So this SWM RS650R joins onto the ‘now’ end of a decades-long tradition of single-cylinder trail bike /adventurers. In the now it sits alongside competitors such as the KTM 690 Enduro R, BMW Sertão and the Yamaha Ténéré – although the latter has apparently reached the end of the (production) line, and looks set to be quietly disappearing from Yamaha’s showrooms, probably to make way for a 700cc twin-cylinder successor. That’s the situation in Europe, elsewhere the SWM will nudge up against bikes like Kawasaki’s KLR650 and Suzuki’s DR650. All of which offer stiff opposition, whether on performance (the KTM), utility (the Yamaha) or on keen pricing (the rest).
Where the SWM sits is neatly in the middle-to-top on tech and near the bottom on price. The tech is mid-placed because unlike the Japanese and German offerings, this isn’t a 1990s based engine. This is a svelte water-cooled DOHC competition-derived unit as developed by Husqvarna (before the sale to Pierer/KTM). It’s lineage threads back to the Husqvarna TE570 enduro racer of the early 2000s, albeit with considerable updates over the years, so its closest relative (virtual twin) is the TE630 trail bike of 2010. It is essentially that bike remade with just a few changes.
And while we might scoff at six-year-old tech, we shouldn’t, this unit is as up to date as singles have come to be. It’s no powerhouse the way the 67hp KTM 690 is, but at 54-56hp it’s way ahead of the Japanese, and the fuel-injection is creamy-smooth – something of an improvement on where the TE630 finished (in itself, evidence of continued development by the SWM R&D guys in Varese). As well, that chassis is competition-derived, and so while it has shorter legs (210/270mm travel) and bigger seat and tank, it has the integrity, still, of a pure-bred racer. That takes it a fair technological cut above all but the KTM.
Riding the RS650R over some trails in Wales, the tech and the market position all come into utterly rational focus. The bike sits only so-high. It says 900mm on the specs, but it seems lower, and with a narrow seat and tank combination it’s easier to reach the floor than the numbers imply. Shorter riders really should check this out, it’s not a sky-scraper. And while the suspension stroke is shorter (I call it 9” suspension, proper enduro spec being 12-13”) the Marzocchi forks and Sachs shock do a great job of offering nicely damped, plush movement. Sure if you rode it like a racer you’d find limitations, but it’s not a race bike, so that observation is irrelevant.
That suspension combined with the race-proven frame make for assured handling off-road. There’s nothing wallowy or under-damped here, the RS650R has an air of tenacity, you can point it and pin it with a degree of certainty on outcome. The enduro-spec wheel choice helps here, with narrow 21”/18” wheels on non-standard TKC80s – standard are GoldenTyre GT201s – there’s decent enough grip. There’s no clanking from bottomed-out suspension, there’s no issue with your feet slipping off road-spec footpegs, this is a real dirt bike, right down to the seat which is long and fairly flat so you can move around freely. And the handlebars are properly shaped and positioned for comfortable stand-up riding. It has, indeed, a very strong off-road bias in its design. If I were to call it on the blend road/trail I’d say 30/70.
The power is, as said, silky smooth. That old TE630 of 2010 had a few low-rev fuelling glitches, but the SWM team must have put in some hours with the Mikuni fuel injection for it pulled sweetly on the RS650R all the way through. As before, with the TE630, the midrange is the main course, where the SWM feels the liveliest. And that’s exactly where it should be. Gear changes and clutch action (hydraulic for the latter) are positive and sweet – one small drawback though – the short gear lever. With size 12 enduro boots I was struggling to sneak my toes underneath it. Two options: replace it, or rotate it up a notch on the spline – in either situation, its ‘small beer’.
What I particularly like is that the SWM feels so smooth, so well put together. In their last years with BMW, Husky dropped this engine and swapped over to the Rotax 650cc motor (as found in the Dakar/Sertão) for the Terra model and yet this engine was perfectly serviceable, and in so many ways the superior. In the RS650R it feels reborn, allowing the bike a vital modern gait that some of the lower-powered 650s are lacking. And that smoothness feels to flow through in all areas – the controls are all neat and slick in operation, everything is where it should be. Now the radiator shrouds may make the front end of the ‘tank’ wide but in the mid-section, where you sit and stand, it’s nicely narrowed, proper ergonomics. It really is hitting the sweet spot.
By the way, it’s a 600. Not a 650. I suspect SWM – much as Husky before them – figured the market wouldn’t respond to a 600 (what with everything else being 650s, 660s, 690s), but ignore that capacity deficit, this bike has ample performance.