First Ride: 2000 Suzuki DR-Z400E

It's Not Your Dad's DR

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But enough of such details. How is the DR-Z400E to ride? In a word, great. And what's it like to ride with Malcolm Smith? Better still.

Suzuki invited the press corps to try out the bikes on the very private trails of the Soboba Indian reservation in Southern California. The site of a Grand Prix a few years ago, today the only time Soboba is considered "open" to the public is when Malcolm puts on his annual trail ride. Otherwise, Soboba is off limits. Of course, if you know the right people and have permission, Soboba can be accessed and it is an incredibly fun place to ride. We were fortunate that Suzuki pulled the requisite strings. Heck, it even rained a little a few days before the ride to make things even better.

Yoshimura Gets Dirty
We first heard rumors about the Suzuki 400 about a year ago with our source claiming that the Japanese factory charged road-racing specialists Yoshimura R&D of America with developing the motor.

Apparently the rumors are true. Also present at the Soboba intro were Brant Russell and Don Sakakura of Yoshimura, which used its head start with the DR-Z to develop a line of exhaust systems as well as titanium fasteners, brackets, subframes and engine internals plus other engine hop-up parts, services and carburetion. Kiedrowski will be relying on Yoshimura for many of the modifications on his race bike.

For information, contact Yoshimura at 4555 Carter Ct., Chino, CA 91710; 909/628-4722 or visit

Basically, the day went like this: We arrived in the morning, got a quick run-through on the bikes and area, then followed Malcolm on a get-acquainted ride for a few hours. Once back to the "pit," we killed time waiting for lunch by getting most of the action photography out of the way. Following an outstanding al fresco feast, Malcolm led a smaller group on an "A-loop" ride, taking full advantage of some of the huge hills, narrow razorbacks and tight canyons in the area. We chased Malcolm all afternoon, amazed that someone so close to 60 rode so quickly and smoothly. And he kept us entertained when we stopped with a collection of stories second to none.

The morning ride consisted primarily of fire roads, with a little single-track thrown in to keep things interesting. One thing apparent right off the bat, besides ease of starting and lack of noise, was how much sheer fun the DR-Z400E proved to be. It had quite adequate power with the typical broad spread, it felt comfortable and it steered and slid well.

Without having other brands on hand with which to compare, it's difficult to say authoritatively how the Suzuki stacks up, but it'd probably give the WR400F a good run and feels like it might be just a little nimbler and more rigid than the XR400R. In other words, it falls nicely into that area between full-tilt YZ-F racer and some Brand X trail bike.

So You Want to go Racing?
Interested in off-road racing and looking to make a little cash? Suzuki's putting up over $1,000,000 in contingency, and a substantial amount of that is earmarked for those riding DR-Zs. The lion's share of the total amount, $268,775, is set aside for the 13-round GNCC series.

Other series in which DR-Zs are eligible for contingency money are as follows: AMA District 37 Grand Prix, AMA National Hare Scrambles, Blackjack Enduro Circuit, ECEA Enduro Circuit, FTR Hare Scrambles, Mid-South Hare Scrambles, NETRA Enduro, NETRA Hare Scrambles, NMA Off-Road, Parts Unlimited Off-Road Championship, REMC, SETRA Enduro, SETRA Hare Scrambles and Texas Cross-Country.

See your Suzuki dealer for details.

For those of "average" height and ability, the DR-Z is an excellent fit. Some riders who are taller than average wanted the handlebar moved forward and up, and also voiced concern that the seat foam was a bit thin. After only a handful of hours on the saddle, it's hard to conclude whether or not the seat foam is indeed thin. Maybe it will be, especially as the miles pass, but only time will tell.

A much smaller group participated in the afternoon ride. Soboba has some big climbs and descents, but the DR-Z-E willingly went up and down anything we had the nerve to point it at, unless the dirt got too soft on the way up. Team Suzuki Off-Road recruit Mike Kiedrowski, who'll be racing in the AMA GNCC Series this year on a modified DR-Z400, joined us for the afternoon ride, along with team manager Mike Webb and mechanic Shane Nalley, both quite accomplished riders. The hopped-up Suzukis certainly had more snort, but at this stage of the game, the team is still developing a combination they feel will be optimal for off-road racing.

Naturally, with a smaller group and faster riders, the pace proved more than quick enough, making for an even better test of both the bike and rider. Despite the 13-pound difference of the electric-start package (262-pound claimed dry weight for the 400E compared to 249 pounds for the 400 kickstart version), we saw the magic button earn major points several times after awkward moments.

One section of rocky creek bed left us flailing, but that was due solely to lack of talent. While the motor chugged along nicely, the suspension kept the Dunlop D756s in contact with the ground as much as possible while isolating the rider from the jarring terrain. If desired, a quick stab at the clutch lever produced the hit desired to wheelie over obstacles or spin the back wheel to set up for turns. Pounding through the whoops seemed to tax the suspension a bit too much for some; no doubt a few will opt for stiffer springs, especially in the West.

"Back East the standard coils may be ideal."

Early reports indicate that Suzuki dealers are ordering substantially more electric-start 400Es ($5349) than kickstart 400s ($5249). The E models should be available now, with the straight DR-Z400s hitting dealers in a few weeks. The dual-purpose DR-Z400S is slated for March release. There will not be a California-only version of the dirt models, but they will be eligible for red sticker OHV registration. In addition, Suzuki plans to offer a line of carbon-fiber accessories. So, which did we like better: Trying the new DR-Z400E or riding with Malcolm Smith? Hey, we didn't have to choose because we got to do both!

Manufacturer : Suzuki
Model : DR-Z400E
MSRP : $5,349 
Engine: 398cc, DOHC, 4-valve, 4-stroke, liquid-cooled single
Bore/Stroke : 90 x 62.6mm
Compression Ratio : 12.2:1
Carburetor : Keihin FCR39
Lubrication : Dry Sump
Ignition : Digital/DC-CDI
Transmission : 5-Speed, #520 O-ring chain
Overall Length : 2235mm (88.0in.)
Overall Width : 825mm (32.5 in.)
Overall Height : 1245mm (49.0 in.)
Seat Height : 935mm (36.8 in.)
Ground Clearance : 315mm (12.4 in.)
Wheelbase : 1475mm (58.0 in.)
Dry Weight : 119kg (262 Lbs.)
Suspension, Front : Cartridge-type, oil damped,
                    14-way compression damping
                    18-way rebound damping
            Rear : Link-type, adjustable spring preload
                   26-way compression damping,
                   21-way rebound damping
Brakes, Front : Single Hydraulic Disc
        Rear : Single Hydraulic Disc
Tires, Front : 80/100-21
       Rear : 110/100-18
Fuel Tank Capacity : 10 liter (2.64 gal.)
Color : Yellow/White

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