I love supermotards. I used to race dirt bikes, and supermotards are the closest thing to a stripped down, ultra-light motocross bike … with road worthy tires. I have often wondered why more Japanese manufacturers do not offer supermotards for sale here in the U.S., particularly in a displacement matching that of their top motocross machines (450 cc). I have even asked Japanese engineers when I have had the chance “Why not?”
The answer usually has something to do with the cost of developing a 450 cc single for street use with much greater durability and much longer service intervals than a motocrosser. I am sure it also has something to do with a market analysis (i.e., whether or not U.S. consumers would buy such a thing). So if you are holding your breath waiting for your favorite Japanese motocross 450 cc ripper to show up as a street legal supermoto, good luck.
What we do have here in the United States is the Suzuki DR-Z400SM, which Suzuki brought back to the U.S. market last year after a short hiatus.
Suzuki has sold a DR-Z400 in various iterations for more than a decade, and its 398 cc engine, given its street legal guise, has always impressed us. Still carbureted, a cold start requires use of the choke (some of you may have forgotten what that is), but jetting seems spot on once the bike is warm.
Given its relatively light weight (321 pounds gassed up), the 400SM offers entertaining acceleration around town, but don’t expect strong roll-on performance at higher speeds. The 5 speed transmission shifts as well as you would expect from a Suzuki, but you might wish for a sixth gear on the freeway.
Lots of nice components grace the DR-Z400SM, such as beautiful blue anodized Takasago Excel rims, Renthal handlebar, and a fully adjustable Showa long-travel fork. The rear shock is also adjustable with both high and low speed compression damping controls.
Riding the 400SM is fun … in a way that is unique to supermotos with their bolt upright seating, wide handlebars, light weight and ultra-nimble/flickable handling. The beat of the single cylinder is an enjoyable addition to the mix.
The 300 mm front disc brake and its dual piston caliper, coupled with the 240 mm rear disc, offers confident, controllable braking, if not sport bike levels of power. That adjustable suspension can vary from squishy to firm, depending on your needs, and damping felt well designed (as it should for a model that has been around for this long).
Long distance comfort is not this bike’s forte, but the seat does a much better job than many dual sports I can recall, which often design their seats too narrow for extended street use.
In short, we still like the supermoto category a lot, but most manufacturers do not see fit to offer such a model in the U.S. market. We’re glad Suzuki still does. At a U.S. MSRP of $7,189.00, the 2014 Suzuki DR-Z400SM offers entertainment and reasonable practicality for those looking for an elemental riding experience. More details and specifications can be found at Suzuki’s web site.