Not long ago there was a serious absence of yellow in our lives. It seemed like all of our tests and project bikes were from Honda or Kawasaki, so I put in a call to Suzuki’s off-road media mogul, Kobi Iseri, to test the waters. With most of the motocross testing done until the new models come out, this time of year is usually where we get our fix of dual-sport and enduro machines. Knowing that there aren’t any non-moto Suzuki dirt bikes other than the DR-Z400, I was curious to see what I could dig up, but wasn’t quite prepared for the answer.
“I’ve got a Josh Strang replica RM-Z450, why don’t you take that and try it out at a WORCS round or something?”
This Suzuki RM-Z450 is modeled after the latest in a long line of Suzuki off-road racers, and started life as a project for another magazine that somehow never reached its destination – a dust collector in the Brea, Calif. warehouse. FMF Factory Suzuki Off-Road has amassed 21 championships in various disciplines since forming the team in 1992. Now don’t get confused here, but you’ll notice some Charlie Mullins numbers – that was just for a photo project Suzuki was doing – but the bike is technically a Strang replica. The only differences are suspension internals which are designed for the larger Strang. Actually, there’s very little different aside from suspension on all the FMF Factory Suzuki race bikes, even from West Coast to East Coast. RG3 handles the individual suspension needs of each racer so guys racing the WORCS series typically have stiffer setups than the GNCC fellas. We ran into Jonathan Davis at the western ISDE national qualifier and probably could have swapped numbers with him in the impound area without ever being discovered. Davis raced his machine to third in the E2 class and a spot on Team USA at the Six Days in Portugal.
Official race bikes come with a dry break on the IMS fuel tank, but for our purposes it would only have been a nuisance.
Why does Suzuki use the same bike for all their racers? Mostly because they don’t have much of a choice, but with the success record, they’ve also proven that they don’t need much else. Suzuki doesn’t make an off-road 450 for the general public, and yet the FMF Factory teams are consistently at the front of races across the country. It’s arguable that the Grand National Cross Country series the premier off-road racing circuit in the nation. With both factory riders currently in the top-3 and more wins than any other squad, we figured these guys must know something about making a kick-ass enduro bike, even though it doesn’t technically exist in the product line.
As the first Japanese OEM to introduce fuel injection on their production bike, Suzuki used an aluminum fuel tank to provide a better seal for the fuel pump. Unfortunately, that super-trick tank only holds a measly 1.6 gallons. An IMS tank adds another gallon which is a must for off-road conversion. Having the extra fuel capacity is completely worth every penny, no doubt, without question, 100%. At 265 pounds tank full, this is actually light for an off-road 450 machine, and not considerably more than the stock motocross version (250 lbs).
Extra fuel is partly responsible, but the bike is also beefed up for the expected but unpredictable abuse of off-road racing. Guards, braces and protectors cover the bike with no room for error in lengthy, brutal racing. Works Connection uses a one-piece aluminum skidplate with the case and water-pump guards welded on. They also provide radiator braces to keep the cooling fins straight. Acerbis Uniko hand guards are absolutely awesome, and necessary, for banging through brush, and the Spider Evolution front disc guard is a very clean setup to protect the front brake rotor. One of our favorite pieces of armor is the T.M. Designworks chain guide and slider.
Top: Gearing proved
critical with the MX
Acerbis protects the
front brake. Bottom:
plugs and skidplate.
Even though it’s heavier than the stock machine, this bike actually feels faster. Some of that is simply the sensation of riding a motocross bike in tight quarters, but add in the FMF Q4 exhaust with MegaBomb header and shorter gearing (13/50) and this bike lurches forward with the slightest wrist movement. The gearing still feels a little tall and I would definitely have used an extra tooth on the Renthal Ultralight rear sprocket for Idaho’s terrain. The trails were mostly single track and they constantly changed elevation. Pulling second gear was more difficult here with the fear of stalling being more prominent due to the RM-Z’s hard-starting attitude.
The motor definitely likes its hot start – which we like too since it’s now incorporated with the Works Connection rotator clamp. However, despite our efforts to discover some secret trick, the only thing we realized is that you had better be in neutral to expect a quick start. Our test riders complained about the Suzuki’s stubbornness in the 2009 450 Motocross Comparison where some other EFI bikes were more willing to light. It’s a tough choice, but ask us when we’re halfway through an eight-hour enduro and we’d easily take the extra weight of electric-start. If there’s something we can’t get enough of it’s the fuel injection. A 450 can be overbearing, but Suzuki makes one of the smoothest, most controllable power deliveries on the market. There’s no big surge anywhere, but lots of torque and power everywhere. It’s instant and it’s abundant. We also never had to worry about messing with jetting – the bike ran as good at 7000 feet in Idaho as it does in Oregon at 2500 ft.
The bike is, after all, a race machine, and Suzuki expects it to see some green and checkered flags. Not wanting to disappoint, the idea was to hit as many types of racing as possible with WORCS and the Idaho City Qualifier being the primary targets. So far we’ve hit half of the mark with the trip to Idaho last month. Our next WORCS event will be in August, but we managed a District 37 enduro in SoCal plus countless trail rides to get acquainted with this hot number.
The RG3 suspension was very, very good – for all our test riders. Our crew had limited experience with RG3, but the Suzuki made believers out of them.
Riders noted a tendency for the stock Suzuki to kick around entering rough corners during the moto test. Well, just about every corner is rough on a race loop and often filled with bonus nasties like imbedded rocks, roots or even full-on logs. I’m very close to Strang’s physical dimensions, but nowhere near his speed and talent. Regardless, the RG3-tuned Showas felt personally tailored for a B-level magazine editor. “Controlled” is the best word to describe the fork and shock. With roughly 30-plus hours of seat time already, we can probably use one hand to count the number of times it’s done something weird. The result is total confidence and the ability to push harder for longer. We wound up taking the bone-stock RM-Z450 home after the 2007 and 2008 shootouts, so we’ve had plenty of experience with standard moto suspension – not good. Now we’re riding the same trails and it’s an entirely different story.
The rear end never hops, nor does it squat under power or skip around during acceleration – so we left it alone entirely. Up front, we turned the compression both ways but eventually settled on three out from Strang’s baseline. Once there we tried slowing the rebound just a tad but the fork starts to stay down in the stroke so it went back to standard. We’ve basically been happy all the way around. From mid-level riders to vet pros, the unanimous decision is that RG3 has the Suzuki 450 completely dialed.
We promptly smashed this linkage into a cement block, but it took that beating and more while keeping the RM-Z clawing forward.
RG3 also provides the linkage which we credit for much of the added traction from the rear end. The team still runs a motocross-biased 19-inch rear tire, but the Dunlop 756 was grabbing for traction at all times. This is one of our favorite tires for the terrain around our southern Oregon headquarters, so we’ve had plenty of experience with it. One of the things it’s notorious for is how quickly it goes from awesome to crappy. Some tires wear gradually and have progressive deterioration, but the 756 seems to fall off the table. We didn’t get that with the Suzuki. Even though we could feel the rear end losing bite, the bike continued to search, and find, traction in an amazing way.
The RM-Z’s 25 degrees of rake is the sharpest in its motocross class which contributes to the Suzuki’s reputation of quick-handling performance. The same still holds true when it leaves the MX track. I adapted to it very quickly and loved the way it turned on tight trails. During the short amount of time I relinquished the bike to other testers, one had a harder time coming to terms with the front end. None of us felt headshake, but it’s so light and responsive that it likes to climb out of ruts and find its way into others, especially during technical downhills. It’s exceptionally easy to be precise, but sometimes requires more concentration to control the razor-like front wheel. The ability to ride those outside inches of trail to avoid chatter in a main line is a lifesaver. Suzuki uses RG3 20mm-offset triple clamps on their race bikes and this was the one main item that was not included on our test bike. Considering how positive the rest of the RG3 components have been, we’d be very anxious to give the fork clamps a try.
I’ve always had a personal affinity for Suzukis, often choosing them as my pick in our For My Money segments due to their easy power delivery and the natural fit ergonomically. Even with the larger tank I was still happy in the cockpit. One of the biggest surprises turned out to be the seat. RM-Z450 saddles are notoriously hard during our tests and I was convinced that this was some secret aftermarket foam. As it turns out, the only thing different is the N-style gripper cover, the rest is just a standard RM-Z seat. Once the foam breaks in it becomes much more comfortable and it provided the perfect blend of shock-absorbing comfort and supportive firmness. The cover adds plenty of traction and race-team appeal. The Idaho course was hammered after the first day, as were my legs, which meant I spent a lot of time getting familiar with the seat’s qualities. It’s easy to stand or sit on during the ride, and the only thing I didn’t like about the rider interface was the Renthal Twinwall handlebars. As a personal preference, I like 7/8-inch bars for the added flex. As a partial solution I removed the crossbar which made the oversized handlebar slightly less rigid.
A Hinson Racing clutch cover is used to disperse heat, and I must admit, after abusing the hell out of the left lever on the steep Idaho race course it was in far better shape than I expected. We actually had to adjust it more during some super-slow trail rides, but in all it has been a great clutch, and the cover refuses to scratch or dull. Other aesthetic trinkets include a pile of Works Connection and Zip-Ty Racing engine plugs, brake reservoir caps and quick-adjust wheel spacers. Yellow CV4 radiator hoses are my favorite visual upgrade along with the N-Style FMF Makita Suzuki team graphics kit – super dope. Riding with the Mullins numbers and backgrounds is a serious attention-getter.
Considering our big complaints are items that are typically removed from racing enduros anyway and you’ve got a pretty good idea how damn good this bike is. It’s the best one I’ve ridden yet, and it didn’t even have all the official team parts. Suzuki didn’t want us to change anything because it’s a replica, understandably, but if we could convince any companies to jump on the bandwagon it would be Rekluse. A steering damper might help calm any concerns about the light front end and GPR is a team sponsor, but our bike didn’t have anything. As for the Rekluse, well, we don’t know why any off-road rider wouldn’t want the z-Start Pro model.
- Fuel injection!!!
- 93 decebels
- Razor handling
- Extra fuel capacity
- No-excuse suspension
- Hard starting
- No Kickstand
- We have to give it back
As far as durability goes, we’ve only had one fork seal go out. A few scratches, worn graphics and a busted radiator shroud are all normal wear and tear. Thankfully we’ve got another couple months with the RM-Z and will be able to keep hammering it as much as possible. Some bikes get into our garage and wind up with less run time than we’d like due to travel, work deadlines and any number of pathetic reasons that come up in everyday life. But, if anything, we’ve found more excuses to get out and ride this Suzuki than any other. When something comes up, we just take it along. The coming months will bring hotter temps and worse off-road conditions. Perhaps the dusty trails will drive us back to the RM-Z’s roots and onto the motocross track. It wouldn’t be a bad thing considering the WORCS race will definitely feature some moto sections and I’d like to see how versatile this off-road race weapon can be.