Obermeyer Suzuki RM-Z250 - Race Test

Factory Speed At Privateer Pricing

A growing force in the GNCC and National Enduro Series, the Obermeyer Suzuki squad has been turning heads in 2015 with solid results and a great grooming program for up-and-coming speedsters Jake Froman and Cole Kirchoff. Much of the team’s success is due to the fact that Keith Obermeyer—team manager and owner of the namesake dealership back in Jasper, Indiana—is extremely plugged in to the ground level of his team. While a guy like Obermeyer would have every right to sit back in a palatial office and never once get his shoes dirty, Keith is instead as hands-on as they come—it’s not uncommon to see Obermeyer lying in the dirt underneath a fork leg adjusting the suspension settings, or topping off a quick-fill fuel can with greasy hands. This approach is not just strategic—although it does keep Obermeyer closely in touch with his core customers—but it also represents Keith’s incredible passion for the sport. This man just loves dirt bikes, and it shows in every aspect of his team.

At the Millfield, Ohio round of the GNCC series, Obermeyer offered up one of his modified Suzuki RM-Z250's for Dirt Rider to race test during the two-hour morning event. The ride was part of a comparison test where I raced a Polaris ATV on Saturday, and a dirt bike on Sunday (check out the October issue of Dirt Rider, which just hit newsstands, for the MX versus ATV feature story). While the Suzuki proved to be an outstanding representative for the two-wheeled crowd, the performance of this bike was certainly worthy of a standalone test.

One of the best things about this bike is that it was not modified to the gills. It’s true that a lot of weekend warriors imagine that the top racebikes are all highly modified fire-breathers, but that’s simply not the case. Power is great, but if you can’t get it to the ground, it’s useless. Similarly, performance in long races like GNCC events needs to be balanced with manageability; the event is simply so demanding that you need to plan for the bike to be ridden by a dog-tired rider, as even the most fit individuals cannot remain fresh while running at race pace for the entire duration.

With all this in mind, I was grateful to find that the Obermeyer Suzuki was set up for usability. The performance was there—the 250cc engine provided a lively, snappy stream of power that urged you to keep the throttle twisted—but everything about the delivery was manageable. The bike lit on the first kick off the dead-engine start, and the Rekluse Torq Drive clutch offered the sensation that the throttle was connected directly to the rear tire. As expected, tuning was phenomenal; there were no hesitations or odd pops, and unlike an overly-modded machine, there was not just one ‘sweet spot’ of power where I needed to keep the Suzuki. From the strong bottom end to the great acceleration, the RM-Z250 racebike was more potent than a stocker, yet it also provided me with strong power that I could use throughout the rpm range.

The suspension on this machine had a fast rebound feel in the fork/front suspension so as to keep traction with the front tire. If I slammed into a root, the fork would recover and not remain overly settled or blow through on the next hit. This isn’t the most comfortable way to setup a bike—if you start going slow, the ride gets a little jarring—but boy, is it nice when you’re charging in to a dark forest section in third gear with a pack of guys behind you! In addition to the active setup, the Suzuki boasted incredible bottoming resistance in both ends. The shock was slightly more settled and dead-feeling than the front (which I like), factors that contributed to a settled feeling in turns and, as a result, great cornering. The RM-Z250 is known to be an easy bike to change direction on, and I was grateful of this fact while slicing through the Ohio woods and cutting around the facility’s motocross track. It was not uncommon for me to pass one or more racers on either the outside or the inside of a turn, purely because the bike grabbed so much traction at a lean angle.

Aside from a small first turn tipover, I never went down on the Suzuki, but I had a few slipping/sliding moments that caused my heart to jump. Otherwise, the race was fairly uneventful—a good thing, I’ve learned—and I grew to be quite comfortable on the Suzuki in a relatively short amount of time. With comfortable ergonomics, a very natural riding position, great brakes, and a lightning fast pit stop thanks to the quick-fill tank, this RM-Z was the perfect setup for two hours of racing, and it clearly could have taken far more abuse than I was capable of dishing out. I finished in 16th in the Sportsman A class (48th O/A), and I’d be lying if I said that I wasn’t happy to see the lawn chair under Obermeyer’s EZ-up just a few yards from the finish line. All in all, the experience allowed me to compare racing an ATV and a bike on the same weekend, but on top of that it also reaffirmed my feeling that a great stock bike with a few smart mods is infinitely easier to ride than a hopped-up monster that you can’t hang onto. Without a doubt, the Obermeyer team has a great handle on off-road setup.

Parts List: 2015 Obermeyer Suzuki RM-Z250 GNCC Racebike

  • Yoshimura Full System with Low Volume insert
  • Rekluse Torq Drive Clutch
  • Rekluse Billet Clutch Basket
  • Z-Works Sunstar Rear Sprocket 49t
  • Sunstar XTG X-ring chain
  • TM Designs Skid Plate
  • TM Designs Swing arm Glide
  • TM Designs Chain Guide
  • Unabiker Radiator Guards
  • Enduro Engineering Shark Fin
  • Fly Racing Bars
  • No-Toil Air Filter
  • Stickman Graphix
  • Kenda Washougal II DC tires
  • Enduro Engineering Hand Gaurds with Deflectors
  • Obermeyer Suspension Service
  • Evans Coolant

A Conversation With Keith Obermeyer

Following the race, Keith Obermeyer and I sat down to chat about the team, the dealership, and his thoughts on bike setup. Here are his thoughts:

Dirt Rider: Give us some background on the team.

Keith Obermeyer: We are a privateer team; we are not a full-blown factory deal. We get good support from our sponsors, and in return we go out and get them the best coverage for them that we can get them. We've got a really solid program and have had that for years; we kind of stepped back a little and tried to align with some of the up and coming A riders to try to groom them for the pro program next year, and that's been successful so far. For us, it's difficult to go out and land somebody right now that's capable of going to the front and winning on the XC1 level, so we are working to build that from the ground up. Jake Froman is our key rider, and he's doing a pretty good job for us. Next year we plan to be on the second row with him.

DR: How helpful is it for Jake to gain experience in both Enduro and GNCC?

KO: I think that racing both has helped Jake's riding quite a bit, actually. Jake is crazy fast after he gets warmed up, and in enduro it takes him a little bit to get going, like he does in GNCC. But he is such a good technical rider. He may go the whole event without hitting the ground. He's just really good as far as his handling skills and he doesn't typically ride over his head. We've had riders that have to ride over their heads when they get to that level, but Jake is very calculated and methodical about it. It helps in both places; the speeds that you have in a GNCC will help you in an enduro, both on conditioning and so that when you get into an open section, you're not afraid to twist it.

DR: For those who don’t know, what’s the background with your bike dealership?

KO: The shop has been open 11 years. I'm a lifelong racer and enthusiast, and I decided to start a dealership and help some riders out. I raced myself—certainly not at this level—but I race even less now that I own a shop, although it has been fun to help the up and coming kids. We got involved with Charlie Mullins in 2010 and had some success there—coupled with Randy Hawkins and Yamaha—and from there we built on the program. We shifted gears a few years back and switched to Suzuki. As a brand, Suzuki is sort of re-emerging in motorcycles and ATVs after their economic turndown—which affected everybody, really. We are happy to be hooked up with Suzuki, they produce great bikes, and we are excited to be working to get exposure for them.

DR: Let’s talk about bike setup—a lot of people push performance and raw power, but in doing so they build a bike that is not usable. Your approach is to build a bike that has performance but is also usable for 2-3 hours, right?

KO: Exactly. With racing 2-3 hours—sometimes three hours and twenty minutes—you have to have a platform that is going to perform from start to finish. The more you start to modify things, the more you start to alter fuel consumption, which is a big deal with fuel stops. Fuel is precious, and when you start adding fuel stops—even if they are only 7 or 8 seconds—it makes an impact, because these races are won and lost in 7-8 seconds. So for us, we do some modifications to the bike—a Yoshimura pipe and some other things to increase flow and fuel—but at the end of the day the rider's got to be able to hang onto these things for three hours. Even if he's as fit as a fiddle, late in the day going fast is jus a hard thing if you've got too much power. We tend to go after suspension settings and we work really hard at setup, and to help us control it we do all the suspension in-house for the team. To be honest, last year most of our racing was done on stock suspension because the riders were still learning how to communicate with me. As time went on I made some changes and gave it to them and told them what I changed, how I changed it, and why, and now they can come back to me and say this is what I like or don't like.

DR: Suzuki seems like a good stock platform for GNCC. The RM-Z250 has great stock cornering, and it starts amazingly well off a dead engine start. What are the big things you do to the bike to make them more competitive?

KO: As far as durability, the bike and the way it handles, we don't have to do anything exotic to make the Suzukis competitive. For us and for anybody that is going out to make a bike competitive and start racing it, it's important to start with a brand that you like and trust. We don't have big factory budgets, as most people don't. The platform is solid, the motor is good, and there are a lot of little things you can do—like adding a Rekluse clutch—that will get you more power or change the way the bike works. We've spent quite a bit of time on setup, and the end result works very well for us.

Check out www.obyamaha.com for more info on the team, and be sure to pick up the October 2016 issue of Dirt Rider to see this bike compared to a Polaris ATV!

The Obermeyer Suzuki RM-Z250 GNCC racebikes are tuned for both usability and performance for the entire three-hour race.Photo by Shan Moore
By doing its own suspension, the Obermeyer squad can make more informed setup decisions when switching back and forth between enduro and GNCC.Photo by Shan Moore
This quick-fill tank adds a bit of fuel capacity to the RM-Z without compromising the rider’s body position. That said, it does look a bit scary!Photo by Shan Moore
Photo by Shan Moore
The Obermeyer RM-Z250 proved to be a great race setting, with a slightly fast fork feel that kept the front end from packing in repeated chop and hard hits.Photo by Shan Moore
Durability on this Suzuki was excellent. It could have endured much more abuse than Denison was capable of dishing out!Photo by Shan Moore
Keith Obermeyer is a hands-on team manager who truly enjoys spending time out in the field and helping to groom up-and-coming racers.Photo by Shan Moore