6 Reasons To Love The Timeless Suzuki DR650

Looking at our new 2024 calendars we see that it’s… the 28th year of basically unchanged production for the Suzuki DR650. And if you consider previous-gen models, the first DR600 came out in1984 as an ‘85 model, and the 650 series began in 1990. That’s a lot of history, and you might wonder: What keeps this machine going? Turns out, there are still a lot of reasons to love Suzuki’s big thumper today, even with its lineage to the Jurassic Era of motorcycling.

1. The DR650 Was Designed With Input From Dual Sport Riders

Development of the current 1996+ model began not long after the first-gen 650 model was released into the U.S. market. Suzuki sent staffers out to dual sport rides to see what the average on/off-road enthusiast thought about that machine. The complaints had familiar themes. Many riders found the seat too high, and they didn’t care for the kickstart-only configuration. The end result was the ‘96-edition DR650SE, with a 34.8-inch seat height and the option to be lowered further with very little difficulty down to 33.2 inches.

Suzuki DR650 dual sport motorcycle
Photo by Michnus Olivier

The new machine got the e-start button older riders wanted, and was generally built as a solid all-rounder. Not great at anything, but good enough for the rider who wanted a middle-of-the-road blend of street and trail capability. Not a heavy ADV touring barge, not a skinny-seat enduro machine. No wonder the magazine reviews praised the machine constantly over the years, with big-name American motojournalists like Peter Egan buying DRs for their own personal rides.

2. The DR650 Makes A Great Adventure Tourer

No, the DR didn’t star in any Long Way Up/Down/Round television series. It doesn’t get the sexy PR that multi-cylinder Euro bikes receive. But the budget-savvy RTWers who have access to the machine know that it works very well as a long-distance travel machine.

Suzuki DR650 dual sport motorcycle
Photo by Michnus Olivier

Michnus Olivier is one of those RTWers. He’s been pounding the pavement and dirt for thousands and thousands of miles on his DR650, along with his wife Elsebie on her own DR.

“The DR650 is the Toyota Land Cruiser 76 and the old Land Rover Defender 110,” he says. “They are workhorses, not show ponies.”

He continues: “It is lightweight, easy to configure for long-term overlanding, is bloody tough and is strong enough to be ridden for many miles off-road without issue. Riding rubbish dirt roads for years on end and hundreds of thousands of miles is hard and destructive on motorcycles, but the DR’s easily cope with that.”

Suzuki DR650 dual sport motorcycle
Photo by Michnus Olivier

If you’re going to tour on the bike, you’ll greatly appreciate two mods: A larger gas tank (3.4 gallons is stock), and a better seat (or some kind of seat pad). The rest is really up to you, but many luggage racks, windscreens, lighting upgrades, even rally-style fairings are available. Olivier said he and his wife put on wider footpegs and handlebars, Corbin seats, 26-liter (6.8-gal) fuel tanks, Cogent suspension, Cyclops LED headlight bulbs, aluminum skid plates and NoToil’s Baja race-style air filters. Some minor carb tickling, a small windscreen and electrical plug-in sockets completed the job. Check out other RTWers’ builds, and you’ll see very similar modifications.

3. The DR650 Can Easily Evolve Into A Great Off-Roader

With a bare-bones telescopic fork that is non-adjustable, and the rear shock that only has preload and compression damping adjustments, this bike is not made to be a fast single-track machine. But the beauty of the DR’s middle-of-the-road design is that it comes with 10.2 inches of suspension travel standard front and rear,  and without much work its off-road prowess can be significantly boosted.  

Suzuki DR650 dual sport motorcycle
Photo by Actiongraphers / Egle Gerulaityte

Australian YouTuber Barry Morris knows all about it. He’s the OG of DR650 content on YouTube, with a series on how to upgrade the machine. He says it’s not too complicated to make the DR a better dirt bike:

“A very light rider who just rides gently around town and some smooth dirt roads may find it works fine. But the reality is most riders will benefit from at least a few basic mods,” he says. 

“Any rider over 80 kg (175 lbs) will find them too soft, especially the moment they start any serious off-road riding. The front forks are the ancient rod-style which has been carbon dated back to the Jurassic era. There are a pile of free and budget options that are worth experimenting with. And there’s a range of quite cheap valves that can get cartridge-style performance from the rod forks: FFRC’s Plex Valves or Cogent’s DDC Valves for starters.”

Barry is probably the man who’s most responsible for the DR650’s unofficial nickname of “The Bushpig.” And up north in Canada, Aftaab Gulam and Alexandre Vanetti formed Bushpig Performance to provide riders of the DR (and other thumpers) the parts they need to improve their bike’s capabilities. 

Suzuki DR650 dual sport motorcycle
Photo by Bushpig Performance

The guys at Bushpig recommend protective parts as no-brainers: “Decent handguards with full wrap-around coverage, a proper skid plate, engine case guards, a front sprocket guard, a rear disc guard, an aluminum chain guard, and a master brake cylinder guard.” From there? Lower final gearing is an affordable way to get better low speed control; larger, grippier footpegs with lower mounts, wider handlebars with risers, and a set of knobbies are the next step. 

And if you want to really go for the gusto, aftermarket discs will improve the wimpy stock stoppers. A larger clutch arm and some cable lube will help with the stiff stock clutch, along with adjustable shorty levers. Get gearshift and brake pedals with folding tips for longevity in the rocky stuff. And of course, cut weight. Removing the rear grab bars and other extra parts will cost you nothing. 

A li-ion battery and aftermarket exhaust will add a hefty financial hit, but when you’ve done all this, you’ll have a DR that can be pushed fairly hard in the dirt. Want proof? The DR doesn’t really fit into the rally scene in North America, but in Europe, where the classes are more open, riders are adapting them into racebikes.

4. Simple Changes Can Make The DR650 A Faster Streetbike

Admittedly, the stock SOHC 644cc single is a bit low on muscle, making roughly 35 hp at the rear wheel, and 32 ft-lbs of torque.

The engine does feature the Suzuki Advanced Cooling System (SACS), which sounds high-tech, especially when you learn it came from Suzuki’s GSX-R lineup. But really, it’s just an advanced air/oil-cooling setup that engineer Estuo Yokouchi allegedly adapted from World War II fighter planes. That tried-and-true theme continues through the design, with a CV carburetor, five-speed gearbox and cable-operated clutch. Compared to a modern machine like KTM’s 690 Enduro R, with its water cooling, EFI, six-speed transmission, and hydraulic clutch, not to mention a quickshifter and ride modes, the DR650 is a dinosaur. However, even in stock form, this 366-pound machine is reliable for all-day highway riding, just don’t expect to be passing everyone in the fast lane. 

Want more zip? Morris says it’s easy and not too expensive to get a slight-but-noticeable power bump by adding a jet kit or even modifying the carburetor yourself. That gives you a roughly five percent power boost; get another five percent by updating the exhaust. That gives you roughly 40 ponies at the rear wheel, and that’s enough to keep many riders happy.

The guys at Bushpig Performance recommend roughly the same package. Sure, you can get a hotter cam or even a big-bore kit that takes you to 790cc capacity, but they say the beauty of the bike is that you don’t need all that. Freeing up the exhaust and airbox and re-jetting the carburetor gives “a performance improvement without losing reliability or higher fuel consumption (essential for long-distance or remote trips). A few of our customers swear by their pumper carbs to get instant throttle response and more power, but they sacrifice fuel economy.”

5. The DR650 Is Easy To Work On

Screw-type valve clearance adjustment. Spoked rims, so you can change the tires easily yourself. A single carb and engine cylinder, with no fuel balancing issues to worry about. No electronics to malfunction outside the basic ignition-and-lights package. A steel frame that a backcountry welder can repair in a pinch. You couldn’t get a much easier-to-fix bike than the DR650.

Suzuki DR650 dual sport motorcycle
Photo by Michnus Olivier

And even when you start modifying things, it’s not tricky. There’s almost no bodywork to remove. Want to wire in heated grips? There’s a convenient Hitachi-style connector behind the headlight mask, wired to the ignition so it’s dead when the bike switches off. No battery-draining drama for you!

“The simplicity of the oil-cooled DR650 engine design is why they can run such high miles. Replace the engine oil regularly and do basic maintenance and they will run forever,” says RTW rider Michnus Olivier. “Both our DR650’s are over 100,000 km (60,000 miles) and we had zero issues with them. On the other hand, our BMW Dakar 650’s gave us so many issues and breakdowns before 50,000km (30,000 miles) we just did not trust them anymore to use long term. The DR has no fuel pumps, no electronics, no water pumps or radiators to fix.”

And when it was time for basic maintenance, Olivier said it was easy to get chains, tires, tubes, spark plugs and other maintenance bits from most moto dealers. More complex parts will have to be ordered in, but even then, he said that in his experience, it was easier than getting Eurobike parts: “In Malawi and Sudan, we had to fly parts in for our BMWs. The parts were $100 USD; our courier charges were $400 USD alone! And two weeks each time, waiting for the parts. With the DRs there’s much less chance of that happening.”

6. The DR650 Is Still Affordable

Photo by Suzuki Motorcycles

The DR650’s simplicity keeps the price tag down. Admittedly, MSRPs have risen since the COVID-19 pandemic started. Before C19, Suzuki ran very aggressive pricing promos on these bikes. But even now, with a US MSRP of around $7k, the DR650 is cheaper than the latest-gen Kawasaki KLR650, and not much more than the current-gen Japanese 300cc dual sports. A well-maintained used DR can be purchased for around the $4k range. Easy DIY maintenance lowers the cost even further over your time of ownership and they tend to hold their value if kept in good condition. 


Suzuki DR650 dual sport motorcycle
Photo by Michnus Olivier

What’s next for the DR650? The guys at Bushpig Performance, Barry Morris, and Michnus Olivier all recognize the DR650’s design is dated, and say Suzuki could change the design if they wanted, but at this point, they don’t seem interested. Although in the future, who knows? The DR is discontinued in most markets now, due to emissions regulations, but if Suzuki grafted on an EFI system, maybe we’d see it run for another decade or even longer?

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