Honda CB650F vs. Suzuki GSX-S750 Review
Both the 2018 Suzuki GSX-S750 and Honda CB650F have mid-size inline-4 motors wrapped in street-friendly suspension and comfortable, upright ergonomics. Although they fall into the user-friendly middleweight market segment perfect for novice or intermediate experience riders, expert riders can love them, too.
However, they have a 100cc difference in engine displacement, and the Suzuki is a larger machine in general with a quite sophisticated rider-aid electronics package. So, it is surprising that the Suzuki GSX-S750 is priced at $8299, while the Honda CB650F is just $50 less at $8249.
That is for the non-ABS versions, and the price difference grows by an additional $100 if you include that safety feature. However, if you’re looking for an easy-maneuvering, sweet-handling middleweight in the $8k range, these two motorcycles will be on your radar.
Easy riding is the name of the game with these two motorcycles, and jumping on either of them makes you feel instantly at home, even before the engine is running. The Suzuki’s size makes it feel substantial, with a little more seated-in feel to the riding position.
The Suzuki’s 32.2-inch seat height seems close to the Honda’s 31.9-inch height, but the GSX-S750’s wider seat-front slightly exaggerates the difference. My 33-inch inseam allowed me to flat-foot both bikes with ease, though shorter or newer riders intimidated by weight will give the nod to the CB650F, as it is noticeably more compact.
At 454 pounds claimed curb weight, the Honda is also 11 pounds lighter than the Suzuki’s 465 pounds. Eleven pounds and less than a half-inch extra height don’t sound like a big difference, but it is noticeable in reality, especially if you’re looking for small and nimble.
Once the motors are running, more differences emerge. The GSX-S750 is equipped with Suzuki’s Low RPM Assist feature that seamlessly boosts engine speed a tad as the clutch is engaged, and it works well in reducing the possibility of stalling. This is clearly something novice riders will greatly appreciate.
The Honda isn’t equipped with ride-by-wire, so electronic rider aids like this cannot be included. The Suzuki on the other hand does have these helpful electronic features, including a traction control system.
Pulling away from a stop the Suzuki has a mild lag in power, necessitating a somewhat healthy handful to be grabbed by the rider on initial pull-away if serious acceleration is desired. It isn’t hesitation, it is merely a cautious development of the initial power delivery, and as an experienced rider I felt it was a little overkill for my needs. Yet I can easily see how less experienced riders will appreciate the lack of sudden jump off the line.
The Honda has no such nod to inexperience, yet the CB650F’s power delivery is so smooth and manageable that most riders won’t experience any issues.
Both DOHC inline-4 motors have the same 46mm stroke, however the Suzuki has an extra five millimeters of bore (72mm), giving the extra capacity. Despite the seeming similarity, the two engines are tuned very differently.
The GSX-S750 is slightly smoother, as the CB650F can definitely get a little bit of a buzz going. Unlike the Suzuki, the Honda has a consistent torque curve that produces power all the way to the 11,500 rpm rev-limit. That 649cc motor just keeps singing—it is based on a decade-old CBR600RR powerplant, after all—and in the canyons or on the open road it constantly encouraged me to wring it out.
Riding around town, the CB650F is easy to ride and gentle with its power-delivery. As the revs rise, the motor keeps producing power and a somewhat throaty exhaust note. This is an intoxicating engine to thrash, and its flooding power coupled with a lack of aggressive surprises instills confidence.
Apart from the fun factor, which is dealt out to both machines in equal proportions, the Suzuki engine establishes its own personality. After the initial gentle pull-away, at just about every speed from urban confines to open-road highway, the Suzuki motor quickly settles into its ideal rhythm—the rev range between approximately 5000 and 7000 rpm.
The GSX-S750 is based on the K5 GSX-R750 motor, so mid-range torque is optimized—yes, the motor delivers it by the bucketload. It will, of course, rev all the way to redline and produce strong power while getting there, but in general, the Suzuki is happiest in its sweet spot where pretty much all your riding will be done. Past 7000 rpm, the Suzuki develops a strong intake roar and the motor definitely loses some of its smoothness; it isn’t bad, but it just feels more pleasant to exploit the Suzuki’s whopping mid-range torque and pleasant character where it has clearly been designed to excel.
Reduced internal pumping losses, a new ECU, and a redesigned exhaust, add up to an eight horsepower increase over the previous GSX-S750. Suzuki now claims a total output of 113 horsepower at 10,500 rpm. Clearly, the Suzuki outputs more power at the rear wheel than the Honda—those extra 100cc do make a difference.
Still, don’t feel like the Honda is a poor relation in the motor department, because it is not. The CB650F engine is a joy and, although peak power might not quite be at the Suzuki’s level, it is so willing to rev for the rider, it feels close.
The GSX-S750 comes with three-level traction control (plus off), and less-experienced riders should not underestimate the value of it. The levels can be toggled through on the fly, so as the road or weather conditions change, so can the amount of aid you get.
Both of these machines have beautifully smooth throttle connections. Although neither fueling could be described as jerky, the Honda has a slight edge over the Suzuki in terms of smoothness when coming back on the power mid-corner. They’re both good, but the Honda is slightly better.
As we know, the GSX-S750 is 11 pounds (claimed) heavier than the Honda. From the seat, CB650F is a little more agile and a bit more flickable.
When it comes to suspension, both of these bikes are set up soft enough for the street, but firmly enough for spirited riding. The Suzuki’s inverted KYB fork can be adjusted for preload, that’s it; and as it only has damping in the left fork leg. That leaves the front suspension a little lacking. The Honda’s conventional Showa Dual Bending Valve fork has no adjustment at all.
Both bikes have a single shock at the rear, and both are adjustable for preload; neither has any damping adjustment. I’m 6-foot tall and 185 pounds, and both bikes feel good around town and on the freeway. Of course, both companies have been producing motorcycles for a long time and so the neutral, easy handling of both makes for a confidence-inspiring ride.
Out in the twisties both machines feel light and maneuverable, although the Honda is naturally a bit more agile. But again, novices will appreciate the positive turn-in as neither bike flops into the corner nor runs wide as you pick up the throttle again. On smooth pavement the Suzuki feels a little more planted, though both machines will firmly hold the chosen line through a corner and if a change is needed, there’s no problem at all.
However, when the pace gets a little hotter, the Honda demonstrates its superior suspension. The firm, yet compliant, damping is perfect for my weight, and riding hard up a bumpy, twisty canyon, the CB650F’s suspension just soaked it all up and kept the chassis perfectly on line.
Switching over to the Suzuki, I was initially happy with how the ride felt. Once I upped the pace, the front end started to feel vague and a little unnerving, especially as the going got bumpier. On corners where a bump coincided with my turn-in point, the front fork unsettled me enough that I knew I’d reached the limit of my comfort zone. Don’t get me wrong, the GSX-S750 is a wonderful handling motorcycle in normal riding, but when you start riding hard—especially if the road is bumpy—you’re going to want to be riding the Honda.
The Honda and Suzuki both come with 180/55 section rear tires, and 120/70 fronts—Bridgestones on the GSX-S750 and Dunlops on the CB650F. Both are more than up to the job at hand.
The Honda’s axial-mounted two-piston Nissin calipers need 320mm rotors, and although the brakes have plenty of feel, they can only be described as adequate, as they can get spongy if you’re riding the bike hard. The Suzuki’s radial-mount, four-piston Nissin calipers are efficient enough to bite down on slightly smaller 310mm rotors, and they are much better than those on the Honda. The Suzuki brakes have loads of feel, and really strong linear power in reserve if you need it. The GSX-S750 is the best stopper of these two by quite a margin.
Fit and finish on Japanese motorcycles is usually very good, and despite their relatively entry-level price points both companies here can be proud of these two machines; they are both lovely to look at, and exude quality. Although appearance always come down to personal preference, for me, the Suzuki has that sexy, tail-up styling straight out of MotoGP, whereas the Honda has a slightly more down-to-earth look.
Overall, these two motorcycles are very similar, yet in some ways starkly different. They each have their strong points, yet the one that loses out on each point isn’t unduly hampered, especially in normal riding conditions. On the face of it, the Suzuki GSX-S750 is a much higher spec machine than the Honda CB650F. Yet, the Honda’s superior suspension and beautifully willing engine make it a viable option to the Suzuki for about the same money.
What I can say for sure is that the 2018 Honda CB650F and Suzuki GSX-S750 motorcycles are well built, powerful, good handling, and incredibly fun to ride. They both have comfortable riding positions and a handy utilitarian quality as well, so if you need to commute you will be very happy on either bike. These two motorcycles represent exceptional value for money and an exponential return on those dollars when it comes to fun.
Photography by Don Williams
RIDING STYLE—Arthur Coldwells
- Helmet: HJC RPHA 70 ST
- Jacket: Spidi Warrior Wind Pro
- Gloves: Spidi Carbo 1
- Jeans: Spidi J-Max Denim
- Boots: XPD XP3-S
RIDING STYLE—Nic de Sena
- Helmet: Shoei RF-1200
- Jacket: Alpinestars T-Jaws V2
- Gloves: Racer Mickey
- Jeans: Alpinestars Crank
- Boot: XPD X-Two
Story from the December 2017 issue of Ultimate Motorcycling; subscribe for free.
For specs and a photo gallery, click to page 2 below.