Suzuki DR650 as a travel bike

The Suzuki DR650SE

We are riding Suzuki DR650SE dual purpose motorcycles.  These bikes were purchased used in 2012 and 2013 from their original owners who treated them well (i.e. babied them).  Jenn’s (“Millie”) is a 2009 and Adam’s (“Grunt”) is a 2010.

Jenn’s previous DR650 (“Bizzy”) was a 2000 model which was ridden hard by a fleet of previous owners and was due to be “refreshed” – especially for a trip like this.  Adam’s was new to the DR650 having used a 2008 KLR650 (Zilla) on his 2010 South America adventure.  He sold his 2003 Suzuki DRZ400 (Huckleberry) to pay for his DR650.

Why we chose DR650’s?

We chose DR650s for several reasons.  Firstly, Jenn put a good deal of though into purchasing her previous DR650.  One of the main reasons she chose it was that she wanted a 650 due to its moderate engine size.  She was purchasing a bike for city use, highway use, and some basic trail use.

The lowest of the bunch

One thing to note about the DR650 is that it is very low compared to many other dual purpose motorcycles available, and lowest amongst the Japanese 650 class.  In fact, it us much lower than most smaller dual purpose motorcycles like the Suzuki DR-Z400 and most, but not all, 250 models.  While there are a couple of European made 650 bikes that she could have chosen with a fairly low seat height, they are also much heavier and much more expensive.

Adam’s considerations

With Jenn’s history with the DR650, it made sense for Adam to consider the DR650 as well.  At the time Adam also had a Kawasaki KLR650 and a Suzuki DR-Z400.  Adam considered using the KLR650 for this trip, but having already ridden it to South America in 2010, it was due for a good overhaul.

KLR650 is a good travel bike

Note, that while the KLR650 is  a good bike for this sort of trip, it is considerable heavier and taller than the DR650 which made the DR650 more appealing to Jenn.  Adam briefly considered the Suzuki DR-Z400 for this trip but felt that the bike would feel underpowered given that Jenn would be on a DR650 and that the poor DR-Z would be dragging around his extra body weight.

Since the KLR wasn’t coming (a restoration project for another day), and that it made no sense to hang onto the DR-Z400 and have it sit idle, it was sold to pay for the DR650.

Historical side note

As a side, note that the DR-Z400 is the upgrade model to the older Suzuki DR350 which was the smaller sibling to the DR650. The DR350 had a strong following and has been around the world more than a few times.

Taking the same model of bike is a smart approach

One of the final reasons as to why we both chose DR650s is so that we were riding the same model.  There are a lot of advantages to riding two of the same bikes on a trip like this.  We can share tools and spares, meaning we can bring less things.  “Identical” bikes also means that there is a 3D reference model available and parts can be swapped out for troubleshooting.  As an added benefit, it is nice to have comparable bikes in terms of power.  The DR650, from our experience, has more power than the KLR650.  More than a few times Adam has been left in the dust by Jenn on the DR650 while Adam was struggling to keep up on the KLR650 – heavier bike and heavier person.

Different ergonomics for different riders

So, as you understand, our two different DR650’s started out as the same, exact model with only one year difference between manufacture.  Given that Adam is about 5 inches taller than Jenn at at least 50 pounds heavier, it almost goes without saying that we would not set up the bikes’ ergonomics in a similar manner.

Ergonomics related modifications

Both bikes have a lot of modifications which will not be covered right here.  Important notes are that while both bike have enhanced suspension compared to stock, Jenn’s forks have been lowered and her shock has been rebuilt to be about 1.75 inches shorter than stock.  In addition, she has the lowered version of the Sargent aftermarket seat, while Adam has the regular version.  Adam has used a foot peg lowering bracket to get his foot pegs a little lower and this providing more leg room.  We have not done this for Jenn, and it may not be a good idea since having the lowered suspension would probably result in foot peg interference with the ground.  Other than that, Adam has slightly taller aftermarket handles bars.

Why Dual Purpose?

For those not familiar with the term, “dual sport” or “dual purpose” motorcycles are designed to be ridden on and off of paved surfaces.  Commonly fitted with knobby tires (but certainly not as a rule), they can resemble a “trail bike” or those used on motocross tracks but they are much more of a compromise between a “dirt bike” and “street bike”.

A “dual purpose” motorcycle does not excel on the asphalt or dirt race track, nor is it the best choice for strictly highway or off-road riding.  That said, compromises must be made in life.  A dual purpose motorcycle is ideal for long distance travel, especially in remote areas where road conditions can be tough (or roads even non-existent).  Dual purpose motorcycles are tough, utilitarian, soak up the bumps, and offer a very upright seating which is easy on the back.

Why not choose a…

Shouldn’t you be taking a BMW GS?  Could you take a Harley, Ninja, scooter, or WWII-looking side-car attached motorcycle?  If you have watched Charlie Boorman/Ewan McGregor (Long Way Round/Down) you might be convinced that world travel on a motorcycle must be performed on an expensive, purpose specific BMW steed.  Sexy sells…

BMW has spent a good deal of time and money in positioning themselves as an ideal travel motorcycle.  Are they crap?  Nope.  Are they not the best, or only, bike for the job?  Nope.  It depends what you are looking for, looking to do, your expectations, and of course, your budget.

BMW Pros and Cons

Off of the showroom floor, BMW GS make good travel bikes.  For the most part, you can safely fly into a country that is not your own (say from Europe to the US), pickup up fully kitted GS and be on your way through Latin America.  It goes without saying to have to dig deeply into you wallet for this convenience.  And deeply for spare parts and repairs.

One of the other appeals of using a BMW is the feeling of comfort leaving on a big trip knowing that you have the support of BMW Motorrad almost anywhere in the world.  Is this fact or fiction?  We can think of one example of a friend taking a F800GS to an official BMW mechanic in a “far off” country, and the official BMW mechanic overtightened a part of the steering mechanism (triple clamp) and broke it.  It is cases like this that are reminders that the service you expect and receive back home may not be what you receive in a third world country.

Keep it simple?

BMW’s are notably complex, especially with regards to their electric circuitry.   We met some guys several months back who’s GS started smoking at the tail because the alarm and demobilization unit had failed.  The bike was stranded until they were able to get an official mechanic with an official diagnostic tool to disable the alarm so the the bike was again operable.  This is by no means the first time we have heard such stories.

Suzuki DRs…around the world.

Having mentioned Long Way Round, this is an opportune time to mention that Mondo Enduro was one of the inspirations for Long way RoundMondo Enduro, being a much longer trips than Long way Round and Long Way Down combined, was done the Suzuki DR350 motorcycles.

You can take almost anything…

Plenty of world travellers have ridden long distances and to marvellous places on anything from 50cc scooters, mopeds, classic Indian motorcycles, sidecar equipped motorcycles, and even on sport bikes with that “hunched over” position.

…Even a Harley

In fact, the Forwoods from Australia hold the very cool title for riding the world’s most travelled motorcycle, having visited every country in the world.  Their Harley could not be any further from a “dual sport” or “adventure motorcycle” but they have taken in many different terrains enforcing the notion that you don’t need a specific motorcycle for world travel – even off the (somewhat) beaten path.

Once upon a time…

Once upon a time, all motorcycles were “dual purpose” in a way as paved roads were not as ubiquitous as they are now, at least in the developed world.  It should go without saying that road construction in the non-developed world is not always perfect.  There are definitely many, many excellent paved roads in Latin America, for example, but there are many, many secondary and small town roads that are rough and unpaved.

While small dual purpose motorcycles are extremely common in Central and South America, so are small sport bikes and cruiser and local people ride these smaller bikes all over the place.  Sometimes you really do need a dual purpose motorcycle with big knobby tires to go to the tough places, but people are riding sport bike and cruiser models in places where we in the developed world consider off-road and make most road riders cringe.