Back when the Yamaha YZM400 project first hit the news, Suzuki had its own superthumper project going. We had heard the rumors and had talked to people who had made prototype pieces for the project bike, but Lump?s gut always obscured the lens of the Dirt Bike belt-buckle cam. Then Yamaha introduced the YZ400F and another shocker, the WR400F, forcing Suzuki and other manufacturers to work that much harder on their own projects. The 400cc replacement for the DR350 slipped into oblivion as Suzuki revamped its effort and aimed it squarely at the WR400F.

Well, the wait is over! Suzuki not only unveiled its answer to the WRF, it unleashed three models on a four-stroke-hungry world?the kick-start DRZ400 is intended for full-blown racers, while the DRZ400E offers electric starting for more casual trail riders, and the DRZ400S satisfies the dual-sport need for speed. Predicting that most folk would opt for the happy button, Suzuki built four DRZ-Es for every kickstart model. So, we ended up with an electric-start model for this initial test. Let?s pop the hood!

Like the WRF, the DRZ400E has a dual-overhead cam head fed by a Keihin FCR 39mm carb, and the bore and stroke are 90.0 and 62.6mm, respectively (the WRF is 92×60.1mm). However, the DRZ has four valves, not five, and there isn?t a detuned California model. The good news is that you don?t have to cut any throttle stops, as with a California WRF or RMX, but the bad news is that neither off-road DRZ is green-sticker legal. Californians can only get red stickers for this competition thumper.
Both DRZ400s have a huge stainless-steel muffler that is more choked off than European DRZs, but power is surprisingly linear in stock form. It?s easy to loft the front wheel for trail obstacles, and Lumpster digs its extended wheelie abilities. It even revs out fairly well. The DRZ is an effective mountain and woods machine in stock tune and should be left stock for use on public lands, but an aftermarket pipe is a must for more competitive applications. Stock, the DRZ400 doesn?t have the low-end snap of the XR400R, much less a YZ426, so it feels more like a KLX300. An unstopped WRF with YZF cam timing is faster than the stock DRZ400 on top, so the Suzuki falls between the XR400 and WR400 in top-end power.
Ours being an electric-start model, it has a couple of differences from the non-E. The DRZ-E has a longer left crank to clear the starter clutch and larger charging system. Also, the kick-start model has a hot-start button, and the E doesn?t. DRZ-E owners can add the insurance of a back-up kickstart kit (MSRP $199), as the battery is a tiny, sealed 6.5-Amp unit that rides under the left side panel (calling for a different rear fender than the un-E). Suzuki left the kicker off of the E to save weight.

Suzuki obviously took great pains to make the DRZ400 handle better than the WRF. The seat and tank junction is much flatter on the Suzuki, making it easier to slide forward for corners. And steering is lighter on the Suzuki, so it feels like it?ll run circles around the Yamaha on tight trails. Even though our electric-start model is eight pounds heavier than the kick-start-only WRF, it feels 20 pounds lighter on the trail. The DRZ turns effortlessly and tracks well, but the new KTM 400EXC turns tighter.
Sure, the KTM is much lighter, but it also has better handlebar position. Both DRZs have a really rearward handlebar perch, which makes the pilot feel cramped and hinders moving forward for turns. Also, the seat shape will give shorter riders fits on real technical trail. It?s tall in the front and short in the back, making it hard to stay forward on technical uphills. Once you start sliding back, it?s hard to stop. Buying handlebars with less sweep helps, but the DRZ really needs a new top tripleclamp with adjustable bar clamps (see sidebar) for taller and/or faster riders.

We tested the new Suzuki on the tightest and gnarliest trails we could find here in Southern California, and Malcolm Smith guided us on some of the trails used on his annual trail ride on the Soboba Indian Reservation. The 49mm conventional fork picks up rain ruts, roots and rocks without transmitting the jolt to the rider, as does the Showa piggyback shock. Malcolm couldn?t wait to try the DRZ on his trails in Colorado, and it should prove excellent in Eastern woods. However, the DRZ-E bottoms easily on big stuff?like fireroad water bars.
Damping is soft, as the fork springs are 0.44Kg/mm, and the shock has a 5.3Kg/mm coil. Stock clicker settings are 14/10 (comp./reb.) out on the fork and 12/10 on the shock. Since both fork clickers have 18 clicks, total, compression adjustment is near the end of its range. Fight bottoming with more fork oil (720cc translates to 122mm stock oil height) before going to stiffer springs. The shock is a little stiffer, being at the halfway point of the range (26 total compression and 21 rebound). Overall, travel and action are comparable to an XR400R, and the ride is much more “loose” than the WRF. It?s fun to flick around on the trails, and it has a very light feel.

While the DRZ400E engine sounds very much like a sewing machine in stock trim, it?s definitely a very good woods bike, stone stock. It has very friendly power delivery, is deceptively fast and has feather-light handling. It turns, wheelies and tracks well and feels way lighter than a WR400F, even with an electric starter! It?s almost a cross between an XR400 and WR400, and hop-up potential is unbelievable, what with Yoshimura spearheading Suzuki?s GNCC race effort. The DRZ-E is so cool, we can hardly wait to get the kickstart version and build our very own Kiedrowski replica! l

? The FCR comes jetted with a 142 main, 45 pilot, OBDXP-4 needle and the pilot screw at 1.5 turns out. Tool Time installed a 145 main in our bike, which was jetted perfectly for the stock pipe and airbox snorkel. Going to a Yoshimura Ti pipe (see sidebar) requires snorkel removal and a 165 main!
? There is a fitting in the intake for a hot-start adapter, so DRZ-E owners who opt for the kickstart kit can buy the intake fitting and use a Terrycable handlebar-mounted hot-start system.
? The DRZ wants premium unleaded fuel and will detonate on gas below 90 octane. Compression is 12.2:1. The dual-sport model has a thicker base gasket and 11.3:1 compression.
? On the DRZ-E, there?s a lock-out device that won?t engage the starter unless the clutch is fully disengaged.
? Where the WRF and XR400s have removable exhaust inserts, the DRZ does not. Removing the chrome endcap does nothing.
? RM250 calipers grace the DRZ wheels, and the front disc is 250mm, while the rear is 220mm. Brakes are excellent at both ends, although the rear end chatters on downhills. The RM250-style brake pedal has a folding tip. Good stuff.
? Although the linkage and swingarm have RM250 dimensions, the DRZ rear hub is wider than the RM?s, so they?re not interchangeable.
? A bona fide aluminum, detachable subframe bolts to the stout chromoly chassis.
? The DRZ400E comes with a keyed ignition, and leaving the key on for even a short period can and will drain the battery. We feel the lights should be wired into the charging system with only the starter drawing from the battery. We?re getting on in years and tend to forget where we left the key.
? A way-cool, wraparound LED taillight is standard on both dirt DRZs. This should be a hit with anyone converting motocross bikes to enduro or dual-sport.
? The oil dipstick is on the side of the frame at an angle, so the bike must be upright for proper reading. Checking the level while on the sidestand creates an illusion of having more oil than you really do.
? We got the bike to boil during a photo shoot in deep sand, but it?s equipped with a reservoir.


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