Suzuki Gladius

Suzuki_Gladius_003By Kevin Ash


Pictures: Double Red, Markus Jahn




Suzuki’s new Gladius has plenty of goodwill riding on it before the bike’s even appeared in showrooms. The reason is its engine, which on the quiet has been one of the great motorcycle motors of the last decade. It’s not super powerful or headline grabbing, it just happens to do the job it’s supposed to do extremely well, then throws in a big dose of character, and for those reasons it’s been very popular – in the SV650 especially, but also the V-Strom – with novices and experienced riders alike.

 SFV650_032Click on image for galleryInevitably, to meet the latest emissions regulations the 650 V-twin in the Gladius has been extensively upgraded (click here to read the full technical appraisal) but it’s still recognisably the same engine that’s initiated many new motorcyclists into the pleasures of biking as well as surprising plenty of others with its combination of fun and efficiency.

The style of the Gladius has caused something of a stir, with some riders reckoning it’s too feminine, and certainly some of the colours used by Suzuki appear to be aimed at female riders. And nothing wrong with that, it’s not as if there aren’t enough bikes for men, and anyway it’s not so much that the Gladius’s organic curves are overtly girlie as simply non-aggressive, and plenty of men are finding it an appealing look too.

Certainly the low seat height will appeal to shorter riders of either sex. It’s not as low as a cruiser, but importantly it’s closer to the ground than the SV650’s (which the Gladius replaces, although the faired SV650S stays another season, presumably until a faired Gladius comes along, although Suzuki won’t admit as much yet). The original SV650 in 1999 was a favourite with novice riders for its low seat, but the second generation model shared its chassis with the SV1000 and was significantly taller, to its detriment. The Gladius redresses that with a seat that’s lower and fairly narrow at the front too, so reaching the ground is easy for most riders. The bike is compact and manageable too, although not quite as much as the Kawasaki ER-6n, its chief rival.

The riding position is similar to the Kawasaki’s, although for me the handlebars are angled back a little too much and set my wrists at a slightly uncomfortable angle, although this wasn’t troubling me any more after a day’s riding. It’s more upright than another bike that could be on a Gladius buyer’s list, the Ducati Monster 696, and generally the Suzuki is easier to handle than the Italian bike at low speeds, although the differences between all three aren’t too great in this respect.

As for the engine, this has achieved pretty much what Suzuki was aiming for: the peak power is about the same (Suzuki hasn’t released power figures but I’ll get them soon, promise...) but there’s significantly more torque further down the range, giving the bike a punchy, muscular feel that’s fun as well as useful when overtaking. In particular it holds higher gears more easily in hilly terrain, while the throttle response in most circumstances is smooth and predictable.

My one reservation is at very low revs and on small throttle openings, such as when trickling through traffic. Suzuki specifically says it worked at making the engine response gentle in these circumstances to make life easier for novices, but still the power comes in rather strongly when you’re trying to amble along at low speeds. The extra torque is one factor but it’s also because the throttle is a little too sensitive – I think experienced riders won’t even notice this, but talking to relative novices this is a problem on several larger bikes when your throttle control has the clumsiness of inexperience. BMW’s F800s are notable villains in this respect, yet experienced riders will be wondering what I’m on about, and it’ll be the same with the Gladius: if you’ve plenty of bike miles behind you, you won’t be the slightest bit troubled by it.

You might though be annoyed by something which compounds this characteristic, the slack in the driveline. At higher speeds it’s not really noticed, but in those slow trickling circumstances again, going from throttle off to on and off again the bike does lurch – a passenger will find it especially uncomfortable and probably head butt the back of your helmet more than once. The difficulty of modulating small-throttle power makes compensating for the lurching more difficult than it should be too.

In general riding, the engine is better than it ever was, pulling willingly from low revs, and it’s so strong in the midrange you really don’t need to rev it hard at all. But if you do there’s an extra little kick at around 9000rpm and the bike keeps revving more easily than the old SV, rewarding you not just with impressive pace but a mellow V-twin throb too. It does vibrate though, and at first I thought it was just part of the bike’s character and not at all intrusive, but after an hour or so at fairly high speeds some of my fingers were becoming numb, mostly on my right hand which was gripping the bar more firmly.

Even so, this is still a fine engine and transmission, and in other respects it’s very easy to use with a positive and slick gearchange and light, progressive clutch. You can even teach yourself wheelies on the Gladius if you get the urge, they’re particularly easy on this bike...

The chassis is stable more than agile, although being a middleweight it’s certainly not an effort to chuck around. It feels a little heavier than the ER-6n when changing direction, and the suspension isn’t quite as good: the Gladius works well enough but at high speeds it does start to feel a little choppy and fidgety where the ER-6 maintains better control. But the Suzuki steers extremely well, with very good balance at low speed, and it goes exactly where you point it rather than dropping in to turns, as many bikes do.

The story is much the same with the front brakes, which are fine for the job although the front lacks a little of the progression and feedback of the Kawasaki’s. A little more power would be useful too, and still wouldn’t intimidate novice riders. The rear stopped however is very good, unusually useful for a back brake.

Overall the Gladius doesn’t have quite the sophisticated feel of the ER-6n, but in none of the areas where it comes out second best is it seriously deficient or even a great deal worse – inexperienced riders won’t even notice most of these things, aside from the rush of torque on small throttle openings and the driveline snatch.

The fuel tank is fairly small at 3.2 gallons (14.5 litres, 3.8 gallons US – California models 3.6 gallons US), and I was achieving only 46mpg (16.3km/l, 6.14l/100km, 38.3mpg US) on the press launch which would mean a range of 150 miles (240km), although in more typical everyday use I’d expect most owners to achieve 50mpg or more (17.7km/l, 5.65l/100km, 41.6mpg US), so the range is still reasonable if not outstanding for this class of machine.

In practice, many riders will be choosing the Gladius (or avoiding it...) because of its looks. No question, this is a fresh, characterful design with good visual balance, although with a rider on board the colours don’t show up well – from side on, as it passes it looks like a plain white or black machine, as the rider’s knees cover the coloured tank sides. I think there’s a missed opportunity here too: if the fuel tank side covers were coloured and the centre of the tank was white it would be easy and relatively cheap to buy alternative panels and change the look of the bike very quickly and easily. Instead, for some reason Suzuki have done it the other way around and made the detachable panels all the same colour (okay, black or white), with the other colours on the main fuel tank.

But the bottom line is, the Gladius does what it’s supposed to do very well, at a good price, and it manages to be good looking and distinctive in a market sector distinguished by many well designed machines. It’s going to keep on winning fans for that evergreen 650 V-twin, no question.

Price: £4,500

Available: February 23, 2009

Contact: Suzuki (GB), brochure hotline 0845 850 8800; Customer services: 0500 011959, www.suzuki-gb.co.uk



Specifications and Technical

shuggiemac
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Joined: 23/11/2008

Another interesting read and it is good news that the engine is still deemed to be up to the job. It must be a real task to be faced with the decision of which middleweight to buy these days as there are so many on the market.
I saw the Galdius at EICMA and must say that my initial impression was that I liked it. I am obvioulsy in touch with my feminine side then !
So here is a question for you, being the man who has ridden the Monster, Gladius and the ER-6 - if it were your money you had to spend, which one would you buy?
On a biased and personal note I am pleased that the V-Twin configuration is growing so much popularity as used in the likes of the Ducati and the Suzuki.

kevash
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Joined: 05/10/2008

I'd have the Monster! It's all very well choosing bikes according to which one has the best suspension or brakes or is a little bit quicker or torquier, but all three of these do a fine job so you might as well go for the one which you like for more emotional reasons. I think the Ducati looks the best, has more character and I like V-twins too, so that'll do me, although it does cost more. In fact for a novice rider the ER-6n is probably best as it's the easiest to ride as well as being a touch more sophisticated than the Gladius, but they're all pretty close, which is great... like you say, there's big choice in this sector and plenty of really good bikes.