Although relatively unchanged in recent years and fairly dated by today’s performance standards, the DR650 is still a darn popular bike. As a dual-purpose machine, the Suzuki’s ability to transition from the dirt to the asphalt has won over numerous adventure seekers, while the bike’s burly styling and off-road capabilities have kept it from being labeled a street bike.But for whatever reason, you just don’t see much on the DR650 in terms of mainstream exposure or aftermarket attention. That’s not to say that there aren’t legions of Suzuki enthusiasts who bleed yellow, white or black for this bike-the message boards are proof that this motorcycle is alive and well-yet the 650 still remains a somewhat underrated machine. Even Suzuki, with a vast advertising budget and a wealth of developmental knowledge, has seemingly ignored the giant of their off-road line.
When I originally received the 2010 DR650 from Suzuki to test, I looked at the large machine as a cool commuter bike, which is purely what it was for several weeks. Each day I would fuel up the Suzuki from a gas can, merge onto a crowded Southern California freeway and joyfully buzz down the highway for the better part of an hour while the majority of my fellow commuters were stuck in their cars. Lane splitting is legal in this state, and I took full advantage of this by dodging mirrors and weaving around sports cars all the way to work. In these situations, the Suzuki’s nimble character served me well, as I was able to snake through traffic faster than any sport bike, cruiser or bagger out there.But after roughly two months of happily cruising the DR650, I felt drawn to the edges of the highway. Curious about the Suzuki’s potential and not willing to risk the jail time of off-roading my way through Los Angeles, I took the 650 up to the high desert over a weekend and played around in the dirt. On relatively mellow dirt roads, I was surprised to find that the bike performed similarly to the way it had on the street. The strong, useable power, predictable handling and plush suspension were all still in effect, and the bike offered no unwanted surprises as I buzzed around Mojave. But on rough terrain and tighter trails, the Suzuki’s heavy weight and mellow character became apparent. With too-soft forks, sketchy traction and not enough grunt to get me out of trouble, the DR650 took on an edge that I really didn’t like. So as I soon as I got back to the shop and got the bike cleaned up, it was time to go to work.
To read more about some of the modifications that I made to the massive Suzuki, check out the February 2011 issue of Dirt Rider. Specifics aside, I was able to tackle some of the main issues on the bike, starting with the suspension and spreading into the handling, ergonomics, power, fuel range and even carrying capacity. When all was said and done I had a leaner, meaner version of the stock DR650, and more importantly I had a bike that could still tackle the tarmac while not being scared of going off-road. I really didn’t have any prior experience with modifying a big-bore adventure bike; much of my guidance came in the form of anonymous posts on numerous discussion boards. Having received digital help from countless individuals, I can say that the Internet is a pretty awesome place to connect with like-minded riders and get the scoop on what the hot mods are for a bike. Sure, every forum out there has a few guys (or kids) who really don’t know what the heck they are talking about, but a lot of online communities are full of friendly, knowledgeable people. The next time I have a similar project, I’ll definitely trust the Internet as a research tool.With a new attitude and more performance, the DR650 seemed up for an adventure. What ensued was the Bare Bones Budget Ride that you may have read about in the November 2010 issue of Dirt Rider. Long story short, we had some issues with the ‘Zook that (check out that upcoming story in the February issue for more), but I still came away from the ride knowing that the bike’s true personality is not one of destruction. I’ve since spoken with countless riders who have never had one bit of trouble with the DR650, including off-road legend Malcolm Smith, who has used the bike to pre-run the Baja 1000 racecourse before. My adventure ride left me with a bad taste in my mouth about the Suzuki, but this was essentially remedied when I heard that my experience was not at all the norm for the big motorcycle.
Above all, I’ve been impressed not only by the potential of this bike but also by the riders who call themselves DR650 fans. It’s you guys and gals that keep the aftermarket producing products for these bikes, and it’s you who encouraged us to give the Suzuki more ink in the pages of Dirt Rider. The February issue may not be out yet, but I’d still like to encourage all of you DR650 fans to join the conversation and post a comment below. If you have a DR650, have ridden a DR650 or know someone who has a DR650 and have a story to share, I want to hear it. Whether you ride the bike stock and love it, have modified the motorcycle and love it even more or even if you downright hate it, I’m curious to hear your thoughts.While posting a comment, also consider this: If Dirt Rider were to do another big story with the DR650 in the future, what would you want it to be?