5th Place of the 2018 450 MX Shootout: Suzuki RM-Z450
The Suzuki RM-Z450 was one of the most highly anticipated bikes for 2018. With the bike not receiving a major overhaul in more than a decade, the 2018 model featured a new frame, Showa 49mm spring fork, a Showa Balance Free Rear Cushion (BFRC) shock, and revisions to the existing engine platform designed to increase power.
The revised RM-Z450 engine retains a similar character to the previous model engine in the way that it has a smooth and mellow bottom-end and midrange. A contributing factor to the mellowness is the slow-revving characteristic of the engine. The bike doesn’t feel snappy like the Honda, which makes the power very predictable throughout the entire rpm range. The bike does enjoy a fair amount of torque and, unlike the previous model, the new RM-Z450 has stronger top-end hit that rids it of its need to be short-shifted like it had in the past. While the slow-revving quality does make the bike easier and more manageable to ride, it does feel slower than many of the other bikes because of it. This quality was appreciated, but as far as rideability was concerned, many test riders wished the bike had more of a snappy, quick-revving character. Also, while the top-end is noticeably stronger, the over-rev leaves a bit to be desired as the yellow machine seems to fall flat in the very top of the rpm range.
Engine-braking wasn’t excessive, but a few test riders felt that the Suzuki had a little more than most of the other bikes in the class. Also, the clutch seemed to be the weakest of all six bikes and faded noticeably due to most test riders having to slip it excessively because of the bike’s mellow bottom-end power and how slowly it revved. One test rider even had it fade suddenly under a high revving and heavy load too.
Having essentially an all-new bike and sending it off the production lines with a kickstarter was honestly a bit disappointing, especially with four of the six bikes now coming with electric start in stock form. The kickstart lever is on the longer side and can be a bit of a chore to for your foot to reach. However, the bike started first kick almost every time so long as the kickstarter was placed at top dead center. Only a year ago it would have seemed a bit ridiculous to complain about a 450 motocross bike coming stock with a kickstarter, but in 2018, it’s less of a luxury and more of standard racing equipment. Overall, the engine’s linear powerband and slow-revving quality make the bike very easy and manageable to ride, but it lacks some of the excitement and hard-hitting power that the Honda, KTM, and Yamaha display.
One thing that held the Suzuki back in last year’s shootout, and the 2016 shootout for that matter, was the Showa SFF Triple Air Chamber (TAC) fork. Suzuki did away with it on the 2018 model and spec’d its bike with a Showa 49mm coil-spring fork. The new fork has a firm, performance orientation that works better the harder you ride it. It has a stiff feeling in stock form and seems to suit faster, more aggressive riders best. In fact, most of our faster intermediate and pro-level testers raved about the fork, stating that it felt plush, had good holdup in the stroke, and plenty of bottoming resistance.
The fork is very sensitive to clicker adjustments and can easily be softened up for lighter and/or slower riders, yet still retains its performance-oriented feel. The fork works well when tracking through corners, but some test riders felt that it was a bit unstable at speed. Overall, the fork is a major improvement over the Showa SFF TAC fork and suits the faster and more aggressive rider.
The shock moves quite a bit in the stroke, which causes it to occasionally kick when hitting braking bumps and entering corners. Similar to the fork, the shock also had a bit of an unpredictable feeling at speed due to how much and how quickly it moved through the stroke. This worked well in the tighter portions of the track, but this particular characteristic proved to be less than desirable in the higher-speed sections. The shock is more active than the previous year model’s was, which some test riders felt was too active in the faster portions of the track, but most liked it overall and were especially pleased with how well it complied in the tighter portions of the track.
For many years, Suzuki has been highly praised for its handling with a turn-at-all-costs mantra, and that is retained on the new model to almost the same extent. The new yellow machine corners very well but not as razor sharp as it did in the past. However, the give and take is that the bike has improved straight-line stability—an area where the previous model did not fare so well. The bike does have a heavyweight feeling on the track, but it does feel slimmer, especially in the radiator shroud area. The cockpit has a roomy feeling as well as a good balance between being a “sit in” versus a “sit on” sensation when riding it. The front brake has definitely improved over the previous year’s machine and is now on par with the rest of the bikes in the class.
The Suzuki RM-Z450 is undoubtedly improved for 2018. Scoring fifth place in the shootout doesn’t reflect how much better of an RM-Z it is as it has plenty of good qualities about it. The engine has more power, especially the top-end, the suspension is more user friendly and easy to set up, and the chassis has a better balance between being able to corner razor sharp while maintaining straight-line stability. The main two aspects that held the RM-Z back in the shootout were the lack of overall power and the heavyweight feeling it had on the track. We were also a little disappointed not to see the bike come with an electric starter on what is essentially an all-new model. This is the first year of the fifth-gen model and we look forward to seeing what Suzuki does to improve the engine and overall weight feeling on the track in 2019.
“The suspension on the Suzuki is much better than the previous generation model.” — Andrew Oldar
“The RM-Z450 is the most improved bike.” —Ricky Yorks
“The Suzuki is the perfect bike besides the slow engine.” —Bradley Lionnet
“I wanted to ride the Suzuki the least. Not that it’s bad, it just doesn’t do anything better for me than any other bike.” —Sean Klinger