It has been a while now since Suzuki released all of the technical information about their 5th generation all new 2018 RM-Z450. In short, the bike has a new engine, new frame, Showa coil-spring forks (replacing the TAC air fork) and the Showa Balance Free Rear Cushion shock. This is the first time this shock has made its way onto a production dirt bike. Throughout the 2017 season, factory racers have been using the new RM-Z450 in MXGP and the All Japan MX Championship. We have seen photos and even had the opportunity to throw a leg over the factory race bike in Japan. Now, we finally get to ride the production bike that will soon be available for everyone. To read more on the technical specifications of the 2018 RM-Z450, click HERE.
Suzuki drafted several U.S. journalists and test riders to the Joe Gibbs Racing Motocross (JGRMX) test facility in Catawaba, NC to join the “RM Army.” This is a semi-private facility located just north of what some might call the hub of NASCAR, Mooresville, NC. However, there isn’t a pavement oval track here, just a beautiful motocross track tucked away in the woods used mainly by the JGRMX team, their riders, and some invited lucky guests.
We began the day with a quick safety briefing about the “dos and don’ts” (what direction the track goes, try not to crash) of this facility and then moved on to the motorcycles. Sag was set to the recommended 105mm, bars were positioned, tire pressures checked and it was a go for to launch.
The JGRMX test track is made up of mostly red clay with a small amount of sand mixed in. The track was disked and watered perfectly, you just knew there were going to be some great corners and deep ruts. Add in the trees that provided a nice canopy and we had about the best conditions possible.
We began riding and it was immediately noticeable that there were some huge changes to the RM-Z450. It was plush and very comfortable, gone is the harsh feeling of seemingly having SX suspension on your stock bike. The front wheel felt planted and the rear just followed exactly in line.
Right out of the crate, the cornering ability of this bike was great. I would say it cornered as well as the previous generation if you had completely modified that suspension just for you. Moving around on the bike was easy, getting to a forward seating position for tight inside turns felt natural. The forks held up well and gave a good feel of the front end. Even sitting a little more back or neutral, I could still rail an outside berm; stability or head shake was not an issue.
The new Balance Free Rear Cushion (BRFC) shock is not a gimmick, this shock worked well. With acceleration out of corners, it squatted well and put traction to the ground. The track was on the tighter side, therefore requiring me to keep the speeds a little low. So I am looking forward to seeing how the suspension and chassis feel on a more open type, faster track. Setting the sag was a breeze with its screw locking clamp style adjustable spring collar.
I would say the RM-Z450 engine has been good and this revised new engine is another step in the right direction. It makes good power, has good torque, but not too hard of a hit. Suzuki has been promoting their new ECM programming with traction management system and it seems to be working well. I did experience a little bit of clutch fade at times that caused me to stall the bike.
One thing I have always liked about the RM-Z is how neutral everything is. Sitting is comfortable with a good balance of feeling like you are “in the bike” rather than feeling like you are “on top of the bike.” It has a very narrow feel between your knees when standing but extends out just enough when leaning back or forward to give you something to hang onto with your legs. I had absolutely no issues with my boots catching on bodywork or melting on the exhaust pipe. The foot pegs on this bike might have been the biggest I have ever seen on a motocross bike. Overall, it still has the good characteristics of the RM-Z and dropped a few of its not so desirable ones.
For this first impression ride, I would say Suzuki has made some big improvements over the previous model. I can’t find a change that I didn’t like and I am looking forward to putting this bike to the test on more tracks once we get it back in California. If you are interested in making one of these your personal bike, keep an eye out at your local dealer. They are scheduled to become available throughout North America in September.