Suzuki Savage Turns 20: 2006 Suzuki Boulevard S40 Road Test

Pioneering Suzuki Savage morphs into the enjoyable Suzuki S40 650cc single-engine cruiser bike

Suzuki's big single, the bike that became the Boulevard S40, arrived 20 years ago, in 1986. It was just in time to catch the very end of the last heyday for big single-cylinder street motorcycles. Back then, before the company renamed all it cruisers as Boulevards and gave them model designations based on cubic inches, the 652cc single was called the Suzuki Savage and was priced at $1999. The Suzuki Savage 650 sported the clean cruiser styling introduced at the same time on Suzuki's first Intruders.

There apparently wasn't much of a market for simple, narrow, lightweight single-cylinder cruisers back then, especially those with only four speeds. Although belt drive hadn't yet fallen into fashion, the Savage was among the first Japanese bikes to use it. That wasn't enough to open buyer's wallets though, and the Savage was discontinued for six years starting in 1989. In 1995, Suzuki returned it to the line with five speeds instead of four and a taller handlebar.

For 2005, the Suzuki Savage was swept under Suzuki's new Boulevard banner that is now used for all the company's cruiser motorcycles. The 650 single was re-designated with the Boulevard line's cubic-inch nomenclature as the S40. It was lightly restyled, with flatter bar and seat, and the short passenger backrest was discontinued. However, it remains the largest single-cylinder cruiser around, and the only belt-drive model among Suzuki's cruisers.

Though large-displacement singles are relatively simple, narrow, light, and tractable compared to multis of the same size, they also tend to vibrate and aren't as powerful as bikes with more cylinders. However, those positive characteristics plus the Savage/S40's low weight (380 pounds wet), low (27.6 inches) seat height, low price and clean Intruder-style looks make Suzuki's 650 attractive to beginners, riders of shorter stature and those shopping for motorhome lifeboats. The engine is a paragon of simplicity. It's air-cooled and has a single carb, one chain-driven overhead camshaft and two intake and two exhaust valves. Fortunately, Suzuki did incorporate the slight complexity of a counterbalancer, which reduces but doesn't quite eliminate vibration.

Although it feels a bit out of breath at 65 mph, the S40 doesn't shake with anything like the ferocity of an unbalanced 650cc single. If you don't plan to cruise at 75 mph, there is enough power. Though it offers good fuel economy (over 50 mpg on the highway), its limited power means that it's not particularly happy out on a wide-open interstate. The powerband is broad though, and you don't need to make much of an effort to keep the rpm up to tap its power potential around town. However, it won't accelerate as hard any of the other 500 to 650cc cruisers except the Honda VLX, which is still a bit stronger on top end. Ours tended to backfire rather frequently during deceleration. The gearbox and clutch perform admirably. The final-drive belt is quiet, clean and probably absorbs a little of the big single's power pulses.

Because it's low, lightweight, and short (58.4 inches) between the axles, the Boulevard S40's handling is very responsively. It's narrowness short legs to reach the ground at a stop easily. Its steering is quick and precise, yet the motorcycle is acceptably steady at all speeds. Lean angle is respectable too, especially by cruiser standard. Its only weakness is the somewhat pedestrian suspension components. The S40 is lightly sprung and damped with the result that it surges a bit on roads with bigger bumps. Although we wouldn't call the S40 a wobbler, it takes longer than most comparable motorcycles to stabilize if you give the handlebar a good shake at highway speed. Because it's light, the modest brakes, a single disc up front and a drum on the back, are well matched to it, and offer good feel and control.

Average and larger (over five-foot-ten or 32-inch inseam) riders feel somewhat confined. However, shorter riders find that Suzuki's single fits them quite handily and are less likely to complain about the stiff saddle or ride quality. Passengers don't get much room, but riding two-up kind of overloads the S40 anyway. Both the suspension and acceleration suffer when you add a passenger. The narrow bar makes wind pressure less of an issue at highway speeds.

Overall, the Boulevard S40 fills the vast gap between the 250s and the other cruisers in the 500 to 650cc range. Although its displacement makes it a 650, its physical size, weight, and position it like a smaller cruiser. Its feature list is also more like a 250's; there isn't even a tripmeter. In terms of performance, Suzuki's 650 single is neck-and-neck with the more expensive 600cc Honda VLX four-speed V-twin, but slightly ahead in comfort. However, the smaller twin-cylinder, six-speed Kawasaki Vulcan 500 LTD will leave both those bikes and the Yamaha V-Star 650s for dead in an acceleration contest.

Because the same basic bike has been around for a couple of decades, dealers are familiar with their needs, and there are online American and European owners clubs to turn to for support. There are also a fair number of accessories available.

Suzuki's Boulevard S40 makes great urban transportation because it is narrow, maneuvers easily, has willing power characteristics, gets terrific fuel mileage and is inexpensive to insure .

2006 Suzuki Boulevard S40

Suggested price: $4399
Warranty: 12 months, unlimited miles
Standard colors: Black, red, silver

Engine type: Air-cooled vertical single
Valve arrangement: SOHC; 2 intake, 2 exhaust valves; threaded adjusters
Displacement, bore x stroke: 652cc, 94 x 94mm
Compression ratio: 8.5:1
Carburetion: 1, 40mm CV
Minimum fuel grade: 87 octane
Transmission: Wet multiplate clutch; 5 speeds
Final drive: belt

Wet weight: 380 lb.
GVWR: 785 lb.
Wheelbase: 58.4 in.
Overall length: 85.8 in.
Rake/trail: 35 degrees / 5.8 in.
Seat height: 27.6 in.
Wheels: Wire-spoke
Front tire: 100/90-19 IRC tube-type
Rear tire: 140/80-15 IRC tube-type
Front brake: 2-piston caliper, 10.4-in. disc
Rear brake: Drum, rod operated
Front suspension: 38mm stanchions, 5.4 in. travel
Rear suspension: Dual dampers, 3.1 in. travel, adjustment for spring preload
Handlebar width: 28.4 in.
Fuel capacity: 2.8 gal.

Forward lighting: 55/60-watt 5.5-in. headlight, position lights
Taillight: 1 bulb, license light
Instruments: Speedometer, odometer; warning lights for neutral, high beam, left and right turn signals

Fuel mileage: 44-61 mpg, 52.9-mpg average
RPM at 60 mph, top gear: 3940
Quarter-mile performance: 16.35 sec., 77.2 mph

_Additional motorcycle road tests, first rides, and comparison tests are available at the Road Tests section of For a complete listing of the motorcycle tests available, see the _Motorcycle Cruiser Road Test Finder.

The Boulevard S40 has the size and responsiveness of a smaller bike with broad, torquey power. Photo by Mike Pons.
The S40 has Spartan style that reflects its simplicity.
Belt drive is clean, light, quiet, and requires little maintenance.
On such a light bike, a small single disc is sufficient.
Since it's naturally narrow, the S40 is easy to straddle.
There not even a tripmeter among the instruments.
The big air-cooled 652cc single makes very tractable power, which helps to make the bike easy to ride. It begins to feel overtaxed when you try to cruise at 75-mph.