Custom SV650 – Cycle World Show Winner

Custom Suzuki SV650 - Cycle World show winner

No sooner do we write about building your own custom re-purposed motorcycle from somewhat humbler beginnings than we get a comment from Lawrence Somma about his SV650 that began as a pretty basic bike and ended up winning Best of Show at the Cycle World International Motorcycle Show. Nice work!

Back in 2003, he bought this used 2001 SV, the standard model, nothing fancy but a nice bike for scooting around and having fun. But after a bit he noticed a few shortcomings like the fairly basic suspension and brakes. Some guys might look for a new bike but Lawrence saw another SV650 with a GSXR front end and a single sided swingarm and figured if someone else could do that, maybe he could change a few things, too.

Lots more plus many photos below:

He had originally tried Race Tech cartridge emulators in the forks but seeing the custom SV started him thinking something more was in order. He had a talk with the guys at Kolb Machine & Fabrication in Kingston, NY and with some creative ideas and a bit of cash they came up with the bike you see here.

I'll let Larry describe the work:

We wanted the bike to stand out from the Naked Sportbike pack and these days that means having an interesting headlight arrangement. This one was sourced from Ghezzi-Brian in Italy, the MotoGuzzi Custom House.

Scott Kolb designed the far out but highly functional exhaust arrangement. Inspired by the Buell and Bimota Tesi 2D, Scott went for mass-centralization and at the same time filled in the awkward space below the forward facing cylinder. At first people tend to recoil, then they start to warm up to it .. then they start to really dig it. Most people anyway.

Scott and his boys also fit a VFR single-sided swing arm and mounted a Ducati 916 wheel to it complete with Penske shock and Ti Spring. They grafted on a complete GSXR600 front-end complete with radial brakes and handlebar mounts. They rebuilt the sub-frame, relocated the battery and basically did 1001 other little details before they were finished.

Always the contrarian, I went for a paint job which is based on the stock paint (but much nicer than stock) rather than something overly "show bikey." The paint work was done by Sean Lezotte at Connecticut Cycle Refinishing

We showed the bike for the first time at the NYC Motorcycle Show at the Javitts Center. We won the custom sportbike class and inspired by our success, went on to win the national competition as well.

In the end we took a budget bike and transformed it into a high spec naked sportbike. I can report that it goes as well as it looks. We got it dialed in on a local dyno and it makes around 77hp. Our pipe makes good low end and midrange while not losing anything on top. Perfect for the street.

It is retired from the show circuit and is now my primary street bike. I have ridden it almost every weekend this season. It now feels like a $25000 exotic and is a ball to ride.

That's a great example of what I was talking about. A basic bike turned into a great ride and a show winner, too! What's not to like? Of course, you don't have to go to quite this far to have a sweet ride but you could go even farther if you wanted to, after all, it's your bike. Make it perfect for you.

Custom Suzuki SV650 - Cycle World show winner

Custom Suzuki SV650 - Cycle World show winner

Custom Suzuki SV650 - Cycle World show winner

Custom Suzuki SV650 - Cycle World show winner

Custom Suzuki SV650 - Cycle World show winner


  1. Mayakovski says

    The bike looks amazing, except for that awful muffler and the tail section that looks likes it waiting for some back door action.

    Fix those two issues and it would be near perfect.

  2. hoyt says

    2 smaller canisters with cool tips would look good. Big points for an original look to exhausts.

    The mass centralization is definitely there….fall is coming, blow those leaves out of your way

  3. Matt in NC says

    I didn’t see any mention of how much this bike cost to build. I’m sure it’s another one of those “if you have to ask” kind of things, but it certainly looks like alot of work for an SV. It’s cool, but I’m not too big on the upturned rear either. In the end all that matters is that the owner likes it, and obviously a number of others did as well, or he wouldn’t have won any awards.

  4. says

    I really dig it in general, but like the other commenters here, I probably would have done something different with the muffler (I like the rest of the exhaust, just not where the muffler is). And rather than sticking the tail section six feet in the air like some sort of “come hump me” flag, I might have ditched it entirely, put a little hugger fender on the rear wheel, and put some sort of support in for a solo seat. That might be interesting. :)


  5. Michael says

    Well, its obviously designed for wheelies in the wet. The seat becomes flat and the pipe dries the road.

  6. RD350 says

    I appreciate the comments and the criticism. As this project has been out there for awhile I have heard it all before.

    When we were building the bike, the whole streetfighter thing was heating up (in Europe anyway) and we decided to add a little streetfighter flare to the rear. It is quite mild compared to many in the category.

    Anyway it went over really well with the British and German streetfighter guys that we met at the NYC show as well as the stunter and urban biker boys in the tri-state area. They got it.

    As for the exhaust, its about a 50/50 love/hate upon first impression. People have who been around the bike a lot all agree that they get used to it after awhile … and then start to really like it.

    People have a hard time getting their heads around new designs and tend to want everything to be where it has always been. The Buell unslung exhaust had a similar first reaction … now it is starting to be used by several other manufactures that recognize the benefits.

    To me, traditionally mounted side pipes and 916 style undertails are already starting to look dated on modern sportbikes. No?

    Matt in NC commented that “it certainly looks like alot of work for an SV.”

    Matt, congratulations. I think you missed the point of this entire project (and the proceeding Kneeslider article) entirely.

  7. chris says

    i like that this looks complete. not just a bunch of go-fast parts or shiny bits thrown on the frame to impress. everything looks done on purpose. for a specific purpose, even if that is just to visually compliment the rest of the bike. job very well done. oh, and i loved the exhaust the first time i looked at it.

  8. RD350 says

    Thank you Chris .. and thank you Hoyt, for appreciating originality.

    It is very easy to go down the well trodden path .. doing that which has been done (with only slight variation) a thousand times before.

    Going your own way is a much more difficult proposition.

    I encourage everyone to try it .. at least once.

  9. Alex says

    This bike is ridable and looks good, thus I love it. Including the muffler.

    However, left side exhaust duct and the tail would be redone if it was mine. Just to make you hear it once more :)

  10. Matt in NC says

    I know what the point is. It’s just that I guess taking a decent bike to the next level is one thing, and taking it over the top, just because you can, is another. I seem to be seeing a trend of machines posted here on Kneeslider that aren’t the norm. They are unexpected, and often overlooked machines that people with a creative eye and imagination turn into truly one of a kind bikes.

    I never said I didn’t like your ride. I didn’t like one aspect of it. It’s your bike, and wallet, to do with as you like, I just don’t see a whole lot of innovation. It’s not like you hand fabricated a hub-center steering frontend on an unobtanium one-off frame. VFR and xx9 Duc swingarms aren’t new on other bikes. You yourself admit you lifted the appearance off stuntaz and hooligans.

    So what don’t I get? That you can spend money? Good for you, and you obviously are much better off than I because you can.

    I think it’s you, RD350, that missed the entire point of the previous hundred posts on this site.

    Yes, your bike’s nice. Would I be happy to have it? Yes. Would I have chosen the same project? No, but that’s fine too.

    Do you deserve this crap? Yes, after throwing up some congratulatory crap cause I questioned you actual originality.

    It belongs in Hot Bike, but this is Paul’s site, and I am grateful for his great coverage of the seldom seen projects that are being done by individuals all over the place.

    Enjoy your bike, and learn to accept the questions a little better.

  11. RD350 says


    Here is what I was responding to:

    “I didn’t see any mention of how much this bike cost to build. I’m sure it’s another one of those “if you have to ask” kind of things, but it certainly looks like alot of work for an SV.”

    The preceding article “Your Perfect Custom Motorcycle is On Sale Now” was all about taking one motorcycle and making it into another kind of motorcycle .. with particular emphasis on starting with a not too expensive bike and transforming it into “a pretty nice machine, something you can’t easily buy new.” This is exactly what we did with this SV.

    To say that you wouldn’t have bothered because it was “only” an SV misses the point of the article. Thats what you don’t get.

  12. greer says

    Thats a nice bike but, I dont really understand why it won an award. When I started reading the article, the first thing I saw was “We wanted the bike to stand out from the Naked Sportbike pack and these days that means having an interesting headlight arrangement” so I quickly scrolled down to see it. wow, instead of putting projectors next to eachother, there stacked, real original. dont get me wrong i like the bike and i think the exhaust is cool, but why did this win an award?

  13. RH says

    Most of the Japanese “cult bikes” were mid-priced/middleweight bikes – this one seems to continue that path.

    Nobody ever looks at a good painting and asks how much the blank canvas cost.

  14. todd says

    At first all I noticed was a custom (off the shelf) headlight and an “interesting” muffler location on a standard SV. After taking a little longer to look at it all sorts of custom things start popping up; something that doesn’t happen right away.

    Sure it’s easy to rake Lawrence over the coals for not building the bike himself and just throwing money at it. If I had the money I’m sure I’d find more important things to do with my time than grunge away in my lonely garage for months on end hoping I can build a bike the way I want it. I’d spend time with my family and time out riding, time on vacation.

    What we have to ask ourself about building bikes like this is: is it for the process or is it for the end result? Is it both? Is it to have something you wouldn’t otherwise have?

    Some people have different reasons for building bikes, just like some people have different styles. Sure, I can appreciate a bike that I labored over myself more than I can a bike that has been professionally built, but that’s me and I’m obviously not winning any Cycle World contests. Give larence a break. Did you lace your own rims? Did you paint your own tank? Did you mold your own tires? The results of trying to do everything yourself is sometimes obvious. The results of having it professionally done is winning awards.


  15. kneeslider says

    Larry could have kept the SV completely stock and avoided all of the controversy. No changes, no attention, no criticism.

    Of all of the bikes I put up on The Kneeslider for one reason or another, very few, if any, do everything in exactly the same way I would have if I was choosing every part or shaping every piece. That’s why they’re called custom. Each owner does what he or she likes.

    This also highlights the difference between seeing a bike in a magazine and seeing it online where readers can give immediate feedback. That magazine cover bike might generate the same amount of criticism but you don’t see it. Here, you do. It also shows the owner or builder is courageous enough to put it out there for others to look at it and give their opinions.

    If the owner likes it and rides it, … mission accomplished. Often the owner will change his mind later and tweak things a bit and still later, tweak it some more.

    If you make an attempt at building your own perfect bike, you might come close and in the process, find a few others who like what you’ve done. You’ll probably find more than a few who don’t like it at all. Will that be a success? I’m not sure, but one way to guarantee failure, whether building a bike or doing anything else, is trying to please everyone.

  16. says


    I think it’s an interesting bike. It’s not my cup of tea, but I can appreciate it. The whole “why an SV” thing… well, it’s simple really. ANY bike can be played with. The SV is a cool bike in it’s own right. People ask me when I ride my bikes, “why *that* one?” Because *I like it* Period. I think there’s maybe some mis-communication, here (easy to do on a chatboard) simply because we’re just reading comments, and not getting the spirit of what’s said.

    At any rate, Paul, Keep up the fight, showing off what others are doing in the garages accross the world. And I’ll ask you again, could we maybe get some form of board up here for ongoing posts/discussions? I think it may become VERY popular….

  17. Richard says

    I like it.

    I have an old 919 (the CB900F, not the sportbike) that I’d like to do something interesting with, but it’s just a pipe dream… I just don’t have the time, or the money now… maybe after I retire I’ll get the chance to do something with it. But I really appreciate seeing something that someone else made that’s a little bit out of the ordinary, something that’s just what he wanted for himself.

    Congratulations to Larry.

  18. says

    Obviously, originality counts for a hell of a lot in these contests & the judges must tire of seeing nothing but the old “samo-samo ” thing.

    This bike’s an orignal in a number of ways.

    it’s kind of neat to see a show bike built up from something as common (and inexpensive) as a gen1 SV.

    I must say though, it reminds me of the chopped 1960’s Bonnevilles I used to see
    when i was a kid. Hard to tell whats really an improvement on a classy original

  19. says

    Larry, If you want to fill the empty space in front of the front cylinder you could put
    a nitrous cylinder up there.. it’d fit with the streetfighter look :)

  20. Pete says

    How much did this transformation cost? Do you think if you sold it you would recover the cost?

  21. Eddy says

    Nice bike – please tell me where I can get that little Wind Screen you have up front.

  22. Stevo says

    Just wondering what kinda of special fabrication was involved in getting the single sided swing arm from the VFR to fit and what year did you go with… I would like to do the single swing arm thing to my 200 Suzuki SV650

  23. Paul Worsdale says

    I do’nt understand alot of the negative attitude towards your ride, perhaps they just do’nt understand the idea of “streetfighters”,after all, the idea did originate here in the UK.Maybe they are just jealous they never thought of it first. But to Lawrence Somma and builder Scott Kolb,and this is meant as a HUGE compliment, “At last,Americans who really understand the Streetfighter concept,big congratulations to you. At least there’s no bling paintjob, or tractorlike jackshaft swingarms!

  24. mike mccarthy says

    this bike is sick…i have an ’06 sv 650 i am making some mods to right now…but, i have come to this bike probably 50 times for a bit of inspiration…i am painting mine black w/color on the wheel and will stick to an under tail exhaust however, i would never reject another mans imagination…i love this bike…maybe b/c i ride an sv or maybe(probably) b/c it’s amazing.

  25. mike says

    great bike. ii saw this bike in stamford motorsports one day and was blown away. Im also a proud owner of a 2001 sv but realize it needs some help. since i saw this bike it
    has inspired me to customize mine. i want to see it again and shake your hand