GNCC Racing

Obermeyer Suzuki RM-Z250 - Race Test

Friday, August 14, 2015 | 2:15 PM

A growing force in the GNCC and National Enduro Series, the Obermeyer Suzuki squad has been turning heads in 2015 with solid results and a great grooming program for up-and-coming speedsters Jake Froman and Cole Kirchoff. Much of the team’s success is due to the fact that Keith Obermeyer—team manager and owner of the namesake dealership back in Jasper, Indiana—is extremely plugged in to the ground level of his team. While a guy like Obermeyer would have every right to sit back in a palatial office and never once get his shoes dirty, Keith is instead as hands-on as they come—it’s not uncommon to see Obermeyer lying in the dirt underneath a fork leg adjusting the suspension settings, or topping off a quick-fill fuel can with greasy hands. This approach is not just strategic—although it does keep Obermeyer closely in touch with his core customers—but it also represents Keith’s incredible passion for the sport. This man just loves dirt bikes, and it shows in every aspect of his team.

At the Millfield, Ohio round of the GNCC series, Obermeyer offered up one of his modified Suzuki RM-Z250’s for Dirt Rider to race test during the two-hour morning event. The ride was part of a comparison test where I raced a Polaris ATV on Saturday, and a dirt bike on Sunday (check out the October issue of Dirt Rider, which just hit newsstands, for the MX versus ATV feature story). While the Suzuki proved to be an outstanding representative for the two-wheeled crowd, the performance of this bike was certainly worthy of a standalone test.

One of the best things about this bike is that it was not modified to the gills. It’s true that a lot of weekend warriors imagine that the top racebikes are all highly modified fire-breathers, but that’s simply not the case. Power is great, but if you can’t get it to the ground, it’s useless. Similarly, performance in long races like GNCC events needs to be balanced with manageability; the event is simply so demanding that you need to plan for the bike to be ridden by a dog-tired rider, as even the most fit individuals cannot remain fresh while running at race pace for the entire duration.

With all this in mind, I was grateful to find that the Obermeyer Suzuki was set up for usability. The performance was there—the 250cc engine provided a lively, snappy stream of power that urged you to keep the throttle twisted—but everything about the delivery was manageable. The bike lit on the first kick off the dead-engine start, and the Rekluse Torq Drive clutch offered the sensation that the throttle was connected directly to the rear tire. As expected, tuning was phenomenal; there were no hesitations or odd pops, and unlike an overly-modded machine, there was not just one ‘sweet spot’ of power where I needed to keep the Suzuki. From the strong bottom end to the great acceleration, the RM-Z250 racebike was more potent than a stocker, yet it also provided me with strong power that I could use throughout the rpm range.

The suspension on this machine had a fast rebound feel in the fork/front suspension so as to keep traction with the front tire. If I slammed into a root, the fork would recover and not remain overly settled or blow through on the next hit. This isn’t the most comfortable way to setup a bike—if you start going slow, the ride gets a little jarring—but boy, is it nice when you’re charging in to a dark forest section in third gear with a pack of guys behind you! In addition to the active setup, the Suzuki boasted incredible bottoming resistance in both ends. The shock was slightly more settled and dead-feeling than the front (which I like), factors that contributed to a settled feeling in turns and, as a result, great cornering. The RM-Z250 is known to be an easy bike to change direction on, and I was grateful of this fact while slicing through the Ohio woods and cutting around the facility’s motocross track. It was not uncommon for me to pass one or more racers on either the outside or the inside of a turn, purely because the bike grabbed so much traction at a lean angle.

Aside from a small first turn tipover, I never went down on the Suzuki, but I had a few slipping/sliding moments that caused my heart to jump. Otherwise, the race was fairly uneventful—a good thing, I’ve learned—and I grew to be quite comfortable on the Suzuki in a relatively short amount of time. With comfortable ergonomics, a very natural riding position, great brakes, and a lightning fast pit stop thanks to the quick-fill tank, this RM-Z was the perfect setup for two hours of racing, and it clearly could have taken far more abuse than I was capable of dishing out. I finished in 16th in the Sportsman A class (48th O/A), and I’d be lying if I said that I wasn’t happy to see the lawn chair under Obermeyer’s EZ-up just a few yards from the finish line. All in all, the experience allowed me to compare racing an ATV and a bike on the same weekend, but on top of that it also reaffirmed my feeling that a great stock bike with a few smart mods is infinitely easier to ride than a hopped-up monster that you can’t hang onto. Without a doubt, the Obermeyer team has a great handle on off-road setup.

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