SWM produced off road-focused machines in the 1970s through to its early demise in 1984 but now the brand is back with a host of road-going offerings.
The new bikes are based on single cylinder engine technology from Husqvarna before that company was absorbed into the KTM family in 2013.
That doesn’t mean the bikes are repackaged “old tech”. Instead these engines have been wonderfully refined by the SWM team, many of whom are former BMW-Husqvarna employees.
Built in the former BMW-Husqvarna factory in Italy, the SWM is loaded with quality parts and there are clearly high standards being met.
Driven secured the first press ride of the new RS650R from Europe Imports in Auckland and we’re impressed for many reasons with the new bike.
Despite the name, the SWM RS650R is not a 650cc machine, but in fact sits at the perfect point of 600cc — meaning it’s big enough in terms of size and power, yet is small enough to fit within the cheaper registration bracket.
There is a catch, however.
Though normally a 600cc single cylinder would in theory fit perfectly into the LAMS scheme, unfortunately for Learner and Restricted licence-holders the RS650R won’t be on your Christmas list.
That’s because it weighs a featherweight 144 kg dry, so even with a full 12 litres of fuel and a couple of litres of oil, it is still well under 160kg.
And though the factory doesn’t list power figures, the bike is rumoured to have in the region of 40kw and 50Nm of power on tap from the 600cc single cylinder.
This means as soon as you get hard on the throttle, the SACHS rear shock squats down and the bike shoots forward thanks to its superb power-to-weight ratio.
Forks are upside down units supplied by Marzocchi and are adjustable for damping, with the SACHS rear shock absorber being similarly adjustable.
Braking is very well sorted thanks to high quality Brembo supplied units front and rear, that though small in appearance, are well matched to the size of the bike.
A steel frame cradles the engine, meaning if you are unfortunate enough to have a fall, damaging the frame won’t mean the bike is destined for the scrappy as is the case with aluminium-framed enduro bikes.
When it comes to the RS650R’s physical size smaller riders will struggle.
With a 900mm seat height to negotiate, the SWM is one of the tallest bikes on the market, and even at 176cm I had no chance of firmly placing both feet on the ground at traffic lights.
Instead, I adopted a position that allowed me to firmly place one foot down, yet still remain comfortable.
On the road the single cylinder engine is refined. There isn’t any of that vibration most singles are known for. Opening up the throttle, you’re greeted with a surge of power and a surprisingly rapid acceleration. Around town it reaches the legal limit quickly, and on the open road has plenty of guts to overtake.
Off-road is where this machine thrives, however, and there was no better place to get some decent seat time for free than Kariotahi Beach on the West Coast.
At approximately 10km long, Kariotahi is long enough to put to the test any off-road riding dreams thanks to the need to straddle the pegs and place as much weight as possible over the rear wheel.
The bike has a road-biased twin, the SM650R supermoto, which flips the personality of the RS by opting for 17 inch wheels wrapped in sticky tyres over the knobbly wrapped 21 and 18 inch wheels on the enduro. The knobby tyres might not be as desirable on the road as those found on the supermoto, but they cope well, and off the road excel at digging in and flicking out mud and sand.
The only unintended slip up I had that was caused by the tyres was a small slide upon exiting the beach thanks to a lot of wet sand still covering the rear wheel.
Within a hundred or so metres however it had all dislodged and I was back to playing in the corners with ease on the road out of Kariotahi.
With only a 12-litre fuel tank and a rather hard seat, typical for a bike in this class, riders won’t likely be using this bike for a tourer.
However when it comes to the daily commute and having a fun adventure wherever you feel like going, this bike excels.
Experience Motorcycles in Kingsland and Motorad Wellington are authorised dealers for the SWM brand, with other dealers to be announced later this year.