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Bike Profile - Posted 9th November 2009

Royal Enfield Bullet vs Suzuki SVF650
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Dave Wooding is looking for an all-rounder. Does he go for the contemporary classic, a traditionally styled air-cooled 500cc single, or an outright modern V-twin? The choice comes down to the Sword or the Bullet...

Do you remember the scene where Indiana Jones is confronted with a showy sword-swinging adversary and Indiana just removes his gun from its holster and dispatches the assassin with a single bullet? In this case, Indies' bullet won the contest outright.

I was recently in a position where I wanted to swap one of my bikes. The choice came down to the 'all-new Enfield Classic Bullet', with the completely new EFI system, new frame and unit-construction engine, and the new Suzuki SVF 650 Gladius. The 'Gladius' was the Roman soldier's sword and the bike they named after it is embellished with various plastic bits reflecting the styling of the Roman armour. The overall effect is different, showy and quite pleasing to the most eyes.

So was it to be a Bullet or a Sword?

Over the last 50 years I have owned some 60 bikes from the humble Raleigh moped to an 1150cc BMW, of many ethnic origins and styles with all but five being ridden on the road. Originally my bikes were for economic commuting and, while I have never been a slouch on two wheels or four, in these days of retirement, my bike riding is just for pure pleasure and I prefer the traditional upright riding position. Mostly I enjoy a two hour run once or twice a week, plodding along at about 50 to 55mph with the occasional maximum speed limit burst (legal of course) to remove the cobwebs.

Being in Merseyside and only 20 miles from the beautiful Cheshire countryside, my usual run takes me along a brief stretch of motorway (fast) and expressways (not so fast) and then through Delamere forest and the country lanes to soak up the wonderful scenery all year round at a nice easy plodding pace. Like Editor Westworth, I prefer to ride alone and enjoy the same basic run immensely time after time.

So which bike to choose? I do get nostalgic and like old British bikes, having passed my test on a Triumph 3T, but prefer to enjoy a trouble-free ride rather than spending time tinkering on route. (I am actually putting an old Bantam D10 back together as time and mood permits. My last Bantam rebuild was a D1 when I made and fitted my own big end, but this was 40 years ago!).

Odd that the 'Classic' is the only new Bullet without a kickstart... 2009 Royal Enfield Bullet Classic

My local dealer from whom 27 of my bikes have come, Bridge Road Motorcycles in Blundellsands near Southport, let me have a run on the new Bullet demonstrator when it arrived and I was immediately impressed with the looks and the riding position. I have owned several Enfields old and new, but this was definitely the best one yet. I did buy the Enfield Woodsman in 2008 but quickly did a PX as it produced a loud continuous very loud 'popping' on overrun that scared the daylights out of the country animals and especially the sedate equestrian hackers. No one seemed able to cure the popping, but this new EFI never popped once in the time I rode it.

The seat was very comfortable and the height just right for my short legs. Seat height is important for me. Stopping on a camber or an uneven country lane, you want to be able to reach the ground before the angle of lean becomes too much to hold. I have had to let a few tall bikes down when in difficulties. Always an embarrassment! There are surprisingly few new bikes with low enough seats, other than cruisers!

Being brand new, the bike had no miles on it so most things were a little tight. However, it was enough to form a good impression. All the controls were smooth and (left foot) gears were easy to change, the clutch was light and neutral could be found easily while stopped. "Hurray!" There was a great feeling of it being a solid machine in the tradition of the 'Bullet' with no plastic embellishments. The engine pulled very well and the fuel injection performed smoothly. Braking was very good with the disc up front, although the drum rear had a lot of travel and was only adequate.

I recently had another run on this same bike now with 500 miles on the clock. It was a very easy bike to ride and felt as though you could chug away all day long. The 'knee' pads were positioned exactly right and were gripped with the thighs rather than the knobbly part of the knee and were very comfortable. Starting was instant from cold. From hot, the engine turned over a few times but fired up after a few seconds. With no kick-start facility on the Classic EFI, I wouldn't like to push start it. Gears were now even better and stopping was assuringly quick. Vibration was typical of a single but was at no time disconcerting. At 50 to 60mph, the vibration minimised and you could almost see what was in the mirrors. On this particular run, the right hand mirror kept swinging free and refused to tighten by hand.

I was irritated that I had taken no tools and then realised a new bike must have tools in the tool box!

Unlocking each of the two traditional triangular toolboxes revealed only either electrical stuff or the air filter. Reason suggested that the small oval shaped one must, by a process of elimination, contain the spanners. It took a while to open. Unlocking it with the key, it was not immediately obvious that the lid actually pulls right off. It's held on by grommets on two internal necked pins. It was a tight fit but finally opened to expose a compact set of sufficient tools for small jobs. Having obtained the correct spanner, the mirror was tightened up and was OK after that. It took ages to repack the tools and refit the lid but in spite of this niggle, overall, I was impressed with the Enfield. This new EFI Bullet Classic was a delightful bike to ride with good comfort, handling and a satisfying exhaust note, if you happen to like singles. I would however choose to buy a leather tool bag to hang somewhere rather than fiddle with the tiny box.

Underneath the embellishment is a good, basic bike... 2009 Suzuki Gladius

At the same time as my original ride, the new Suzuki Gladius had arrived on the scene and the write-ups were good. A local dealer had them in stock in various colours so I went and sat on one. I was smitten immediately by the looks but more so the way it seemed to have been made to fit me personally. Everything just felt right and, with the footrests positioned just a little back to produce a slightly forward lean, the hands fell naturally onto the grips. I could even reach the floor comfortably. It was for me the perfect riding position, lowish seat, handlebars that didn't need twisted wrists. The sculptured tank came right up close and when I sat with both feet on the rests, there were no gaps anywhere, it was as though it had been made to measure. It was uncanny! Never before had I sat on a bike that felt so right everywhere.

Having a V-twin engine was the icing on the cake. The power was three times that of the Bullet and all previous Suzukis I'd had were all good to ride. The Gladius was water-cooled, had discs both ends, had more instruments including a petrol gauge, clock, trip meter and possessed some 'street cred', essential with other (modern) motorcyclists.

Now it came to price! There was only a few hundred pounds difference between the Bullet and the 'Sword', in favour of the Bullet. I reasoned that the Suzuki at 300 more was much better value for money, in spite of all the plastic bits and so it all came down to what I wanted to own and ride. Having ordered a new Gladius (in red), I was then told I'd need to wait for six weeks. However, John at Bridge Road, advised of a demonstrator he could get, three months old with 400 miles on the clock, at the same price as the Enfield, would I have it? I did!

From the first moment I sat on my own Gladius and rode it away, I loved every bit of it. I felt 'at one with the bike'. On the road it was so easy to ride and although I went straight into a thunderstorm around my favourite run, it handled so predictably and assuringly that I knew I had at last found my perfect bike.

After three months and having now covered some 1500 miles on the 'Sword' and have never regretted the choice. It will pull up to silly speeds without you realising it and in fourth gear is sweet at 70mph with two gears still to go. Even though only a 650cc engine, it pulls well low down. Everything about the bike is sweet and even the (hard) seat is surprisingly good for a four hour ride. The exhaust note is satisfyingly deep but not too loud and it doesn't 'pop'. When I first came to refuel, I did a recheck, and then another, it was doing 70mpg!

Now that the bike is run in, the way I ride regularly gives me a good 150 to 160 mile tank-range at typically 60 plus mpg before the petrol light comes on. This still leaves a further 30 miles on 'low'. The Enfield might be good at 70-plus mpg but I'm smitten with the Gladius and for me, Indiana should have had a sword. Actually someone mentioned that the 'bullet bit' replaced the original scripted fight scene for the sake of humour. If cash allows, I might yet own both!

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