First Impression | 2019 Suzuki RM-Z450
Last year, the 2018 Suzuki RM-Z450 enjoyed a major overhaul that included a new chassis, bodywork, and suspension components. Though it was popular with Suzuki loyalists, the bike received lukewarm reviews from testers who longed for an all-new powerplant and features like electric start. Furthermore, though the coil-spring Showa fork was a massive improvement over the Triple Air Chamber fork it replaced, the new Balance Free Rear Cushion (BFRC) shock puzzled testers with its tendency to overpower the front end of the machine and affect the machine's overall handling.
For 2019, the RM-Z450 returns with a few key improvements. Though no changes were made to the engine package and it is now the only non electric-start-equipped machine in the 450 class, Suzuki addressed the complaints about the BFRC shock by revising its internal valve settings and a switching to a lighter spring rate. Throw in some bold new graphics that now include some florescent orange hits, and we've got ourselves the 2019 Suzuki RM-Z450!
Last year, we criticized the RM-Z450's suspension balance, as the rear end had a tendency to overpower the front, causing the weight of the bike to pitch back and forth under braking and acceleration. The result was oversteering in corners and a lack of high-speed stability. Furthermore, the rear end of the bike would rise up in the middle of a longer corner and upset the cornering balance until acceleration caused the rear end to squat again. Our band-aid fix was to lower the fork tubes until they were flush with the top triple clamp, and run an excessive amount of rear shock sag; some riders preferring up to 112 mm! We were pumped to hear that although the rest of the bike did not receive any updates, the Suzuki addressed the overall balance of the machine by dropping the shock spring rate to 52 nm from 54 nm, and firming up the compression valving in the fork.
On The Track
We cannot address firing up the bike and taking to the track for the first time without mentioning our initial search for an electric starter button on the right side of the handlebar. In the past, we used to inadvertently reach for a kickstarter on e-start machines, but seeing as how every other 450 from Honda, Husqvarna, Kawasaki, KTM, and Yamaha are now button equipped, it is a disappointment not to see the same convenience worked into the RM-Z450 for 2019.
As always, the RM-Z450 powerplant is friendly and easy to put to good use. The Suzuki is not a powerhouse by any means, but it is far from being slow and non-competitive. We love the broad spread of power that comes on smoothly from the crack of the throttle and pulls strongly through the middle of the rpm range before tapering off mildly up top. The engine responds very well to some clutch work and builds rpm and power quickly when it's needed in an instant. Included with the bike are two optional mapping ignition couplers: the white lean coupler wakes the powerband up and makes it more responsive and exciting to ride without sacrificing much anywhere. We recommend installing it from the get-go. Traditionally, Suzuki transmissions are the most buttery around, and the '19 450 shifts positively with minimal effort.
The RM-Z450 maintains its traditional amazing cornering abilities, and the bike has a much lighter feel on the track while riding than the spec sheet's 247 lb. notation indicates. All told, the RM-Z450 has a light, nimble feel on the track and a narrow, comfortable rider's cockpit. The brakes are among the more superior in class, and we were glad to see that in spite of the minimal changes on paper, the bike's Achilles heel of '18 has been corrected. Somewhat.
The overall suspension balance of the '19 bike is noticeably better than it was last year, as the rear end does not overpower the front as badly as it did. Granted, we still arrived at rear shock rider sag settings between 107 and 110 mm and dropped the forks flush in the triple clamps, but this had a much more positive effect than it did in '18. Though we had to resort to some non-traditional set up, the extreme weight transfer that last year's bike suffered from under braking and acceleration seems to be much less prevalent.
The bottom line? Suzuki fans will love this bike just fine, as it has a familiar powerband, world-class cornering abilities, and a suspension package that although imperfect, is still world's better than the one it suffered through in the air fork era. We just with Japan would add a start button!