SWM RS 650 R Review

The RS 650 R is the first bike under the Speedy Working Motors (SWM) name to come out in over 30 years. It enters an incredibly competitive off-road market and while the 600 cc dualsport isn’t going to break any records or transform the category as we know it, it’s an extremely solid and competent motorcycle that offers incredible value for money.

SWM was founded back in 1971 and had a great reputation among trials and enduro riders. Despite early successes, the company shut its doors in 1984. So how is it that the name now has been resurrected? Well, it’s complicated. The man behind the reborn SWM is Ampelio Macchi, a legend of the industry who has been behind brands such as Cagiva, Husqvarna and Aprilia. Upon BMW selling Husqvarna to KTM, he saw an opportunity and with backing by Chinese conglomerate Shineray purchased the Lombardia factory in Italy.

SWM RS 650 R

The Husqvarna factory wasn’t the only thing that Macchi got hold of though. The RS 650 R is essentially a Husqvarna TE630. Visually it appears identical save for the colour scheme. There’s been a few minor tweaks here and there but overall this is a bike that was released first in 2010. From a commercial point of view it’s a clever move. The TE630 was a reliable and capable machine and it lets SWM get to market quickly – saving years of developing a brand new bike. Those brand new bikes are coming – including 250 cc and 300 cc dualsports and motards, an adventure bike and some retro styled street bikes.

One of the advantages to being based on a discontinued bike is that the aftermarket support is already out there. Anything that fits the TE630 should bolt onto the RS 650 R without a hitch. That means you can get a safari tank that will double your fuel capacity, luggage racks, skid plate and more – something you wouldn’t normally get for a brand new bike, least not one from a newly established company.

My initial time on the RS 650 R was mainly some twisty mountains, country roads and a bit of gravel as well. The bike carved up the corners without any problems and given how the dynamics of the bike felt, the supermoto version of this bike (the SM 650 R) should be brilliant. The tires on the bike are Korean ‘Goldentyre’- rubber I’ve never heard of before and from the tread pattern look to be an 80/20 or 90/10 design for road/off-road use. They seemed to offer plenty of grip and I didn’t once feel unsettled on them though I’m sure most people would switch to a more known brand as soon as needed.

SWM RS 650 R

Being a thumper, vibrations are usually a given but they’re really not too noticeable on this bike. In fact, the lack of vibrations for the most part were very impressive considering I was the first person to ride this bike save for SWM’s sales rep who bolted it together a week earlier. Only 200 clicks had been put on it before I was handed the keys so after a few weeks of solid riding the bike will no doubt loosen up nicely. Vibrations really only become apparent above 5,000 rpm but given that in sixth gear on the highway speed limit you’re only sitting on around 4,650 rpm, it’s really not an issue.

There’s a definite truck like quality to the engine, both in its sound (a rough grumble) as well as how much torque it has down low. It’s definitely a highlight of the single cylinder 600 cc unit – even as high as third gear it briskly responds when you need some extra speed without any hesitation – great for when you’re tackling tricky terrain and don’t want to have to change gears.

Front and rear brakes both feature Brembo callipers with a single 300mm disc up front and a 240 mm one at the back. Brake response at the front was very good with excellent feel as you squeeze the lever in. The back brake I felt locked up a little too easily on bitumen with just a small push of the lever seeing you put down a strip of rubber on the road.

SWM RS 650 R

After spending a few hours on the black stuff I finally arrived at the off-road part of my journey. It would be an hour long trip of Duck Creek Road, a public road that meanders through private properties and up to the summit of a national park.

As I hit the dirt I realised I hadn’t brought my tyre pump with me. So in addition to the road biased tyres, I also had to deal with higher than ideal tyre pressures. The RS 650 R performed flawlessly though. The road wasn’t just easy to ride hard packed dirt either – there was ruts, potholes full of water and plenty of rocks – both rough and smooth – and the bike performed effortlessly. A set of knobbies and proper tyre pressures would probably see this machine capable of tackling all but the most technical of terrain.

That’s no doubt thanks to the weight of the SWM RS 650 R. At 147kg fully fueled (claimed), it’s a mere 10 kg more than Yamaha’s benchmark WR250R dual sport – but with plenty more horsepower and oodles more torque. It even feels lighter than it is too – comparing it to our KLX250S project bike (which weighs slightly less), the Kawasaki feels frumpy. SWM must be using some of that magic dust Honda has access to that makes its bikes feel lighter than they are. They’d be able to shave a few more kilograms off the total too if they did away with the dual exhaust cans…

SWM RS 650 R

The great handling is also down to the quality suspension that the bike comes with. Though you could spend a couple of thousand dollars on aftermarket fork and shock upgrades, only the most hardcore of riders will really need it. The 45mm upside down Marzocchi forks up front and the Sachs rear shock to a very good job given the price point of this bike with plenty of room to customise your setup but even out of the box the handling was great.

It’s a huge advantage that this bike has – the agility (or very close to it) of a small dual sport but with the power of a mid-capacity machine. It makes overtaking on highways a breeze with acceleration that while not sportsbike quick is nevertheless still very rapid.

The standard gearing of the bike is a pretty good compromise between off and on road applications. As mentioned before there’s plenty of torque so tootling around the trickier stuff in second gear is for the most part fine. On the terrain where first gear is required it’s generally happy to putter along without any clutch input until the inclines start to get steep – not bad for a bike that will sit at 100 kph in sixth gear with plenty in reserve.

Fifth and sixth gear are definite overdrive gears and if I had my way, I’d probably go up a couple of teeth on the rear sprocket just to make the bike easier to use on tighter trails. That would also potentially make second gear more useful at slower speeds too – something of a personal preference of mine as I sometimes find the engine braking when in first gear a little too abrupt.

SWM RS 650 R

The ergonomics of the bike are fairly standard, with the bars low enough to encourage an attack position when standing. That might not suite some taller riders who prefer higher bars when riding more casual trails but it is good for higher speed cornering. The seat is fairly flat and gives you plenty of room to move back and forward depending on your preference. Being essentially a dirtbike, the pew is hardly comfortable but on the flip-side I’ve sat on plenty worse.

Annoyingly, the sides of the petrol tank are not only wide, the lip of them has a slightly exposed edge at the seam where your legs sit. By the end of my first day of riding the RS 650 R, my nylons had caught on this countless times and my knee braces (despite being under my pants) had scuffed up the plastics pretty badly. I’d hate to see what it would look like after a few months of riding.

Two other quibbles I had were that the brake lines are positioned in such a way that when you’re sitting down they partially block the view of the diminutive display and depending on your height will mean you either can’t see the speedo or the tacho – or both. The kickstand is also a pain in the rear. It’s too long by a good inch and a half meaning you need to tilt the bike to the right in order to properly extend it. It’s also on a spring and automatically pops back up – that will no doubt cause a few drops for new owners.

SWM RS 650 R

Strangely, later in the day as I was returning home on the freeway in moderate traffic, the bike had some speed wobbles – it became apparent at around 110 kph and saw the front end shimmy from side to side – not uncontrollable but not nice either. I didn’t notice any shimmy at the front earlier in the day but I hadn’t taken the bike up to those speeds, either. Searching Google to see if the issue appeared for owners of the Husqvanra TE630, it seemed that the main culprits of the speed wobbles were incorrect rear sag and unbalanced tyres. After adjusting the rear sag for my weight and taking the bike back out on the freeway, the problem was gone.

From my week of riding the RS 650 R, I really enjoyed it. It was a blast on the trails with great low down torque, plus its extra power made merging and overtaking on the highway a breeze. It has a few design quirks which detract from the bike but you can perhaps overlook those when you see the price. In Australia the bike sells for $9,490. By way of comparison, the new Husqvarna 701 Enduro’s asking price is $15,995. That’s a massive difference for what is in essence a Husqvarna in many respects anyway. In the UK it’s a similar story with the SWM going for £5,699 while the Husqvarna will set you back £7,999. That is nothing short of amazing value for a tried and tested platform that already has plenty of aftermarket support.

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