As the only true Super Motard remaining from any of the major manufacturers, Suzuki’s DR-Z400SM is the default choice for anyone looking for a street-legal dirtbike with 17-inch wheels, street tires (Dunlop D208s, specifically), electric start, and a 12-month warranty straight from the showroom. So when Content Editor, Tom Roderick, and I decided we wanted to reacquaint ourselves with supermoto after a long dry spell, our option was pretty obvious.
Fun fact: Suzuki dropped the SM from its lineup in 2009, only to bring it back in 2013 as a 2014 model. You’d be forgiven if you didn’t realize it was gone for a while. Truth is, I didn’t either. But let’s not dwell on the past and instead focus on the now, on a bike that’s…well, the same bike we had before. This means power comes from the same carbureted 398cc single-cylinder engine seen in the trail-oriented DR-Z400S. Upon seeing this relic, Tom quipped, “Hey, this motorcycle has a carburetor and a petcock! … What’s a carburetor and a petcock?”
This is all wrapped in a steel frame and aluminum subframe, with an inverted Showa fork up front and monoshock in the rear. Both are fully adjustable but are sprung a bit soft for aggressive riding. Lighter and/or shorter riders may see this as a benefit considering the 35.0-inch seat height. The narrow seat and tank juncture makes it easier to touch the ground, and, once aboard, a rider’s weight lowers the seat.
Of course, apart from the suspension, the biggest difference between the S and SM versions of the DR-Z400 is the latter’s use of 17-inch RK Excel spoked aluminum rims which are anodized in a bright and beautiful shade of blue. A tapered aluminum swingarm is different than the 400S’s steel arm, and the SM also sports a 300mm single front disc (compared to 250mm), clamped by a two-piston caliper.
While the blue wheels are a nice touch, Tom also noticed another noteworthy spec. “I didn’t know until I looked at the spec chart, but the DR-Z400SM has magnesium valve, clutch, and magneto covers – another very cool feature,” he said.
To put the SM’s performance to the test, Tom and I hatched the idea of taking this nearly 400cc, street-legal ’Tard to Adams Kart Track in Riverside, California, to see if it could hack it with the big boys. The short answer is no, but that doesn’t tell the full story.
We’ll start with the most obvious point straight away: its engine. A liquid-cooled, DOHC Thumper checks all the right boxes in the SM world, but 398 cubic centimeters displacement doesn’t do it any favors against the 450cc MX-based machines that dominate supermoto racing. There’s decent torque to pull you out of a corner, but upper-end horsepower certainly is not the DR-Z’s strength. A little browsing in forums also reveals carb jetting to fall on the lean side – great for planet earth (and necessary to meet emissions requirements), not so great for power junkies.
That said, the little DR-Z is more than enough for those simply looking for a little fun. “A 400cc Single on the road isn’t going to win any light-to-light drag races,” says Tom, “but on the track it’s powerful enough to have an immensely good time without scaring the hell outta ya.”
When we last put a DR-Z400SM on the dyno, during Sean’s 2005 road test, it put down a modest 34.65 hp and 25.91 ft-lbs of torque. More recently, we spun the drums with the trail-oriented DR-Z400S in our 2012 Dual-Sport Shootout where it made 31.6 horses and 23.4 ft-lb. While down compared to our 2005 numbers (partially due to the different tires), either way you look at it, the DR-Z400SM still has more oomph than a Honda CBR250R. On the road, the DR-Z is capable of maintaining pace in most urban and commuting situations. If you live in an area where filtering between lanes is allowed, then its narrow profile will be a godsend when your four-wheeled motoring counterparts are stuck in traffic.
With only five gears to work with, a kart track was much better suited for the SM’s ratios than the open highway, as there’s never a point of sustained top-gear runs at such a tight circuit. Though a sixth cog would be nice on the road, shifting from the five-speed was smooth as could be, with positive engagement with each click in either direction.
On a track, the throttle is constantly pinned, so knowing exactly which gear you’re in is especially important for a SuMo. Multiple downshifts in a single pull of the clutch is the norm while braking hard for a turn. Drop down a gear too far and the bike wildly protests entering a corner. Get it just right, and you’re on your way to backing it in.
The single disc in front is adequate for the task at hand, but only if you’re the type who prefers four-finger braking. It should be noted, however, that it’s more than capable for street duties. A bigger disc, steel-braided lines, and more aggressive pads would go a long way in improving stopping performance on track. Thankfully, the clutch pull takes little effort. Combine this with a communicative (albeit weak) rear brake, and navigating the dirt section at Adams caused little drama, apart from the general anxiety one gets when navigating slippery dry dirt with a street tire.
Wide handlebars help a pilot muscle the DR-Z through direction changes, but the suspenders on our bike were initially set too flaccid for our tastes. We played with the adjusters on both the 47mm Showa fork and shock, which includes high- and- low-speed compression damping, to get a decent baseline setting that worked for us for the rest of the day. More experienced DR-Z pilots at the track that day suggested dialing everything to its firmest setting. Keeping in mind the Suzuki’s street-oriented intent, Tom noted, “While sprung somewhat on the soft side, the suspension does a good job of handling commuter and hooligan duties.”
Our time with the DR-Z400SM reminded us just how much fun Super Motards can be. It provides much of the same thrills you’d get riding a sportbike at a trackday, for less money. And let’s not forget that falls from a SuMo typically happen at lower speeds, meaning damage to both man and machine aren’t as costly. Then, once you’re done at the track, you can peel off the tape covering your lights and ride home.
Once off the track, the Suzuki comes equipped with touches appreciated on the road, like a digital instrument cluster with twin tripmeters, a clock, timer and stopwatch functions. There are also passenger footpegs and a helmet lock. The narrow seat may not be comfy for long rides, but for short jaunts its seat comes with decent padding, providing relative comfort. Its 2.6-gallon fuel tank sounds small, but it lasted us almost an entire day of hard riding. “With the 400SM,” Tom says, “the insurance cost/fun factor ratio is a value not many street-legal motorcycles can touch.”
If you’re trying to find a tool to slice through inner city congestion look no further, as the punchy little 400 is great for squirting between gaps in traffic, and it’s invigorating when pointed down a twisty road. However, the 400SM is less satisfying on the open road where the narrow saddle gets irritating and the lack of wind protection becomes tiring. The modest power means you can comfortably cruise at 65 mph, but you’ll be wishing for a sixth gear when trying to keep up with 80-mph traffic with the Thumper buzzing annoyingly. Keep it tight and twisty, and she’ll be right at home.
At $7,189 the DR-Z400SM, “isn’t necessarily a steal,” says Tom, “but then again it has no real competition. A street-legal 400cc supermoto bike with a warranty isn’t exactly common.” Factor, too, the amount of time saved were you to convert an existing dirtbike into a SM machine. Also, there’s the reliability the lesser-tuned Suzuki offers compared to its high-strung competition-bred rivals that are difficult or impossible to license for the street. Then the DR-Z400SM starts to look like a more promising option
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