mySuzuki DR650s

I've been riding "dual-sport" and off-road motorcycles for many years. Mostly, however, on lighter weight bikes that function well in rugged conditions but may not be well-suited for long jaunts at highway speeds. Some of my riding pals have been "adventuring" a bit lately which often involves longer travel distances and a higher percentage of pavement. I've decided to join them on some of these adventures. And, while my DR350 was a splendid dual sport bike, when it comes to extended paved connectors typical of adventure trip, it needs a little longer legs. However, I like the little Suzuki SO very much that I thought I give it's big brother, the DR650SE a try. It's amazing how similar these bikes are. The construction and design of the DR650 in most cases is nearly the same as the DR350, except everything is just a little larger.

May 1, 2019
I wrote that^^ about four years ago. I'm on my fifth DR650 now. Why 5 you ask? more on that later... the takeaway is I STILL like this model a lot for my kind of riding. So much so that I currently own two DR650s in different configurations.


In late 2016 I walked into a friend's dealership to find a "leftover" 2015 with a discounted price tag. He said he needed to get it off the floor and made me an offer I couldn't refuse. So, even though I had a perfectly functional DR650 at home already this one joined my fleet and eventually replaced DR650 #3 as my adventure (ADV) ride. This bike and the ones before it have been a lot of interesting places including: the Trans-America Trial, The Maine Adventure Trail and parts of the Mid-Atlantic BDR, the Idaho BDR, the New Mexico BDR, the Rocky Mtn Continental Divide (Canada to Mexico) and many, many dayride and weekend adventures in the southern and mid-atlantic Appalachians. This old school design thumper is not everyone's cup of tea but It's a great motorcycle for my use. Reliable as an anvil and repairable trail side if necessary without sophisicated diagnostic equipment. This is DR #4 if we're counting.

So here is DR650ADV (left and below) at 2.5 years and about 16K miles. STILL my favorite adventure bike! Modifications from OEM include:

  • Full Cogent Dynamics suspension
    • Forks: DDCs with straight rate .52 springs and 160 mm oil "height"
    • Rear: Cogent shock upgrade, valved and sprung for my weight plus luggage (8.3)
  • DOT knobbies (IRC TR-8 front and Shinko 244 rear)
  • IMS 4.9 gallon tank with manual petcock
  • Seat Concepts Tall seat
  • Lowered (cut and welded) foot peg mounts
  • JNS Engineering LED headlight
  • Suzuki rack and custom standoffs for Mosko Moto Reckless 80 luggage system
  • Extended Utah Sportcycle skid plate with custom "frame slider" reinforcement loop
  • Custom dash with Trailtech Vapor II instrument including engine temperature pickup
  • Renthal aluminum handlebars on 2" risers with Ricor Vibranators mass-tuned vibration dampners
  • Folding dual sport mirrors
  • OEM turn signals replaced with LEDs and relocated to minimize dirt nap damage

More customizations from OEM

  • Small wind deflector to take pressure off my torso but keep my helmet in clean air
  • SPAL electric cooling fan
  • Low profile taillight from DRZ250
  • MotoLab dual bearing modification to the cush hub sprocket carrier
  • 14/42 Gearing
  • Modified case saver on CS sprocket
  • Keintech adjustable chain guide
  • Bikemaster brush / lever guards
  • Custom extended tool box
  • Zerk (grease) fittings on rear suspension from DR350
  • Intake modifcations
    • Removed airbox snorkel - added air deflector to improve air distribution around filter
    • TwinAir filter
    • Shimmed the needle .013"
    • Extended idle mixture screw from MotoLab
  • Exhaust modifcations - None

Which brings us to my secord DR (that's DR650 #5)

Redefined as a 90% street bike a.k.a. semi-Motard

My wife really enjoyed the Honda NX400 she rode in Costa Rica and I bought this bike on a whim thinking I might lower it and set it up as a 90/10 dual sport for her. But she still prefers her SV650 so what's a man to do with an extra DR650?? Make it into a Motard, of course. Actually it's kind of a semi-Motard so I refer to it as my DR650sM. Because it is intended as a pavement day-tripper, there are no accomodations for luggage and there is less armor than the ADV bike to protect the machine from rocks, low sides and the like. It's quite a bit lighter (~15 lbs) than DR650ADV and it's a hoot to ride on our twisty mountain roads.

Here are links to a couple of 15ish minute YouTube videos made on local roads on the DR650sM
===> TN395 and NC197
===> NC80

Modifications from OEM are:

  • Relaced a 19 inch front wheel to the OEM hub
  • Street tires (Shinko 705) front and rear
  • Braided stainless brake hoses

Other modifications

  • Cogent Dynamics suspension
    • Forks: DDCs with straight rate .52 springs and 160 mm oil "height"
    • Rear: Stock
  • Renasco Racing seat
  • Headllight and cowl from a Buel Lightning
  • Custom dash with Trailtech Vapor instrument including engine temperature pickup
  • Aftermarket front fender
  • Custom paint on tank
  • Manual petcock
  • OEM turn signals replaced with LEDs and relocated to minimize damage
  • 14/42 Gearing
  • Lowered (cut and welded) foot peg mounts
  • Suzuki bash plate and luggage rack
  • Intake modifcations
    • Removed airbox snorkel - added air deflector to improve air distribution around filter
    • TwinAir filter
    • Shimmed the needle .013"
    • Extended idle mixture screw from MotoLab
  • Exhaust modifcations - None

Which brings be to probably the most important part of this missive. The suspension. The DR650 is a great bike in many ways and depending on the weight of the rider and how the bike is used, the stock low-end suspension components may or may not be adequate. I wanted some improvements in that area. The following is mostly in reference to the ADV version of the bike but the principles are applicable to the street use bike too.

For the edification of suspension tuners... my experience on the DR650

The first DR650 (an '01) was bought with 22K miles and sold still running great with 42K. The second one (a '99) had 11K when I bought it and was sold to a friend with 42K after I bought the '15. The 2015 (DR650ADV) has been ridden on numerous multi-day adventures and has served me well. All were ridden as dual-sport / adventure bikes. Both as local day-ride bikes and on multi-week adventure tours (Trans-America Trail, Rocky Mtn Continental Divide, etc). Point is, the bikes have been utilized for what I believe they were intended. For reference I'm around 200lbs - probably close to 220 in gear and on the trips carry up to 70lbs of "luggage". I am a mature rider and so I don't ride "aggressively" any more but I have been riding for 60+ years and have a few Enduros under my belt so when riding with less experienced riders I usually have to wait. OTOH, the younger guys with experience are usually waiting on me. I like a plush ride that absorbs the terrain and I like to maintain traction and forward motion rather than kicking roost and lofting the front wheel. That said, the purpose of this write up is to share my experience with DR650 suspension.

My first DR650 had stock suspension when I bought it. Over time I replaced the shock with a full monty Cogent rebuilt shock and 8.3 kg/mm Ohlins spring and valving for my weight. That resulted in an awesome improvement in control but a somewhat harsher ride. A good trade off IMO. Also on that bike I reworked the forks with Ricor Intiminators and straight rate .50 kg/mm (estimated) springs. Again a dramatic improvement over the stock front end. The Intiminators virtually eliminated brake dive and provided a much more supple ride over smaller irregularities of off-pavement riding. The straight rate springs made the front MUCH more stable as the OE progressive springs tended to bounce the front end up unpredictably on big hits making it hard to hold a line. Okay, along comes a deal I can't pass up on the '99. It came to me with a Cogent rebuilt shock (.76 kg/mm Eibach spring) and valving for a 180-200lb rider. The bike also had Racetech Gold Valve emulators in the forks with drilled damper rods and the stock progressive wound springs. Loved the shock but hated the forks which provided great control but just beat my hands and shoulders to death. So before selling the '01 I removed and stored the Cogent shock and swapped the Intiminators and straight wind springs to the lower mileage '99 forks and called it good. Rode it happily that way for about 20K miles.

Flash forward... Cogent starts selling the DDC cartridge emulator with rave reviews on ADVRider. So, I had to try those. Got them installed with new .525 kg/mm springs and it's even better yet. Maybe a little firmer than the Intiminators but the control is just awesome. It simply goes where you point it now. Still great front fork action with very little brake dive but the biggest difference is the feeling of control particularly at higher speeds. They really are better for me. Although definitely a lesser spring rate than the front, I kept the .76 rear setup and put the .83 shock and spring on the shelf just in case. In defence of the Ricor Intiminators, they are designed to provide a supple ride while eliminating brake dive - a great idea but the DDCs work better for off-road applications IMO. We have Intiminators in both of our street bikes (DL650 and SV650) and we are very happy with them there.

When I bought my 2015 to replace the 99, I installed fresh DDCs, .52 springs and the stockpiled shock with the 8.3 spring. It's perfect for riding with luggage but just a hair too firm for me without bags. If I have a reason to remove the shock, I may replace the spring with a 7.6 for comfort


'01 DR650 stock suspension
Very soft but comfy and controllable at lower speeds - not so much at higher speeds.

'01 DR650 with
- Intiminators and .50 kg/mm straight wound fork springs, minus 3mm preload*, 165mm oil level* (5 wt)
- Cogent shock with 8.3 kg/mm spring
Vastly improved - a bit stiffer but more controllable at speed. Reduced brake dive, more supple fork action over minor ripple surfaces. Much less "kick up" on big hits. Handles added weight of luggage better.

'99 DR650 with
- Racetech Gold Valve emulators and OE progressive springs
- Cogent shock with 7.6 kg/mm spring
Love the rear, hated the forks because they were so harsh. The Racetech emulators are tunable but I did not attempt to alter the settings - maybe they could have been tuned better for me but I chose to replace them.

'99 DR650 with
- Intiminators and .50 kg/mm straight wound fork springs, minus 3mm preload, 165mm oil level (5 wt)
- Cogent shock with 7.6 kg/mm spring
Great solution but in retrospect the forks were a little more vague than I knew

'99 DR650 with
- DDCs and .525 straight springs, 10mm preload, 130mm oil level (5 wt)
- Cogent shock with 7.6 kg/mm spring
Very good but the forks were a little more harsh on big hits than I liked. Rick at Cogent suggested less oil (more air cushion)

'99 DR650 with
- DDCs and .525 straight springs, 10mm preload, 150mm oil level (5 wt)
- Cogent shock with 7.6 kg/mm spring
The best yet. The front spring rate is definitely higher than the rear but for now left it on.

2015 DR650ADV with
- DDCs and 525 straight springs, adjustable preload caps, 160mm oil
- Cogent shock with 8.3 spring
Front is very good. Rear is slightly firm but pretty much perfect when running luggage for mult-day adventure trips

2003 DR650sM with
- DDCs and 525 straight springs, 10mm preload, 160mm oil
- Stock rear shock and spring Forks work great. The rear is a little soft but for street riding without luggage it's acceptable.

Yeah, it's been a trip. MUCH thanks to NCRick (Cogent Dynamics) for his patient help.

* preload = the distance from the top of the extended fork to the top of the spacer - a minus value means the spacer extends ABOVE the fork tube. This is actually kind of an inverse way of looking at preload but it is the way the Cogent folks like to talk about it. The cap is 18mm deep (I think) so 10mm as measured by this technique means the spring is actually compressed 8mm when the cap is installed. The -3 value for the .50 springs means those springs were compressed 21mm.
* oil level = the distance from the top of the compressed fork without the spring or drop-in to the surface of the oil so a larger number means less oil and more air cushion.
6/07/15 Update: After some seat time, I dropped the oil level in the forks by another 15ml so the level is approximately 165mm as specified in the service manual. The extra air cushion is not dramatic but is noticeable. I LIKE it.

So, you counted only 4 bikes, right? There was a non-running #3 that I bought for almost nothing expecting it to be a parts donor. Turns out all it needed was a little love which I provided easily and since it had a clean title I sold it after only a couple of weeks at a nice profit.

I like the DR650 a lot in many, many ways. It is, of course, a bit heavier than my kickstart-only DR350. About 50lbs heavier in fact and that's definitely noticeable. But some of that is offset by the 2" lower seat height. As you might expect the 650 motor is much more torquey (it's a tractor!) than the 350 and has it longer legs on the highway. OTOH the DR350 is a 6-speed and that allows a wider range of gear ratios. It's 2nd gear is numerically the same as 1st gear on the 650 and that means it's a far better "crawler" when the going gets rough. Combine that with the 350's 9.5K rpm redline (versus 7.6K on the 650) and 50 lbs less weight and you have a more tractable motorcycle for off-road use. The 650 excels on pavement of course where it's turning about 2K rpms slower than the 350 at 60mph. Also, being larger, it is a much better "mule" for carrying gear and luggage.In addition to my 200lbs I was hauling about 70 lbs of luggage and camping gear on the MAT trip. No sweat. I don't think the DR650 can replace the DR350 for rugged off-road use. And, I don't think it can replace my DL650 V-Strom for touring. BUT, it does a lot of things very, very well and bridges the gap between unpaved and paved secondary roads beautifully. Being a single cylinder without a faring it's not a bike well suited for interstate highway travel but that's always my last choice anyhow. Bottom line, if I could have ONLY one motorcycle, I'm pretty sure the DR650 would be THE one.

BACK to Jim's MC Page (links to DR650 modifications and adventures)