These two beauties have a lot in common. Aimed at beginners, they both use mild-mannered, 650cc twin-cylinder engines packaged in light-handling chassis. Power and weight are in the same ballpark, as is price: just $6399 for Kawasaki's ER-6n and $6899 for Suzuki's Gladius. On paper, the two are almost indistinguishable. Stray from the spec sheets, however, and the differences start to overshadow the similarities.
It's easy to recognize the Suzuki's engine and the Kawasaki's side-mounted shock and swingarm. After all, the Gladius is a flamboyant replacement for the venerable naked SV650 (the sportier SV650SF remains in the lineup), while the ER-6n is the scrappy alter ego of the fully faired Ninja 650R. Each shares a long list of parts with its predecessor, but both convey entirely different attitudes.
Big 300mm petal rotors and stiffer brake lines help the ER-6n shed speed better than the G
Aimed at fashion-forward neophytes, the Gladius oozes Euro chic with its shapely steel-trellis frame, two-tone fuel tank and curvaceous silhouette. The ER-6n appeals to a different segment of the same demographic with a sporty, muscular character rendered by Kawasaki's signature petal rotors and angular, windswept bodywork. An exotic under-engine exhaust and chin spoiler complete the streetfighter look.
The Gladius' frame, bodywork and cool five-spoke wheels are all new, and the 645cc DOHC mill that powers it has received some crucial updates. Bore and stroke remain unchanged at 81.0 x 62.6mm, but minor revisions to the gearbox, crank, cams and fuel-injection mapping accentuate the V-twin feel and improve power, raising output to 66.8 horsepower at 8500 rpm (up from the SV's 64.6 bhp at 9000 rpm). Two iridium spark plugs per cylinder and extra-fine-atomizing injectors clean up emissions--enough so that there's no need for a secondary air-injection system.
ER-6n thrust comes from a compact powerplant pulled directly off the Ninja 650 assembly line, and produces a modest 62.6 bhp at 8500 rpm. While the Gladius splays its cylinders at 90 degrees, the ER runs them parallel in a near-vertical format, with a cover hiding the CARB-mandated charcoal canister mounted to the left cylinder.
Steeper rake and less trail give the ER-6n quicker, more responsive handling. Its small en
Adjusting spring preload on the ER-6n's Kayaba shock is easy thanks to the exposed collar.
Start the Gladius and the blacked-out and chrome-covered muffler rewards the rider with a throaty, albeit quiet, rumble. The 6n's exhaust, forced through a three-way catalyzer before exiting below the rider's right heel, emits a faint, throbbing hum. A gear-driven counterbalancer and rubber upper engine mounts quell vibration from the ER's parallel-twin, although there is an audible resonance from somewhere behind the radiator cowls when backing off the throttle or downshifting. Engine vibration goes unnoticed on the Gladius until the tach needle passes 7000 rpm, at which point things get annoyingly buzzy.
The ER-6n's parallel-twin is the most compact motor in its class. Updates for the 2009 Nin
The Suzuki's scooped seat--with color-accented upholstery--is just 30.9 inches from the pavement and narrows toward the front to help shorter folks flat-foot it at stoplights. The Kawasaki is similarly inviting to those bereft of inseam length, situating its generously padded saddle a scant 29.7 inches above ground. But while the ER's lower seat and Ninja-high pegs accommodate shorter riders, they also limit legroom, folding the limbs of anyone north of the 6-foot mark.
At low speeds, both bikes are well balanced and surefooted. Nailing crawling-speed, tight-radius turns--like the all-important figure-8 at the DMV--without dabbing is a cinch thanks to ultra-wide steering sweep and keel-like stability. The reach to the bars is relaxed and comfortable, with next-to-no weight carried by the wrists. Newbies seeking a welcoming seating position will be pleased astride either bike.
Roll onto the freeway, however, and the upright ergonomics become problematic. With no wind protection, speeds above 70 mph buffet your helmet and strain your arms. The Suzuki's more forward-canted riding position is better suited to counter headwinds, and adding the accessory "meter visor" should further improve high-speed comfort. Although the Gladius' gas tank holds .2-gallon less regular unleaded than the ER's, better fuel economy means it nets the same 150 miles per tankful.
Off The Record
Age: 27 Height: 5'10" Weight: 140 lbs. Inseam: 33.5 in.
The Gladius is more sewing machine than machine gun, with an engine that barely out-hums a Prius. The low seat height will be popular with the shorter/beginner crowd, and the design, while plasticky, is pretty. On the downside, if your commute to work is more than an hour, your butt will throb like you've been riding a birchwood 2x4, end up. Some people might like that.
The ER-6n feels more like a real motorcycle, with engineering muscle put behind its performance rather than its pretty face. I'll admit now that I'm a fan of the funky and international, so the Euro streetfighter-inspired faade is all good in my book. Plus the Kawi's acceleration and braking are more powerful and precise than Suzi's. Big K's little ER-6n wins the spot in my garage. If I had a garage...