Suzuki’s SFV650 Gladius: Under Review
The Gladius has been on sale now for a while and when it was launched in September 2008’s Paris show everyone was impressed by the styling and look of what was still a fairly budget bike. However the existing SV650, the bike this new model replaced, was going to be a tough act to follow as it is still universally loved for being friendly, practical, cheap and still fun with its punchy twin motor and competent running gear.
According to Yasuhiro Mori, who worked on the product planning stage of the Gladius’ design, “the Gladius is a new model with a different concept although it uses the SV650 engine. SFV is an abbreviation for Stylish, Fun and V-Twin. We [Suzuki] attempted to provide fun even for beginners and females with this motorcycle that has mass appeal rather than the SV which is a sportier model.”
So have Suzuki managed to not only produce a bike better than the very highly rated and extremely popular SV650, yet boost its appeal with the less sports orientated market, a market which is very wealthy yet not that well catered for?
Londonbikers.com’s resident female mini-twin racer Gabs, who races an SV650, was tasked with the job of finding out.
When people heard I was test-riding the SFV650 Gladius, the comments do-si-doed around “what’s Gabs doing riding a non-blokey bike?” Those that didn’t understand the SV concept have called the middleweight twin a “Girls’ Bike” but plenty of guys love them at race level and the bikes consistently outdo even the bigger twins all the time on track days and in mixed race classes like Thunderbike UK (the Ducati 748, for example) because the handling gives so much more confidence to the rider.
Initial Impressions of the Gladius – is it just a streetfightered SV650?
Sticking some bars and risers on a faired bike has been a mainstay of bad-dog customisation for a while so I was initially a little cynical that this bike was really nothing different from its predecessor and more of a marketing exercise than anything worth paying for. My initial impressions are that even if Suzuki have done nothing more, the flat bars make the Gladius pivot on its nose beautifully which combined with the very useful and well matched OEM Dunlop Qualifiers make the bike turn like a Black Cab on the daily commute. In fact some racers have streetfightered the SV in the Mini-Twins series to great success, so to be honest if that’s the limit of the differences to the outgoing SV then Suzuki look like they’re onto a winner with the Gladius in the handling challenge at least.
Are you sitting comfortably?
The ‘new’ frame harks back to the pre-injection model from the late 90s and the tubular effect steel trellis actually makes the overall length of the Gladius almost an inch longer and heavier than the SV. Despite this, I had some fun riding on the pillion part of the seat whilst still holding the handlebars!
The seat is a good couple of inches lower than the fuel-injected SV650s, the frame for which was cost-effectively borrowed from the Thou and is wider than the old carburettor model too. This makes the Gladius sit a lot lower than its predecessor and puts it a lot closer to a Honda Hornet’s seat level, so that those of a shorter leg will be well advised to try this bike for size. Being a one-piece unit, it is more supportive than the trapezoid SV seat, making for a better longer-distance ride. I rode from Stevenage to Brighton without any difficulty, whereas I would have started to feel a sports bike seat just leaving London and the SV seat at around about Horsham.The rear-sets are extended into the pillion pegs, so there is only one thing to remove if you like to install your own and are not very keen on taking pillions.
The new exhaust sits lower to the ground as a result of the repositioning of the linkpipe but is smaller, so benefits a lower centre of gravity and sounds really nice on and off the bike. In fact the standard can is the nicest one I have seen although I am sure that the little kink in the forward downpipe is unnecessary. I measured the sound output from the standard can at about a very legal but fruity 98db, and there is a Yoshimura end can available from dealers for that extra few decibels, style points and weight saving.
On the road
Engine-wise the Gladius performs with the traditional twin’s strength in the midrange where most of us spend most of our riding time with good roll-on performances certainly against its 4 cylinder rivals. Out of the midrange and towards top end the revised 649cc engine’s 10% efficiency increase continues to impress with more grunt around the 9000rev-mark against the SV (75.9bhp v 69bhp of the SV). I would imagine that you would get about 130mph top speed, although, as with all streetfighters, anything over 100 would hurt your neck something chronic! On my K5 SV, this would be more like 145 indicated (all on standard 15-44 gearing).
This extra performance isn’t just noticeable from the seat as Mark, riding alongside me on a ZX10, was surprised at how much poke the SFV had on real roads under everyday riding conditions. While it’s never going to outrun a ZX10R, the Gladius was impressive on initial throttle response and the roll-on caught the ZX10R napping a few times, powering away while the big thou would be gathering up a head of steam.
The small improvements Suzuki made have revolutionised the engine, helped by them taking a few secrets from their racing knowledge to add to the pot. The Suzuki Composite Electrochemical Material cylinders (“SCEM”), are intended to be better wearing and to help the engine reduce its heat output. The cylinder heads are now twin-iridium-plug and Suzuki have modified the crankshaft to make it heavier so that the engine runs more smoothly while the new high-lift cam adds to the engine’s increased torque and midrange punch.
The GSXR fuel mix has been incorporated into the Gladius engine design by using the same 10-hole fuel injectors as on the 600 and 750 models which, combined with the new iridium spark plugs, make for even better fuel consumption and efficiency. Idle Speed Control (“ISC”) has been integrated into the throttle body and is intended to improve tick-over and starting from cold. The intake funnels have been lengthened and cut at different lengths so that mid-range power can be maintained more efficiently. As if that wasn’t enough, Suzuki has reduced the number of springs to each valve to one, intending to reduce inertia and again improve efficiency.Economy is certainly impressive - I did just over 700 miles on the Gladius and to be honest, I really didn’t want to give it back! The odometer hit about 120 moderately abusive miles before the reserve kicked in and the reserve held at least 30. I would say that the SFV holds about 150 miles from a 3.2 gallon tank (despite a reduction in size from the SV tank).
I disagree with what has been said about the Gladius’ brakes in other reviews as I found were up to the job even two-up. Sure it uses smaller brake caliper pistons than the SV but has the same front brake discs. The brakes seem like they give less feel because they are more progressive in the way that they work – they don’t have the usual hard bite of a sportsbike’s lever, which is entirely in line with the bike’s image and market positioning. If you want superbike brakes you might as well go and buy a superbike (or a Gixxer front end), but Suzuki have given the Gladius a more friendly and relevant braking performance for real roads in real conditions.
This improvement is all the more impressive when we discover it’s a little heavier than the outgoing SV weighing in at 202kgs – some 8kgs more than even the faired version of the SV. Suzuki have reverted back to a steel frame for the Gladius, ditching the SV’s aluminium one presumably for greater durability and strength.
The new radiator is smaller, which is good, as it does jut out from the frame a little on the SV, and is protected by large ‘shoulders’. I would expect this to take more impact than a faired version in any crash. There is no trade-mark air-cooled oil cooler at the front because it has been swapped for a liquid to liquid cooler. In fact the bike didn’t seem to heat up in traffic nearly as much as the SV (I’d regularly have seen 105 degrees C on the K5 at lights).
Where does it fit in then?
Everywhere. We’ve talked about streetfighters, racebikes AND commuter bikes in the same article! Not only that but it’s almost the perfect stuntbike too: plenty of torque for wheelies, nicely balanced for the one-wheeled tricks and cheap to buy, crash and (presumably rarely) blow up.
One of the main problems for these budget friendly middleweights is their failings in the looks department. The bikes in this marketplace are built to a price and more often than not that shows visually with less time spent on expensive CAD desks and more time with a set-square and pencil. Not so the Gladius, it is covered in swoops, curves and beautifully designed lines. Nor is it going to blend into the crowd with the available colour-schemes being clearly aimed at the more fashion conscious riders, those who wish to stand out a little more those than new Bandit owners for example. I tried the blue and white one which really stood out when parked up with the other, frankly, dreary commuter bikes.
I wonder if the Gladius is a bold attempt to shed some of the misconceptions that a bike which attracts females must be boring and/or gutless, that a bike which is to appeal to beginners, and might get dropped a few times, can’t be visually exciting and different. Not everyone is hung up on top speed and bhp figures, and some riders of sportsbikes might be pleasantly surprised by this stylish alternative.
Then there’s the price and for £4.7k I genuinely don’t think you can do any better.
A faired version is promised, although I am quite upset that the iconic SV650, like the SV1000 is to be discontinued as I believe that the three could coexist quite happily. Is it that Suzuki doesn’t share my confidence in their newest creation against its predecessor? Or do they just feel that it is the end of an era and that, unlike the Romans, they would prefer to quit while they are ahead?
Racing Opinions and Details
Between the Monster-style carburettor SV and the GSX-R style fuel-injected SV, the engines are interchangeable within the frame with a few modifications including changing the generator magnet spacing. You could probably get the Gladius engine into the SV650 frame if you wanted to take advantage of the higher seat height, but without trying I couldn’t tell you for sure. No doubt someone on the minitwinracing.co.uk forum will do it at some point and post their findings… if not, there is a new Gladius Cup emerging in Italy: a low-cost one-make series which seems very similar to the UK MiniTwin class invented by Tim Jones and Mike Edwards at the British Motorcycle Racing Club. This may also become a source of information of this nature (the Italians are natural mechanics, after all!).
Reinventing the wheel?
The wheels on the SFV are 5-spoke instead of 3-spoke and this makes them seem narrower (although they are not). I suspect that this is a styling decision, rather than a performance one as there was no issue with the SV wheels. The rear is still a 160 tyre (the same as the 400s) and the rear brake caliper is again mounted on top of the rear brake disc (the carby is mounted underneath). The disc itself is 20mm larger in diameter than the SV standard disc which means that the brake caliper can be mounted slightly higher above the swingarm. This may make for harder changing of wheels when on your own due to less space (disc to rim) although you would expect an improvement in brake effectiveness from the larger disc.
Neither Suzuki nor I think that the rear wheel on the Gladius will be interchangeable with the SVs, which means that, for racing, this is a third set of callipers, brake discs, sprockets, spindles, spacers and swingarms to add to the Suzuki MiniTwin collection. However, the front may work as it has the same calliper bolt and spindle points. One of the benefits of having the same bike is borrowing parts when it all goes wrong. Suzuki seem to play around with these things a lot (particularly the rear wheel), which makes the racing side of things divided: the carby riders vs the fuel injected riders and now also vs the Gladius riders. Amusingly, this division continues into the class itself and the carbies are becoming fewer and fewer, much to my dismay, as they can still cut it at the pointy end, despite being 10 or 11 years older!
So although the SV is still a very popular choice for racers on a budget as the new kid in the club racing paddocks the Gladius has a long and well-tested heritage and I can’t see any reason why it shouldn’t become the natural successor to the SV in due course.