World first test: SWM RS650R

Published: 29 May 2016

Despite mainstream manufacturers being obsessed with building ever bigger adventure bikes, the majority of riders actually embarking on serious overland travel don’t use them.

Instead, serious round-the-world riders are using smaller-capacity singles including favourites such as the ancient-but-capable Suzuki DRZ400, Yamaha XT660 or the current KTM 690 Enduro R thanks to their light weight, manageability and off-road ability.

Now there’s an alternative, following the re-launch of Italian brand SWM and their RS650R. Some of MCN’s more off-road focused readers might remember SWM for their trials, enduro and MX exploits during the 1970s and ’80s. After going into liquidation in 1984 the name has sat dormant, but now under the guidance of former Aprilia, Cagiva and Husqvarna engineer Ampelio Macchi they have been resurrected, having taken over the old Husqvarna factory in Italy with the cash backing of China’s Shineray Group.

Their current flagship is the single-cylinder RS650R which is, to all intents and purposes, a 2009-spec Husqvarna built in the old Husqvarna factory by former Husqvarna staff.

MCN tested the RS650R in Wales where we got to spend time on fast A-roads and twisty B-roads before heading to the Sweet Lamb Adventure Rally Bike Academy (adventurerallybike.co.uk) to test its credentials around fire tracks and technical terrain.

First impressions

It’s clearly been designed and built by engineers with pedigree.

The look says off-road and this is where it excels, but the SWM isn’t a fierce off-road competition bike. The riding position is neutral, if a little flat.

Preconceptions of big singles would have you thinking the power would be lumpy with huge amounts of torque being delivered in dollops throughout the lower rev range. But singles have made huge strides in recent years and the power is smooth and linear, but not without a healthy amount of torque.

On the road the engine is willing and even without any wind protection to speak of and an off-road peaked helmet, riding at an indicated 70mph was totally acceptable. Obviously this isn’t where this bike excels, but on twisty roads it was fun, confidence-inspiring and easy to ride. The power is engaging, while not being overwhelming and the suspension feels plush and not too soft.

Off roading

Hitting the off road trails the RS650R immediately feels at home. Despite running dual purpose tyres the bike generates good grip with the linear power and good throttle response allowing faster rally or Enduro style riding. For trail riders the power is about perfect. It’s not aggressive in any way, but there is still plenty on tap and being so linear means you can play with it and ride it any way you like.

As the speed increased we started to find the limits of the standard suspension set-up feeling too soft, but with adjustable Marzocchi forks and Sachs rear shock there would be a way to go with set-up before you’d have to consider any hardware modifications.

As a trail bike and small adventure bike it’s pretty much spot on. While it’s on-road performance lacks compared to any of the current 800, 100 or 1200cc adventure bikes, off-road it’ll do things a bike like the new Honda Africa Twin or a GS could only dream of. To make it into a competition rally bike wouldn’t take much and neither would giving it more on-road capabilities.

And then there is the price. With big- capacity adventure bikes costing £10 to £17k, and even competition 450cc enduro bikes now at over £7.5k, the £5699 (plus on road charges) price tag is both refreshing and tempting.