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First Ride: 2000 Suzuki DR-Z400E

by Dirck Edge

When I was a kid (okay, that was a long time ago), I probably wondered what trail bikes would be like in the year 2000. I probably thought they would be really light, powerful, have good brakes, have great, fully adjustable suspension, etc. If I had known about exotic, lightweight materials, like magnesium (lighter and stronger than aluminum), I probably would have imagined that these materials would be used in logical places on the bike of the future.

“Would you like some magnesium with
that trailbike, sir?” Click to see a closer view of
mag clutch, magneto, and cam covers.

Well, the future is here, and it’s pretty damn close to what I might have envisioned. We’ve just spent a couple of days riding the year 2000 Suzuki DR-Z400E through the hills of Temecula (with a few motocross tracks thrown in). What’s the bottom line? We had a blast and, as we will discuss below, this is a great trail bike that is tremendously versatile.

First of all, what is the Suzuki DR-Z400E? Yes, it is Suzuki’s response to the wildly successful Yamaha 400 four-strokes, including, specifically, the WR400. Just over two years ago, Yamaha changed the direction of motocross and off-road bikes forever by creating the first truly modern four-stroke motocrosser (the YZ400) and off-roader/enduro (the WR400). Suzuki is the first Japanese manufacturer to answer Yamaha’s challenge with a group of 400cc off-road and dual sport bikes.

MD Webmaster Alex Edge catches a heel
on the DR-Z400 (Click to Enlarge)

That’s right, Suzuki has yet to introduce a hard core motocrosser to take on the YZ400 straight up. Instead, Suzuki’s all new DR-Z400 series includes two off-roaders/enduros (the kick start DR-Z400 and the electric start DR-Z400E) and a street legal dual sport (the DR-Z400S). We expect Suzuki to release a hard core motocrosser eventually, but we’ve spent some time getting up close and personal with the DR-Z400E.

The DR-Z400 and DR-Z400E are identical except for the electric starter on the “E” version (the one we tested). According to Suzuki, the electric starter adds 13 pounds of weight. The kick start DR-Z400 has a claimed dry weight of 249 pounds, while the DR-Z400E weighs in at 262.3 pounds. The dual sport (the “S” model) weighs in at 291 pounds dry.

MD Editor Dirck Edge puts the power
on coming over a rise (Click to Enlarge)

The two lighter models have very trick componentry (some of which is shared with the heavier dual sport, but not all). The front forks are right off a 1996 RM250 and feature huge 49mm sliders. They are also adjustable for compression (14 step) and rebound (18 step). In back, these bikes feature a fully adjustable, progressive linkage shock absorber (21 step rebound and 26 step compression adjustments). Of course, the shock is also adjustable for spring preload. In other words, these off-road bikes have suspension worthy of a cutting-edge motocrosser.

The chassis is a lightweight and stiff chrome-moly steel frame with, once again, motocross-level stiff swingarm. The hubs and wheels are aluminum.

Are you getting the idea, here? This is not your father’s trail bike. The dual disc brakes and generous use of magnesium on the engine cases are also indicative of the level of competition in this new arena of four-stroke off-road/enduro machinery.

Dirck hits a drop-off on the trail (Click to Enlarge)

Enough about the technical stuff. What’s this thing like to ride? In a word, it’s a blast! Even though we rode the heavier, electric start model (claimed to be 262 pounds dry, as mentioned above), the weight is carried low, and Suzuki has done an exceptional job of mass centralization. The bike, therefore, feels light and maneuverable. How light does it feel? My son Alex and I have both been riding 125cc motocross bikes lately, and we both found the DR-Z400E easy to handle — even on a relatively tight, natural terrain motocross track. The bike just does not feel heavy, except in limited circumstances discussed below.

You do feel the weight when jumping the bike. The electric start model has a battery mounted under the rear fender, on the opposite side of a fairly heavy and restrictive muffler. If the bike kicks sidewise at all off a jump, you feel the pendulum effect of this weight over the rear end of the bike. You also definitely notice the weight on jump landings.

An after market, slip-on muffler system would probably go a long way toward removing the feeling we described above. We haven’t yet verified the amount of weight you can save with an after market muffler, but it is probably substantial. The stock muffler is so quiet you could ride this thing in your backyard and your neighbors wouldn’t notice. An after market muffler would make your neighbors a lot angrier, but you would probably save at least four pounds of high-placed weight over the rear tire.

This bike is not a motocross bike, however, and motocross-style jumps, although doable on this bike, are not its cup of tea. This is a trail bike (or enduro machine) through and through. As such, it excels.

Get used to dirt bikes with ignition
keys and push-button start (we know you’ll
miss kicking that hot four stroke on the trail,
but deal with it). (Click to Enlarge)

While on a 25 mile trail ride yesterday, featuring fast, open trails, tight trails, and modest hill climbs, I just couldn’t remove the smile from my face. This Suzuki 400 just hooks up and hauls. The suspension soaks up everything in its path, and I felt comfortable on the bike within a matter of minutes.

As a two-stroke motocross rider for many years, I was amazed at the broad spread of power. I tried a few hill climbs a gear higher than normal, just to experience the low end torque of this four-stroke 400. The DR-Z400E pulled these hills without breaking a sweat.

This bike likes to rev, however. Although it pulls well off the bottom, it is in the upper mid-range when it really starts to surge forward with authority. Given the extremely restrictive nature of the stock exhaust, I was shocked at how well this bike pulled on top.

My son Alex is 5 feet 9 inches tall, weighs 145 pounds and normally rides a 2000 KX125 motocrosser. He loved the DR-Z400E, and told me he is anxious to try it on a closed motocross track with double jumps! Somehow, Suzuki packaged the weight of this bike beautifully. The overall handling is truly superb.

Although we haven’t played much with the suspension clickers, we did dial in the rear shock by reducing compression by one click and increasing rebound damping one click. It seemed to reduce a tendency of the rear tire to hop on fast, choppy trails. We also went in two clicks on each of the fork’s rebound dampers, to slow their rebound. This also reduced some kicking experienced with the front fork. I am sure that, with more time, we could dial the suspension in even better. The stock spring rates seem about right for aggressive trail riding (I weigh 185 pounds and, as I said, Alex weighs 145).

The front brake is excellent. It provides good feel, is not grabby, and it hauls the bike down quickly. Due to the engine braking (which I am not used to, since I normally ride a two-stroke), I didn’t use the rear brake much (I didn’t need to).

The ergonomics of the bike are also excellent. The bike is slim and feels very much like a motocrosser. The clutch action is very light and smooth, and we had no problems with the clutch during our testing. The only negative comment we have about the ergonomics is the somewhat low and close handlebar position. A higher handlebar bend with less rearward sweep might solve this, however.

We hope to ride the bike a little bit more this week before we give it back to Temecula Motorsports. We might even try to convince Temecula Motorsports to modify this bike a little bit (maybe a Yoshimura race pipe and jet kit). This dealership is run by hard core enthusiasts who race, and we think they’re just as excited about this new off-road Suzuki as we are. Stay tuned for further reports.