REVIEWS, PROS, CONS, MODS, TIPS
Thinking of buying a Suzuki DR650 (specifically the DR650SE from 1996 to current models)? A lot of guys love them, a few hate them. Here are the good points, bad points, and needed mods.
In a nutshell, the DR650SE is an extremely cheap reliable dual-purpose bike that has had almost no changes since its release in 1996. Given its age, it is heavy, the suspension is very old-fashioned and it is not a fast bike, yet part of the reason for its popularity (and lack of updates) is the original design works so well for certain riding styles.
good stuff about the SUZUKI DR650
Torque, torque and more torque- The DR650 was never designed to rev. It put outs heaps of low end power and very respectable mid-range power. This is ideal for most styles of riding that don't involve a lot of speed. What's more, a few basic mods provide an easy 10% power lift.
DR650 reliability - heavy and old-fashioned, but built to last. The DR650SE is famous for needing little apart from infrequent oil changes to last for years with minimal maintenance. There are a few minor issues (see the section below) but this is a short list compared to most bikes.
Handling and versatility of the DR650SE - the suspension is too soft for true dirt riding, but nonetheless the DR650 is set up very well for handling road, adventure and easy trail riding. It's closest competitor, the Kawasaki KLR650 is more comfortable on the highway, but lacks the do-everything nature of the DR650.
Fuel range and economy - the tank is surprisingly small given how often the DR650 is used as an adventure bike, but the economical engine normally goes to 200km or 120 miles before hitting reserve with easy riding.
Cheap - price-wise the only competitor is the KLR650. If budget is important then it is hard to go past the DR650 as a dual purpose bike in the 650 range.
Aftermarket parts and bling - the DR650 is so popular, and been unchanged for so long, that there is a huge range of things you can buy for it and advice from other riders on the forums- a definite plus if you are setting it up for adventure riding and/or riding in remote areas.
Seat height and ergonomics: An advantage of the older design is the DR650 doesn't sit as high as many modern bikes, so suits shorter riders easily. If you still find the DR650 too high, there is an alternative bolt hole for the rear suspension to lower the bike further, then just slip the front forks a bit in your triple clamps to suit. However, the DR650 starts to get cramped for riders over six feet or 180cm height (suggested mods below).
CONS, DRAWBACKS & required mods for THE SUZUKI DR650 / DR650SE
You can view our Youtube video of common DR650 mods here. As anyone knows, every single model of bike has issues, no matter how hard the manufacturer works to fix known issues. This is a fairly comprehensive list, but far shorter than most bikes would have, so don't let it discourage you from considering the DR650. We just want you to be fully aware of the main potential issues.
Weight: At a 147kg dry the DR650 is no feather weight compared to true dirt bikes, but it is at the light end of bikes suited for adventure riding. Cheap weight reduction tips are remove the rear footpegs and helmet lock, rear handholds, steel mounts for the headlight, fit lighter mirrors and replace the heavy preload spacers in the fork forks with alloy spacers or PVC tubing. Then you need to start forking out cash for an aftermarket pipe (or try the GSXR mod), replace the rear mudguard extension with a lighter one, buy an aftermarket headlight, and replace the steel tank with a plastic one. More tips here.
Countershaft sprocket seal can pop out- Not a common problem, but has happened to some riders and ruined their engines. You can buy a seal retainer for under $20 from Suzuki. It wan't until the 2013 models that Suzuki finally put these on the DR650 as standard!
Flimsy handlebars: The stock bars are known for bending or breaking the first time the bike goes down. Replace immediately with decent aftermarket bars. Taller riders may want to get bars with a high bend.
Neutral sending unit (NSU) - This is a sensor within the engine that lights the "Neutral" indicator on the dash. It is held in place by two screws. There are rare instances where these screws have backed out and ruined clutches and/or gearboxes. If your neutral light stops working, find out why before going any further! I'd recommend checking these bolts the moment you buy your bike, then either Loctite or wire those bolts so they can't work loose. Click here for one of the best step-by-step guides out there for checking and fixing this potential problem.
Fuel filter - there is a tiny white plastic filter inserted into the metal fuel tube going into the carburetor. It takes very little gunk to block this and suddenly your DR650 won't run over 1/8 throttle. Very easy to fix when it happens, just pull this filter out and blow the gunk out. Permanent fix? Just insert an aftermarket fuel filter in the rubber hose.
Safety features on clutch and sidestand - Switches here won't let the engine start until the sidestand is up and the clutch is pulled in. Not a bad safety feature but it is just another thing to go wrong with the bike when you are in the middle of nowhere (happened on my DR650 when it was only six months old). You can leave them intact but just check the connections the moment your bike refuses to start (you can still clutch start the bike though). Otherwise read this.
Soft suspension: The suspension has bugger all adjustments, poor compression damping, virtually no rebound damping, and is set up for 80kg or lighter riders on road or very easy dirt road work. If dirt riding, most owners find the absolute minimum work needed is replace the 5w fork oil with 7.5 to 10w fork oil and add half inch preload spacers on top of the fork springs.
On the rear, turn the dampening clockwise to its fullest effect, then adjust the rear spring to maximum preload if you weigh more than 80kg. This helps to some extent, but you still have almost no rebound damping and the bike will start doing weird bounces when pushed hard.
Crap tyres: The standard Trailwing tyres are more commonly known as "Deathwings". For anything but the easiest dirt roads and bitumen they are useless, unless you let them down to around 13psi! The most common choice of tyre for a mix of road and dirt work seems to be the D606 or MT21 tires although you will get some tyre hum on tar. Also, the 17 inch rear wheel means you don't have the usual range of tyres available compared to the more popular 18 inch rear rims.
Lack of grease - It seems Suzuki tries to save two cents on each bike but using less grease. It can pay to apply extra grease to steering head bearings, swingarm bearings, and the lower linakges of your rear suspension. Bloody Suzuki accountants...
Wheel bearings with only one side sealed - Another ridiculous cost saving, the wheel bearings are only sealed on one side! This might save Suzuki five cents per bike, but it means if you ride off road these bearings could rapidly fail on you and result in ruined hubs. The first time you change your tyres, get proper double-sealed bearings in these sizes:
- front wheel- 6003LU (x2)
- rear wheel-6204DU (x2)
- sprocket carrier- 6205RS (x1).
Small metal fuel tank: As mentioned, the DR650 is very commonly used as an adventure bike, so the 13 litre tank is way too small, even though the economical engine will get to 200km or 120 miles with easy riding before hitting reserve. There is a huge range of aftermarket tanks though. The metal tank can be useful if using one of those tank bags with magnetic flaps.
Weak frame mount: If you fit a rear rack, there's a weak mounting point on the frame that will snap on rough roads if you have a bit of weight on the back. It just needs a bit of welding to make it stronger, see our DR650 mods vid for the problem spot.
Hard seat: The seat is fine for shorter rides, but definitely needs changing for long adventure rides. This provides the perfect opportunity to repad it higher or lower too, if you are freakishly short or tall. There are lots of aftermarket seats available too.
Not quite an adventure bike out of the box: While the DR650 is a very common adventure bike, it is not set up for this as standard. You will need to factor in the cost of a bigger tank, better seat, luggage racks etc when the Kawasaki KLR650 is better equipped in this respect. If you are mainly doing bitumen and easy dirt roads, the KLR650 is probably better suited for needs. The DR650 shines in that it can cope with dirt riding quite well, whereas the KLR tends to be a big pig once it is offroad.
Heavy restrictive muffler is TOO quiet: Even riders who like quiet bikes (like me) often find the DR650SE too quiet - it can be hard to tell what gear you are in! The standard exhaust is also ridiculously heavy and quite restrictive. A very cheap popular mod is the Suzuki GSXR1000 exhaust adaptation - the DR650 will still be quiet, a lot lighter and have better low and midrange power. Dyno chart here shows the GSXR can has more power across the rev range than the stock pipe.
No sump or crankcase protection: get a bashplate if you are going off road, and some barkbusters wouldn't hurt either.
Gearing: First gear is simply way too high for serious dirt riding. Most riders drop from the stock 15 to a 14 tooth on the front sprocket and find this is a good compromise.
No starter torque limiter on 98 and 99 models: For some reason, Suzuki replaced the starter torque limiter clutch with a solid gear on these two year models, leading to some engine failures and cases cracking. No problems on any other year models though.
Header welds- At the header flange, where the exhaust pipe meets the cylinder head, is often a big glob of weld. If your DR650 has this, then you can file it back to improve exhaust flow.
Upper drive chain roller - A lot of DR650 owners claim this isn't necessary and will eventually break, so they remove it and fill the mounting boss in the frame with either a locktited 8mm set screw flush with the boss or just fill the hole with some silicone to prevent water from entering. Some owners remove the lower one too, but not the white plastic chain guide mounted just below the rear sprocket.
Possible leaky base gasket on pre-2003 model DR650- The paper cylinder base gaskets first installed by Suzuki can suffer leakage eventually. It's often a very slight weep so owners just live with it.
Countershaft sprocket cover loves collecting mud- A very small issue, and only if you are in mud a lot. This cover crams up with mud very quickly, and it's hard to hose it out. All you need to do is cut away part of the cover to allow easier cleaning and less mud collecting.
Possible third gear issues- Some DR650s can have a pronounced whine in third gear which can be caused by the hardening wearing off or a badly cut gear. Not catastrophic but annoying anyway. Apparently it is NOT a sign that your third gear is about to detonate according to the forums... and it does detonate in a very small number of cases! The part number changed for third gear a few years ago - possibly this has lessened the third gear blow ups but there are still isolated cases reported here and there. Nothing you can do about it, unless you want to strip your gearbox down and install the $600 aftermarket 3rd gear cog from Procycle!
Endless chain in 525 size: A very minor point, the DR650 comes with the odd 525 size chain and sprockets - these do wear very well and go for incredible distances for many riders. But you can ake life easier and replace these with a set of 520 or 530 chain and sprockets when they wear out. The factory chain has no link so needs to be broken when replaced. If doing some serious adventure riding, carry a chain breaker or swap everything over before big trips!
Choke lever- this is poorly designed and often winds up freezing. When this happens you can just buy one of those old-fashioned knobs to put directly on the carburetor and pull in and out for choke.
Rim locks- if you run low tire pressures for dirt riding, you'll definitely need a rim lock on the front wheel. The rear already has one but it's a good idea to beef it up, the tire will slip if running less than 15psi.
Cramped seating position for taller riders- while the DR650 is great for shorter riders, the taller ones will find themselves cramped on the bike. You can buy lowering plates for the footpegs from Procycle in the USA or Vince Strang Motorcycles in Australia, which put the pegs an inch down and also an inch back. High bend bars and/or raisers will also help. Some also build the seat up higher.
Fairing - even a small fairing makes a big difference at highway speeds. There are plenty of options around but the $6 rubbish bin fairing can be a fun mod.
Tiny tool kit - Just the basics, you really need a bigger kit for serious adventure riding, and a bigger tool tube to carry it in. Check out the famous PVC pipe tool tube here.
performance mods & tips for THE SUZUKI DR650 / DR650SE
Poor carburetor settings and the muffler are the performance killers here. Derestricting will get around 10% more power - good carburetor settings and muffler account for about half each of this potential improvement. If you get it right your fuel economy should actually improve too in everyday riding - although it will suck more juice if you are fanging around, of course.
Re: the carburetor, the cheapest mod is not ideal but it is free. The DR650 runs very lean so on the USA models just put a washer or two on the needle jet to run a bit richer and adjust the fuel/air screw (Australian models you can just move the needle jet by one click). You can also drill the slide to get a snappier response. Right-click here and go "save as...." for a PDF of how to do these mods, with photos and a step-by-step guide (courtesy of bigboy292000 at thumpertalk.com). You can take your airbox snorkel off to slightly increase airflow, but don't open the airbox up unless you go to an aftermarket jetting kit.
The next carbie option is almost free... buy a bigger main jet ($5 to $10), open up your airbox and taper your stock needle for a better fuel/air mix. Thanks to Gordon and his BST magic thread here for all the details. I've personally done this mod and loved it, I think it even performed a tad better than the JD jetting kit.
For minimal messing around, fork out around $70 for the JD jetting kit, and open up your airbox.
What about exhausts? I encourage the GSXR pipe as it is still quiet and a very cheap mod, and the dyno results put it on par with the aftermarket pipes available. This link shows the GSXR pipes you can use. The GSXR pipe is way lighter, less restrictive, still quiet but has a very nice note. A bonus is the Suzuki stuff engraved on it in case the cops get obsessive/compulsive! Dyno chart here shows the GSXR pipe has more power across the rev range than the stock pipe. And it seems to match the FMF power pipe until the last 500 rpm.
As mentioned, good carbie settings and a pipe will gain you about 10% more power - it may not sound like much but it really wakes the DR up. You can also grind the header weld - if you take the header pipe off you'll notice the header weld constricts the exhaust flow a bit. You can get a grinder in there to knock back the weld (haven't seen dyno results for the difference it makes).
Further mods get way more expensive after that, and normally involve a wider header pipe for the exhaust, flat slide carbie, aftermarket cam, big bore kit (up to 780cc!!!), head with bigger valves and inlets etc. The dyno chart below gives a rough indication of what you can expect from various mods. You can see there's a fair bit of money involved each time for just a few more horsepower. For more reading, Mxrob at ddrider.com has posted a lot of dyno charts from various mods.
Run 2- DJ jetting kit, air box mod, unknown exhaust pipe
run 3- stock DR650
run 7- FMF pipe, DJ jetting kit, air box mod
run 12- old style 41mm FCR carbie, air box mod, Staintune pipe