2008 Suzuki RM-Z450 Comparison

JC Hilderbrand | April 9, 2008
2008 Suzuki RM-Z450
Everyone was anxious to get ahold of the new RM-Z450, and for good reason. The new Suzuki bristles with fancy technology and it isn’t just for show.

2008 Suzuki RM-Z450

Rank: Second
Categories Won: Ergos/Comfort/Controls (tie)
Best Feature: Fuel Injection/Aluminum Tank
MSRP: $7199

The Suzuki is easily the most surprising machine of our test. Not only was it the most hyped and anticipated, not to mention hardest to acquire, but a solid second-place finish is a huge step forward for the Zook in the MotoUSA shootout rankings. How did the yellow engineers manage to do this? By doing a fine job of achieving their overriding goal: “Make the model more suitable for MX users seeking fun weekend rides.”

As much as we’d all like to think of ourselves as hard-core racers, truth is a fun weekend of riding is really about all any of us can hope for in our pathetic little lives. That being said, Suzuki did a smashing job of making a bike that can provide that for most people who ride. It accomplished this feat by focusing on three areas: fuel injection, five-speed transmission and a new aluminum chassis.

The ergonomic package suited most our riders very well and each notepad was rife with comments about how slender and narrow the chassis is.
The ergonomic package suited most of our riders very well and each notepad was rife with comments about how slender and narrow the chassis is.

We’ll start with the motor since everyone and their uncle wants to know about the fuel injection. Initially we were concerned that the Keihin system might feel like an on/off switch, but a progressive link allows for confident, smooth throttle negotiation at low rpm. What the bike does do off the bottom is start pulling with incredible torque and tractability. The RM-Z is super-easy to navigate through slick, dry corners thanks to the lack of surge and extreme rear-wheel hook-up. With the FI, engineers were able to utilize a longer and straighter intake port to further aid the instantaneous throttle response.

Even though Suzuki is careful to point out that it was aiming for “riding feel and rider-friendly character rather than on absolute power output figures,” the RM-Z is right in the mix with all except the mighty Honda, which it trails by about three ponies. Regardless, over 45 HP is nothing if not respectable, and 30 lf-ft of torque is equally competitive. However, the difference between the Japanese motors is how that power is delivered. One look at the torque curve graph and it’s clear that Suzuki understands the term “rider-friendly.”

One rider went so far as to call it “as bland as your grandma’s tuna casserole.” That probably makes it sound a little worse than it truly is. After all, how bland can a 450 really be? You can see how riders accustomed to smash-mouth delivery are somewhat deceived by how fast this motor is. Before you write it off, just remember that you’ll probably get a lot farther on a belly full of casserole than a hearty meal of Rockstar and donuts. Bland can be good.

The hot-start lever has been relocated to the right handlebar to give riders’ left hand one less thing to worry about during a re-start. Some testers liked it and others didn’t, but mostly it was insignificant. Our crew was more concerned about getting the motor ignited at all. The RM-Z was clearly the most difficult to start throughout our test. It’s especially unwilling to start in gear, which makes re-starting a real chore. It was explained by Suzuki technicians that the first kick is designed to charge the battery-less fuel pump, and the second kick should start the motor. We had some experience with the motor firing on the premier swipe, but the vast majority of attempts required plenty of right-legged action.

Suzuki did a great job of getting as wide a spread possible with its suspension settings. The only thing holding it back was a little refinement in the action.
Suzuki did a great job of getting as wide a spread possible with its suspension settings. The only thing holding it back was a little refinement in the action.

Instead of the four-speed, moto-only transmission that has become the norm on Suzuki’s four-fifties, the 2008 uses an additional cog to close up the ratios and add some extra leg room. All of our testers loved rowing the gearbox with hardly a single report of missed shifts. The same can’t be said, however, about finding neutral, a tradeoff for all that slick gear-changing action. A buttery-smooth and ultra-light clutch also received high marks. Considering that the bike doesn’t like to be in gear while starting, the troublesome neutral is the sole reason why it came up short of the Honda by one point in the transmission/clutch/gearing portion of the test.

Where it didn’t come up short was in the ergonomics/rider controls/comfort department. Despite having a seat that feels like wedging a 2×4 up your ass, the Suzuki surpasses this shortcoming to tie for first with incredible ergonomics. The all-new twin-spar chassis is ridiculously thin yet provides a ton of area for grip. All of our testers mentioned ease of movement and a skinny rider layout as some of the best features on the machine. Engineers fiddled with the rigidity/flexibility blend of the alloy chassis by reducing the size of the tank rails and body brackets, but beefed up the lower engine cradle tube, and the result is a very comfortable, competent ride. The bike feels pretty stiff but doesn’t hammer its rider. The Zook’s handling is directly impacted and every tester was reporting razor-sharp feedback, though high-speed twitch cropped up now and then. Steering geometry hasn’t changed from ’07 and the 25 degrees of rake is still the sharpest head angle in the group.

Styling on the new Suzook is sharp and angular as usual. Yellow bikes always look a little different than the other Japanese OEMs.
Styling on the new Suzook is sharp and angular as usual. Yellow bikes always look a little different than the other Japanese OEMs.

One of the best ways to describe the Suzuki’s suspension components is as a blend of the Honda’s bottoming resistance and the Yamaha’s plushness. However, though it sounds perfect, there’s something lost in combining the best of both worlds. The Suzuki doesn’t have the polished feel in either its fork or shock. Action moves too quickly for some and leaves others with a sense of twitchiness, something we do remember from years past. Still, having some of that Yamaha’s forgiveness is something that Kawasaki and Honda cannot claim, and it was a major selling point for our testers.

Kawasaki might get the nod for best looking, but the Suzuki is easily the most provocative of the group. To make the fuel injection work efficiently an aluminum fuel tank is required. The pump is mounted inside the tank where it needs a metal surface to seal correctly. At only 1.6-gallon capacity, the 12-hole injector and redesigned combustion chamber make for an efficient burn ratio. We weren’t able to discern mileage, but we did notice that the Suzuki needed refueling about as often as the other machines with their 1.8- and 1.9-gallon tanks, indicating slightly better economy.

Aside from the shiny tank, the RM-Z also gets a new look with redesigned bodywork and a new color scheme. The blue section of radiator shroud and seat cover is almost purple, which we think looks pretty wicked. The new front fender takes a little getting used to, but by the end of our first day we were hooked on the different, edgy style all around.

Everyone was anxious to get ahold of the new RM-Z450  and for good reason. The new Suzuki bristles with fancy technology and it isn t just for show.
Suzuki came charging into 2008, albeit late, with a whole slew of new technology. Our test group loved this rendition of the big RM-Z more than any from years past.

Put it all together and it’s definitely nice to see the RM-Z break out of its mold in 2008. We can’t stress enough that rider-friendly does not equate to slow. Most people will go faster with this type of power which is always there, comes on immediately and won’t kill you. All the changes are not only good for winning motocross races, but the extra room in the transmission and rideability all have great implications for converting this bike off-road. As it is, the new RM-Z450 is very good at dishing out a fun weekend ride.

Rider Rants

Alvin Zalamea:
The fuel injection was the most exciting part of this test. I loved it from my first impression. It is so precise and easy to ride. The power isn’t arm-wrenching, but if ridden correctly I bet lap times would be a lot faster than the others. I jumped this bike onto the flattest landings and never felt a bog. I hope this is the future of MX bikes and if so I can’t wait to have one.

JC Hilderbrand:
This doesn’t feel anything like the old Suzuki RM-Z450. The motor was absolutely the best for me and I was really surprised how small and nimble the bike felt. Of all the machines this one felt the most like a 250F – and that’s a good thing. I know Suzuki can’t admit it, but the off-road potential is even greater in my mind. This bike opens a ton of doors for the company, and they scooped all the major players with the FI which is pretty cool.

Adam Waheed:
The Suzuki was the sharpest handling bike. It turned the quickest and had the most front-end bite. It seemed to hunt down and carve through ruts the best. The chassis felt the most compact of the four bikes in terms of both length and width and its weight seemed to be very centralized.

Overall I felt the most comfortable aboard the Suzuki. Its controls are located the most naturally and despite the bike’s compact feeling, I didn’t feel cramped while riding. However, the shift lever felt too short and even though RC (Ricky Carmichael) likes his hot start on the throttle side, I still like mine next to the clutch lever. The larger foot pegs are a nice touch, but the Yamaha proves they could be even wider.


JC Hilderbrand

Off-Road Editor| Articles | Hilde is holding down the fort at MotoUSA’s Southern Oregon HQ. With world-class dirt bike and ATV trails just minutes away, the hardest part is getting him to focus on the keyboard. Two wheels or four, it doesn’t matter to our Off-Road Editor so long as it goes like hell in the dirt.

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