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Suzuki Comes To Play In 2018
Story By Dominic Cimino
To say we were excited to throw a leg over the new 2018 “Zook” would be an understatement. There was much debate as to which machine held the highest regards in the “most anticipated bike of 2018” category, but we feel that the all new RM-Z450 is in that mix. It is pretty crazy to think that this yellow big bore had remained practically unchanged since 2005, aside from a few updates here and there. But Suzuki finally put an end to the “Ole Yeller” era with a completely redesigned bike focused on not only elevating the brand, but also supplying riders and racers around the world with a bike that can “Run”, “Turn”, and “Stop” better than the rest.
So why is the RM-Z450 one of the most anticipated bikes of 2018? As stated, after over 10 years the bike finally has changed, and not just the graphics, but a complete overhaul. Think about it: we are on a pretty sharp three to four year time frame with almost all other Japanese manufactures that release new models to the market. Some good, some not so good, but changes nonetheless. Not to mention, KTM and Husky have been flipping new bikes faster than an In n Out cook does patties. This left Suzuki no other option but to reveal a new machine that would leave us foaming at the mouth to ride. And where did we get to finally ride this beauty? The private facility owned by none other than the Joe Gibbs Race Team, located in North Carolina. The stage was set and the bike was ready, so let’s get into it.
The 450 experienced changes from the ground up, and we do not plan to dive into every minute detail in this story. If you missed the previous link on KeeferIncTesting.com that unveiled most of those changes, click here to read through it: https://www.keeferinctesting.com/motocross-testing/2017/6/28/2018-suzuki-rm-z450-first-look. Instead, we wanted to share our thoughts after getting up close and personal. At first glance, she is an absolute beauty! She has sharp lines in the new “beak” body design, hints of blue that really grab your attention, and ergonomics that will make your mouth water. Once we sat on the bike and assessed all of our controls to adjust things accordingly, we noticed something was missing… the “magic button”. No electric start on this new 450, and with the way the industry is headed, it made us ponder why it was not included on an all-new bike in 2018. We asked the Japanese born North American Motorcycle Operations Manager what the scoop was, and he revealed a pretty blatant honest answer: they simply ran out of time. We like that honesty! Suzuki was so focused on creating a brand new bike for the market, that everything else on the motorcycle took priority over tinkering with something foreign to the motocross lineup. It will be interesting to see how long it takes before that button makes it’s debut. Nevertheless, this didn’t hinder our excitement to get on the track after a couple swift kicks on the old fashioned, longer than normal, start lever.
Once in motion, the 2018 RM-Z450 exudes a lively motor package with crisp throttle response. The changes to the air boot design, fuel pump, and injector location all worked very well together, as it complimented the bike’s extremely usable power curve. We feel that this RM-Z power character is so linear in the RPM range that you can ride in second or third gear whenever you choose. If you want to rev the bike, it allows you to due to having great over-rev. If you want to cruise and stay more in the bottom end torque zone, it allows you to with ease as well. This new bike doesn’t make you work to find the “meat” of the power, as it is incredibly user friendly no matter what position your throttle hand is in. We personally did not utilize the additional ignition couplers while testing, but our friend and fellow test pilot, Dustin Pipes of PulpMX.com did, and he explained the leaner, more aggressive map was much better for him and the conditions we were in. On the flip side, we were plenty satisfied with the available power in stock trim.
You cannot always judge a book by its cover, but in the case of the new RM-Z, you definitely can. As stated previously, just the looks of this 450 makes your mouth water, as it’s sharp lines and updated styling evoke a sense of great handling characteristics naturally. This stays true when on the track, as this bike will point and shoot anywhere you want it to. We found ourselves several times charging into corners assuming we would push the front end or get stood up in deep ruts, but to no avail, it is proven once again why the yellow machine is known for it’s amazing cornering abilities. You will feel like a hero entering ruts, flat corners, and just about anything else that requires changing direction. Transitioning from the back of the bike all the way to the tank is effortless, as the ergonomics are slim and playful. The new lower-bend Renthal FatBars really catered to our smaller test rider, and compliment the overall feel of the rest of the bike. The dimensions of the rider cockpit are also comfortable, as the combination of the bar, peg, and seat (rider triangle) dimensions work well with one another. In regard to its weight, the 450 is on the larger side of the scale weighing in at close to 250 pounds (with fuel). But, because this bike handles so well, you will really only feel the weight when lifting it on & off the stand in the pits. The balance of the chassis is also a highlight, with almost equal weight distribution applied to the front and rear end. We did experience a little front end twitch from time to time, but we are positive that when we spend more time testing in different conditions that we can remedy this minor issue.
As for the suspension package, we are all delighted to have spring forks back. They proved to make the front end of the bike stable and planted, as the new beefed up internals allowed us to be aggressive in all circumstances. We did get the fork to bottom every other lap on the steep transitions and jump faces found on the JGR track, but we were reluctant to increase compression because we did not want to sacrifice how the fork felt everywhere else. As for the rear shock, this thing is interesting to say the least. The RM-Z450 utilizes Showa’s BFRC technology found on their GSXR-1000R: Balance Free Rear Cushion. All controls and adjustments are found on the upper shock reservoir that focuses on unique damping adjustments to control compression and “rebound”. We put “air quotes” on rebound, because there is no longer a rebound clicker adjustment. You will have to make 1/8, 1/4, 1/2, etc. turn increments on the new rebound adjuster instead of “clicks”. Again, one day was not enough to really dissect how this thing works in depth, and what you need to do to make it work better. But we can say that minor adjustments make noticeable differences. The range of tuning options has multiplied significantly, and with proper time, one can really have some fun getting in tune with this shock. To round out Suzuki’s new motto headed into the new year of “Run”, “Turn”, “Stop”, we will lastly talk about the RM-Z’s brake package. Up front you will find an oversized brake rotor that increases stopping power. After burning the brake pads in for a few laps, we can tell you that the stopping power is improved; but we can also tell you that the front brakes are still nothing to brag to your friends about. The 2018 set up is good, but not great. The rear brake sees a newly designed master cylinder that helps eliminate mud build up and the possibility of your boot getting hung up, and we can admit we had no issues with getting great feel and stopping power out back. But because the term “Stop” is so heavily utilized in Suzuki’s new marketing campaign, we feel that the front brake could be and should be so much better.
Ok, time to wrap things up on the new Zook. We can go on and on about a lot of things 2018 RM-Z related, but trust us, we want to ride it more first! Yes, we found some things that we weren’t the biggest fans of, but those were small slices out of a big pie. This bike is awesome, and the truck taking it back California needs to step on it. The motor is great, and the ergonomics are fantastic. The styling is drool worthy, and the suspension package is very unique. Overall, we are confident that this yellow machine has what it takes to be a front-runner in the new year. The 450 class is always stacked, so we are very happy to know that the Suzuki engineers took that to heart, as they are incredibly prideful of their motocross heritage. They wanted to put extreme focus on regaining a solid foundation on the competitive side of the industry, and appeal to amateurs and professionals alike to establish one hell of an RM-Army. In the end, to say we had an absolute blast at this year’s Suzuki media intro would be an understatement. We were spoiled with generous hospitality in so many facets, and were given the chance to ride a track nestled inside a lush green forest with dirt that everyone dreams of. Not to mention, even Mother Nature was on our side! It was beautiful, and we want to thank everyone involved with this event for really showing us a great time. Stay tuned on KeeferIncTesting.com for more coverage and future stories on anything RM-Army related.