1997-2019 Suzuki DR650SE
Big-bore trailies and chook-chasers were around long before the term adventure tourer was coined. Brochures back in the early-1990s labelled them dual-sports motorcycles, particularly those from Suzuki who pioneered the use of the term.
From then to now the Hamamatsu-based company has always included a venerable DR650 model in its model line-up. Rock up to a Suzuki dealer today and you can ride away on a 2019 Suzuki DR650SE.
As a used-bike prospect the standout feature of the big DR is its perfect fit with the ‘kiss principle’ (compared with the complexity of most of its peer group). Suzuki has indeed kept it simple, avoiding fuel injection, ABS, multi-mode engine management, traction control, electronic suspension adjustment, and the rest.
Trouble-shooting tech-showcase bikes beside a remote dirt track could be challenging – particularly with a basic toolkit. Two of my mates, thinking along those lines, chose simplicity over complexity by choosing a pair of Suzuki DR650SEs for their 22,000km ride from Athens to the Middle East and then via Central Asia to Vladivostok.
The technology-lite DR boasts affordability, reliability, easy maintenance, modest weight (166kg, wet) and a torquey, air-cooled, 644cc, single-cylinder, carby-fed engine. Throttle response is seamless and the clutch and five-speed gearbox operate with Suzuki’s trademark smoothness. A single balance-shaft controls vibration.
The calmer feel of its lower-revving nature can be a trap – 120km/h feels like 100km/h. The LAMS-approved DR is also a fuel miser that rivals small-capacity bikes and even scooters in the economy stakes.
While most of us aren’t planning to ride around the world, my mates’ big ride underlines the DR650’s reliability and its all-roads touring capability. Most of us sample a bit of all-roads action from time to time – even if it’s only getting off the bitumen on a Sunday ride and exploring dirt roads and the odd fire-trail.
Big chookies are also excellent weekday commuters. The high stance, upright rider posture and effective mirrors help you see exactly what’s happening around you in the urban logjam – and they’re agile duckers-and-weavers thanks to their wide ’bars.
Shorter riders need to check out the DR’s tall 885mm seat height. While it’s high there are compensations. The long-travel suspension settles a bit as you climb aboard and the narrowness of the seat also helps you get your boots on the ground (seat height can be reduced by 40mm with suspension adjustments on models since 2010). It needs to be said that the seat’s a bit of a plank – although it’s not supermotard hard. Nevertheless a lambswool cover is sensible for long days in the saddle.
An issue for serious back-country touring is the 13-litre tank. If it’s more than about 240km between servos, you’ll need to carry extra fuel or fit an aftermarket long-range tank.
Long-travel suspension and high ground clearance equip a DR650 to soak up rough stuff in the bush as well as urban potholes and kerbs. It can also produce a bit of see-saw motion if you’re pressing on hard through the twisties, with rapid transitions between throttle and brakes. But the well-damped suspension stops it from getting ugly. Although the 32kW (43hp) DR is clearly no sportsbike, it’s actually quite lively thanks to its torquey-ness and lightness and can cruise without stress at 140km/h when no one’s looking.
The single 290mm front disc brake needs a bit of help from the rear brake for rapid stops on bitumen.
While the DR650SE isn’t everyone’s cup of tea and its lean and rugged looks can hardly be called beautiful, it’s an extremely versatile bike that’s as reliable as a farmer’s axe. For not much money, a DR650SE opens the doors to a diverse range of motorcycling’s pleasures.
$8199 (1997) $8990 Rideaway (2018)
$1700 – $7800
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
The Suzuki DR650SE is an extremely trouble-free bike with a justified reputation for being bullet-proof.
Cylinder base-gasket oil leaks in some early bikes are easily rectified using the improved gasket fitted from 2004. Some third-gear failures have surfaced in bikes that have done serious outback touring burdened with heavily loaded panniers.
Choose on condition and kilometres rather than model year.
Always factor in the cost of any steering head bearings, chain, sprockets, brake pads and brake rotors that will soon need replacing.
The DR650 is a simple and sturdy motorcycle. Its rugged chassis and running gear are powered by an almost indestructible air-cooled engine. The simplicity of its single-cylinder motor and the easy access to its major mechanical components make it ideal for DIY-enthusiast owners to maintain and relatively inexpensive when servicing is carried out by professionals.
Minor services including oil and filter changes are required at 6000km intervals.
Major services that include valve clearances and spark plug replacement are due at 12,000km intervals.
1 21-inch front tyre is optimised for gravel and dirt-road duties without compromising bitumen road performance.
2 Digital CDI electronic ignition ensures strong spark for easy starting and efficient combustion.
3 Link-type rear monoshock is adjustable for preload and compression damping – provides 260mm travel.
4 Standard 13-litre tank can be replaced with aftermarket versions with popular choices being 26-litre and 30-litre.
By Rob Blackbourn