Is it a sword? Is it a horny squid? No it’s Suzuki’s new 650 Gladius! Costa Mouzouris takes the Gladius for a spin.
Gladius is omitted from The New Oxford Dictionary of English but you will find its definition on Wikipedia — the new reference for all those seeking quick answers for radio station contests — where you’ll learn that a gladius is a Roman short sword. You’ll also see that the wikinition describes a gladius as “a long, thin horny object inside a squid,” which I’m not sure is what Suzuki were intending when naming their new SFV650.
Further along on Wikipedia’s disambiguation page, the Gladius is listed as a new Suzuki SV650 model. Well, this is somewhat inaccurate, as it shares only its liquid-cooled, 645 cc V-twin with the SV. Otherwise, the SFV650 Gladius is an entirely new model, with bulbous new styling and a tubular steel trellis frame replacing the aluminum frame of the SV.
I first set eyes on the Gladius in the metal when I picked it up at Suzuki’s offices, and it struck me as quite an attractive motorcycle. It’s curvy, right down to its swoopy exhaust, and it has a narrow midsection, which is immediately noticeable once seated.
One thing I’m not too keen on is Suzuki’s abundant use of plastic panels, covering the flanks of the fuel tank, the radiator, and either side of the frame (to look like an aluminum subframe), just aft of the engine.
The fuel tank panels are primarily decorative, though they will be beneficial in a tip-over, as you’d likely be faced with replacing inexpensive scratched or cracked plastic rather than the costly metal fuel tank beneath. Unfortunately, they also restrict use of tank bags to ones with strap-on or suction-cup mounting – magnetic types won’t do.
SMOOTHLY DOES IT
Once fired, that stylishly bendy muffler emits a rather throaty drone from its dual outlets, a sound that’s more indicative of a litre-bike’s bellow, and just as pleasant. Throttle modulation is impeccable, regardless of rpm, and letting the engine spin reveals a relatively flat, yet remarkably potent powerband.
Engine changes over the SV include revised cam profiles and valve lift, newly staggered intake and exhaust tract length, as well as 10 percent more crankshaft inertia – all changes meant to improve low to midrange torque.
Suzuki makes no claims as to the Gladius’ output, but it’s safe to say that it pumps out about 70 crankshaft horsepower. Whatever the output, there’s enough oomph to satisfy veteran riders, and it’s delivered in a manner that befits one of the Gladius’ target groups – beginners.
One engine feature that befits everyone is a lack of vibration, as the Gladius was smooth enough that you could almost read licence plates in the mirrors. And instead of a close up of your jacket sleeves, those mirrors actually offered an almost unobstructed rear view.
Clicking the shifter into first gear was typical of a Suzuki: very light and precise, and subsequent gear changes were as uneventful. Gear ratios are widely spaced and well matched to the engine’s broad spread of torque. Suzuki has gone from a ball-and-screw clutch mechanism to a cam type and clutch pull is very light as a result.
HOME IS WHERE THE HEART IS
I didn’t roll but a few feet before realizing I was going to like this bike. I felt immediately at home on the Gladius. The tubular steel handlebar and the relatively low-mounted footpegs placed my body in an ergonomically correct, mostly upright posture – a relief after having recently spent time crouched agonizingly over a supersport. Seat height (785 mm) is modest, and my knees had a slight bend with both feet flat on the ground (I measure 6 ft.).
The only caveat is that the pilot’s portion of the firm seat slopes downward, forcing you onto its narrow forward portion. As a result, comfort was good for about an hour before I needed to dismount and let some blood back into my backside. I must admit, however, that my ass had been tempered by excessive time on the two-by-four of a “saddle” on my KTM 690 Enduro.
The seat lifts to reveal just enough storage space for the (supplied) tool kit and maybe a travel-sized bottle of baby powder to relieve those chapped cheeks. There are massive grab handles for passenger support, so helmet bunting should be minimal.
Getting down to wipe the bike clean, I noticed an odd assortment of brake components. Nissin supplies the front and rear master cylinders, as well as the rear single-piston caliper, but the front dual-piston calipers are made by Tokico.
I’m not sure why this is — probably the result of bargain-hunting Suzuki bean counters — but the brakes worked very well nonetheless.
The front brake lever is adjustable, and my XL-sized hands required the second-farthest position for comfort, so there’s ample range for those with stubby digits.
THE ROAD TO ROME
Back when all roads led to Rome, a gladius, I assume, would have been used for stabbing or slashing an opponent. Well, this Gladius is a more refined instrument used for adeptly carving back roads.
Chassis geometry is slightly revised compared to the SV, using the same 25-degree rake, but it adds a couple of millimetres of trail, and shortens the wheelbase by 25 mm to 1,445 mm (that’s an inch shorter for the metrically challenged).
Handling was responsive, steering was neutral and confidence inspiring, and stability was unwavering.
Suspension adjustment is limited to spring preload front and rear, but damping settings are middle-of-the-road effective. Compliance was balanced, managing everything from smooth, flowing sweepers to bumpy Quebecois twisties handily.
Even highway jaunts were handled competently, and although the lack of wind protection worked my forearms at higher speeds, the Gladius wasn’t intimidated by the wake of semi-trailers and maintained its course in stride.
The engine chugged away effortlessly at 5,000 rpm at an indicated 110 km/h. Ample passing power is available without stepping down from top gear, but if you’re in a real hurry, one or two clicks on the shifter will get you by even the longest pusher RV — with custom-air-brushed motorcycle trailer in tow — in a snap.
The Gladius revealed its shortcomings, however, when the speed was upped to an aggressive, sporting pace on winding roads. That’s when the higher loads overwhelmed the stock damping settings and it began to waver about a bit on its suspension.
You’d probably get by riding track days, but I’d stick to the beginner or intermediate groups and leave the bikes with the number plates to duke it out without me.
Dunlop Sportmax Qualifiers provided more than enough grip to handle an elevated pace, and cornering clearance was sufficient on the street, even with the absurdly long footpeg feelers in place.
The cockpit view is welcoming with a simple, yet functional instrument panel that includes a prominent, central tachometer that has a clearly visible gear indicator in its face. Other info includes a digital speedo, dual trip meters, a clock and an array of warning lights.
There’s no fuel gauge so you’ll have to resort to the old-school method of resetting the trip meter at fill-ups, but if you’re forgetful, a fuel warning light comes on when you’re getting on the low side, as well as a reserve trip meter.
I filled up shortly after the low-fuel light illuminated, with 250 km showing on the trip meter and the tank accepted 10.2 litres. That means about four litres remained, which is a generous reserve, so if you end up pushing, well, you’re just daft. The Gladius managed a very respectable 3.9L/100km (73 mpg) average, giving it a range of just over 370 km. Very respectable, indeed.
The problem for the Gladius is that its closest competition comes from Suzuki itself. At $8,999, the naked SV650A undercuts the Gladius by $200, and it comes standard with ABS (ABS being optional on Gladius models in Europe only).
Add to that, comparing the two models’ wet weights, the SV is lighter by 5 kg thanks to its aluminum frame. I do prefer the Gladius’ styling over the SV, and although I don’t insist on having ABS, I would be happy to have it if it were standard equipment.
Short sword or long? Thin horny squid part? I don’t know, maybe a bit of both, but I do know that I regretted returning the Gladius. As it sat in my garage among other enticing test bikes, it always got priority – it was just that pleasant to ride.
|Engine type||liquid-cooled, DOHC, 90-degree V-Twin|
|Power (crank – claimed)||67 hp @ 9,000 rpm|
|Torque (claimed)||47 ft-lbs (63 Nm) @ 7,600 rpm|
|Tank Capacity||14.5 L (3.8 US gal)|
|Carburetion||EFI with 39 mm throttle bodies|
|Final drive||Six speed, chain drive|
|Tires, front||120/70 ZR17|
|Tires, rear||160/60 ZR17|
|Brakes, front||2-piston calipers, 2 x 290 mm disc|
|Brakes, rear||1-piston caliper, 1 x 240 mm disc|
|Seat height||785 mm (30.9 in.)|
|Wheelbase||1,445 mm (56.9 in.)|
|Curb weight (claimed)||202 kg (446 lbs)|
|Warranty||12 months, unlimited|