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Suzuki DR650

Profile – Suzuki DR650

(August 2020)

Suzuki DR650

Mr Versatile

by Guy 'Guido' Allen

Be it ever so humble, the DR650 deserves a spot among the great all-rounders

Yeah, yeah, we’re talking a very basic piece of machinery – a 650 single-cylinder trail bike on trials universal rubber that has, with a little modification, long been seen as the bargain end of the adventure touring market. However we reckon this is one of those bikes that has quietly achieved more in its life-span than 95 per cent of the rest of the motorcycle fleet.

So let’s step back a little and have a look at what we’re dealing with. The early history of this model can take a little untangling, as there was a surprising number of variants. One pairing we didn’t get here was the DR650RS and ES series. See the separate sidebar.

suzuki dr500

For Australia, the model progression began with the DR500 from 1981 (above), which was the company’s first big-bore four-stroke single. (Now very collectible, by the way). Next came the DR600 in 1985 and then the 650 from 1991. That date, by the way makes it of club plate age in Victoria, and only two years away in most other states.

But here’s the catch, some genius decided they could get away with kick-start only, which was the basis for the base model. Now a big single with kick-start only is all fine and happy if it’s in tune and you have the technique nailed, but in reality it’s a pain in the arse – or leg if the bastard kicks back at you, which big singles can be prone to.

As one reviewer of the day accurately described it: “It’s rarely more than a two-kick proposition once you master the drill…but it’s tough to master the drill when you’re stuck in the middle of an intersection with a flooded engine…hot starts can be tricky if you don’t get it right the first time.”

A combination of a very depressed market and the issue of no electric start meant these things weren’t exactly flying off the showroom floor. I’d be happy to have one as a curiosity, but for most the main game began with the update in 1996.

Suzuki DR650

New chap
Welcome to the DR650SE, which (aside from very minor updates) was still being sold in Oz until very recently. This is the model that truly found a niche, with a subtly modified engine in place.

In fact the engine mods were numerous. Compression was down slightly from 9.7:1 to 9.5:1, while capacity edged up from 640 to 644cc. The new chap was making the same max power – a modest 32kW or 43hp – but a little earlier at 6400 instead of 6700rpm. Max torque also chimes in significantly earlier at 4600 instead of 5000rpm.

Much of the charm of the DR650 lies in its sheer simplicity. That air-cooled single (running an oil cooler) is one of the few of its type still roaming the earth, running four valves and fed by a 40mm Mikuni carburetor.

That basic spec is reflected across the entire package, including the chassis. The frame is a very basic steel item, with a non-adjustable conventional fork up front plus a monoshock with spring and compression damping adjusters on the rear.

Braking is by single disc with two-piston calipers at both ends, and the company has resisted the impulse to add ABS.

Seating is one long dirt-bike style pad, which allows easy change of ride position, but isn’t the most comfortable thing on the planet. One aspect that has long been seen as its Achilles heel is the 13 litre standard fuel tank – many people change these over for much bigger aftermarket items.

In recent years the DR has enjoyed one major asset when it comes to finding a market – it’s learner-approved, without modification.

Suzuki Australia recently (2019) added an updated model that addresses the fuel range issue, called the Tanami (top pic – pronounced tan-am-eye, after the desert in the Northern Territory). Running a 20 litre fuel tank, it also boasted alloy hand guards and a bash plate for a grand total of $9490 on the road. That was the end of the line for the DR650 in the local line-up.

Saddle up
In the saddle, the whole experience is very benign. Starting is simple and the thing makes solid power right off the bottom. It’s willing enough and you’ll soon find all those horses coming into play. Top speed is about 160km/h, which isn’t a lot, but more than enough to tear up a licence.

In reality, that speed potential means it will happily cruise at 120km/h or better, so there’s no issue with long-distance highway running.

Handling is influenced by the long travel suspension at each end and the light weight, as it can feel ‘floaty’ at times. You will also get a fair amount of pitching fore and aft if you’re hard on the throttle and brakes, so it rewards a smoother riding style. With all that said, it’s remains a very satisfying and amiable ride.

Where you will appreciate its simplicity is when the riding surface deteriorates. It weighs just 162kg wet and is very easy to throw around. Meanwhile, unlike the big end of the adventure tourer market, you’re not dealing with nearer 250 kilos of rampaging motorcycle. There’s a whole lot to be said for that: less stressful and far less likely to end up in tears.

One catch is that it’s quite tall in the seat, though this is less of an issue than the numbers suggest. The suspension compresses easily under the weight of a rider and the seat is narrow, making reaching the ground a little easier.

Serious adventure tourers look at these areas for upgrades: suspension (rebuild rather than replace), heavy-duty rims and spokes (potentially the most expensive mod), larger fuel tank, plus revised seat padding. That sounds like a lot, but we’re talking about building something that will tackle literally anything.

In stock form, these things have an excellent reputation for reliability. We’re told the cylinder base gasket can weep on early models and that an upgraded part from 2004-on will fix it.

Maintenance is simple and in easy reach of the home mechanic. The fact it has simple screw and locknut tappet adjustment is a big winner.

Which one?
The standard advice for the DR650SE is buy these things on condition rather than model year. That’s the way to go if you’re looking at something that functions well. You can get a working proposition from around $4000.

Get it halfway right and you’ll have something that will play commuter and, with a little modification, turn out to be a pretty good adventure tourer. All that, without setting fire to your wallet

***

Suzuki DR650

The One We Missed
There was a pair of early variants (from 1991) of the DR650 which wasn’t imported here, though I wouldn’t be surprised if there are a few grey imports on our shores.

They are the DR650RS (above) – which was kickstart only – and DR650ES, which had electric start.

These carried frame-mounted half-fairings similar in style to that used on the Honda Dominator NX650, which it saw as a direct competitor.

Sales were modest and one over here would be a real curiosity.

Good
Simple
Reliable
Very capable

Bad
Small fuel tank (except Tanami)

Suzuki DR650

SPECS:
Suzuki DR650SE


ENGINE:

TYPE: Air/oil-cooled, four-valve single
CAPACITY: 644cc

BORE & STROKE: 100 x 82mm

COMPRESSION RATIO: 9.5:1

FUEL SYSTEM: 40mm Mikuni BST40


TRANSMISSION:

TYPE: Five-speed, constant-mesh, 

FINAL DRIVE: Chain


CHASSIS & RUNNING GEAR:

FRAME TYPE: Steel 

FRONT SUSPENSION: Telescopic fork, leading axle
REAR SUSPENSION: Monoshock, preload and compression damping adjustment 

FRONT BRAKE: 280mm disc with two-piston caliper

REAR BRAKE: 230mm disc with two-piston caliper


DIMENSIONS & CAPACITIES:

WET WEIGHT: 162kg

SEAT HEIGHT: 885mm

WHEELBASE: 1490mm
FUEL CAPACITY: 13lt

TYRES:
FRONT: 90/90-21
REAR: 120/90-17

PERFORMANCE:

POWER: 32kW @ 6400rpm

TORQUE: 54Nm @ 4600rpm

 

 

 

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