The few Suzuki RM-Z450 racers left have been loyal to their brand beyond fault. They have been promised new bikes every year for the past 10 years, but keep getting disappointed on Christmas
Day when they open the package and find last year’s bike wrapped up
in tinsel and colored ribbon. Overall, the MXA wrecking crew thinks that
the RM-Z450 is built on good bones—and those bones are why this bike
hasn’t fallen off the face of the earth. The potential is there, but no one at
Suzuki seems to want to take the trouble to bring it to the forefront. The
Suzuki has finished last in MXA’s 450 shootouts for many years, and it is
in the cellar again in 2017. Why? Because it is unchanged from last year.
HOW DOES THE RM-Z450 RATE IN THE MAJOR CATEGORIES?
Power output: Very good. The RM-Z450 produces a very clean-run-ning powerband that works best from low to mid. Not fast in the pure
sense of the word, but its biggest highlight is that the power is perfectly
placed. It makes up for its inherent weakness on top with usable power
from the low to mid. A lot of credit goes to how torquey the RM-Z450
feels on the front end of the power curve. It jumps up onto the pipe with
a steady metronome style of power that helps you get out of corners a
hair quicker than the more powerful bikes. If you just look at the numbers, the RM-Z450 doesn’t set the world on fire, but in the right hands,
it is a very good engine.
Suspension: Bad. The 2017 Suzuki RM-Z450 has the worst forks of
2017. They remind the MXA test riders of the cement-filled Showa SFF
single-spring forks from 2013–2014—only much more complicated to
live with. Not a single MXA test rider would volunteer to race the 2017
Suzuki on a rough track unless the stock forks were taken off and buried
in a hole. Can you tell that we hate these forks with a passion? We don’t
hate the shock, but if the forks don’t work, neither does the shock.
Handling: Very good. Suzuki handling is a trade-off. You have to give
to get, but for most modern tracks, which aren’t very rough or very fast,
but are littered with endless jumps, Suzuki’s turn-at-all-costs philosophy
makes it the best-turning bike on the track. However, the price you
pay for the RM-Z450’s super-sharp cornering is a twitchiness that elicits
gasps from spectators on the sidelines. You gotta give to get. Where is
the 2017 Suzuki RM-Z450 at its best? On a hard-packed track with lots of
jumps and very few bumps. In these conditions, the forks aren’t stressed,
and the chassis is never upset by undulating terrain.
Brakes: Poor. In what dimension should the heaviest bike have the
worst brakes? Planet Suzuki. When every other Japanese manufacturer
gave a half-hearted attempt to close the gap on KTM’s masterful Brembo
brakes with bigger front rotors, Suzuki just shrugged.
Clutch: Poor. Years ago Suzuki bought into the idea that they could
sell more bikes if they made the clutch easier to pull on the showroom
floor. So, they put in weak springs that don’t work on dirt, just on linoleum.
Weight: Poor. In an imaginary world where the Suzuki RM-Z450
didn’t weigh 240 pounds, the small brake rotor would actually stop the
bike, the same engine would be snappier and more responsive, and the
suspension would not be trying to hold up a tub of lard. No such place
Horsepower: Good. The 2017 engine is identical to the 2016 engine,
which was the 2015 engine and, not surprisingly, very similar to the
2014 engine. Peak horsepower is pegged at 54. 88 horsepower at 9200
rpm. That makes it the sixth most powerful engine out of the six bikes
in this shootout. But, all is not lost. It ranks second overall in low-end
power and above Honda and Kawasaki in midrange power. The trouble
with the Suzuki RM-Z450 engine is that it is stuck in the past,. It is still
tilting against windmills that have long since fallen. Need proof? The
2011 Suzuki RM-Z450 broke the 54-horsepower barrier six years ago.
The new Chuck Yeager speed barrier is 58 horsepower. The RM-Z450
has competitive torque at 36.03 foot-pounds, which is better than the
CRF450, KX450F, YZ450F and FC450.
2017 SUZUKI RM-Z450 CONCLUSION
The 2017 Suzuki RM-Z is the epitome of a self-fulfilling prophecy. The
bean counters at Suzuki don’t believe that the sales of the RM-Z450
justify spending R&D money on it. Thus, they band-aid the new models
with a patchwork quilt of busywork mods that don’t satisfy the potential
buyers, who decide to buy a KTM 450SXF instead. As a result, sales of
RM-Z450s go down and the bean counters say, “We told you so. It’s a
good thing that we didn’t spend R&D money on a new bike.”