Cycle News Archives
Happy Belated Birthday
Last year, the beloved Suzuki DR-Z400S celebrated its 20th birthday, which, for humans isn’t considered old, but in motorcycle years, whew, that’s getting up there.
The DR-Z400S story begins in 1990 when Suzuki brought a full stable of new dual-sport motorcycles to the market. In addition to the conventional marketing efforts that accompanied the launch of the DR650S, DR350S and DR250S, Suzuki undertook an educational project to show dealers and event promoters across the country how to organize and present dual-sport rides.
Led by industry visionary Mark Blackwell, Suzuki’s U.S. staff and others went across the country explaining ride layout, creation of the roll charts and actually riding the new Suzuki’s with influencers decades before that label became part of the lexicon.
The Suzuki DualSport Rider’s Club was the focal point with newsletters and physical support at the events led by Team Suzuki Off-Road mechanic and tuner extraordinaire Mark Hyde east of the Mississippi and Avery Innis of Suzuki’s Technical Service Department at select western events. Often joined by other Suzuki professionals like racing managers’ Pat Alexander and Mike Webb, this group was charged with making sure Suzuki riders would have a good time at these formal rides. They also rode and passionately shared what they learned, and more importantly, what they learned from Suzuki DR riders with their comrades at Suzuki Motor Corporation in Japan. The fruits of the reports first came with every dual-purpose DR receiving electric start in 1993, just a few years after the entire line was launched.
But there was more to come as the reports and the dialog between the factory and the U.S. office was strong and steady. The DR-Z400S arose from the desires of Suzuki’s DualSport riders who wanted liquid-cooled, DOHC four- stroke engines in chassis’ that blended Suzuki’s motocross and off-road racing success. This was not a racing motorcycle, but a machine that balanced good performance with outstanding durability and reliability as you didn’t “win” dual-sport rides, but you must finish them and then ride again the following weekend without needing a rebuild.
There was a lot of trail wisdom that went into the DR-Z400S. An example of this is its unmatched instrument panel that allowed the rider to track and zero out one trip meter to a roll-chart while having a separate trip meter available to track the fuel tank’s mileage. You could get an optional remote button so you could zero the trip meter without moving your hands from the handlebars. You could simply press a button to add or subtract mileage to match a sloppy roll chart. If you went with a taller knobby tire you could use the panels correction factor to make sure the trip meter’s calibration would match the larger circumference tire and match the roll chart, because getting lost in the woods is best left for unfortunate children in fairy tales.
The reports, the engineering and design, plus the dedication to the sport brought the DR-Z400S out as a 2000 model. This motorcycle, plus its off-road DR-Z400 and 400E siblings, flowed out of Suzuki dealerships and into avid rider’s hands just as the DR350 models did 10 years earlier. Some enthusiasts raced them too, as did Team Suzuki’s Mike Kiedrowski who captured the first-ever World Off-Road Championship Series (WORCS) with a Yoshimura-built DR-Z400.
But the DR-Z400S was really meant to be what is still is, a wonderfully balanced, rock-solid-reliable dual-purpose motorcycle. Twenty-plus years later, the core of that bike remains, boosted by occasional updates like the inclusion of fully adjustable off-road suspension. A legendary motorcycle that’s far more than the sum of its parts, a combination of Suzuki’s American and Japanese professionals who personally cared about what they were doing.
In case you’re wondering, the MSRP for the 2000 DR-Z400S was $5349, today it’s $6899.CN
2000 DR-Z400S Introduction
- Compact, liquid cooled, DOHC 398cc, thumper
- Damper-rod front fork with adjustable spring preload, rear shock with threaded-body spring preload and rebound damping force adjustment
- Multi-function LCD instrument panels
- Introduced alongside off-road DR-Z400E (electric start) and DR-Z400 (kick-start)
2002 DR-Z400S updated
- To improve off-road and all-around performance, DR-Z400E model fork with fully adjustable damping force added
- Headlight (and cowl) changed to improve road/trail illumination
2003 DR-Z400S updated
- New style cam chain tension adjuster introduced to reduce sounds and better maintain proper chain slack
2004 DR-Z400S updated
- New primary drive gear and nut to increase durability
- Cable routing updated to reduce sheath wear (when ridden aggressively)
2005 DR-Z400S updated
- Balancer (handlebar end weight) and hardware changed to increase vibration damping effect and improve retention to the handlebar
2005 DR-Z400SM SuperMoto introduced
- Street legal with DR-Z400S engine and frame
2006 DR-Z400S updated
- Rear combination light (taillight) mounting and hardware changed to improve durability when ridden aggressively
2017 DR-Z400S updated
- Front and rear suspension damping force adjustments changed to improve off-road and all-around performance
2018 DR-Z400S updated
- Anti-cavitation plate added to front brake master cylinder (also aids cap sealing)
2019 DR-Z400S updated
- PAIR (pulsed air supply to exhaust) added for emissions compliance and permits changes to carburetion for better throttle response and smoother deceleration
- Exhaust header pipe changed to accommodate PAIR system routing
- Carburetor deceleration enrichener added to smooth coasting and engine braking operation