In a world where what’s hot today may be considered hideous tomorrow, Suzuki is changing the game altogether. Or, maybe Suzuki is just lucky the retro look is in right now. Believe it or not, 2008 was the last time the Suzuki RM-Z450 saw a significant styling change, and yet things are going pretty well for Suzuki. Ken Roczen is dominating on the professional level, and the machine is still holding its own among other 450s in head-to-head competition. So, is Suzuki smart or completely insane?
WHAT IT HAS
Okay, to be fair, Suzuki made huge changes to the RM-Z 450 model in 2015 that included a new frame, Showa SFF-Air forks and a launch control system. In 2016 Suzuki refined the platform further with targeted changes. Nothing ground breaking was implemented, but Suzuki did increase the kick-starter length 30mm and redesigned the kick gear to increase the crankshaft’s rotating efficiency. Suzuki also reconfigured the decompression system to make starting easier. The ECU mapping was revised to increase power down low without losing mid to top-end power. The cooling system was revamped and now features a Y-shaped hose configuration designed to even out the overall flow. The water pump was redesigned to improve flow as well.
The 2017 RM-Z450 returns with the same frame that was first introduced in 2015. Suzuki redesigned the downtubes and inner ribbing, increasing rigidity in certain areas and decreasing rigidity in others for an overall balanced feel that allows the frame to absorb more impacts. The new frame is also 4 percent lighter than pre-2015 models.
2017 marks the third year of Suzuki’s selectable launch mode system, referred to as the S-HAC, which is very similar to what is used by Suzuki’s factory racers. Suzuki’s S-HAC is still the only system on the market with a mode that actually increases horsepower to the rear wheel. The system has three modes: standard, A and B. Standard is the default mode set at the factory (this can be changed and customized for rider preference). A-mode is designed for hard surfaces or slippery conditions. It retards the timing to soften the hit, making it easier to find traction. The ignition timing returns to the standard setting after 1.2 seconds or as soon as you shift into third gear. B-mode is for conditions that have good traction or when a more aggressive hit is desired. In this mode the timing is advanced to allow for increased throttle and stronger acceleration off the bottom. The ignition timing returns to standard when the throttle closes, 4.5 seconds after the start or when you shift into fourth gear. B-mode is what sets Suzuki’s system apart from everyone else’s.
The Showa SFF-Air fork eliminates the need for coil springs and instead relies on air pressure, allowing the spring rate to be dialed in for any size rider by adding or subtracting air with a handheld pump. Showa’s SFF-Air fork is made up of three separate air chambers. The inner chamber is high pressure and is where the main reaction force comes from. This chamber is what replaces the conventional spring. The balance chamber is the small cylinder located at the bottom of the right fork and is the opposite reaction to the main chamber. This is also high pressure. Riders usually run the same or a slightly lower air pressure in the main chamber than what is in the inner chamber. The outer air chamber is located on the outside of the inner chamber, providing additional shock absorption to improve plushness. This is the low-pressure chamber and is usually run with between 5 and 10 pounds. If it sounds confusing, don’t worry; you are not alone. We don’t have it mastered yet, either. The air-fork system saves 2.5 pounds on the front of the motorcycle and adds a ton of on-the-fly adjustability. In the rear, Suzuki uses a Showa piggyback reservoir shock that features high-/low-speed compression-damping adjustment, along with rebound adjustment, and provides 310mm of wheel travel.
So, what is new for 2017? Well, not much. The RM-Z450 gets new graphics, a seat cover to match, black triple clamps and black rims. It’s not a very long list.
The 2017 Suzuki RM-Z450 feels identical to the 2016 model. This comes as no surprise, since it is basically the same machine. That is not necessarily a bad thing, though. The Suzuki is well liked by most of our testing staff. It doesn’t have any wow factors, but it remains one of the best cornering machines in the 450cc class. Test riders searching for a stronger pull and harder hit preferred the white coupler for its slightly more aggressive feel, but most riders were content with the stock coupler. Since it is one of the heaviest 450 motocross machines on the market, stopping power is not the RM-Z’s strong point. This is definitely an area that needs attention. The clutch has a nice feel and action, but tends to fade drastically once it heats up, requiring constant adjustment. More than one test rider experienced creeping forward on the start while the lever was pulled. Other things to keep an eye on are the chain slider and the rear chainguide rubber. These seem to wear out fast, and we didn’t catch it until it was metal on metal. Suzuki is one of the only manufacturers to outfit its motocross 450s with O-ring chains, which helps lengthen the lifespan of the stock sprockets.
The testing staff here at Dirt Bike varies dramatically in age, height and weight, so a machine’s adjustability is crucial for us. The Suzuki has zero adjustability beyond the normal lever and bar-height options. Suzuki needs to remedy this. With the stock settings, our faster riders felt the Showa Triple Air fork went through its travel too fast, and on consecutive bumps it tended to pack and stay too low in the stroke, causing the bike to deflect or head-shake. This was easy to fix, though. We added air to the main chamber, allowing the fork to ride higher in its stroke and resist blowing down through the stroke. We also increased air in the balance chamber on the bottom of the right fork but left it 3 pounds shy of what we had in the main chamber. This made it ride higher in the stroke initially. In the low-pressure chamber, we ended up leaving it at 7 pounds, mainly because we couldn’t find a pressure that worked noticeably better or worse. We increased the rebound by one click for a slightly faster return action and added two clicks on compression, giving it increased resistance to bottoming. Our final settings were as follows:
Main chamber: 188 lb.
Balance chamber: 185 lb.
Low-pressure chamber: 7 lb.
Rebound: 16 out
Compression: 16 out
We ran the shock relatively close to stock setting. The race sag was set at 104mm, and we went in one click on the rebound to slow the action down. When it comes to the styling, we actually like the RM-Z450’s overall look, but agree that Suzuki needs to give it an update. Maybe we will see a new look for 2018.
2017 SUZUKI RM-Z450
Engine type: 4-stroke, liquid-cooled, single cylinder, DOHC
Bore & stroke:96.0mm x 62.1mm
Fuel delivery: EFI
Fuel tank capacity: 1.6 gal
Lighting coil: No
Spark arrester: No
EPA legal: No
Running weight, no fuel: 237
Wheelbase: 1495 mm (58.9″)
Ground clearance: 325 mm (12.8″)
Seat height: 955 mm (37.6″)
Tire size & type:
Front 80/100-21 51M Bridgestone
Rear 110/90-19 62M Bridgestone
Front: Inverted telescopic, air spring,
Rear: Link type, coil spring, oil-damped
Country of origin: Japan
Suggested retail price: $8749