It`s probably best to say right from the start that after racing one of these for the last 5 years, in my opinion, if you are a super competitive Twinshock motocross racer then the 1980 / 1981 Suzuki PE400 Enduro is probably not the bike for you. If you don`t mind racing a 250cc machine then best go buy a Honda Red Rocket or if you are a big bore sort of guy then invest your money in a 490 Maico. Both bikes were race winners back in the late 1970s early 80s & both bikes are race winners today. Plus if you can use a computer, own a credit card, & are quick off the mark on a Monday morning you can usually source any parts you require for either machine & get them delivered to your door well in time for your next race meeting. The only down side to racing one of the aforementioned Honda or Maico machines is you do need to have plenty of excuses on hand for all the people that will ask why you didn’t win or at least come very close.
Whereas with the big old Sazook enduro I don’t think anyone would have it pegged as an odds on motocross race winner so no pressure there then but compared to a Honda or Maico parts can be very difficult to come by. On several occasions over the years I have had no other option but to order things in from the other side of the planet. Having said that since I purchased & rebuilt my PE400 some parts have become far more readily available here in the UK. Nick at “MOTODURO” has been a great help & source of spares & is probably the best place to start when you require something for any of the classic PE175, 250 & 400 range of enduro machines.
PE175 250 400 HISTORY. As you may or may not know the Suzuki PE story started around 1976, at the time HERON SUZUKI ran the show here in the UK but didn’t have any interest in the off-road sector so the job of looking after all things motocross & Trials was given over to BEAMISH. At some point somebody thought it would be neat to de-tune, alter the gearing & pop some lights on a 1976 RM250A, the result was quite a good enduro machine. The following year saw the first proper model released, the 1977 PE250B. The bike did very well in both terms of sales & competition success so it`s no small wonder that BEAMISH & SUZUKI got their heads together & came up with the 1978 PE175C, based on the existing, pretty strong by all accounts, RM125 motocross engine & chassis. Again the new twinshock PE175 was a smash hit with enduro riders both here & abroad. Just for the record, the PE250 received various upgrades & carried on in air-cooled / twinshock guise until 1981 when it was finally fazed out. The user friendly & very popular even today PE175 carried on until 1983, it was still air-cooled but by then had been given the Suzuki “full floater” single sock rear end & was designated the “Z” model. Ironically, so the story goes, main Suzuki importers HERON had by now taken back total control of the off-road side of things thinking there was good money to be made but for one reason or another sales started to slow & they ended up with a warehouse full of PE175 machines that nobody wanted to buy. At this point a man from the north Eddie Crookes “CROOKS SUZUKI“ popped up & purchased the whole lot. Crooks offered those brand new full-floater PE175-Z machines in 1983 for £799 a piece, sounds amazing now doesn’t it. Crooks are another good company to contact today if you are searching for N.O.S parts or just some expert advice.
As for the air-cooled / twinshock PE400, it made its first appearance in 1980 but had totally disappeared from the Suzuki brochure by 1982. It probably comes as no surprise to you when I say the main movers & shakers at Suzuki America were a major force behind the idea of a big bore PE. Suzuki knew the bike had to be good right from the start as the market leader in places like the US & the bike to beat was the mighty Yamaha IT400. Any suggestion of simply putting some lights on a slightly detuned RM400 was quickly kicked into touch. There were two main problems, the big bore RM was all top end, a right old screamer, the engine put out very little bottom or mid range power but to be fair it was designed for out & out motocross warfare. The second problem was far more difficult to solve, the RM400 motor wasn’t of primary kick start design, it couldn’t be kicked up while still in gear & something considered to be absolutely essential on an Enduro type machine. So this is why all these years later when riders & restorers like you & me try to cross reference 1980 RM400 & 1980 PE400 engine parts very few, if any, actually fit both motors. The PE400 motor was pretty much brand new, a one off, made from the ground up. You come up against the same problem when trying to source parts for the chassis, lots of things look similar to the ones used on the RM400 but again very little is interchangeable so double check part numbers before purchasing spares is my advice. Surprisingly even after all the extra cost of designing & producing what can be considered a totally new bike, Suzuki only made it for two years. 1980 designated the PE400T & 1981 designated the PE400X. This makes the bike quite rare today & compared to the number of RM400 machines that rolled off the production line far fewer PE400 bikes were manufactured so I am told. Every cloud has a silver lining though because only very minor changes were made during its two year run, again double check part numbers to be sure but I think you will find if it`s a proper part made for a PE400 it will fit either model year. If you study the images closely you will notice that the stick on graphics were changed, the exhaust silencer bracket was altered slightly & the 1980 model had a bolt on skid plate under the motor whereas the 1981 model had extra steel loops welded on to the frame to help protect the engine cases. The only other differences depended on where the bike was originally sold when new, plastic fuel tank on US model with just a trip meter, Australia had same fuel tank but the new owner also received a proper speedo & indicators. In fact most countries were happy with a plastic fuel tank but typical England, we insisted on a metal petrol tank, speedo but no indicators. The bike measured up very well against the opposition of the day, the 1981 Yamaha IT465 weighted in at 120kg whereas the Suzuki was a featherweight 113kg, while four-stroke fans had to struggle on with 123kg of Honda XR500. Power wise testers of the day found the bike could still stay in touch with the big Yamaha IT even when it had grown to 465cc.
So why did I end up buying one to use for twinshock motocross racing I hear you ask. Several reasons really, it was quite a few years ago now but it was up for sale relatively close to home, relatively cheap compared to what sellers wanted for a proper twinshock motocross machine. It came from an established dealer who had imported it from the states, it was complete, running & looked pretty tidy especially the wheels that both looked like they had been freshly rebuilt which as you know can cost a fortune to get done. At the time I was racing the twinshock class at classic AMCA scramble events so having ultra long suspension travel at both ends wasn’t important because most tracks were predominately laid out on fresh grass & pretty smooth compared to what I ride on now at National Twinshock Association events.
First job was to run a spanner over the bike & generally see that it was safe to give it a blast on a local farmers field. All went well apart from the carburettor playing up a bit, on close inspection this was due to the needle having a slight “S” bend in it. Another obvious problem was the base gasket looked to be made out of an old cornflake packet, if the bits sticking out from the bottom of the cylinder were anything to go by. After that initial test run the bike was completely stripped down. Engine looked to be ok but still had various bearings, seals, con rod, piston & new rings thrown in. Robin down at Falcon shocks built some new motocross spec rear shocks for me while Nick at motoduro not only supplied most of the new engine components but other stuff such as cables, air filter, fork gaiters, plus a new & very much lighter than the original steel item, alloy tail pipe. All in all the usual kind of stuff that most riders do when sorting out a bike & getting it ready for serious racing use. Since that original rebuild the bike has only ever had basic servicing & minor running repairs. Wash it, spray WD40 oil all over it, clean the air filter, swap the gearbox oil, check every nut, bolt & screw is still tight after every race meeting & that’s it so far.
Twinshock racing the PE400 turned out to be very interesting indeed. Compared to something like a mid 80s Evo CR500 the PE400 is an absolute joy to ride, the chassis may not be in the same league but the engine is the total opposite. The old air-cooled lump may sound like a grenade going off in a metal dust bin but it`s pretty smooth, easy going, unthreatening, a real torque monster & even while carrying my immense weight will quite often tractor me out of situations where I find myself in too high a gear. Open it up though & you can see how the bike would have been well suited to the wide open spaces of America or Australia but on the other hand the motor has the ability to just potter along & tackle the sort of tight & twisty enduro to be found here in the UK. As for taking a fully road legal one out on a run to the seaside & back, Err…. No Thanks. I think the most limiting factor over the last 5 years has been me, the rider. A more talented twinshock racer could probably do quite well on one. They would notice right away that the standard front forks are not really suited to heavy duty motocross work this is because Suzuki decided that putting RM400 forks on would have made the bike a bit too tall for most riders & as a result the PE lost a couple of inches of suspension travel compared to proper motocross machines of the day. Many times over the years I have though the motor is very good but the suspension is the limiting factor in competition. It`s not something I intend or could be bothered to do but would chopping & changing the chassis about to accommodate super long travel suspension vastly improve my lap times ? On the face of it you would say yes for sure but I must admit that on many occasions on all sorts of different tracks, rough, smooth, sand, grass, big jumps & no jumps I have witnessed guys on things like a well sorted BSA B44 or a late 1960s CZ totally smoke the opposition, some of whom were riding long 12″ travel twinshock bikes. When you consider the guy on the BSA or CZ only had something like 6 inches of suspension travel front & back it really does underline the fact that at the end of the day motocross is all about rider ability & not how expensive or trick your bike is. See you on the start line…Mr J 2019