With one of the best all-round motors in the business, but with styling that asks you to love it or leave it, the Gladius is both a practical and a debatable street standard from Suzuki.
Both Sides of the Blade
What’s in a name? A hayabusa is a bird, a strom a wind, and burgman is possibly a German urban dweller. Then what is a gladius? It’s a motorcycle from Suzuki of course, but it was also a short sword used by Roman centurions. It was designed for hand-to-hand combat in close quarters where larger blades were too unwieldy and possibly even detrimental to one’s well being.
The V-Twin powered SVF650 Gladius, deemed “stylish and friendly” by Suzuki, ironically brings qualities similar to the armaments of those long-ago legionnaires.
Physically, the Gladius certainly looks like no other bike in the Suzuki lineup, and much has been made of its resemblance to the Monster models from Ducati—more Romans. In profile they are close, but no closer, than a group of 600-class sport bikes. Undeniably the Monster is a good target to aim for considering it has been manufactured in its recognizable form for many years, which proves its staying power.
The Gladius has a European design sensibility and its Japanese designers point out that they went to Milan for inspiration when laying out the drawing. If you are going to go to Italy for inspiration for a motorcycle you are going to run into a fair number of Ducatis. And if you are going with fashion and style as design criteria, the Italians do know their stuff—not counting the Fiat 500.
So what are we getting here? A Japanese interpretation of an Italian motif? No. While the visual cues are present, the spiritual ideals are divergent. If Ducati wanted the Monster to be friendly, they probably would not have called it a Monster.
The Gladius is supposed to be a bike that doesn’t intimidate, looks friendly and encourages new riders. The styling though, isn’t going to do it for everyone. The ubiquitous blue-and-white model, the one we had at our offices, is a little too moderne for some tastes especially with the two-toned seat. There is in existence, though not everywhere in the Canadian market, a green-and-white version, a red-and-white version and an all-black version. It is a global platform bike and fashion statement as indicated by a dedicated Gladius web site that is all music and interviews with the Gladius designers. It seems the bike is as much about fashion as it is about technical specs, which is fine because the intended audience for the bike may not initially know horsepower from Holstein or fuel injection from a botox injection.
Now before you start thinking about gender issues—just because it’s a little fashion conscious doesn’t mean the Gladius is the 1994 Miata of the motorcycle world. The B-King is exaggerated in style and no one questions its testosterone levels. But the issue is muddled by an ad for the Gladius that compares its curves to that of a woman’s shoulders and the design as “organically flowing.”
When you look at the bike there are no knife edges that define the aggressive nature of most sportbikes, and even the headlight is oval and leaning a little toward rubinesque. There are some interesting elements to the look including the trellis frame, painted blue to match the body pieces, and the playfully slash-cut stubby exhaust that produces a pleasant sound. The pouty tailpiece accentuates the free-flowing lines of the swingarm. Well, let’s just call the styling, a matter of preference.
Some riders may actually experience the urge to spray paint the entire bike camouflage green so they don’t feel “conflicted” while racing it around town—which the Gladius is eminently capable of doing.
IT MAY WELL APPEAL TO NOVICES but the Gladius turns out to be a pretty enjoyable ride even for those who have been in a number of saddles over the years. It helps that the technical specs are already tried and true. The motor deserves no knocks as it has proved itself for years in the SV650, including its own race series. It also provides great service powering the V-Strom 650 which many experienced riders prefer over the V-Strom 1000 for its overall balance, especially when a passenger and a load of luggage aren’t part of the mix. The 645cc, fuel-injected Twin isn’t a declawed
version of the original and performance-wise, in this class, should satisfy all but the most ardent knee draggers.
The seat height is a very manageable 30.9 inches (784mm) and the seating position is upright while the bars are wide. The brakes are twin discs up front with a single disc in the rear, so stopping the 446-lb. (202-kg) bike is no problem. The clutch pull is light and the six-speed transmision novice proof. Again very user-friendly. But also very rider-friendly. It is an eminently easy bike to ride as the power delivery is linear. It isn’t necessary to wind it out to enjoy the ride. You know where you are at all times within the power band, making progression through traffic effortless.
The bike just seems to fit. While that can be said of some other bikes in the standard class, not all of them have the finesse that goes with the fit. It’s an ideal urban commuter with a bit of fashion sense and the ability to out-muscle the fancy scooters which so often define style in the urban environment.
What is most appreciable about the Gladius is that it has a character that sets it apart from its near competitors. This is partly due to the style—again, love it or hate it. But primarily its character stems from that great 650 Twin, which is one of the best all-rounders in the market. The visceral feel of the Twin with its pulse and vibration is nothing like the liquidity of an inline four.
The novice rider, for whom the bike is intended, may not only enjoy a bike that is “stylish and friendly,” they may inadvertently come to appreciate the mechanical delicacy of a V-Twin motor. And that is going to change them from motorcycle novices to motorcycle enthusiasts.
But you don’t have to be boring to be friendly. While the blade of this Gladius may have been rounded to protect the apprentice, there are two sides to the sword.
Love it or leave it: Take it up with Tomomi Ishiyama if you don’t care for the colour choices available with the Gladius. Ms. Ishiyama was responsible for their selection. “I often go to Milan or Paris where trends occur,” she says. I observed what kind of colours were used in window displays, fashion and the lives of pedestrians … then I worked on the colouring for the Gladius.”So there you have it. And remember, that the model designation stands for Stylish and Friendly. We’re not making that up.