at the recent spate of big honkin' pavement-churning machines on display at your local bike shop - 1600, 1800, 2000cc and more. Is this really necessary? Is bigger really better?

They're coming at us from every direction, giant machines with colossal motors capable of shaking walls in the next county and undoing even the best dentist's precision work. Nowadays, one cylinder in a V-twin engine coming from the Far East substantially out-ccs my first two street bikes combined. Making it's way from the "old country," there's a massive inline three-cylinder engine that feels and sounds like it spent a previous life winning the Battle of Britain. Right here in America, you don't have to go any further than your cable box to see in head-to-cylinder-head competitions any number of custom bike builders who are banging, bending, chopping, and torching steel behemoths to insane lengths that bring in truly insane numbers followed by zeros to the shop's bottom line.

Has the collective motorcycle world lost its mind? Are we destined to sell our homes and all of our worldly possessions just so we can own the latest piece of rolling art created by a garage full of guys screaming at one another in a fashion that resembles a domestic disturbance on "Cops" more than anything else? In a word, no - not everyone needs bigger bikes with even bigger price tags to have bigger fun. For most of us, riding is not about winning an AMA championship or having the baddest of badass bikes at the bar. No, for the majority of riders the experience is all about waking up early on a day off and heading off into the sunrise to look for the ever-elusive perfect back road or just a familiar valley or lake shining in a different light. If that sounds like your type of riding, read on.

We've gathered three bikes that, on paper, should put the fun in function and don't do half bad in the form category either. Our first entrants are the Suzuki SV650 and the SV650S. Both of these sporty V-twins should combine torque and nimble attitudes to provide hours of fun on just about any road. Next up is the Yamaha FZ6. Smartly dressed in a racy blue color scheme reminiscent of its R6 cousin, the FZ appears to have an enticing mixture of track attitude and street sense. An inline four provides the power and should prove to be a good foil for the SVs. Last but not least is the Triumph Speed Four, another inline four that unapologetically touts its speedy attitude in an aggressive day-glow orange. We have our participants. Now, let's see how well they work and play together.

Engine and Transmission
The first and most obvious question here would be: How do the V-twins stand up against the inline fours? Give credit to the SV models, their narrow engine profiles and extra 50cc work to create an engine package that suffers not against the higher revving fours. The easy-going nature of the V-twin often belies its true potential. There's rarely the feeling that the 650 is working very hard, but its ability to rocket the bike out of corners to well over "the pink copy's yours" speeds indicates otherwise. Simply put, power is evident everywhere from the bottom to the top and all points in between. Whether cruising at highway speeds, tooling around town, or bounding over the back roads, the 650-twin delivers the goods in a user-friendly package that requires a mere twist of the wrist to bring out a surprising dose of attitude.

The gearbox on the SVs is just as capable as the engine. Shifting response is soft and exact no matter the amount of boot the rider chooses to throw at it. The clutch pull is exact and requires no special effort. No matter the situation, the powertrain of the SVs is ready for whatever is thrown its way.

Despite the 50cc deficit, the Yamaha FZ sits poised to use its extra two cylinders to full advantage. The R6-based engine is tuned for enhanced midrange and thus aspires to better manners on the street. Don't let the perceived civility fool you. This is the same basic mill that tears up racetracks around the country on a weekly basis. Wind this baby up and the note coming from the slick under-seat exhaust system lets you know the FZ is certainly capable of getting down to business. The power delivery on the road is smooth and seamless but typical of most inline fours - you need to rev it up to get the full potential from the engine. Those with more aggressive riding styles will appreciate this characteristic more so than casual riders.

Like the SV, the Yamaha's gearbox performs flawlessly. Shifts are easy and precise, requiring little effort, a good thing, considering the rev-happy engine requires its fair share of shifting. The clutch works just fine and showed no sign of weakness or fade to any of the testers.

The definite roughneck of the bunch is the Triumph Speed Four. Upon start up, it's easy to tell this bike is cut from a different mold. The inline four eschews the turbine-like exhaust note of the FZ for a more guttural howl, like An American Werewolf in London. That's not necessarily a bad thing; it's just a different approach from the others. While there is plenty of power, there's a distinct feeling the Triumph may have certain manageability issues. This is a fun engine, but definitely not for any of the less experienced.

The transmission on the Speed Four provided no surprises or anomalies and works just fine. The only complaint is the clutch lever. Anyone with hands smaller than those of an NBA starter has to reach out in an unnatural fashion to get a hold of it. Function is not a problem; it's just hard to grab.

Chassis and Brakes
The engine is certainly the heart and soul of any motorcycle, and every good heart needs a well-tuned body to push around. These three rides are not racers but their chassis do have enough sporty characteristics to offer up plenty of fun on twisty roads and during the occasional track day.

The venerable SV 650s have long been known for stellar handling and a solid feel for the road. We're happy to report that the little Suzukis are still in the groove. The rigid chassis that houses the delightful V-twin exhibits no signs of flex even in the hairiest corners. The front and rear suspension may not be the most adjustable on the market, but the standard settings worked just fine for all of our testers. The front and rear disc brakes also do a fine job of hauling the SVs down from speed with only a minor gripe about the fronts being a little slow to grab. Hey, we're evaluating bikes here, so we do need to sometimes split the occasional hair.

Like the SV, the Yamaha comes with a very rigid frame that handles just about every road with ease. Flicking the FZ in and out of curves is a breeze thanks to the motor being mounted in a way that puts the crankshaft axis close to the bike's roll axis. According to Yamaha, this accounts for the light steering feel and, we're guessing, the nice, positive feedback through the front end. While the only suspension adjustment is the preload on the rear spring, this doesn't pose much of a problem. Despite an initial feeling of softness, the handling proved to be spot-on and the slight dive that is felt is easy to deal with as you warm up to the overall feel of the bike. A standard triple disc system very competently handles the braking duties on the FZ. No complaints regarding the brakes were logged by any of the testers.

The Speed Four could easily be judged to have the best or worst chassis of the bunch, depending on the rider's style. If aggression is your thing, then the Speed Four may be right up your alley. The race-spec chassis is flex free and accurate to the point of feeling twitchy compared to the other three. It takes a while to settle into the proper mindset for this bike, as it is the most serious of the lot. The suspension is fully adjustable, both front and rear, and works very well through the corners. There's the distinct feeling that the harder the bike is pushed the better the suspension will work. The brakes are quality units offering superb stopping power. If anything, they may be a bit too touchy, another aspect that takes some getting used to. The Triumph is a blast to ride, but, again, the less experienced may be a bit overwhelmed by its need to be ridden hard.

Accessories and Arrangements
I guess this is what we may refer to as the end of the day. The bikes have twisted, turned, and jockeyed for position and now it's time to punch the clock and head home. "G'night Ralph...G'night Sam." No matter which one you decide comes home with you, it will be a good choice. You just need to determine which machine best fits your personality and riding style.

Both Suzuki SV650s are the perfect jacks-of-all-trades. There seems to be nothing, save dirt roads, that these bikes can't do well. The lighter overall weight and narrow V-twin allow for the SVs to be thrown into corners with as much pepper as the rider deems necessary. The suspension is stiff enough to handle back-road abuse yet compliant enough to soften those pesky highway joints. The V-twin provides a tractable power that is pure joy whether loping across country roads or zipping through rush-hour traffic. The sporty fairing on the S keeps the wind from getting a free shot at your chest, but the lower bars may prove to be a bit fatiguing to those more accustomed to an upright riding position. Of course, the opposite is true of the SV650. The upright seating, thanks to the bars, is generally more comfortable and provides more leverage, but the lack of a fairing lets you know how wind-tunnel testing must feel. The seats are surprisingly comfortable right off the showroom floor and the smooth running V-twin serves up negligible vibrations. Whether it's a quick ride to the grocery store or a multi-day multi-state tour, either one of the Suzuki SVs will be ready when you are.

Do you like your jack-of-all-trades with a couple more cylinders? Then look no further than the FZ6. The upright seating position is comfortable enough for long commutes as well as all-day travel while still leaving the door open to confidently attack the twists. Touring you ask? No problem, just be aware that the engine does have a bit of a buzz at higher rpm. This can become tedious on the hands and the feet after a while. The overall design on the FZ got high marks from all of the testers. The cool under-seat exhaust looks like something straight from the track and adds a touch of grace to the clean lines. The speedometer/tachometer combination drew rave reviews initially for it's unique appearance. After a few miles some found it a bit difficult to read, however, while others had no trouble getting used to it. The sporty fairing offers surprisingly good wind protection that adds to the bike's appeal as an all-day ride. Like the SVs, the Yamaha is a great choice for a multi-duty machine. Go ahead and dish it out, the FZ can take it.

How you view life will determine whether the Speed Four is for you. If you're the type to take life by the horns and wrestle it to the ground, then you may want to consider the English way. There is nothing terribly civilized about the Speed Four. The ride is exceptionally stable but somewhat harsh. The handling is precise but nervous. And the wind protection, or lack thereof, relegates the tiny fairing to mere conversation-piece status. Despite all of that, there's something about the Triumph that is annoying in its appeal. It's like scratching poison ivy - you don't want to, but you just can't help it. Maybe it's the savage howl from the exhaust or the wicked power delivery, who knows? As a touring or travel mount, well, that could be done but there are certainly better options. Around town, that's a different story: "No, sir, officer. I wasn't aware I was going that fast." A machine new riders should consider avoiding, it has a way about it that could lead to problems for the inexperienced. Regardless, the bad-boy feel of this machine makes it hard to ignore.

Conclusion
I've been hearing for years the size of the boat doesn't matter. Riding these machines absolutely proves that. The true winner here is the rider who chooses any one of these bikes. For the price of one of those 2000cc behemoths you could buy at least two of these three and still have enough left over for a nice bottle of wine. As for the price of those rolling art pieces, you could buy two of these and the vineyard. There's nothing wrong with big bikes. It's just that they're not for everyone and everyone shouldn't be made to feel they have to have one. There are choices and options. Look around, do your research and consider everything. We can honestly say that any one of these three bikes is more than capable of putting some motion in the ocean.

Rider profiles

Name: Chris Myers
Age: 39
Years riding: 27
Height: 5' 10"
Weight: 175 lbs

The Bike I Would Buy: No contest, the SV650. The Suzuki offers a delectable balance of comfort, sport, and economy found in precious few bikes. Equally at home in the twists, on the slab, or at the track, either model SV650 is a true do-it-all ride.

Name: Paul Cook
Age: 46
Years Riding: 27
Height: 5' 8"
Weight: 185 lbs

The Bike I Would Buy: I would choose the FZ6. It's the most versatile of the three. The slightly upright seating offers all-day comfort, yet the FZ6 still allows you to drop the shoulders for corner work. Also, passengers are likely to appreciate the more spacious pillion.

Name: Daniel Neuhauser
Age: 33
Years Riding: 15
Height: 6' 2"
Weight: 198 lbs

The Bike I Would Buy: The SV650 is my favorite. It's a true all-around talent, perfect for newer riders and those who may be returning to the sport. The Suzuki promises anyone an enjoyable ride now and for years to come. I only wish it had the design of the FZ.

Name: Christian Neuhauser
Age: 45
Years Riding: 27
Height: 5' 10"
Weight: 169 lbs

The Bike I Would Buy: I would have to go with the SV650. The other bikes have their strengths, but the Suzuki has the total package. A great engine and transmission, easy handling, good brakes, and an appealing bottom line make the SV hard to beat.

TECHNICAL SPECS:

Triumph Speed Four

Retail Price $ 6,499
Warranty 24-month unlimited mileage
Maintenance Schedule 500/every 4,000 miles (800/every 6,500km)
Importer/Distributor Triumph Motorcycles America, Ltd. 385 Walt Sanders Memorial Dr. Suite 100, Newnan, GA 30265 phone (678) 854-2010
www.triumph.co.uk

Engine
Type four cylinder, inline, four-stroke
Cooling liquid-cooled
Valve Arrangement DOHC, 4 valves
per cylinder
Bore & Stroke 68 x 41.3mm
Displacement 599cc
Compression Ratio 12.5:1
Carburetion fuel injection
Exhaust Emission Control catalytic converter

Transmission
Gearbox 6-speed
Clutch wet, multi-plate
Final Drive chain drive

Chassis
Frame aluminum beam perimeter
Wheelbase 1395mm (54.9in)
Rake (horizontal/vertical)65.4°/24.6°
Trail 89.1mm (3.51in)
Front Suspension telescopic fork
Stanchion Diameter 43mm (1.69in)
Adjustments adjustable preload, compression and rebound damping
Travel n/a
Rear Suspension single shock
Adjustments adjustable preload, compression and rebound damping
Travel n/a

Wheels & Tires
Type alloy, 3-spoke
Front 5.5 x 17
Rear 5.5 x 17
Front Tire 120/70-ZR17
Rear Tire 180/55-ZR17

Brakes
Front Brake 2 discs, 4-piston calipers
Diameter 310mm (12.2in)
Rear Brake single disc, single-piston calipers
Diameter 220mm (8.6in)
Combining no

Dimensions & Capacities
Seat Height 810mm (32in)
Dry Weight 170kg (374lbs)
Fuel Capacity 17.8l (4.7gal)

Performance
Claimed Horsepower (measured at crank) 97hp
Torque 51lb.ft
Top Speed n/a
Acceleration n/a
Fuel Consumption 5.34l/100km (44mpg)
Fuel Range 333km (207mi)

Equipment analog tach, digital speedometer, fully adjustable suspension, race-spec chassis,mini-prow fairing.

RoadRUNNER Test Diagram

Engine 5/5

Chassis 4/5

Brakes 4/5

Comfort 2/5

Luggage w/accessories 3/5

Equipment 4/5

Design 3/5

Bike for the buck 3/5

TECHNICAL SPECS:

Suzuki SV650 S

Retail Price $ 6,449
Warranty 12-month, unlimited mileage
Maintenance Schedule 600/4,000/every 3,500 miles (1000/6,400/every 5,600km)
Distributor American Suzuki Motor Corporation 3251 E. Imperial Highway Brea, CA 92821-6795 Phone (800) 828-RIDE
www.suzukicycles.com

Engine
Type V twin, four-stroke
Cooling liquid-cooled
Valve Arrangement DOHC 4 valves per cylinder
Bore & Stroke 81.0 x 62.6mm
Displacement 645cc
Compression Ratio 11.5:1
Carburetion fuel injection
Exhaust Emission Control catalytic converter

Transmission
Gearbox 6-speed
Clutch wet, multi-plate
Final Drive chain

Chassis
Frame aluminum truss-style frame
Wheelbase 1430mm (56.3in)
Rake (horizontal/vertical)65.0°/25.0°
Trail 100mm (3.94in)
Front Suspension telescopic fork
Stanchion Diameter 41mm
Adjustments oil damped, fully adjustable preload
Travel 130mm (5.12in)
Rear Suspension single shock
Adjustments adjustable preload
Travel 134mm (5.3in)

Wheels & Tires
Type cast aluminum, 3-spoke
Front 3.5 x 17
Rear 4.5 x 17
Front Tire 120/60-ZR17
Rear Tire 160/60-ZR17

Brakes
Front Brake 2 discs, 2-piston calipers
Diameter 290mm (11.42in)
Rear Brake 1 disc, 1-piston caliper
Diameter 220mm (8.66in)
Combining no

Dimensions & Capacities
Seat Height 800mm (31.5in)
Dry Weight 169kg (372lb)
Fuel Capacity 17l (4.5gal)

Performance
Claimed Horsepower (measured at crank) n/a
Torque n/a
Top Speed n/a
Acceleration n/a
Fuel Consumption 4.9l/100km (48mpg)
Fuel Range 347km (216mi)

Equipment analog tach, LCD speedometer, odometer, temperature gauge, and clock, low fuel light, LED taillight, tie-down hooks.

RoadRUNNER Test Diagram

Engine 5/5

Chassis 5/5

Brakes 4/5

Comfort 4/5

Luggage w/accessories 3/5

Equipment 4/5

Design 4/5

Bike for the buck 5/5

TECHNICAL SPECS:

Yamaha FZ6

Retail Price $ 6,599
Warranty 1 year limited factory warranty
Maintenance Schedule 600/4,000/every 4,000 miles (1,000/6,400/every 6,400km)
Distributor Yamaha Motor Corp. USA 6555 Katella Ave. Cypress, CA 90630 Phone (800) 962-7926
www.yamaha-motor.com

Engine
Type 4 cylinder, inline, four-stroke
Cooling liquid-cooled
Valve Arrangement DOHC 4 valves per cylinder
Bore & Stroke 65.5 x 44.5mm
Displacement 600cc
Compression Ratio 12.1:1
Carburetion fuel injection
Exhaust Emission Control catalytic converter

Transmission
Gearbox 6-speed
Clutch wet, multi-plate
Final Drive chain

Chassis
Frame 2-piece cast aluminum
Wheelbase 1440mm (56.7in)
Rake (horizontal/vertical)65°/25°
Trail 96.5mm (3.8in)
Front Suspension telescopic fork
Stanchion Diameter 43mm
Adjustments n/a
Travel 130mm (5.1in)
Rear Suspension single shock
Adjustments spring preload
Travel 130mm (5.1in)

Wheels & Tires
Type YZF-R6 type 5-spoke
Front 3.50 x 17
Rear 5.50 x 17
Front Tire 120/70-ZR17
Rear Tire 180/55-ZR17

Brakes
Front Brake 2 discs, 2-piston calipers
Diameter 298mm (11.7in)
Rear Brake 1 disc, 1-piston caliper
Diameter 245mm (9.65in)
Combining no

Dimensions & Capacities
Seat Height 800mm (31.5in)
Dry Weight 192kg (423lb)
Fuel Capacity 19.3l (5.1gal)

Performance
Claimed Horsepower (measured at crank) n/a
Torque n/a
Top Speed n/a
Acceleration n/a
Fuel Consumption 5l/100km (46mpg)
Fuel Range 370km (230mi)

Equipment LCD two-color instrument display with bar-type tach, numerical speedo, 2 trip meters, clock, water temperature gauges, dual seat, and passenger grab rails.

RoadRUNNER Test Diagram

Engine 4/5

Chassis 4/5

Brakes 5/5

Comfort 5/5

Luggage w/accessories 3/5

Equipment 4/5

Design 4/5

Bike for the buck 4/5