Suzuki’s 2016 RM-Z250 is the product of some very good engineers and some very stubborn thinking. The bike has always been the most under-appreciated bike in the 250 class. While Kawasaki, KTM, Yamaha and even Honda have hogged the spotlight with high-dollar racing efforts and flashy features, the RM-Z has quietly stood in the background hoping to attract a following on the merits of handling, suspension and solid performance. The bike earned a string of excellent showings in shootouts, but remained the bike least likely to draw a crowd at the track.
In the meantime, the 250 class has gone through huge changes. The Yamaha was all new in 2014, the KTM was new mid-2015 and the Husky is all new this year. Suzuki needed a big change and—surprise, surprise—got it. The 2016 version has a long list of updates. There are over 80 new parts in the motor alone, the frame is new and the front suspension is the latest KYB PSF2 air fork. It is, if you go by part numbers, the most heavily changed Suzuki in years. But that’s where the stubborn thinking comes in. Despite all those new parts, the Suzuki looks the same and, according to most riders, has the same strengths, weaknesses and overall personality. If you know your Suzukis, that’s a good thing, but it won’t draw any more attention.
RM-Z aficionados might spot many of the motor changes right off the bat. Or they might not. Many are buried deep in the motor. The piston got a different finish and an L-shaped ring, the valves have a flat face, the cams have new lift and timing, the crank is lighter and the rotor is heavier. The throttle body is new with a different angle for the butterfly, and Suzuki has eliminated the hot-start circuit. The whole right engine case is different because the engineers reworked how the kick-start lever turns the motor—with a repositioned idler gear and a different ratio. Suzuki paid a lot of attention to the reduction drag on the crank, which is often the result of too much oil pooled in the crankcase. The cam chain tensioner is different, and there’s a new engine-oil sight glass. The list of tiny invisible changes is quite long, but there are some big invisible changes too. Suzuki engineers added S-HAC to the ignition, which is their version of launch control. Like the Kawasaki, Yamaha and KTM versions, S-HAC dumbs down the power for a cleaner launch. Unlike the others, the Suzuki system has two different modes for different traction conditions. You activate it on the line, and it turns itself off after six seconds, or when the throttle is chopped, or when the bike is shifted to fourth.
In the chassis department Suzuki made more invisible changes to the frame and is slightly vague about exactly what those changes are, other than to say they result in increased durability and reduced weight. The fork swap, at least, is straightforward. The PSF2 fork is KYB’s answer to the Showa Triple Air. The big difference is that the PSF2 doesn’t use a balance chamber or an outer air chamber. There’s one Schrader valve per fork leg, and it holds approximately 34 pounds. Setup is simpler than the Showa fork, but not as simple as a coil spring fork. This year you have separate clickers for high- and low-speed compression damping, as well as rebound damping. Last year’s RM-Z250 fork was the very definition of simplicity, with the spring on one side and the damping on the other and a grand total of two clickers. Now there are six clickers and two Schrader valves.
With the new KYB fork comes a new KYB shock. More adjustability is the order of the day here too. The reservoir has three clickers: high- and low-speed compression as well as low-speed rebound. A fourth clicker, high-speed rebound, remains on the clevis down below.
So there are a lot of changes, but much remains the same too. Top of that list is the bodywork. Suzuki also keeps the coupler system for changing fuel mixture and, subsequently, power delivery. Two electronic plugs come in the toolkit with the bike. When you plug the gray one into the ignition, the fuel mixture is 4 percent richer. The white one is 4 percent leaner, and no coupler at all results in middle-of-the-road.
NEW OR NOT?
We all have certain built-in biases. With a bike that looks so completely unchanged, the knee-jerk reaction is to ride it once and come back with the opinion that the Suzuki hasn’t changed significantly in performance. But even so, you can’t ignore the RM-Z’s new riding attitude. The bike sits with more of a nose-down attitude now, even though the recommended shock sag is still 105mm. The guys in the testing department at Suzuki aren’t dumb. They already know about certain air-fork traits and made frame changes to deal with them. From the start, air forks have a tendency to ride high, and so Suzuki tweaked the chassis to match the fork. The real concern here is the RM-Z’s most highly praised strength—its cornering ability. There was a possibility that the new layout could have messed that up.
Thankfully, that’s not the case. In the 250F world, the Suzuki remains the king of the turns. The nose-down attitude doesn’t result in any twitchiness or instability. The bike still allows you to get through a corner by steering or sliding; you choose. The real secret here is that the front wheel always feels like it has a good, solid connection to the track, and that gives you confidence to play games, switch lines or just ride harder. The RM-Z has always had this particular feel, and it hasn’t gone away. If anything, the traction is better thanks to the upgrade from Dunlop MX51 tires to MX52s. On top of that, the fork is a clear improvement in performance. The PSF2 does great in hack of all kinds. Performance has never been an issue with this unit. We have our complaints about the hassle of checking air pressure and a half-dozen clickers, but that doesn’t matter when you’re on the track and blasting through the rough stuff. The Suzuki still feels fairly light, even though it didn’t lose nearly enough weight. Our test bike weighed in at 227 pounds without fuel. That’s a couple of pounds lighter than it was, but a good 5 pounds heavier than the Honda, Yamaha or KTM.
Handling and suspension have always been the Suzuki’s strong points. Power, on the other hand, hasn’t been. Before the coming of the new Yamaha and KTM, the Suzuki could just hold its own in the motor department. The 250 class has seen a rising tide in output over the past few years, and the level that was good enough in 2013 just doesn’t cut it anymore. With all those new motor parts, the RM-Z has more bottom end and a certain amount of liveliness that was lacking. It didn’t, however, gain real noticeable peak power. To put it in a class-wide perspective, the Suzuki is just behind the Kawasaki in overall motor performance and well ahead of the Honda. The KTM, Husky and Yamaha have a clear advantage.
BEYOND THE TRACK
At the risk of sounding like one of those riders who says it looks the same so it [must be] the same, the 2016 RM-Z250 occupies more or less the same place in the market that it did before all these changes. It’s still the very best of the 250 four-strokes when it comes to cornering. It’s among the best in suspension and overall handling. It still needs more steam in the engine room and less overall weight. That mix of strengths and weaknesses is probably enough to keep the Suzuki’s title as the most under-appreciated bike in the class. Sometimes change is more difficult than swapping parts. o
• Excellent in corners
• Starts easily
• Improved engine response
• Good suspension
• Reduced exhaust noise
• So-so peak power
• Big changes, small results
• Dated appearance
• So many clickers!
Engine type Four-valve, DOHC 4-stroke
Bore & stroke 77.0mm x 53.6mm
Fuel delivery Keihin EFI
Fuel tank capacity 1.7 gal. (6.5 l)
Lighting coil No
Spark arrester No
EPA legal No
Running weight, no fuel 227 lb.
Wheelbase 58.1″ (1475mm)
Ground clearance 13.6″ (345mm)
Seat height 37.6″ (955mm)
Tire size & type:
Front 80/100-21 Dunlop MX52
Rear 100/90-19 Dunlop MX52
Front KYB PSF2, adj. reb./hi & lo comp.,
12.4″ (310mm) travel
Rear KYB aluminum piggyback, adj. prld,
hi & lo comp., hi & lo reb.,
12.4″ (317mm) travel
Country of origin Japan
Suggested retail price $7699