Minor Changes For 2019 But All New For DBT
Photos: Jim Carley and Scott Hoffman
There is some good going in blind! There was some talk about some issues with the 2018 RM-Z450 early on and then we heard some positive feedback on the motorcycle. For DBT, we had our eyes wide open since we were not able to do any testing on the 2018 450 due to timing and bike availability. To us this is a good thing because the slate is clean and blank.
For the 2018 model year, the Suzuki was considered an all-new motorcycle. Well, most of it was new (at least the chassis and suspension) while the engine was a carry over with updates to the power delivery. First and foremost, gone was the air fork and it saw the return of springs in the form of 49mm Showa legs. In the rear, Suzuki was the first to run a BRFC Showa shock, or what they call “Balance Free.” There is no valving on the main piston and the oil flows in a direction into and exiting the reservoir. All of the valving—compression, rebound, and high-speed compression are controlled on the reservoir. Interesting concept, but there were some positive and negative feedback with regard to the stock settings and spring rates on the 2018, again, not from us. Some said the bike was not balanced and required over 110-114mm of sag to level the chassis out and the aftermarket sector offered lowering
links as well.
With all-new suspension also came a new chassis, swingarm, and styling to update the RM-Z450 that was getting a little long in the tooth at that point. What Suzuki has always been the leader in is turning. What they lacked was a chassis that was forgiving when tracks got rough. It also had a fork that felt harsh. The goal with the 2018 was to try to retain the turning but tame the rigid chassis. The question is, did they achieve it?
When the 2018 was announced, some were a slightly bummed Suzuki was still a little behind the times by not offering a new motor with electric start, and they didn’t put the 450 on a diet. Yes, electric start is commonplace now and Suzuki is the last to not go in that direction, but maybe time will change this. The Suzuki is an easy bike to kick over, FYI. However, you get a little complacent after riding every other bike with the button and by the end of the day, you wish you had the button on every bike—just saying.
The engine was not totally updated but simply tuned with minor updates. We imagine that Suzuki is working on a new power plant to possibly go into this chassis by 2020 or 2021. Crap, did I just start to talk about 2020s? Anyhow, rumor has it Suzuki might be working on a dual-sport bike since EPA laws are making it harder and harder to build off-road legal bikes; so you might as well just go street legal. Honda did, and KTM, Husky, and Beta all have. This means that a new, dedicated electric-start engine might be on the drawing board or already being tested in a land far, far away. Now let’s get back to the 2019.
This was a quick test of the 2019 with one rider at one track a few weeks prior to the upcoming DBT 450 Comparison. We got a feel for the RM-Z but we can’t say we really tested it.
What’s New for the 2019?
That list is short but so was the 2019 YZ450F list and we were amazed how small changes can make a difference. For the Suzuki, they wanted to balance the chassis and reduce the stink bug effect many were talking about. To do this they simply went with a softer shock spring that would ride a little lower in the stroke, recommended 110mm of race sag, and made some adjustments to the compression adjuster. Be reminded, there are no clickers on the shock adjusters, just turns or fractions of turns. It’s a little trippy but you get used to it. For a second we even looked for a rebound adjuster on the bottom of the shock but it wasn’t there. As for the fork, there was also a small change in the fork compression adjuster settings.
It had been a year since we had ridden a Suzuki 450 so we were not sure what to expect and we kept our expectations open. The chassis feels really good and the ergonomics appealed to my 6’1″ frame. Yes, we wish the bar mounts had adjustable positions but luckily, they were in place. The bar bend was workable but I have never been a big fan of the Renthal Fatbar feel while riding, but that is more of a personal preference.
We set the sag to 110mm and were able to get proper static and race sag with my 200-lb frame. The RM-Z felt pretty balanced and the stock settings were pretty close and it didn’t take more than a lap to start doing all of the normal jumps at Milestone’s main track in So Cal. I was figuring it would take more time to get acquainted with the bike but it felt pretty good really fast. The engine is powerful but the power curve is a little narrow and it lacks some low-end chug that some other bikes have adopted in the last year or so. It’s still very manageable and runs strong but feels a little last-generation compared to the throttle-to-rear-wheel connection some of the latest bikes have gone toward. The new engines allow for an even more lazy riding style where the RM-Z you have to use a little more throttle control and have to make sure you are in the right gear. It lacks a little bit of punch but it is also very easy to ride and control at the same time. Most would say it runs really well unless you jump on a few of the other latest options. But for the average rider, including myself, there is ample power and at times I felt like I could ride the Suzuki more aggressive because of the engine. If I wanted more, I just twisted the throttle a little more than usual. We have heard from several that had a 2018 or 2019 that some of the aftermarket exhaust can give the bike a little more pep. But in reality, except for a little lack of bottom out of corners, the power delivery is better than the older RM-Z450 but maybe a little light compared to some of the current competition.
What shines on the RM-Z450 is how it handles. It is still the king of turning and can carve a turn better than most whether it’s in a rutted turn or a flat corner. The chassis has a lighter feel compared to the prior generation and it actually feels lighter than it says on paper. It’s a very easy bike to ride because it pretty much goes where you tell it to go. Even when the track got rough, the newer chassis does not beat you up like I remembered with the previous generation.
The suspension is very balanced and the subtle changes must have done the job because the bike never felt strange, front-end loaded, or gave us a stink bug feel. The chassis tracked straight, jumped level, and didn’t seem to have any odd traits. The fork was a little firm and we tried to go out on compression, as well as testing slowing and speeding up front fork rebound but had no real results. Next, we went in two clicks from stock and it seemed to soak up the braking bumps better and smooth the feel while entering corners. You do have to be careful because if you go too far in on compression it starts to affect the front end on chop and slap-down landings. If we had more time to test for my weight, maybe a stiffer spring on one side of the fork, or raising the oil height, might help split the difference. The fork is way better than the older air fork and the action was on the mark for the Showa 49mm. Maybe not as plush in some sections as the YZ450F or KX450 fork but, overall, it’s really good.
The shock did not feel out of balance and the only real change we made was to slow down the rebound 1/8-1/4 turns in. The only odd feeling that came from the shock all day was when you were off the throttle and hit a small jump heading into a corner. In those conditions when the shock was not loaded with some throttle, the shock would kick or rebound a little fast. Adding rebound helped and so did blipping a tiny bit of throttle when hitting the bump compared to a totally chopped throttle. The shock did not feel like it squatted too much and kept the rear tracking for the most part.
As for front-end feel, I have never been a fan of the Bridgestone X30 front tires. I have ridden several different bikes with them and have always made a mental note about it and switching tires has always helped. The RM-Z had a front wheel push/traction issue periodically that I could pretty much blame on the tire since it’s the same sensation I had encountered with other bikes with the same tire. The X30 rear works well but the front has to go for me.
The brakes on the RM-Z450 are solid with a good feel and ample bite
It’s hard to make big claims after only spending a few hours with a motorcycle and only one rider’s feedback. The minor changes to the shock and fork must have done their job because I did not really encounter any real issues with the chassis that some had talked about on the 2018 and we only made minor changes during the day. The RM-Z turns and has a great handling package. The engine does feel a little dated with the type of power delivery and it could use a broader power curve with more low bottom and more over-rev but it’s still very manageable and does the job. The fork is not as plush in some areas but overall has great action. Except for fast rebound off-throttle, it was the only issue with the shock, and settings and riding style fixed it for the most part. The shock feels planted and well balanced with the chassis. If I owned an RM-Z the first components I would test would be a different front tire and maybe switch handlebars.
The Suzuki is better than I expected after not riding one since the 2017 model and I would not have a problem riding the 2019 week after week following a little more dialing it in for my personal style. The chassis is amazing, it turns and is less rigid than in the past, maybe still not the most forgiving but very accurate. The suspension works really well and the shock might have gotten a bad rap last year from some test riders. Overall, it’s a solid contender and if the price is right, might be the best pick for some. Stay tuned for the first DBT 450 Comparison soon to come.