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Living with a 2008 Suzuki RM-Z250

John Cantlie reviews the RM-Z250 and reckons he has a pathetically mis-aligned mindset. We'd agree.

May 2008

I’m racing motocross this year with the Portsmouth Motocross Club. This is partly for bike-fitness, partly for fun and partly due to a pathetically mis-aligned mindset that at the age of 37, I’ve still ‘got it’ when it comes to dirtbikes.

There’s only ever been one make and model of motocross bike for me since I was a (very bad) schoolboy racer, and that’s the Suzuki RM. Their new RM-Z 250 four-stroke combines punchy midrange and over-rev without the terrifying and exhausting power of the 450 fours or 250 two-strokes. You can ride this bike hard and get a feel for what both it and the surface underneath you is doing without being scared of opening the throttle. 250 four-strokes are the best thing to happen to motocross in 20 years, and the RM-Z is widely acclaimed to be the best of the bunch.

Motocross has changed since I last raced properly six years ago. Nearly every club now has veteran (old farts) classes which are hilariously good fun to ride in, and tracks like Golding Barn in West Sussex are doing booming business in well-organised trackdays. £30 on the day, ride for as long as you like. Unbelievable value for money compared to the astronomical prices that road circuits are now charging.

Huge thanks to Mercedes who loaned us a Vito 120 van to cart the RM-Z around in. I looked like the fastest man in the paddock, dammit! The Vito is ridiculously quick, drives like a car, has automatic everything, and will fit three dirtbikes inside easily. My first race is March 16th. Best do some more sit-ups, then...

July 2008

To date I’ve done two race meets and two practice days at Golding Barn on my RM250F, and it’s due an oil-change soon. But that’s it. The latest generation of 250cc four-stroke motocross bikes are low maintenance and a joy to ride, flattering what riding skills you have and allowing you to evolve and get better rather than battering you stupid with power like the 250 two-strokes or 450 fours. By way of example, my riding chum Rob has an RMZ450 and while we’re around the same riding level, after two laps he’s knackered and I sod off into the distance. Less is definitely more unless you really know what you’re doing in motocross.

I’m racing with the Portsmouth Motocross Club (pmxc.com) who are the same outfit I used to race with as a kid. I’d forgotten how serious they are, although the burgeoning veterans’ class (over 35 year-olds) is a scream. Picture 40 angry men who all still they’re teenagers piling into the first corner.

There are some bloody good riders in there and I’m well down the list, midfield positions are my best so far, but what’s great is that nobody does anything stupid because we’re all so old. Rather than a suicidal overtake mid-corner, us old fellas prefer to say “after you” and do each other down the straights.

The thinking behind my RMZ is to stay bike-fit (nothing will keep you fitter than motocross) let off steam in relative safety and feed my off-road bug. Due to the lack of decent green lanes in the South it’s actually easier for me to ride motocross than it is to enjoy a weekend’s trail riding. All I need now is some new kit to replace my 2000 Honda Alpinestars gear and 1996 body-armour and I’ll be away.

November 2008

It’s been a tough month on my beloved RMZ250 motocross bike. After a full summer of racing, getting faster at pretty much every meeting and improving my skills hugely, motocross decided to teach me a lesson as to why it’s termed an ‘extreme’ sport. And I’ve got the cast to prove it.

“The good thing about being old is that if it gets too hairy out there, we’ll just knock it off because it’s only a bit of fun,” I said to my racing chum Rob, seconds before getting a shit start, being swamped into the first corner and having a massive crash trying to make up places into the second corner. The RMZ spat me into a ditch in 4th gear, pitching me clean over the bars, snapping my left wrist in the process, and I landed on my head and went to sleep for a few seconds. Thank God I was wearing my BMW neck-brace.

During the next race, as my brain re-booted sat on the back of the medic’s Land Rover, a chap crashed so hard on the start that he was knocked out for a good three minutes. The racing was stopped for at least 30 minutes.

And at the meeting the following weekend at a glorious sand-track just off the M3 near Farnham, rider Paul Williams crashed so bloody hard that it seemed to be touch and go for a while if he would actually make it. Thank the heavens he pulled through fine, but six crushed ribs, two collapsed lungs and a broken sternum are a reminder that motocross can bite once you start going faster. I can’t wait for this cast to come off and get back on my Suzuki, but it will be interesting to see if my confidence has taken a battering now...

January 2009

Winter has truly arrived and the tracks are muckier than pinkworld.com. We (my racing mate Rob and I) went to a Southern Motocross meet at Northchapel near Petworth the other day, and it was carnage. Monstrous thick lumps of clay that stuck to every part of the bike and must have added 50kg to the overall weight. People were dropping like flies, so tired they were unable to pick their bikes up, and it took Rob a full day to jetwash his KTM clean. But not me. I took one look at the place and elected not to ride, knowing what was in store. Ha! When the ground is waterlogged you don’t really get much from motocross - it’s just a question of survival each lap.

With my wrists now fully healed from my crash of 10 weeks ago and having just come back from Africa, I’m bike fit again and raring to go. Interestingly, I haven’t made a single modification to the RMZ while I’ve had it. We’re in a very privileged position here at TWO to be able to get parts for our bikes at little or no cost, but there’s been no point in me doing anything to the 250 as it’s still far better than I. I’ve only had it topped out in 5th gear twice all season - when it becomes a regular occurrence at every race, then I’ll need more speed. Suspension tweaks will be of the order before any engine work.

Costs this month

• Race entries, £43

• Clutch lever, £6

• Race fuel, £12 of super

She might need a new set of handlebars as the current ones are ever-so slightly on the piss after my wrist-breaking impact two months ago. A set of Renthal tapers would be the ticket. And I’ve got a new Michelin soft-compound tyre ready for the rear as the tracks are turning into goo at the moment

Meetings: 10 now, 2 wins