Review of sanDRina, a Suzuki DR650 for Adventure Riding

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.

Here’s a Cooliris wall of some photos of the mechanical side of the bike, including tools used, breakdowns and maintenance:


Right Click on images to go into full screen mode and move cursor away from zoomed-in image to hide captions.

// 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.
Motion Pro Chain Breaker and Rivet Tool – heavy, but crucial tool.
15″ Cruved Tire Irons – makes tire repairs/changes a breeze, don’t fight it.
TyrePliers Bead Breaker – works as advertised, but sometimes will only break the bead on one side, then have to use tire irons to break free other side.
Homemade Bike Crutch – vital tool for tire repairs.
Air Compressor – another vital tool. Buy a simple one from auto parts store and remove all the outside housings.

// 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.

About The Bike: sanDRina, a Suzuki DR650

This being a motorcycle trip, the bike is obviously a very important part of the trip and I need to make sure that the bike is capable of what I ask of it. To ensure this, I’ve modified the bike to better suit long distance adventure riding and have done the routine maintenance to reduce the chances of any breakdowns.

My only possessions for the next two years will be what I can carry on my motorcycle and thus it acts as a lifeline and a home on two wheels. In my preparation for this trip, I’ve tried to learn as much as possible about all aspects of this motorcycle so that I can better handle any mechanical breakdowns or just routine maintenance.

The Suzuki DR650 is a tried and tested motorcycle that has been taken around the world by numerous others before me. Besides being highly functional for the task at hand, she also looks good and that matters because I have to bond with the bike as she’ll be my steadfast companion through this journey.

Her name is sanDRina (sun-dree-nah) and we’ve already gotten off to a great start with a successful two week trip in Summer 2009 down the Continental Divide.

sanDRina, a DR650, in Tanzania

The reason I chose the DR for long distance adventure touring:
– Dual-Sport Capability > meaning it can handle dirt and gravel roads as well as cruising on the highway.
– Tube Tires > easier to patch/repair a tube tire than to repair a tubeless tire like sport bikes.
– Spoked Rims > can absorb the shock of poor roads better than alloy rims.
– Expandable Gas Tank > this bike’s design is such that the original gas tank (3.4 gallons) can be upgraded with a 4.9 gallon one or a massive 7.9 gallon tank, which I currently have.
– Air Cooled > the bike’s engine is cooled by moving air and an oil cooler but with no water-cooling (radiator), meaning less parts to worry about failing.
– Carburetion > this bike is carbureted instead of fuel injected because it’s easier to work on in case something goes wrong while traveling.

sanDRina riding across the Alps in Switzerland

Modifications To The Bike From Stock (as she came from previous owner)
– Aqualine Safari 7.9 gallon gas tank (to improve range to nearly 400 miles)
– Corbin aftermarket seat (to improve comfort)
– Mikuni Flat Slide TM40 Carb with K&N Air Filter (to improve performance and throttle response)
– Happy Trails Skid Plate (to protect the engine)
– Answer 1″ Handle Bar (to improve handling and durability)
– Trail Tech Vapor Digital Speedometer with Tachometer (to improve monitoring)
– WER Steering Stabilizer (to improve handling)
– SuperBrace Fork Brace (to improve handling)
– Seal Savers fork boots (to protect dirt from damaging front suspension seals)
– Stiffer Progressive front and rear springs (to improve handling)
– Larry Roeseler Rear Shock Absorber (to improve handling)
– Stainless Steel Braided Brake Lines (to improve braking performance)
– Adjustable Chain Guide (to protect the chain)
– Acerbis Hand-guards (to protect the fingers and the levers)
– Acerbis Supermotard Front Fender (to improve aero drag and looks)
– LED Tail Light and Turn Signals (to improve the looks and reduce voltage draw)
– Secured Neutral Sending Switch (neutral gear indicator bolts that could come loose in the engine)
– Upgraded Engine Torque Limiter (to prevent starter gear train damage related to this model year)
– Upgraded Engine Base Gasket (factory paper gasket could lead to leaks)

sanDRina riding the Lake Turkana Route in Kenya

Modifications Added Since Then
– Rear Luggage Rack (to improve usability)
– Happy Trails Luggage Rack with Pannier Set and Top Box (to secure and increase storage space)
– Symtec Heated Grips (to provide warmth to the fingers when it’s cold)
– Centech AP-2 Fuse Box (to have better control of electronic add-ons)
– Eastern Beaver Headlight Relay Kit (to increase power to headlights)
– Voltminder Battery Voltage Monitor (to monitor battery health)
– Upper Chain Roller Removed (potential design flaw that could damage the frame)
– Aluminum Engine Side Case Protector (to increase engine protection)
– Wossner Forged Piston
– Scotts Stainless Steel Reusable Oil Filter (to reduce carrying spare parts – disposable filters)
– Rear Brake Master Cylinder Guard (to protect exposed components)
– Shortened Kick Stand and welded Larger Foot Plate (to improve stability when parked)
– Fabricated Highway Pegs (to reduce strain on legs)
– Fabricated Lexan Windshield (to improve comfort in terms of wind buffeting)
– Fabricated custom bike crutch to aid in tire repair
– Tool tube under engine and subframe (to increase carrying space)

Trusty Garmin GPS 60Cx in Mozambique

Farkles (Functioning Sparkles: electronic add-ons)
– GPS: Garmin 60Cx with Touratech Locking Mount
– 12V Accessory plug: for running mini air compressor, heated vest and charging electronics

Maintenance done before the start of the trip
– Engine Rebuild with new transmission parts and gaskets all around
– New Oil and Oil Filter with Shell Rotella-T 15w-40 Synthetic
– Valve Clearance Check
– New EBC Front and Rear Brake Pads
– Bleeded Front and Rear Brake Fluid
– Cleaned and oiled K&N Air Filter

Riding the wilds of Northern Mozambique

I’ve done all the above modifications and maintenance to improve my chances of how sanDRina will behave while we’re out on the road. Some items will improve her performance, while others will add to my comfort and increase my usability. Not everything above is necessary before a motorcycle trip like this, but it gives me a better peace of mind, so that I can enjoy my journey more.

Jay enjoying the riding in Northern Mozambique

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