Tanshanomi's Snap Judgments

Suzuki Savage 650/S40

Fri, May 6th, 2011

1995–2011 Suzuki LS650 Savage/Boulevard S40
Despite displacing 650cc's, Suzuki's one-lung cruiser will be left in the dust by many bikes having less than half it's displacement. The motor feels gutless and starved for air in the upper half of the rev range, and you'll never see its 6,500 RPM redline. What power is there is fairly spread-out, but it definitely needs the 5-speed transmission. (The Savage's short-lived original '86-'88 iteration had only a 4-speed box.)
The rear shocks are cheap and have too little travel; the forks and brakes are not much better. Though basically crude and unsophisticated, the Savage/S40 is remarkably compact by modern standards, so it doesn't stress its old-style tube frame much and it can utilize relaxed, raked-out steering geometry without feeling ponderous. Steering is somewhat vague, but it handles curves (within its mild cornering limits) better than you might think.
Despite a few niggling criticisms over this part or that due to its price-conscious construction, the look of both the Savage and tweaked S40 versions is clean and refined. The motor's oversized, straight-up vertical cylinder is a nice visual homage to the British thumpers of old, and the lean, simple chassis showcases it well.
There is very little to go wrong here. The one exception is the cam chain, which eventually stretches beyond the tensioner's range. Otherwise, the lackadaisical engine is not highly stressed. Belt drive is a nice, simple way of avoiding the hassle of a chain or the complexity and weight of a shaft while smoothing out the power pulses from the big single in order to lower stress loads on the drivetrain. Even the trim pieces don't seem too chintzy, which is remarkable given its price. LS650s are often riders' first bike, so used ones for sale will run the gamut from smashed and dropped to hardly touched.
The LS650 is cheap to buy, cheap to insure, easy on gas and easy to ride. It can troll the neighborhood and cruise the interstate, although at higher speeds the counterbalancer can't quell the shakes and keeping up with 70 MPH Interstate traffic will be harrowing. The seating position will get tiresome quickly. Taller riders will feel cramped, more rotund riders will feel as if they are perched on a fence rail. Points off for a smallish fuel capacity and the lack of expected standard features such as a trip odometer and integral steering lock. The tiny pillion and rear section doesn't facilitate loading much cargo.
As a thumper fan and someone who likes light, narrow bikes, the LS650 has an endearing uniqueness. But the mystique of a big thumper and appealing design don't make up for an ultimately disappointing on-road experience.
The Savage doesn't back up its dramatic appearance with anything more than milquetoast performance.