You don’t have to ride a big butch bike to have fun
I made a huge mistake when Suzuki launched the progenitor of the Gladius, the SV650, in Australia. Much as I liked the bike, I wasn’t sure that something with the relatively uncomfortable ergonomics of a sports bike, but without the top-end performance, would make it in the market.
Well, it did and in its various versions it became one of Suzuki’s most successful models.
But if it had been launched straight away as the Gladius, I would not have hesitated – the ergonomics are pretty well spot-on now and apart from a hard seat (for rider and pillion) there’s very little to criticise. It’s a winner, and interestingly this particular one is the slightly detuned Learner Approved Motorcycle version (learner legal in all States except WA).
Although it’s quite hard, the seat is well-shaped and reasonably low and quite narrow where it joins the tank – just looking at the Gladius, it’s clearly a user-friendly motorcycle.
The well-proven engine is equally easy to use, even in this throttled-back version. Suzuki has provided the 645cc, 90 degree V-twin from the SV650 (and incidentally the highly successful 650 V-Strom) with some useful new technology.
The engine is a twin spark, meaning that each cylinder gets two, not one, spark plugs. And they’re iridium; that makes possible finer electrodes, which give a stronger spark. Suzuki’s Dual Throttle Valve downdraft fuel injection provides responsive acceleration and the 10 hole fuel injectors improve combustion efficiency – meaning both lower emissions and fuel consumption.
Suzuki has done some work on intake and exhaust flows, fitted higher-lift camshafts and made the flywheel a little heavier for smoothness. There’s an automatic idle speed control system as well to help with cold starting. I found that very effective on frosty mornings.
Which brings us to riding the Gladius.
Sit on it. Initially the seat is fine, but trust me – this will end up being the one thing you dream of replacing. I’ve mentioned the successful ergonomics. Sitting on the bike you realise that these work for bigger people, too; the bike is remarkably flexible in the range of body sizes it accommodates. The riding position is upright and if for some reason it doesn’t suit you, is easily changed by fitting different (tubular) handlebars.
Unfortunately, however, only the front brake gets an adjustable lever; it would be nice if the clutch had one as well.
The instruments are a bit busy but you get the breakup I really like: analogue rev counter and digital speedo. That way you can keep an eye on the relative position of the rev needle (more useful than a number) but get a nice fat number for your speed (vital in this day of low speeding tolerance). There’s a gear indicator – some people love ’em, some people hate ’em. The Gladius’ engine is flexible enough for it to be of some use, in my opinion.
Pickup is good and there’s no problem getting away on the Gladius. The engine is a gem. Steering and handling are not especially strong points. The bike has a tendency to run a little wide on corners and is not as cheerfully responsive to steering input as you might like. This is no big deal but it is noticeable and along with the rather soft suspension makes the Gladius an unlikely weekend scratcher. The brakes are fine for a bike this size but not especially impressive.
Straps under the seat make it possible to secure a seat bag but I wouldn’t count on carrying much more. The pillion grab handles are well designed, too, but there’s definitely an argument to be made for an aftermarket seat.
So what does that all mean? Like all bikes, the Suzuki Gladius has both strong and weak points.
In this case, the worked-over engine is an absolute winner while the running gear is not as versatile as it might be. For around town work you’re more likely to notice the former than the latter, so I have no problem recommending the bike for commuting and fun bike duties. As a bonus it will happily accommodate both reasonably short and tall riders.
It’s a different matter if you want to go scratching in the hills or travelling the countryside two up. This is not natural territory for the Gladius – a shame, in a way, considering its reassuring range of more than 360km.
So Suzuki’s Gladius is not all things for all riders, but it could be the thing for you.
Model: Suzuki SFV650 Gladius LAM (Learner Approved Motorcycle)
Price: $10490 both LAMS and unrestricted versions (plus on-road charges)
Warranty: Two years, unlimited distance
Power (unrestricted version): 53kW @ 8400rpm
Torque (unrestricted version): 64Nm @ 6400rpm
Engine: Liquid-cooled 90 degree V-twin, four valves per cylinder DOHC, electronic fuel injection and digital ignition
Bore x stroke: 81 x 62.6mm
Transmission: Six-speed, wet multi-plate clutch, final drive by O-ring chain
Suspension: Front, 4mm telescopic fork, preload adjustable, travel 125mm. Rear, link-type monoshock, preload adjustable, 130mm travel.
Dimensions: Seat height 785mm, curb weight 202kg (wet with fuel), fuel capacity 14.5 litres, wheelbase 1445mm
Tyres: Front, 120/70 ZR 17. Rear, 160/60 ZR 17
Frame: Steel tube trellis
Brakes: Front, twin floating 290mm discs with two-piston calipers. Rear, 240mm disc with single piston caliper.
Top speed: 200km/h
Fuel consumption: 4 litres per 100km, premium unleaded
Theoretical range: 362km
Colours: Metallic blue/white; pearl black
Verdict: Use as its maker intended