Just like the RM-Z250, Suzuki has decided to forgo making any significant changes to the for the 2012 model year. In a segment that is so hotly contested, resting on your laurels is a risky proposition. That being said, last year the yellow machine did pull off a second-place finish in our 2011 450 Motocross Shootout and took home two AMA #1 plates. There is no doubt the RM-Z can win races and even with zero changes to the performance this year it is still a very capable and competitive bike.
To be honest we were not expecting a press introduction for the 2012 RM-Z motocross bikes, but to our surprise Suzuki invited us out to Southern California’s Pala Raceway to put the bike through its paces. Always up for getting out of the office, we loaded up the MotoUSA Sprinter van with our gear and cameras and headed south for a day of shredding on the championship winning motocrosser.
The list of changes to the 2012 RM-Z450 can be counted on one hand, and not one of them makes a lick of difference in
The engine in the 2012 RM-Z450 is a low-end to mid-range torquer but falls a little short on the top-end on the track.
performance. So the technical presentation was a few words about the revisions made to a breather hose and the fuel pump along with bold new graphics and a red top to the seat. With those bombshells out of the way it was time to ride.
Along with the owner’s manual and a spoke wrench, the RM-Z450 owner is supplied with two coupler plugs that modify the fuel mapping. Depending on which one is plugged into the wiring harness the fuel is leaned out or richened up. The effect of the changes is noticeable and can be handy for tuning for a particular track surface or for an aftermarket exhaust system. One of the Suzuki engineers suggested the lean map for a crisper throttle response. The rich map would be useful for mellowing out the power hit or for use on a sandy track where the engine experiences a high traction load.
For the first part of our testing we ran the standard fuel-mapping plug to get a baseline to work from. Right off the bat we enjoyed the fat mid-range punch that the RM-Z450 is known for. This makes getting out of corners and over the jumps a breeze as long as you keep the revs up and don’t let the engine lug too much. Down low the engine is torquey and pulls strong, but at the top we were expecting a few more beans.
“The Suzuki 450 has a great all around engine, but for the younger intermediate and aggressive rider I think the engine could be much stronger,” commented our pro-level test rider, Chris See. “But for a stock everyday rider I think they produced an amazing engine package.”
As a lazy vet rider, I found the power delivery suits my needs, allowing me to ride most of the track in two gears. Just a pull of the clutch in the corners put the engine right back into the meaty mid-range. Going one larger on the rear sprocket would help with a bit more punch of the bottom for me, while See would go the other way to get some more pull on the top end.
Later we tried out the other two maps and found that the lean map really sharpened up the throttle response. Both of us found no use for the fat map at Pala, as the engine response was a bit too mellow. However, if you are a new rider or think the RM-Z has too much snap for you, the rich plug would settle it down enough to keep things in check.
Getting into the suspension settings, we found the stock fork and shock settings to be just a bit stiff for a normal sized rider. Chris ended up going one click softer on compression on the front and the rear to work with his 165-pound weight. He also slowed down the rebound by one click while leaving the high-speed compression alone. For my girth we ended up one click stiffer front and back from the baseline settings. The track at Pala never really got rough enough to test out the square-edge and braking bump performance, the bike worked well through the whoops and was able to soak up our constant over jumping of the smaller hits.
One area the RM-Z really impressed us was in its handling. Usually a bike that turns well is nervous when the speed picks up or vise versa. Somehow Suzuki has figured out how to
2012 Suzuki RM-Z450 Suspension Settings (From full stiff)
Fork: Compression 11 / Rebound 11
Shock: Compression 12 / Rebound 14 / High-speed 2 turns
make the yellow machine able to carve a turn better than most 250cc machines, yet feel rock solid on the higher speed sections of the track. Rutted turns are my nemesis; usually if they become too deep I have a problem with standing up and climbing out of them. Not so with the ‘Zuki; I was able to drop in and stay hooked up all the way through even the deepest ruts of the day. Last year we felt the RM-Z450 was one of the best handling machines in the 450-class, and we still feel the same.
The cockpit of the Suzuki felt compact but not cramped and felt very similar to the RM-Z250 in terms of size. Out on the track however it felt larger due to the weight, especially in the air, but it still feels smaller than it’s competition except for the Honda. One thing we would really like to see changed is the ridiculously swept back bars. A straighter bend would help us stay forward on the bike easier. It’s an easy change, but we think the factory should do it to save the end user a few bucks.
After spending the day on the bold-new-graphics Suzuki, we can’t really say that not changing the RM-Z450 is a bad thing. It was an excellent bike last year, and we expect it should fare well again this year. If you’re looking for a bike with razor sharp handling, stability when the going gets rough and a user-friendly power output the 2012 RM-Z450 is right up your alley. Then again, so is the 2011 model at a discount.