2019 Honda CB650R vs. Kawasaki W800 Cafe vs. Suzuki SV650X | Comparison Review

SV650X CB650R W800 Cafe
Three brands, three middleweights, three engine configurations, three very distinct personalities. Which one are you? Photos by Kevin Wing.

Three riders walk into a dealership…. (I know it sounds like the start of a bad joke but bear with me.) All three are in the market for a new middleweight motorcycle, and each has a unique style and riding experience in mind. They’re in luck — thanks to a challenging economy, increasing growth in female ridership and a need to attract younger riders, manufacturers are doubling down on the small- and midsize-displacement market, meaning there’s a middleweight machine out there for just about anyone. We gathered three of the newest for an unorthodox Comparo Review; rather than pitting them against each other in a head-to-head battle, we thought instead we’d focus on each one’s unique personality. So here we are, the door just swung closed behind us, and our first rider already seems to know exactly what he wants.

The Speed Demon – Honda CB650R

2019 Honda CB650R.
2019 Honda CB650R.

Mark’s Gear
Helmet: Bell SRT-Modular
Jacket: Fly Strata
Pants: Rev’It
Boots: Alpinestars
Tail Bag: Firstgear

We find him standing next to the Honda CB650R, where he’s admiring the waterfall of header pipes cascading from its 649cc, liquid-cooled, DOHC in-line four. The replacement for the stale CB650F, this fresh CB650R rounds out Honda’s Neo-Sports Café lineup, slotting in between the CB300R and CB1000R released for the 2018 model year.

Honda gave the middleweight CB more than just a facelift, with new wheels, an updated steel frame and a new, smaller fuel tank that combine to drop a claimed 9.2 pounds (11.6 pounds on the ABS version), a new inverted 41mm Showa fork with adjustable preload, a slightly more aggressive riding position and a redesigned airbox. The engine got a few tweaks as well, with new pistons and valve timing and a redline that’s been bumped up 1,000 rpm to 13,000. Also new this year is optional HSTC (traction control), which is only available on the ABS-equipped model and can be switched on and off on the fly.

CB650R engine
Liquid-cooled, DOHC in-line four is the most potent of the trio, with 83 peak horsepower on tap.
CB650R wheel
Switchable HSTC (traction control) is only available on the ABS model (which our test bike was not).
CB650R display
LCD gauge includes range to empty, fuel gauge, gear indicator and a clock.

The result is a seriously sporty machine that will pluck at the heartstrings of any rider yearning for the howl of a rev-happy in-line four in an affordable, fun-to-go-fast package. This is a bike that’s happiest when wound up, with the real action not kicking in until about 6,000 rpm. Per the Jett Tuning dyno, the CB650R spins out a respectable 83 horsepower at 11,000 rpm, with torque topping out at 43 lb-ft at 8,200. “Go fast or go home,” says our rider as he swings a leg over the nearly 32-inch seat.

Footpegs are just a tad higher and farther back than before and the wide, flat handlebar is lower and more forward, but the riding position is still relatively comfortable, especially when compared to the drop-down sport position of our other two comparo bikes. With suspension front and rear being preload-adjustable, it’s easier to find a happy medium for sporting canyon runs and bombing around town, and powerful radial-mount, 4-piston front brakes pinching big 320mm discs provide more than enough stopping power. As someone unaccustomed to an in-line four with less engine braking than a twin, I was happy for the peace of mind those brakes offered when winding things up on a twisty road. While the CB could be a good first bike (Honda says 25% of its 650cc bikes are bought by first-timers), it’s got enough juice to keep an experienced rider happily entertained.

“And,” smiles our first rider as we wander away, “it’s the right color: red.”

The Distinguished Gentleman – Kawasaki W800 Cafe

2019 Kawasaki W800 Cafe
2019 Kawasaki W800 Cafe.

Greg’s Gear
Helmet: 6D ATS-1R
Jacket: Scorpion Birmingham
Pants: Highway 21 Defender Jeans
Boots: Highway 21 Journeyman
Tail Bag: Nelson-Rigg

It might be fair to say that rider number two is the polar opposite; he’s drawn to the Kawasaki W800 Cafe, a new model (in the U.S. and Canada) for 2019 that evokes the look and spirit of the original 1966 W1. For him, sheer performance numbers aren’t a priority, but rather classic good looks and a timeless sense of style — although a few modern conveniences like a bright LED headlight, ABS and fuel injection don’t hurt.

With the possible exception of the paint, which is a polarizing metal-flake-brown and silver combo (I happen to like it), the W800 checks all the retro-loving riders’ boxes in the appearance department. Central to that is the 773cc air-cooled, SOHC vertical twin, with its distinctive bevel gear shaft-driven cam and 360-degree firing interval. Despite its balance shaft the engine vibrates significantly at idle and throughout most of the powerband, but the wide-ratio 5-speed gearbox shifts smoothly (thanks in part to the assist-and-slipper clutch) and the chrome peashooter mufflers burble modestly. “It’s got character,” shrugs our rider.

W800 Cafe engine
Air-cooled parallel twin looks the part, but vibrates excessively at lower rpm and idle.
W800 Cafe wheel
ABS is standard on the single front and rear discs.
W800 Cafe gauges
Classic round gauges include analog speedometer and tachometer and LCD trip info; there is no gear indicator, fuel gauge or consumption data.

That character extends outward from the engine, with the old school double-cradle frame that was designed using Kawasaki’s advanced dynamic analysis software for new school handling, 18-inch spoked wheels rolling on tube-type Dunlop K300 GP rubber, dual rear preload-adjustable shocks, a 41mm gaitered fork and a classic clubman drop-down handlebar. The 31-inch two-tone seat is comfortable enough for about an hour at a time, and the riding position is sporty yet civilized.

Mid-mount footpegs will drag early, the vertical twin generates a middling 46.7 horsepower at 6,400 rpm and 44 lb-ft torque at 4,600, and the two brake discs, one front and one rear, both with 2-piston calipers and standard ABS, aren’t up to true sport riding levels, but that’s not what the W800 is all about. Cruising city streets and weekend jaunts into the countryside are what it was made to do, and you’re almost guaranteed to draw some admiring eyeballs when you get to your destination.

The Cool Kid – Suzuki SV650X

2019 Suzuki SV650X
2019 Suzuki SV650X.

Jenny’s Gear
Helmet: HJC RPHA 11 Pro
Jacket: Flying Duchess The 66
Pants: Bolid’ster Jeny’ster
Boots: Sidi Gavia Gore-Tex
Tank Bag: Chase Harper

Now where did our third rider go? Ah, she discovered the Suzuki SV650X, which mixes the best of both worlds — sporty and retro — and also happens to be a time-tested, proven platform that’s been pasting smiles on faces since 1999, the year the original SV650 launched. In the intervening 20 years there have been S models with clip-ons and half fairings, but in my opinion this new-for-2019 café-racer X variation is the most true to the SV650’s spirit.

The bones haven’t changed: it’s still powered by the same 645cc liquid-cooled, DOHC, 90-degree V-twin that pulls strongly from idle to its peak of 69.3 horsepower at 8,700 rpm and 43.3 lb-ft of torque at 8,100, wrapped in a familiar steel trellis frame. Dual 290mm discs with 2-piston calipers up front and a single 240mm/1-piston combo at the rear work well, and ABS is standard. It’s shod with the best tires of the trio, grippy Dunlop Roadsmart IIIs. 

SV650 engine
If it ain’t broke…. Liquid-cooled 645cc 90-degree V-twin is still tractable and fun.
SV650 wheel
The SV gets standard ABS and solid if not great braking performance.
SV650 display
LCD gauge is simple and easy to read, with range to empty, a fuel gauge, a gear indicator and a clock.

The SV650X also continues to be one of the most user-friendly middleweights out there; nearly everything about it is approachable, from its one-touch Easy Start feature and Low RPM Assist that automatically raises engine speed when releasing the clutch, to its 31-inch seat, narrow waist, predictable powerband and no-frills, easy to read, comprehensive LCD gauge.

It’s responsive and stable, cool as a cucumber, never demanding too much of its rider even when the road gets twisty, and with some suspension work it could be a great track day warrior. Best of all, it doesn’t need to be wrung out in order to have fun, and is equally happy munching through traffic or carving up canyons — though not for hours on end. The fairly long reach to the clip-ons requires a strong core, lest too much weight is placed on the hands, and the low seat and tallish footpegs create an aching need to stretch out cramped-up knees. That said, if you’re young enough, fit enough and/or willing to rest often enough, the SV650X is a cool ride that looks, feels and sounds great.

The Choice

So which one am I? The Kawasaki looks the part, but its annoying vibration, squishy suspension, uninspiring power and high price tag are turnoffs. The quick, flickable Honda is a hoot to ride, but my personal preference is for low-end grunt over a high-strung in-line four. I don’t have a long commute and we have plenty of more appropriate touring bikes in the Rider garage, so for cruising around town and half-day blasts up the local canyons, the cool-as-a-cucumber Suzuki best matched my personality. Wait…does that make me the “cool kid”? 

Jett Tuning Dyno results for the 2019 Honda CB650R, Kawasaki W800 Cafe and Suzuki SV650X
Jett Tuning Dyno results for the 2019 Honda CB650R, Kawasaki W800 Cafe and Suzuki SV650X.
Jett Tuning Dyno results for the 2019 Honda CB650R, Kawasaki W800 Cafe and Suzuki SV650X
Jett Tuning Dyno results for the 2019 Honda CB650R, Kawasaki W800 Cafe and Suzuki SV650X.
SV650X CB650R W800 Cafe
The Suzuki’s low and forward clip-ons demand youth or stamina, or both. The Kawi’s clubman requires a less dramatic lean, while the Honda is upright and all-day comfy.

2019 Honda CB650R Specs

Base Price: $8,899
Warranty: 1yr., unltd. miles
Website: powersports.honda.com

Engine

Type: Liquid-cooled in-line four
Displacement: 649cc
Bore x Stroke: 67.0 x 46.0mm
Compression Ratio: 11.6:1
Valve Train: DOHC, 4 valves per cyl.
Valve Insp. Interval: 24,000 miles
Fuel Delivery: PGM-FI w/ 32mm throttle bodies x 2
Lubrication System: Wet sump, 2.7-qt. cap.
Transmission: 6-speed, cable-actuated assist-and-slipper wet clutch
Final Drive: O-ring chain

Electrical

Ignition: Full transistorized
Charging Output: 370 watts max.
Battery: 12V 8.6AH

Chassis

Frame: Twin-spar steel w/ aluminum swingarm
Wheelbase: 57 in.
Rake/Trail: 32 degrees/4.0 in.
Seat Height: 31.9 in.
Suspension, Front: 41mm USD fork, adj. for preload, 4.25-in. travel
Rear: Single link-type shock, adj. for preload, 5.04-in. travel
Brakes, Front: Dual 320mm discs w/ opposed 4-piston radial calipers
Rear: Single 240mm disc w/ 1-piston pin-slide caliper
Wheels, Front: Cast, 3.50 x 17 in.
Rear: Cast, 5.50 x 17 in.
Tires, Front: 120/70-ZR17
Rear: 180/55-ZR17
Wet Weight: 441 lbs.
Load Capacity: 342 lbs.
GVWR: 783 lbs.

Performance

Fuel Capacity: 4.1 gals., last 0.8 gal. fuel light on
MPG: 86 AKI min. (low/avg/high) 43.0/45.3/48.2 
Estimated Range: 186 miles
Indicated RPM at 60 MPH: 4,250

SV650X CB650R W800 Cafe
Photo by Kevin Wing.

2019 Kawasaki W800 Cafe Specs

Base Price: $9,799
Warranty: 1yr., unltd. miles
Website: kawasaki.com

Engine

Type: Air-cooled parallel twin
Displacement: 773cc
Bore x Stroke: 77.0 x 83.0mm
Compression Ratio: 8.4:1
Valve Train: SOHC, 4 valves per cyl.
Valve Insp. Interval: 7,600 miles
Fuel Delivery: DFI w/34mm throttle bodies x 2
Lubrication System: Wet sump, 3.4-qt. cap.
Transmission: 5-speed, cable-actuated assist-and-slipper wet clutch
Final Drive: O-ring chain

Electrical

Ignition: Digital
Charging Output: 154 watts max.
Battery: 12V 10AH

Chassis

Frame: Double-cradle steel w/ steel swingarm
Wheelbase: 57.7 in.
Rake/Trail: 26 degrees/3.7 in.
Seat Height: 31.1 in.
Suspension, Front: 41mm fork, non-adj., 5.1-in. travel
Rear: Twin shocks, adj. for preload, 4.2-in. travel
Brakes, Front: Single 320mm disc w/ 2-piston caliper & ABS
Rear: Single 270mm disc w/ 2-piston caliper & ABS
Wheels, Front: Spoked tube-type, 2.50 x 18 in.
Rear: Spoked tube-type, 3.00 x 18 in.
Tires, Front: 100/90-H18
Rear: 130/80-H18
Wet Weight: 488 lbs.
Load Capacity: 407 lbs.
GVWR: 895 lbs.

Performance

Fuel Capacity: 4.0 gals., last 1.1 gal. fuel light on
MPG: 87 AKI min. (low/avg/high) 34.1/40.3/52.9 
Estimated Range: 161 miles
Indicated RPM at 60 MPH: 3,500

SV650X CB650R W800 Cafe
Photo by Kevin Wing.

2019 Suzuki SV650X Specs

Base Price: $8,399
Warranty: 1yr., unltd. miles
Website: suzukicycles.com

Engine

Type: Liquid-cooled 90-degree V-twin
Displacement: 645cc
Bore x Stroke: 81.0 x 62.6mm
Compression Ratio: 11.2:1
Valve Train: DOHC, 4 valves per cyl.
Valve Insp. Interval: 14,500 miles
Fuel Delivery: DFI w/ SDTV & 39mm throttle bodies x 2
Lubrication System: Wet sump, 2.9-qt. cap.
Transmission: 6-speed, cable-actuated wet clutch
Final Drive: O-ring chain

Electrical

Ignition: Full transistorized
Charging Output: 375 watts max.
Battery: 12V 10AH

Chassis

Frame: Steel trellis w/ steel beam-type swingarm
Wheelbase: 56.9 in.
Rake/Trail: 25 degrees/4.2 in.
Seat Height: 31.1 in.
Suspension, Front: 41mm fork, non-adj., 4.9-in. travel
Rear: Single link-type shock, adj. for preload, 5.1-in. travel
Brakes, Front: Dual 290mm discs w/ 2-piston floating calipers & ABS
Rear: Single 240mm disc w/ 1-piston caliper & ABS
Wheels, Front: Cast, 3.50 x 17 in.
Rear: Cast, 5.00 x 17 in.
Tires, Front: 120/70-ZR17
Rear: 160/60-ZR17
Wet Weight: 437 lbs.
Load Capacity: 488 lbs.
GVWR: 925 lbs.

Performance

Fuel Capacity: 3.8 gals., last 1.1 gal. fuel light on
MPG: 87 AKI min. (low/avg/high) 38.9/53.1/58.7 
Estimated Range: 202 miles
Indicated RPM at 60 MPH: 4,250

Source: RiderMagazine.com

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