Sometimes from the most seemingly inauspicious beginnings comes an astounding degree of success. Case in point, the Suzuki Motor Corporation. Now well beyond the century mark in terms of age, Suzuki began its slow climb to the top of the automotive industry as a loom manufacturer servicing Japan’s mammoth silk industry back in 1909. Its founder and company President, Michio Suzuki, harbored some pretty extensive hopes in terms of vehicle design for the company during the 1920s, but the onset of WW2 a decade later stalled his dreams - but only for the time being.
After the war’s end there followed a difficult period of gradual rebuilding and wide spread economic instability across the whole of Asia. The manufacturing of weaving looms was renewed by Suzuki but a wave of labor strikes during the late 1940s and early 50s mixed in with the post-war chaotic financial structure teetering on the brink of disaster nearly sunk the Suzuki Loom manufacturing Company altogether.
According to lore, Michio’s son Shunzo originally came up with the idea of adding a motor to his bicycle while on his way home from a fishing trip one afternoon. Now whether or not the story’s actually based on fact, this much is true without a shadow of a doubt: it was the motorcycle that kept Suzuki’s company from going belly-up.
By 1952 Suzuki began manufacturing motorcycles full-time and has since become well known around the world for doing just that - among other things too: compact automobiles, all-terrain vehicles, 4x4s, outboard marine engines, and even wheelchairs. But it’s for its unmatched line of high-quality motorcycles that the company is best known. Suzuki’s off-road bikes and road racers have won numerous world titles over the years, and its rugged street machines range from the cruiser Boulevard series to the now legendary GSX-R series of sport bikes, not to mention the landmark DR-Z series that was first introduced back in 2000.
Hailed as “the best Japanese dual-purpose motorbike yet” by Dirt Rider magazine, with Cycle World calling it “. . . the best all-around bike we’ve ever ridden,” the single cylinder liquid cooled four-stroke Suzuki DR-Z was a welcomed compromise between off-road worthiness and its more than adequate street legal capabilities. Tough, durable, simple to service, well priced, and overflowing with charm, the DR-Z’s have enjoyed a solid reputation over the last decade plus.
Over the last twelve years, the Suzuki Corporation has released five different variations of the DR-Z: those designed for younger riders (designated as ‘kids’ models) just getting acquainted with motor bikes, off-roading types, DR-Z’s good for motorcross competitions, Supermoto’s that are perfect for city streets, and the high-end Dual Sport DR-Z’s that are capable of switching between the untamed wilderness and the more urban roads of the big city. While the DR-Z’s have proven very popular with the buying public across all makes, by far it’s been the 400 series that’s gotten the most attention. Specifically, there have been three versions available: the Suzuki 400E, 400S, and 400SM.
The Suzuki DR-Z 400E is a 398cc powered dirt bike that’s plenty fast, light on its feet (a scant 260 pounds), and overall quite versatile for even the staunchest critics. With plenty of ground clearance and packing a rear tire that’s ideal for rougher terrain, the 400E is a good match of functionality and simplicity. Modeled off the 400E comes the Suzuki DR-Z 400S; a great bike capable of handling just about any surface imaginable. Also powered by a 398cc engine, the 400S’ chassis and suspension is firm, sturdy, and exceptionally rigid. The more recent incarnation of the 400 series is the Suzuki DR-Z400SM. With smooth tread tires made for the highway, the 398cc powered, low ground clearance SM can still tackle the country roads better than many sport bikes on the market.