Since releasing its RM-Z250 seven years ago, Suzuki prefers developing its 250-class motocross racer through steady improvements rather than full-on redesigns. And considering engineers gave it a healthy dose of chassis and powertrain updates earlier this year the Japanese motorcycle brand has elected to leave well enough alone on its 2014 Suzuki RM-Z250 ($7599). Aside from graphics and a re-flashed computer it is the same as the ’13 model.
Designed to make it easier to start, the computer’s new coding didn’t seem to make a big difference with the RM-Z still demanding a deliberate and properly timed kick for the engine to fire on the first or second try. It’s certainly not terrible but proves there is room for improvement. It’s also worth noting that it still has the older-style Ricky Carmichael-inspired engine hot start lever next to the throttle for use when re-lighting the engine when hot. We don’t mind using the lever but it does make the starting procedure more complicated than others in this class.
While the Suzuki could benefit from a simpler starting procedure, out on track the yellow bike continues to wow us with its snappy engine response and relatively wide powerband. The engine produces healthy bottom end that morphs quickly into a long and far-reaching mid-range. Top end is docile but effective and pulls high in the revs giving the rider the option to hold on to a gear or make an upshift.
(Top) The RM-Z250 makes uses of a liquid-cooled and fuel injected 249cc Single. It offers a wide powerband especially for a 250-class racer. (Center) Showa’s SFF adds spring preload adjustability. We’re still not fans of the set-up compared to its older-style twin coil spring set-up. (Below) We’re big fans of the RM-Z’s front brake. It offers strong, consistent and easy to modulate stopping power.
“The engine on the new bike is really good,” agrees pro racer and three-time X Games gold medalist, Vicki Golden. “I was impressed right off the bat. The stock bike isn’t something I ride everyday but the bike was awesome. When I stayed in second or third it had that little bottom end lug of a 250F where it lags compared to a 450 but it was strong for a stock 250 – especially out here on a tighter course.”
The powerband can further be manipulated via two plastic couplers that are plugged in beneath the left radiator shroud. The lean coupler (white in color) reduces fuel delivery by roughly 4% increasing throttle and engine response. Meanwhile the rich coupler (gray in color) increases fuel delivery by a similar amount–equating to a softer power hit, which will be beneficial for less experienced riders or for say if the knobs on the rear tire are worn out tire or you’re treading on a really slippery surface.
Some riders might appreciate the engine’s added hit with the lean coupler but on a hard pack track, it made it harder to modulate power, especially in turns that don’t have a whole lot of traction. We also noticed that this setting made top end power feel a bit flatter. Though if you’re riding in sand or soft, deep terrain, the lean setting will be a great feature.
The Suzuki’s close ratio five-speed gearbox complements the engine well ensuring that you’re always in the meat of the powerband. Not only does the short gear ratios aid acceleration the transmission has a precise and instant engagement feel at the lever much like a works-style or upgraded piece tweaked for the rigors of Supercross. The only downside is that it’s more difficult to find neutral at a standstill, though it’s a worthwhile compromise. Clutch lever pull is well weighed and responsive making it easy to control the engine’s power when needed.
“The shifting was extremely smooth,” says Golden, who spends most of her time riding a modified Kawasaki KX450F. “I had a hard time finding neutral but I think that’s a good, safe thing. The gears are really kind of tight. It’s not a big shift where you have to pull the lever really high to get it going.”
In terms of handling the 250 offers exceptional manners. Point it and it gets there
Preload: 4 (Turns in)
Compression: 8 (Turns out)
Low-Speed Compression: 12
High-Speed Compression: 2
without fuss, whether it’s an inside rut or a walled berm around the outside. In either turn the chassis responds nicely with minimal rider input. While we loved its handling, the suspension and ergonomics proved to be one area that could use some improvements.
For 5’5” Golden the shape of the radiator shrouds made the bike feel wider than it actually is. “It’s a little wider than what I normally like,” she says. “Right where I want my leg to go is kind of where the shroud pushes out and rounds a little bit.”
The Renthal-sourced Fatbar (672-01 bend) also has more rearward sweep than we like but the fix is as simple as a handlebar swap. We do however like oversized footpegs and the spatial relationship between the footpegs, seat and handlebar.
Despite getting beaten up in shootouts and other magazine tests for its use of Showa’s new lighter and less costly to manufacture Single Function Fork (which replaces a traditional twin coil spring and cartridge inverted fork for one with only one of each), the yellow squad continues to run it. One plus is its heavier spring rate (1.0 kg/mm, identical to the RM-Z450) which will be appreciated by heavier and/or faster riders.
(Top) The RM-Z250’s handling can be surmised in one word: excellent. We also love the firm well damped feel of the shock. (Center) The RM-Z250 is as nimble in the air as it is on the ground as three-time X Games gold medalist Vicki Golden demonstrates. (Below) The RM-Z’s got one heck of a powertrain. It’s reliable, fast, which in turn help fast laps come with ease.
On a smooth track the fork functions pretty well with it offering adequate pitch control despite not offering the plushest feel when landing on the downside of obstacles. Problem is when you add bumps and big dirt divots the single spring fork isn’t able to absorb them with the kind of controlled movement as we experience on Suzuki’s older generation twin spring set-up. More time spent tuning the preload, compression and rebound settings are sure to net a better result—you just have to spend the time balancing out the these settings to get a feel for what works best. It is worth noting that the SFF is sensitive to adjustment with just one click producing a noticeable change in action.
Like the fork the shock’s spring rate (5.5 kg/mm, slightly softer than the RM-Z450) is oriented to faster and heavier riders. We like the action of the shock with it giving a planted feel through inside and outside turns and it maintaining chassis composure over bumps in a straight line. It’s a nice piece of kit and we’re glad Suzuki has engineered it with faster riders in mind.
Other features we really like the powerful front brake that’s got just the right amount of bite and feel without being overly sensitive when touched. The rear brake on the other hand felt vague at the lever and didn’t provide the same sharp response as we expected considering how well the front stopper performs.
If you’re looking for a predictable handling dirt bike with a wide and rider-friendly powerband, the 2014 RM-Z250 is it. We’re not completely sold on its fork and it could stand to be a little easier to start but besides those few gripes it’s a fantastic off-road bike that we wouldn’t hesitate to line-up at the starting gate on.
- Sharp handling that’s predicable
- Wide powerband
- Precise-feeling transmission
- Showa SFF fork tricky to set-up
- Could be easier to start
- Mushy-feeling rear brake