DR650, The Bush Pig

Riding offroad has taken a whole new twist so far. My RTW plans have been put on hold due to financial issues. It’s difficult to save when there’s a million things in life that need to be done while I’m living through the tail end of my 20’s. Between skydiving and learning how to ride off road, I’ve managed to kill my savings entirely. My savings plan will take longer than I intended. It’s not the end of the world.....but if it was, I'd be on the DR650!

Moving on....

With the DR650 in the garage, I’ve been setting out on a few off-road trips to get a feel for the bike. What I didn’t expect to learn was how capable the DR650 is if you grew a pair of balls and whomp on it. While it is a 350+lb overweight dirtbike…. that’s underpowered, it is surprisingly capable in climbing all but the tightest trails. The massive thumper motor pumps out some serious torque to pull itself out of most ruts.

But as strong as it is in pulling itself out, its weight is equally strong with gravity. It is NOT an easy bike to pick up my any means.
My DR650 has re-valved front and rear suspension. The rear shock performs great in most terrain. The front forks however, could use a swap to a modern USD fork. Most of this will not prevent you from riding the bike in most offroad conditions.

As the trail gets more technical, the suspension begins to show its weakness, and you either suck it up and deal with it while the bike with its lack of technology simply vibrates you to death, or you slow down and be a sissy.
My friend knew of some train tracks that seemed like a GREAT way to test our suspension components. I was breaking into 35-40mph, but steering became a serious issue as the suspension had no where else to go but sideways, jerking my hands around. A damper would help in this situation, but a good set of forks with good internals would have done the job much better instead of masking the problem.

Being an offroad noob, I eventually got stuck.When the technical stuff doesn’t get you, your own dumb shit luckdoes. Reminder, this 350+lb bush pig does not fit in between tracks! The kick stand is up and the bike is entirely held upright by the rim and tire bead. Not bad for stock rims!

We deflated the rear tire and lubed up the tracks with chain lube. 30 minutes of heaving and sweating later, we managed to pry the bike out.

But not before a nail showed up in my tire. The slow leak eventually lead to a mid day break to change out the inner tube. Unfortunately the innertube that I purchased came pre fucked with several holes from the manufacture.

The result? Super glue! The repair held out for several weeks before the air to slowly seep out. Not bad for using off the shelf grip glue.


As my riding skills slowly grew, it became evident that I needed a more off-road oriented bike. Although the DR650 would be my RTW Machine, I don’t think my skills would develop as quickly if I kept riding the DR650.


So what’s next? I’ve already got something yellow… why not something blue?

RTW: Phase 4: Buying The Bike

 

Last blog: Which Bike?

Back in the day, you’d go to a dealer or scour through newspaper clippings to find the bike you wanted. Today, we have the magical invention of Craigslist and internet forums that exist for just about any type of anything (seriously, check out this one http://www.juggalofaith.com/). Though sketchy, craigslist (CL) is unusually pretty reliable for most common items, with the exception that the website is abound by countless retards that are about as intelligent as a cucumber.

I started my search after the New Year’s alcohol left me with a blinding hangover reminding me that I’m getting old rather quickly (26 at the time of this writing). So with some time to kill, I began my search for the magical DR650 that would take me around the world one day. Weary of the 3rd gear destruction, I read about suzuki’s swap to a stronger 3rd gear in the 2006+ models, so I limited my search to those “newer” bikes. The reality of it is that the DR650 has seen little change since 1996, yes you read that right. It has seen absolutely no change since 2002 either. It’s an aging platform, but the Cobra Attack Helicopters been around since Vietnam and is still shooting missiles, so who’s really keeping count anyway?

At work, my homepage was craigslist, preloaded with the query “DR650”. Id search once with DR650 and again with DR 650, why CL doesn’t make a smart search engine is beyond me. I even got an app on my phone that would tell me how many DR’s there are within a 500 mile radius and alert me of new ads (it became a sickness, I bet there’s an internet forum with craigslist searchers…)

Throughout the course of January and February, I sent about 25 emails to various DR650 owners within a 500 mile radius. BTW: this was the entirety of Jan and Feb in NYC…

Just kidding, it was more like this:

It was UNBELIEVEABLE the amount of negative responses I got when I asked for more photos, a lower price, or to simply come by and take a look. About 15 of them just flat out did not respond my emails. Here are some of the response I got:

Me: Your bike has 30,000 miles on it, you’re asking $2500, can we do $2200?
Guy: No man, my mom doesn’t know I bought it. I need to get back my money! We can meet in the parking lot at the local high school I used to go to if you want to take a look at it, its worth $2500, trust me!

Me: Hey can I swing by and take a look at the bike?
Girl: Sure, what day works out for you?
Me: I’m from NYC, so it would have to be a weekend
Girl:….no response….
Me: If you don’t want to sell to a New Yorker, just let me know.
Girl: Sorry, we don’t want to deal with someone out of Penn.
Me: ….fuck you. No seriously….fuck you.

And on and on and ON!!!! One guy actually forgot that he promised the bike to his brother in law and his wife was pissed that he was going to sell it to me! It was a frustrating 2 months looking for the bike. Then I realized that all is not lost, there is still the venerable Advrider.com! I logged onto advrider and found several DR650s, but again, the guy that had the DR I wanted would not sell to someone from out of his state. I understand if they won’t ever meet me in person, but such is life. I began to give up hopes on a 2006+ DR650 and looked more closely at the 3rd gear problem that DR650s have. It turns out that there were just as many pre 2006 bikes that had 3rd gear failures as there were 2008 and on. So the relatively low number of reported incidents pretty much left me much more comfortable with buying an older model. So I looked a little longer on advrider and found a yellow 2003 dr650. It had a few nice modifications including

  1. TM40 Pumper Carb ($400 carb)
  2. Keintech Tail Rack
  3. GSXR Titanium Exhaust
  4. Moose Racing Hand guards
  5. Engine bash plate
  6. Sargent Seat (big plus, $450 seat!)

I really like the mods since they were ones I planned on doing anyway, so I shot over an email and the guy and I agreed on the terms of the sale over a two week period. I got the bike picked up by a shipper from uship.com, which by the way is the best thing for cross country shipping! I used it previously to ship my Ducati Monster (which blew out its motor in Ohio) to NYC for $350, and I managed to get the DR650 shipped from North Carolina to NYC for $250. The bike came on a Tuesday night, sight unseen and it ended up being cleaner than I saw in the pics from the seller.

It had 10,000 miles on the odometer and the second I took it out for a spin, WOW! I couldn’t believe how fun 35hp was! (with the carb mod and the open airbox, it’s more like 40hp actually….in case we’re keeping count of our ponies). My buddy Johnny took my bike for a day to run some errands and gave it three thumbs up and agreed, it was loads of fun to ride.

It is a tall bike and I can’t even get my toes down, but that’s alright, who needs to touch the ground when their moving anyway?

Here’s the bike

 

 

 

I plan on doing several mods to it including SW-MOtech racks, installing additional pieces of aluminum on the bash plate to protect against frontal impacts, left and right engine guards, oil filter guards, an Acerbis tank in white, a vapor trail GPS tach and some other goodies.

RTW: Phase 4: Which Bike?

I scoured the internet for a few weeks before deciding on the bike I wanted. There were a few criteria’s I used to select the bike I ultimately ended up deciding on. It quickly narrowed down to a few so hopefully this will help. Here’s what’s important to me in an RTW bike.

  1. Low cost – Let’s be honest here, there might come a point in time that you have to ditch the bike in some god forsaken corner of the earth. I’m not rich and I can’t afford to pay potentially thousands to replace parts if they fail. You just don’t know when it might happen, if at all. For this simple reason, I didn’t want to buy an expensive bike (lets ignore the fact that it can be stolen for a moment). This pretty much ruled out any NEW bike. The used market would be essential here. Craigslist and internet forums are you’re best friends in this case (or they can be a nightmare, read the story of how I actually bought my bike for a better idea)
     
  2. Reliability – Above all other things, reliability is an issue, so bikes with known maintenance issues are out the door. The reality though, is that most adventure bikes are actually quite reliable, so reliability really means, less things to break in this scope. No fancy electronics like ABS or traction control. If I’m sticking to low cost, reliability won’t be much of an issue since it won’t come with any fancy things anyway.
     
  3. Availability of parts – there has to be a worldwide dealer network available to support the bike in case you need parts. This narrowed it down to BMW and the big 4 Japanese brands.

So who made the cut?

Suzuki DR650

Kawasaki KLR650

BMW F800GS

After narrowing it down to these three bikes, I ultimately ended up with the Suzuki DR650, and I broke it down to some pros and cons comparing to the KLR and the GS.

Suzuki DR650

PROS

  1. Air cooled bike means no radiator to crack in a crash. Did I mention that all three of these bikes have a seat height of 35”+? I have a 32 inch inseam, which means I can’t even tippy toe these bikes. I’m already ready to drop these bikes countless times, so the less things that break off, the better! Air cooled bikes are designed to run with looser tolerances (since they have to account for more thermal expansion). The downfall to this is that the bike can overheat if it isn’t moving, or operating in extremely hot temperatures. Think about traveling slowly in 90+ degree weather. Having own a Ducati air-cooled bike for the entirety of my motorcycling career, I knew how to deal with hot weather and air cooled motors (I know this all too well commuting in NYC). Long trips = lots of breaks for both the bike and I so I could deal with air cooled bikes.  Both the KLR and the BMW are both liquid cooled bikes. In the grand scheme of things, radiators don’t often break and there are protective accessories you can purchase to minimize the exposure of the radiators. So ultimately, the battle between air-cooled vs water-cooled really *boils* down to the availability of parts, if the water-cooled bike ever breaks down.
     
  2. Thumper Power- The DR650 is a single cylinder bike with a massive 650cc engine (all that untamed raw 35hp!!!!). This only means one thing, OODLES AND OODLES OR TORQUE! No one ever attempted an RTW trip to see who can go around the fastest, so HP need not apply here. Though cruising at 90mph will be long missed, it’s a luxury I can afford to give up. The benefit to one cylinder is simple. If any problems arise, there’s really only one place to look. It has one sparkplug (the DR650 actually has two, but they fire simultaneously), only one cylinder and one set of valves. Single cylinder engines are significantly lighter (which means they are easier to pick up once dropped. The KLR is not much heavier than the DR650 though) and they are a bit narrower for tight trails. The downside is that they tend to have more vibration then twins. The DR650 has a counter balance to oppose the big piston so vibration isn’t that big of a deal, but if you ever rode a smooth 4cyl sport bike and then a big thumper, you would notice the difference. The vibration isn’t as bad as a Harley type V-twin (which would leave you numb at times), so coming from the L-twin Ducati world, the vibration between the two are similar, with the DR650 being about 25% more buzzy. The KLR650 is a thumper and the BMW F800GS is a smooth parallel twin. The BMW wins this battle, with an extra cylinder and more power overall. But from a reliability standpoint, I chose to go with a thumper.
     
  3. Carburetor – This one is a bit of an iffy. It can be a pro or a con. Carbs are dead simple. Carry a spare needle with you as it wears, but outside of that they are easy to break apart and clean. If you have an adjustable idle needle then altitude problems aren’t too big of an issue. The downside is that they are fuel inefficient when compared to EFI (but not by much). They also require maintenance where EFI is essentially maintenance free. In today’s modern bikes EFI wins. They are deadly reliable and offer quick, lightning response.  They can handle altitude without adjustment and provide maximum power as you move higher into the mountains. Carbs provide less power since you are stuck with the existing pilot needles and your only real adjustment is the idle needle (if you even have that, the stock DR650 does not, and neither does the KLR, also a carbed bike). The BMW on the other hand has an EFI system which I am told works quite well. Yamaha’s newer WR450 is also EFI powered and from what I’ve read is absolutely rock solid. So take this one with a grain of salt. If the DR650 came with EFI, ids most certainly go with the EFI, but it doesn’t so I’m stuck without much of a choice. Not a big deal overall. A little lost torque from the thumper won’t kill me in the mountains, and they get reasonably good gas mileage already (50mpg range) so I’m not concerned.

CONS.

  1. Small gas tank- the mighty DR650 needs frequent gas stops with its small 3.4 gallon tank (which ironically is larger than my Ducati’s 2.9 gallon tank (3.5 gallon without the fuel pump). The KLR has a massive 6.1 gallon tank with the BMW at 4.2gals (older models). Luckily the DR650 has aftermarket support with IMS, Acerbis, Safari and Clarke tanks. Aftermarket tanks vary from 3.7 gallons from the Clarke to the nearly 8 gallon Safari Tank. The options are there, and the price varies. Truth be told, you really only need about 300 miles maximum (200 avg) unless you plan on being very far away from civilization. 300 gallons at 50mpg is 6 gallons, which is attainable with a 5 gallon tank and external fuel source (such as a fuel bladder or a jerry can). Acerbis recently released a 6.6 gallon tank which fits the bill quite nicely. They also offer a 5.5 gallon tank as well.
     
  2. Slow speed – It’s a thumper, don’t expect lightning speed, BMW wins with an extra cylinder and a flux capacitor.
     
  3. Mechanical Issues – the DR650 has its share of mechanical issues, all of which are not common, and only one of which is absolutely disastrous and undetectable. This isn’t a total con since all mechanical machines have issues (take the KLR for example; it can snap its own frame in half). The DR650 has the following issues
  1. Transmission Gear Failure – The 3rd gear has been known (rarely) to completely fail and cause total destruction of the low end. Piston blown up, transmission failure etc. Though its really rare and there have been thousands of unaffected DRs. It’s a risk that unfortunately has no real solution that doesn’t involve buying an aftermarket 3rd gear for $600 and spending $1000 to install it. Not sure if that’s really a fix or not.
     
  2. Neutral sending unit – the NSU can unscrew itself and blow up the engine. It is easily fixed by loctiting the sucker. Not an issue.

 

Outside of these two items, the DR650 is essentially bullet proof.

So, now comes the whole process of buying one….

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