First Impression: 2004 Suzuki RM-Z250

Last Friday was the press intro of the 2004 Suzuki RM-Z 250 at Glen Helen’s REM track, and much of the assembled media was probably experiencing a sense of déjà  vu. They’d ridden the Kawasaki KX250F, which was co-developed by Kawasaki and Suzuk, a week or so earlier at Cahuilla Creek. Though the KXF and RM-Z are basically the same bike with different plastic, nearly any excuse to escape the office and ride is a good one, and when you can use a day at the track to stretch a three-day weekend into nearly four days, it’s even better.

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However, for those who (like me) who didn’t get a chance to ride the unripe version of the yellow mid-size thumper (AKA the KZ250F), as well as the assembled corporate honchos from Suzuki, the intro was definitely a big deal. With Suzuki, Kawasaki, and Honda all joining Yamaha in the 250 four-stroke ranks this year, all the manufacturers are extremely interested to find out where they stack up in the mix. That’s especially true for this bike. Because the engine was developed by Suzuki and the chassis comes from Kawasaki, and it all gets blended together via their development agreement, things can get even more competitive than normal. While at Glen Helen, Suzuki let us know that they’re already pretty far along in the development of their own aluminum-frame 450cc four-stroke, but this time it will be a solo project.

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Now while no one would ever accuse me of being hired by TWMX for my riding skills, I dig riding as often as I can. I’ve also quickly developed a fondness for the mid-size four-strokes, mostly because they’re easy to ride, and I can hang onto one for a lot longer than I can a 250 two-stroke. At 6’0″, and 200-(mumble) pounds, I always feel like I’m way too big for a two-stroke 125, and on a 250 two-stroke I spend so much energy just trying to hang on, that I get worked in a hurry. But enough about that…you probably want to know more about the bike, so here goes.

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Even though I’m tall, I felt right at home once aboard the RM-Z. Everything felt like it was where it belonged, and I didn’t feel like I had to fold myself up to fit on it. Once fired up and on the track, I was immediately impressed with the power. Not just the output, which was stout, but how broad a range it covered. It was everywhere. All the way from lugging out of corner (where it seemed nearly impossible to get it to fall flat on its face) to the top end on fast straightaways, there was always plenty of power on tap. Broad power like that makes it extremely easy to ride. Personally, I think the engine braking also makes the mid-sized four-strokes easier to ride than their two-stroke counterparts, thought it can make you a little lazier on the brakes. For me that means less arm pump, and more time on the bike.

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The engine made riding really fun. Climbing hills? Joy. Diving back down hills, taking advantage of the engine braking while enjoying listening to the pop-pop-pop of the exhaust? Joy. Powering out of corners? Pure joy.

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Okay, enough about the engine. How about the chassis? I didn’t have any complaints about the suspension on either end. I also can’t grump about the handling, other than it seemed that the front end would wash a bit in corners. Maybe it’s something that can be adjusted with tire pressure, a different tire, fork tuning; or maybe it was just a loose nut (me) behind the handlebars. Either way, it wasn’t a huge issue, and would probably diminish with more time on the bike.

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Jumping was also vice-free, with a nice neutral feel in the air.

One thing I did note was how much difference a handlebar change could make. After riding four times that week, I think Donn was feeling tired and tried to take a dirt nap on the track, which resulted in a pair of tweaked bars. Fortunately, we had a spare set of Answer’s 7/8″ bars with us, and after swapping out the stockers, it was impressive to note how they took the edge off some of the bigger hits out on the course.

At the end of the day when Donn told me that I was riding the RM-Z better than I do a 250 two-stroke, it pretty much validated what I was feeling on the track.

After a satisfying day at the track, we were left with a couple questions. If the RM-Z/KXF happens to come out on top during the TWMX 250F Shootout, do Suzuki and Kawasaki share the honors? Will there be an ugly scene where company presidents wrestle over the title? Or will they just have their engineering departments figure out a way to neatly divide the award into equal halves? The other is, how do you pick between the KXF or RM-Z? Your purchasing decision might come down to who has a better dealership in your area, or which manufacturer is offering the better incentive package (whether it’s financing, trackside support, or schwag). Either way, it’s a great time to be in the market for a new bike.

For video of the day at Glen Helen, click the video link in the upper right column.