Fuerteventura is part of the Canary Islands off the coast of Africa. It was supposedly named after the conquering Jean de Bethencourt’s exclaimed, “Que forte adventure.” Following her ride on the 2009 Suzuki Gladius 650 Janie agrees with the explorer – What a grand adventure!
Normally, the rocky, barren landscape of this Spanish Island looks like you’d stumble upon Arnold Schwarzenegger scratching about in the orange dust, eyes bulging and veins popping like that very odd scene from Total Recall. But right now there’s just nothing. Nothing but a few meters of soggy greyness. Oh how I love my job.
Google the word ‘Gladius’ and you’re inundated with facts and figures about an early Roman stabbing sword which was short, precise and easy to handle. Hence the rather apt naming of Suzuki’s new and compact entry-level roadster. So, with this historical title in mind, I was keen to discover just how much fighting spirit the SV650’s replacement really has. Would it bow out in the midst of battle, unable to stand the heat, or would it prove to be match for the competition, which appears to be stronger now than ever before?
Despite the weather in Fuerteventura looking decidedly grim, and with the never-ending fog being thicker than pea soup and being just as uninviting, I was determined to explore the bike’s full potential. Cocking a leg over the low 31 inch seat height for the first time, the compact middleweight felt instantly comfortable. There’s no question that Suzuki are actively targeting beginners and the unintimidating stance of the bike should definitely appeal to novices.
Curvaceous styling and colourful detailing of Candy Ruby Magenta, (otherwise known as pink) will undoubtedly attract the ladies and further widen the target audience. The instrument cluster sits on the jewel shaped headlight like a Jewish skullcap and it features a generous display of information including a useful gear indicator, a trip meter and fuel warning light that flashes orange in good time to find a petrol station and stays constant when you’re about to run on nothing but fumes.
But there’s a lot more to the Suzuki Gladius than clever marketing and fancy styling. It’s actually pretty good. Especially at just £4,500 with a £99 insurance deal if you pass your test with Suzuki, and the option of a free 33bhp restriction kit. (Editor’s Note: The Suzuki Gladius is available for a $6,899 MSRP in the US) They couldn’t have made it easier for you than if they’d turned up in a taxi, with a skinny latte and a breakfast croissant, frog marched you to your nearest test center and stuck the keys in your sweaty palm.
That said, any first purchase must survive the heady honeymoon period. A new love can be short lived, and the Gladius needs to be capable of continually thrilling, or at the very least, satisfy your biking buzz long after those initial tentative outings have been replaced with confidence in a full set of leathers. This bike needs to nurture confidence and encourage new skills if it’s to be a successful motorcycle mate. And after riding the tidy little Twin through the rain, mist and eventually on dry roads, I’ve no doubt Suzuki are onto a winner and that a new biker could find their perfect match in the Gladius.
The Suzuki Gladius 650 offers plenty of low-to-midrange torque to make everyday riding more of a hoot.
The 90 degree V-Twin engine is based on the popular (and now redundant) SV650, but it’s been refined to offer more low-to-midrange torque without sacrificing top-end power, plus it’s also now 10 percent more efficient. As the sun began to finally peek through the parting clouds, the bike’s playful nature started to emerge in unison with the drying asphalt. Wind the throttle back and the Gladius surges with a steady, reliable pull that bears all the hallmarks of a traditional twin-cylinder powerhouse. The initial bite is instant, but not overly snatchy and the light clutch means it’s easy to maintain a smooth and slow speed pace.
As the revs build, so does the pleasant drone of the engine. The vibrations are far from intrusive, but they are more apparent, especially on the footpegs, as you pass the 8,000 rpm mark. But even as the needle delves into the red some 3000 rpm later, it’s not vibey enough to really complain about and the mirrors do their level best to maintain a clear image of the world you’ve just left behind.
With the bike wearing nothing but its stylish birthday suit, you’re totally unprotected from the elements, but lay flat enough on the 3.8-gallon tank and the Speedo’s triple figures could exceed 125mph (and more if you’ve been laying off the pies!) And while the bike’s not exactly marketed as a drag racer, or a wheelie monster, it can hold its own against the competition in both of these departments, which merely increases its appeal. A boring budget bike? Not in this instance, no.
All the technological wizardry on the Suzuki Gladius allow riders to focus on their form with added confidence.
Keeping the throttle pinned is always rewarding and addictive, and it’s no different with the Gladius. But shut off too rapidly and a V-Twin bike can often take a nose dive faster than a dodgy boxer with a back pocket full of cash and naff all pride in his heart. And locking the rear by mistake’s not unheard of in the most extreme of circumstances. So with potential and inexperienced riders in mind, Suzuki’s electronic Dash Pot System ensures the engine braking is as gentle and progressive as possible. It’s activated when there’s a sudden transition from an open to closed throttle, smoothly reducing the revs, the stress on the engine and the rider’s nerves.
It works well enough, and while it’s an obvious advantage for the very innocent or cack-handed rider, it was also pretty handy trickery for yours truly on the mountainous wet twisties. A back end slide’s not quite what you want, not with a sheer drop disappearing into the chilly fog laying just a few feet away. And when the white-leather-wearing rider in front of me did an impromptu fifty-pence piece action on a normally rounded but blinded-by-fog corner, I merely shut the throttle to scrub speed gently, rather than use my two frozen fingers which were hovering eagerly over the front brake lever.
The ride wasn’t necessarily that pleasant at first, but nevertheless, it was the perfect environment for the Gladius to show its friendly nature. Tiptoeing through the damp, the bike felt heavy enough to have some presence, but light enough to correct mistakes and execute feet-up u-turns. Add a bit of grip to the mix and it’s wasn’t long before the agile handling was grinding away at the (very long) ‘hero-blobs’ hanging beneath the footpegs, (far better than filing a hole in the sporty low muffler though) and for newcomers, bragging rights and swollen chests will soon accompany the breaking in of virgin knee sliders, whether that is the designer’s intention or not.
You can test a budget bike’s patience harder than a toddler does a tired parent, and there’s always a limit to everyone’s good will. But, as with most of the more recently introduced bikes in this category, they can all handle a fair amount of abuse… I mean spirited riding. The chassis and its trellis frame, and the preload-adjustable suspension (with forks donated from the SV650) copes well enough with most things you’re likely to throw at it.
The brakes are adequate too, although the front’s stopping power is on the softer side of good, and the riding position’s natural and comfy, but despite my African rear’s ‘padding’ I did begin to develop a numb-bum after a day in the saddle. That’s par for the course though and to be expected on most bikes of this ilk.
Suzuki’s two wheeled Gladius may have a Latin title, and it may be named after some obscure Roman sword, but it could easily slash a middleweight mark in the motorcycle market and shield you from the credit crunch at the same time. Sounds like the ideal weapon of choice.