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Review of sanDRina, a Suzuki DR650 for Adventure Riding

About The Bike, Gear, DR6504 min read

The Suzuki DR650 is a fantastic bike. I am happy with how well she just keeps chugging along. Yes, I've had a few breakdowns, but nothing major. Well, after destroying an engine at the beginning, everything else is a walk in the park. And I'm of the belief that preventative maintenance can prevent most breakdowns, so it all starts with the owner. For the value (costing me only $1200), she's a mighty bang for the buck. Do I yearn for more power besides the 39 hp and 33 ft-lbs of torque? Yes, at times I do, but for riding through developing countries, she's perfect. I have great memories of many lively rides, charging up a twisty uphill, banging away between 2nd and 3rd and letting her sing through the RPMs (around Tafi del Valle in Argentina). However, with the weight I'm carrying, I'm fully aware of the penalty and treat her gently most of the time. We're going to be together for years to come...

13 months into the trip, I've covered 58,282 km (36,200 miles). Chassis mileage (since 1998) is at 100,142 kms (62,200 miles) and engine mileage (2003 model) is at 69,408 kms (43,111 miles). I just use regular dino oil, since synthetic is way too expensive outside the US and just change it out every 5,000 kms (3,100) miles.

On the chassis, bearings have been replaced regularly and I keep inspecting for frame cracks, but all is well. I rebuilt the full suspension in Sao Paulo and have had no issues with any parts of it. On the engine, in Sao Paulo (at 29k) I overhauled the top end with new piston rings, valve oil seals and reseated the valve guides. Cylinder liner looked great and no other signs of wear.

Breakdowns

  • Rear Rotor-side Wheel Bearing - 1st failure at 15,115 miles into the trip, second one failed after another 18,700 miles.
  • Clutch - ruined by me, getting stuck in a sandy berm.
  • Throttle Cable - started to fray and got notchy, but I overlooked it and then it finally broke after a life of 35,000 miles.

Aftermarket Mods

  • Aqualine Safari Tank - excellent, sturdy, survived 2 tarmac slides in the wet and many drops with no cracking. I've put in 40 Liters (10.6 gallons) for a range of 800 kms (500 miles). Cleaned the petcocks in Sao Paulo.
  • Corbin Seat - does the job, but trick is to regularly change up the surface with beads, sheepskin, etc.
  • Mikuni Flat Slide TM40 Carb - good throttle response, takes a while to warm up.
  • GSX-R Exhaust - awesome, makes the bike sound great, still getting good gas mileage.
  • Trail Tech Vapor - sturdy, no issues, except I have a problem with the power cable and lose all data when I shut down. Just need to hunt it down.
  • WER Steering Stabilizer - works as advertised, good job in the sand and when hitting pot holes.
  • Larry Roeseler 420 Progressive Rear Shock - excellent, waiting for it to blow but hasn't happened yet.
  • Scotts Stainless Steel Oil Filter - excellent. No need to worry about where to get new filters. Clean with gasoline or diesel and put back. Good way to see what's floating around in your oil (for diagnostics).
  • Highway Pegs - great for reducing the strain on your legs on a lond day. Added benefit of acting like frame slider and taking the brunt of falls and protecting the levers and engine.

Electrical Mods

  • Jammin Switch Box - rocks! Am so pleased that it's worked flawlessly. The weathertite switches from NKK also get a check mark.
  • Centech AP-2 Fuse Box - worked well until corrosion shorted out the lines. Put in inline fuses and still haven't repaired the centech...
  • Voltminder Battery Monitor - keeps chugging along telling me how healthy the battery is.
  • Stebel Nautilus Compact Horn - worked great initially, but then not getting oomph now. I think it got damaged by being too close to the header. Haven't investigated yet.
  • Jammin Solar Panel - it works, but I've really had no need for it. Maybe now in Africa...
  • Vision X Solstice LED Lights - fantastic, super bright and I can even run only with the two lights at night if needed.
  • Garmin 60Cx - robust and reliable. Only one issue with the screen, where some dead pixels started to grow for a few months, then disappeared and all is good now. I bought this unit refurbished in 2007 and still going strong.
  • GoPro HD Helmet Camera - work as advertised, except will fog on inside and ruin video when change in humidity. Put cotton swabs or buy new anti-fog inserts.

Tools

I think I'm carrying just the right amount of tools to do pretty much any kind of job on the bike, like a clutch repair in the middle of the altiplano.

Luggage

  • Happy Trails Teton Panniers - excellent. Lid mechanism is fantastic, perfect for roadside breaks. Good construction but overloading them lead to weld cracks. Good customer service. Top box is ginormous, love it.
  • Happy Trails SU Frame - I'm clearly overloading the luggage frame and after a good beating on washboard, some cracks appear and I head to the nearest welder.
  • Devon's Mega Tool Tubes - fantastic. Huge, able to swallow lots of things like air compressor, rear tubes, spices, etc.

If you want an opinion on something I didn't cover, let me know.

sanDRina and I on the Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia.

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