The DRZ has one of the most comprehensive ballistic computers "ehem" speedometers you will ever see on a bike...
Macman testing the Zed's stopping power.
The Crash Test Dummy speaks:
First up I am not going to compare this bike against the likes of the Euro 400's, that would be the wrong thing to do. Unlike the Euro's this bike is as happy on the road as it is off.
The field of comparable mounts includes the likes of the XR400, KLX400 and the TTR250.These trail bikes are not built with the racer in mind, but to be super reliable trail mounts and good all rounders. From what I have learnt from during my short time on the DRZ400, Suzuki has hit the nail on the head.
The DRZ is not a light bike weighing in dry at 119 kg. It does carry it's extra weight well though and it is not until you
get out of shape or have to pick it up on a snotty hill that you really notice it.
The engine is a little gem! It happily bops along all day with out making a fuss, chewing down everything you throw at it. The chunky midrange is where the fun is to be had with this motor. The useful torque that starts down low allows you to lug up that snotty hill or make a few errors with gear selection on the trail.
The front suspension is definitely on the soft side out of the factory. The first piece of single track I pointed it at didn't take long to find its limits. For me the front forks would need a set of heavier springs and some valving work, which is a common modification according to other DRZ owners I spoke to.
The rear suspension was a different story, it handled every thing that I pointed it at. It soaked up rocks, roots and ruts with ease
and only complained a couple of times when landing from erosion jumps.
The stock tyres the Doctor comes with are the Dunlop Gritties. These tyres should be left at the dealers when taking delivery of your steed. They are not a tyre I would recommend for any dirt related work especially wet conditions.
I had the most fun on the DRZ blasting down flowing ridgeline tracks with a few erosion jumps thrown in to keep me on my toes. Pounding into fast corners keeping the motor in it's meaty midrange was fun. The grin on my face gave me sore cheeks after a while. As for hills, you just picked a line in second or third gear and before you new it, you were at the top watching the others trying to do the same. One thing that annoyed me was the headlight staying on when you turned the engine off with the killswitch. Considering the fact that the DRZ comes with an electric leg only, it is definitely going to lead to a flat battery for some.
The DRZ makes a competent trail bike after you customise the suspension to suit your weight and style; which in fairness is something you would do to any bike to prepare it for dirt work. It will also punt you to work during the week with no fuss at all, so you do get your money's worth out of a DRZ400!
I have had a heap of time to consider the DRZ - too long in many respects. However, it has allowed me to make some more
insightful observations in relation to the latest trends and developments in 4T technology.
From the first moment I rode one, I knew I liked the DRZ. I am not one to turn over bikes often and at this stage in my life, I am not in a position to run both a road bike AND a trail bike. My bike has to be THE bike. There is a world where new bikes at the bleeding edge of technology are duking it out for the fastest lightest winningest rocket ship award. And then there is the real world where Mike wants a bike that he can hose off and ride to work without spending hours on maintenance or copping a terrible case of piles. Enter the DRZ.
When the DRZ hit the shores here in 1999, Yamaha was most definitely the market leader. KTM was not far behind, and Honda still
had the old faithful XR400. Suzuki appeared to have made a decisively different move with the DRZ. While there have been numerous
DRZs raced successfully, Suzuki focussed on building a real world TRAIL bike. Perhaps I am unconventional in using a trail bike
for everything, but my car is a bomb, I hate parking tickets, I hate traffic, bikes are cheap on fuel, and what the hell -
a 400cc thumper on bitumen is so much fun it is almost criminal.
I had custody of the test DRZ for a whole week, in which time I did ALL of my travelling with it on all sorts of roads. My long
suffering TTR has seen 3 hour stints on freeways going to GPs, countless commutes to work, crazy motardesque back road jaunts
after dark, and all of my trail riding with the DBW circus. There are only so many times an itty bitty little 250 mill can keep
turning with an ape like me on it's back and I know it. A DRZ is the logical progression for me and I snapped up the opportunity
to put down some k's on this one. When the yellow mount came to me it had been crashed and thrashed by the rest of Australia 's
motoring press. Wilko even had a go at testing its resilience. He blamed this on the front tyre, and I have to say I would second
that! It had over 1000km on it, so you could safely say that it was run in, bearing in mind the true spirit of "renters do
everything faster". Suffice it to say I gave it no quarter.
The DRZ is a big bike. The seat is high - one could make a comedic short film with footage of the average 5'5" Japanese
male attempting to mount one without making a complete ass of himself. The whole bike felt substantial yet manageable. It is not
skinny to the point of being uncomfortable. As someone who is extremely height advantaged, I feel nervous clutching on to the
precious little offered by some "race" style bikes. The DRZ has enough between the legs to keep me smiling. It may not
be the lightest bike on the market, but it feels composed and settled at any speed without the extra weight becoming a hindrance.
Picking the bike up was the only time the weight bothered me at all. Surprisingly, the bike was nimble at low speed even though
it is on the heavier side of things. The flip side is that the extra stability combined with the motor from heaven makes for
devilish slides on fire trails. To say it is stable is not to say it does not turn in well, it simply lacks the jittery and
over-lively feel of many of the mid size thumpers on the market. While I like a bit of a rush when riding, feeling like I am
astride an angry anorexic coke-headed supermodel is not really my bag, and the smooth stable ride afforded me more time for
my kind of fun.
"...the DRZ400 motor is the most flexible and enjoyable mill around at the moment..."
(can you tell Mike really wants a DRZ? Ed)
In my opinion, the DRZ400 motor is the most flexible and enjoyable mill around at the moment and this is what makes the DRZ so
attractive. It is super smooth and hard to stall at low speed, making it easy to chug around town and pleasant just to take
exploring. Makes no mistakes though - this thing can have a serious sting if you let it rev. And rev it does! You can dial
in "stupid fast" if desired and it will do that merrily for as long as you can avoid the scenery. There are more
powerful motors about, but none that offer the flexibility of the DRZ. The torque allows lazy gear selection
or "mistakes" if you want to call them that. The clutch is very light - typical Suzuki here with plenty of feel.
The gearbox was smooth and feels strong, but some of the changes felt a little sluggish when riding the bike hard. I figure
this would only be noticeable if you rode a lighter flywheeled bike just beforehand. Adding a 6 th gear for road use would be
helpful in making it an even better dual-purpose mount. The motor certainly felt like it could pull it. Even fitted with the
standard gearing, 5 th had the crank going awfully fast at 110kph. It would still go harder, though responsible people don't
need to read about such things.
The brakes will get you in or out of as much trouble as you like. The front is particularly good and performed well in some
savage testing (was that a speed camera?) from over 100kph on the bitumen. Even hauling down those speeds there was no fade.
On the dirt, the only time it scared me was with the stock tyres - more on that later. The rear does everything just fine.
The suspension compliments the motor's delivery with a plush feel, while still keeping enough in reserve for when you let your hair down. This applied to the road too. Ignoring the cries of insanity from the back row, I must implore everyone reading to take a middleweight dirt bike, pump the KNOBBIES up to 35psi and hit the twisty bitumen. Better still get some motard wheels! The alchemy discovered therein should be sufficient to give wood to the abstinent and put a grin the size of Texas on the face of anyone with a pulse. I know this is not "roadbikeworld.net" but this bike was honestly as content on the bitumen as it was off it and a bloody hoot to boot. Around town it was very easy to be more than a little naughty. The front end comes up a little too easily sometimes when there is such good traction, especially taking off from the lights "so they tell me". "Rumour has it" that trailing the brakes late into corners with crazy lean angles was sensational fun. I would happily have a road only DRZ with some motard wheels, and the best thing is that this bike has been engineered to cope with it. But back to getting dirty!
Ready to wherever you point it.
The DRZ is a versatile all-rounder.
With stock suspension settings, both ends were ok until I really pushed it, although the front end did seem fast on the
compression. I tinkered with the compression and rebound adjusters both ends to find a very happy medium. I rode the bike
in some very tight and twisty terrain where I had to negotiate fallen logs and rocks, some nasty ruts and snot at varying
speeds. Gentle plodding or reasonably spirited riding was never a problem for either end. However, this is not a racing bike,
and charging hard through this stuff bottomed the rear end more than once. This pilot travels heavy and not many bikes in
stock form like big hits with 110kg of a lanky lunatic on their back so I will forgive this little yellow duck.
Overall, "nice" is a word that comes to mind when remembering this bike. Like all Japanese bikes it does benefit from
some improvements before one gets too busy riding it. There are two things limiting the amount of fun you can have with the DRZ
before something goes wrong. I stress this is not a Suzuki issue, just a generic Jap bike issue combined with stupid ADR
constraints in this country.
Firstly, the stock bars are made of cheese. I don't mean that hard cheddar type. This is a half-baked rip-off of that awful
floppy McDonalds Filthburger rubbercheese. By the time I got the bike, they had been bent and restraightened a number of times,
and I was not game to venture anywhere offroad with them still on the bike. Also, irrespective of the rider height, there is
something about the ergonomics with the stock bend which makes it difficult for most riders to feel comfortable both sitting
and standing. The little bit of roadwork I did with the stockers convinced me that they sucked.
Solution? I fitted my Renthal
Jimmy Button high bend bars straight off the TTR, and I rode it the whole time I had it like this. I think it is justified
since everyone will need to put new bars on, and I can safely say that these ones worked well.
Secondly, the Bridgestone Gritty tyres are deceptively bad. I know that full-blown knobbies are not provided as stock items
on any registerable bikes, but unfortunately Gritty's look like they might be ok at first glance. Well they are far from it!
The rear is fine and coped with all conditions well. The front was not so good. It was nervous on all dirt surfaces and prone
to a sudden and total loss of traction. I cracked it and stole another good bit off the TTR - my intermediate Bridgestone M57.
My advice would be to take the front off and give it to someone you don't like much, and when the rear is stuffed go buy
something suited to your riding terrain.
While big and heavy, the stock headlight worked brilliantly at night. The switchgear was about right, which will encourage people to leave it fully wired and ride the thing everywhere - pity about some of the other ADR stuff though. The DRZ has one of the most comprehensive ballistic computers "ehem" speedometers you will ever see on a bike with knobbies. It has multiple trip meters, a clock, and a cache of other features. As handy as it was a few times, I don't actually know that many DRZ riders who leave it on. Some of them may never have worked out how to use it properly, whereas others probably removed it just to save weight. One thing I do know is that you get about a slab or two's change out of a grand to replace it, so it is best not to crash it to oblivion! In retrospect the digital speedo was not necessarily the most appropriate choice, but it may just influenced by the Japanese civilian market. More on that decision in a bit
The engineers at Suzuki must hate regreasing rear suspension bearings as much as I do, and wisely spec'd the rear end with
grease nipples. To me, the fact that they did suggests that they knew that the DRZ would be a "keeper" bike for
long-term owners. Having run a bike without nipples for about 30,000km now, I have killed 3 sets of rear suspension bearings.
Without nipples there is no way to keep the grease where it should be in the long term and in this case the nipples will save
long term owners considerable time and expense. Jobs like the airbox access and other service related components were well
thought out and executed - anything which makes servicing easier helps to ensure a long-lived bike.
This bike is not without its flaws. Fortunately most of them are minor and easily remedied, but there are a couple of
significant points in my mind. One of the skills essential to getting away with things in this world is being able to
go unnoticed. Everyone needs to be aware of the public's perception of dirt bikes and the behaviour of their riders.
The DRZ400 has one rotten flaw which (no comma) blows any attempts to keep a low profile - the stock exhaust is terribly
loud. (Leave it this way please.) The test bike came from Suzuki WITHOUT the restrictor bung in the end cap, and the noise
was most offensive. I felt extremely self-conscious riding it in the bush and a little less so on the road. Yes it goes a
little better without it, but how Suzuki can let such a go anywhere machine be so offensive everywhere is beyond me. The
stock pipe is big, heavy and rust prone - a typical Japanese muffler. Yet with all that bulk, they still built it so any
chimp with an allen key could turn it into a 100dB + broadcaster in 90 seconds. I have heard plenty of DRZs with the bung
in but they also seem too loud for all round use. Here's an idea Suzuki - instead of the megabuck development program for
the digital speedo-cum-microwave, spend the money on developing a quiet, durable, lightweight pipe!
While rethinking things, the blinker stems are made from a brittle plastic and the rear guard extender would hold two or
three hot dinners. Other manufacturers have sorted this elementary stuff out quite a while ago. A certain Blue 250 I know
very well came with flexible, durable blinkers which it still wears unbroken one dislocated shoulder, 2 concussions and 3
sets of bars later. Prospective owners hoping to use their DRZ for everything will need to rethink all of the road-going
gear, except the mighty headlight.
I poked about looking at things in the shed while changing bars and the front tyre and discovered a strange little Suzuki
quirk. The engineers have looked at various things, worked out the number of screws and washers required to do a job, and
then have always chosen to use more loose parts than was required. Many of them are uniquely rolled washers or spacers,
and the bolts are often one off items not found at your local bolt shop. As we all know, shit happens riding dirt bikes
and often out in the middle of nowhere. This is precisely the place a rider/mechanic does not want to be forced to inventory
excessive parts during a repair. In changing the front tyre, I was serenaded by the pretty tinkle-tankle of wheel spacers
and all manner of bright and shiny things hitting the shed floor once the axle was drawn out. It would be wise for the new
owner to familiarise themselves with the "what/where" drill before they have to work it out mid ride, and perhaps
even wiser to standardise some of the bolts and washers used for various things.
If I were buying a DRZ (and it is very likely that I will) I would also do a couple of other things. As with most bikes available in Australia , the stock engine protection is not up to the rigours of our trail conditions. A bash-plate would be an essential item to collect when buying the new front tyre, bars and Barkbusters. I would seriously investigate aftermarket alternatives for the complete stock exhaust system. I would also sort out some halfway smart blinkers and an alternative speedo. This will let you get on with the serious business of enjoying what really is a "do it all" bike. If the budget allowed I would DEFINITELY be putting aside a "couple of large" or some motard wheels and start a savings kitty for the "ticket" fund. For anyone looking for a no-nonsense bike to do it all, the DRZ is well worth a look. It would be at home literally anywhere in this big wide land of ours, and with a motor like that it just begs to help you get lost.
Mike aka Macman