2011 Suzuki RM-Z250 Comparison

JC Hilderbrand | February 21, 2011

Suzuki missed out on our 2010 shootout; or rather we missed out on the RM-Z. The 2010 bike saw suspension and engine changes that made it a highly anticipated bike. Cam timing was adjusted, intake ports freshened, crankshaft massaged and a beefier connection rod installed last year. Updates for the new season are only minor as it gets a fresh look with updated graphics and the exhaust is tuned to match the AMA’s lower noise emissions. The MSRP rises by $100 but it only takes a couple laps to know that the RM-Z is ready to fight for its place at the top of any shootout straight out of the box.

Like the Honda, this is a bike that has a great all-around package. It never scored lower than third in the subjective categories and took top scores in our data acquisition. Narrowly edging the Kawasaki in peak horsepower (36.64 HP) and a second-highest torque output give it the best combined engine score from the dyno. That rolled straight into a win for the acceleration category. The one area the Suzuki gets knocked is on the scales, and even though it feels extremely light, the digital readout came up with 223.5 pounds – almost two pounds more than the next heaviest.

Out on the track it’s apparent that the 249cc DOHC engine has the goods. Suzuki was first to the punch with production EFI and it quickly adapted the 250 with a 43mm throttle body of its own. By now it’s a well-sorted system equal to any other in terms of throttle response and fueling consistency. The RM-Z pulls even our heaviest riders up Glen Helen’s mighty hills with ease and allows for sloppy shifting with a very wide delivery. The dyno charts show that it’s comparative up through the midrange but our testers feel it’s above average in the lower half of the rpm span. Up top the Suzuki continues to pull and we praised it for the over-rev.

2011 Suzuki RM-Z250 Comparison
2011 Suzuki RM-Z250 Comparison
The Suzuki is a carver. It loves to turn inside lines or rail an outside berm.

Chassis-wise, the last batch of updates brought thicker lower frame tubes and a new swingarm. The twin-spar aluminum frame is the narrowest of the group and contributes to extremely agile flight characteristics and sharp handling on the ground. Stylish riders tried to hog the Suzuki during photo shoots because it’s a thrill to toss around. Regardless of how flat a rider can whip, anyone will appreciate the Suzuki’s handling. It has just a touch of nervousness in the front end at speed, but not nearly to the degree that it used to and it retains the ability to carve any corner inside or out.

Spring and damping rates on the 47mm Showa fork were adjusted in 2010. The Showa shock was also changed internally. As a result, our two slower riders liked the Showas the least, our intermediate loved them and our fastest guys were just lukewarm. Overall it ranked third in the suspension category and this was its lowest score in all of the subjective testing. The fork is difficult to get along with. “Harsh” is the preferred way to describe the front end and it wasn’t nearly as responsive to clicker adjustments as some of the others. We found that changes to the shock had more of an effect at softening the front. Fortunately, the shock is very good. The rear end doesn’t spring around or buck, and it handles big jump landings like butter.

When it came time to count points, Suzuki scores well in any category that has to do with its potent engine. No matter the track, the RM-Z has what it takes in the muscle department. We struggled at times with the Showa fork, but in general the Suzuki impresses everyone who throws a leg over. It topped the objective score sheet and nearly won over our riders. This year it winds up in second place by only a single point, but there’s no doubt this bike can be a winner for anyone.

2011 Suzuki RM-Z250 Rider Impressions:

Chris See – 5’10” – 160 lbs – Pro

2011 Suzuki RM-Z250 Comparison
2011 Suzuki RM-Z250 Comparison
The RM-Z was a favorite for photo shoots because it is so easy to handle in the air.

This is the bike I spent a lot of time on in my small-bike career, and as Ryan Dungey would say I was “Super Pumped!” to ride this one. The Suzuki crew softened the compression and slowed down the rebound on the rear end and it was much, much better. The fork on the RM-Z is very harsh in the mid-stroke and I was puzzled whether to go stiffer or softer because it seemed whatever way I went it still had that harshness. If the bike was mine I would make the initial part of the stroke way stiffer because I think the forks are blowing through the first part and creating a hydraulic lock in the middle of the stroke. As for the rear end of the bike, it works splendidly.

The engine on this machine feels as if the factory team had their fingers around it before being brought out to the track. I don’t have one bad thing to say about the powerplant on this machine. I will say that the clutch fades at the end of a long moto and so it gets a little bit harder to shift, but the Suzuki won my heart at this test and came home with my first-place vote.

Brian Chamberlain – 6’0 – 190 lbs – Vet B
For me the Suzuki was one of those bikes that does everything pretty well, but doesn’t really stand out in any one area. If there’s one particular aspect where the RM-Z starts to shine, it is the motor. Power delivery is so smooth and linear that it almost felt slow. Once you compare it back-to-back, though, or even in a side-by-side drag, you realize that the RM-Z makes some good horsepower, especially up top.

The fork was a little harsh initially and we made some compression adjustments to get it more in line with how the Honda soaks up the bumps. The shock takes big hits well, but it needs a bit of rebound adjustment to get it to settle down in the braking bumps. At the end of the day it wasn’t too far off, but still not at the comfort level I found on some of the other bikes.

Kyle Lewis – 5’10” – 180 lbs – Vet Pro
This bike has power all the way through – good hit with ok midrange and good top-end. The spacing in the transmission is a good match for the engine. The front end is a little harsh and twitchy, but the shock feels fine. Tight cornering was easy but high speed cornering felt a little unstable. If I have to be picky I would like a little stronger rear brake, but the ride position is comfortable for my size and the way I move around on the bike.

JC Hilderbrand – 5’11” – 177 lbs – Novice
The Suzuki is the most unique ergonomically. It’s noticeable right away that you sit on top of the bike with a very firm and flat seat. I really like the sensation and combined with the slender chassis makes it feel tall and narrow. This works well for me and it’s amazing how well the Suzuki turns. The only problem with the handling comes from the suspension. Generally the whole thing felt too stiff but I was able to make the shock work really well. The fork, on the other hand, is very difficult to get dialed in. I never quite got it sorted out and it’s pretty frustrating. Harshness in the fork never quite went away and I think that’s because we needed to focus on the shock more. Getting set up for corners is harder than with other bikes because the front end moves around. Fortunately, if it’s in a rut then it’s going to rail right through. I did find that the faster I ride, the better the suspension works. 

2011 Suzuki RM-Z250 Comparison
2011 Suzuki RM-Z250 Comparison
The fork held it back, but Suzuki’s shock is magic. There is minimal headshake from the front end.

The yellow bike always starts easy for me and shifting is great. I really like the clutch action and gear spacing in the transmission. This is the only bike that I didn’t want to change sprockets at some point as we moved from track to track. I still think the aluminum tank is pretty cool and the bodywork and graphics are awesome. The Suzuki consistently scored high for me across the board.

Nick Thiel – 6’1” – 175 lbs – Intermediate
I can’t say enough about the motor on this bike. It pulls like a 450 off the bottom and revs like a fully modded 250F on top. It is by far had the best motor out of all the bikes. It’s extremely easy to keep on the pipe, mainly because it makes power everywhere. The overall handling is good. It is really nimble on the faces of jumps and entering corners. I had a few small issues with mid-stroke harshness, but other than that it works great. Unlike in years past, the bike has a strong clutch. The brakes are good but the front brake is a little grabby. Overall this bike is awesome and an absolute blast to ride.

Tod Sciacqua – 5’8 – 170 lbs – Vet Expert
This bike is a big surprise, I really like it. It’s definitely right up there in the top three with a really smooth powerband and flawless acceleration. It’s lightweight and easy to flick around. When you hit jumps and feel like you want to correct in the air you can just put it right where you want it to be. It’s very easy to corner and has progressive brakes, but it’s just a little harsh on the suspension. Still, I could win races on the Suzuki.

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.