650cc Class Motorcycles - Rebirth Of A Class

The 650cc Segment Is More Relevant Than Ever '08 Hyosung GV650, Star V Star Custom, Suzuki Boulevard S40 Comparison Test

Like a long-term friendship that suddenly becomes romantic, so too have three existing bikes suddenly become a class of their own. They are the 650s or, as we call them, The Heavy Lightweights: the Hyosung GV650 Avitar, the Star V Star Custom and the Suzuki Boulevard S40.

A 650cc-engined motorcycle was once considered a large machine, but was later relegated to the smaller end of middleweights. Even then (the '70s, a time of tall sissy bars and Honda CB450 choppers), a 650 was a respectably sized motorcycle. However, with today's escalation of heavyweights into 2-liter territory, a 650 seems positively diminutive. Don't let that fool you, though-each of these three bikes has a place and a purpose in the cruiser spectrum.

The oldest of the bunch, Suzuki's Boulevard S40, debuted in 1986 as the 650 Savage. Back then it had a four-speed transmission, 2.5-gallon fuel tank, claimed 344-pound dry weight and, unusual for the time, belt final drive. Unfortunately a single-cylinder cruiser didn't catch the fancy of the American riding public, and Suzuki dropped it from its lineup from 1989 through 1994. On its return in 1995 the price had nearly doubled from $2299 to $4249; the tank grew to 2.8 gallons, and a little weight gain had it hitting the scales at 352 pounds. The last changes occurred in 2005, when it ditched the backrest and the Savage moniker, becoming the Boulevard S40.

The middle child, Star's V Star Custom, hit the streets in 1998 with its shared-platform V Star Classic sibling earning Cruiser's Bike of the Year honors. The main difference was the Custom's 2.4-inch-lower seat height (27.4 inches), making it feel like a smaller motorcycle. Other than changing to Dunlop tires and a slight price increase, the Custom remains the same as in 1998.

The new kid on the block, Hyosung's GV650 Avitar, arrived on U.S. shores in 2006. As Alan Cathcart said in the February 2006 issue of Cruiser, Hyosung is the two-wheeled Korean Hyundai-and that is a compliment.

Aside from styling, the greatest differences between these bikes are in the powerplants. As mentioned, the S40 is a single with a square bore and stroke of 94mm each. Though counterbalanced, it feels like a single, too. On the other hand, that solo cylinder is a big factor in the S40's light weight, which undercuts the Avitar and V Star by over 140 pounds. While it runs out of steam before its classmates, don't write off the S40 as low-tech with its two intake and two exhaust valves operated by a single overhead camshaft. It's pretty zippy when one cranks the throttle, though it tops out at an indicated 87 mph-plus it vibrates the bars and pegs hard enough to induce pins and needles during high-rpm romps. The S40 is also prone to backfiring on deceleration.

Conversely, the V Star is the height of cruiser convention, cradling a V-twin between the frame rails with a 70-degree spread between the jugs. Like the Boulevard, the Star has single overhead cams but only two valves per cylinder. It's very oversquare with a bore of 81mm and a stroke of 63mm. The five-speed transmission is more widely spaced than the S40's, making it a bit more relaxed on the highway with only moderate vibration in the bars and pegs to accompany its rich but low-volume exhaust tone. Hold it wide open and you'll eventually reach an indicated 97 mph in top gear. Unlike the S40 and GV650, the Custom's power is transmitted to the rear wheel via shaft drive.

The Hyosung uses a 90-degree V-twin engine (or L-twin as Ducati refers to it), the advantage being that the 90-degree angle results in perfect primary balance and less vibration. Even without Ducati's desmodromic valve gear, the Avitar's mill is still modern-tech with four valves per cylinder and double overhead cams. Bore and stroke figures are similar to the V Star's at 81.5 x 62mm. Unlike the S40's compression ratio of 8.5:1 or the Star's 9.0:1, the Hyosung's is a stratospheric 11.6:1 with an amazingly high 11,000-rpm redline. Of course at the upper end of the rev range the GV650 has high-frequency vibrations in the pegs and bars, but not as bad as its classmates. One other key feature-it's liquid-cooled. Add it all up and you get a claimed (at the crankshaft) 70.2 hp at 9000 rpm-far in excess of the Boulevard's claimed 33 hp and the Star's claimed 37.5 hp. Top speed? We've heard it's well in excess of 110 mph. Of note, the Avitar will have electronic fuel injection in 2009 to meet stiffer international emissions regulations.

As for the transmissions, all three classmates sport a five-speed box. The S40's was pretty smooth but took a little extra push to get from neutral down to first gear. There was some drive lash at low speed in first gear, but the belt final drive yields a vibe-free ride. While the gearbox was very smooth on the V Star, we had an issue with a grabby clutch and narrow range of engagement, all within the final half-inch of lever travel. In first gear there was some noticeable drive lash from the shaft final drive but nothing to speak of in the higher gears. The Hyosung had a slick gearbox and exhibited a little drive lash but nothing to complain about.

The running tackle on the Boulevard definitely says "budget bike." Spindly 38mm forks with soft springs sport an urban-pothole-friendly 5.5 inches of travel. However, the preload-adjustable rear shocks have too little travel (3.1 inches) and too much compression damping, making for a harsh ride. The front disc is a tiny 264mm unit that provides correspondingly little power from its single-piston sliding caliper-which wouldn't be so bad if it weren't mated to an equally ineffective drum brake in the rear. Color us unimpressed by late 1970s motorcycle technology.

Sadly, the Star follows suit. Its 41mm forks offer 5.5 inches of travel. Any additional stiffness afforded by the larger-diameter fork tubes is negated by limp fork springs. Out back the V Star has an H-D Softail-style suspension with a hidden, preload-adjustable single damper. The 3.4 inches of travel get used up with great frequency, resulting in bottoming out on medium and big bumps. Whoa-ing things down up front is a 298mm disc and twin-piston caliper, but all the testers were disappointed by the lack of stopping power. Like the Boulevard, the Star makes do with a rear drum brake that is equally uninspiring.

Once again the GV650 steps away from the crowd. Not only are the forks 43mm in diameter, they are inverted-like on H-D V-Rods and every current sportbike-with adjustable compression and rebound damping for custom-tailoring the ride while offering 5.1 inches of travel. Fettling the damping does result in noticeable and useful changes in the fork's response to bumps. The rear was old-school with twin shocks yielding a paltry 2.4 inches of travel. They were somewhat stiff, but when attempting to adjust the preload (their only adjustment) we discovered the collars were made of metal not much tougher than a soup can. We were delighted to see twin 300mm brake rotors and twin-piston calipers up front, but the feel at the adjustable lever was rather numb. The rear 230mm disc brake was progressive in feel and provided good power.

When it comes to styling, things follow our now-familiar progression. The Suzuki is at best an acquired taste. At worst it's an amalgam of ideas that never fully jelled. It does convey its light weight by virtue of all of the open space around that single-cylinder engine as well as its obvious narrowness, with the 26-inch handlebar skinnier than on any other cruiser and most sportbikes, too. Also skinny is the narrow and very tall front end. The tank-mounted gauge provides a minimum of information: speedometer, odometer and the usual indicator lights. There's no tripmeter, so you better remember the mileage at your last fill-up to avoid being stranded. There are hazard and passing-light switches, but they don't compensate for the toy horn. Suzuki did do a nice job of routing most of the wiring out of sight, though.

The Star is, well, not bad at all in the style department. It has that typical Japanese "custom" cruiser styling: modestly raked fork, small front fender and a slight flip on the end of the rear fender. The 31-inch handlebars are slightly pulled back and comfortable. The candy red and tribal flames paint on our test bike was excellent in quality. Staggered dual exhaust pipes give a big-bike look, but the "mixing bowl" air-cleaner cover belies the V Star's budget status, as does the unfinished look of the swingarm on the left side. The gauges one-up the S40, throwing a useful tripmeter into the mix. There are no hazard or passing-light switches on the Star, and its horn is average. Also, the front of the engine has a tangle of hoses and wires.

While the Star is conventional in appearance, the Hyosung is "back to the near future." The main inspiration is clearly Harley-Davidson's V-Rod, with the stretched tank and elongated upper frame, inverted front forks, radiator shroud, belt shroud (albeit plastic) and gauge positioned on the center of the handlebar. The borrowing didn't stop there either, with a 2-into-1 exhaust system that looks straight off a Star Warrior. Well, perhaps they are second cousins-the Avitar sports cast, three-spoke wheels and more pulled-back bars than the V-Rod. Throw in a liberal sprinkling of chrome and plastic and it's a love-it-or-leave-it combination. Paint quality varies, with a gorgeous tank but fender graphics that have no clear coat. The Avitar is firmly in the 21st century with a vacuum fluorescent display gauge showing speed, time, coolant temperature and fuel level, as well as the odometer or either of the two tripmeters, plus all the standard indicator lights. There are four brightness levels, but we found that even on the highest setting the indicator lights were somewhat dim in direct sunlight. Like the others, the GV650 would benefit from a horn replacement. The bodywork hides almost all the wiring, although there is a tangle behind the headlight shell.

There's only one way to describe the riding position of the S40: compact. Even our 5-foot-4-inch tester felt that the seat-bar-pegs relationship made the Boulevard feel like a scooter, especially with the narrow handlebars. The seat is firm but comfortable, though not well suited to extended travel. The passenger seat is also OK for a few miles but no farther. Even the shortest rider can firmly plant both feet on the ground when astride the S40. The light weight of the bike is confidence-inspiring to the novice rider as well as lending the bike excellent agility on the road. But under 10 mph those short, high-rise bars and the skinny 19-inch front wheel combine to make one of the floppiest front ends we've experienced. With that single cylinder buzzing away at freeway speeds, you won't be passing too many exits before wanting to make your own. Still, it's a champ when it comes to commuting.

Like the Suzuki, the Custom has an equally low seat height and is just as emboldening for novices, though it does weigh 142 pounds more. The effect of that weight is limited to parking-lot maneuvers, where steering is heavy. The seat is comfortable enough to run through a tank or two of gas, but the pillion pad is hard and not well shaped. The riding position is comfortable, but it'll feel somewhat cramped to those over 5 feet 8 inches. Handling is light and stable at speed and the mill doesn't feel taxed on the highway, making the V Star capable of both urban and touring duty, though it does get bouncy over rough roads.

Yet again, the Hyosung is in a class by itself. The seat is taller at 31.3 inches, but a narrow front section allows even the inseam-challenged to get their feet down at a stop. One feature unique to the Avitar is that the rider's footpegs can be moved 2 inches back from the standard position, allowing for short and tall (6-foot-plus) riders to get comfortable on the bike. In either position the pegs are the most forward-set of the group but also afford the greatest cornering clearance. Most testers felt the rider's seat was comfortable but that the passenger pad was hard. Handling feels neutral, and once suspension is adjusted it provides the most comfortable ride. Where the GV650 really rocks is the engine: The little twin spins to the moon (located at 11,000 rpm), providing good power and working the least to keep up with freeway traffic.

All of these motorcycles will run on 87-octane gasoline. Our mileage figures were on the low side due to excessive full-throttle runs; more real-world riding will likely yield higher averages for all these bikes. That said, with mid-40s mileage and the savings of running low-octane fuel, these bikes become just that much more economical to own over time.

So where does that leave us? The Boulevard is the real budget beater, undercutting the V Star by $1700 and the Avitar by $1900. But with its equally low-budget suspension and compromised riding position, it's best left in the city, so we'll call it The Commuter. The Star looks and feels much larger than the S40. However, it's shortchanged by its suspension and brakes, and the workmanlike engine isn't particularly enthralling. Still, it's decent at everything and earns the title of All-Rounder. That leaves the GV650. It costs only $200 more than the V Star. In return you get the most sophisticated and powerful engine, adjustable suspension, triple disc brakes and a better gauge than on most cruisers of any size. And so we have the high-spec Hot Rod.

Each of these bikes makes an excellent first motorcycle or step-up for those in the 250cc class. With great fuel economy, a low cost of admission and a variety of styles, there's something for everyone among The Heavy Lightweights.

**'08 Suzuki Boulevard S40 **
Designation: Boulevard S40
Base Price: $4399
Colors: Black, red, silver
Standard Warranty: 12 months, unlimited mileage,

Engine & Drivetrain
Engine Type: Air-cooled, single cylinderDisplacement/Bore X Stroke: 652cc/94.0 x 94.0mm
Valve Train: SOHC; 2 intake, 2 exhaust valves
Compression: 8.5:1
Fuel system: 40mm carburetor
Lubrication: Wet sump, 2.1 qt.
Recommended Fuel: 87 octane
Transmission: Wet clutch, 5 speeds
Final Drive: Belt

Overall Length: 85.8 in.
Wheelbase: 58.3 in.
Wet Weight: 384 lb.
GVWR: 785 lb.
Seat Height: 27.4 in.
Rake/Trail: 35 deg./5.8 in.
Wheels: Wire-spoke, 19 x 2.15 in. front, 15 x 2.75 in. rear
Front Tire: 100/90-19 IRC
Rear Tire: 140/80-15 IRC
Front Brake: 264mm disc; single-piston caliper
Rear Brake: Drum
Front Suspension: 38mm fork, 5.5 in. travel
Rear Suspension: Dual dampers, 3.1 in. travel, preload-adjustable
Fuel Capacity: 2.8 gal.
Handlebar Width: 26 in.

Charging Output: >100W @ 5000 rpm
Battery: 12V, 14 AH
Lighting: 55/60-watt 5.5-in. headlight, bulb taillight, license plate, position lights
Instruments: Speedometer, odometer; Indicators for neutral, turn, high beam; hazard and passing switches

Fuel Mileage: 42.8-47.1 mpg, 45.0 avg.
Average Range: 126 miles
Horsepower (crankshaft, claimed): 33

'08 Star V Star Custom
Designation: XV65XCR
Base Price: $6099
Colors: Candy red with flames; black with flames
Standard Warranty: 1 year

Engine & DrivetrainEngine Type: Air-cooled, 70-deg. V-twinDisplacement/Bore X Stroke: 649cc/81 x 63mm
Valve Train: Sohc, 1 intake valve, 1 exhaust valve/cyl.
Compression: 9.0:1
Fuel system: Two 28mm Mikuni CV carburetors
Lubrication: Wet sump, 3.4 qt.
Recommended Fuel: 86 octane
Transmission: Wet clutch, 5 speeds
Final Drive: Shaft

Overall Length: 92.0 in.
Wheelbase: 63.4 in.
Wet Weight: 526 lb.
GVWR: 985 lb.
Seat Height: 27.4 in.
Rake/Trail: 35 deg./6.02 in.
Wheels: Wire spoke, 19 x 2.50 front, 15 x 3.50 rear
Front Tire: 100/90-19 Dunlop
Rear Tire: 170/80-15 Dunlop
Front Brake: 298mm disc; 2-piston caliper
Rear Brake: 200mm drum
Front Suspension: 41mm fork, 5.5 in. travel
Rear Suspension: 1 damper, 3.4 in. travel, preload-adjustable
Fuel Capacity: 4.2 gal.
Handlebar Width: 31 in.

Charging Output: 280 watts @ 5000rpm
Battery: 12V, 10AH, sealed
Lighting: 60/55-watt halogen bulb headlight, bulb turn signals and taillight
Instruments: Analog speedometer, odometer, tripmeter; indicators for neutral, turn, high beam, engine diagnostic

Fuel Mileage: 38.6-45.5 mpg, 41.8 avg.
Average Range: 176 miles
Horsepower (claimed): 39.4 @ 6500 rpm
Torque (claimed): 37.5 lb-ft @ 3000 rpm

'08 Hyosung GV650 Avitar
Designation: GV650
Base Price: $6299; as tested $6599 (two-tone paint)
Colors: Gray, black, blue, orange/black, gray/orange

Engine & Drivetrain
Engine Type: Water-cooled, 90-deg. V-twin
Displacement/Bore X Stroke: 647cc, N/A
Valve Train: DOHC; 2 intake, 2 exhaust valves/cyl.
Compression: 11.6:1
Fuel system: Two 39mm carburetors
Lubrication: N/A
Recommended Fuel: 87 octane
Transmission: Wet clutch, 5 speeds
Final Drive: Belt

Overall Length: 95.6 in.
Wheelbase: 66.9 in.
Wet Weight: 527 lb
GVWR: 904 lb
Seat Height: 31.3 in.
Rake/Trail: N/A
Wheels: 3-spoke cast, 18 x 3.5 in.
front, 17 x 5.5 in. rear
Front Tire: 120/70-18 Bridgestone
Rear Tire: 180/55-17 Bridgestone
Front Brake: 300 mm discs; 2 pistons/ caliper
Rear Brake: 230mm disc
Front Suspension: 43mm inverted fork, 5.1 in. travel, compression and rebound damping adjustments
Rear Suspension: 2 dampers, 2.6 in. travel, preload-adjustable
Fuel Capacity: 4.5 gal.
Handlebar Width: 32 in.

Charging Output: N/A
Battery: N/A
Lighting: 55/60-watt headlight, LED taillight
Instruments: Fluorescent display for speed, odometer, 2 tripmeters, fuel and engine temperature; indicators for turn signal, neutral, high beam, oil and fuel injection; hazard and passing light switches.

Fuel Mileage: 40.1-51.5 mpg, 45.0 avg.
Average Range: 203 miles
Horsepower (claimed): 70.2 @ 9000 rpm
Torque (MEAS.): 45.4 lb-ft @ 7500 rpm

Riding Positions

It's amazing this class is so overlooked by the general cruising public, especially when you consider the value it offers. All the bikes here make for great entry-level, commuter or light-duty all-rounders at the very least, but there are some compromises. I was unimpressed with the Star's suspension right off the bat-its front fork consistently bottomed out, and the brakes were unimpressive. It's still the comfiest bike here though; the S40 cramped even my 5-foot-7-inch frame. The Suzuki's riding position is made for aggressive maneuvers through traffic, but anyone over 5 feet 9 or 170 pounds will be hating life on the freeway. Oh, yeah: Singles do buzz.

That's why it's cool to see fresh blood in the class. The Hyosung's a pleasant surprise, with a free-spinning motor that gets you there in a hurry, unlike the others. Plus it's got a raft of features you'd normally find on much higher-end bikes. Hello, DOHC? Adjustable front forks? Fuel injection (next year)? Sign me up!

Not that I'm trashing the Star or the Boulevard, but let's face it: They'd need a serious overhaul to get my attention at this point in their lifespan.
Andrew Cherney, 5' 7'', 155 lb, 30.5" inseam

Hyosung: 3.5 out of 5
Star: 2 out of 5
Suzuki: 2 out of 5

The S40 is a great bike for the daily commute and quick errands around town. What struck me about the S40 is how small it is. Even our vertically challenged staffer felt cramped. The Star is the best-looking of the bunch and is well finished. Where it really fell short is the suspension. It is way too soft, and the forks dive hard when you apply the front brake. The motor was also disappointing, requiring quick shifts to keep up with traffic.

My favorite is the Hyosung. It isn't the best-looking, but it's the only bike I would recommend if you want to do more than just commute. I could stretch out and let the GT650-based motor pull me where I wanted to go. Suspension was a bit harsh, but it has some adjustability. The brakes worked well but felt wooden and didn't provide enough feedback. The display is placed on the triple clamp so I don't have to look down to check my speed. And yes, it was the only bike of the bunch to have a fuel gauge as well as disc brakes on both wheels. Now if we could do something about the styling . . .

Jerry Buerger, 5'9", 205 lb, 32" inseam

Hyosung: 3.5 out of 5
Star: 2.5 out of 5
Suzuki: 2 out of 5

Putting these 650s through their paces was a lot of fun. I love small bikes, always have and always will. I just love the great handling, light weight, stopping power, fuel mileage and low insurance costs of small bikes. Plus, you can learn a lot more about how to ride a motorcycle when you aren't scared to death of its power and bulk. That's especially key for novice and intermediate riders.

Getting the S40 on the boil was fun, but at high revs that thumper becomes tiresome. It's perfectly well suited for commuting but not real fun on the highway. And motorcycles are supposed to be fun, right? I thought the V Star would give me a whole lot more bang for my buck from its engine room, but its V-twin doesn't provide substantially more power than the Boulevard's single and not much better braking, either. However, the riding position suited me much better, and its highway manners were more than acceptable. The Hyosung surprised me with its technological edge and double the power of the others-but the seat let me down after 45 minutes.

Is that enough for it to come in second? Can you say "custom seat?"
Evan Kay, 5'4", 159 lb, 29" inseam

Hyosung: 3.5 out of 5
Star: 3 out of 5
Suzuki: 1.5 out of 5

(Left to right)
sparx S-07
Jacket: Joe Rocket Sonic
Boots: Joe Rocket Sonic Helmet: scorpion exo-700
Gloves: roadgear carbon maxx Helmet: shoei j-wing
Jacket: alpinestars p-rock