The gap between 125 and 250 dual-purpose machines is a hard one to fill. The
manufacturer must decide todesign his machine to include the best features of
the 125 (light weight, nimble handling, low cost) along with the desirable
qualities of a 250 (lots of power and torque). This "in-between" sized
motorcycle can make an owner very happy if it's been Cone properly, and Suzuki's
Sierra fills the bill.
Starting with the basics of their off-road 125 model, such as (he frame,
Suzuki was off to a good beginning. They needed only to refine here and
strengthen there so that the once 125 could accept the now more powerful new
I83cc engine unit. But don't get the wrong idea. The 185 Suzuki may have
borrowed some items from the smaller 125. but it's an altogether different
motorcycle to ride and enjoy. It's got a personality all its own.
The frame, taken from the 125 Duster, has been strengthened and reinforced in
areas of stress created by the newengine. A single loptubeand downtubejomat the
steering head, while a pair of smaller tubes extend under the engine and curl up
to join with the toptube. This main frame section is amply cross-braced to
provide rigidity and prevent flexing. Seat, rear fender and shocks mount to the
sub frame and swinging arm.section. A perforated, stamped steel skid plate
attaches to the frame for rock protection. Welds left something to be desired,
but the black finish was applied nicely.
Suspension chores arc carried out in a fine manner. Front forks have ample
travel and good rebound and damping characteristics, but also feature adjustable
spring rates for riders of different weight. The cam-type adjusters are located
in the top of each fork tube, and can
be twisted with a screwdriver to allow soft, medium or hard settings. It only
takes a few minutes to change.
Rear shocks are surprisingly good for Japanese units, and are five-way
adjustable. Progressively wound springs are painted black, departing from the
chrome finish found on most machines.
The forks do a good job of soaking up the little undulations along a
backwoods trail, but at the same time they don't gel snowed by the huge thud of
a jump or the crashing blow of a deep hole. Over rippling surfaces the rear
shocks don't pump up and quit working, and as a result the rear end of the
machine doesn't hop all over the trail with the rider fighting for control. You
guide the Sierra, it doesn't guide you
Steel rims( 19-inch front. 18-inch rear) might be heavier than comparably
sized alloy units, but they resist dings more easily and don't clog with mud.
The wheels on the Sierra come with rim locks and balance weights, something you
don't find on many din bikes . A nice touch, we think.
The brakes on our 185 test machine surprised us. The front unit isquite small
but stopped much belter than we thought it would. The rear unit. too. is light
weight, yet it really works. So often brakes of this size give problems when
it's lime to slow down. The ones on the Sierra had lots of feel so that the
rider could descend a steep hill without locking the wheels, an important asset
on any dirt machine. Also, they allow' a rider a margin of safety when riding on
The IRC Trials tires arc a good compromise for dual-purpose riding, but are
more suited to the dirt, like the Sierra. Tread patterns are the same front and
rear, and the
sizes arc jusl right for most riding. Ground clearance with ihc stock lircs
is an ample 9.5 inches, the lowest point being the rear brake pedal where it
wraps under the right fooipeg.
A study of Suzuki models, both street and din. will show that many items
follow no set pattern on the machines. For example, the ignition switch on some
models mounts between the instruments in a convenient location. Other models
have the switch sitting under the tank on the left side, where (he rider must
hunt to find it and where it is also more apt to collect-debris in off-road
maneuvers. This is true of the Sierra's also. Another item of non-conformity is
the fuel petcocks. Some are the conventional off-on-rcscrve jobs, while others
are the diaphragm-controlled type that tend to be confusing. The Sierra uses the
standard valve, without the "prime-position.
Finally, fenders on the off-road machines differ from model to model. One
will use thin-gauge steel (the Sierra docs), and another will use the far
superior polyurethane plastic. There seems to be no rhyme or reason for the
modet-to-model differences. Strange.
Suzuki's I8S Sierra docs follow normal practices with its engine unit,
however, and it's quite similar to the one found on the smaller 125 Duster. The
piston-port two-si rokc single is simple and compact, with an emphasis on
"narrow.- The unit produces 17.5 horsepower at 7000 rpm and has a torque rating
of 13.5 lb.-ft. at 6000 rpm. which is a fair amount of power for a bike as light
as-thc Sierra. The power-to-weight ratio is impressive. Roller bearings support
the crankshaft while needle bearingsare used at the big and small ends of the
connecting rod. Even though many of the components appear to be similar or
identical to the ones found on the 125 Duster, it's not necessarily so.
Crankcases are strengthened and reinforced to a higher degree, and the
five-speed gearbox is more robust. Even the clutch has been beefed up.
More than adequate cooling is provided by virtue of very large cylinder and
head finning, always appreciated on a hard, day-long ride. Also worthy of note
are the rubber intent fitted to the cylinder fins that effectively reduce
mechanical noise emanating from the engine's internals. Manufacturers are
becoming more noiseconscious day by day and little items like the inserts
A 24mm Mikuni carburetor draws lis air through a polyurethane filter element,
which unfortunately is very difficult to service. To get al the filter you must
first remove the oil lank and fuss with things you shouldn't have to fuss with
to clean the air filter. A machine ridden on dusty terrain may require several
filter cleanings in a day: to have to go through all the motions that you have
to go through on the Sierra just to clean an air filter, is ridiculous. At least
it's a foam element and not the paper type. That would be worse yet.
The 185 Suzuki has a primary kicksian feature, which allows the rider to
start the bike in any gear simply by pulling in the clutch and giving the
starter lever a lick. While the gearbox on our machine shifted without a snag,
neutral was impossible to find when the engine was running. Wc don't think it
was simply a fault with our particular bike: we've found that it's a common
problem with many of Suzuki's dirt models.
The exhaust system on the Sierra is mounted high and well tucked in so as not
to interfere with the rider's
movements. It's well silenced, and even contains a spark arreslor unit, a
great item to have in dry areas where there is always a fire danger. The rider
is protected from the hot pipe by a chromed leg guard, which issufficient to
protect a person riding along as a passenger.
The 185 will makea fine Enduro bike with few changes, and will make an even
belter just-plain-fun machine for the average rider. It is light at the front
end to enable you to loft the wheel over ruts or water crossings, yet not tight
enough to cause looping problems when climbing a steep hill — and this one's a
If sliding corners is your thing, you'll like this litilc Sierra because it's
happy in this kind of situation. Responsive is its middle name. It'll jump,
leap, climb, slide, stop, or meander peacefully at the rider's will. And it'll
do it without playing tricks on the rider.
You take that and add it to all the other nice features — like a fat 12,000
mile/12 month warranty and a low purchase price — and what have you got? You've
got a pretty darn good motorcycle, that's what you've got!