MXA RACE TEST: THE REAL TEST OF THE 2021 SUZUKI RM-Z250
Q: FIRST AND FOREMOST, IS THE 2021 SUZUKI RM-Z250 BETTER THAN THE 2020 RM-Z250?
A: Can a new model get worse even though zero changes were made? The answer is yes. As Suzuki’s competitors have been refining their 250 four-strokes, the RM-Z250 has remained stagnant. Each year that the RM-Z250 remains unchanged, it gets further behind.
Q: WERE THERE ANY CHANGES TO THE SUZUKI RM-Z250 FOR 2021?
A: The bike is identical to the 2020 model from head to toe, save for minor graphics updates.
Q: WHEN WAS THE LAST TIME THE RM-Z250 GOT A MAJOR UPDATE?
A: Contrary to popular opinion, it wasn’t that long ago. In 2019. to be exact, the RM-Z250 got a big update: new chassis, cylinder head, dual-fuel injector system, forks, airbox, gear ratios and more. The engine gained two ponies at peak. The big update before that was in 2016 with over 80 mechanical changes. Suzuki has been spending the money to make changes, but the RM-Z250 has still placed dead last in “MXA’s 250 Four-Stroke Shootout” since the big update in 2016. Unfortunately, the 80 changes in 2016 made the RM-Z250 worse, not better. The mild engine got milder! Since then, Suzuki has been slow to catch up. Why? They are either okay with making the same mistakes, or their English translation of MXA bike tests is faulty. Hopefully, Suzuki of Japan can understand this:
“Sasupenshon wa sumou tori-yo ni settoappu sa rete imasu.” (English translation: “The suspension is set up for a sumo wrestler.”)
Q: IS THE 2021 SUZUKI RM-Z250 A BAD BIKE?
A: For heaven’s sake, no! There are many things to like about the 2021 RM-Z250. We want to love it, but for MXA’s purposes, we have to give it the cold shoulder due to Suzuki’s benign neglect. We still remember when Suzuki was at the top of the motocross food chain. In fact, the RM-Z250 won MXA’s 250 two-stroke shootout from 2004 to 2006—against the same YZ250 two-stroke that Yamaha is still selling today. And, in 2011, the RM-Z250 took top honors in the 250 four-stroke class. But, the last decade has not been kind to Suzuki RM-Z250 racers. As every other color of bike increased its power, improved its suspension and adopted updated technology, the RM-Z250 has hit the bottom due to outdated technology, weight, old-school power and ridiculous suspension settings. It’s as though Suzuki doesn’t really care.
The 2021 RM-Z250 is a likable bike, that is, after we put in lighter springs front and rear. MXA’s Novice test riders liked it. They felt that they could ride the RM-Z250 to its maximum capabilities. It carves inside lines with ease and launches out of corners with its strong low-end. Entry-level riders feel that they can push the RM-Z250 to its limits. Unfortunately, the RM-Z250’s limits are much lower than what Honda, KTM, Yamaha, Husqvarna, GasGas, Kawasaki and TM bikes aspire to. Our Novice test riders soon learned that what a bike feels like on a Thursday afternoon at the track is nothing like it will feel on a Sunday morning starting line. It only took a couple gate drops on the RM-Z250 before they changed their tune.
Buying an RM-Z250 to race competitively puts you at a serious disadvantage on the track. Good vibes are one thing, but the 2021 Suzuki RM-Z250 makes 5.07 horsepower less than MXA’s 250cc Bike of the Year. As for the 2021 RM-Z250 being the cheapest of the 250 bunch, that is true, but not by much. The 2021 Honda CRF250 is only $100 more than the RM-Z250, on the other hand, the most expensive bike in the lineup, the Husky FC250, is $1500 more expensive than the RM-Z250. The Husqvarna FC250 was the bike that won the 2021 MXA 250 four-stroke shootout. You may think that you can take the $1500 difference and throw it at hop-up parts for your Suzuki, but that wouldn’t put a dent in the 5-horsepower difference. The RM-Z250 would need $5000 worth of engine work to catch up to a stock Husky FC250. And, in the end, your RM-Z250 still wouldn’t have electric start, a hydraulic clutch, Brembo brakes, light overall weight or usable suspension.
Q: WHAT SHOULD SUZUKI DO TO MAKE THIS BIKE BETTER?
A: We believe Suzuki has two viable options. The path of least resistance, and the first option, is to make the RM-Z250 more affordable. It is no secret that dirt bike prices are becoming unaffordable for blue-collar workers. The working class was the lifeblood of motocross in the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s when affordable two-strokes ruled the world. The RM-Z250 offers a decent package for a guy who just wants a solid and reliable off-road bike. We are sure Suzuki could get its pencil pushers to reduce the cost by about $1000, which would make it around the same price as a YZ125. This would offer more incentive for a weekend warrior to buy an RM-Z250. Right now, the price difference just isn’t enough.
The second option is to spend millions to build a better bike. To cut costs on this endeavor, Suzuki’s engineers could bring back the previous 2017 chassis. It was a package they could brag about. It had good balance front to rear (unlike the 2021 chassis), and turned like a carving knife. Its only downside was that it shook at speed with our lighter test riders. Next, they would need a whole new engine. The first step would be to build a powerplant that could compete with its competition. Next, they would need to save some serious weight. The majority of the RM-Z250’s excess weight is in the engine. If the bike lost enough weight, then an electric starter would be an option. The 2021 RM-Z250 is the only bike without one. However, if no weight were shed off its hefty 226-pound chassis, electric starting would make it heavier than most 450cc machines. Last on the list is simple. Fix the atrocious spring rates (front and rear). The stock Kayaba suspension components are good; Suzuki just needs better test riders, more focus on its customers’ needs and a common-sense setup.
Q: WHAT DID WE HATE?
A: The hate list:
(1) Clutch. At the lever, the clutch has an easy pull that everyone loves. Unfortunately, the friction plates need a little more help from the clutch springs.
(2) Forks. The fork springs are way too stiff. At the very least, Suzuki needs to tune the suspension for its buyers, who aren’t Supercross racers.
(3) Transmission. The gears are notchy when shifted under a load.
(4) Launch control. This is a dummy switch. The RM-Z250 doesn’t need launch control to tame its horsepower off the line. It needs all of its power now. Launch control is useless on this machine.
(5) Electric start. It is the only four-stroke without one.
(6) Weight. This bike is heavy without an electric starter. Imagine how heavy it would be if it came with one.
(7) Vibration. This bike vibrates more than any bike in its class, and yes, we checked the bolts.
(8) Engine. The RM-Z250 powerplant is at a 5-horsepower disadvantage to the Husky FC250 and Kawasaki KX250. That is a lot.
Q: WHAT DID WE LIKE?
A: The like list:
(1) Cornering. This was once the best-turning bike on the track, but the competition has become better. We still like the way it turns, but not as much as the old 2018 chassis.
(2) Durability. In the past, Suzuki has had some serious durability issues, but over the last few years we have had no catastrophic issues with the RM-Z250.
(3) Tires. We like the MX33 tires front and rear.
(4) Cost. This is the least-expensive bike in the class, especially at the dealer level where they cut massive deals to move them off the showroom floors.
(5) Looks. Yellow is the perfect color for a motocross bike.
Q: WHAT DO WE REALLY THINK?
A: The 2021 Suzuki RM-Z250 is a likable bike, just not race-worthy due to its lack of horsepower, stiff suspension, hefty tonnage and missing pizzazz. Once MXA switched out the horrendously stiff springs, the RM-Z250 became 10 times more fun to ride. It offers a playful bottom-to-midrange powerband that is perfect for weekend warriors, play riders and Novice racers.
Suzuki needs to make some serious decisions, because it is obvious that they aren’t selling boatloads of RM-Z250s. Without sales, Suzuki’s management will eventually fold up the motocross division. We think it would be smarter to repurpose the RM-Z250 as an affordable option that would get a new group of riders into the sport. Suzuki was once the winningest brand in the sport, and it is hard for us to see what its proud heritage has become in the hands of the pencil pushers.
MXA’S 2021 SUZUKI RM-Z250 SETUP SPECS
RM-Z250 COIL-SPRING FORK SETTINGS
This is how we set-up the 2021 Suzuki RM-Z250 for serious racing.
The stock 5.0 N/mm spring rate is too stiff for any skill level. By dropping the spring rate, we were able to use most of the travel. For hardcore racing, these are MXA’s recommended 2021 Suzuki RM-Z250 fork settings (stock settings are in parentheses):
Spring rate: 4.6 N/mm (5.0 N/mm)
Compression: 14 clicks out (11 clicks out)
Rebound: 13 clicks out
Fork-leg height: Standard
Notes: If you opt out of lowering the spring rate, you will want to run the compression all the way out and drop the oil height by 20cc—unless you are a 200-pounder.
RM-Z250 SHOCK SETTINGS
To balance out the bike, we set the sag at 107mm. With the stock spring rate, the MXA test riders raised the sag to 104mm to get more weight on the forks to help them move. The stock clicker setting actually isn’t bad. For hardcore racing, these are MXA’s recommended 2021 Suzuki RM-Z250 shock settings (stock settings are in parentheses):
Spring rate: 50 N/mm (52 N/mm)
Race sag: 107mm (110 mm)
Hi-compression (blue): 14 clicks out
Lo-compression (silver): 14 clicks out
Hi-rebound (bottom of shock): 16 clicks out
Lo-rebound (red): 14 clicks out