1972 Suzuki TM400
1972 Suzuki TM400
1972 Suzuki TM400 Cyclone: unrestored and all original with extremely low time. This is one of our favorite production bikes in the MXworksbike collection.
The Suzuki TM400, AKA the "Widowmaker" was Japan's first designed from the ground up production motocrosser. It was released at a time when motocross was very young in the US. Riders were eager to trade in their Honda CL scramblers that were basically street bikes for a bike designed specifically for motocross and start racing. Motocross at the club level was growing at an exponential rate and demand far out weighed supply for a purpose built motocross bike. Suzuki saw this coming way before the other Japanese manufacturers and started developing a motocross bike as far back as 1965. By 1970 they had developed the worlds best works motocross bike, the RH70 designed by Suzuki Engineer Hirohide Tamaki. Then they hired the best motocross riders in the world, Joel Robert and Sylvain Geboers. After testing in Japan, Joel and Sylvain were so impressed by the RH70 that they guaranteed victory and in fact, they went on to easily take first and second in the 250 world championship. The publicity generated by this amazing feat combined with a well matured 1500+ dealer network around the US, provided the perfect opportunity for Suzuki to release a motocross bike to the general public. Why Suzuki chose a 400 instead of a 250 is still a mystery but late in 1970, three orange tanked - preproduction TM400's were put on a boat and sent over for an eager awaiting press to test. The hype was huge and every single motorcycle magazine was anxious to get their hands on one of these bikes "just like Joel rides." Behind these three bikes, out in the Pacific Ocean was a freighter with thousands of brand spanking new TM400's to fill the demand of thousands upon thousands of american dirtbike riders. At $999.00 each Suzuki would have no problem selling each and every one of them.
When the three preproduction bikes arrived, they were rotated to the various motorcycle mags located in Southern California for evaluation, and they were serviced by Suzuki technicians at Suzuki headquarters in Santa Fe Springs inbetween rotation. Initial inspection by almost everyone was positive, it was a well finished machine and well put together but not exactly like the world champion machine of Joel Robert. Nearly all of the magazines had positive comments on the bike, especially for a first effort. While not rating it as high as the well refined and much more expensive Maico and Husqvarna, the TM400 was an excellent first year effort. Especially at under a thousand dollars a copy. Here are some of the comments: Dirt Bike magazine - " The TM400 is the finest, most competitive machine to come out of Japan to date." Modern Cycle - " After spending several weeks with the Suzuki TM400, we feel it is capable of winning any race it enters." Everyone raved about the power. Cycle World magazine said "The TM400 is one of the most powerful big bore, two stroke singles we have tested." Modern Cycle magazine actually had legendary actor Steve McQueen help with their test and here is what they said. "To say the power response was impressive is a definite understatement. The bike has wide a power band as anything we can remember riding and there is absolutely no sensation of "coming-on-the-pipe." Another thing that immediately impressed us was the stability of the machine when accelerating over a rippled surface. A number of machines we could mention, tend to pitch rather violently when in this situation, however the TM400 tracked in a very true line." Dirt Bike magazine tested the bike at the slippery "Blue Groove" Baymare track and had this to say about the power: "The rear wheel spins too much, too easy and too unpredictably. It's difficult to dial on just a little more throttle; the power comes on in a big rush. Possibly a rider like Joel Robert could cope with this kind of power output, but we suspect few others could. Much of the fantastic power output is wasted in useless wheel -spin." The one complaint that every one agreed on was the rear shocks, they were too stiff. The front forks were good to excellent with some complaining they were too harsh. Others thought they were just fine. The chassis got great reviews for being stiff and predictable down the rough straight's.
The TM400 also had some great racing success in the beginning. Rich Thorwaldson won his first time out in the desert on a bone stock bike. This was against some mighty stiff competition like JN Roberts etc. John DeSoto also was doing well in motocross and riding a stock bike with the exception of Koni shocks and a smaller gas tank off of a TS185. In Michigan Kelvin Travis was killing em on a bone stock TM400 on some very rough sand tracks, sometimes against Mike Hartwig on his 400 Husqvarna. Even with it's short comings, the TM400 was a very powerful bike and in the right hands, a very competitive bike. It won lots of races all over the country.
Today the Suzuki TM400 is notoriously known as the worst motocross bike ever built, ask anyone. If there is a top 10 list of bad bikes, you can bet the TM400 will be on the top. All the geniuses come out of the wookwork on all the blogs and all the websites and with all the self appointed authority in the world. And they will tell you in detail why it is the worst motocross bike ever! Some of these people that say this today, are the same people that wrote the positive reviews when the bikes first came out. To be honest, I don't remember any of this negative nonsense from back in the day when the TM400 was current. Is it just like Joel's and Roger's works Suzuki? Of course not, even though Suzuki did get carried away with an ad in 1972. Was it as good as a Maico or a Husky? Nope, but that doesn't mean it was a death wish machine either. Did people get hurt on them? Absolutely, at this point in time, motocross was a entry level sport and most people that bought these bikes were novices that previously rode street bikes or those CL 350 scramblers we talked about earlier. Joel Robert told me once that the first TM400's made more power than the RN works bikes of 1970.
SUMMARY: The TM400 provided access to world class power in a reasonably decent chassis to anyone with a thousand dollars. With this much power and a beginner at the helm, getting into trouble was not a hard thing to do. MXworksbike.com does not believe the TM400 is the worst motocross bike ever made, not even close. Nearly all of the negative hype is myth that got way out of control in our opinion. The 1971 and 1972 bikes were the most powerful. The 1973 thru 1975 bikes were detuned somewhat. We doubt very much that most of the critics with all these negative words of wisdom ever rode one. Below are scans of various magazine tests back when they first came out. They are all an interesting read. There is even a test from 1974 when Roger DeCoster rode a TM400 at Indian Dunes. Even though he was paid by Suzuki, his comments are interesting. All of these articles put the reader back to another era when things were simple. It was the beginning of the Japanese invasion that still stands. The next time one of these genius editors tells you that the TM400 is the worst motocross bike ever made, ask him why he wrote so positively about it 40 years ago.
Steve McQueen on the Modern Cycle 1971 TM400 test bike at Indian Dunes.
Joel Robert's 1971 RN71 works bike. Nearly 70lbs lighter than a TM400. The grips were one of the few parts interchangable with the 1971 production bike. Here's a factoid : Did you know that Joel Robert, Roger DeCoster and Sylvain Geboers races modified TM400's in the first three races of the 1971 Trans-AMA series? True story!
Rich Thorwaldson gave Suzuki many wins against the world's best in the desert on a 1971 box stock TM400. Rich was a very good friend of ours.
Cycle - May 1971
Cycle Illustrated - January 1972
Cycle World - May 1971
Dirt Bike - October 1971
Modern Cycle - May 1971
Popular Cycling - July 1971
Motorcyclist - March 1974
This photo taken from the October 1971 Dirt Bike magazine has to be one of the best static photos ever of any dirt bike.
Suzuki's first ad for their all new TM400R
1972 Official Suzuki TM400J brochure
Suzuki came out with this ad featuring John DeSoto on the 1972 TM400J
The infamous Suzuki ad of 1972.