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Test Ride - 2009 Suzuki Gladius

The Suzuki Gladius, or SFV 650 if you like, is a naked style bike with a Canadian price tag of $9,199. Before you begin to think that Suzuki tried to name this thing Gladiator but got the spelling wrong - that's not the case, Gladius is apparently a Latin word for sword. Despite the fact that the Gladius is a new bike, with an engine borrowed from the SV 650 you know you're getting a proven performer of an engine. That price tag and 650 cc engine size mean that it's competing with several other bikes, even Suzuki's own SV650.

An obvious top contender of another manufacturer that comes to mind is the Ducati 696 which can be had for $9,995 - slightly more expensive but that engine is a few cc's larger. The Suzuki is liquid cooled, the Monster - air cooled. The Gladius seems to have some taken some styling cues from the Italians with the exposed trellis frame and headlight bearing a distinct resemblance.

The first thing I couldn't help but noticing about the bike was the color. Suzuki Canada's website calls this color red and white. In Europe it's got a much fancier name; metallic triton blue/glass splash white and candy ruby magenta/pearl mirage white. I do like the white - it's just the ruby magenta I'm not crazy about. I'll be keen to see if Canada eventually gets the all black version of the Gladius that Europe has.

After getting over the color the next thing I noticed was the very low seat height (30.9 inches according to Suzuki's specifications). So when you sit on it and compress the suspension a little you're even closer to the ground. This bike should be very comfortable for those with shorter legs. I had no trouble getting both feet firmly planted on the ground. I can't help but think Suzuki is hoping to attract a lot of female riders to the fold with this model.

Clutch feel is very light. You won't develop an abnormally large forearm with this one because it requires so little force to pull. The friction point - the point at which the clutch engages - is at about the half-way point of its range of motion. It's a natural feeling spot that most riders will be comfortable with immediately. In contrast, the friction point of the clutch on the Ducati 696 I rode last summer was almost at the 3/4 way out point and several riders were stalling them.

The clutch level offers a 4-position adjustment for reach so even those with the smallest of hands should be able to find a position that suits them. The switchgear is pretty standard but one nice touch at this price-point is the pass light trigger. It seems that there's some parts bin sharing because this switchgear appears to be identical to the bits used on the other Suzuki models. In the instrumentation department, the bike is well equipped; part digital with an analog sweep dial tachometer. I like this particular combination because it's a quick look to see exactly how fast I'm traveling - I don't need that level of information for a tach reading so the big analog sweeper gives me the level of detail I need with a quick glance. Another nice touch is a gear indicator too so you always know what gear you're in. The cluster sits atop the headlight, and is larger in the center than the sides. The signal indicators on the cluster are large enough to be clearly visible even in direct sunlight. No more riding for blocks with your signal on because the light isn't bright enough to remind you you've left it on.


The bike I rode was very new so it wasn't broken in yet but the engine still had enough power to keep me reasonably happy. It's not scary fast by any means but comfortable. If you're looking for a fun bike that's going to be comfortable riding around town, commuting, and maybe even some longer rides, this bike will no doubt be a capable bike to do it on. Steering is quick and requires very minimal input.

The 650 cc 2 cylinder engine in a v-twin configuration is a great engine offering very broad power delivery. You're never too far from being in the proper gear as it'll pull from very low in the rev range right up to near red-line in a very linear manner. There's no big power surges to have to think about. You twist the throttle and know what to expect.

The throttle doesn't require a lot of force to twist it (much less than my VFR daily rider) so I found that I was a little twitchy at lower speeds, particularly on bumpy, broken pavement where my hand was moving a little with the bumps. You'd likely get used to the throttle feel and get smoother with more time on the bike.

The brakes are 2-piston calipers, 290 mm disc, twin up front and a 1-piston caliper, 240mm disc in the rear. They're more than adequate for performing stopping duties here. They're not Brembo Monobloc's with 4 piston calipers but they're also a lot cheaper than those units, the brakes that come with this bike are what you'd expect at this price and they do the job just fine.

STYLING:

Already mentioned is the resemblance to the Monster 696; the trellis frame, low seat, and particularly the headlight. With the Italian maker being known to produce 'sexy' looking machines it's certainly no complaint that it bears some similarity. This is a modern styled bike that should appeal to a younger demographic. Looking at Suzuki's European site seems to suggest that Suzuki knows this and they've gone with some trendy marketing techniques - such as offering Gladius music mixes, fashion information, etc. Not a lot of stuff that I'm particularly interested in. I guess that means at 34 I'm over the hill in terms of who Suzuki Europe is marketing this bike to.

I found the seat quite comfortable. It was nice and flat and didn't push me forward onto the tank. I recall thinking it offered 'all-day' rideability. If anything would begin to bother you after a more extended ride it could be the footpeg height. I've got a 32 inch inseam and although not cramped during my ride I could see how those with longer legs might want to stretch out a little after some extended seat time.

Riding position is what you'd expect - upright and decidedly un-sportsbike like. The tank has a great cut in shape allowing you to really grip the tank with your legs. It offers a secure feeling and excellent control of the bike. Mirrors - slightly tear-drop shaped, are well placed, and offer a good view of road behind you.

The passenger pegs are high quality and all metal. Somewhat of an upgrade over those of the Suzuki GS500. I can't speak to the comfort of the passenger position but the seat does step up slightly and there are integrated grab handles in the back.

The headlight shape is, well, I'm not sure what to call that shape. Sort of a sharpened ancient spearhead or something. The front and rear signal ligths are are clear with amber bulbs inside. Clear indicators are a common option on motorcycles and huge aftermarket exists so that you can replace your amber signals for clear ones. Not necessary here. You've already got'em!

Who is this bike targeted to? It's always a tough question to answer with a bike like this because if you look past the cosmetics of the colors - it definitely has mass appeal. The colors we've got here in Canada seem to suggest that Suzuki is trying to attract female riders. With the low seat height, euro-naked styling, and smooth but not too over-the-top engine they've got a good machine to achieve that goal. Some guys might also not mind the colors, but if they bring in the black or some other more traditional colors I'd say they'd also be successful in getting some guys to take a closer look at this bike. Bring the all black model to Canada and I think you'll see some guys 'discover' this new Suzuki.

If you're a beginner considering this as a first bike, this would definitely be a bike that you could grow into. Lots of people suggest that beginners look at 250's, the Suzuki GS500, or Buell Blast. Those are all great beginner choices but you might want to upgrade in a year or two. A Suzuki GS 500 was my first bike in fact so I know how I personally felt. I was a little worried about getting a used bike and having to deal with unknown maintenance issues but didn't want anything too big. I would have liked to have traded up after a couple years but I ended up riding it for 4 years before trading up. It's not a huge leap from a 500 to this 650. You'll have to be careful initially but you'll be less likely to feel the need to trade this one in after a year or two. You'll just need to have the restraint to go a little easy on the throttle. This bike does have a lot more horsepower than a 250, Buell Blast, or GS 500.

Incidentally Suzuki doesn't publish official horsepower numbers, and when we asked them about it they said that the numbers are so variable that they don't like to publish that information. They prefer to let the aftermarket take care of it. When I said that MCN had published a figure of 75.9 horsepower to which they said "Well, they usually do a pretty good job, don't they." So, I'd guess that's a relatively accurate number. Seems about right to me.

FINAL THOUGHTS:

I personally don't care for the colors we have for this bike in Canada this year. Other than that quible, this is a fun bike that should put a smile on the face of anybody riding it. Some will say it's a great beginner bike, some will say it's not a good beginner bike. Given the amount of power it would definitely be at the high end of what might be considered "beginner". The power delivery, seat height, and ergonomics of the Gladius make it a tempting option for beginners who won't want to trade up in a couple years. Lot's of intermediate riders or commuters looking for a reliable, fun, and not too expensive bike should also take a closer look at the Gladius.

If you need a lightweight nimble sword for cutting your way through urbanania the Suzuki Gladius might be just what you're looking for!

- To see more test ride reports - check out our "Test Ride" category.
- For Suzuki related articles - check out our "Suzuki" category.