By Michael YoungFrom a privateer’s point of view, a factory race team bike is the bike that the deepest wallet could never buy. These are the bikes that sound unbelievably crisp as they clear the 65-foot triples with only a blip of the throttle, and look amazing as they skim effortlessly over the tops of the knee-deep stadium whoops. I know: I've been chasing them ever since I turned pro a little over five years ago.
My initiation into the professional ranks was unique, to say the least. As a test rider for Donn's first magazine MXracer, I scored a ride at the '98 Steel City 125cc National as a guest of the now-defunct FMF/Honda factory 125cc team. In the years since then, I've had the chance to test several other factory race bikes; Ricky Carmichael's Kawasaki KX250 and Honda CR250R, Chad Reed's Yamaha YZ250F, Grant Langston's KTM 125SX, to name a few… Each and every time, I came away shaking my head, vowing to train harder and practice longer in my quest to earn a factory bike of my own.
When Donn called and asked me to come out and test Sean Hamblin's factory Suzuki RM250 I jumped at the chance, mostly because a factory Suzuki 250 is something I had yet to try out. Then the irony of the situation dawned on me: Sean and I were teammates in 2001 on the IMS Pro Series Honda team, and now I was going to be testing his race bike! When we raced together we were pretty even, but then he disappeared up in Canada and we lost touch. The next thing I knew, he landed a factory Suzuki ride! All history aside, I was anxious to try out the bike, seeing as how I ride a stock Suzuki RM250 casually in Supercross.
Because Donn and Garth also wanted to try the bike out and that completely ruled out testing the bike at the Suzuki Supercross track (Swap has a hard time staying off the ground at Elsinore; how was he supposed to ride a real SX track?), Roger DeCoster had Hamy's bike outfitted with a set of works Showa suspension that was set up for outdoor use. We agreed to meet the Suzuki guys at Cahuilla Creek MX Park, which is, in my opinion, the best natural terrain track to test a bike at in SoCal.
When I showed up at the track and spotted the immaculate RM250 with 36 on the plates waiting for me, I became so anxious that I hardly said hello to anyone before I started to get dressed. I was ready to go burn some laps on that bike! After setting the sag, I warmed the bike up and was off. I did about a lap and a half before Garth pulled me off the track and told me that we had to do photos before I went off ripping some motos. On my first lap, as I was still getting to know the track, I noticed that the bike was nothing like the RM 250 that had just won the TransWorld Motocross 2004 250cc Bike of the Year honors. I couldn't wait to get up to speed on it and see what it was really capable of. After blowing up a couple of berms for Garth's camera and getting a thumbs up that meant he had gotten the shot, I clutched it and took off as if an imaginary starting gate had dropped.
The first thing I noticed was how incredibly smooth the powerband was off the bottom, and how strongly it climbed all the way through to the uppermost revs. My RM250 has such a strong hit off the bottom that it sometimes feels like too much to hold on to towards the end of a 30-minute moto. The smooth roll-on power delivery of the factory Suzuki allowed me to be more fluid as I powered out of the soft berms at Cahuilla, and especially in the deep inside ruts that were littered with acceleration bumps. On my RM250, powering through the chop would make it hard to hold onto the bars, but Sean's bike glided through them like they weren't even there because the power delivery was so smooth.
Another thing I noticed was how long the motor pulled in each gear. I have a bad habit of revving the bike so far past the rev limiter in each gear that it actually starts going slower. I could not believe it, though, when I felt how far I could run second gear before having to shift to third on the factory bike. The power from mid-range to top-end just keeps pulling and pulling without ever flattening out, while at the same time doing so in a smooth and easy-to-ride manner. I would have to say that this was the “easiest-to-ride, super-fast motor” that I have ever ridden.
The suspension, however, is what impressed me the most. Though all the factory bikes that I have ridden through the years have been awesome, none of them compare to Hamblin's Suzuki in the suspension department. The works Showa forks and shock were absolutely unbelievable when powering down Cahuilla Creek's super-rough straits and when slamming into those soft, momentum-killing berms. Anyone who has ridden a high-speed track with just the right amount of wet, loamy dirt to stain the back of your new underwear know that they can get pretty rough. Well, this is what Cahuilla Creek is like, every single time I go there. The first time I noticed the suspension is when I was coming down a high-speed hill that had huge braking bumps in every available line, with an off-camber corner at the bottom. I was racing down the hill when I realized that I was going way too fast to hit the braking bumps and still make the corner at the bottom. Once into the bumps, I couldn't believe how well the forks and shock absorbed them, almost as if they weren't even there. Assuming that I had just hit a good line, I set off to test out the suspension in the roughest portions of the rest of the track. I hit every rough rut, square edge and kicker that I would normally try to miss, and I could not find anything that could faze the suspension. The works forks are soft enough to use the whole stroke, yet firm enough to resist bottoming out and kicking back. The bike was very well balanced in the air, and the shock gobbled up the square-edged kickers on the faces of the jumps without causing the bike to kick to the sides.
The factory Suzuki cornered like a dream. The RG3 triple clamps that the team uses have a different offset than standard, and that, coupled with the suspension settings, really allow the front tire to claw for traction in the corners. The front end of the bike stuck like glue in the off-camber corners that fell away from me, and the smooth character of the motor allowed me to power down and through the corners without fear of the rear end breaking loose. In flat, smooth corners, the bike slid like a flat track bike, but it also worked perfectly in the fast, outside rail ruts.
The overall feel of the bike was also impressive. Every shift was effortless, the brakes were strong and had good feel, and the clutch was effortless. A works bike is only as good as the mechanic that maintains it, and it's obvious that Sean's mechanic Alan Terlecki is a pro.
After all was said and done, I came away most impressed with Hamblin's factory Suzuki and I didn't want to leave the track with my stocker in the back of my truck. Thanks to everyone at Suzuki for the opportunity; this experience has completely changed my outlook on factory machinery.