The MXA wrecking crew has a unique relationship with Ricky Carmichael. We have tested more of Carmichael’s race bikes than anyone, except for Ricky himself. It was 17 years ago that we began riding Ricky’s race bikes, starting with his Kawasaki KX85 minicycle (before he had ever raced an AMA Pro race). We followed that up with all three of the KX125s that he won his 125 National Championships on, his Supercross-winning Honda CR250, his perfect-season 2004 Honda CRF450 (which we tested the day before it was shipped to the Honda museum in Japan) and, of course, the final bike he raced—the 2007 Suzuki RM-Z450 that he used to win the Budds Creek Motocross des Nations.
Now, if you think all this means we hang out by the pool at Casa de Carmichael with Ricky and Ursula, you are wrong—dead wrong. Our relationship with Ricky is actually somewhat cold and distant. Now, you might be wondering why the relationship between Ricky and MXA has been so icy for all these years—especially since we have been joined at the hip when it comes to his race bikes. Strangely, it is our tests of his bikes that caused Ricky to shy away from embracing the MXA wrecking crew. He hated it when we pointed out how far away from accepted practices his weird setup was. The only person who could ride Ricky Carmichael’s bikes was Ricky Carmichael. Since we were the only outside people to ever ride his race bikes, we offered an unbiased view. Ricky didn’t like our opinion. The bikes we were testing were built specifically for Ricky Carmichael, not for the MXA wrecking crew, but his lever position (way too high for our tastes), cramped ergonomics (Carmichael is 5 foot 6, after all), low-rider rear end (why not just take the spring off and throw it away), dead shock (it banged more than it absorbed) and beach-cruiser handlebars (the throttle and clutch were by our knees) made us cringe.
In defense of Ricky, as if a 15-time AMA National Champion needs defending, he did change his bike setup later in his career when Roger DeCoster convinced him that he was limiting himself.
SINCE WE TESTED ALL OF RICKY’S BIKES OVER HIS AMA CAREER, IT ONLY SEEMED FITTING THAT WE END OUR 17 YEARS TOGETHER BY TESTING HIS LAST, OR AT THE VERY LEAST LATEST, RACE BIKE.
When the time came to pull the trigger, you needed to have a firm grip on the bars because Ricky’s RM-Z450 wasn’t mild-mannered in the least.
Since we tested all of Ricky’s bikes over his AMA career, it only seemed fitting that we end our 17 years together by testing his last, or at the very least latest, race bike. So, we got our hands on the 2012 Suzuki RM-Z450 that Ricky Carmichael raced at the 2012 AMA National Amateur Championships at Loretta Lynn. Although Ricky hadn’t raced seriously since retiring after the 2007 MXDN, he decided to come back to his roots in 2012. He wanted to return to Loretta Lynn so that his 5-year-old twins could see what Daddy did before they were born. Of course, Ricky went 1-1-1 in the Over-25 class (like there were any doubters).
The last time we threw a leg over one of Ricky’s race bikes in 2007, it was as works as a works bike could be. The crank, cams, radiators, clutch, hubs, axle, rotors, linkage, triple clamps, levers, transmission, skid plate, pegs, 51mm Showa forks and shock were all special issue out of the Suzuki of Japan race department. We assumed, and Ricky probably did also, that since Ricky still has a deal with Suzuki, his Loretta Lynn RM-Z450 would bristle with factory unobtainium. Guess what? Suzuki didn’t give Ricky much in the way of support. We scoured Ricky’s 2012 RM-Z450 for works parts and found three.
Suzuki gave Ricky one of his cut-down works subframes. It wasn’t cut down like most shortened subframes; it was made from scratch and featured CNC-machined billet parts. It was 10mm shorter than stock.
(2) Clutch lever.
Ricky’s clutch lever was a Suzuki works part, although only the fancy quick-adjuster wheel gave it away.
We surmised that since James Stewart is much taller than Ricky Carmichael, Suzuki handed over the parts that were custom-sized for Ricky. That meant the subframe and the 5mm-farther-rearward works footpegs.
ALTHOUGH YOU COULDN’T BUY ANYTHING ON RICKY CARMICHAEL’S 2007 MXDN SUZUKI, YOU COULD BUY EVERYTHING ON RICKY’S 2012 LORETTA LYNN BIKE (SAVE FOR THE SUBFRAME, CLUTCH LEVER AND FOOTPEGS). WHETHER YOU COULD AFFORD IT OR NOT IS ANOTHER MATTER.
Without much support from Suzuki, Ricky turned to Pro Circuit’s Mitch Payton to build him the bike he wanted. Mitch was the logical go-to-guy because he had sponsored Ricky as a minicycle racer and 125 National Champion, not to mention that he is the smartest motorcycle tuner in the sport.
Although you couldn’t buy anything on Ricky Carmichael’s 2007 MXDN Suzuki, you could buy everything on Ricky’s 2012 Loretta Lynn bike (save for the subframe, clutch lever and footpegs). Whether you could afford it or not is another matter.
In the engine alone, Mitch used customer-spec Pro Circuit cams, Ti valves and valve springs, a high-comp piston, a stiffer clutch spring (to go with the off-the-shelf Hinson clutch), copper valve seats and a ported cylinder head.
The Pro Circuit exhaust system was unique in that since AMA Amateur racing still uses the old 94 dB SAE sound test, Mitch took the internals out of his less-expensive T5 muffler and mated it to the titanium Ti-5 canister and carbon fiber end cap—and then shortened the muffler by 1 inch. The result was a more explosive powerband than the AMA Pro Racing two-meter-max legal system, but it passed the Loretta Lynn sound test with ease.
There are no works parts in Ricky’s engine because Suzuki wouldn’t give him any. Instead he used off-the-shelf parts.
The Showa suspension was tuned by Pro Circuit’s race team suspension guru Bones Bacon, who said, “I hadn’t done Ricky’s suspension since he moved from the Pro Circuit team to Team Kawasaki in 2000. I still had my book of valving specs from the old days, but I decided to call my friends at Showa to pick their brains and find out what Ricky liked and disliked since the last time I worked with him. Since we were going to install a Showa SFF A-kit on Ricky’s bike, I had lots of experience with this setup from the race bikes of Baggett, Tickle and Wilson. In the end, I took some of Showa’s advice, some of my old memories and some of Broc Tickle’s 2012 KX450F settings and formulated Ricky’s suspension.”
Since Ricky ran the A-kit suspension, very little of the setup applies to the typical Suzuki, but just for fun, here are the specs: Ricky’s bike ran a single 1.00 kg/mm fork spring, 340cc of oil in the damping side, 200cc of oil in the spring side, and his clickers 14 out on compression and 16 out on rebound. On the shock, Ricky had a 5.6 kg/mm titanium spring with 103mm of race sag and set his low-speed compression on eight clicks out, high-speed on 2-3/4 turns out and the rebound on nine clicks out.
Bones mated Carmichael’s cut-down chassis and $8400-kit suspension to a 1.5mm-longer shock linkage to lower the bike even more.
The rest of Ricky’s bike could have come from any bucks-up Vet racer. Ricky used a 270mm Braking Batfly front brake and a stock-size Braking rotor on the rear. His tire choice was Dunlop MX51s (with a 120 on the rear). He chose Ricky Carmichael-bend bars (surprise, surprise) and Renthal grips.
To help fight overheating, which is an RM-Z450 bugaboo, Pro Circuit installed a 1.8 kPa radiator cap, wrapped the bottom of the stock gas tank in silver tank wrap, replaced the stock hoses with a blue Y-kit and added a radiator catch tank (to re-siphon boiled fluid back into the radiators).
WHEN WE QUESTIONED MITCH PAYTON ABOUT
IT, HE SAID, “RICKY SAID THE SAME THING; HE SUGGESTED THAT WE PUT A
FLYWHEEL WEIGHT ON IT, BUT WE DIDN’T HAVE TIME.”
No one has ridden more of Ricky Carmichael’s race bikes, and no one has been more surprised by how varied they have been than the MXA test crew. Here is what Ricky’s Loretta Lynn race bike was like to ride.
We knew that Carmichael’s RM-Z450 would be potent. We had built up a full-race Suzuki RM-Z a couple months ago using a one-generation-earlier piston and cams and were mightily impressed with the output. But, Ricky Carmichael’s powerband left us gasping for breath. It hit like Mike Tyson and pulled like an army mule. It was so responsive off the bottom and into the middle that we were a little intimidated. When we questioned Mitch Payton about it, he said, “Ricky said the same thing; he suggested that we put a flywheel weight on it, but we didn’t have time.”
The muffler used a Ti-5 canister combined with T-5 internals and then the whole unit was shortened one inch.
The engine was a fire-breathing dragon, and the jolt stretched our arms like Silly Putty. It was faster than our previous MXA RM-Z450 test bike, but Mitch said that it used the stock ignition, tranny, mapping, fuel injection and crank. The power gains were attributed to the new cams, piston and muffler. From directly off the bottom end all the way through the top, Carmichael’s engine was not for the faint of heart, but it was fun to ride. You lined it up and pulled the trigger. We were surprised that Ricky didn’t get any holeshots at Loretta Lynn, because this thing feels like it is being catapulted off the deck of the USS Enterprise when you drop the hammer. Oh yeah, we boiled the gas during the photo-shoot phase of testing.
When we threw a leg over Ricky’s Pro Circuit RM-Z450, we immediately noticed the cut subframe and low ride height, but a lot of Ricky’s previous peccadilloes were gone. We could live with the bar and lever position. The shorter MXA test riders, which are the only ones that we let ride Ricky’s bike, loved the low chassis. For the first time in decades they could touch the ground flat-footed. Credit is given to the shock linkage, subframe and seriously whittled-down saddle.
The Showa SFF A-kit forks worked incredibly well. The setup wasn’t as stiff as the one Ricky ran when he was younger (and faster), but it was firm enough to absorb the big blows and supple enough for medium-sized rubble. We couldn’t fault Ricky Carmichael’s front forks.
When it came to the rear end, we already knew what to expect. To Ricky’s credit, his low-rider, dead-feeling shock setup isn’t as egregious as it once was. He doesn’t run as much race sag as he used to, but it is still a strange sensation that seems more suited to Supercross whoops than a natural track. By Ricky Carmichael standards, this shock was plush enough to handle small chop and helped the RM-Z450 settle well into the corners. The faster we rode RC’s bike, the better the suspension worked; of course, we couldn’t ride it nearly as fast as Ricky could.
In the final analysis, Ricky Carmichael’s Suzuki RM-Z450 is much closer to normal than it was during his record-setting 10-year tear through the Pro ranks from 1997 to 2007. Ricky has mellowed with age and experience, and his bike has come along with him.
As for the price, if you have to ask, you can’t afford it. But the eventual price was $21,500 when the bike went up on the auction blocks for charity. As for you, you don't have to spend 21 grand. Instead, a savvy RM-Z450 rider can pick and choose his way through the Pro Circuit catalog to build a Suzuki very much like Ricky’s. We don’t think anybody but Ricky would want an exact replica.
For more information, go to
RICKY CARMICHAEL'S AMA NATIONAL AMATEUR CHAMPIONSHIP RM-Z450
Yamaha Motorcycle tests