Kawasaki ER-6N vs. Suzuki Gladius - Tickets To Ride

MC Comparison

By Ari Henning, Photography by Kevin Wing

Pull in the Gladius' light-action, cable-actuated clutch and it slips smoothly into gear--much easier than the ER-6n's sticky gearbox. Both levers on the Suzuki are reach-adjustable, but the mushy front brakes necessitate full extension to allow enough lever travel. Feel and stopping power are unsettlingly weak, and improved only slightly after bleeding the fluid--blame the OE rubber lines. The ER's setup is much more effective: Initial bite is vague, but once engaged the brakes offer good feedback and plenty of power.

Anything above 3000 rpm on the bar-graph tachometer means the ER is ready for business, spooling up quickly with a healthy bottom-end hit that's just shy of the Gladius'. Power tapers off slightly in the middle revs, but keep the Kawi spinning between 8000 and its 11,000-rpm redline and it feels like a proper sportbike. Its propensity for revs means a downshift or two before passing, whereas the Suzuki is eager to oblige no matter where the tach needle lies.

If you're determined to know your speed on the ER, you'll have to lean in and squint. The numbers on the analog speedo are tiny and closely spaced--a real pain to read. The Gladius takes a more humane approach with a digital speedometer and large analog tach. A full array of warning lights and a gear indicator are thoughtful additions greenhorns will surely appreciate.

Opening the ER's throttle yields smooth, uninterrupted acceleration in all six gears. Transitioning from off- to on-throttle is seamless, giving the engine an electric fluidity. The Gladius, on the other hand, suffers from an abruptness that throws the whole chassis into a fit. Touchy fueling, its robust midrange power and strong engine braking cause a pronounced pitching motion any time the throttle is rolled back, making smooth progress in first and second gear a challenge. An undersprung and underdamped fork intensifies this problem, blowing through its 4.9 inches of travel with the slightest provocation. Apply the brakes and the front end dives, throwing steering geometry out of whack and leaving precious little stroke for bump absorption. Employing the rear brake pedal becomes a habit, both to supplement the feeble front brakes and to quell the see-saw movement of the chassis. Cranking up preload on the fork (non-adjustable on the ER) and shock does little to improve matters.

Despite its simplicity, the Kawasaki's suspension is pretty close to good. The fork and shock offer a nice compromise between highway-plush and twisties-firm, with spring and damping settings well suited to riders in the 160- to 180-pound range. The ER-6n's light handling encourages you to seek out fast winding roads. It carves through corners with ease, assisted by a low center of gravity and a wheelbase that's a full 3.5 inches shorter than that of the Gladius. Responsive 120/70 front and 160/60 rear tires on both bikes aid rapid direction changes, but only the ER-6n is able to take full advantage of their potential.

Build quality and finish are first-rate for sub-$7K bikes. The Kawasaki's controls are smooth and snug with no slop, and the Candy Plasma Blue paint (the one color it's offered in) is flawless. The only places the bean-counters' influence is obvious are the instruments and mirrors--an unfortunate choice considering they're the rider's center of attention. The dash displays more textured plastic than information, and while the mirrors are unaffected by vibration, their wavy glass renders a clear view of a warped image. Similarly, Suzuki opted for inexpensive plastic wherever possible, pumping the sparkly stuff into molds to create shrouds for the frame and radiator. Pry them off and you'll wonder why the designers wasted their time; the frame junctions are beautiful architecturally, and the radiator reminds riders that they're on a motorcycle, not a Big Wheel.

Even though it's down on power, the ER-6n's smooth motor makes it more enjoyable and easier to ride than the Gladius. Better brakes and functional suspension mean it's more fun in the canyons, too, and will keep progressing riders entertained longer. The Suzuki is cushier and has a more charismatic engine, but unless you're smitten by its appearance, it has too many deficiencies to make it the winner here. Take into account that it costs $500 more--money to put toward riding gear or an exhaust system to close the power gap--and it's clear the Kawasaki wins this shootout.

Off The Record
Ari Henning
Age: 24 Height: 5'10" Weight: 175 lbs. Inseam: 33 in.

The Gladius is embarrassing. Have you looked at its website, www.gladiusstyle.com? As an SV650 owner, I'm distraught to see the direction Suzuki went with the Gladius, and the fact that it replaces the SV650N in the 2009 lineup ...well, that just pisses me off! If I had to choose one of these two bikes, I'd go with the ER-6n hands-down. It's a great do-it-all motorcycle, and that mean streetfighter look gives it some valuable street cred.

But. If I was given $7000 with which to purchase a beginner's bike, I'd go straight to Craigslist and pick up one of the myriad two- and three-year-old SV650N's being unloaded for $3500. I'd put the rest toward a GSX-R front-end conversion, an upgraded shock and an exhaust, and end up with the kickass bike Suzuki should have built instead of this homo-erotic metro-cycle.

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