By Kris Keefer
Photos by Eric Narvaez
Here at Dirt Rider Magazine, we’ve become fans of the Suzuki RM-Z450. It’s fast, it turns insanely well and on top of that, it looks cool. It’s also a bike that since 2008—the year that Suzuki first launched Electronic Fuel Injection—has only seen minor refinements until the 2013 model was released. For 2014 Suzuki decided again to go on the “make refinements” program but we hear that the 2015 model will be all new! We recently took delivery of our 2014 RM-Z450 at Perris Raceway and the only change is yellow number plates and an ECM change (to improve the RMZ’s starting habits). So lets take a trip into the Twilight Zone (can you hear the scary music?) and list what was changed on the 2013 model in case you missed it.
For 2013, the biggest change was the new Showa Separate Function Fork. The SFF setup has been on other manufacturer’s bikes for the past couple of years, however, Suzuki decided to wait until 2013 to outfit its bikes with it. The latest generation SFF is bigger than the first generation—47mm to 48mm—and is said to provide better rider feedback (more on that in a minute) and less flex than the previous generation SFF. The chassis on the 2013 RM-Z450 also got some changes in the frame and seat rails to help optimize chassis rigidity and improve handling. As for the motor, Suzuki actually made quite a few refinements in 2013 to help improve mid-range hit and power. Highlighting the changes was the new 13-percent lighter piston, modified intake cam timing, and a new muffler design that not only adds power, but also helps alleviate noise (we like this). Ok. Got all that? When I count to three you will open your eyes and it will be the present day. One. Two. Three. Welcome back! Lets break down the 2014 RM-Z450 now, shall we?
Out on the track, the new RM-Z450 initially feels much like last year’s bike; it’s comfortable, fast, corners great and still has the harsh/rigid feeling front end. The new ECM change that Suzuki has done is not noticeable to the rider and the yellow number plates look cool, but force the rider (if racing) to buy pre-print backgrounds/numbers. The 2014 RM-Z450 has an exciting snappy feel down low and transitions into a smooth mid-range that pulls great on top but falls off short on over-rev. To explain it a little easier, it’s like having the Honda CRF450R smoothness but with a kick of Kawasaki KX450F excitement thrown in. It just doesn’t like to be revved out like those other bikes do. Just like the RM-Z250 we chose to run the leaner coupler and that gave us the extra grunt (for more mid-range) that we were looking for. We ran the lean coupler the whole day and will experiment more with mapping changes and couplers to try and get some extra over-rev out of the yellow beast.
We experimented with 2012 forks on the 2013 RM-Z450 and ruled out that the Separate Function Fork is not the whole problem with the front end of the RM-Z. The frame change that Suzuki did for 2013 did make the bike feel more rigid and in exchange we feel more of the track through the handlebar. This goes for the 2014 model as well. The SFF suspension is great on big landings and jumpy style tracks, but when the track gets dried out and rough the fork will start to feel harsh. The first part of the stroke feels plush and comfortable but as the fork gets lower in the stroke it does get harsh and deflects on braking bumps. We did experiment with less preload and that helped a little but we lost some bottoming resistance. Only our heavier test rider Gary Sutherlin (185 lbs.) liked the fork at Perris Raceway and thought he could hit stuff harder with the stiffer feeling front end. The shock is a completely different feeling. It complies with almost every bump on the track and all of the test riders liked the sag at 104mm. It squats down in the stroke coming out of choppy rutted corners and supplies enough comfort for a wide range of riders.
No surprise here, as usual the RM-Z corners like a dream. Go ahead and cut underneath that guy on the track, the Suzuki will hold it. It’s great on initial lean into corners and for how heavy the bike feels taking it off the stand; it feels light in corners and in the air. The RM-Z is also stable at speed and on straight-line situations. It will only start to be a handful when you let off the gas going into braking bumps, coming into a corner.
The 2014 RM-Z450 is just like the 2013 version only more yellow, and it might start a little easier for you. We all will have to wait one more year for something completely new. In the meantime we will be doing more testing on the 2014 version and getting it ready for our annual 450 MX Shootout coming soon. Have you got an idea or part you would like us to try on the 2014 RM-Z450? Drop us a comment on our Facebook page (www.facebook.com/dirtridermag) and let us know what you’re thinking.