WE RIDE NICK PALUZZI’S ROCK STAR SUZUKI RM-Z250:

October 5, 2009
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A few months ago the thought of testing this bike was a distant dream. Why? Word spread like wildfire through the racing world that Suzuki’s 2009 amateur program went belly up. For all intents and purposes, Suzuki’s amateur program was considered deceased heading into the 2009 amateur season. With the economy in a downward spiral, the bean counters at Suzuki decided to scale back their racing efforts for 2009. The riders that didn’t get chopped fled to other brands; the program manager was fired, and doom and gloom were the order of the day. But, the worst didn’t happen. Thanks to the outside support of Rockstar, Suzuki managed to save its amateur support program?at least what was left of it.

Although Eli Tomac, Terren O’Dell, and other marquee names had flown the coop, Suzuki held on to a 16-rider fleet of amateur star power. Headlining the list is Nick Paluzzi.

A LOOK AT TRAVIS PASTRANA, RYAN DUNGEY AND NICO IZZI MAKES IT EASY TO SEE THAT FINDING A RIDER AT A YOUNG AGE CAN PAY HUGE DIVIDENDS WHEN THE RIDER MATURES. THE BEST INTERMEDIATES BLOSSOM INTO THE BEST AMA PROS.

Who is Nick Paluzzi? Suzuki hopes he is the next Ryan Dungey. Nick is a Southern California native who races in the B class and has been a member of Suzuki’s amateur support program throughout his mini career. Although he has flown under the radar for most of his young racing life, there’s no denying that the kid is both fast and talented.

It may seem strange that Suzuki is banking so much on a B-rider (which is the Intermediate class in the non-AMA world), but this strategy has paid off for them in the past. A look at Travis Pastrana, Ryan Dungey and Nico Izzi makes it easy to see that finding a rider at a young age can pay huge dividends when the rider matures. The best intermediates blossom into the best AMA pros. With Suzuki’s hopes riding on the 16-year-old, the MXA wrecking crew felt that we should experience the bike of Suzuki’s ace in the hole. Our goal was to find out how Paluzzi transformed the stock RM-Z250 into a fire-breathing weapon of racing destruction.

SHOP TALK: WHAT’S UNDER THE PLASTIC?

Every MXA test rider was pleased to discover that Paluzzi didn’t outfit his bike with an extraordinary amount of aftermarket gizmos. Typically, when a bike is covered in every conceivable trinket available, the accessories become more of a hindrance than a help. Nick Paluzzi’s Rockstar Suzuki RM-Z250 was built for racing and not for a beauty contest?even though it was attractive. Focus was put on the powerband, suspension and clutch (all problem areas on the stock bike).

Engine. Several companies worked together on the engine build. When it comes to horsepower, Pro Circuit provides Paluzzi with all he could ever want. Along with the Pro Circuit engine mods is a Millennium Technologies plated cylinder. To complement the engine modifications, VP 4.1 racing fuel was utilized, along with Maxima lubricants.

Ignition. We’ve tested the Vortex X10 CDI programmable ignition before with great success. The ignition allows the rider to choose from ten different power modes. Once the rider has made his two best ignition curve selections, they can be accessed via a handlebar-mounted switch. A quick flip of the switch yields drastic changes in the engine’s characteristics.

Suspension. AMA amateur racing rules allow heavy aftermarket modifications to suspension, as long as these changes aren’t made to bikes racing in the Stock class. Paluzzi used RG3-modified forks and shock. Aside from DLC coatings on the fork tubes and shock shaft (to reduce friction and increase durability), the forks received RG3’s Smart Valves (for added progression and plush positive feedback). The stock 0.44 kg/mm forks were replaced with softer 0.42 kg/mm springs, and the shock spring (5.4 kg/mm stock) was swapped out for a 5.1.

What does this say about Nick Paluzzi? Given the undersprung nature of a stock RM-Z250, it means that Nick is as light as a feather. He weighs 140 pounds with a lead suit on. For the first time in history, we found a rider who actually found the stock RM-Z250 spring rates to be too stiff! To say that we were overwhelmed would be the understatement of the century.

Triple clamps. On the list of oddities were the RG3 20mm offset triple clamps, outfitted with four-post rubber bar mounts. Paluzzi said that these mounts created a solid feel without the vibration of solid-mounted bars. While the actual RG3 clamp system wasn’t all that unusual, the 20mm offset was. The stock offset is 21.5mm. An RG3 link arm was also added to the shock for smoother progression and increased rear-wheel traction.

Clutch. Hinson eradicated the buttery clutch that plagues the RM-Z250 by replacing the basket, inner hub, pressure plate and clutch cover.

Wheels. TCR did the lacing and truing (not to mention the magnesium finish). TCR also turned down the hubs to erase the stock casting rib marks.      

Miscellaneous. Twin Air provided the air filter cage and filter, while a Boyesen Supercooler improved cooling flow throughout the engine. Also on the list of aftermarket contributors were Acerbis (Uniko vented hand guards), Excel (rims), Pro Circuit (exhaust system and radiator hoses), Sunline (clutch and front brake lever), Moto-Master (oversized front and rear flame discs), One Industries (graphics and seat cover), and Pro Taper (handlebars, grips, footpegs, sprockets and chain). Completing the list was Dunlop, who outfitted Paluzzi’s RM-Z250 with the all-new Geomax MX51 tire combination (110/80-19 rear and 90/100-21 front).

TEST RIDE: STRETCHING THE THROTTLE CABLE

The first thing that test riders noticed, even before riding the bike, was how cramped Nick’s cockpit felt. Not surprising, since every test rider that slung a leg over Nick Paluzzi’s bike was six feet tall and Paluzzi is five feet, eight inches. From the low, sweeping, Carmichael-bend handlebars to the five millimeter rise on the Pro Taper 2.3 Platform footpegs, we felt like giants on a Fisher-Price tricycle. The levers were set lower than on most racer’s bikes (Paluzzi runs his clutch lever slightly higher than his front brake blade). Why? According to Nick, “I know that the lever setup is strange, but I’ve always had it that way. I can’t really explain it.”

It’s not particularly fair for us to be too judgmental about Nick Paluzzi’s suspension. Although the forks and shock were revalved for stiffer damping, the softer-than-stock spring rates felt like mush for nearly every MXA test rider. It didn’t take more than a lap or two to discover what we already knew?the suspension was too soft for our tastes. However, despite our preconceived notions, we were pleasantly surprised to find that the suspension handled the monstrous braking and acceleration bumps without too much drama. The suspension bottomed, but it did so in a very metered manner. We were impressed.

The engine is the bread and butter of any competitive motocross bike, and Paluzzi’s powerplant didn’t disappoint. The Rockstar/Suzuki amateur bike’s powerband was vastly different from the low-to-mid powerband of the stocker. Paluzzi’s engine profile was mostly mid-to-top, with the real beef centered at high rpm. Maximizing the power required a fast rider with a two-stroke approach, meaning that the bike begged to be wound out and slammed into the next gear. Lugging the engine translated into a cat-and-mouse game of trying to get the engine back up to speed.

We wondered how a bike that shines in the top-end would do in the critical first 50 feet off the starting line (where torquier bikes get the best launch). Our fears were allayed by a simple flip of the Vortex ignition switch. On setting “one” the RM-Z250 had plenty of over-rev and made a smooth, albeit quick, transition through the gears. With setting “two,” it was much easier to put the power to the ground for short, quick bursts. Nick keeps the ignition switch in “one,” but we found it beneficial to keep the switch on “two” for the start and then change back to “one” for the rest of the track.

CONCLUSION: WHAT DO WE REALLY THINK?

Personalization is integral to creating the perfect rider/machine interface, and this bike is designed specifically for Nick Paluzzi. It has all of his personal touches, like the softer spring rates, low-bend bars, high-rev powerband and unusual lever position. The engine performance is distinctly different from every other RM-Z250 that MXA has ever tested, because it doesn’t have a passing resemblance to the stock engine profile. It doesn’t just address the stock RM-Z250’s weaknesses?it obliterates them.

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