PROJECT MACHINE: Suzuki LTR-450
Suzuki’s LT-R450 will forever hold a special spot in my ATV-loving heart. As the first ATV to be offered nearly race-ready right off the showroom floor, its OE 49-inch stance made it a no-brainer for motocross builds. High-tech fuel injection and great suspension meant the LT-R could competitively hit the track with just the addition of nerf bars and a kill switch. Power was equally impressive on the LT-R. Suzuki had built the LT-R to run really well, meeting strict emission standards, but there was also a much more impressive closed-course-only curve within its ECU. This impressive closed-course program could be accessed by merely adding a $30 coaxial bypass module, such as the Yoshimura Cherry Bomb, as well as removing an exhaust tip and the airbox lid. After four years of production, great sales and a handful of national championships, the all-mighty EPA shut down production of the LT-R via multiple expensive lawsuits against Suzuki. The easily accessible curve was considered pre-existing and did not meet the strict government standards. All the other manufacturers with EFI required the use of an actual programmer to change curves for making closed-course power. Other manufacturers were left alone, but the LT-R met its demise in 2009.
I personally have a huge soft spot for the race-ready LT-R. After many years racing the SCORE Baja series on other models, I gave the LT-R450 a chance in 2009. Using the San Felipe 250 as a test bed, we were able to come back and win the Baja 500 on our second-ever desert racing attempt on a Suzuki. After eight years of trying, my team’s first official win was on the nearly desert-virgin Suzuki LT-R450. The win was a huge deal to us, as well as to the guys at Suzuki. Just as they acquired their first-ever overall Baja win, the machine’s production was brought to a halt to deal with EPA lawyers.
We retired our LT-R to its new life as the wife’s trail bike, but it was continually used as a backup pre-run machine for the next few years. After years of abuse and thousands of miles, our ex-Baja-winning LT-R450 was still running but in desperate need of a facelift/tune-up. Looking at our options, we decided to set it up as an expertlevel duning machine. A brand-new Suzuki LT-R450 might not be available off the showroom floor today, but with a little looking, you can easily find a great used one. What’s more, many of the available machines were ex-racers themselves and might even come with many of the parts needed to set one up like we did.
Looking at our tired machine, we decided to come up with a list of necessary maintenance areas, as well as desired upgrades, to build the ultimate LT-R Duner. Looking at our slightly rundown Zuke, we decided that a little facelift was equally necessary. As our LT-R had previously worn HD fullcoverage skid plates, the original frame paint was still in pretty decent shape. We inspected for cracks, and when we didn’t find any, we decided to opt out of tearing it completely down for a fresh powdercoat job. Instead, we drained all the fluids and placed our LT-R on the stand for a major overhaul.
A NEW START
Starting at the core, we decided to bolt on a Cylinder Works big-bore kit. Amazingly, our motor was still running pretty well, but our original build had been pretty mild to begin with and it had definitely been used and abused. Pulling the top end off for inspection revealed a pretty decentlooking cylinder, but when the bore was measured, it was actually out of tolerance. The Cylinder Works kit is a reasonably priced big-bore kit that comes complete with a whole new “bigger bore” cylinder, piston and gaskets. The big-bore kit costs less than a factory replacement and adds both horsepower and torque without a negative effect on reliability. Installing a Cylinder Works big-bore kit is exactly like a standard top-end rebuild, possibly even easier, as the proper piston-tocylinder clearance has already been set for you when you open the box. We were already running Stage 2 Hot Cams in our LT-R, and they worked equally well with the bigger bore.
Our head was already ported by CT Racing, so we had them freshen up the head with a CNC valve job. Our last CT Racing CNC valve job had at least 2000 hard miles on it and was still sealing well. CT uses a very high-tech Newen CNC valve-cutting machine to cut every head to exacting standards, increasing performance, engine life and reliability. Our exhaust system was showing its age, so we replaced it with a full-system exhaust from Barker’s Performance. Barker’s exhausts are 100 percent made in the USA, utilizing welded 304 stainless steel for durability, reverse-cone megaphone technology and pulse-wave tuning technology for superior peak horsepower. They also offer the enhanced over-rev we were looking for in our duner. The Barker’s exhaust systems are pretty loud, but available quiet-core inserts bring the noise down to a reasonable level with minimal horsepower loss.
The Suzuki clutch was also showing the tell-tale signs that come with multiple years of abuse. We replaced the original setup with a hard-anodized, billet Hinson basket and clutch kit. The Hinson basket is made of lightweight billet aluminum and then anodized in a very hard material to resist wear. The Hinson clutch basket spins truer, creating less heat and improving oil and clutch life in the process. The clutch kit itself features OEM-quality fibers, special lightweight drive plates, and heavy-duty clutch springs for the ultimate transfer of power from engine to drivetrain.
Our intake on the Suzuki already had a custom setup from our Baja build. We had previously mated the top of an LT-Z400 airbox onto the top of an LT-R airbox so we could use a K&N Powerlid. K&N doesn’t make an LT-R power lid, yet we felt it was important enough to modify the box to accept an available one. Our setup worked great for the Baja races, keeping the smaller LT-R filter much cleaner for longer periods of time. It worked so well in fact that we decided to keep it for our duner setup. We also ran a K&N stock replacement filter inside the box for ultimate performance and protection.
SORTING OUT THE SUSPENSION
With engine performance restored and even improved, it was time to address the suspension. We wanted to set up our Suzuki as the ultimate duner, so the suspension was definitely no place to skimp. We opted for Elka’s top-of-the-line Stage 5 shocks and a Laeger long-travel A-arm kit. The Laeger A-arms feature super-sturdy chromoly construction, and they allow for the use of a longer shock. Elka takes full advantage of the longer travel and shock body with its shock build. The Stage 5 shocks are the latest evolution of Elka’s high-performance racing platform. They feature high hydraulic flow, lightweight components and low-friction internals. Stage 5 shocks feature massive oil displacement for precision tuning and smoother dampening action. The Stage 5s are fully adjustable to provide a wide range of tuneability and an outstandingly smooth ride.
After replacing the front A-arms with a Laeger long-travel setup, we had to look at the rest of the machine. As a whole, everything was in pretty decent shape. We opted to powdercoat the stock swingarm and rebuild all the bearings with kits from Pivot Works. Pivot Works offers rebuild kits for just about every bearing and bushing that could wear out on your quad. We used a swingarm pivot kit to install new pivot bearings into our swingarm after powdercoating it. We also used a kit to rebuild the well-used stock rear carrier bearing and the front hubs. The kits come with all the bearings and seals necessary to handle each project. Pivot Works even offers bushing/bearing replacement kits for the stock A-arms, but we didn’t use them, as we were upgrading to the longer-travel Laeger front end.
The LT-R actually comes with a pretty good race-width rear axle. Ours was still very straight and usable, but corrosion and rust had taken their toll on its appearance. We looked to Rocky Mountain ATV for a new Tusk axle as well as new sprockets and an X-ring chain from Primary Drive. The Primary Drive kit and the axle are both very competitively priced and available for immediate shipping if the need should arise. The Primary Drive kit can be ordered in multiple different gearing combinations, but we opted to go with stock gearing, as we figured the greater horsepower would offset the increased load of the paddle tires.
Paddle tires and wheels were an easy choice. While there are many different sand tire and wheel combinations available, DWT is the one-stop shop for some of the best sand tires and wheels on the market. The Doonz paddle-tire setup features 20-inch rear-paddle fans and a 21.5-inch, ribbed front-tire setup. DWT also offers the new A5 wheel, which is quite possibly the perfect sand paddle wheel. Our A5 wheels came powdercoated black and were extremely lightweight. The A5 wheels feature a reinforced lip that strengthens the wheel against impact, bending and flat spots.
For increased protection, safety and control, we looked to DG Performance for a race peg/nerf bar setup. DG’s aluminum Race Peg nerfs have rear netted heel guards incorporated, and they will still clear the paddle tires, unlike many of the other setups. They feature beefy aluminum construction with bolted-on stainless steel footpegs that will provide unbeatable grip for many years to come. DG also set up the LT-R with a matching bumper and GNCC-series-wide aluminum grab bar. We used Fasst Company Flexx Bars for extra comfort and control. When Flexx bars came out nearly 10 years ago, we thought they were great. They were, and now they’re even better. Flexx Bars still articulate in the same plane as your suspension, providing a natural, controlled suspension feeling for your wrists and hands. They still use rubber elastomers to control damping of this movement, but they now feature options like multiple elastomer densities for compression and rebound, different sweeps, and multiple different components like hand guards, grips and even a dash for GPS. Fasst Co. has also reduced friction and eliminated the need for several maintenances on these revolutionary bars. The Flexx Bars soak up most jarring impacts in the same plane as your suspension, and we use a steering damper to absorb any impacts to the wheels that would otherwise be transferred to the rider’s upper body. The Precision stabilizer is built specifically for a quad and improves ride quality like no other. Three quarters of the Pro class at any race will be using the Precision- RP damper, and its benefits are as impressive for trail riding as aggressive duning.
To wrap up the new look of our LT-R, we added a Blingstar Graffiti graphics kit and some more bling from Quad Tech ATV. A Quad Tech hump seat not only looks trick, but it gives the rider a firm reference point when transferring body weight. Quad Tech also provided us with a trick nose “Beak” to replace the weak stock headlight. We installed a Lazer Star LED light bar with a trick, ATV-specific bar mount. The Lazer Star LED light bars are incredibly simple to wire with the ability to use AC or DC power from 9–32 volts. The LX light bar we opted for uses 10-watt Cree LEDs putting out 1000 raw lumens per LED. This is much more powerful than the industry-standard 3- and 5-watt setups. Lazer Star’s LED light bars are unbelievably durable, dust- and waterproof, and even submersible to 50 feet. The Lazer Star lights require a simple two-wire install, and a handlebar bracket allows the light to pivot with the bars, allowing the user to see where he is headed.
THE ALL-IMPORTANT RIDE
Our “quick” dune makeover had turned into more of a full-on build project, and the end result was even better than expected. We took our project LT-R out to the Mexico’s Cantamar sand dunes for a full day of testing and play. At the first crack of the throttle, the mighty LT-R sounded healthier than ever. Cantamar doesn’t really enforce sound restrictions, and we kind of enjoyed the expressive exhaust note. If you ride somewhere that requires passing sound tests, this LT-R would definitely need the available quiet core. Leaving on our first ride, I quickly remembered how fun a well built quad can be in the dunes. In our line of work, we spend a lot of time riding stock machines. They can be a blast, especially in the dunes, but there is no replacement for race-quality suspension and plenty of horsepower. The Suzuki handles like a dream in the sand. We had to remove some high speed compression to smooth out the chop, but other than that, our setup was spot-on right out of the box.
The stock LT-R motor with just a Cherry Bomb is pretty impressive in the sand. Adding a big-bore kit, cam and quality exhaust gives you tons of torque down low, a broad mid range and plenty of over-rev. A lot of times, a built motor seems like more of a handful to ride, whether it be on the track or trail. Excess horsepower in the sand, however, is clearly a different situation. Riding with paddles gives you the ultimate in traction at all times. The V-shaped DWT Doonz rear paddles still allow you to slide around the dune face when desired, but truly hook up and get it when you shift your weight rearward a little. The extra torque provided by the bigger bore allows you to be a lazier rider, as power is still right on tap, regardless of what rpm you’re at. The race-like setup is a plus in the dunes as well. The super-aggressive footpegs on the DG nerfs really keep you connected to the machine, and the inclusive netted nerfs and heel guards do a great job of keeping your feet safe and protected. All in all, our build proved that our old race bike just needed a little elbow grease and some aftermarket love to find its place in the world again. We would recommend this type of build or “rebuild” to anyone who wants a tuner or trail machine that is really at that next level.