It’s been over 18 months since the LAMS regs came in, allowing those on a Learner Licence to ride bikes up to 660cc (with certain provisos). Closely based on the Australian LAMS scheme, the new regulations offer plenty of options when choosing a learner bike. Especially as many manufacturers restrict or retune existing bikes to fit the LAMS power-to-weight limit of 150kW/tonne.

But what are these modified machines like to ride? Are they breathless, underpowered plodders or can you actually enjoy riding them?

We’ll be looking at several bikes in the class, but first off the blocks is Suzuki’s SFV650U LAMS-spec Gladius. It’s a good place to start for many reasons, not the least of which is the base bike’s easy-going nature. 

The Gladius of course was developed from the SV650. The SV acquired an almost cult status for pleasing all sorts of riders. It had enough go and handling to keep the experienced interested, while proving distinctly welcoming to the less confident.

Suspension is adjustable for preload only

Suspension is adjustable for preload only

Same but different

The SV650 was a tough act to follow and the current Gladius, launched in 2009, didn’t mess much with the recipe. The LAMS version is identical to the full-power SFV650 apart from a detuned ECU. It has the same low seat height that has attracted so many female riders. The same perfect fueling. The same light, silky action of the throttle, clutch and gearbox. All traits that make the bike easy to warm to and that build confidence.

Of course neither the SV nor the later Gladius are perfect. Suspension adjustment is confined to preload while the damping struggles with a combination of heavier rider, bumpy surface and hard riding. The brakes have more feel than before but still need a good squeeze. And the Dunlop Qualifier tyres, while way better than the old SV’s D220s, are far from top drawer today. For learner riders these are not major drawbacks. But the lack of ABS, on either Gladius, is surely a missed opportunity. (It’s standard on LAMS and regular versions of the more expensive V-Strom 650.)

For good or ill, then, the only difference is in the engine department.

Twin-pot brakes are okay but need a strong squeeze

Twin-pot brakes are okay but need a strong squeeze

Top twins

Suzuki’s 650 V-twin has always been a peach of a motor, with a combination of strong torque, an unexpected desire to rev and a gutsy sound track. For the Gladius it was honed further, with a silky smoothness to the delivery that detracted nothing from its character.

So how would the LAMS-spec tampering affect it? On paper, the signals were mixed. Suzuki have been extremely coy about power figures for all their LAMS spec bikes. Rumour had it that Australia and New Zealand were importing the European A2-licence bike, detuned to 33 hp or 25kW. And the only dyno test we could find showed exactly that. It didn’t sound like much, when LAMS would allow nearly 44kW, or close to 59hp, for the 202 kg Suzuki.

But the reality is an eye-opener. Even if the power is choked off that much, it doesn’t feel like it. As the mantra goes, it’s torque not power that counts in road riding. And low-end torque is in plentiful supply from Suzuki’s 650 V-twin, even in LAMS tune. You can confidently pull up at the lights in front of a traffic queue, able to zip away as quickly as any mid-capacity motorcycle.

Not does the the LAMS-spec bike lack thrust at motorway speeds. Open the throttle, in sixth gear, and the bike surges forward.

The sheer amount of go available from the detuned bike is surprising. It might not be a top choice for a track day, but in everyday riding there’s no lack of performance.

Clocks include gear position indicator, another plus for learners.

Clocks include gear position indicator, another plus for learners.

Verdict

In many ways, Suzuki’s Gladius was always going to be a great basis for a LAMS-modified bike. Pretty much everything, from the light and smooth controls to the low seat, inspires immediate confidence. It’s practical, with a riding position that offers excellent visibility and control, plus a comfy perch. (Though long-legged riders may find the short reach between seat and pegs makes for a literal pain in the bum.) It comes right down to things like the mirrors, surely some of the clearest you’ll find on any motorcycle.

What stands out about the LAMS version is how Suzuki has reduced the power output while retaining the bike’s essential character and appeal. There’s no struggle to gain speed at higher revs or in higher gears, and the V-twin thrum is intact.

The upside of this is that, once you’ve passed your tests, you won’t feel in any hurry to flog the bike and get something bigger. Certainly not if you use it for zipping around the city or commuting.

If this is LAMS riding, there’s a lot to like.

Specifications

Model: Suzuki Gladius SFV650U
Cost: $11,995 + on-road costs
Engine: 4-stroke, liquid-cooled, DOHC, 90° V-Twin
Capacity:  645cc
Fuel System: EFI
Transmission: 6-speed, chain drive
Seat Height: 785mm
Kerb weight: 202kg
Fuel capacity: 14.5

Pros

Light, precise controls
V-twin character and go
Reassuring Japanese origin

Cons

Budget suspension, little adjustment
Front brake power
Lack of ABS

Demonstration machine courtesy of Suzuki New Zealand and Holeshot Motorcycles.