Story by Doug McPeek
Editor’s Note: This story was originally published the May 2014 edition of the MSTA Ohio Chapter newsletter. The story has been edited to match the MSTA website’s style.
Like a hotdog, the Suzuki DR650SE is simple and cheap — and the more you put on it, the better it is. And whether you prefer your dog with just a little stadium mustard or Chicago style with everything you can pile on, you can customize your DR to the same degree and enjoy it in your own way.
I first became interested in the DR650SE a few years ago when some friends started talking about riding adventure and dual sport routes. I was familiar with the BMW GS bike, the 1200, 800 and 650 and liked them all. Those bikes have earned wide acceptance because they are comfortable, road worthy and to some degree trail worthy.
But they were expensive and maybe I liked them too much to ride down some gravel road and drop them. Dropability seemed like a good trait for a dual sport.
I had also ridden the Suzuki V-Strom 1000, another good road bike, but it did not inspire confidence when things got slippery. It also seemed to be poorly set up for the dropping thing.
I tried out a Kawasaki KLR650 on a lunch ride and did not see it as an all-day bike. It vibrated too much for a long street ride and felt as long as the big GS.
That left me with the DR. I tracked down a low-mileage used bike for half the price of a new one. That seemed the way to go, since the DR is a bit unfinished. Like that hotdog, it needs a good dressing-out before it’s truly interesting.
The DR I bought came with Dunlop D606 tires that were louder on pavement than the aftermarket exhaust. The front tire was also scary in the corners. I switched to Continental Escape tires, and that is what I have run since. The Contis revealed the innate agility of the DR. It was immediately a fun bike on the road.
New tires were followed by a seat upgrade — which, to me, was absolutely essential. I went with the Sargent and it is comfortable all day — so long as that is not all day on the interstate.
All day comfort is not wasted on the DR, because of its smooth engine. Yes, it’s a single, but it runs more smoothly than the KLR.
The aftermarket exhaust was an innovative combination of a Keintech header and a discarded Suzuki GSX-R muffler. Unfortunately, the previous owner had gotten the wrong muffler and the fit was way off. It was too loud. I replaced it with a full system from FMF. With the adjusted stock carb, the DR now puts out about 43 horsepower at the rear wheel with a flat torque curve.
The next “topping” that had to be added to the DR-dog was a bigger fuel tank. The stock tank is shiny, but small. I installed a 3.7 gallon Clarke plastic tank. It does not look as good, but it runs 180 miles between fill-ups.
In this trim, with a small windscreen added the DR was a nimble back road ride that could take me from Columbus, Ohio, to Sparta, N.C., in sufficient comfort. It was also good for any off-road surface except mud, for which it would need serious tires.
It must be stated that the DR650SE is not what most of us would call a true dirt bike. It is long and heavy and a real handful in the woods.
The DR is more of an adventure bike. It will carry hard luggage and travel far on state routes and back roads. It handles rough roads, rocks and shallow streams well.
Top speed is around 100, but acceleration is pretty good. Power delivery is very useable, which is another plus on twisty roads.
So what more can I pile on this baby? Well, there is a big set of available aftermarket parts and accessories. Brake and suspension upgrades, guards, luggage, engine kits, lights, etc. A great source is procycle.com where they offer everything to make the DR into a desert bike, a supermoto or an adventure ride.
Tops for me may be the 19 inch front wheel that would carry a little wider front tire for semi-supermoto cornering without losing the dirt road ability. Or maybe an upgraded stator for more electrical output, or a pumper carb. You can see how the cost of customization could pile up.
But then, I enjoy it so much as it is, I may just ride it and save my money.