Living with a 2005 Suzuki DR-Z400SM

Not good, I have to admit defeat. As I flip through the pages of the manual, I somehow feel a little less of a man. It’s the first time in 12 years of motorcycling that I feel the need to consult a motorcycle manual, but the DR-Z watches convinced me.

Suzuki DR-Z400SM

For starters, there are seven buttons. That’s five more than I’m used to. The actual display looks pretty normal: two rides, a clock and a speedometer. It is not a problem. But try adjusting the tripmeter. First problem, which of the four travel buttons should I use? The trip/time mode buttons or the time/trip setting? Or it could be the +/- adjustment or the select button. It turned out to be the ‘-‘ button, which started the journey countdown. All very good until the trip went below zero and into negative numbers! At this point I came looking for professional help.

It may seem a little sad that this would be an interest in a bike’s trip switch, but with the DR-Z it’s necessary as the tank is quite small. On an average ride, the Yellow Peril takes about 80 miles to make reservations, which always happens when you overtake a car, making it an interesting maneuver to reach down to turn on the tap to make reservations. I haven’t exhausted it yet, but it’s a matter of time, planned or not.
Being used to riding more powerful bikes on my commute, the DR-Z was a bit of a disappointment at first. But you know what? Having only 400cc and 40hp instead of 1000cc and 150hp makes virtually no difference to the road speed, maybe five minutes if that’s the case. Anywhere within the M25 there is a 50mph speed limit anyway.

People always say that superbikes are great for the city, something I don’t necessarily agree with until now. I usually find that the wide bars are just the right level to hit the mirrors when you’re panning, while the clips on a sport bike usually slide comfortably under them. But the DR-Z seems to have struck a happy compromise. It still has wide, high-set bars, but they’re narrow enough to fit through small gaps.

Comfort isn’t really something that supermoto has to offer, but the DR-Z seat didn’t disappoint me. The 30 minute ride is without too much pain, that’s all I need.

Like most Suzukis, the gearbox is excellent and the engine fine. Like I said, it’s not very fast, but it pulls away from lights quite well and hits 85mph with the stick flat.

At first I thought the sliding two-piston caliper looked a little mean, but it’s actually very strong, helped by the bike that weighs only 134kg. In an effort to fight the boredom, I practiced stoppies, which I’m pretty good at (although I’m not). While I feel like this could end in disaster, that’s why I ordered a crash pad.

What’s next for the DR-Z? Well, more power would be nice, so I’m looking at big bore kits. That sounds fun…

Nov 2005

For the past two years I’ve been pestering Daryll about a product he was involved in called GBsixT. Apparently it will reduce emissions and improve throttle response and fuel economy.

I decided to call Daryll’s bluff and have him put one on DR-Z. And fuck me, it really works! The technicalities are a bit tedious, but in fact the GB plugs into the HT wire and cleans the spark, making the engine, according to Daryll, about 90% fuel efficient, rather than the normal 60%. And it does, or appears to do so. The Suzuki doesn’t feel more powerful, but the best way to describe it is that it has that ‘just serviced’ feel. When it comes to fuel economy, Suzuki used to religiously reserve at 86 miles, now it goes to 95. Apparently it works best in single-seaters, especially motocross, but it can help other bikes too. I am impressed and it is well worth the £69.99 price. You can get one by calling Daryll on (07973) 759222.

Engine aside, the DR-Z has had a rough month. After taking it to France for the magazine’s supermoto test last month, I left it in the office dungeon. He then had two weeks as a trick from the office while I was gone. When I got back I found that an asshole (who won’t admit responsibility) had scratched the side panel, while the rear tire was all the way through to the tarpaulin, no thanks to skid damage (er, possibly my fault…). I’ve glued on a set of super tacky Bridgestone BT090’s and will try not to slip so much. Promise.

Just to be safe, I fitted a set of R&G Racing ( swingarm (£29.99) and fork guards (£29.99). Piece of shit to fit in and every supermoto race bike I’ve ever seen has them. I feel they can be useful. Now I try to slide the bike around every roundabout I come across…

February 2006

During the summer months, DR-Z and I started having some fights. It was nothing serious and our relationship was not in jeopardy, but when the sun came up there were much nicer bikes than a 400cc supermoto.

On hot days, a bike is a toy, something to enjoy to ride, and while the little Suzuki is a lot of fun, the little engine is only good for short jumps. That’s fine, but it annoyed me when I felt the need to go outside the boundaries of London (ie off the M25) which happens far too often in the summer. When the urge to explore crept up on me, I had to beg and borrow other people’s bikes.

Now that winter is well established, the DR-Z proves to be the ideal tool for bad weather. After prepping it for potential leaks with a set of R&G Racing crash protectors earlier this year, I added Suzuki’s own DR-Z ‘hop-up’ kit to complete the look.

For £139.99 you get a set of steering wheel covers (you and me brush guards), alloy exhaust hood, alloy skid cover (a large metal plate that protects the engine), alloy chain guard and some large ‘DR-Z’ decals. Being a little sharp, I also added a short front fender (£40) for the simple reason that it looks good.

Each part comes with some really vague instructions that will make the ones you get with Ikea furniture look complete, but to be honest it’s not that hard to unscrew a few screws here and there. The hardest thing to apply was the swingarm decal, which I was able to rotate, as you can probably see in the image below.

You’ll also see what a police officer might describe as a “non-standard location of the rear turn signals.” Even though I glued the damn thing in place a few months ago, it came off again. I have a feeling this is going to be an ongoing saga so for the past month I’ve been running it, which not only annoys Tim but also creates a fancy disco effect when I point to the left.

During those summer months I put on a set of tacky Bridgestone BT-090 tires, which were great in hot weather, but in freezing temperatures they didn’t even warm up. To some extent it’s really nice to slide the rear wheel into first gear every time I need to downshift, but I could really use a fuller tire to deal with the winter drool. From experience I’ve found that Avon’s Pro-Xtreme Rain tires are fantastic for wet and cold riding, and the DR-Z needs to be light and underpowered to last a decent amount of miles.

Other than that, I only had to add a little oil (and use the choke on particularly cold mornings). Unlike many Suzukis, the finish on the DR-Z looks good, although winter driving will really put this to the test.

Apr 2006

Well, the DR-Z survived Whitham’s attack (who borrowed it to drift and who knows what else at the Autosport Show), but sadly it didn’t fare very well into the winter.

For the past month I’ve spent a lot of time out of the country testing bikes as it was launch season. So the DR-Z lay languishing in the new office parking lot (while contractors lay new asphalt and inexplicably dig holes in it a week later, but that is by the way). This didn’t do him much good because the front brake

Caliper now looks like one of those fuzzy caterpillars you see in your yard in the summer. Also, the rear sprocket shows signs of salt corrosion, the once shiny engine skid plate is dull, as is the exhaust cover, and the exhaust is a mass of rust.

Suzukis have a reputation for this sort of thing. To be fair, I haven’t treated the DR-Z with any kind of anti-corrosion treatment, but it was cleaned before I loaned it to James and has hardly been used on the road since.

Now I face the prospect of cleaning every area I can reach over the weekend with a toothbrush and oiling the shiny bits, doing my best to get it back to working order. It’s not something I enjoy. I’m not sure how he’ll recover. One thing is certain, you will never look as flawless as before.

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