Radical Ryan Houghton rides, rates n’ writes about the Factory Suzukis of Ben Townley and Jeremy Seewer…
It’s that wonderful time of the year again and no, I’m not bloody talking about Christmas – it’s factory bike test time! Towards the end of the season the factories release their machines for the fearless magazine test fraternity to give a good going over. It’s a tough job but fortunately for you DBR readers I am willing to take on the challenge and give you an idea what it’s like to handle these gorgeous machines.
First out of the gate this season were Suzuki who now have the one and only Stefan Everts overseeing their factory race team. Stefan will be forever linked with the Hamamatsu brand after winning his first world title for them way back in 1991 on their world beating 125cc two-stroke. Everts could’ve won the 250cc title in 1992 n’all but for injury then left the Bieffe squad at the end of 1993 before winning all and sundry for all the other Japanese factories in his legendary career.
Now coming full circle Stefan is attempting to get Suzuki back to their old winning ways. Believe it or not the brand has not won a world title since four-strokes came back to the fore. In fact, you have to go all the way back to 2002 and the frenetic days of Mickael Pichion and his glorious Corona RM250 two-popper to see the Suzuki name proudly atop of the world championship standings.
Although the 2016 factory team may not have the absolute star names astride its bikes as Kevin Strijbos proved in Lommel and Jeremy Seewer has done several times throughout the year there ain’t much wrong with the equipment.
So to start off let’s get to grips with the machine that finished second in the world behind Jeffrey Herlings’ KTM. What a machine the RM-Z250 is – I was really shocked how much I loved riding it.
Jeremy is quite a small guy compared to me so it’s probably not surprising to learn that I thought his bike has a really soft set-up. The front is fairly soft but you really noticed it at the back. When I first sat on it I was like ‘man I’m really gonna hate riding this’ but that wasn’t the case at all.
I couldn’t believe how well you could push the front end into the corners under braking. It was genuinely the most trustworthy bike I have ever ridden! When you watch the GP boys ride they do make stuff look extremely easy and of course they are amazingly talented riders. The key to that is their set-up. The set-up they run is so good and makes you feel so comfortable it enables you to push harder than you ever thought you could.
That KYB factory stuff certainly works on the 250 Suzuki! The forks gave me great feeling on the front end and I was at the bottom of the stroke on the forks and you wouldn’t believe how much the rear end squatted down. There was a pretty big double at the track and I was having trouble getting it on the 250 but I stopped and watched Seewer while he was riding and he was hitting it and seat bouncing really hard. Naturally I had to have a go so I tried it expecting to have a rear end kick out of it but I had nothing…zip. I cleared it pretty easily. I wouldn’t even feel confident doing it with my own suspension but I got great confidence out of the rear shock on the 250. Genuinely impressive stuff.
The test was held in a massive quarry in Belgium called Mont-Saint-Guilbert. They normally hold a round of the Belgian championship there once a year and apart from that it’s just a working quarry. Half the track is on the side of a clay/sand hill and the rest is on bottomless orange sand.
I think Stefan is pretty tight with the owner so he rides there a lot, especially during the winter when everywhere is closed they can always ride here as the sand is so deep.
Just as a side not you’d like to think Everts was the ultimate professional but the test was conducted just after they had signed Jasikonis and Stefan forgot his boots. As it turned out he ended up using my boots for half the day. That took the piss a bit really cos all I wanted to do was ride the bikes all day!
With the motor I was really surprised as well. I rode Herlings’ KTM and Kullas’ Husky factory bikes last year and I can tell you that they were special bits of kit and I wasn’t expecting the Suzuki to be as good as it was. Proves that you should always have an open mind I guess.
I would say that the Suzuki matched them for torque and bottom-end power. It was seriously impressive even with my 90kg ass on it! The only place the KTM edged it out was on RPMs – the Suzuki didn’t rev quite as much.
I was speaking to Everts and he was telling me they are developing the 250 a lot. Stefan and Steve Ramon (2007 MX1 champ) were both there when we were riding testing new parts for Seewer and Bas Vaesen to try out so it shows how much work the yellow factory is chucking at improving their machines.
With Kevin Strijbos’ bike still in regular action when we conducted this test I only got to ride Ben Townley’s 450 on the day but I can tell you that it was the fastest bike I have ridden in my life. Townley has his power in the bottom to mid rev range and the Suzuki just has unlimited amount of torque. When I came off the first session Stefan asked me what I thought and all I could say was ‘it’s bloody fast mate’.
It sounds silly to say about a factory bike but it’s true – in the right hands that bike is a rocket. Everts added that it’s all about riding the bike in the correct power-band and without saying as much I think he was inferring to the fact that he won 10 world titles and never over-revved his bike once.
It is all about throttle control and that’s so true. You try riding that bike at full throttle for a 35-minute moto and you’re going to be hanging out your arse no word of a lie.
As I said only got to thrash BT’s 450 but I asked Stefan how does Strijbos have his engine and he said he likes all the power at the top which really surprised me as he is so smooth and never really revs a bike too much. Of course these GP bikes have to be fast. The start is important at any race but at a GP if you start mid-pack you have no chance of coming through the pack with a field that stacked!
Townley’s suspension was really stiff – especially on the front The track was on the side of a hill and all the places I was finding it really nice on the 250 I was finding it a little bit nervous and twitchy on the 450.
The bike sits really level so exciting corners with all that power it just didn’t squat on the rear. The bike stayed really neutral and I found myself really noticing how much speed I could carry coming out of corners.
The cable clutch is as light as any hydraulic clutch and the only time I was using it was to control the power when I got a bit throttle happy. The Nissin brakes are really strong but that’s what you’d expect on a factory bike!
A lot of people have been asking me lately how special these factory bikes are and all I can say is this. Of course the GP bikes are amazing to ride – as you would expect them to be – but the best part about them is that each bike is so well set-up specifically for the rider.
Every GP bike I have ridden has had its own little tweaks and although they most likely wont suit everybody they certainly suit the professional who has to tear it around for 18 GPs a year. I guarantee if you had your bike set-up to your needs like these babies are then you’d go a damn sight faster on a Sunday afternoon.