Suzuki has long been known for making 80cc dirt bikes with the most flexible engine in the category. Decent low- to mid-range, in a category traditionally dominated by screaming high-performance engines and virtually nothing else. As a result, the Suzuki can serve as a casual trail/play bike as well as a race bike (it's always easier to turn a torquey bike into a noisy bike than vice versa).
Well, 80cc bikes became 85cc bikes in dealerships when Kawasaki introduced the KX85 a few years ago. Suzuki followed suit in 2002 with the RM85, and was not content with the change in displacement. With a number of technical improvements to the engine and chassis, the most striking of which were new plastics and new upside-down forks, Suzuki essentially designed and built its much-unchanged 80cc machine from the ground up.
After testing the new 2002 RM85 at length (ridden by 12-year-old Evan Edge), the MD really impressed me. Most striking is the surprisingly powerful nature of the new engine, which develops more power and torque at low revs than any other 80cc machine we have ever tested or heard of! Perhaps even more impressive is the fact that the RM85 is not one-dimensional ... it pulls hard in the mid-range and revs decently. In fact, it has a wider powerband than many 125s we've ridden. Awesome.
The updated chassis, including a thoroughly revised suspension, puts that power to the ground quite well. MD found both the fork and shock to be flexible (once broken in), but extremely resistant to bottoming (even with heavier riders on board). While the fork may be a bit stiff for smaller, lighter riders, both the fork and shock respond well to compression and rebound adjusters, and we found settings to suit virtually every rider.
Like many RMs, the RM85 has an extremely light and manageable feel. For all the power of the engine, the RM85 can corner in and out of corners with almost effortless ease.
The RM85 also has features that cater to kids and small statured adults interested in a light trail bike, such as a standard strut tower (rarely found on motocross-specific machines), and a six-speed transmission that allows for a pretty good top speed on open trails.
Our test bike's gearbox never failed to engage in the gears selected by the rider, and it felt very light (typical of Suzuki RM gearboxes). The clutch tolerated abuse on corner exits without complaint, and we spent plenty of time on the little RM on the track.
The RM85's ergonomics are relatively roomy for smaller riders and suitable for larger, 85cc riders. Larger riders may want to push the handlebars further away from themselves, but this will require a triple clamp replacement (with adjustable handlebar clamps). The footrests were high enough to provide ample ground clearance without making the seat/legrest ratio cramped for our riders.
We feel we rode the bike enough to test its durability, especially in the upper range. On the 80 and 85 engines, the cylinder heads (or at least the piston rings) need to be replaced much more often than on the 125 and 250 engines. This is true regardless of the manufacturer of the machine. We spent about 20 hours on the track with the RM85 without rebuilding the top end or replacing the rings. Despite this, the bike didn't lose any power - which means a good long life.
Basic maintenance of the RM85 is not hindered by the location of the air filter, spark plug or engine oil drain plug. Access to these items is relatively simple and straightforward.
In testing at sea level, the stock settings appeared to be good. The motorcycle ran clean and crisp from idle to the top of the power band.
Overall, we were very impressed with the RM85 and feel that it is one of the most versatile, if not the most versatile 85 available. Experienced riders may be looking for more top end power, but the RM85 is not far off the mark in this regard, and as mentioned earlier, it's much easier to tune a bike to increase top end power than to achieve a wide range of power like the RM85's standard engine.