x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Suzuki hopes Roman sword can slay Ducati's Monster

Never mind that Suzuki's newest middleweight V-twin has a slightly fey name, its moniker referring to a short, stubby little sword favoured by Roman soldiers.

The Suzuki Gladius is positioned against Ducati's Monster.
The Suzuki Gladius is positioned against Ducati's Monster.

Never mind that Suzuki's newest middleweight V-twin has a slightly fey name, its moniker referring to a short, stubby little sword favoured by Roman soldiers. It's a little pretentious, though no more so than Ducati calling its naked bikes Monster when, in fact, the base version is but a mere 695cc. Similarly, ignore, just for a moment longer, that the Gladius is, by any estimation, extremely "well put together" in the same way that, say, Jennifer Aniston cleans up well. The newest Suzook is very easy on the eyes.

But that's not the core of the Gladius. Nope, what you really need to know is that the new Gladius is based on Suzuki's enormously successful SV650, the quintessential beginner's bike that also doubles as everything from a touring mount to a quasi-serious racebike. Originally sold as a runabout of modest performance and expense for those who had outgrown their first motorcycle, Suzuki's 645cc V-twin quickly found a following amongst the sporty set who found that, with the simple addition of a performance exhaust system and some relatively easy suspension fiddling, the little Suzuki could seriously intimidate supposedly more sporting machinery.

The one charge levelled at the SV, however, is that of pedestrian styling. Whether outfitted with a fairing or naked, the basic SV is the epitome of blandness. So, for this year, the SV lineup grows to include the European-flavoured Gladius. Very much Suzuki's take on Ducati's Monster, the Gladius's design was penned in Europe, the Japanese finally discovering that the best way to emulate their competitors is to hire some of them.

So what we have is a trellis frame à la Monster, a swoopy BMW-like headlight, sexy two-tone paint and an exhaust that looks like it was liberated from an old Bimota DB3 Mantra. Imagine the staid old SV650 as the girl next door and the Gladius as decidedly hotter Megan Fox who moves in down the street. On initial inspection, they really are that different. Underneath the skin, they are much less dissimilar. Although Suzuki claims the powerband had been extended to even lower rpm, the 645cc V-twin feels much the same. That's not a bad thing as the middleweight has plenty of power. There may "only" be 70 horsepower on tap, but they are healthy stallions and more than enough for even serious sporty riding.

Another benefit in the upgrade to sword status is that the Gladius' exhaust note sounds healthier than the weedy SV650. It's most notable on over-run and downshifting through the gears has the 650 sounding like a much bigger, and more authoritative, V-twin. Indeed, when downshifting, the Gladius doesn't sound that much different from the Buell 1125CR I happened to be testing at the same time. So too does the suspension make the grade. In fact, the Gladius' single largest performance advantage over the last SV650 I rode lies in its superior suspension. The springing, both front and rear, is stiffer and the damping seems more robust as well. I doubt either the forks or the rear damper are up to the rigours of a full-on track session, but there's plenty of control for sporty street riding. Ditto for the brakes, which feature dual 290 mm discs up front clamped by twin-piston Tokico calipers.

As the Gladius is meant as Suzuki's Monster fighter, it gets a very comfortable seating position with upright "superbike" handlebars rather than racer-like clip-ons. As well, its footpegs are rather lowish, a nod to the novices who Suzuki still sees as a core audience for the 650. The seat, which initially feels overly firm, proves reasonably comfortable, mainly because of its pleasingly-flat broad shape.

Indeed, my biggest complaint for the Gladius is that it doesn't offer Suzuki's anti-lock brake system that is such a boon to beginners and expert riders alike. Suzuki's ABS system is generally such a low-cost item that it should be at least an option. motoring@thenational.ae