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  • December 30, 2013
  • Dirck Edge
  • Chris Rubino
  • 72 Comments

2014 Suzuki DR-Z400SM: MD Ride Review

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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.

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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).

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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.

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72 Comments

  1. Butch says:

    Lowered my DR650 an 1 1/2″. Sargent seat. Stiffened up the front forks, spooned on some sticky street tires and can do 350 mile days.
    It’s a blast in the twisties. Gotta lose that 21″ front wheel though.

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  2. paul says:

    I test rode one of these when they first came out. Ton of fun to ride. I think the price is good if that is what you are looking for. No point comparing its price to bikes of a different purpose.

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  3. Jeremy in TX says:

    I also love ‘tards, but this one seems overpriced even with the quality hardware it sports. If the look and equipment had been updated, I might feel differently. Fuel-injection is a must in this day and age, and a 5-speed may be fine for a dirt bike, but it is a flaw for a street-going machine with a 400cc engine. And the old dirt bike plastics look, well, old.

    That said, there aren’t many options to choose from if this is the type of motorcycle you are looking for.

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  4. Randy says:

    Man if I am going to drop that kind of money into it them I am going to get a Kawasaki Versys that I can carve canyons and ride home on it as well.

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  5. JM says:

    Used to have one. Selling it was one of the biggest mistakes I ever made. I day dream about buying another one but at $7,200 Suzuki needs to update it first.

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  6. Leo says:

    I have the DRZ400s from 2003 and it is a great steetbike and dirtbike all rolled into one. The simple bold on mods I did put it into a category like no other bike I’ve owned. I put in a pair of lowering links for the rear end and slid the forks up in the front. I used several washers to even raise the handle bars and was able to slide the forks up a bit more to the max possible. The height is right for my 5’7” on the street and the height is good enough in the dirt where it climbs like a mountain goat on steroids. I ride it 400 miles round trip to the Sequoia Nat. Forrest every year and haul ass as fast as I want on the highway with a guitar on my back.

    I swapped the sprocket to a 38 tooth and cut a couple links out of the chain and it cruises just fine at 85 mph with plenty of passing power. I’ve had it on the odometer up to 105 mph twice and one time up to 106 mph on a slight down grade on the 405 fwy. in southern California. I get 57 mpg highway and 125 miles reliably on a topped of tank full of gas. I got of them super short moto front fenders (that long fender on the S catches wind like a glide plane and swerves you all over the road at 80 mph plus). I also added some mini bars for a KX80 or something and can split lanes with ease. It really can be modded to suit that street/dirt balance and reliability and cost like nothing else out there.

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  7. Bryan Whitton says:

    I don’t know, my first real road bike was a Harley 350 Sprint 1971 to be exact. 320 lbs and 27 HP stock. handled great had good brakes for the day and I learned how to ride and not depend on my right hand for fast lap times. You learn how to conserve your speed and ride to the limit of your bike and tires. I put 37K miles on that bike and road it to Salt Lake from San Jose on a 4 day weekend so it can be done.

    It isn’t always a good thing to have too much power. Enough to get it done with enough time in reserve goes a long way towards learning your limits.

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    • John says:

      I don’t think anyone is saying the DRZ is a bad bike or that it is necessarily underpowered. The criticism comes from the high sticker price for an old design that STILL doesn’t have a fuel injected motor. The new 500′s and even some of the newer smaller displacement bikes (Ninja 300, etc.) are just as fun and have comparable power at significantly lower price tags.

      Suzuki needs to drop the MSRP under $5,500 for this bike if they really want to sell it.

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  8. Silver says:

    This is a bike everyone needs to own once. They are insanely fun.

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  9. Motorhead says:

    Let’s see, I have over seven large to drop on a new bike. Do I buy this 400 cc motard or the new Yamaha FZ-09 with over twice the displacement and triple the cylinders? Hello, FZ!

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    • Kagato says:

      I know I know, but some folks just want a BIKE not the fastest thing for the money. Got to consider insurance costs too.

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    • Bocker says:

      That’s a bit of a false equivalency, really. I would imagine most people who are considering this model are not shopping it against the hottest naked bikes. The FZ-09 is on my wishlist, but the DRZ is not. That said, I’m sure there are others out there who wouldn’t even consider putting the two against each other as potential purchases. Different strokes, my good man.

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    • iliketoeat says:

      Umm… I would never trade my 2006 DRZ-SM for an FZ-09. No freaking way. The DRZ is just an awesome city bike and a ton of fun.

      It all depends on how you use your bike. If you mostly ride on twisty roads or in the city, it’s hard to beat a DRZ-SM. If you have to drone on the highway for dozens of miles, the FZ-09 might be a better choice.

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  10. Gronde says:

    I rode a 1991 DR350S for 5 years and will attest to its 30 minute highway endurance. That is all the seat is good for. Off-road you never really notice the seat and it’s just a blast to ride. I do think that the price of the 400SM is a bit high when compared to other machines with more cylinders, but there are things you can do on the 400SM that more street biased bikes can only dream of. I don’t see the 400SM as an only bike, but it sure has it’s place as the #2 bike in your garage.

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    • Harry R says:

      I recall traveling north on I-81 through southern VA back around 1992 or so and lending a hand to two Canadians both on DR-350s doing the lap and one had a flat. They told me they lived in the Toronto area and rode west to BC and the kept making left turns. So I guess if you’re truly committed, or committable, you could go more then 30 mins in the saddle.

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  11. Stephen says:

    I’m looking for a first bike and I think the DRZ is my choice. I’m 5’7″ and weigh 130 and plus this being my first bike, I doubt I can ever use a KTM or something similar to its full potential straight away. Plus I don’t have the funds currently. My goal is to find one with less then 10,000 miles and under $4k and slowly modify it. Is this a good plan, or should I take a different approach?

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    • Kagato says:

      Don’t forget to look for some new leftover bikes–that’s how I picked up my Ninja 500 for 4300 out the door. Check Cycle Trader, you might have to drive a bit. OTOH you it’s very possible to find low-mileage scoots–folks buy them on impulse then decide it’s really not their thing.

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    • Tom says:

      Excellent plan. My niece is looking for a first bike to ride to school and short distances. We have been thinking the same.

      I have a 2001 DRZ400 that has been rock solid. Had it to Baja twice where it saw a fair bit of street time as it was towed down there behind the MH and was the only form of transportation once we got down there. The bike would be a hoot to ride in SM trim.

      Good luck and welcome to motorcycling!

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    • Gary says:

      I’d buy a 500 cc twin for $2k and ride the $hit out of it. Suzuki makes a great one. They are small, light, and easy to handle for beginniers. You will probably fall off once or twice, so buy a bike that you won’t feel bad about blemishing. Then, after a year or so of this apprenticeship, buy the bike you want.

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    • billyrazz says:

      I bought a DRZ400s for my boys to learn on, it was perfect. Very durable and super easy to handle. Ride over curbs or large potholes, no problem. Best around town, country roads or in the canyons, limit about 1/2 hour on the freeway. Bought it almost new (2005) for 4K, sold it 2 years later for 4K. Took it on a bit of dirt, but for street the SM would be even better. I’ve ridden the KTM 690SM, too much for a first bike.

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  12. George Catt says:

    All the Japanese companies have 450 quads which are durable, powerful, and modern. Still can’t understand why they don’t have Dual Sports with similar similar motors.

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    • Harry R says:

      Try racing one of the 450′s and you’ll find the durability is not that much better then the MX bikes. Your question though is absolutely valid. With current technology in metallurgy, composites/ceramics, and electronic a 450 single with 55+hp that is durable enough to go 50K miles before a rebuild is needed should be easily achievable. The next question is the price point and profitability in other words “if they build it will it sell in sufficient volume?” I for one would no doubt put on in the garage (see my post below).

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  13. Harry R says:

    Drop 30-35lbs, add direct inject Fuel injection, lighten the flywheel and go more over square (with a longer rod/short skirt piston combo) while bumping the CC’s to 450 and raising CR to around 10.75-11.0 to 1.0 and I am there even at near $8K. With the right rubber backing into corners would be easy and super fun making for a great “hooligan” bike. What good is a commuter bike that doesn’t have you grinning 2hrs after you arrive at work.

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    • Norm G. says:

      re: “add direct inject Fuel injection”

      gotta wonder with everybody being on about DI if the added cost/complexities would even be worth it.

      Report this comment

      • KenHoward says:

        Yeah, D.I. is great for manufacturers’ bragging rights pertaining to lower fuel consumption plus added power, but I think a lot of buyers will be quite upset at future maintenance and repair costs.

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        • Harry R says:

          D I is not signifacently that much more to design, implement, or maintain the port injection and there is definitelly several benefits to DI that easilly offset those costs in the long run.

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    • iliketoeat says:

      Fuel injection? Why? The carbs on the DRZ-SM work perfectly well. It doesn’t need fuel injection. FI is necessary to meet emission regulations. It doesn’t add anything to the performance of the bike. In fact, it detracts from it. How many people do you hear about the jerkiness of FI bikes at low RPMs and partial throttle openings?

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  14. Bill says:

    I have 2008 DRZ-SM. Super fun bike! Great for kicking around town or the quick commute. Just a lot of fun in the twists and turns. As far as vibration it isn’t as bad as my KLR650 was and definitely not as bad as a big cruiser like a Harley. Not made for long trips, but neither is my truck, so that is why I don’t expect to be comfortable when I take them using either vehicle.

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  15. Tom says:

    Suzuki is my #1 favorite Japanese brand but the seem to be like Honda from 2-3 years ago putting out the same bikes with BNG year after year, sigh. I guess the “new economy” has roughed them over pretty good. At least the V-Strom 1000 is new. They need to drop kick the Gladys (Gladius or SVF or whatever its called) and come out with a new SV on par with the FZ-09. They can do it.

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  16. Gary says:

    The “joy” of owning a street single falls well short of the idealistic notion some may have. It is true that they are light, fuel-efficient, nimble and easy to handle … but it is also true that they vibrate like crazy, are gutless on the motorway and they tend to wear you out. I learned it the hard way with an SR500 I owned years ago.

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    • goose says:

      While I loved my SR500, in spite of it’s many faults, you’ve covered owning a street single pretty well. Great in theory, not so great in reality. A randy 400-500 twin in this chassis would far more interesting to me.

      Goose

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  17. powermad says:

    I had a street legazlized drz400e which has a much more powerful motor than the street or sm model. Its not much of a street bike. If anyone thinks that seat is decent they lost feeling in their rear end somewhere along the line.
    I also had a DR650 which I put a pumper carb and exhaust on, which did wake it up somewhat. Its a good dual sport bike if the dirt isn’t far away but nothing I want to do a long day on.
    I like the idea of a SM bike but they seem more like something you want to spend about a half hour on, preferably on a tight, twisty, bumpy back road. Beyond that I need a little more road bias.

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  18. Mark says:

    I bought this in 2007 and sold it within a week. It felt gutless.
    Then promptly went and got a ktm 690sm.
    That had the perfect amount of juice. Plus it felt much more solid with better build quality, bars etc as stock.

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    • Neil says:

      I have a Suzuki TU250. Woke right up when I took off the choking muffler and added a slip on instead. 17 tooth front sprocket. I rode it at 70 mph from Palm Bay to Vero Beach FL on route 95, and back. So a 400 surely has some giddyup in there.

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  19. Ziggy says:

    Dirck’s work is insightful and well-written. But this article was promised years ago, and now it is just flat-out stale news. With no updates other than BNG for years, we already know all this stuff. Some of us have owned multiple iterations of this bike over the past decade. So why not either find someone who has supertuned the motard to the point where it is both a credible ride and provides some fresh and interesting ideas for the readers? Or, failing that, wait until Suzuki rolls out a real update to its DS / SM line?

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  20. vitesse says:

    I don’t know why anyone would buy this relic when for another $1800 you can be sitting on a 690 Duke, equipped with the latest, greatest everything and with a weight penalty of only 25 lbs.

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  21. Randy says:

    “On state routes, the limit is 60mph and it can do that all day.”

    My wife’s Wolf Classic 150 can do that!

    It is a very small subset of the population that considers this acceptable performance. Based on past behavior I kind of have to, sadly, put myself in that group as I’ve owned 3 SR500′s, a SRX600, and had both the DRZ400S and a DR650. But I still stand by my statement below that this is a substandard bike ($7189!!!) Suzuki should of replaced years ago.

    Yes, the SM can be ridden very aggressively on tight roads – I’ve been ambushed a few times by motard riders lurking behind buildings waiting for a passing sportbike rider. A couple miles of being chased till the first real straight. At that time they always pull off and yuk it up. Of course, I’m somewhere in the middle of a 400 mile day ride and this is but a few minutes of dicing it up in 10 hours of thousands of curves covering a significant part of California. While it isn’t the mountain bike a motard is my Sprint RS does OK, and long sweeping desert highways ARE entertaining at 90+.

    Hopping up DRZ400′s and DR650′s past the standard carb/exhaust mods is for sick, hard-bitten, individuals. The guarantee of bulletproof (but milquetoast) stock performance is throw out the window. Thousands are sunk into the build and what, WHAT, is the outcome? Maybe 10-15 more HP. And if you are lucky maybe 5,000 miles before the topend needs “refreshing”. I’ve a couple friends that tried this experiment and are back to stock.

    I finally gave up my DR650 (which is superior to the DRZ on the highway) when a jerk in a Miata I came up on tight sandy road wouldn’t let me pass. If a runt car with a jerk driver like that can’t easily be passed on engine acceleration on a short straight I’m not interested in the bike. That means 60 RWHP in my experience.

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    • oregonlocal says:

      “a jerk driver like that can’t easily be passed on engine acceleration on a short straight I’m not interested in the bike.”

      Ah yes, I must agree whole-heartedly. It’s the difference between being a Master of the Universe and merely putting around.

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      • Randy says:

        And! To confirm my mortal sickness I just picked up a used NC700X, which for all it’s positives (how did I ever get by without a frunk?), isn’t going to let me dominate the short straight any better than the DR650.

        Come on Yamaha, get that MT-07 here!

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  22. Vrooom says:

    I’ve owned a DRZ400s, which was a fun little dual sport, but you don’t want to even do 150 mile miles of pavement on it, which does limit it’s usefulness somewhat. They need to come down about $2K in price to make it really attractive, otherwise just buy a 650 ds and a 17″ front wheel and do a little suspension work and have a better all around bike. I’ve done a 650 mile day on a KLR, including 100 miles of dirt, you just couldn’t do that on a DRZ and walk the next day.

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  23. denny says:

    This sounds a bit ignorant; can someone tell me why this category of bikes in general have such small wheels (especially font)?

    They are obviously not intended into terrain, but even in city they may end up broken in large enough pot hole.

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  24. red says:

    The old dinosaur 650 has the better motor for a road-going bike, imo.

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    • Martin B says:

      I agree. I have a Suzuki Freewind 650, which amply demonstrates the virtues of a single. Simplicity. Narrowness. Lightness. It has a fairing in the front, 19″ and 17″ wheels, a much wider seat than a DR 650, and sufficient comfort for an all day ride. I rode mine straight after a Kawasaki W650, and although the W650′s engine was better, mine wasn’t that much slower, but the bike was dramatically better over a mountain road. Way better ground clearance, suspension compliance, and the riding position was way more comfortable. The W650 felt like it was built for a dwarf. I have about 2/3rds the suspension travel of a DR650, but about half as much again compared to a road bike. Although the road appurtanences make it less suitable as a trail bike, it is superb for rough road travel. The big thing is the lightness compared to a multi cylinder road bike, which lets it slip through corners while you barely pay attention. Absolutely no technique is required – you just sit there and you’re through. Our open road limit in New Zealand is 60 mph, very heavily policed, and it’s not hard to find twisty roads everywhere. No need to go on the boring straight bits where all the camper vans, trucks, and dozy drivers are. There is a healthy mid range kick due to the twin carburetors, although the low end is a bit weak. Unless you ride at high speed on boring straight roads, there is no need for much more power.

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  25. ABQ says:

    I am sure that they are fun, but they are too tall for most people.

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    • Tyler says:

      That’s a common misconception, I am 5′-7″ and can comfortably ride my buddy’s 400SM. Granted I have to mount it like a horse (one foot on the peg and SWING!) and can only touch one foot at a stop, but with the compression of the suspension and the light weight, dropping it has never been a risk.

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    • GuyLR says:

      Agreed. What’s with so many riders these days thinking that they need to flat foot the ground on every bike? You just put one foot down and lean the bike a little when you come to a stop. To me it’s the bikes with 26″ seat heights that seem unnatural.

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      • TimC says:

        Yeah I knew a gal that rode sportbikes, and every bike I saw her ride she had to tiptoe with one foot at a stop. Yes you have to be a little more careful as you don’t have the “jam-down-the-flat-foot-save” option if you do something dumb but just think ahead and don’t do something dumb.

        My take is they want new-rider-friendliness, and I’m annoyed where that’s going (clutches and shifting going away someday, as they are in cars).

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  26. PN says:

    This bike looks like fun, I bet it is fun, and I love the blue rims.

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  27. zrx4me says:

    you would be nuts to buy a DRZ400SM instead of a $7999 FZ-09.

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    • Tom K. says:

      Quit reading my mind, will ya? It’s crowded enough in here as it is.

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    • Vrooom says:

      If it was going to be your only bike I’d agree. But they are entirely different bikes for different environments. The SM would be quite happy tackling a little two track, not the FZ. The SM would eat the FZ’s lunch on a supermoto track. But the FZ is by far the more useable street bike if any kind of distance is involved, and far faster in any kind of open environment. For us multi-bike folks, they could live together.

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    • iliketoeat says:

      You’re wrong. I would choose my old 2006 DRZ-SM over a brand-new FZ-09 every time. If you ride in the city or on very twisty, bumpy roads, you can’t go wrong with a DRZ-SM. 320 lbs and a foot of suspension travel. The FZ-09 seems like a nice bike, but it’s comparing apples and oranges.

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  28. sl says:

    I ride an SXV550 as my only ride. Around town I want for nothing. As the road gets straight I drive the truck. Supermoto’s are a blast to ride, and you can push the limits at reasonable speeds. I can get a rush at 50 or 60, not 130. All that said I plan on buying another bike.

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  29. todd says:

    I call “bull” on the suggestion that the manufacturers can’t build a 450 motard durable enough for the street. The 450 MXers have much higher quality engine components than the DRZ and that bike does not have durability issues. Maybe they are worried that people would mod them to MX spec trying to get every last pony out of them. It shouldn’t be any worse than a modified DRZ or a KTM. I think they figure the market is already being served and it’s not big enough for anything larger than their 250s.

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    • Don Fraser says:

      change piston after 25 hours enough of a durability issue for ya?

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      • todd says:

        You only need to do those sort of service intervals if you ride it like a competition MXer, wide open, over-revving, mud caked in the radiator… Ridden like a street bike it’ll last the same as a street bike. It’s not like they are using inferior pistons or valves in those things. More likely they are higher quality components that are intended to handle the abuse.

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  30. mark says:

    I own a DRZ400S and it’s a nice-enough trail bike, but for street use, you’d really have to be hung up on a single to choose this over a twin-cylinder, fuel-injected, ABS-equipped CB500 for $700-$1200 less. Or not spend $800 more for a 110-hp FZ-09.

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  31. Not-randy says:

    This is a disappointing review. Not as much information as the brochure from the dealer. Why did they bother?
    Meanwhile . . .
    I have a 2007 SM, as well as a ’09 Speed Triple and a 1998 Thunderbird Sport, and I imagine it as an only bike. It is very lightweight and with its 33 hp it can keep up with the aforementioned Sportster and NC700 on most roads. It corners like a demon and is very confidence inspiring. OK, it’s not for interstates, but those are boring on any bike, and I avoid them. On state routes, the limit is 60mph and it can do that all day. For exploring curvy back roads away from town, it is in its element.
    There’s LOTS of aftermarket parts, and if you have to go faster it isn’t very hard to get the engine in the 50hp range.
    If you ever rode one you would not only know why they sell them, but wonder why everyone doesn’t have one.
    Unless your idea of motorcycling is riding in groups to the bar where you can admire each others tattoos and leather tassels.
    BTW, I paid $5600 for mine. New.

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  32. Nik says:

    KTM 690 SMC / SMC-R … same weight, 70 hp, higher quality components…

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  33. tla says:

    I wouldn’t want to have this as my only bike…

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  34. Randy says:

    BTW, it’s two different Randy’s below!

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  35. Randy says:

    I owned a DRZ400S for a while and know this engine/5sp trans well. The fact is this is an old buzzy engine with all of 33 HP, I can’t imagine how Suzuki sells them.

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  36. randy says:

    I can very well imagine why more of these are not sold here. Take $7189 and list every motorcycle available for that price (approx) and down. Thats all I paid for my new 2013 Triumph Bonneville. From an 883 Sportster to Honda’s NC700x and a trio of 500′s or Yamaha’s Bolt on down, having some supermotard fun with little other versatility just doesn’t equate to enough bang for your buck.

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