DEFENDING THE THRONE
:: By THE TESTING STAFF OF TRANSWORLD MOTOCROSS
Last year, the 2004 Suzuki RM250 emerged as the clear-cut winner of our annual 250cc motocross bike shootout. A great motor, super suspension, and quick, nimble handling made it the hands-down favorite of each and every test rider who rode it, and we found it hard to wish for more out of a stock bike.
Enter the 2005 Suzuki RM250. Suzuki engineers opted to make only minor changes to the package, but what doesn’t seem like a whole lot on paper equals up to quite a bit out on the track. The biggest engine changes include a 3% increase in crankshaft weight, plus new cylinder porting and cylinder head squish volume. Suspension updates include revised fork and shock settings, plus a thicker shock shaft like those found on the race team machines. The new shock is mated to an all-new swingarm that has a new bridge tube brace mounted behind the pivot section, but in front of the shock. The chassis itself remains unchanged, but new titanium footpegs replace the old steel units. A new rear brake master cylinder and caliper reduce weight and make maintenance easier, while shorter brake hoses on both the front and rear binders save weight and improve performance. Following Honda’s lead, Suzuki has equipped its bikes with aluminum handlebars that are not only lighter than the old steel units, but more forgiving as well.
We’ll cut to the chase, right from the get-go: the 2005 RM250 motor hauls ass! Last year, the RM250 packed a big punch down low, had a lot of mid-range beef, but fell a little flat way up top. This year the bike has even more roll-on power down low, hits hard in the middle, and pulls much further on top. The heavier crank gives the bike instantaneous response from the moment you crack the throttle, and the massive low-end surge allows you to ride the bike in a taller gear if you wish. There’s no doubt that Suzuki engineers had the torquey 450cc four-strokes in mind when they designed this much low-end power into the new engine. As the rpms begin to build, things begin to happen in a hurry and the power pulls well into the upper stratosphere in each gear. The RM250 engine is as versatile as they come, and is equally as effective when revved out or short-shifted. Furthermore, we were equally impressed with it in radically differing track and traction conditions; it ripped through loamy terrain, yet tracked like a champ in the dry, slick, hard-packed stuff. Jetting was as close to spot-on as you could get for our sea-level locale, but as the temperatures began to rise we found that leaning out the main jet one step provided improved revs up top.
Transmission action was as buttery smooth as we’ve come to expect with Suzukis, and the clutch action is light at the lever and perfect in feel and modulation. Another change worth mentioning is the redesigned kick starter, which now does a better job of clearing the right side footpeg, and has better leverage to boot!
Though we were impressed with the motor of last year’s RM250, it was the suspension action and overall handling that really won our testers over. In 2005, the RM250 handles even better, thanks mostly to the new swingarm that adds a noticeable amount of good rigidity to the rear end. The RM250 slices and dices through all corners as well as it ever has, but now it tracks even straighter under acceleration, most noticeably in swap-inducing chop and square edges.
Suspension action on both ends is well balanced for a wide variety of riders in stock condition, and can be adjusted to accommodate all but the heaviest or lightest riders. Fork action is plush initially, but gets pleasantly and progressively firmer as it goes through the stroke. Bottoming control is excellent, whether it be slap-down landings or slow-speed G-outs. The shock, meanwhile, gobbles up everything in its path and keeps the rear end of the bike tracking straight ahead and clawing for traction. Last year we left our RM250’s fork and shock completely stock for over half of the year, and we can easily see doing so again in ’05.
The Suzuki is a cornering monster. Whether it’s diving for a tight inside rut, sweeping the outside or sliding through the middle of a corner, the RM250 does it all and inspires nothing but confidence. Front wheel traction is excellent, even though the bike has a light-feeling front end in comparison to bikes like the Honda CR250R and Yamaha YZ250. The bike is slim, nimble and light feeling in the air, and responds great to mid-air corrections. One might expect a great-cornering bike to lack high-speed stability, but we never encountered headshake or any other sketchy handling from our test bike, even on the roughest, fastest tracks.
Brake action is improved on both ends. Last year, it was possible to get our rear binder to squeal when hot, but we’ve yet to encounter that sensation with the ’05. Though the smaller front brake line was designed with weight savings in mind, it seems to have added better feel and more power at the handlebar lever.
The new aluminum handlebar may not be of any name brand variety, but it improves the ride of the RM250 right off the showroom floor, nonetheless. The bend is neutral and the bars do a great job of soaking up engine and impact vibration, which in turn helps you to ride longer and with more control.
STILL THE ONE?
At press time the 2005 Suzuki RM250 remained the only new 250cc two-stroke that we have taken delivery of, and it would be premature to predict how it will stack up against the new competition in our upcoming shootout. Shooting from the hip, however, we can confidently report that this is the best stock 250cc motocross bike we have ever tested, and it stands head and shoulders above the ’04 model that waxed the competition last year. Knowing well how much hop-up potential lurked within the ’04 bike, we can’t wait to see how lethal the ’05 becomes when it visits the hop-up shop. 2005 could be a very long year for two-stroke racers who aren’t mounted on yellow.