2009 Suzuki SFV Gladius – Just don’t call it Gladys

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If you were in the market for a sword, what would you be after? A finicky, finesse-centric epee? A saber? Which, despite a strong sounding name, is just a long skinny hassle? Anything long and you’d forever be inadvertently skewering people in lineups and crowds. No you want something short, manageable, without airs and good at cut and thrust. You’d want a Gladius, Latin for a Roman every-soldier’s sort of sword, and likewise the latest general motorcycle offering from Suzuki – the SFV650 Gladius.

Apropos to the Latin, a bit of history.

Suzuki’s Gladius is a continuation of Suzuki’s hugely successful SV650, a bike that with its introduction in 1999 democratized the world of sportbiking. With a price point as willowy as its suspension, the SV650 in all its permutations offered weekend canyon strafing, daily commuting, entry-level easy of use, and enough power and handling to spawn an entire class of weekend racing. Now that the standard, unfaired, SV650N is passing on to discontinuity’s Elysian fields, the Gladius is heir to the naked bike’s station.

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 exhaust… 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 SV’s 46, and down on power, 67hp to the SV’s 70, which doesn’t 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. That’s a move to make the Gladius a little more new rider friendly, not that we’d have called the SV650’s power development “peaky” 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. It’s 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 engine’s 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 SV’s dual 290mm front rotors, through the front calipers’ two-pistons and the master cylinder are slightly smaller. Meanwhile the rear brake squeezes a 240mm rotor (20mm larger than the SV’s). 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 Gladius’s lack of stopping power is its mass. The engine’s toga comes in the form of a steel-trellis frame, rather than the SV’s lighter aluminum truss wrapper. There’s 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 SV650’s 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 that’s 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 you’re Suzuki looking to woo the new riders market, especially female riders, with the bike’s inseam friendly 760mm/30.9in seat height.

Men, squint hard and you can see very subtle hints of the B-King’s design, elegant tail treatment and sweeping passenger grab-rails, side shrouds. Suzuki’s worked hard on this design, but the accountants have been, tacking on parts bin mirrors dating to a mid-90’s Bandit and cheesy plastic covers emulating an aluminum sub-frame. The look is softened with organic curves, a Madonna’s bra-cup headlight, an elegant tail treatment, two sweeping blades of passenger grab-rails and emasculating fashion-centric marketing materials.

The bike’s femininity saw us almost immediately nickname our blue and white tester Gladys – the butchest color schemes available in Canada as Suzuki’s decided not to offer the all black for the boys. Eyebrows were raised in parking lots as photographer Kevin and I openly discussed, “Do you want to ride Gladys tonight or shall I.”

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 Gladius’s usable grunt and more relaxed manners prove a bonus. It’s not an eye widening experience, just a cavort through the curves as the Gladius and I increasingly push the envelop.

The Gladius’s suspension feels slightly better matched to the bike and less wobbly than the old SV650’s. 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 Suzuki’s 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.

It’s 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 sportbike’s racer tuck. Even my legs are well accommodated as Suzuki’s provided me with the taller optional seat (2 cm taller) to accommodate my 6’2” 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 we’re 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 won’t be the Gladius’s main adversary.

Priced at $9,199.00 the Gladius is within stabbing distance of Ducati’s $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 Gladius’s 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 SFV650 Gladius and I are filtering though traffic, I pull away from a stop, glancing down at the instrument panel’s gear indicator and note I’ve mistakenly left this agreeable v-twin in second. It pulls away, no lugging, or hassle. On the spec sheet the Suzuki SFV650 Gladius might not look like the sharpest sword in the armory, but sometimes you don’t 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 experience riders the Gladius could well be that bike.

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2 Comments Add yours

  1. Borgnine says:

    I expect the price to be discounted on these bikes the more they seemingly remain glued to the dealer floors. I’m sure they’re a delightful bike, but I think I’ve seen exactly ONE on the road. It’s a shame about the styling, really….

    Like

    1. Borgnine,
      In Canada, the introduction of the Gladius came during the “downturn”, making it a lot harder to attract new riders to any bike. More over the SV650 has such a good reputation. It’s hard to change that momentum to a new model, especially when new riders are drawing on a knowledge base of “SV650 this, SV650 that”… making the Gladius hard to see as a value proposition by comparison (where is the ABS for example). Pity, because it is a good bike for the new and casual rider.

      Like

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