Unfortunately, it has been a typical Kiwi summer, so there have been a few dark clouds in the sky. But also in the sky are the new Zooks, which are much more exciting to watch, you know, in the air! We headed out to one of our private test tracks to ride, shoot and have lots of moto fun on the 2016 RM-Z250!
2016 marks a breath of fresh air for RM-Z250 stalwarts around the globe. They were hungry for change, for something to get excited about. With over 80 changes to the engine alone, a switch from Showa to Kayaba suspension and all new Holeshot Assist button, there is a buffet of improvements to sink your teeth into…
How much difference those changes would make to its performance is what we set out to discover – and what better place to do so than at my own track. Even better was having Suzuki’s Andrew Hardisty, there to lend an expert hand. There were plenty of thrills, spills and revelations during our day in the heat. So, strap yourself into your seat and hang on for the ride.
Arriving to a strip of yellow tents at my track was unusual, but the bike parked underneath was less so. Sitting on its stand was what looked to be the same RM-Z250 as last year. For a bike with so many changes, you wouldn’t know to look at it. It seems that the one thing they didn’t change was the styling, which seems so far from what we are used to in our image conscious world.
The rumour is that next year’s RMZ-450 will get the full makeover treatment, with the 250 likely to get the same looks at the same time, instead of the trickledown effect. In the meantime, it means I get to enjoy how the old school seat design gives plenty of cushion for my knees in exactly the place I want them to be, whether in my shorts while on its stand or attacking fast straights and big braking bumps. The tallness of seat above the footpegs is far better than the narrow strip we are likely to see next year, so I planned to enjoy it.
It was the colourful KYB shock adjusters that first gives this bike’s new guts away, seeing the handy clickers just below the seat, eliminating the need for spanner work to adjust the high speed compression or getting down on your knees to adjust the rebound. That leads on to the new forks, which are KYB’s second generation PSF, marking the first time Suzuki have gone air fork on their 250.
Then there is the welcome addition of another button on the handlebars, which is the Suzuki Holeshot Assist Control, or S-HAC for short. It also doubles as a fuel injection diagnostic tool and is somehow supposed to tell you engine hours, eliminating the need for an engine hour meter.
A trained eye might see the Nissin symbol taken off the front brake caliper in order to reduce weight for this year, along with a handy oil sight window found tucked safely in behind the rear brake pedal. Finally, it would only be the super observant who would notice that the header pipe is also 40mm longer on the American spec bikes, which makes the muffler stick out that much further, along with the conspicuous absence of a hot start knob. The engineers have changed the decompression system and evidently decided that they didn’t need the hotstart any more, so off it went.
With that, I was able to fire it into life without the confusion of what knob was the “choke” and get riding in order to feel the major changes, knowing that I couldn’t see them.
THE LOW DOWN
While doing my warm up lap it was the low handlebars that I first noticed. It is as though the designers used Ricky Carmichael’s ideal setup as their basis for the production bike and ran with it. I was able to adjust by standing lower to the bike, which is something I should do anyway. I will say that taller riders will almost certainly want more room for their knees.
Next, it was the engine braking I noticed. Looking at the changes for 2016, you will see that the engine cases on the right-hand side have been redesigned to allow oil to escape the crank wheels quicker, helping reduce engine braking. Even more significant is a .5mm decrease in the diameter of the crank wheels themselves. That equals even less drag through the oil, and most importantly the capability of more power when the time comes.
In order to keep the engine humming nicely, Suzuki have added 9 per cent inertia to the magneto, keeping the bike balanced. But the work in reducing engine braking doesn’t finish there as the butterfly valve in its 44mm Keihin throttle body has been opened by 0.5 of a degree, which is also supposed to improve throttle response off idle.
On the track there is still a lot of engine braking on the RMZ, but nothing that bothered me at all. If I don’t want the rear to slow too much, I just wait longer before changing down gears, meaning it was the acceleration that was going to really prove how much difference their changes had made.
Well, the exciting time came as I began to open it up out of turns.
Initially, not a lot was happening as the motor didn’t have enough low down power to pull me out of my ruts in third gear, but I was rewarded once I began using second gear or more clutch to get into the midrange and top end.
For this year, Suzuki have increased their compression marginally by using new intake valves that have a surface that is almost flat on the piston side. Along with that change, a more tapered angle as it comes out from the stem adds a little weight to the valves but the Suzuki testers liked how it felt and it will quite possibly help their durability.
Along with the added compression ratio, there has been some work in reducing friction in the “boiler room”, thanks to new cam lobes and the DLC (Diamond Like Coating) on the gudgeon pin. Most notably, an L-shaped piston ring has been acquired from their street bike technology, which increases ring surface on the cylinder but doesn’t increase friction due to the different tension it is under and materials from previous bikes.
This new ring is meant to reduce “blow by” for an added 2,000rpm and help the fuel-injection system to manage things better. The piston also looks quite different with a process called shot peening removing microscopic imperfections before it gets fired up for the ride, as I was doing.
Midrange and top end power was ample. Unfortunately, I ran out of energy before trying the lean and rich fuel couplers available to adjust power.
But what I did have the energy to experiment with was the S-HAC system.
THE NEXT BEST THING
This launch control has different stages based on time delays that accommodates different settings for the three stages of a start, namely that initial launch followed by the slippery gates and onto the dirt again. You can certainly tell it is the computer age, as it then has a timer to switch it back to normal race settings again, either when you hit fourth gear or have been travelling for six seconds, whichever comes first. The only thing it lacks is a nitrous oxide system to make absolutely sure you get the holeshot.
Pushing the red button beside the kill switch for a few seconds will get the light flashing slowly. This means it is ready for slippery starts such as concrete. I happen to have some concrete tiles at my track for this kind of start practice so we gave it a shot.
Starting with this first setting was like the anti-skid settings on a new pickup truck. The rear wheel was not spinning off the gate at all, and it wasn’t until I held the throttle on the stop and completely dropped the clutch – with some loose dirt scattered on the tiles – that we got any slip at all. After the concrete, I did find it a little too slow for my liking, but that initial launch was impressive.
Yet this wouldn’t hold a candle to the wonder of the second setting.
Holding that button for even longer makes the indicator light flash quickly, a setting designed for starts with better traction. Heading back to the dirt starts, using my proper gate, this setting was a beautiful thing.
Gaining back the horsepower that you want, yet with out the wheelie of starting with no electronic help, I was blown away by how easy it was to get an awesome start. Andrew could see it, too, and was gutted he hadn’t brought his GPS unit to measure just how much faster this was. The truth is that I didn’t need it measured to see the difference, since this system made launching off the gates so quick and consistent that you wouldn’t even think of not using it.
We compared the wheelspin marks between starting without the system and using that second setting. Without it, there was a big hole where my initial launch made the rear end squat down, spin the wheel and lift the front end. With the system there was only perfect little tear marks from where each knob of my tyre was gaining maximum traction, and this carried on past the gates as well. I was sold.
FOR BETTER… OR WORSE?
You know the old saying, “If it ain’t broke, why fix it?”
Well, I was a bit worried about Suzuki losing the great handling that the Suzuki bikes are known for when I heard that they had shaved 2.5 per cent off weight off the frame. Not only that, but the SFF fork with its spring had been pretty good.
Really, would changing to PSF2 air forks and the KYB shock be a step backwards?
So far as I could tell, the frame had not lost any of its magic. Right away, I felt right at home, committing to the ruts without hesitation. There is never a problem turning into the flat turns either as the front goes where you want it.
New frame rails and engine cradle arms combine with less webbing on the lower side beams to shave weight, while the RM-Z450 has donated its head tube in an effort to help high-speed stability.
The hard acceleration and faster straights did have the bikes rear end dancing somewhat, so Andrew got out the screwdriver and started playing around with the clickers on the shock. We made a lot of progress and any changes to the shock were easy to make.
Up front, it is interesting that Suzuki chose the KYB system. When it comes to air forks, it is the PSF2 system that seems hard to beat, which is likely to be a big factor in their decision. I must note that it would be difficult to play with some of the clickers using your normal screwdriver as they are hidden underneath the ‘bars, requiring a thin screwdriver or special tool. Having adjustments for high and low speed on both the compression and rebound is probably a bit much for most of us, anyway, but it is nice that you only have to worry about two valves for setting the air pressure in the forks.
BACK TO BUSINESS
No doubt about it, there have been a host of changes to the 2016 RM-Z250, which many Suzuki riders will be rather excited about – and rightfully so.
It is certainly a step in the right direction.
Obviously, it is the launch control system that got me most excited, despite the fact that it also kept its great frame and forgiving seat, which was another reason for celebration.
Time will tell as to where they go with the styling in the future. In the meantime, I was able to enjoy squeezing my knees in to a great handling bike that didn’t over power me which, when combined with a competitive price, is what many people would wisely want to have…
2016 SUZUKI RM-Z250
ENGINE Engine Type: 249cc liquid-cooled single-cylinder DOHC four-stroke Bore and Stroke: 77mm x 53.6mm Compression ratio: 13.75:1
RUNNING GEAR Front Suspension: KYB PSF2 inverted telescopic fork with 315mm of travel Rear Suspension: Link-type with coil spring and oil damped with 300mm of travel Front Tyre: 80/100-21 51M Rear Tyre: 100/90-19 57M
I was tasked with running in the RM-Z before the test, as the unit fresh out of a crate when we picked it up from the team at Moto City. With everything set as standard, and my morning spent riding an enduro bike, the RMZ felt quite foreign as I climbed aboard and primed the starting system with three strokes of the kickstarter. With a capacitor used to prime the injection system, you only need to do this once before you ride, with the RM-Z starting easily with a stroke of the artistically shaped lever.
If you ride a 450 rider because you like the spread of power, but aren’t a big fan of the extra weight and inertia, it’s time for you to try the latest fuel-injected two-fifties. The RM-Z has to be one of the most flexible and civilised bikes on the market today, making it easy to ride fast and ride all day. The trail ride I used to run it in had a couple of snotty, clay uphills that were made even harder once a day of rain had passed through. The RM-Z was light and flickable, changing direction in an instant with lightening fast reflexes provided via the quick-steering chassis that Suzuki always manage to produce.
But it’s the motor that is the real standout on the RM-Z250, with all the changes Suzuki have put into the powerplant for 2016 making it super-strong and easy to get the most out of. Entering the trees for the slippery clay section, the lack of weight was a real advantage meaning the roots and holes were easily dispatched with by lifting the front wheel and almost skipping over the top. Railing a corner to try and carry as much speed into the tight hill, opening the throttle on the RM-Z saw me drive out faster than I had on the enduro machine and the spread of power meant I could hold the same gear and drive hard all the way to the top.
If there’s anything I’d change on the RM-Z, it would only be some simple personal tweaks to the set-up, which is what everyone will do to any bike. The ‘bars were a bit low, but that’s probably more due to the high, flat saddle accentuating the feeling. The forks were surprisingly good considering the springers air the latest variety of air forks. Being a motocross bike, I expected them to be super firm. Instead, they did a good job of soaking up the rough terrain allowing me to carry more speed. As you’d expect, the gearing is slightly short but that can be easily fixed with a different sprocket.
I can safely say that gone are the days when 250cc motocross bikes were a one-trick pony. In short, the RM-Z is the sort of bike you could easily live with no matter what type of riding you do.
Be sure to check issue 124 for the ’16 RM-Z450 test!