Suzuki pushes the venerable Boulevard S40 line into the ’17 model year with naught but a few extra touches to the paint. In fact, little has really changed with this ride since it came out in 1988 under the LS650 “Savage” moniker, and that honest simplicity is one of the main draws for this compact sled. Unfortunately, therein lies one of its biggest flaws as well. Air-cooled and carbureted, I imagine its low displacement is the only reason it’s able to meet emissions, and I fully expect tightening regulations to eventually strangle this line. At the very least, said laws may force it into the 21st century with fuel injection and/or a water jacket and radiator, but that’s speculation. Today, I’m going to delve into what we know to be true and take a look at the brushed-up S40 as it sits for MY17.
Ok, I’m gonna’ go ahead and call a spade a spade here; the S40 is a direct response to Honda’s popular Rebel, and though the bike fills the same role as the more traditional UJM cruisers, it carries the same interpretation of Americana, if you will.
A slightly cut-down front fender over the laced front wheel and its blackout rim gets the design headed down the homebuilt-custom path. This look gets reinforced by the dramatic, 35-degree rake at the front end that pushes the front wheel out well clear of the frame. The fuel tank is very reminiscent of the old two-gallon Sportster tanks, but the flange clearly sets it apart and kind of cheapens the overall look while simultaneously giving it a dated panache.
Behind that we have an almost Softail -looking saddle with stadium pillion seating over a cut-down rear fender and blackout fender struts. The blackout treatment doesn’t stop there; jugs, engine cases, fork sliders, handlebars and tripletree all come shot in black for even more custom flavor.
Seat height is almost too short-rider friendly at only 27.6-inches tall, and while the riding posture is comfortable for average-to-shorter riders, the mid-mount foot controls and pullback risers will leave taller riders feeling a bit cramped. Much like the original Honda Rebel that was built for a “younger crowd, such as the kind or rider who watches MTV,” the S40 is built for the entry-level cruiser market with an eye toward young riders. Although the small size, light weight and easy handling characteristics certainly makes it suitable as a first bike for the fairer sex, the Boulevard S40 isn’t necessarily meant to serve as a “girl’s bike” by any means.
A traditional double-downtube/cradle frame holds the whole thing together with an equally mundane, yoke-style, two-side swingarm to finish it off. Nothing new to see here, but since this bike is meant to have a retro appeal, nothing but the time-tested standard design would do. Right-way-up forks buoy the front end with nothing in the way of adjustment, and the short, coil-over rear shocks spring the ass-end with the obligatory adjustable spring preload, but nothing else in the way of ride quality tweak-u-lation and a minimal, 5.5-inch travel at the front axle and 3.1 inches at the rear. This is to be expected given the small nature of the bike and its price tag, and is certainly not a deal breaker.
Brakes are a mixed bag with a hydraulic caliper and single disc up front, but an old-fashioned drum brake in back. Before you howl about that dated bit of hardware consider this; the bike only weighs 381 pounds soaking-ass wet and doesn’t really need a lot of binding power, plus the big, drum-type laced hub plays right into the old-school look. At only 85.8-inches long overall with a 58.3-inch wheelbase, the S40 is fairly compact for a cruiser and shouldn’t have any trouble finding a place to park.
The beating heart is an air-cooled “Thumper” mill that keeps things nice and simple, much like the rest of the bike. Jug layout is square with a 94 mm bore and stroke, and this gives us a 652 cc total displacement and one of the largest, single-cylinder four-stroke engines currently in production. Naturally, this generates some vibration through the range and gives the exhaust note a distinctive riiip, but neither cross the line into the obnoxious zone.
Apparently Suzuki reckons it got it right from the get go; a Mikuni BS40 CV carb meters the air-fuel mixture, just like the original back in ’86. I guess you can’t argue with success, and it does keep things simple and easy to maintain/repair. Plus, those old CV carbs were great, don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
Performance is also more-or-less the same since the beginning with around 31 horsepower at 5,400 rpm, and 37 pound-feet of torque at a low 3,400 rpm. While these aren’t real impressive numbers, I would remind the reader that this bike weighs well less than 400 pounds, and that you will feel every one of those ponies and pounds when you grab a fistful and twist.
A five-speed, constant-mesh transmixxer and belt final drive carry that engine power the rest of the way to the rear wheel/pavement.
Even though little from last year changed except for some paint, the price went up $200 this year for a total of $5,699 MSRP. For 2017, the S40 is available in a rather fetching Metallic Fox Orange or Glass Sparkle Black paint scheme that works well with all the blackout sprinkled around the bike.
Last year I would have picked Honda’s Rebel as the go-to ride for a head-to-head here with no question, but the new Rebel 500 is quite a different animal for the ’17 model year. After kicking it around, however, I decided that it would still appeal to much the same sort of buyer. So, let’s see how the two match up.
Right off the bat we see a dramatic difference in design. Sure, they both fall within the mid-size, “standard cruiser” category, and they’re both meant for the entry-level market, heck, they both kind of have that homejob-custom look as well. The difference is that while the Boulevard is mired in the 20th century, Honda updated the venerable Rebel to reflect 21st century tastes (at least it hopes, sales figures will soon tell the tale). Frankly, I prefer the Rebel here for its looks, but I concede that’s just my opinion based on my personal tastes.
In the frames we see some differences as well. While the Boulevard is old-school and relatively uninspired, Honda put some radical elements in its frame, most notably the loop just behind the one-up seat. Suzuki definitely takes the cake on rake with a whopping 35-degree kick that definitely reinforces the custom panache, while the Rebel sports a mere 28 degrees of rake. Forks and shocks are much the same with similar travel, but while the Boulevard runs a drum brake in back, Honda opted for all-around discs. Neither carry dual front brakes, nor do they need it, but Honda offers an ABS version that Suzuki has no match for.
Now for the powerplants. Honda’s mill comes up a little short in displacement, but manages to punch above its weight against the old Boulevard mill. While Honda’s Rebel 500 actually runs a 471 cc, parallel-twin lump that falls shy of the 652 cc Suzuki mill, but puts out around 45 ponies and 31 pounds of grunt. The Boulevard’s one-lung plant is predictably more grunty with 37 pound-feet but only 31 horsepower, which is the usual trade off when reducing the number of cylinders. I do like the simplicity of the Suzuki engine, truly I do, but the updated tech in the Honda makes it more attractive to the tech-minded kids looking to break into the two-wheel lifestyle.
Suzuki picks up an oh-so-minor win at checkout with a $5,699 MSRP, just a skosh shy of the $5,999 tag on the new Rebel. Unfortunately, it’s not a big enough difference for the technology gap here, and so Honda still comes out ahead.
Bottom line; time for an update, Suzuki. Just sayin’.
“Never have really cared for these little “charlie davidsons.” The Rebel was an obvious rip off of elements from Harley’s lineup, and the S40 is a ripoff of the result of Honda’s machine. Granted, they are trying to appeal to all sorts of riders to cover all the bases, I get that, but they could have both been more original about it. Meh, it’s a minor gripe, but it’s my gripe and I’m sticking to it.”
My wife and fellow motorcycle writer, Allyn Hinton, says, “I’m not going to gig the S40 as hard as my husband did. Maybe it’s the mechanic in me that likes the fact that you can still get a carbureted bike. There are still plenty of FI-haters out there though they’re usually in the off-road crowd. It’s a small cruiser that would be a decent commuter or just a weekend jaunt ride. It’s in that nice mid-range cc-wise so it’s big enough to feel safe in traffic and still fun for an experienced rider but not so big that it would be intimidating to new riders.”
|Engine:||652cc, 4-stroke, air-cooled, single cylinder, SOHC|
|Bore x Stroke:||94.0 mm x 94.0 mm (3.70 in x 3.70 in)|
|Fuel System:||MIKUNI BS40, single|
|Transmission:||5-speed constant mesh|
|Final Drive:||Belt drive|
|Suspension Front:||Telescopic, coil spring, oil damped|
|Suspension Rear:||Swing arm type, coil spring, oil damped|
|Brakes Front:||Disc brake|
|Brakes Rear:||Drum brake|
|Tires Front:||100/90-19 M/C 57H, tube type|
|Tires Rear:||140/80-15 M/C 67H, tube type|
|Fuel Tank Capacity:||2.8 US Gallons (10.6 L)|
|Ignition:||Electronic ignition (transistorized)|
|Overall Length:||2180 mm (85.8 in)|
|Overall Width:||720 mm (28.3 in)|
|Wheelbase:||1480 mm (58.3 in)|
|Ground Clearance:||135 mm (5.3 in)|
|Seat Height:||700 mm (27.6 in)|
|Curb Weight:||173 kg (381 lbs)|
|Warranty:||12 month unlimited mileage limited warranty.|
|2016:||Metallic Triton Blue, Pearl Glacier White|
|2017:||Metallic Fox Orange, Glass Sparkle Black|