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Suzuki DR-Z 400SM


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I’ve had the DRZ for three months, and as Snod has requested it, here’s a quick review.

Tl;dr: it’s lairy.

It starts with a thump on a single press of the button. The engine coughs a bit while it warms up, before settling down a smooth rasp. The sound track is pretty good. Once on the bike, the position is astonishingly upright – a real boon for anyone into Alexander method. This, with a tall seat, gives first class visibility (except for you, Jack, you’d need to wipe your visor too).

But it’s when you let the clutch out that the bike shows its character: it is torquey. I mean really torquey. Let me say that again in case you didn’t get it: it is arse-grippingly torquey. Given the least encouragement, it leaps forward in 1st, 2nd and even in 3rd gear, and gives a tad more rasp from the exhaust in gratitude. Indeed, it’s a happy bike.

And it’s at its happiest on our local roads. These are mainly single track, either sandy or gravelly in the middle, full of potholes, and sometimes covered in mud and cow shit. Given one of these, the bike skips along at an alarming speed, chews up the sand, crosses the mud as if it were tarmac, and ignores the potholes completely. It is awesome. It’s just as happy in the city or town: it’s great to be back on a bike that’s not 8 feet wide, and getting from one side of Cambridge to the other now takes me half the time.

It’s nearly as good on the bendy B roads near home. The engine braking is astonishing so you can accelerate out of a bend, push on through a few curves, and set yourself up for the next bend without using the brake at all. This is just as well, as the front brake is primarily decorative: you apply it, and the road continues to fly by as the forks compress. Then they compress some more. And once they’re finally done, you can start to slow the machine down. Oddly, the rear brake is fierce – I guess it’s good for rear skids?

Braking is just one area where the soft suspension shows up, and it is this that makes the bike completely different from anything I’ve ever ridden. It’s at its most troublesome when I’m commuting and I’ve got a bag on the rack at the back. Like this, when faced with a bend, you need to be very controlled and accelerate gently throughout; anything else will decompress the rear shock and the seat will try to ping you off into the oncoming traffic: that was an exciting moment. It’s the same with the front: unless you set yourself up to take a bend with the right amount of throttle on, the forks will decompress a tad and you drift wide (at least I think that’s what’s happening). Another exciting moment. Since then I’ve stiffened the suspension up some, but I think the heart of the matter is that it’s a different kind of bike and requires a different style of riding, and I’m going to have to learn it from scratch (and possibly youtube :wink: ).

Once I hit the A roads, the bike is still a fun and able bike. But if had a few more horses, I’d be able to get in a whole load more overtakes. It’s on a dual carriageway where it starts to feel a bit out of its comfort zone. It will do 80 if you push it, but it seems cruel to flog it and make do that speed for any length of time, so I generally pootle along a bit below 70 :angel12:.

To keep the cold off at speed, I’ve fitted a small screen, which has made it warmer and generally more comfortable. There’s still zero protection from the weather, so you end up wearing every piece of muck thrown up from passing trucks, but apart from that it seems to ride as well in the wet and the wind as in the dry. The headlamp is good – a nice surprise. And although a lot of people say the seat – which is very narrow – is like Purgatory (but how they can know this?) I’ve found it’s fine, even after two hours straight riding. The tank is small and the range is terrible: I fill up before 80 miles are up or else I’m fumbling for the reserve switch. Others report getting 120 miles or more, but I don’t know how.

I’m thinking of getting some soft panniers (and a frame to keep them off the exhaust). I guess it might improve the handling if I can get the weight lower down, but the main reason is to reduce the amount of faff needed to get off to work in the morning. I might take it to get the suspension set up, but I wonder if I should spend time first learning to ride it better before parting with my cash. Other than I’m pretty happy with how it is.


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with a tall seat, gives first class visibility (except for you, Jack, you’d need to wipe your visor too).

I just don't believe in it :boxing:

So, for the suspenders, a quick google suggests you have all kinds of settings.. Have you tried winding them up a bit at a time? Particularly the slow speed compression and the rebound, they will help hold the bike in line.

Also, is there no rust worth mentioning??

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So, for the suspenders, a quick google suggests you have all kinds of settings.. Have you tried winding them up a bit at a time? Particularly the slow speed compression and the rebound, they will help hold the bike in line.

suspenders = shocks? :scratch:

I'm finding it a bit bewlildering. On my old CB500, you could chose one of five different clicks on the rear shocks and you were finished. On the GS you just pressed "single rider no luggage" and then chose "hard", "normal" or "soft" depending on your mood, and you you rode away. But here I've got preload and rebound and slow compression and fast compression rebound on the forks and the shock and each of these have anywhere between 11 and 27 clicks to choose from. That gives me ummm 11 times something times a bit more... which is, like, a shed load of combinations. I don't reckon my chances of getting anywhere near a reasonable set up just by going at it more or less randomly. But I'll take your suggestion and up the slow compression and rebound on the rear shock and see if that improves stuff.


Also, is there no rust worth mentioning??

There wasn't when I bought it. I'm not too sure how well it's doing under all the winter grime. I'll let you know when I wash it off next spring

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