SWM produced off road focused machines in the 1970s and 1980s through to its unfortunate early demise in 1984. SWM returned in force in 2016 with a host of road going offerings based around the pre-KTM era of Husqvarna single cylinder engine technology.
Built in the former BMW-Husqvarna factory on the shores of Lake Varese in Italy, the SWM is loaded with quality parts and there are clearly high standards being met.
Despite the name, the SWM RS650R is in fact not actually a 650cc machine, rather its capacity comes in at the perfect point of 600cc. That means it’s big enough in terms of size and power for you to have some real fun, yet is small enough to fit within the cheaper registration bracket.
There is a catch, however. While normally you'd expect a 600cc single cylinder would slot right into the LAMS class and be available for anyone with any licence to ride, unfortunately for Learner and Restricted licence holders the RS650R won’t be on your Christmas list. That’s because it weighs a featherweight 144kg dry, so even with a full 12-litres of fuel and a couple of litres of oil, it is still well under 160 kilos. While the SWM factory doesn’t list power figures, the bike is said 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 at a pace you wouldn't necessarily expect from a single cylinder powered bike
Speaking of suspenders, the 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 quality Brembo supplied units front and rear, that while small in appearance, are well matched to the size of the bike and haul it up with no drama.
A beautiful Italian-made steel frame cradles the engine, meaning that if you are unfortunate enough to have a fall, damaging the frame won’t mean the bike is destined for the scrap heap as is the case with aluminium framed enduro bikes.
When it comes to the RS650R’s physical size, as is the case with most enduro styled bikes on the market smaller riders will struggle to get a leg down. With a 900mm seat height to negotiate, 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.
When it comes to comfort, there aren't many creature comforts with the RS650R as is the case with many bikes in this class. The sculpted seat is very firm, there is minimal ptotection from the elements and while the footpegs provide vibration damping rubber inserts as found on most road going bikes you need to remove them if you want the grip offered by the metal edges of the footpegs.
On the road the single cylinder engine is pretty refined. There isn’t any of that nasty vibration that most singles are known for. Opening up the throttle you’re greeted with a surge of power and a surprisingly rapid acceleration forwards. 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 to keep the bike charging forward.
Considering at the time my off road riding skills were pretty much non-existent, my ride up and down the beach without dropping the bike felt like a testament to how easy the RS650R was to ride.
Along with the RS650R, the bike has a road biased twin in 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 found on the enduro.
The knobby tyres might not be as desirable on the road as those found on the supermoto , but they cope well enough, and off the road they 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 meters 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, which is typical for a bike in this class, riders won’t likely be using this bike for a long distance tourer. However when it comes to the daily commute and having a fun adventure wherever you feel like going this bike excels.