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2008 Suzuki RM-Z250 First Ride

Thursday, November 29, 2007
2008 RM-Z250
The 2008 Suzuki RM-Z250 isn't as heavily redesigned as last year's model, but the changes that have been done are worthwhile.
Japanese OEMs have something big in the works at all times, but consumers don't always get to see those changes in the form of yearly massive overhauls. Every brand makes refinements, but all-new machinery usually appears every few years or so. For Suzuki, 2008 is the year of the big-bike, but that doesn't mean the quarter-liter has been forgotten. Just to make sure, we called up our pals inside the Brea, CA headquarters and arranged a day of testing at Starwest MX for our initial shakedown. When we showed up the new RM-Z had - get this - softer grip compound and a steering head dust seal!!

No, there's more to it than that...

Last year we rode the bike at its introduction and felt like the RM-Z250 could really have a shot at winning the 2007 MotoUSA 250F MX Shootout. As it turned out, our testers weren't quite convinced enough to make the Suzook our top choice, but fourth in the rankings certainly wasn't what we expected. Truthfully, the 250F market is so strong that the difference between winning and getting last isn't really that much. Still, it was kind of a disappointment once all the bikes got stacked up side-by-side. You'd think we would have learned the first time, but again we've come away from our first impression with shootout glory scratching the backs of our minds. The 2008 RM-Z250 is really good.

Originating from that 2007 design, this year's Z250 has the same basic engine characteristics but with a little hint of steroids. The 249cc mill puts out plenty of power and the majority of it is still in the mid-range and upper rpm. We had the best time while riding the older version in those ranges and the new machine offers even more with changes to the Keihin 37mm carb, narrowed exhaust port and a redesigned exhaust system. Those changes were geared at strengthening the 250's upper end, but they also aid in giving it a bit more pop down low. Without riding the '08 back-to-back with the old model it is impossible to tell if it's really any stronger. However, multiple testers noted that whether it's more oomph or just better response, the RM-Z hustles into that wicked midrange better than before. Once there, Suzuki manages to give its riders a big surge and continues to extend that roost-hucking attitude for a long way.

2008 RM-Z250
Test rider Alvin Zalamea was happy with the way the Showa suspenion worked in the whoops. The springs were actually good just about everywhere.
Even with the impressive top-end, which never ran out of steam for our slower tester, it still wasn't enough for local pro-level Alvin Zalamea. Big Z likes to make the nearby neighbors' ears bleed, and even on the tight confines of the Starwest circuit he would have liked the motor to have a little more reach.

"But it was manageable and it got the job done," he concedes. "If anything it needed a little more on mid-top end power."

Lucky for him, finding a higher gear in the five-speed tranny is brainless - not that our man is a dolt. Working your way into neutral is still a royal pain, but as far as roaming the cogs, judder springs and a redesigned shift lever and clutch cable bracket provide enhancements to another of the Suzuki's strong points. If you've got an itchy left foot and typically find yourself on the rev-limiter, the Suzuki will be a good fit - it likes to shift. One of the beautiful things about the pair of left-side levers is the feather-light clutch pull.

"The gear ratios felt good as did the shifting," says AZ. "I noticed the clutch working really well throughout the day. In one of the high speed corners leading to the finish line jump I was feeding the clutch through the turn and could feel it help the bike track all the way through the corner."

Not only is working the clutch lever extremely easy, but it's also less cluttered on that side of the oversized Renthal handlebars this year. The hot start has been moved to a thumb-operated position on the throttle side at the recommendation of one G.O.A.T. If Ricky Carmichael says it's better to have the lever over there then dammit, it is better! Actually, we didn't really prefer the new placement or find it all that much easier to coordinate, but the potential benefit of simplifying the re-start process after a late, battling-for-the-lead Moto 2 crash is worth it in the grand scheme of things.

2008 RM-Z250
Hilde uses the RM-Z to slice his way through the chicane. Not only is the motor improved, but this tester felt the chassis was a bigger upgrade.
The other big highlight during our day ride was the chassis. Both suspension components have received updates and both the front and rear Showa components continue to offer one of the plushest rides available on a stock quarter-liter. However, the real beauty of the Suzuki's rolling chassis combination is the actual twin-spar aluminum frame itself. Additional brackets on the side rails and smaller bridge pipes are listed as the primary changes to the alloy skeleton. Obviously, we didn't bust out the digital calipers and measure the forged, extruded and stamped components, but we can say that the RM-Z is amazingly stable while retaining the Suzuki cornering we've expect annually.

"The chassis and handling felt really good," croons Zalamea. "The bike seemed a little top heavy at times, but I like how light and nimble the bike still feels. It seems lighter than other 250F's and never seemed (overly) planted to the ground. It turns on a dime and is just really fun to ride."

One particular section was ideal at showcasing the Suzuki's handling prowess. It started with a large step-down/table that was frequently over-jumped by our fast guy. Zalamea was notably happy with the bottoming resistance afforded by the 47mm fork and tweaked internals of the shock. That jump led into a short straight and a sweeping, 180-degree banked left-hander leading into the whoops. The hot ticket here was to rail the outside and keep your entry speed up for the rockers, and the 'Zook stayed planted all the way through the high-speed sweeper before eating up the whoop section.

"Riding through the whoops was a real confidence builder and the suspension felt great. I over jumped some of the jumps and the bottoming resistance was excellent," Zalamea recalls. "The only problem is that there weren't too many places to feel the handling of the suspension on small chop."

2008 RM-Z250
The 'Zook likes to fly with a nimble, light feel in the air and good suspension for returning to earth.
Some of those rare, small braking bumps came at the end of the next straight after landing another step-down/table and heading towards a left. Here, rather than heading wide, grinding on the front and rear brake levers puts the new wave-style rotors to good use and scrubs enough speed to tip the nimble machine into the left-hander before diving back to an inside rut going the other way. In the matter of 10 seconds virtually all of the Suzuki's strong points have been utilized.

So Suzuki didn't rewrite the 250F book for 2008, but they definitely didn't pull the cop-out stunt of 2006 either. Softer grip compounds are dope, no doubt, but the real changes were enough for our testers to easily notice improvements, primarily in the motor and chassis - exactly what these quarter-liters depend on the most. Power is everything in this class and arguably the biggest selling point of any 250F is the light, flickable stance - two key points not wasted on the Yellow engineers. The question of whether or not our initial insights are any indication of shootout glory remains to be seen.

2008 RM-Z250
This mill is getting ever closer to shootout-winning material. Most riders will notice the extra hit in the midrange and some extended pull up top.
2008 Suzuki RM-Z250 Specifications:
 Engine: 249cc, 4-stroke, single-cylinder, liquid cooled, DOHC, 4-valve
Bore Stroke: 77.0 x 53.6mm
Compression Ratio: 13.4:1 
Fuel System: Keihin FCR 37 MX
Lubrication: Semi-dry sump
Ignition: Digital AC-CDI
Transmission: Five-speed
Final Drive: #520 chain
Rake/Trail: 27 degrees/4.5 inches
Overall Length: 85.2 in
Overall Width: 32.7 in
Overall Height: 49.6 in
Seat Height: 37.6 in
Ground Clearance: 13.8 in
Wheelbase: 57.7 in
Dry Weight: 203 lbs
Front Suspension: Telescopic, cartridge-type, 16 compression & rebound settings, 11.8 inches of wheel travel
Rear Suspension: Link-type, spring preload fully-adjustable, 16 compression & rebound settings, 12.2 inches of wheel travel
Front Brake: Single hydraulic disc
Rear Brake: Single hydraulic disc
Front Tire: 90/100-21
Rear Tire: 100/90-19
Fuel Capacity: 1.8 gal
Color: Yellow


Let us know what you think about the 2008 Suzuki RM-Z250 in the MotoUSA Forum.
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