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Race Tech Transforms our 2020 Suzuki RM-Z450

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Let’s be honest here. The 2020 Suzuki RM-Z450 is a very good bike, but it finished last in our 2020 450 MX Shootout with unanimous sixth-place votes from our test riders. Why? Though the Suzuki has a nimble chassis with amazing cornering characteristics and a powerful engine with an easy to ride powerband, the fact that it has not received any major improvements for several years has it behind the eight ball, technologically speaking. While the competition boasts innovations like cell phone tuning apps, hydraulic clutches, and electric starts, the RM-Z450 has a kickstarter and the EFI map is adjusted by physically changing ignition couplers near the bike’s steerer tube. While these outdated features may be overlooked, it is the bike’s lack of excitement when the throttle is twisted, and a badly unbalanced suspension package that really holds the yellow bike back. The Showa BFRC shock, in particular, suffers from quirky performance and a lack of rebound dampening that causes the rear end of the bike to rise in inopportune times, such as when making directional changes mid-corner. Though we enjoy the performance of the Showa spring fork much more than the SFF TAC air fork it replaced a couple of years ago, its performance and comfort are overshadowed by the shock.

Paul Thede and his team at Race Tech are best known for their suspension work, but it seems not many are aware that Race Tech has a full-service engine department, too. From simple engine rebuilds to full race mods, Race Tech is equipped with the machinery and knowledge to make bikes go fast and handle better. That said, we dropped our Suzuki off at their Corona, CA, headquarters and asked them first and foremost, to improve the suspension performance of the bike, but also to give the RM-Z more pep in its step without going overboard and needing to run race gas.

Yoshimura’s new RS-12 system fits great and looks awesome.

THE BUILD

The crew at Race Tech wasted little time and got to work on our machine within minutes of it being dropped off. The engine was removed from the chassis and disassembled for some fine-tuning. The cylinder was decked and honed, and the head was ported and the valve seats were cut for greater lift. The valves themselves were refaced and backcut to match. After the engine was reassembled, the engine was bolted into the chassis and the bike was run on the dyno to ensure proper performance. A new Yoshimura RS-12 was bolted on to complete the power performance package. Race Tech recommended that we add a Vortex ignition, but we wanted to see what the bike ran like before ordering such an accessory.

Race Tech tore into the Showa fork and shock with confidence as they have modified plenty of RM-Z450s. The fork was revalved to our test rider specs, and Race Tech’s trademark Gold Valves were added, as were a set of softer Race Tech fork springs. Out back, the shock was disassembled and revalved, and a Gold Valve was added along with a softer Race Tech spring. Our concerns with the rear of the bike lifting were addressed, and we couldn’t wait to get the bike out o a track!

The Showa BFRC shock was revalved and outfitted with a softer shock spring.

After picking the bike up from Race Tech, we added some of our favorite control and aesthetic accessories. First on the list was a pair of Pro Taper Fuzion handlebars in the SX Race bend. The Fuzion bar is a crossbar-equipped oversized 1 1/8″ bar, and the crossbar is outfitted with a proprietary dial that allows the crossbar to perform like a no-crossbar handlebar when open, and as a crossbar handlebar when locked. We’ve tested extensively with the bar in both settings and can tell a noticeable difference between the two settings.

Pro Taper’s Fuzion handlebar offers the performance advantages of two different handlebar styles. Depending on your preference and/or track condition, a twist of a crossbar-mounted knob is all that it requires to change the feel of the bars.

We’ve really come to enjoy the feel and performance of Maxxis Tires’ new MX-ST soft terrain tires since riding for them for the first time a few months ago. Developed by Jeremy McGrath, the MX-ST has excellent bump compliance and enjoys great acceleration and braking traction at all lean angles. The rear, especially, has become a favorite of ours, even in harder conditions. We wrapped the front and rear wheels with Maxxis MX-ST tires and set the pressure at 12 psi rear and 14 psi front.

The Maxxis MX-ST tire is designed for soft terrain, but it works great in all conditions. Be forewarned, though, that riding with them in hard-packed conditions may cause the side knobs to chunk.

We wrapped up the bike with a SDG USA six-rib gripper seat cover (our favorite!) and a set of custom Backyard Design graphics. BYD prints their kits on a proprietary vinyl that features channels in the adhesive that allow air to be worked out, and they are easiest to install that we’ve encountered. 

SDG USA and Backyard Design; a match made in moto heaven.

ON THE TRACK

Our initial ride on the Race Tech Suzuki RM-Z450 went down at Cal City MX Park in California City, just at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, as Cal City was one of the last public track to remain open for riding. The track features immaculately prepared dirt that is a mix of desert sand and perfect loam. Within only a few laps, it was obvious that Race Tech had transformed the last-place Shootout bike into a serious racing weapon. 

Race Tech’s fork and shock modifications give the rm-Z450 better balance and allow the bike to corner as amazingly as it should have, all along. Pat Foster demonstrates. 

We’ll start with the suspension. Gone is the unbalanced feel of the stock settings. No longer does the rear end of the bike overpower the front, as the bike enjoys front and rear suspension performance that is perfectly matched. The softer fork and shock springs, coupled with the Race Tech Gold Valves and modified valving, allow the fork and shock to absorb jumps, bumps, and everything in between in perfect harmony. We must admit to being skeptical initially of the softer fork setting but were pleasantly surprised to find that the fork held up well under braking and in G-outs without getting harsh. Small-bump compliance is excellent, yet the fork becomes progressively firm as it goes through its stroke for big hits and hard landings. The shock is what is most impressive, as the BFRC shock exhibits much more rebound control and its tendency to lift has been eliminated. The softer settings in the shock allow the rear end to settle and gets rid of the “stinkbug” feel that the stock components gave the bike. Small- to medium-sized acceleration chop is gobbled up with control and predictability, and the rear end remains firm enough to handle big, flat landings with ease. Most of all, the Race Tech mods allow the RM-Z450 to handle just as a Suzuki should: with great predictability and amazing cornering prowess.

Try as we might, we couldn’t get either end of the Race Tech suspension to bottom violently. Even though the springs were softer than stock, the valving handles even flat landings with aplomb. Brian “Scrub Daddy” Smith at the controls.

Race Tech is known best for its suspension tuning, but hot damn, the guys can really make a motorcycle bark, too! From the first crack of the throttle, it was apparent that the RM-Z450’s mild-mannered personality was replaced with a more-aggressive, harder-harder hitting powerband. On the track, the RT mods and Yoshimura pipe gave the Suzuki snappier low-end throttle response, a bigger, more-exciting mid-range hit, and a top-end pull that continued to produce power for a few hundred more rpm than stock. What the mods didn’t lose, however, was the rideability of the Suzuki engine, as it was still easy to maintain control and traction throughout the rpm range. Our two test riders have distinctively different styles when it comes to applying the power to the ground. Pat Foster keeps the bike in the meat of the powerband and times his shifts perfectly without over-revving the bike, and he felt that the bike was stronger throughout the powerband, easier to make good use of, and right in the hunt with the rest of the 450-class offerings. “In this configuration, I could easily ride and race this bike all year long,” he said. “The Race Tech engine mods completely woke up the Suzuki engine, and the Yoshimura exhaust is the perfect complement. Plus, it looks and sounds badass!” Our second test rider Brian Smith, meanwhile, has a tendency to overrev the bike in each gear before making the necessary shift. Impressively, the RT engine handled clutch abuse and overrevving with equal composure, as the engine continues to pull further in each gear before flattening out. “This is the best engine I have ever ridden with,” said Smith. “It has power everywhere and it never quits!” (Smith was so impressed with the Race Tech RM-Z450, in fact, that he purchased it…Editor.)

Moving dirt is what the Race Tech Suzuki RM-Z450 is great at. Whether you ride the bike in the sweet spot or override it in each gear, the massaged engine can do it all. Pat Foster in the saddle.

All in all, the crew at Race Tech completely transformed our 2020 Suzuki RM-Z450 test bike into a better-handling, more-responsive machine that coaxed smiles out of everyone who tested it. In our minds, Race Tech is much more than a highly respected suspension specialist; they are a horsepower factory, as well. Now, f they could only develop a bolt-on electric starter!

DIRECTORY

Race Tech Fork Revalve $150

Race Tech Fork remove and replace $50

Race Tech Fork Fluid $39.98

Race Tech Fork Gold Valves $179.99

Race Tech .49 kg Fork Springs $129.99

Race Tech  Shock Revalve $150

Race Tech Shock remove and replace $50

Race Tech US-1 Ultra Slick Oil $ 24.99

Race Tech Shock Gold Valve $199.99

Race Tech 5.6 kg Shock Spring $129.99

Race Tech remove and replace engine $225

Race Tech Engine full disassembly/rebuild $600

Race Tech Epoxy Porting/5 Angle Valve Job/Cylinder Porting $775

Race Tech Valve Reface/Backcut $50

Race Tech Deck cylinder $65

Race Tech Hone Cylinder $40

Pro Taper Fuzion Handebar SX Race bend $129.99

Pro Taper Race Cut Grips, white $9.99

Yoshimura R&D RS-12 Titanium System $1139

SDG USA Six-Rib Gripper Cover $69.99

Backyard Design custom graphics $229.90

Maxxis Tires MX-ST 120/90-19 $138 

Maxxis Tires MX-ST 80/100-21 $113

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Donn Maeda

Donn Maeda is a 30-year veteran in moto-journalism, having worked at Cycle News and Dirt Rider before launching MXracer Magazine and TransWorld Motocross Magazine. Maeda is the Editor-In-Chief at Swapmoto Live and you can catch him on a dirt bike or in the saddle of a mountain bike on most days.

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1 Comment

  1. Brian July 23, 2020

    This has to be by far the best thing I’ve seen & read in years!!! I thank you all so much for the best bike on the planet 🙌🏾🙌🏾🙌🏾❤️🏁🤠 Love you Donn can’t thank you enough👍🏾 God bless you & all the guys over at Race Tech!

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