2016 Suzuki DR-Z400SM Review
In 2016, just how viable is the Suzuki DR-Z400SM? Some regard 2000 to about 2009 as the golden age for supermoto. Certainly, supermoto has decreased in popularity over the years, and that may be because upright sport bikes have become far more aggressive, thus taking a bit of the supermoto market share. But, I digress, what made supermoto fun 16 years ago still applies today.
The answer is that the 2016 Suzuki DR-Z400SM is a viable option for anyone, regardless of skill level, though height may be an issue. Suzuki wisely took its successful dual-sport platform—the DR-Z400S—slapped on a set of 17-inch wheels, upgraded the brakes, tossed on inverted forks, swapped out the swing arm from the RM, lowered the height, and one of the most widely appreciated production supermoto platforms was born.
The 2016 Suzuki DR-Z400SM isn’t sophisticated. It doesn’t have modern electronics – it isn’t even fuel injected. It hasn’t seen a significant update since its debut in 2005, and has been pulled, then reintroduced to the lineup on more than one occasion. I certainly can’t remember the last time I used a street bike with a petcock valve on it, or when I’ve had to use a choke on colder mornings to start a motorcycle. Add all of those things up and they can be a massive deterrent for many new riders.
In the face of all that, and though I’m a staunch supporter of electronics, I’m more than a strong advocate for the Suzuki DR-Z400SM. This is a motorcycle that can help teach the fundamentals of riding, while being able to take the abuse that a beginning rider will dish out. Better yet, it can handle the type of riding that seasoned M class holders will throw down as well.
Let’s start with the engine. The Suzuki DR-Z400SM makes use of a 398cc, 4-stroke, liquid-cooled, single cylinder, DOHC, five-speed powerplant that produces around 33 horsepower and about 25 ft/lbs of torque. If you are looking for blazing speed, you won’t find it here. But, at a weight of a claimed 322 pounds wet, we don’t exactly need massive amounts of power to get rolling.
If you’re accustomed to four-stroke dirt bikes, the DR-Z400SM will feel familiar – in more ways than just engine performance. Power delivery is predictable and snappy all the way up to freeway speeds, so commuting isn’t out of the realm of possibilities. It excels everywhere on the power band, except for top end power. Above 70 miles an hour, you’re asking a lot of the little DR-Z400SM, though Suzuki claims it has a top speed of 94 mph.
Yet, when used properly, and by properly I mean barreling into a corner then clicking into the next gear after exiting the apex, I think anyone who gets some seat time will be pleased and they’ll most likely figure how to point the nose to 10 o’clock with a bit of a clutch-up.
Remember the days before we sunk our coin into machines with horsepower figures that matched the average rider’s body weight? I do. Today’s highest performance bikes offer something else—a far more furrow-browed, lap-time-fixated, taken oneself too seriously riding experience which has its place and purpose but Suzuki didn’t aim for that with this.
Instead, the DR-Z400SM has just what it needs to do the job of entertainment or better yet, riding in one of the purest forms—joy. All of those somewhat superfluous worries of riding are gone and what you’re left with is fun, distilled to a level of potency that isn’t often matched.
When you hop on the DR-Z400SM, the first thing you might notice is that the seat is a bit stiff – so if you’re planning on going for distance riding, that might not help but luckily, you’ll be spending far more time hanging off of it than actually sitting on it, so that’s a bit of a non-issue; more on that later.
If Suzuki hadn’t taken the time to equip the DR-Z400SM with inverted 47mm Showa forks that feature adjustable rebound and compression damping, as well as a fully adjustable linkage-assisted rear shock, I think we’d be having a different conversation. Luckily, for both my sake and yours, they sprung for the more advanced suspension.
Often, manufacturers are left with a choice when dealing with suspension. They can move into the performance realm and quickly begin to make a bike uncomfortable for daily use, or soften things up and drastically reduce the performance side of the bike. Suzuki has managed to satisfy both conditions by providing suspension that is firm, without creating a situation that will make anyone suddenly believe that they’re suffering from severe arthritis post-ride.
What does that result in? A bike that can easily deal with some of Southern California’s most abused roads and still have rapid handling response. Tipping the DR-Z400SM into corners is truly confidence inspiring. There is no hesitation, and no heart-in-your-throat moments of “Am I actually going to make it?”
The Suzuki supermoto has a keen sense of self-preservation and will get into any corner of your choosing post-haste. The chromoly steel frame is rigid and helps keep you completely planted through corners, while still allowing a great amount of positive feedback when leaned over.
When approaching a corner and attempting to scrub off speed, you won’t be noticing suspension dive, everything works just as it should, so much so that it’s completely removed from your mind and allows you to focus on your goal. Even better, for novice riders, line correction isn’t met with any negative feedback. It’s as nimble as can be, no matter who is twisting the throttle.
Where the supermoto excels, of course, are the tight sections of the road. We’ll need to thank its dirt-bike lineage and handling for that because when you’re hitting those tight radius corners, nothing is more suited for it than the DR-Z. Much to the chagrin of Supersports and Superbikes, the wee DR-Z400SM will not only be able to keep up in the tight sections in our stomping grounds of Ojai, Malibu, or Angeles Crest, but with a skilled rider at the helm, you’ll most likely put them to shame.
The DR-Z400SM was seemingly designed to do whatever you want. Traffic? Doesn’t matter. We’ll just filter through that here in California. Is that a random dirt road or other light-duty dirt route? Yes, we’ll be exploring that. The possibilities are endless, as long as you don’t see any red, white, and blue lights in your mirrors.
If I rode the DR-Z400S the way I ride the SM, I’m fairly positive I would have landed myself in the emergency room pretty quickly, because what meets the road are a set of wheels with RK Excel rims and Dunlop Sportmax D208 tires—120/70-R17 front and 140/70-R17 rear. For OEM tires, they provide a lovely amount of grip while on road.
So, the biggest advantage the SM has over the dual-sport S is in braking. Suzuki upgraded the front rotor from a 250mm single to a 300mm floating rotor, and the street-oriented Dunlops have much more stopping grip than the dual sport tires on the DR-Z400S.
I know what you’re thinking, “Oh, a single rotor up front won’t be enough braking for me.” It is, and let me tell you why. Trying to break the fastest speed limit in Texas on this bike is something of a challenge. So, realistically, how fast did you intend to go in the first place, especially when supermotoing through the tightest canyons?
Braking performance is great—not “I’m going to enter in the local supermoto club race” great—but enough for me to spend a day in the twisties and of course, more than enough to pull off a few stoppies before whipping it around for another pass.
What you’ll find is that the front brake is linear, firm, and quite user-friendly. There is a complete lack of vicious initial bite that sportier braking systems can sometimes have. Still, the rear disc will lock up the Dunlop if you decide you want to back the DR-Z400SM into a corner. This is something to take note of. Depending on what kind of rider you are, the dirt-bike qualities inherent in the DR-Z400SM can be a blessing from the hooligan gods or send you tumbling into a ditch.
When you load the front end under heavy braking, the backend becomes quite light and it doesn’t take much to lock up the rear wheel. The good news is: Dirt bikes are pretty damn robust machines, so it will probably be able to handle naps on the side of the road unlike virtually any other road-faring bike.
Suzuki also opted for a dash that in the off-road world might seem luxurious to most. On your petite digital cluster, you’ll find a speedometer, odometer, and twin-trip meters with addition/subtraction capability, clock, and stopwatch functions.
I was entirely too involved in my riding to be bothered with something as meaningless as “information” about “speed” or “mileage,” that is until I remember that the DR-Z400SM’s 2.6-gallon tank only gives me about a 90-mile range when in flogging mode. At that point, you’ll be making the panicked decision of what street to turn down where you think you saw a gas station one time. There’s no low-fuel light or gas gauge—just the friendly petcock with a reserve position. If you get to that point, you will have a few miles before you’ll need to be pushing your way to your destination.
I’m pretty unabashed for my support of the DR-Z400SM, but there are some quirks that need investigating. First up, the styling. Now, I realize that this bike hasn’t seen an update in since its introduction, but if the Suzuki designers could have a look at the aesthetics that would most likely help few more of these roll off showroom floors.
The headlight in particular is jarring in a way that’s comparable to being in a home that still has wood paneling on the walls, despite the fact that it isn’t 1971. The less said about the mirrors, the better. It’s like time traveling to a point in history that no one really wanted to be in to begin with.
The footpegs are a bit of a problem as well. Suzuki carried more than a few parts from the S over to the SM and in an effort to keep costs down, they added some rubber boosters into the dual-sport foot-pegs. They work, I will begrudgingly admit but a more traditional, street oriented footpeg (for feet up riders), or a wider real dirt-bike peg (for those who slide their feet), would be much appreciated because either would encourage a more sporting stance.
That said, Suzuki did a great job with the black, gray and gold contrast. The gold rims and bars are so fitting of this bike that I don’t believe there is another way to present it to the people. Additionally, you get a set of fat Renthal bars to sweeten the deal.
Really, if Suzuki wants to do an update to the DR-Z400SM, we’d happily take a RM-Z450SM based on the bike Ken Roczen is taking to wins almost every week in the 2016 Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Series.
Until that happens, the Suzuki DR-Z400SM is a bike that builds confidence. Unlike a powerful sportbike, large adventure bike, or some other serious platform, there isn’t a ferocious bite-back if the rider that makes a mistake.
The DR-Z400SM does more than a bit of hand-holding, inspiring confidence in every single rider that is willing to try something new. More experienced riders, of course, will love the DR-Z400SM’s willingness to engage in wheelies and stoppies without a second thought.
When something does what it intended to do well, we have to commend that and what the 2016 Suzuki DR-Z400SM set out to do—bring enjoyment to motorcycling, even if you don’t have deep pockets or the need for the best lap-times.
Photography by Don Williams
- Helmet: Icon Variant Construct
- Jacket: RSD Zuma
- Gloves: Racer Gloves High Speed
- Pants: Saint Unbreakable Slim Fit Jean
- Boots: IXS Strada
2016 Suzuki DR-Z400SM Specs:
- Engine: DOHC single
- Bore x stroke: 90.0 x 62.6 mm
- Displacement: 398cc
- Compression ratio: 11.3:1
- Ignition: Electronic ignition (CDI)
- Transmission: 5-speed constant mesh
- Final drive: RK 520 KZO chain
- Cooling: Liquid
- Lubrication: Semi-dry sump
- Fueling: 36mm Mikuni BSR carburetor
- Starter: Electric
- Front suspension: Inverted forks
- Rear suspension: Linkage-asssisted shock
- Front brake: 300mm floating rotor
- Rear brake: Fixed rotor
- Front tire: Dunlop Sportmax D208F; 120/70R17 tube-type
- Rear tire: Dunlop Sportmax D208; 140/70R17 tube-type
DIMENSIONS AND CAPACITIES
- L x W x H: 87.6 x 33.7 x 47.2 inches
- Wheelbase: 57.5 inches
- Ground clearance: 10.2 inches
- Seat height: 35.0 inches
- Fuel tank capacity: 2.6 gallons
- Curb weight: 322 pounds
- Warranty: 12-month, unlimited mileage, limited warranty (extendable)
2016 Suzuki DR-Z400SM Colors:
- Solid Special White
- Solid Black
2016 Suzuki DR-Z400SM Price:
- $7199 MSRP
2016 Suzuki DR-Z400SM Review – Photo Gallery