Suzuki DR-Z400 SM: Grin-City CBD
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The DR-Z400 has been around since the carby days. In fact, even now, it retains the breathing apparatus of yesteryear instead of the squirt technology that Gen Z are growing up with. In our test bike's case however, it is a classy Yoshimura racing version, setting off the trick matching exhaust system and letting the yoshi cams get that breeze flowing.
With the engine breathing freely and sounding sweet, the years roll off both bike and rider as the DR-Z400SM encourages the playful side to seek twisty narrow roads, just for fun.
Even in stock trim, the main differences from the off-roader that it came from are the Mikuni 36mm carb (the dirt version uses a Keihin 39mm) with digital ignition mapping specific to that combination (ours had aftermarket ignition from Yoshimura), wheels, that big 310mm front brake disc, suspension settings and that's it.
The gold anodised EXEL rims are also stock items on the SM, as are the tidy axle sliders. Although not aspiring to be competitive in any motard race class against the modified 450cc weapons you see whizzing around the street circuits and tracks, the slightly more humble DR-Z400SM is a can of giggles just daring you to pop the lid. And it's LAMS-legal ... in stock form that is.
For shorter rides the SM is fine, although, being a fairly well padded but narrow dirt-bike seat, the comfort suffers if you are looking at rides with fuel stops included. It's not as bad as most dual-purpose models, but it's really not its forte.
Around town or just enjoying the backroads, it's Grin-City CBD. The DR-Z is lighter than most road bikes, skinny through the waist and peg-to-peg for splitting traffic (the bars are high enough to be above car mirrors) and the thing stops on a dime with that 310mm rotor squeezed by a Nissin caliper.
Once the lights turn, our SM gets the holeshot (off the line) every time too. The single does run out of steam on the open road before a "proper" road bike would, even when comparing with LAMS models but hey, it'll be right there until you risk serious trouble anyway.
Supermotards do things differently. Watch the guys racing them and you'll see a whole new style of riding. Some of the techniques were carried over by the riders who cut their teeth in the dirt and adapted them to work on the tall, narrow hybrids that developed into what we now refer to as supermotards. Like 'em or not, they are fun to scoot around on with those fat, grippy tyres. With the Suzuki DR-Z400SM being all road kosher, it is one of the most entertaining modes of transport around town you'll find for 10 grand (minus the "loverly" Yoshimura bits on ours) - new.
It doesn't take long for the old leg to start twitching and soon after, the leg-forward style is feeling natural in the tight sections. It does work well on the tall machines, keeping weight over the front axle in tight turns helps the ex-dirt bike turn in with confidence - it's not all show.
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You do want soles that slide, not grip, if you start getting carried away as hooking traction is going to see tears in the end as your inside leg stops and you fly past with the bike and the rest of your body, if you're lucky.
The road wheels and tyres mean the gravel talent of the DR-Z is reduced but it's still better than 99.9 per cent of pukka road bikes, because of the riding position and ergos.
With intermediate adventure tyres fitted, even on the 17-inch rims you could be looking at an instant lightweight adventure bike.
Why not? Range on the 10 litre fuel tank is decent if you don't hoon too much - we failed trying to do exactly that, so the search for exact figures was thrown out the nearest window in favour of fun, but you should be looking at maybe 150km between stops.
If you're about to pipe up and say you can't have fun at the track on a 400cc single, I beg to differ.
I spent most sessions at a MotoTT track day at the Bruce McLaren Motorsport Park in Taupo hounding plenty of big sportsbikes around the infield, resisting the urge to pass due to track-day etiquette stating you're not allowed to do it up the inside under brakes, which is smart.
I could however slide round the outside and attempt to gain as large a gap as possible before being given a quick roasting down the back straight as the big rockets stormed away. Anyone can go fast in a straight line, but the fun was to be had closing them down again on the infield and doing the rinse-and-repeat until the session ended. That big front disc and the lack of mass meant the braking markers were quickly revised and the "little" 400 left me grinning.
The tyres looked like the stickers had not long been peeled off and it was time to go and rest the aching body before I got too carried away. Still, a motard like this makes for good and most importantly, cheap fun.
There were a couple of niggles --the front indicators that weren't up to the task and eventually wiggled themselves out, but the quaint tool bag on the rear mudguard then earned its keep as somewhere to stash them. Other than that, the old DR-Z400 is about as robust as you can get.
Price: $9995 + ORC (standard). Price as tested $14,907.
Engine type: 398cc 4-stroke, liquid-cooled, DOHC single cylinder
Seat height: 890mm
Kerb mass: 146kg
Fuel tank: 10L