What a difference a year makes. The 2008 Suzuki RM-Z250 went from fourth in our ’07 test to battling for the shootout win this year.
2008 Suzuki RM-Z250
It almost pulled a spectacular worst-to-first, but the Suzuki couldn’t overcome one of its 2008 competitors. Even still, we thought the reworked RM-Z250 had the potential to run at the front of our shootout after our First Ride . Well, (little pat on the back) we were right about that, and all of our testers are mightily impressed with the new Suzook.
Our pro rider could have used a little extra grunt down low, especially in the tighter confines of Starwest, but he was countered by our vet, Sun, who enjoyed the delivery off the bottom. “Suzuki’s strong bottom to mid power combined with firm suspension settings placed the RM-Z a close second (overall),” he says.
However, the one constant theme repeated by all of our testers was the excellent midrange offered by the 249cc DOHC mill. Some of our riders shifted in the lower rpm and others liked to stretch the upper limits, but everyone commented on how well the Z250 pulls through the heart of its rev range. A look at the dyno charts proves that the over-rev capabilities are actually one of the stronger attributes of the motor. Only the Honda produces more power from about 11K rpm, but even then the curves are very comparable. Aside from the Yamaha’s peak at 12,000, the Suzuki churns out its best HP numbers at least 600 rpm higher than the Honda or Kawasaki. Our torque graph reiterated the gear-stretching prowess of the RM-Z.
Leaving the little Z a gear low heading up the long Cahuilla hills was perfectly normal, but the sweet transmission along with the lightest clutch pull on the five-speed gearbox was a tempting reason to start rowing. The Honda barely nudged the Yellow machine in this category, and the likely reason was a very small gap for neutral. That was a great thing on the track, but it’s a real bitch to find neutral in the pits, during loading or after a stall on the course. Still, we’ll take the excellent gear ratios and ease of use on the track any day.
Some of our riders were happy with the layout and others weren’t quite as well suited to the cockpit, but the twin-spar aluminum chassis underneath was to everyone’s liking. Our testers ranked the ergonomics and rider controls as their least favorite, in a tie with Kawasaki. However, the chassis and handling category was a high point. With three second-place votes, the only rider not to rank the RM-Z directly behind the Honda was our novice, who felt more at home on the Kawasaki. The engineers have done a great job of getting the ‘Zook’s front end to do exactly what the rider wants, a fact we picked up on during our First Ride that continued to impress during the comparison. Less rigidity in the frame this year allows the 21-inch Dunlop to stick with or without ruts, even in slick corners or hardpack conditions. Once in a groove, the machine is on rails. Vet expert rider, Sun, thought it was sticky to the point where it forced the rider to use extra body positioning to keep the rear end from stepping out.
Though it never finished last in any of the rankings, our Suzuki did get dinged for its suspension. Internal valving has been stiffened this year, but the sticks are still planted and true on most obstacles. A few complaints of harshness up front held it down compared to the progressive Showas on the Honda and the Yamaha’s ultra-supple Kayabas.
All of our testers provided consistent feedback about the Suzuki, with the exception of a few minor discrepancies. In general we were all in agreement about the rooted front end, awesome midrange and killer chassis. Unfortunately, in the big picture, we were convinced that despite all it has to offer, it’s still only good enough for second on the 2008 rostrum.
“Perhaps the best thing about the Suzuki is how easy it is go ride,” says Hilderbrand. “But more importantly, it’s easy to ride quickly. Even though there are a few little things that each of us wish were different, most of them are things that can be ridden around with only minimal adaptation. Or, they can be fixed with some simple upgrades, for instance, taller or shorter handlebars to improve the ergos or final gearing for different power delivery. The important thing here is recognizing that while Suzuki’s we’ve tested in the past have been pretty blasé, this one is super fun to ride – and for good reason.”
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