2005 Suzuki DR-Z400SM – The Whole Dirt Thing Remixed

2005 Suzuki DR-Z400SMIt’s 6AM and I’m foot down through pre-rush hour traffic in Victoria, B.C., which is to say that I’m alone save for the occasional police cruiser and public transit. It’s the kind of day that I normally dread at the “day job”, a code drop for a major product, and as I do my best to get all “motard” I realize I couldn’t care less – I’m grinning like a madman.

Days such as these make you thank gawd for bikes like the DRZ400-SM.  Yes, from the company that brought you the GSX-R 1000, the most furiously raging collection of titanium and unobtanium components to shred the asphalt, comes it’s polar opposite, the Suzuki DRZ400SM Super-Motard; I’ve come to know it simply as the ‘Tard’.  Well it does share one thing with its far flung cousin…  it’s mad-as-a-sack-of-frogs fun.

Practical…  not in the least, but really who cares?  This is sheer fun around town, and even better on mere scribbles of roads.  The sheer incredulity of dropping a foot and breaking every road riding rule riveted into your psyche by years of road training is liberating, empowering, and one hell of a quick way to get around a corner.  Houseflies have been known to have more troubles changing directions.  Part of this is due to the little Tard’s mass, a mere 318.5 lbs wet.  Throwing that foot down is one of the most fun ways to swing around the turns known to man and you know giggles are ahead.

Look at it in your mind’s eye, it just can’t help but be cool!  We are motorcyclists after all, we’d eat cool for breakfast, lunch dinner and dessert if we could.  Out on the seriously under-designed paved marmot trails of Vancouver Island the cool factor slips away and you find yourself slithering the tail-end around the corners WOT and grinning like the proverbial Cheshire.

It’s near as much fun in parking lots, large, empty parking lots that is.  On handing the bike over the Suzuki folks seemed legally mandated to point out “tires not scrubbed in, please sign here.”  There have only been a couple other bikes were we’ve almost fully devoided tires of their chicken strips in a parking lot, the Honda VFR800 is one, and it was nowhere near this amusing.  This one was accomplished shredding around the abandoned post-Indy pit lanes in Vancouver, with a hopped up scooter in pursuit. There is no way you can treat a bike like this as serious business, no matter the cornering speed and lean.  You get over the incredulity of throwing a leg over a bike with the same basic dimensions as a Strawberry-Shortcake cruiser from the kid’s section of the local Wal-Mart.  There is really nothing to the Tard, it’s a tall gangly sort of thing.

The mere 34 hp and 25.6 ft-lbs of torque (according to spec), keeps the power manageable as the single thumper throbs madly yet smoothly.  Low output keeps things friendly, rather than manic, as the Tard’s suspension works it’s magic over compression bumps, runts, pot holes, small furry creatures, and other road hazards.  That’s the kind of invulnerability 10.2 inches of travel up front will get you, out back that’s upped to 10.9 inches with adjustable high and low-speed compression damping, and preload.  Adjustments in the front include compression and rebound damping, but no preload.  On most sportbikes, we furiously search out the smooth parts of rough roads, on the Tard I found myself aiming for the bad spots just for fun; like the SM in the name suggests, this bike just loves the rough stuff.
Slamming on the front and rear binders interestingly overpowers the Dunlop Sportmax D208s, resulting in slide, likely from the lack of weight on the things.  Up front a heavily drilled 310mm disc paired with a two-piston caliper does deceleration great credit, while in the back a 240mm disc does the business.  The feel is powerful but not grabby or sharp, giving a lot of feedback.  Emergency braking on a bike this light takes a little extra knack, or you find yourself doing stoppies, be they advertent or inadvertent.  A weakness, bah, it’s just insanely giggling fun!

We’d love to give you the shift points and all that lovely technical talk involving RPM’s, but the lack of a tach makes things a lot less concise.  We can say this; the little 400 develops good torque and hoofs up to speed with acceptable relative alacrity in comparison to traffic.  One would not likely be racing for pinks with a Porche on the little Tard, but what are the chances of finding a Porche owner daft enough.

Even better in traffic is that the maneuverability and puny dimensions of the Tard mean lane splitting is a gas – there are miles of room on either side of the bars.  And should the need arise, hopping the sidewalk is perfectly feasible, if not legally acceptable behaviour.  If you’re craving a need for respect and sensibility you’d best look to other offerings.

Out on the freeways things fall apart quickly. It’s good that the DRZ treats you to a marvelously slick gearbox that just “snicks” through the shifts, you’ll likely be using it a lot on the road and in the city.  The ratios themselves seem very well matched to the Tard’s 398cc engine, but a 6th would have been a boon on the open road.  Riding the little 400 for all it was worth saw my McMeaty carcass weight it down to a top speed of a mere 125kph indicated, photog Kevin managed to work it up to 140, but I’m a tad bigger that your standard motard rider…  right?  There is also the comfort factor out on the road.  Wind protection… it has none – though more than was expected from a mere headlight upfront.  The seating?  Well, after a mere 70kms in the banana-bike saddle the little Tard was dubbed the “great yellow wedgy”, so the obvious solution is to stay out of the saddle and ride dirt style.

If one’s going to ride dirt style, then the natural progression is to take a DRZ400SM to the dirt and our photographer Kevin did the duties.  The tires did better than expected of street buns.  Still, thank goodness, half the fun is shaking the rear loose, as gravel roads and single track sees this happening a lot.  The street tires are sticky business on the pavement, doable for basic gravel road, but once in serious dirt you’d best consider a second set of rims mounted with knobbies.

My only complaint would be that there needs to be just a bit more power, maybe a 450 version, and that missing 6th gear to be able to keep up with the others on those necessary highway traverses between the fun roads without pinning the poor thing. That said, this bike’s tires, suspension and braking can easily handle anything the engine can throw at it, full throttle in any gear through any corner and it takes it all with confidence and a certain sense of glee.

Ditch your need for top speed, start thinking foot-down rather than knee and the DRZ400SM makes for an epic gale of snorts and laughter.  It’s another one of those offerings where less power makes it so much more fun to ride.  Actually it’s more than just fun, it’s addictive.  If you have to get practical, and we’d highly discourage it, the DRZ400SM makes our pick for one of the best “second bikes” to have in your garage, too bad we had to give this one back!  Too much fun in town, spanking the ever popular sport-bike in the tight, bumpy canyons, and tail sliding laughs on the dirt, it’s just… mad as a sack of frogs.

MSRP: 8,199.00  $CDN
Web:   Suzuki Canada

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