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Review: Suzuki DR-Z400SM, for those that want a dirty road bike (LAMS Approved)

December 2nd, 2007
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Where did this come from?
The Suzuki DR-Z400SM is a Supermotard motorcycle – Supermotard racing has been around since the 1970’s and has had an immense impact on the design of road motorcycles. The name defines the sport as being a blend of motocross and road racing, the sport relies more on the skill of the rider rather than the performance of the bike.

A typical Supermotard racecourse is about 70% tarmac and 30% dirt; the course tests the riders’ ability to drift around corners on the tarmac whilst getting some air on the jumps in the dirt section. The more torque the better when it comes to a SuperMotard racing, because of the different road surfaces, the speed of the race tends to fluctuate and riders need the torque on tap to maneuver through twisty courses whilst achieving a top speed of about 150 km/h.

Suzuki DR-Z400SM

What is a Supermotard motorcycle?
A Supermotard motorcycle is one of my favourite kinds, it reminds me of an SUV. They give riders the versatility of being adventurous off road, yet have some of the practicalities of a road bike.

A Supermotard is typically a motocross bike with road tyres, they benefit from a torquey engine, a lightweight chassis and loads of suspension travel. It has been a relatively cheap segment for motorcycle brands to enter when they already have a motocross bike in their model line-up, just like Suzuki.

How does it look?
The DR-Z400SM is Suzuki’s first attempt at a Supermotard motorcycle and it appears as if they’ve been doing these for years. Similar styling to the motocross brother with a new colour scheme, you pick any colour as long as its gun metal black. Suzuki also added some detailed graphics to the front fender with some white stripes that would match some cool leathers and helmets on the market.

To further highlight the appearance of this motard, a copper theme is incorporated with the front forks and exhaust tip which gives the DR-Z a more urban feel.

Like other Supermotards the DR-Z features 17 inch wheels, which handle exceptionally on the road, absorbing a lot of irrigations found in city bitumen. These wheels are colour coded with the rest of the bike; the 34 spokes are aluminium and in their natural colour match the engine, whilst the wheel rims are coloured black to match the fending.

Suzuki DR-Z400SM

For riders that are over 5 feet 8 inches tall they will handle the DR-Z with ease, with a seat height of 890mm anyone shorter will need a pair of Alpine Star stilettos. The saddle is motocross like and quite thin in width, which is great for the twisty stuff however I wouldn’t seat a pillion on for too long.

How fast does it go?
Suzuki’s are renowned for their engine quality and the DR-Z lives up to its brands reputation, unlike sports bikes of a similar engine capacity where your wrist is forever turning to get somewhere; the DR-Z400SM provides ample low-end torque which is ideal for maneuvering through traffic in town. A single cylinder of 398cc is surprisingly capable, the DR-Z will quite easily keep up with traffic from the lights and when the throttle is squeezed a tad more it will accelerate with the best of them. The size of the engine provides a compact design, keeping the centre of gravity directly under the rider.

The engine uses a carburetor with a digital ignition system, double overhead cam with four valves per cylinder and throughout our time with the Supermotard it didn’t miss a beat. I’d suggest just letting it warm up for a minute or two on those cold mornings for a smoother take-off.

Suzuki DR-Z400SM

Matched to a robust 5 speed gearbox provides smooth gear changes, first gear required a firmer kick down but like most new bikes this will loosen over time. Tapping into neutral was smooth and you can confidently take your hand off the clutch at the lights without looking twice to see that you’re not still in gear.

How does it handle?
The high ground clearance inherited from it motocross brother mean some tree logs are not a problem let alone gutters. Turning into tight corners feels a bit unnatural when you first ride the DR-Z, but it definitely handles the twists. Thanks to the Dunlop road tyres which have a sufficient surface area, grip is not a problem.

We even tested the DR-Z in Melbourne’s rain when the weather surprised us - you wouldn’t typically ride a motocross bike with knobby tyres in the wet but this Supermotard handled like any other road bike. Also first gear is quite low preventing wheel spin adding to the practicality of this bike.

Suzuki DR-Z400SM

The inverted front forks feature 21 way adjustable damping and the rear swing arm, constructed of lightweight aluminum, is 20 way adjustable. On the road the suspension is a good fit, able to absorb any of God’s harshest speed bumps and gutters, but on the dirt is where the suspension can really shine. With so much suspension travel the DR-Z400SM will cope with anything you are brave enough to throw at it. The road tyres are tolerable for some light dirt action but if you plan on taking corners hard off road or experimenting with mud then maybe option for a more agricultural compound tyre, or get a second set of wheels with off-road tyres fitted.

How does it pull up?
The DR-Z400SM uses a single disc per wheel keeping weight too a minimum, because this bike is geared for lower speeds pulling up from any situation if effortless. The 310mm cross drilled front disc is the same used on the GSX-R1000 sports bike, the front forks absorb a lot of the load in the compression enabling soft smooth braking.

Suzuki DR-Z400SM

So what does it have?

A clever trip computer is used in lieu of a traditional speedo and tacho, in fact the DR-Z doesn’t even have a tacho. The trip computer provides a digital speedometer, odometer, trip meter, clock and stop watch.

Suzuki DR-Z400SM

The electric start ignition proved to be perfect, not once failing and with minimal use of the throttle to keep the crank turning. Behind the saddle is a storage bag with zip for items such as a first aid kit and heavier bulkier items that won’t fit in your jacket pockets.

Suzuki DR-Z400SM

Sitting up high on the DR-Z400Sm provides great vision for riding in traffic, enabling you to clearly see over any car and some SUVs. The handle bars and mirrors are conveniently positioned to be able to ride through traffic at standstill of course. 

Who buys one?
This bike would fit into nearly anybody’s Santa sack, Supermotards are the most versatile modes of transport on the road. They are the equivalent of a modern SUV, capable of everyday driving, commuting, and sitting high in traffic. It also has the features that make going off road capable and easy without modification. And the best thing about the Suzuki DR-Z400SM is that it is LAMS approved allowing Learners to ride it. It makes a perfect first bike for anyone commuting or for someone wanting a motorcycle to have fun on the road or some light dirt. You must definitely take the DR-Z for a test ride yourself.

Rating: 4 out of 5

Supermotard Competitors

 Model

Engine capacity

 Price

 Suzuki DR-Z400Sm

 398cc

 $8,590

 Aprilia SXV 5.5

 549cc

 $14,490

 Gas Gas SM450

 449cc

 $12,990

 Honda XR400M

 397cc

 $9,990

 Husqvarna SM 610

 576cc

 $12,795

 Husqvarna SM450R

 449cc

 $12,995

 Husqvarna SM510R

 501cc

 $13,295

 Yamaha XT660R

 660cc

 $11,499

Prices believed to be correct as at time of publication

Suzuki DR-Z400SM Specifications
Engine: 398cc, four-stroke, single cylinder, DOHC, 4-valve, liquid cooled
Starter: Electric
Transmission: 5-speed
Front suspension: Inverted telescopic, oil-damped, adjustable compression and rebound damping
Rear suspension: Link-type, fully-adjustable spring preload, adjustable compression and rebound damping
Front brakes: Single hydraulic disc
Rear brakes: Single hydraulic disc
Seat height: 890mm
Wheelbase: 1,460mm
Length: 2,225mm
Width: 870mm
Height: 1,185mm
Weight (dry): 135kg
Fuel tank capacity: 10.0L

 


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