2013 Suzuki DR-Z400SM First Ride

November 29, 2013
Justin Dawes
Justin Dawes
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Raised on two wheels in the deserts of Nevada, the newest addition to the MotoUSA crew has been part of the industry for well over 15 years.Equal parts writer, photographer, and rider, "JDawg" is a jack of all trades and even a master of some.


The list of factory-equipped supermoto motorcycles in the US is short, real short. Really, one model doesn’t a list make; the Suzuki DR-Z400SM is the only option for those looking for fat-laced wheels, sticky meats and lowered suspension. Suzuki cut the SM from its line in 2009, but now it’s back with bold new graphics for 2013. Here at MotoUSA we are excited for its return and recently procured a unit for some corner hacking fun.

Sharing much with the DR-Z400S, the SM is powered by a 398cc , 4-stroke liquid-cooled Single that has been in service since the turn of the century. Early models were kickstart only, but later models went to electric start. The DOHC valve train uses shim-under-bucket adjustment and features an automatic decompression system for quick starts. Fueling the fire is a 36mm Mikuni BSR36 CV carburetor – one of the last models in Suzuki’s line with choke, pilot and main jets. It’s all decidedly low-tech in comparison to the modern MX mill, but it’s reliable and low-maintenance.

A chromoly steel frame cradles the engine and houses the dry-sump engine oil-tank, while an aluminum bolt-on subframe lightens the tail-end. Where the more dirt focused S model has conventional forks, the DR-Z400SM rocks a set of upside-down Showa legs with compression and rebound damping adjustment. At the back is the ubiquitous piggyback shock and linkage set-up.

A big 300mm front rotor provides excellent stopping power on the 2013 Suzuki DR-Z400SM.

Braking is an all-important ingredient in supermoto fun, and the 400SM dishes up a 300mm floating front rotor mated to dual-piston caliper over the S model’s much smaller 250mm disc. At the back a 245mm drilled rotor is squeezed by a single-piston slave-cylinder. All-that braking power is transferred to a meaty set of Dunlop D208 tires on blue anodized 17-inch RK Excel Aluminum spoke wheels.

So it looks the part of a supermoto, but does its performance back up the sporty stance? Yes and no. It is more bark than bite, but you’ll love this dog anyway.

Power output from the DR-Z400SM is not as snappy as you would like for supermoto hooliganism, but the engine is easy to meter and makes for confident application of the throttle. With so much traction from the 140/70-17 rear tire, you can be completely ham-fisted with the right grip and you never have to worry about the rear end breaking loose. Wheelies require copious application of the clutch, even in first gear, but once up the flat torque spread from the DR-Z’s mill will keep this front wheel aloft with ease. For spirited mountain road shredding, it’s better to keep the rpm high rather than lugging out of the corners to get the most out of the DR-Z engine.

Gearing from the five-speed transmission is nicely spaced to keep the momentum flowing between turns. Engagement is light, but we did experience a few missed shifts between second and third, especially when screaming the motor. On the freeway we were left looking for sixth-gear to lower the revs while cruising down the super slab.

Front brake feel is phenomenal on the 2013 Suzuki DR-Z400SM.

So while the engine might not have the kick in the seat we wished for, the handling more than makes up for it. Any corner encountered is a chance to kick the rear-end out with a downshift and spike to the rear brake lever in true supermoto-style. Then it’s on the gas with your inside leg out and a knee stuffed into the outside of the tank to carve a line. The fun factor is high although the speeds are not.

The suspension is well balanced, yet it is softer than we would expect or like on a supermoto-style bike. The chassis pitches forward and back with every application of the throttle and brakes. It’s a very active ride when hacking around town, but the DR-Z is smooth as butter on rough, cobbled pavement. There is some twist felt in the front fork when leaning hard on that massive 300mm front disc, but it is not enough to upset the handling.

Braking performance is phenomenal on the SM. The front brake has plenty of power to haul the speeds down, before flicking the bike sideways. Feel is excellent making modulation easy for rolling stoppies and other forms of tomfoolery. The rear brake has less power, but feel is as good as the front.

Although the suspension is lower than the DR-Z400S, the SM still has a seat height of 35” and may be an issue for those with shorter inseams. The seat is narrow so it does not feel as tall as it is but it also makes longer rides uncomfortable. You’ll be happy with the short fuel range of the 2.6-gallon tank. At nearly 40 mpg from out test unit, you are stopping at around 100 miles for a fill up and a rest for your gluteus.

The scope of the DR-Z400SM is narrow with its skinny seat, small tank and modest yet friendly power, but the fun factor is through the roof. For those looking for a supermoto experience that is ready to go right off the showroom floor, the 2013 DR-Z400SM is not just the only choice it is a damn good one as well. And at just $6999 it’s a bargain.

 

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