The Capable Sleeper - Suzuki DRZ400S - Family Dirt Day
RideApart's Family Dirt Day event featured a ton of brand new bikes to ride, so when I choose the Suzuki DR-Z400S as my first ride, I was greeted with some odd looks as well as questions about my sanity. But for me, it was the logical choice to make.
I’m middle-aged now, but still have only been riding for 20 years; most of that on big heavy street bikes. My dirt riding has been very limited, and mostly involved racing vintage machines in motocross events. The most modern dirt bike I’d ever been on was a 1980s XR350, thanks to Bike-Curious. Anything new I got on was going to be awesome, and even a dual sport bike like the Dr. Z was going to be easy for me to handle off road compared to the lack of suspension and brakes on my usual rides. Plus, this was the only bike there I might actually buy some day.
The first thing I noticed — even at 6’2” — is how tall the seat is on the Suzuki. It wasn’t an issue for me to mount, but for play riding and trail stuff, it really seems excessive way up there at about three feet high. A little googling reveals this bike has over 11” of travel at both ends, but it really would work just as well with just 8”. That's not a knock against this bike though, merely a product of the whole ADV/Dual Sport/SUV trend where everything's up on stilts. Thumb the button and this baby fires right up, even after another rider has beaten on it like a rented mule, off-road for an hour (with the enrichener on, as the case may be).
The whole point of this weekend was to ride as a group to simulate riding with your friends or family. Just like my family, everyone was dilly-dallying, so I took off solo. Not being familiar with the area, I just headed up the nearest trail, which turned out to be a pretty gnarly single track up and along a ridge with a beautiful view.
I had no problems riding the unfamiliar, bone-stock DR-Z up, along and over it— I didn’t even have any scary moments. I did stall it once or twice, but that was because of the aforementioned fuel enrichener being on the whole time without me knowing. Even with that user error, it always pulled just fine and started right back up. This trail ended with a hard packed, rutted and rocky downhill section that I had no problem with, though I may not have been able to get back up it on this bike. Not sure though, because I didn’t try.
Back at base camp, everyone was mounted up and ready to ride. The group was made of riders familiar with motorcycles, though maybe not familiar with riding dirt bikes. Even on the heaviest bike in the bunch, I was able to keep the whole group within site— even the guys on the Husqvarna 450 and 350 enduros. For someone used to vintage bikes with 7” of travel before bottoming out, the long travel and plush damping of this dual sport made riding right through ruts a piece of cake. It seriously is like a Buick off-road.
I did run into a snag, and really learned how heavy the bike was after dropping it while trying to follow the lead guys when they turned off and went up a single track hill trail. If I had gassed it and maintained my momentum, I could have made it. Also, if someone had thought to air down the tires from freeway-cruise 32 psi level to proper dirt pressure, I might have had a chance.
As it is, I had an easy low speed crash, and got up. Then I fell over again, pulling the bike on top of me and pinned myself between the bike and a bush on the side of the hill. It was more funny and humiliating than painful and dangerous, and had it not been for that bush I would have been able to wiggle out. Once I did get out (with a little help) the bike started easily enough, and I rode back to camp. I then borrowed a tire gauge and aired them down to just 20 psi for the group's sake.
In conclusion, if you're tall enough for it, the Suzuki DR-Z400S is a great bike. It will take you off-road to 90% of the places most people go when riding dirt bikes, even with the stock tires. Basically, if the DR-Z can’t get you somewhere off-road you might just be better off parking the bike and hiking the rest of the way. I imagine it would be next to useless trying to pick your way across a boulder field on it, but then so would a lot of other dirt bikes.
Look out for my upcoming, full review of the Suzuki DR-Z 400.