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Suzuki SFV 650 Gladius
The Gladius shares a 656cc v-twin heart with the SV650, but the engine has been reworked. Plumbing has been added to liquid-cool the oil-cooler, the radiator size reduced, 10-hole fuel injectors have been lifted from GSX-R600 and 750 and there are dual spark plugs for more thorough, consistent combustion leading to better emissions and economy. More important are the change that spread the usable torque liberally and smoothly across the entire rev range; namely longer intake funnels of two different lengths, a 5% increase in crankshaft inertia, new exhaustÖ and a bunch of other boring technical stuff that lets designers nicely flesh-out the tables in brochure spec sheets.
Sum and total, the Gladius is up on torque, 47lb/ft to the SVís 46, and down on power, 67hp to the SVís 70, which doesnít sound like a gain. Until you ride it.
In the low to mid RPMs power delivery is stronger, and offered with a hint more v-twin pulse. Thatís a move to make the Gladius a little more new rider friendly, not that weíd have called the SV650ís power development ďpeakyĒ by any means. Unfortunately for the parking lot, there is a tendency for slight throttle movement in first gear to cause the bike to surge forwards. Itís the small price for the improvements in torque throughout the rest of the range.
With a friendly v-twin pulse, rather than vibe, the new engine feels lively throughout its range, but only gains a sense of urgency with an encouraging kick of power at 9,000RPM before sweeping though to the 10,500RPM redline. This engineís specialty is a languid application of torque, happily pulling almost regardless of gear in the passes, allowing new riders the leeway to learn their shiftpoints. And regardless of experience the soundtrack will captivate most riders, the Gladius purrs when held at a constant speed, snarls engagingly when pushed, and offers a primal growl on deceleration.
For softer new rider friendly braking, the Gladius uses the SVís dual 290mm front rotors, through the front calipersí two-pistons and the master cylinder are slightly smaller. Meanwhile the rear brake squeezes a 240mm rotor (20mm larger than the SVís). The braking is a double-edged sword; we understand the need for a user-friendly experience, but more bite and power could be used in hard riding or panic situations.
Accentuating the Gladiusís lack of stopping power is its mass. The engineís toga comes in the form of a steel-trellis frame, rather than the SVís lighter aluminum truss wrapper. Thereís also a heavier steel swing-arm, that extra liquid cooled plumbing, and some fairing adding weight. In total the Gladius is 202kg, putting it 8kgs up on the SV650ís claimed ready-to-ride curb weight of 194kg. So should the Gladius be off to the vomitorium for a good old Roman purge?
No, and thatís because philosophically the Gladius is very different creature in comparison to the SV. Subtle increases to wheelbase and trail make the Gladius a much calmer experience than the whippet SV. Where the SV is twitchy and flighty, the Gladius is calmer and more planted. Not a bad thing when youíre Suzuki looking to woo the new riders market, especially female riders, with the bikeís inseam friendly 760mm/30.9in seat height.
Men, squint hard and you can see very subtle hints of the B-Kingís design, elegant tail treatment and sweeping passenger grab-rails, side shrouds. Suzukiís worked hard on this design, but the accountants have been, tacking on parts bin mirrors dating to a mid-90ís Bandit and cheesy plastic covers emulating an aluminum sub-frame. The look is softened with organic curves, a Madonnaís bra-cup headlight, an elegant tail treatment, two sweeping blades of passenger grab-rails and emasculating fashion-centric marketing materials.
The bikeís femininity saw us almost immediately nickname our blue and white tester Gladys Ė the butchest color schemes available in Canada as Suzukiís decided not to offer the all black for the boys. Eyebrows were raised in parking lots as photographer Kevin and I openly discussed, ďDo you want to ride Gladys tonight or shall I.Ē
The good news is that Gladys up for some proper thrashing.
On Squamish Valley Rd, a bit of pavement rough trade these days thanks to frost heaves and cracks, the Gladius rises to the occasion. On good pavement you could push the flighty SV650 harder and faster, but the Gladiusís usable grunt and more relaxed manners prove a bonus. Itís not an eye widening experience, just a cavort through the curves as the Gladius and I increasingly push the envelop.
The Gladiusís suspension feels slightly better matched to the bike and less wobbly than the old SV650ís. The travel has been reduced and it offers good control, but the front still feels a bit soft in terms of pre-load and chatty over edges. So Suzukiís not slain the budget suspension gorgon that tormented the SV650 entirely. Not that most folks will be buying a Gladius for its knee dragging prowess anyways, the SV650SA is still around for that.
Itís not a self-indulgent excessive-speed sportbike experience, but Gladys the Gladius is putting a grin on my face. From the neutral, upright and relaxed seating position I can easily track the cars and corners without suffering the attention deficit and view of a sportbikeís racer tuck. Even my legs are well accommodated as Suzukiís provided me with the taller optional seat (2 cm taller) to accommodate my 6í2Ē frame, which might even become comfortable if you beat it with a baseball bat to break the padding in. The easy to read instrument cluster (complete with gear indicator) is letting me know that weíre on the far side of legality, while doing a remarkably good job of dispersing the wind even as the Gladius snarls upwards through the easy-shifting transmission.
The Gladius cuts gracefully though the curves, then powers past a few cars. In Canada though, the traffic wonít be the Gladiusís main adversary.
Priced at $9,199.00 the Gladius is within stabbing distance of Ducatiís $9,995 Monster 696. The Monster 696 is a more complex and challenging ride experience, but offers better suspension, claims more power (78.8hp/50.6ft-lbs), a marginally more comfortable seat and a wealth of Italian exotic cache that threatens the Gladiusís fashion angle. Parrying this thrust the Gladius requires lower ongoing service costs and broader dealer support. While Ducati dealers are still relatively sparse in Canada, you can hardly throw a stick without hitting a Suzuki dealer and convenience will be a tipping point for many new riders.
The Suzuki SVF650 Gladius and I are filtering though traffic, I pull away from a stop, glancing down at the instrument panelís gear indicator and note Iíve mistakenly left this agreeable v-twin in second. It pulls away, no lugging, or hassle. On the spec sheet the Suzuki SVF650 Gladius might not look like the sharpest sword in the armory, but sometimes you donít need the biggest, meanest, or most powerfully tool for the job. More often you just want a bike that gets the job done, with a little bit of flourish, a lot of confidence, and a grin. For new and experienced riders the Gladius could well be that bike.