Fire Road Flyer: 1971-1979 Suzuki TS400 Apache

Comparing the Suzuki TS400 Apache with its main rivals, the Yamaha DT400 and Kawasaki F5 Bighorn 350.

  • suzuki
    1971-1979 Suzuki TS400 Apache.
    Motorcycle Classics archives
  • kawasaki
    1970-1975 Kawasaki F5 Bighorn 350.
    Motorcycle Classics archives
  • yamaha
    1975-1979 Yamaha DT400.
    Motorcycle Classics archives

  • suzuki
  • kawasaki
  • yamaha

Suzuki TS400 Apache
Years produced: 1971-1979
Power: 34hp @ 6,000rpm (claimed)
Top speed: 81mph (period test)
Engine: 396cc air-cooled piston-port 2-stroke single
Transmission: 5-speed, chain final drive
Weight (wet): /MPG 292lb (TS400J), 313lb (TS400L)/ 44mpg (TS400J), 23-25mpg (TS400L)
Price then/now: $952 (1972 ,TS400J); $1,220 (1975, TS400L)/$1,000-$2,500

Until the late 1960s, the typical "dual-sport" machine was a street bike wearing parts that made minimal concessions to off-highway riding and were chiefly cosmetic. The 1968 Yamaha DT-1 changed all that. Suddenly, Triumph TR6Cs, Honda CL350s and BSA Victors looked heavy, clunky and stodgy — which they were by comparison. It didn't take long for the other Japanese manufacturers — especially Suzuki — to catch on. With six world motocross championships in four years from 1970-1973 with Joel Robert and Roger De Coster, Suzuki emphatically demonstrated the company's dirt-bike chops, and successfully translated the technology into their over-the-counter scramblers and dual-sport bikes.

Top of the 1971 dual-sport range was the TS400J, a street/dirt bike based on the TM400 customer motocrosser. It featured a 396cc single-cylinder, air-cooled 2-stroke engine with conventional piston porting, like the TM, but with a heavier flywheel, milder port tuning and smaller 32mm Mikuni carburetor. Straight-cut gears drove the 14-plate wet clutch and 5-speed transmission. Ignition was electronic, and lubrication was by Suzuki's Crankcase Cylinder Injection (CCI) system. The single downtube steel tube frame carried a non-adjustable telescopic fork at the front and a swingarm and dual shocks at the rear. The tires were 3.25 x 19 inches at the front and 4 x 18 inches at the back. (The TM used a 3 x 21-inch front.) The addition of battery and full lighting equipment, a swap from alloy wheel rims to steel, and a steering damper contributed to the TS400's extra 47 pounds over the TM.

The result was a bike that "works surprisingly well" on the street, Cycle World said. "On mountain roads, fast bends are a breeze and a good pace can be maintained... the Apache can be ridden quickly and for a considerable distance to a rider's favorite set of fire roads," CW's testers said, though noting that vibration "becomes a little heavy around 5,000rpm." CW also liked the flexible plastic fenders, washable air filter and simple maintenance schedule (refilling the oil tank daily). Other than that, oil the cables periodically and adjust the rear chain often.

It was offroad riding where the Apache almost literally fell down. "Suzuki engineers turned a relatively light, overpowered 400MX into an overweight front-heavy sled," CW said. Though testers liked the broad powerband, slick-shifting transmission, in-gear kickstart with automatic decompressor (for quick restarting after a stall), and good brakes, a number of factors conspired to make the Apache a handful in the woods. The smaller front wheel would "wash out" easily in turns and plowed into sand; a shorter fork meant less travel than the TM and a more forward weight bias; and soft, lightly damped rear shocks meant the rear wheel getting airborne too easily, leading to front-wheel landings, "one of the worst situations an off-roader faces," CW said.

Cycle magazine liked the TS400J better, in spite of some minor electrical issues: "It's a phenomenal street bike if your vibration threshold is high. It's a good enough dirt bike that... we'd enter the 500-mile Greenhorn Enduro... all you could want is better suspension."

Doctor Death
6/7/2018 4:33:03 PM

How come Suzuki only sold about 25 of the damn things? The only good thing about the TS is that the flywheel magneto fit on the TM, and made it somewhat more livable, instead of spitting you off on the 2nd whoop. Yamaha and Honda ruled the dual sport world back then, the 185 Sierra sold well, but the 400 was an overweight pig, that got it's low pipe stuck on every tree root on earth.

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