When we initially accepted the Suzuki DR650SE into our long-term testing fleet, none of us at Dirt Rider predicted the bike would provide such a vast learning experience. On the one hand, we learned a lot about what makes the Suzuki tick and, as a result, break. On the flip side, the DR650SE taught us a lot about our readers who evidently have a massive interest in this motorcycle. We never intended to print a wrap-up on the Suzuki, but after a flood of emails, digital comments, letters, phone calls, voicemails and even a postcard requesting more info on the bike, we figured there’d be a lynch mob if we didn’t provide more details in the magazine.If you’ve been following the DR650SE, you’ll remember the last time we mentioned the big girl was in our “Bare-Bones Budget Bikers” trip (November ’10 issue), where the massive Suzuki developed a knack for, as one tester put it, “turning clutch fibers into brake rotors” since the clutch was constantly slipping, in turn heating up the oil/air-cooled motor. Because of this the engine ran hot and the plates got worse, causing us to tear into the engine multiple times throughout the trip. By the time we first pulled off the clutch cover and discovered a baked basket and an improperly installed stack of steels and fibers (this particular 650 was labeled as a 2010 but in reality has been in Suzuki’s press fleet for an unspecified length of time), it was all we could do to limp the bike along on the rest of the ride. Exasperating? Sure, but with a little help from some friends we made it work. When we returned, Suzuki requisitioned the bike and we haven’t heard a word on it since. Over the years DR has had other DR650SE units that never had clutch problems.All frustrations aside, there were some fun moments with the bike. There were several weeks where all I did was ride the DR650SE back and forth to work, and even without a windscreen it was a joy to ride on the street. Prior to the Death Valley ride we spent a while modifying the 650, a process that offered us firsthand experience with what can be done to make this machine more dirt-worthy. No doubt the most rewarding changes were the suspension mods from Race Tech, particularly the then-prototype shock shaft assembly. The Race Tech setup adds a rebound adjuster, which the stock shock lacks, as well as a stiffer spring, Gold Valve and custom ride height that can be shortened to lower the seat height. In the front, the Suzuki received a cartridge emulator kit and stiffer HP fork springs. Those changes helped transform the DR650SE from a virtual streetbike into something that almost felt like a real dirt bike. Compared to how the bike feels stock off-road (wallowing through the stroke and generally trying to pummel the rider), it was a night-and-day difference. At mid to higher speeds, the shock stayed in the top of the stroke and had great damping, even with the load I had on it. In hard chop, I felt like I could really plow the rear wheel into things without getting bucked, yet the bike still rode well on street sections and didn’t pack any unwanted surprises. In the front, the modified, still-conventional fork made the 650 an entirely different motorcycle, with better damping and less diving under braking. I still didn’t feel confident riding the fork to the shock’s potential, but what else can you expect with a conventional, non-cartridge fork?
Much of the 650′s heavy-handling feel can no doubt be attributed to the massive 4.9-gallon aftermarket IMS tank, as well as the fully loaded Wolfman Side Racks/Saddlebags that I installed. Turning and handling suffered as a result of both of these mods, but the added range and waterproof carrying capabilities were a decent trade-off for our long-distance ride. For rubber, Bridgestone offered up an ED03 front tire that greatly improved off-road handling on the bike with a much-improved feel on dirt. I also installed Bridgestone’s 460/17 Trail Wing rear, as the DR650SE has a 17-inch rear. This non-aggressive tread pattern worked well on street sections but struggled to find traction on loose dirt and gravel. There are knobby options in 17 inches from Dunlop, Pirelli and Continental.The stock DR650SE handlebar is, in my opinion, absolute junk, and I was pleased to find better feel and more durability from the Henry-bend 7/8-inch ProTaper. I like the wind-cheating shape of the stock hand guards, but a set of Acerbis bark busters offered more protection and less-flimsy mounting. Motor-wise, an FMF PowerCore 4 exhaust woke up the power all-around and helped response, though it wasn’t as quiet as the stock unit. With all of these mods in place and an off-road ready rider on board, the DR650SE finally looked out of place on the asphalt.
Despite the challenges we had with this bike, I am grateful that it made its way into our shop and into my hands. In stock trim, it was a great commuter bike, and once modified it was leaps and bounds more capable off-road. I realize that the DR650SE has a loyal following, and I think there are a lot of instances where this would be the best big-bore dual-sport machine for the job. Would I buy one? Not new, but if I came across a used one at a great price, it would be tough to pass up…. But not until after a thorough visual inspection under the clutch cover!