Suzuki DR-Z400S - Riding Impression

If the DR-Z can’t get you there, ah, it’s probably not the bike’s fault.

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Why should Egan have all the fun? After reading all about PE's rib-tickling adventures on his Suzuki DR650, it seemed like a good time to revisit the DR-Z400S. For me, in fact, it would be the first visit, even though Suzuki's been cranking these out since 2000. I assumed that as a 400, the smaller-displacement DR-Z would be generally smaller in scale compared to a DR650 or Honda XR650L. Wrongish: While the 317-pound 400 does weigh substantially less than the 650s, its seat, at 36.8 inches, is 2 inches _higher_than the DR650's—not the best for my 30-inch-inseamed self when things go all archaic off-road.On fireroads, the DR's a hoot. Compared to a big Thumper, its oversquare liquid-cooled engine is snappy/revvy and fun to use. But swoopy fire-roads have a habit of becoming gnarly, steep, rutted piles of loose boulders; 317 pounds sounds light when you're used to dealing with streetbikes, but when your vertical ascent stalls thanks to a badly placed boulder and you find yourself sitting in the gully you'd hoped to avoid with the DR-Z in your lap, 317 pounds seems heavyish.

I’d like to blame the Bridgestone Trail Wing tires, but when my pal Jim jumped on the Suzuki, he and it had no trouble climbing up and over the rock outcropping that had turned back my assault. In fact, Jimbo, who rides a very nice Yamaha WR400F, said he thought the DR-Z has a great motor and a pretty good everything else—just too much weight (and me, JB, not enough skills...). For 150-pound me, the DR-Z’s suspension feels right in the ballpark. For Jim, who is no longer able to dress off the rack, it felt like “sitting in a pool of Jell-O with no shorts.” For serious climbing, the DR-Z’s first gear is really too tall; thankfully, it pulls like a diesel from very low revs and will clamber up all sorts of ridiculous things, anyway. A six-speed gearbox would be better.

In its defense, our DR-Z survived crashes very well. Repeated impact testing did leave a lot of gouged plastic, but all four turnsignals remain unscathed. The DR-Z also comes with a sturdy aluminum skidplate to protect its underbelly, along with plastic guards that will put up token resistance to defend the water pump and left sidecover.

On the street, the great little motor and willing gearbox easily propel those 317 pounds as though riding a ballerina around town. Firm suspension is even firmer on the road, and the seat feels like a loaf of frozen bread—neither of which would be so bad if the ground weren’t so far away. For me, every stop requires full perineal pronation. If you’re six feet tall and weigh about 160 with a well-padded butt, you might love the DR-Z. It’ll zot right up past 90 mph or so, and it cruises okay for short hops at 70.

The appeal of the DR-Z400S, of course, is that even though things like "street-going" KTMs and Husqvarnas have rendered it slightly Flintstonian in terms of power-to-weight and style (Suzuki's definitely gotten its investment back on that taillight), its $6099 MSRP is well under the $9K-plus competition—and it's about a set of handguards away from being indestructible, not to mention being way better on the street. It's a good, do-it-all motorcycle for the man who just wants to ride practically anywhere, keyword "practically." Not necessarily "well," at least in my case!

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