• Charles Lytle

Starting From Scratch / MXR's 2018 RMZ450 Project


I held off for a full year.

When I saw the new 2018 RMZ's debut in 2017, I fell for those good looks right away. A little older, and a little more patient, I decided to let the magazine test riders have their day with the 18's and read what they had to say about the bike. Reviews ended up being so unfavorable that I decided to wait a bit longer.

I first fell in love with Suzuki's as a kid as our dad raced a pair of 1997 & 1999 RM250's. That's where it started for me, and I grew up owning several RM250's, some of the first RMZ450's w/ four-speed transmissions, and lastly a 2009 RMZ450. The 2009 model was the second year of EFI on production dirt bikes, and the 2009 RMZ450 engine went into every 2008 RMZ450's frame as well after a massive recall. Durability issues (cracked cases) were plaguing the new RMZ the minute it put into dirt for the first time.

Side note: If you have a 2008 RMZ450, check to see that the recall was completed. You'll receive a new engine with beefed-up cases. I don't think there are many without the recall performed, but you never know.

The 2008 RMZ was much like the 2018 in terms of people's anticipation for it. It was all new too. Frame, engine, EFI were all new & exciting. To me, these bikes always had a body style that was "ahead of it's time", much like the 2001-2008 RM250 two strokes do/ did. Though now aged, they still look awesome.

Fast forward to the end of 2018, now with a stable full of KTM's in the shop, and I'm still thinking about this overweight, non-electric start, BFRC rear shock equipped "so-so" motorcycle that is getting it's ass kicked in magazine tests.

That's when curiosity got the best of me.

I had taken a trip down to SoCal for a motorcycle show at Langston Motorsports and having never been there before, I was excited to see the sales floor. Grant has a HUGE inventory and some really cool Pro Circuit bikes on display from his racing days.

Where's the RMZ I wondered. I had to go see the thing but I promised myself I wouldn't touch or sit on it. Still, it was too late. I played it off like I didn't care to my wife, but she already knows all too well how this scenario usually plays out!

I left the Langston showroom & had a great time riding Perris MX the next day aboard the trusty KTM 250SX with my man JB Covington of Ride JBI suspension. JB knocked out a quick fork re-valve on my KTM's AER48 Air Fork for me before we hit Perris MX. Amazing work, you owe it to yourself to check him out if your bike is beating you to death. He has created some very cool products for us riders. We made the trek home to NorCal after riding that day.

Once home, a brief amount of time passed, but I soon found myself on the Langston Website browsing for RMZ's. Leftover ones as the 19's were about to arrive. I tend to buy new bikes this way to save a bit more on them. In fact, I bought the 2009 RMZ leftover in 2010 as well, and several other bikes in between.

THERE IT WAS, a leftover 2018 RMZ450 with a list price of $5400?!

Umm, yeah... I don't care who you are. When you see a brand new 450 for $5400 before tax/ title & fees, you simply must at least ask what the OTD price is! (Out The Door price).

This was pretty much the end. After justifying why I needed to own this bike & coming to an internal deal with myself (Sell the 2017 KTM 350 in exchange for this RMZ) I was off and planning my next trip back to Grant's Adult Pleasure Palace for my new motorcycle.

I left the showroom just a bit over $7000 poorer all said and done, though I couldn't be happier with my new freshie RMZ. It was getting late but Perris MX was just around the corner, so you know where I went next...

The usual suspects were out at Perris:

Zoid Photos & Swapmoto and some other local rippers. I unloaded that beautiful new RMZ & proceeded to gear up.

THIS BIKE IS COMFORTABLE! The cockpit is skinny, and everything just feels to be in the right place. It is spacious, the bars feel great, it all just felt good initially.

Spinning laps proved the RMZ so easy to ride. The power & the way it's made, coupled to the stock gearing just meters out nicely & with zero abruptness about it. It is mellow and well mannered with no hiccups off the bottom. Nice, clean 450 grunt followed by ultra smooth, tractable power.

You don't have to finesse this bikes throttle as far as power is concerned. It is already smooth as silk. I have not yet tried the alternate ignition couplers that come with the bike. I tend to stick with the less abusive "maps" traditionally as I find I can ride longer this way. In other words, the bike doesn't wear you out. I like that.

If you're aggressive or love insane jolts of power, you will want more out of this bike. Easy fix, and since we saved a ton of money on this bike off the showroom floor, we can afford some mods. I've already done a few & will update these blog posts with more info as soon as I've tested the products.

Moving on to suspension: The BFRC shock specifically, is about as bad as you may have already read from other media sources. It is busy, rebounds too quickly and simply throws the bike out of balance when you'rev trying to negotiate into turns.

The trick for me with the stock BFRC was to keep it under load. If you could be smooth into turns and not brake too hard, just keeping the bike under a little bit of power through the turn, it is very helpful. This is one of the situations where the BFRC tends to over exaggerate your braking further, and make the front end dive, screwing up the whole turn. The bike will knife or over-steer & it's just a hot mess. You can only add so much SAG before you compromise the best parts of the entire stock setup. The shock puts the forks in an bad way too, when it's misbehaving.

On the flip-side of the BFRC is the super fun flick-ability over jumps that I feel is also exaggerated by the hyper fast shock & it's lack of rebound damping. This bike is "heavy" but in the air it is as easy to flick around. I believe / feel when riding it that this is the "glass half full" approach to the BFRC in stock trim. However, for most guys it will not be enough reason to keep it that way.

Long story short, this bikes suspension is a mess and it NEEDS attention. If you can't ride a bike without thinking about how it is going to react in the next section, then you cannot ride it with confidence. Conversely, when you're riding a bike that you aren't constantly paying attention to the whole time you're riding it, you are not only faster but also safer. That's the biggest factor to me. It was never dangerous, but I think it could be for the less skilled, setup-impaired or super fast guys.

Side note: Guys are swapping in an older WP shock body with Showa internals, as well as older KX450 / KYB units that fit the chassis. Ohlins also makes a complete shock for this bike that may interest you. I personally want to get the most out of the BFRC before it comes out of the bike completely, if ever.

Again, this bike was "cheap" and you may have noticed by the opening photo that I've spent a few extra dollars on suspension. More to come on that soon.

In Closing

Do not be afraid to buy & love this motorcycle. It is a blast and has only gotten better over the last 5-6 hours of ride time. The next post will be in regards to the Pro Circuit Suspension & link that now grace this bike.

If you are looking at a 19, this information also applies to those RMZ450's as well. They are largely the same past a new shock spring, clicker settings, & red accent in the graphics.

I have owned what I consider to be/ have been one of the best & most technologically advanced motocross bikes so far: The 350SXF and all of it's amazing qualities/ components. It was hard to let go, honestly. They are over, or close to $10K in most cases.

I'll leave you with a few things to think about. Just thought process from both sides with no definitive or "right" answers:

BFRC: I look at it like EFI when it was new to MX bikes, or maybe even Yamaha's reversed cylinder engine.

When a thing or an ideas is "new", it is often met with resistance. EFI didn't really work well with flame-outs & no over-rev in the beginning. Years of massaging have made EFI bikes infinitely tune-able, ultra smooth to ride as well as custom tailored to any specific rider via mapping.

Yamaha's engine design was seemingly wild but they stuck to it and now look at what they have.

KTM waited until almost all brands left air forks behind. Yet despite the air fork's lack of popularity overall, came out with an amazing air fork that was simple to use, ultra tune-able & is regarded as the air version of Yamaha's SSS KYB fork.

The point here is the commitment to an idea.

I don't know that BFRC will enjoy the same commitment & even sort of doubt it will but you get the point.

But what could Showa do with that commitment to the BFRC?

In the meantime, we can enjoy all the awesome components offered by the pioneers of aftermarket components.

Thanks for your interest, and for reading. More to come in the near future regarding suspension, exhaust & weight savings.

-Charles / MXR

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