James Bishop sent us in his Suzuki DR650 SE Review this morning, it’s based off of the 2007 model, but a lot of it still rings true. Those interested in the used motorcycle market will appreciate James’ honesty in reviewing his steed. Here it is. – Ed. Adrian
When I decided to purchase my first and current motorcycle, I had a pretty clear idea of what I was looking for. I had been riding DH mountain bikes in the Whistler Gravity Park for 4 or 5 years and rode a 50 lb. free ride bike with 8 inches of travel. I wanted a bike that was street legal, but felt familiar to that offroad ride. Being 6’1 and 230 lbs., I also didn’t want a particularly small bike as I wanted to be able to ride highway speed as well as everywhere else I might go.
I made a perhaps rash decision and bought the Suzuki DR650 SE sight-unseen, never test-ridden. Life is about risks sometimes, right? This review is for a 2007 model, though Suzuki hasn’t substantially changed the DR650SE in quite a few years. I believe that my experience will be consistent for anyone buying today.
I could not have been happier with my choice. My first ride with it was bringing it home to Toronto from the dealership in Newmarket with my 3 week old M2 licence, having never ridden in traffic. Since though, the bike has taken me on Muskoka single-track, jeep-trails, back-woods unmaintained roads, curvy sketchy tarmac on the Southwood Road and 6 lane highway. I couldn’t ask for a better all-round bike. To note, though in the past 15,000km I have had some work done, all parts are either stock or OEM, so I would expect that my experience would be reasonably replicated.
I would say straight up, that there are likely few things that the Suzuki DR650 is perfect at, but its reasonable to great at a whole bunch of things.
Is the DR650 an amazing highway bike? No – without a faring, you take wind right on your chest, which for me made the ride change at about 115 km/hr. Faster than that, and you need to use a bit more effort in your arms and core in not being blown backwards, and you may want to shift your weight back in the saddle so the air flows differently. If you wear a motto helmet as I do, shoulder checks without the faring can wrench your head around as the visor catches your wind.
However, with the stock gearing and engine set-up, I found that I could feel otherwise comfortable at 120km/hr and still had room to accelerate to pass or evade traffic if needed. For me, 110-115 km/hr on the 400-series highways is the sweet spot.
Is the DR650 an amazing trail bike? No – being a 650 it is understandably heavy, and as noted with stock parts the tires are by no means have an aggressive off-road tread. Being a reasonably tall bike and a reasonably long bike, I would not say it’s the most nimble in the tight single-track. I found that having a set of good treads on my boots was important for the occasional heaving of the bike over a fallen log was pretty important, rather than wearing smooth MX boots. That is not to say I don’t TRY to use it as a trail bike. I have pushed it pretty far into the woods around Monsell and Purbrook Roads. I would never suggest to ride alone, but I would stress even more not to ride trails without the expectation that your ride partner is going to have to help you out from time to time in hauling you out of the odd bog or over a fall-down.
However, for almost anything short of the technicality of tight single-track, the reasonably skilled rider should be ok to ride the DR650 stock in many different conditions. I find that logging roads such as those in the Ganaraska Forest, or double-track jeep roads are generally very approachable. Know what you are getting into, and know your limits, but I have had very enjoyable and successful fording streams and standing water that were a foot or foot and a half deep. Exposed rock, gravel, all ok. Having ridden dedicated trail bikes from time to time, I found the biggest difference in approach with my DR650 versus a 250 for example, is in taking a slower and more deliberate approach to tricky bits of trail. Being a bigger bike, there is more at stake if you drop it and that mass makes it much harder to throw around under you to manoeuvre.
Is the DR650 an amazing city-bike? Actually, I think it is. I hate to say it, but the bulk of my mileage is in city riding. A few things make the bike a fantastic one for commuting; its high saddle that gives me a view over the roofs of most cars, fantastic acceleration to get around traffic when needed, the manoeuvrability that may be hard in tight trails is nimble and quick at moderate speed on tarmac, and the gas tank is usually less than $13 to fill even when gas is pricy. I have gone out of my way to gather some cold weather gear such that I can stretch my season as far into winter as possible.
In terms of general maintenance and upkeep, I am certainly not a star. Over the 8 years I have had the bike, I have replaced tires, drive train and other wearable parts in one or two big maintenance hits, but otherwise I have been probably sub-standard in seasonal oil change and occasional cleaning and that is about it. The bike continues to fire up consistently and reliably. At this point in its lifecycle, it is starting to idle a bit rough when cold so I had my mechanic enrich the mix a bit, and now its smoother though a touch gassy smelling at stops. When I bought it, I found the kickstand to keep it a bit too upright to be really stable, so we lowered it a bit to lean a touch more. Not what I would call a major concern, nor a bike with a lot of ongoing maintenance and tweaking.
Looking ahead as my riding style and needs change, I may want to get a dedicated trail bike for the cottage or trips to the Ganaraska to get the most out of the terrain, and I may want to se about some small aftermarket things to make higher speeds on the DR650 a touch more comfortable; maybe a windscreen, maybe luggage racks, maybe an aftermarket gel saddle. Those are not major things though, and certainly not things that I need to do to the bike to have continued enjoyment and use of it.
In review, I would consider the DR650 to be an excellent “jack of all trades” for the rider who is looking for a “bit of everything” dual sport bike. It isn’t the fastest bike on the road, its not the snappiest whip on the trail, but for a first bike or only bike that will take you a lot of places and do a lot of things, I would say that you are hard pressed to find better – especially for the price.
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