From Ken Roczen clinching the 2016 Lucas Oil Pro Motocross title on his RCH RM-Z450, to New Zealand’s very own Ben Townley winning a heat race at the 2015 FIM Monster Energy Motocross of Nations, Suzuki’s flagship moto has still been winning at the highest levels. But it wasn’t leading the pack when it came to development. That’s why the 2018 Suzuki RM-Z450 was in need of some serious “yellow magic” to bring it back up to speed.
The once mighty Suzuki RM-Z450 received some great – and also some not-so-great – updates in the past decade, yet the big-bore moto was in need of an overhaul. But Suzuki didn’t need us to tell them. That’s why the marque went back to the drawing board, with the help of Ricky Carmichael and Stefan Everts. If you’re going to start from scratch, it pays to use the riders who have done the most winning, right?
But did those test pilots understand what the new bike needed to bring to showroom floors for those who pay to play?
From the pro to the joe
Let’s get it out of the way: all those who rode the RM-Z450L8 for The Fast Times don’t exhibit any of the traits of someone who is brand loyal. That means every single one of those test pilots will speak up if something isn’t working.
Now, if you’re expecting to hear the worst, it is quite the opposite. The all-new four-fit is a well-rounded package.
But what makes it so?
Let’s take a ride on the 2018 Suzuki RM-Z450
There is nothing like the thrill of kicking over a brand new bike. The thing is, though, the RM-Z is still started with a kick.
For 2016, only two of the flagship bikes from six marques came equipped with an electric leg. As we head into 2018, four of those motos come equipped with a button to start – with one having it as an optional extra and three forgoing a kickstarter completely – but the Suzuki isn’t one of those.
Is it a huge deal? No. The 2018 RM-Z450 easily kicks into life. But those who have tipped over while racing in the mud, or found themselves parked on the wrong side of a steep hill, will be the most vocal about the lack of that magic button.
If weight savings wasn’t the goal of leaving it off – note, at 112 kilos, the RM-Z450L8 is one of the heaviest bikes in its class – you have to wonder if Suzuki is saving it for the next update.
It gets an A for aesthetics
From the moment we loaded the Zed up from Whyteline Limited, the dealership that prepped and supplied the RM-Z for us, it was easy to see the L8 looks as sharp as its competition. There is one thing that bothered us, though: the can that sticks out of the rear. It’s not a deal-breaker. But the long muffler is reminiscent of the first generation of modern four-stroke motocrossers.
The aesthetics also translate to the ride, too. If you head down to your local Suzuki dealer, to throw a leg over the 450 on the showroom floor, you’ll see that the bodywork makes for a streamlined machine that makes it easier to move around on.
On the track, the RM-Z felt even lighter and more nimble than the last. That is saying something, too, since the last generation of the four-fit – even though it originated in 2008 – felt thinner and more nimble than some of the competition. That slimness is a result of the completely new chassis – that is lighter but more rigid – coupled with the new bodywork. It proves that the Suzuki engineers made sure to keep with tradition of the RM-Z cornering like no other bike. Like it should, the form definitely followed the function on this new Zed.
The 2018 Suzuki RM-Z450 turns heads and loves turns
There’s an old adage that Suzukis corner better than other bikes that has never really gone away. Like most adages, there is truth to that. It is most definitely the case with the L8, too, as it was the first thing that every test pilot was first to note.
That is also one of the biggest compliments someone could give a premier class moto with 450 cubes. It’s because a modern four-stroke has a lot of moving parts inside the powerplant. All of those moving parts, going at a very rapid pace, result in internal inertia that can result in a bike wanting to stand up in corners when the power is rolled on.
It’s not the case with the 2018 Suzuki RM-Z450, though. Even when the slower riders grabbed a ham-fisted handful of throttle, the Suzuki stayed in its rut and exited the corner in the direction it was pointed. The L8 exhibited good handling through chicanes, too, where not all the riders were showing proper technique. Those are the characteristics of a bike that will be of great use to the average Kiwi rider, who can run out of talent before the bike runs out of ponies.
So, while it was built for the track, those weekend warriors will still be able to dodge those trees on the trails with relative ease.
The 2018 Suzuki RM-Z450 has legs to stand on
The 2018 Suzuki RM-Z450 handles well, which is a combination of the frame and suspension working in unison. Just like the frame, the forks and shock are entirely new. But the new uses a bit of the old: the tried and true system of oil and springs. That is nothing but good news to those riders who never figured out the right settings for the Showa SFF-AIR Fork that came on the last three models of the Zed.
The difference is clear, too, with the new 49mm Showa fork feeling better than the air fork. That was early on in the test, before the current fork had bedded in, which speaks volumes about the new setup. Even though the air fork had the ability to change what is the equivalent of changing a spring rate by using a pump, it was never easy to master. The new fork is smooth over braking bumps and rain ruts. But the faster pilots noted the fork would blow through its stroke when pushed a bit harder.
The fork is paired with a new shock: the Showa Balance Free Rear Cushion (BFRC). It is new to showroom floors, but the BFRC shock has been on factory race bikes in Europe for two seasons. Being tested by Everts, Townley and Kevin Strijbos is one thing. Did the success of the factory testing trickle down to the riders who pay to play? It certainly has. But like the fork, it blew through the stroke when pushed hard. Although, the test was done on stock settings. With further testing, there is potential to be unlocked in the front and the rear.
What about the power?
The Zed has the handling down. But is the power delivery as user-friendly? There is no doubt the L8 is an arm-stretching moto to those mere mortals who don’t have good technique. But the engine isn’t out to kill its pilot. When rolled on, the real meaty part of the power doesn’t hit until the mid range. That’s where it really comes on. The power continues through to the top, and into the over rev, too.
Sure, it isn’t the strongest engine in its class. But it has 450 cubes, with the ability to change the maps with the included couplers, so there is power in spades for joes. The real strength of its engine is in the mid to top, which requires open trails or some more bike skills.
You’d think the combination of getting the power to the ground, while working with the suspension that is also battling the terrain, all on a rigid chassis, would be the hard part. You’d be right, too. But the fact that engines continue to be more compact, yet pump out more and more ponies, all while being reliable, never ceases to amaze. The marque has done all of that with the 2018 Suzuki RM-Z450.
It’s all in the details
So, the RM-Z moves at a rapid pace, and handles well. What else does a rider need? The ability to stop just as fast, that’s what. The marque made sure riders can do that by upping the braking power at the front. The addition of the new 270mm rotor makes for more stopping power, which makes a real difference to the Zook. The rear brake has been changed, too, in the way of a revised master cylinder that keeps it clear of the boot. But the rear brake isn’t as strong.
Also up on the ‘bars is the Suzuki Holeshot Assist Control system (S-HAC). The system returns for ’18 to let riders turn on a smoother power out of the gate. Again, some riders would rather have replaced that button with one that turns the engine over. But that will only be a deal-breaker to a certain type of rider. It’s safe to guess that an electric start is in the big Zook’s future, too.
In a world of instant gratification, there are some things are worth waiting for, such as the 2018 Suzuki RM-Z450. But for those with no willpower, jump on the new Zed, and twist your wrist. You’ll get instant horsepower and torque that will make your summer a lot more fun.
Will The Fast Times will see you on the track and trails?
Main Photo: Suzuki Motor Corporation