Living with a 2005 Suzuki DR-Z400SM

Urry loons around on the supermoto DR-Z400

July 2005

It's no good, I have to admit defeat. As I flick through the pages of the instruction manual I somehow feel ever so slightly less of a man. This is the first time in 12 years of motorcycling that I have ever felt the need to consult a bike's manual, but the DR-Z's clocks have got me beaten.

For a start there's seven buttons. That's five more than I'm used to. The actual display seems fairly normal: two trips, a clock and a speedo. Not a problem. But try adjusting the trip meter. First problem, which of the four trip buttons should I use? The trip/time mode buttons or the time/trip set? Or could it be the +/- adjust or the select button. It turned out to be the '-' button, which started the trip counting back. All very well until the trip went below zero and into negative numbers! It was this point I reached for professional help.

It may seem a bit sad to get this interested in the trip switch on a bike but with the DR-Z it's necessary because the tank size is quite small. With average commuting the Yellow Peril does around 80 miles to reserve, which invariably happens when you are overtaking a car, making the reach down to turn the tap to reserve an interesting manoeuvre. I've not run it dry yet, but it's only a matter of time, planned or not.
Being used to riding more powerful bikes on my commute to work, the DR-Z was initially a bit of a let-down. But you know what? Having just 400cc and 40bhp rather than 1000cc and 150bhp makes virtually no difference to the speed of the commute, maybe five minutes, if that. Anywhere inside the M25 is a 50mph limit anyway.

People always say that supermotos are great town bikes, something I haven't necessarily agreed with up to now. I usually find that the wide bars are at just the right level to smack mirrors when you're filtering, while a sportsbike's clip-ons generally slip comfortably below them. But the DR-Z seems to have hit a happy compromise. It still has wide, high-set bars but they're narrow enough to fit through small gaps.

Comfort isn't something that really counts on supermotos, but I haven't found the DR-Z's seat too bad. The 30-minute commute passes off without too much pain, which is all I need.

Like most Suzukis the gearbox is excellent and the little engine is okay. Like I said, it's not massively fast but it accelerates away from the lights fairly well and will do 85mph flat-stick.

Initially I thought the two-piston sliding caliper looked a bit on the weedy side, but it's actually really strong, helped by the bike only weighing 134kg. In an effort to alleviate boredom I have been practicing stoppies, which it's really good at (although I'm not). Although I have a feeling this could end in disaster, which is why I have ordered some crash protection.

What's next for the DR-Z? Well, more power would be good, so I'm looking at big-bore kits. Sounds fun...

November 2005

For the last two years I've taken the piss out of Daryll about a product he has been involved with called a GBsixT. It will, apparently, reduce emissions and improve throttle response and fuel economy.

I decided to call Daryll's bluff and let him fit one to the DR-Z. And bugger me it actually works! The technicalities are a little tedious but basically the GB connects on the HT lead and cleans up the spark, making the engine, according to Daryll, about 90% fuel efficient, rather than the normal 60%. And it does, or seems to. The Suzuki doesn't feel any more powerful, but the best way I can describe it is that it has that 'just serviced' feeling about it. When it comes to fuel economy the Suzuki used to hit reserve religiously at 86 miles, it now goes to 95. Apparently it works best on singles, especially motocrossers, but can also help other bikes. I'm impressed, and it's worth the £69.99 cost. You can get one by calling Daryll on (07973) 759222.

Engine aside the DR-Z has had a tough month. After taking it to France for the supermoto test in last month's mag I then left it in the office lockup. It subsequently had two weeks as the office hack while I was away. When I came back I found some twat (who won't admit responsibility) had scratched the side panel, while the rear tyre was through to the canvas no thanks to skid damage (er, possibly my fault... ). I've stuck a set of super-sticky Bridgestone BT090s on it and will try not to skid as much. Promise.

To be on the safe side I've fitted a set of R&G Racing ( swingarm (£29.99) and fork protectors (£29.99). Piece of piss to fit and every supermoto race bike I've seen has them. I have a feeling they may come in handy. I've now started trying to slide the bike into every roundabout I come across...

February 2006

During the summer months the DR-Z and myself started to have a few fall-outs. It was nothing too serious and our relationship wasn't in peril but when the sun was out there were so many more appealing bikes to ride than a 400cc supermoto.

On warm days a bike is a plaything, something to enjoy riding for the sake of riding, and although the little Suzuki is really good fun, the small motor is only good for short hops. That's fine as it goes but it did annoy me when I felt the urge to go beyond the boundaries of London (ie, outside the M25), which in summer happens all too often. When seized by the urge to explore I had to beg and borrow other people's bikes.

Now, with winter well and truly settled in, the DR-Z is proving itself to be the ideal miserable weather tool. Having prepared it for any potential spills earlier in the year with a set of R&G Racing crash protectors I've added Suzuki's own DR-Z 'hop up' kit to complete the look.

For £139.99 you get a handlebar cover set (brushguards to you and me), alloy exhaust cover, alloy skid cover (a large metal plate that protects the engine), alloy chain guard and some big 'DR-Z' stickers. Being a bit of a tart I also added a short front mudguard (£40 ) for no other reason than it looks good.

Each component comes with some really vague instructions that make the ones you get with Ikea furniture look comprehensive, but to be fair it isn't that hard to undo a few bolts here and there. The trickiest bit to fit was the swingarm sticker, which I managed to get wonky as you can probably see in the picture below.

You will also see what a policeman might describe as 'non-standard rear indicator placement'. Although I Superglued the bloody thing back in place a few months ago, it's popped out again. I have a feeling this is going to be an ongoing saga, so for the last month I've just let it swing around - which, in addition to annoying Tim, creates a natty disco effect when I indicate left.

During those summer months I fitted a set of sticky Bridgestone BT-090 tyres, which were great when hot but in close to zero temperatures aren't even getting close to warming up. To an extent it's great fun sliding the back wheel every time I need to go down to first gear, but I could really do with a more all-round tyre for dealing with winter slime. From experience I've found that Avon's Pro-Xtreme Rain tyres are fantastic for wet and cold riding, and the DR-Z should be light enough and lacking in power to make them last a decent number of miles.

Other than that I've only had to top the oil up a bit (and use the choke on especially cold mornings). Unlike many Suzukis, the finish seems good on the DR-Z, although a winter's riding will really test this.

April 2006

Well, the DR-Z survived the attack of Whitham (who borrowed it to perform skids and who knows what else at the Autosport Show), but unfortunately it hasn't fared so well against the winter.

Over the past month I've spent a lot of time out of the country testing bikes, it being the season of launches. So the DR-Z has been languishing in the new office car park (while contractors lay new Tarmac, then inexplicably dig holes in it a week later, but that's by the by). This hasn't done it a power of good because the front brake

caliper now resembles one of those fluffy caterpillars that you see in your garden during summer. Also, the rear sprocket is showing signs of salt corrosion, the once shiny engine skid pan is dull, as is the exhaust cover, and the exhaust downpipe is a mass of rust.

Suzukis have a reputation when it comes to this sort of thing. To be fair I haven't covered the DR-Z in any kind of anti-corrosion treatment, but it was cleaned before I lent it to James and has hardly been ridden on the road since.

I now face the prospect of a weekend cleaning every area I can get to with a toothbrush and oiling the shiny bits, doing everything I can to return it to some kind of a decent state. Not something I relish. How it will recover I'm not sure. One thing is certain - it will never look as pristine as it did before.