Suzuki?s DRZ400 has displaced the XR400R as the best for the worst; king of the kinky trails. So it?s only natural that Suzuki?s marketing wizards would want to re-enter the 250cc four-stroke class after a nine-year hiatus. Like Yamaha did with its TTR250 in 1999, Suzuki looked no further than its Asian/Australian-market DR250R dual sport for the basis of its new off-road model. The DRR engine is an electric-start model, but Japanese dual-sporters can opt for a back-up kickstarter, so Suzuki decided that it should come stock on the DRZ250. The reason is that the ignition is a DC-CDI, so the engine won?t run unless the battery is putting out at least eight volts. It?s a bit weird, and it means that the DRZ can?t be stripped of its battery for lightness.
That bit of weirdness aside, the DRZ250 will appeal to anyone looking for a small four-stroke trail bike. It seems to be a yellow version of the TTR250, but it surpasses the blue bike with its oil cooler, back-up kickstarter and pre-TwinChamber RM250W fork. The DRZ250 even weighs the same as the TTR, at 264 pounds. We?ll throw all of the 2001 250cc four-strokes into a shootout next month; until then, let?s sling a leg over Suzuki?s newest trail bike.
FROM DR250R TO DRZ250
From the airbox to the super-long header pipe, the DRZ250 is identical to the DR250R dual-sport, but the DRZ has a lighter steel muffler with removeable/cleanable spark arrester. Even the pumper 28mm Mikuni is the same. Although the carb is jetted spot-on and delivers seamless power, it is a little tricky. The choke knob has a half-choke setting, so you have to be sure you?ve got it all the way in before hitting the goat trails. Starting is criminally easy, once you remember to pull in the clutch before hitting the happy button. She?s pretty cold-blooded, too, so warm it up before dumping the clutch.
Power is very much like the TTR. The slightly smaller pumper carb gives great low-end, so it?s pretty much unstoppable in really tight stuff. The DRZ snaps to attention early and builds revs smoothly. The midrange isn?t anything like the WR250F?s, but it gets the job done. Top-end is decent, as the pipe and small carb choke it off on the very top. We tackled some steep hills on the DRZ and were impressed with the torque and gearbox spacing. The DRZ doesn?t fall on its face when pulling the next gear, and the clutch stands up fairly well to abuse. Deep sand gives it fits, though. Stay on harder ground, and it?ll claw its way to the top. Vibration levels are acceptable, too. Good stuff.
GROUND CONTROL TO MAJOR TOM
Suspension is on par with the Yamaha, maybe even better. The 43mm DRZ fork has 11 inches of travel and a fully-adjustable cartridge. Damping is lighter than the two-stroke motocrosser, naturally, and the DRZ is set up to gobble trail junk like Peggy Bundy does Bon-Bons. It?s soft for deep sand whoops or even waterbar jumps, but it?s awesome for soaking up rock hits. An RM250W shock wouldn?t fit the DRZ because of all the electrical components attached to the airbox, so a remote-reservoir shock is used. A compression adjuster rides in the reservoir, and rebound is down by the linkage as it is on RMs.
We had our clickers set at 2 compression/8 rebound on the fork and 1/8 turn compression/3 turns rebound on the shock, and the ride was well-balanced. The shock picks up high-speed rock hits
as well as the fork, so the ride over rock gardens is plush; so plush that we upshift instead of downshift when we get into rocky stream beds. Between the softly-sprung suspension and XR400-like weight, the DRZ goes absolutely straight in boulders, like an XR600.
Limits are reached easily in deep sand whoops, though, and anywhere the DRZ?s weight is amplified by G-outs. Both ends will bottom, although not harshly, in faster western conditions, and motocross is simply out of the question. This isn?t a YZ250F, not by any stretch of the imagination.
LIKE A FLAT ROCK ON A LAKE
As long as the terrain isn?t undulating, the DRZ is fun in tight woods. It handles much like a Husqvarna, as it has a long chassis and a steep fork angle. It?s most fun wiggling through the trees, and you can steer with the front end or steer with the throttle and rear brake, Steve Hatch style. Brakesliding takes more effort than with an XR250, but it can be done. There is a tendency to push the front wheel in muddy, sandy or slick conditions, so placement is important in those conditions.
Get into a lot of cross-grain terrain, and the DRZ?s heft will work you like Richard Simmons on a caffeine freak-out. Although the RM-grade brakes are strong, the rear chatters on downhills, so it?s hard to stop for the switchbacks. Again, that?s more a weight thing than anything else. It?s simply hard to haul all that heft down or make it change directions in G-out situations. That means that it gets less fun the faster you go. On first- and second-gear goat trails, it?s primo. It?s even fun on third-gear sandwashes, but high-speed stuff should be left to the race bikes. The Rock couldn?t wrestle the DRZ250 through a Hare & Hound National, not even in a tag-team match.
THE RACING NON-RACE BIKE?
Sure, the DRZ250 is a fun trail bike. It?ll do most anything as long as you don?t try to do it quickly. It doesn?t have a radiator to overheat in extended trials-like situations, and it takes to goat trails like it has wool in its DNA. It can even out-class the venerable XR250R in rock gardens. However, there?s no way to shave 18 pounds off of the DRZ250, and it?s not available without the electric starter. We can see why Suzuki would make the DRZ250 eligible for its off-road contingency program for tighter forms of racing like enduro and GNCC, but it?s also eligible for Hare & Hounds, WORCS, the Elsinore GP and AMA District 37 GPs. It?ll take more than the possibility of winning $400 to make us hit a fourth-gear whoop section on the DRZ250. A lot more.