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

MC Comparison

By Ari Henning, Photography by Kevin Wing

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.

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.

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 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
Kristi Martel
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...

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.

Kawasaki ER-6N | Price: $6399

Tech Spec
Engine type: l-c parallel-twinRear suspension: Single Kayaba shock with adjustable spring preloadMeasured horsepower:62.6 bhp @ 8500 rpm
Valve train: DOHC, 8vFront brake: Dual two-piston Tokico calipers, 300mm petal discsMeasured torque: 43.4 lb.-ft. @ 7000 rpm
Displacement: 649ccRear brake: Single-piston Tokico caliper, 220mm petal discCorrected 1/4-mile: 12.17 sec. @ 107.82 mph
Bore x stroke: 83.0 x 60.0mmFront tire: 120/70 ZR-17 Dunlop Sportmax RoadsmartTop-gear roll-on:4.46 sec.
Compression: 11.3:1Rear tire: 160/60 ZR-17 Dunlop Sportmax RoadsmartFuel mileage (high/low/avg.): 47/37/40 mpg
Fuel system: EFIRake/trail: 24.5 deg./4.0 in.Colors: Candy Plasma Blue
Clutch: Wet, multi-plateSeat height: 29.7 inAvailability: Now
Transmission: 6-speedWheelbase: 55.3 in.Warranty: 12 mo., unlimited mi.
Frame: Tubular-steel semi-double cradleFuel capacity: 4.1 gal.Contact:
Kawasaki Motor Corp.
9950 Jeronimo Rd.
Irvine, CA 92618
949.770.0400
www.kawasaki.com
Front suspension: 43mm inverted cartridge forkWeight (tank full/empty): 448/423 lbs.

Dyno
The ER-6n doesn't start breathing efficiently until 6000 rpm, but after that it builds power in a hurry before peaking at 8500 rpm. That downward slope after 9000 rpm is misleading; the ER feels strongest near redline and begs to be revved high.

Ergos
Shorter riders rejoice: The ER-6n is welcoming with a low seat and narrow handlebars. The 17.6-inch distance between that plush seat and those footpegs is good for sub-6-footers, but anyone taller will feel cramped.

Suzuki Gladius | Price: $6899

Tech Spec
Engine type: l-c 90-deg. V-twinRear suspension: Single Showa shock with adjustable spring preloadMeasured horsepower:66.8 bhp @ 8500 rpm
Valve train: DOHC, 8vFront brake: Dual two-piston Tokico calipers, 290mm discsMeasured torque: 44.0 lb.-ft. @ 6250 rpm
Displacement: 645ccRear brake: Single-piston Nissin caliper, 240mm discCorrected 1/4-mile: 12.14 sec. @ 105.94 mph
Bore x stroke: 81.0 x 62.6mmFront tire: 120/70 ZR-17 Dunlop Sportmax QualifierTop-gear roll-on:4.82 sec.
Compression: 11.5:1Rear tire: 160/60 ZR-17 Dunlop Sportmax QualifierFuel mileage (high/low/avg.): 51/39/46 mpg
Fuel system: EFIRake/trail: 24.0 deg./4.1 in.Colors: Pearl Nebular Black, Metallic Triton Blue/Glass Splash White
Clutch: Wet, multi-plateSeat height: 30.9 in.Availability: Now
Transmission: 6-speedWheelbase: 56.9 in.Warranty: 12 mo., unlimited mi.
Frame: Tubular-steel trellisFuel capacity: 3.8 gal.Contact:
American Suzuki Motor Corp.
P.O. Box 1100
Brea, CA 92822
714.572.1490
www.suzukicycles.com
Front suspension: 41mm Showa telescopic fork with adjustable spring preloadWeight (tank full/empty): 447/424 lbs.

Dyno
The Gladius' engine updates come into play right off idle with a solid hit of stoplight-dispatching torque. Peak power is up 2.2 ponies and 3.0 lb.-ft. from the SV650, but the biggest gains are in the midrange: 7 bhp at 6500 rpm.

Ergos
An additional 1.5 inches of bar rise and an extra inch of legroom make the Gladius significantly more comfortable than the ER-6n for taller riders. A little forward lean helps brace against the wind, making it better on the freeway, too.

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