Bike Tests 16 Sep 2011

Race Test: 2011 Rockstar Makita Suzuki RM-Z450

MotoOnline.com.au rides Aussie Brett Metcalfe’s factory AMA Pro Motocross contender in the U.S!

It’s almost 45 degrees and the pros are putting in their final preparations ahead of Pala Raceway’s season finale of the Lucas Oil AMA Pro Motocross Championship.

We’re at Milestone and a who’s who of American motocross is pounding out the laps regardless of the heat. It’s that hot that photography becomes a chore, but I have bigger things to worry about – I’m about to ride Brett Metcalfe’s factory Rockstar Makita Suzuki RM-Z450.

After coming off his first career win at Southwick and backing that result up with a podium at Steel City, Metty is still working hard to perfect the settings on his Suzuki. Today he’s testing the rear shock, dialing it in along with team manager Mike Webb and Showa suspension technician Adam Walters.

Once Metty’s happy with where he’s at, finding a setting that he’ll race with this weekend at Pala, it’s my time to climb aboard. I should be nervous, but it’s more the anxiety that’s taking my attention. Just how hard is this bike going to be to ride considering the exceptional speed that Brett rides at compared to yours truly?

MotoOnline.com.au's Alex Gobert was lucky enough to sample Brett Metcalfe's factory Rockstar Makita Suzuki RM-Z450. Image: Simon Cudby.

MotoOnline.com.au's Alex Gobert was lucky enough to sample Brett Metcalfe's factory Rockstar Makita Suzuki RM-Z450. Image: Simon Cudby.

Following a quick light-hearted pre-ride chat with Metty about how it’s going to run and what I can expect, it’s game on. Only thing is, his last words before I kick-started it into life were “you’re going to hate it out there!”. He may have been joking (well, half joking anyway), but part of me kind of expected to be in for the challenge of my life on a dirt bike.

As you’re about to find out, I was in for a very, very big surprise, even with the additional pressure of having the world’s best photographer – Simon Cudby – on hand to shoot the occasion with me. So, here goes… MotoOnline.com.au’s Race Test on the 2011 Rockstar Makita Suzuki RM-Z450 of Brett Metcalfe!

Alex Gobert – MotoOnline.com.au Test Rider

The opportunity to ride Brett’s bike kind of came up between us a while ago, earlier this season when we joked about me testing it for MotoOnline. Once we spoke about it more, we realised it would be a pretty cool idea to give the team and him exposure while also giving us exclusive content.

I never really considered how it’d all go, but once we agreed to meet at Milestone on a Wednesday open practice day there was no turning back. Brett was coming, the team was coming with his actual test bike and I’d organised Cudby to come and shoot photography for us.

Gobert puts Metcalfe's test bike through its paces at Milestone Motocross Park. Image: Simon Cudby.

Gobert puts Metcalfe's test bike through its paces at Milestone Motocross Park. Image: Simon Cudby.

The morning dragged on while Brett was testing, not because it was boring or anything like that, but more because I had absolutely no idea what to expect. Finally, after Brett did his final lot of motos, he told me to gear up. Luckily by that time, the majority of the pros had also packed up so I wouldn’t be swamped on track!

A few kicks with zero throttle didn’t fire the bike, but a slight twist of the grip was all I needed to get things underway. What happened next may have been the most intimidating part of all, as at Milestone you have to ride through the entire pit area from where the box van was based in order to get onto the track. What that meant was that Metty’s factory number 24 machine had a total stranger on it for all to see…

Once on track I was instantly surprised. With no adjustments whatsoever – not even the levers – I felt right at home. Well, as comfortable as I could on a 450 whether it was a factory one or not! Apart from the expected nerves that caused tight forearms before you can say “arm-pump”, Metty’s bike was pretty comfortable from the outset.

First things first, the power is incredibly smooth. Second, third, or even fourth gear, is responsive and the torque pulls you through to the next cog like nothing I’ve ever experienced on a motocross track. To add to that, the gearbox is precise and smooth in itself, making for an easy combination to work with even if the track was typically tough at the end of a practice day.

Testing factory race bikes from the U.S. is a very rare experience - especially for Aussie publications. Image: Simon Cudby.

Testing factory race bikes from the U.S. is a very rare experience - especially for Aussie publications. Image: Simon Cudby.

Suspension-wise, the way it was so compliant even at my modest speed absolutely blew me away. In no way is it soft, but it works with you and rides bumps exactly how you’d expect it would for Metty at speed. The only difference was, I was going excessively slow compared to him, but it still worked good. That was what surprised me, because on paper, you’d think it’d be horrible at my pace.

Steering and everything is consistently nice, works with you and allows you to take the lines you’re looking for. One thing that was really noticeable was that the bike sits relatively tall at a standstill, but once you’re going then it’s instantly not a problem. In fact, all of a sudden you’re able to turn it how you require and the height almost disappears in some ways as you sweep from turn to turn.

It’s safe to say that a rider of my caliber, or even many riders who are a heck of a lot faster than me would never do a factory bike justice, but to experience what guys like Metty are working with makes me that much more appreciative of what they do on any given Sunday. The bike’s great, that’s for sure, but it’s not going to make you an instant pro if you don’t already have what it takes!

This is a test that I personally am going to remember for a long, long time to come.

That right there is how you're supposed to ride the Rockstar Makita Suzuki! Image: Simon Cudby.

That right there is how you're supposed to ride the Rockstar Makita Suzuki! Image: Simon Cudby.

Brett Metcalfe – Rockstar Makita Suzuki AMA Motocross Contender

When I’m testing I like the bike to feel comfortable, but there’s a point where it feels good at a certain speed. You can make it feel really comfortable, but then when you go to the race and push to your full intensity, the bike doesn’t work that good. It’s hard to replicate that intensity, just because you don’t push as hard in testing.

That’s why you hear of so many people testing throughout the season, because you learn so much more. Really, when I test I like to feel comfortable, but then anticipate what I need from the bike when at race speed. You sort of feel like you can’t corner good, the front-end’s pushing, or you have trouble, so it’s a guessing game and then you figure things out.

It’s completely turned around since Hangtown. When I look back, it was a lot softer and the intencity when I was practicing just wasn’t there at all because I was coming off an injury. I wasn’t pushing and riding aggressive, so as soon as I started racing I found out the bike was a long way from where I needed to be.

Through trial and error, you progress, get better and learn the bike. It’s really nice this year to have Dungey as my teammate, knowing where he’s at and where I’m at in the ballpark with the settings and stuff. It’s especially good because he knows the bike, and for me being first year with Suzuki I don’t know some things so well. You have to find what works for you and what you like the best.

Factory suspension is first class, but it's not going to make you a pro in an instant. Image: Simon Cudby.

Factory suspension is first class, but it's not going to make you a pro in an instant. Image: Simon Cudby.

Factory suspension, the best thing for me is, having the testing available all the time with the technicians. I have the option to try stuff if I feel the bike or myself can improve. As far as componentry, unfortunately it’s something that the regular guy won’t ever see or feel. It’s just consistent over a moto. You don’t feel it get so hot.

Plus when you have a really big hit, it kind of takes care of you a little better. Instead of blowing through the stroke and bottoming out, it kind of saves you. Sometimes it makes things a little more difficult because it’s more rigid.

The settings are so much more critical than on production suspension or even regular A Kit stuff. It’s good, but you can also make it not so good as well – you have to know what you want out of it or you can get it wrong easily.

It’s a pretty smooth power in the engine, a lot of torque and good acceleration. It’s not overly aggressive, it’s still rideable, but has enough power to be competitive. It’s at a good point where we’re at with the bike right now.

Metcalfe joined the Rockstar Makita Suzuki team this season and took his first ever overall at Southwick. Image: Simon Cudby.

Metcalfe joined the Rockstar Makita Suzuki team this season and took his first ever overall at Southwick. Image: Simon Cudby.

With the transmission, it’s a little bit stronger than stock, just by beefing it up and taking precaution. I’m a little bit taller than Ryan in the gearing, just because I like the power of second gear spread out a little bit.

When I go into next year, I know where it needs to be at because we’re at the end of the season, I’m riding strong and the bike feels good. So when I start riding outdoors next year, if things don’t feel right, it’s more a case of dealing with it and getting back up to speed. It will come around, instead of chasing something that might not be right.

That’s the advantage I have with a two-year deal, so I’m definitely looking forward to Supercross and the outdoors next year.

Mike Webb – Rockstar Makita Suzuki Team Manager

This year was Brett’s first year in Supercross on a 450 and he was coming from another brand. We had to get him comfortable on the motorbike, then he got hurt, but when he came back from the arm injury in the outdoors he wanted to go soft on the suspension.

That was okay until he started going faster, and then we had to progressively get stiffer. Thankfully he’s a really good test rider, he gives really good feedback – some of the best I’ve ever heard. We’ve got to the point now where he’s good and you can see it in the results.

Like most factory race bikes, the faster you go, the better the bike feels at speed. Image: Simon Cudby.

Like most factory race bikes, the faster you go, the better the bike feels at speed. Image: Simon Cudby.

In lap times he’ll throw down the same times as Ryan when practicing, so that’s proof he can run that pace. Actually, I expected his results to come on a little quicker because in testing we could see his speed increase, but he had a couple of bad starts and things like that. I fully expect him up with the top guys – he’s that fast.

Brett’s always willing to try things in search of the ultimate, and as a factory team you pretty much have endless opportunities and resources. There are so many things we can change, which for an example this week, he wanted to try one more thing. It’s a positive. Both Brett and Ryan run almost identical settings now, but it’s been a progression. At first it was hugely different, but it’s almost the same spec as Dungey now.

With the engine, any changes are done through gearing, mapping or the flywheel, plus the end-caps on the muffler. Those are our basic tuning points. The power’s real smooth, yet there’s a ton of it everywhere. We can dial it in for any track.

Brett’s really laid back, but incredibly dedicated. I don’t think people realise just how serious he takes it, basically because he’s laid back. The guy analyses every facet of his program – his training, his diet, his sleep, his testing, his practice. He’s got it so wired after many years of figuring it out and that’s a big reason why he’s at that level he’s at.

"This is how not to ride" - Gobert debriefs with Metcalfe and the American Suzuki crew. Image: Simon Cudby.

2011 Rockstar Makita Suzuki RM-Z450 Specifications

Engine: Factory Suzuki
Crank: Factory
Camshaft: Suzuki/Yoshimura
Clutch: Hinson
Spark Plug: NGK
Carburation: Electronic fuel injection 43mm throttle body
Ignition: Works programmable
Exhaust Pipe: Yoshimura
Muffler: Yoshimura
Air Filter: Twin Air
Sprockets: Vortex
Drive Chain: D.I.D
Tyres: Dunlop (factory)
Wheels: Excel
Hubs: Factory
Axles: Factory
Suspension Front Fork: Factory 49mm Showa
Suspension Rear Shock: Factory Showa
Triple Clamps: Factory Suzuki
Brakes: Factory Suzuki discs with Nissin pads, callipers and master cylinders
Handlebars: Pro Taper
Grips: Pro Taper
Controls – Front Brake: Factory Suzuki
Controls – Clutch: Factory Suzuki
Controls – Rear Brake: Factory Suzuki
Controls – Gear Lever: Factory Suzuki
Footpegs: Factory Suzuki, titanium
Bolts: Factory Suzuki, titanium
Graphics: One Industries
Lubrication: Motorex

Rider Wear

Jersey/Pants: Answer JS Collection (Wired Red)
Gloves: Deft Family Catalyst 2 Switch (RY/W)
Helmet: SixSixOne Fenix Shards (black/white)
Goggles: VonZipper (Mondrian Red)
Boots: Alpinestars Tech 10
Neck brace: Alpinestars Bionic Neck Support
Knee brace: PodMX K700

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