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The “60/40” Suzuki DR650

suzuki dr650 suspension upgrades

The “60/40” Suzuki DR650

Having owned the same DR650 I purchased new in 2000, I have become familiar with the bike. Since picking the DR up at the dealer 19 years ago, one thing has not changed; I love the DR! What has changed is the way I have used the bike.  My DR has been a pit bike, a road bike, a trail bike, an adventure bike, and even a track bike on the road racecourse.  All of the different things I have used it for speak volumes about the Suzuki DR650’s adaptability and reliability.

One thing about the DR that remains, regardless of how I use it, is that it has always been a compromise.  That it is a compromise for so many uses is a great complement in that it is pretty good at everything most riders will do with it.  I have owned quite a few bikes and have more than I want to count in the “collection” right now, yet if I had to pare down to one bike, (typing that makes me tremble) there is no doubt that the DR would be the one to stay.

Over the years, I have made a good many modifications to my DR650 and have learned much about what works under varying use profiles. Unsurprisingly, I felt upgrading the bike’s front and rear suspension was the most helpful as well as the most gratifying way to improve the DR for every kind of riding that I have done. 

My original DR with around 50,000 miles is still very good and as I type this, deeply into yet another round of upgrades, this time with help from our friends at Procycle.  I will be adding a big bore kit in the way of the 790 kit and a specialized profile cam which was developed by Jeff and his fine folks.  I plan to include a news item in this space as that project begins to come together.

Meanwhile, I was able to acquire another “pre-owned” DR650 at a great price.  The second DR is of a similar vintage (2001 model year) but has very low mileage with only 10,000 miles on the clock. Over the last several years, my old trusty DR has been morphing closer to the off-road side of the compromise, yet I miss having the more road-oriented Dual-Sport bike setup. This thinking has led to the build.

The 60/40 theme comes from a lot of thought (or at least vacillating) over how much street orientation to focus on.  This is a very realistic dilemma that many of our customers grapple with.  Trying to break that equation down led to attempting to prioritize modifications which dictate the feel and performance of the bike.  Roughly ordered with respect to importance are tires, wheel size, suspension, comfort, range, engine characteristics, and protection.

Starting with tires and because motorcycle tires are such an important factor, I really centered my thinking around 75% street duty and 25% “off-road” and of that 25%, most of it would be forest service and jeep type roads with little true single track type use. (Heck, I have a KTM 350EXC setup for that stuff.)  I know from past experience that tires like the Pirelli MT90 AT or even the Shinko 705 match that kind of riding pretty well.  I came to realize that our Ducati ST2 likely has been ridden close to 20% off road if I count forest service roads and that the DR, even setup for more favorable pavement performance, just wasn’t going to be THAT focused towards the pavement.  I have been intrigued by the Pirelli MT 60 tires that a friend mounted on his KTM 690 Duke and the official “rating” of 60% street and 40% off pavement” sounded both realistic and as a name for the project, had a nice ring to it.

Planning from the ground up with tires, the MT 60 is a “x” ply design tire and the standard DR650 rear wheel width of 2.5 inches isn’t really optimum for the 130 width MT 60. 

I spoke to our friends at Warp 9 about wheel options, knowing the importance  of having truly strong and high quality wheels built. Great wheels are one of the cornerstones of a motorcycle’s foundation. We decided to go with the stock wheel diameters (21” front rim and 17” rear rim) but up the rear rim size to 3”, which gives the 130/80 x 17 rear MT60 tire a fuller profile without “pinching it down” as much as the 2.5” OEM width rim will. We got the front wheel with Warp 9’s over sized front rotor and adapter to improve the braking performance.

suzuki dr650 suspension rear wheel

At the same time as choosing new wheels, we were able to opt for some upgrades with the high-end and high-strength “Elite” wheel which is made from the amazing 7050 aerospace aluminum for extreme strength, toughness with improved corrosion protection over other high strength, heat treatable alloys like 7075 (also known as “Ergal”).  With Warp 9 wheels, a customer is able to choose colors and other cool options; we went with blue hubs and black rims. High quality, high strength spokes are part of the package.  I have learned, as have many others, that the OEM wheels won’t hold up to the demands of harsh off-road conditions. Besides, these wheels look really cool!  

Next on the agenda was the suspension.  We were fortunate, as the DR we purchased had Cogent Dynamics fork springs (0.52 rate) and the DDC valves installed by the previous owner. We did go into the forks and treat them to a full servicing.  The previous owner had also installed one of the excellent Cogent re-engineered shocks which we removed in favor of the top of the line Pro-Series shock setup with “plush” valving and with a Vapor Deposited Carbon Raptor Diamond hard coating on the shock shaft to maximize life and reduce friction. We took the opportunity to check and lubricate all the rear suspension pivots.

One of the “features” on a dirt bike is a narrow, long seat to allow comfort and control while standing.  The Suzuki compromise for the DR is a seat with a decent shape but foam and other characteristics which make it quite uncomfortable sitting on it for any length of time.  I found that after about 150 miles in the saddle I would be standing, regardless of ride conditions.  To remedy this situation, we replaced the seat with one from Seat Concepts and have been very happy with the comfort and usability of the Seat Concepts product. We now have four of their seats, one on each of the DR 650s, one on the Yamaha WR250R, and the other on my KTM 350EXC-F.  We wholeheartedly recommend the products from Seat Concepts.  

For the handlebars and controls, we fit Warp 9 bar risers and big diameter fat bars without the typical crossbar. The control levers (brake and clutch) were exchanged for Warp 9 adjustable levers, allowing for more critical positioning of fingertips, which can really be a big issue on the DR when stainless steel braided brake lines are added. Other comfort related updates included Warp 9 foot pegs (which like other Warp 9 products are pieces of art)  and a set of Oxford heated grips with the smart controller.  Oxford’s heated grip controller not only works well but made installation on the DR simple electrically. 

With most any of our adventures on the DR, we can find ourselves a bit off the beaten path and the stock tank at just over 3 gallons (advertised capacity) had us searching for the reserve position on the petcock after about 120 miles (admittedly these bikes are not babied).  We replaced the stock tank with the 5.3 Acerbis plastic tank.  To our eye, the Acerbis tank looks a lot nicer than the IMS 4.9 gallon tank we have on our other DR but from the use and installation perspective, I personally prefer the IMS 4.9 due to the more narrow feel, better clearance to the turn signals, and a more secure seeming molded-in threaded insert where screws need to go. We know from experience that the stock rear taillight will break off with much spirited off road and washboard (also called corrugated) gravel road riding.  To head off the broken taillight syndrome as well as improve the look of the bike, we went with the Seat Concepts replacement rear fender with the integrated taillight and license tag holder.

The engine characteristics are a consideration for any way a bike is used.  Our other DR is getting a transformation to make it a bit more of a “bad boy” (or girl, I haven’t figured that one out). On this bike, we chose to be satisfied with  a bike that runs well and is quiet.  With the quiet running in mind, we opted for the stock heavy exhaust and a totally stock airbox. With a little tweaking on the carburetor jetting, the bike runs very well without producing any unexpected wheelies at all!

Finally, wrapping up this news blog, we wanted to add some protective items.  Warp 9 came through again with a rear brake guard and a very nice replacement chain guide to replace the white plastic stock guard which is very prone to breaking, even from flying sticks and debris.  If you ride your DR in the rocks, “forgetaboudit” the plastic guide is going to break!

Our first test rides have been really fun, the wheels and tires have made the DR650 feel surprisingly stable and secure.  The Plush suspension settings are pleasant yet maintain that solid and secure ride.

We are already started on the phase two of this project, considering modifications to the horn, lighting and a few other little things…

Thanks for spending some of your time with me here and keep an eye on this space for updates.



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