Monday, May 27, 2013

Suzuki Savage review

About a year ago, I bought a low miles 1987 Suzuki Savage for my wife.  The  Savage (also known as the Boulevard S40) is an underrated and misunderstood bike.   It is a light and simple single cylinder 650cc cruiser-style bike, with belt drive and a 4 speed transmission.   Its target market sees that it is a 650, and assumes it is too big and powerful.  People considering  650cc bikes find the Savage underpowered.

Ignore the displacement of the engine--rather than comparing to other 650cc bikes, compare it to bikes with similar seat height, weight and horsepower.  (I've never understood focusing on displacement rather than power and weight)  This puts it in the upper end of the 250 class of bikes--low seat height, similar weight, a bit more horsepower and lots more torque.

Horsepower is responsible for top speed, and also for acceleration when driven hard, and is likely to get inexperienced riders in trouble..  Torque is responsible for off the line and everyday performance when you aren't thrashing the bike.  More torque makes starting and shifting easier--if you let the clutch out too fast, it may chug and complain, but it isn't likely to stall.

The early Savage models had a 4 speed transmission, while later models are 5 speed.   The 5th gear  was added for marketing purposes--basically top gear was raised a tiny amount and another gear slipped in between 3rd and top.  This requires an extra shift, but with the torque curve of this engine there's no advantage from the extra gear.

I'm not a fan of cruiser styling in general, but that's taste rather than a valid criticism.   It does allow forward controls, which let the seat height be low enough for almost any adult while leaving enough room for a 6 foot rider.  (The Savage is a bit cramped for me but rideable.  The Honda Rebel is just plain too small)   The tank-mounted gauges are a significant sacrifice in usability to gain an uncluttered handlebar area--the gauges are well out of the rider's normal line of sight requiring a deliberate look down instead of being visible with a quick glance, especially with a full face helmet.    This is especially problematic for the turn signals--when I ride with my wife, I'm constantly reminding her on the intercom to turn the signal off.  (I'm going to add a beeper, or a light she can see)   Another flaw is the lack of either a fuel gauge or trip odometer--every bike should have at least one.   No tachometer, but on this bike not really needed.


  1. Yo Mr Sevesteen, I think I figured out where the dreaded malware was coming from... please inform me if you get it again.

    Tell Mrs Sevesteen I said hello and keep on ridin.

  2. Daisy, I've put you back in my reader, we'll see what happens next time you post something reply-worthy.

  3. Anonymous8:57 PM

    As someone who just bought a 2006 Boulevard S40 (same as the Savage, basically), I'd like to add that there is a completely different feel between a 250 twin and a 650 single. The 650 is a Thumper, and it's old school. People were riding big singles back in the 1950s and 1960s. There's no buzz-buzz-buzz, whine-whine-whine with a big Thumper. It's like a drum when you're riding it, or a heartbeat. It has its own unique charm that you just cannot get from a multi-cylinder engine of any displacement. It's the perfect first bike, because it is forgiving of mistakes, but at the same time powerful enough for the highway. And when something needs service, it's the simplest bike there is. It's a bit like an old 1960s pre-catalytic converter, pre-electronic ignition car. Also, there are so many of these bikes around, parts are easy to get and cheap.

  4. Anonymous3:29 AM

    i bght a2002 savage abt 2 mnths back hve dne nearly a 1000 miles
    having a ball ....
    shame they didnt continue up to date would buy a new model no problem

    1. I'm curious what you mean by "up to date" given the retro and beginner nature of the bike? Fuel injection might be nice, but adds a good bit to the cost without a whole lot of benefit for this particular use. Power is enough for the market, maintenance isn't much on single carb bikes.

  5. Anonymous1:58 PM

    I'm a new rider and bought a 2013 about 6 months ago. The 250's were too wimpy and 750's and up too big. This big hits the spot; light and low to the ground; yet big enough to ride around on for years to come.

  6. Anonymous9:39 AM

    I bought a 2001 Savage new. My wife and I rode it around two up for the whole summer. We then traded it for the Yamaha vstar Silverado. There was never a time that we didn't enjoy the Savage. It was light, fun, enjoyable. If it wasn't for me thinking if the seat for my wife, we would still have it today. I wish Suzuki would make it retro enough to put a worth while seat for two on it. We would go back and buy another one for the simplicity and fun of riding it.

  7. Lori Brown1:35 PM

    I have a Yamaha 650 V star and as a small figured woman it is way to much bike for me so my husband has picked out a 2012 Suzuki Boulevard 650, As a woman's point of view, wow what a difference!!! I felt like I am controlling the bike and not the other way around. And I was able to put my feet flat on the ground. It seems like a good bike to cruise the county roads with my husband. I am trying to get information on the bike itself before purchasing it. Any suggestions? I was able to test drive it this weekend and really loved the way it handled. I have been only riding about 2 years and a seasonally rider at that. I really don't want to spend a whole lot of money.

    1. Not sure exactly what you are looking for. I don't know of any trouble spots to beware of on the Savages (I'm no expert) , and the things I'd be concerned with (mostly old, dry tires) wouldn't apply to a bike that new. There are a couple of forums dedicated to the Savage.

      If you do go older, check date codes on tires, and budget replacements on tires more than about 5 years old. Low miles doesn't stop tires from getting hard and losing traction, and I've had several old bikes where even mild riding showed the old tires were unsafe.

  8. Anonymous1:54 PM

    Owned a Suzuki Savage 5-speed a few years ago and loved how light and comfortable the bike was. You will find ALL OVER the internet an easy fix for the bike's slightly lean EPA-tuned nature, which transforms it into an even better performer; runs a bit cooler, almost eliminates back-fires, and you don't have to keep it on choke as much with cold starts. Most States won't bother you at emissions time. My only challenge with the bike was trying to convert it to single-seat- there is a good size indentation in the fender under the passenger saddle, which was tough to "cover up" when I went to the single saddle. I REALLY wish I kept that bike... *sigh*

  9. Anonymous8:11 PM

    Focusing on displacement makes sense if you know how to adjust it s bit. S40 is a 650 cc single while my Vstar is a 250 cc twin. To compare divide the single into 2, thus 650 becomes 325 cc which is a bit more powerful than a 250 cc. My Vstar top speed is 85 mph on flat road with normal wind. I suspect that a S40 will do around 95 mph top speed. The slower figures I see on Internet from owners were probably old or beat up ones. Horsepower = torque x rpm/5252. The notion that horsepower is responsible for top speed while torque is on off the line acceleration does not make sense. Torque is a force with a unit of lb-foot. It is not work, defined as force over a distance with a unit of foot-lb. The foot on the torque is just the lever arm where the force is applied. It means nothing because it is not moving, just like saying 100 lbs stationary means nothing. However, when the torque moves it creates distance and time which is the definition of power = rate of work. If that power is defined as horse then it is 33000 ft-lb/min. You can create your own power and define it as cat, dog, rat, etc but you need to define your own rate.
    The focus on power and weight is only relevant normally off the line. Soon the heavier more horsepower will normally catch up later. I use displacement when focusing on same type bikes for simplicity since the figures are usually known without digging in the Internet.