Let’s say that your dual sport adventure riding consists of a mix of dirt roads and highways; no single track riding and no freeways.  Or suppose that you are planning a long distance mixed dirt/pavement adventure ride such as the Trans America Trail (TAT) or the Continental Divide Ride (CDR).  You decide that you want a bike that can easily handle up to class 3 dirt roads (see the dirt road rating system here if you don’t know what a class 3 road is) and that you can also ride on highways at up to 70 mph for extended distances (say, 200 miles).

The usual suspects for this type of riding are the 650 thumper class of motorcycles such as the Kawasaki KLR 650 or Suzuki DR 650 or any of the larger, multi-cylinder adventure bikes such as the BMW 800GS.  Motorcycles in either of these categories are capable of meeting your needs….however, to be fair, the 650 thumpers and big adventure bike are usually not the best choice for challenging dirt riding.  For many riders these bikes are just too large and heavy to be taken very far into the dirt.  Sure, you can ride them on a hard class 2 or class 3 road but you may be doing too much work and having too little fun while doing so.  Plus, falling down – an increasingly  likely situation as the difficulty of the terrain increases – can be very damaging to your motorcycle and/or you.  Damaged or not, you are then faced with the challenge of picking up a heavy bike.

What about a smaller bike?  250cc – 400cc bikes can be 100 – 200 pounds lighter than 650 class thumpers or multi-cylinder adventure bike, thus making them a significantly better choice for serious class 2 and 3 dirt road riding.  However, small bikes typically aren’t well suited for riding long stretches of pavement.

Can we modify a smaller bike to make it better on pavement without negatively impacting its dirt-ability?  If so, then we would have a viable third option for the type of riding described above.  We would have a (relatively) lightweight motorcycle that would be fun to ride on difficult terrain and that we could ride comfortably for hours at highway speeds.  With this in mind I decided to find out if Suzuki’s DR-Z400S could be turned into a good lightweight dual-sport adventure motorcycle.

Capabilities and limitations of a stock DRZ

Introduced in 2000, the Suzuki DR-Z400S quickly claimed the top spot as the best dual sport bike available, earning “Bike of the Year” awards from several magazines.  Over the next few years the DRZ continued to be the top choice for those who wanted to buy a new, street-legal dual sport bike.  Since then Suzuki has made few modifications to the DRZ and other manufacturers (KTM, in particular) have arguably surged ahead in the dual sport race.  Even so, the DRZ still remains a solid choice for dual sport riders and a good seller for Suzuki.

While it is a very good dual sport bike, the DRZ is, in my opinion, a bit lacking as a lightweight adventure touring bike.  Fortunately its popularity means the aftermarket has responded with a wide variety of parts, fixes, and upgrades, some of which can convert the DRZ into a better adventure bike.

In order to make the DRZ a better choice for dual sport adventure riding I have made some modifications that I believe are significant improvements.  With these mods I think the DRZ could be a fine choice for the TAT, CDR, or other multi-day adventure rides. Let’s review the changes I’ve made and discuss the effectiveness of those changes in terms of dual sport adventure riding.

Pertinent Specifications

  • 319 lb wet weight (stock bike, full of fuel and ready to ride)
  • 33.4 horsepower (rear wheel)
  • 5 speed transmission
  • 15/44 stock gearing (15 tooth front sprocket, 44 tooth rear sprocket)
  • 94 mph maximum speed

Pros and Cons

For my needs a stock DRZ doesn’t really need any improvement for dirt riding.  Aside from properly setting up the suspension for the weight of the rider + gear and adding some protection, the DRZ’s power, relatively light weight, fine suspension, and handling make it excellent for the dirt part of dual sport adventure riding.

It is on the street where the DRZ is lacking.  In particular, the following items need to be addressed to make the DRZ better on the street part of adventure riding.

  • Small 2.6 gallon gas tank:  Adventure riding often involves riding in remote areas, so an extended fuel range is important.  I want a minimum of a 200 mile range and the DRZ’s 2.6 gallon tank allows only about 125 miles with conservative riding.
  • Uncomfortable seat:  The stock seat is narrow and hard, making it uncomfortable to sit on for more than about 30 minutes.
  • No wind protection:  The DRZ doesn’t have any wind protection for the rider.  Worse, the shape of the headlight fairing seems to funnel the wind directly into the rider’s chest so that at highway speeds the rider is constantly battling the airblast in order to sit upright.
  • Narrow ratio 5 speed transmission:  The DRZ has one of the narrowest five speed transmissions of any dual sport bike, making it impossible to set the bike up for both dirt and street riding.  If you gear the bike so that first gear is sufficiently low for dirt riding, then the top speed of the bike is severely limited – you will be running very high RPMs at highway speeds.  If you gear the bike so you can run relaxed RPMs at highway speed, first gear will be much too high for any serious dirt riding.
  • Noticeably buzzy at higher RPMs:  Vibration (buzziness) becomes an issue when you run a constant, high RPM on the highway.  Excessive vibration can lead to premature rider fatigue and, possibly, numb hands.

If a rider could bring these areas up to an acceptable level (for that rider), then the DRZ would better fulfill its role as a dual sport adventure bike.

– Going Long – Extending the Range of the DRZ

– Wind Management – adding a windscreen to the DRZ

– The Lynx Fairing

– Seat Comfort – a better saddle

– Finally, a wide ratio transmission

Going Big – there is no replacement for displacement


Comments

DR-Z400S Adventure — 8 Comments

  1. I just stumbled on your website and had a question that your experience might help me with. I have been trying to decide which dual sport bike to buy. I had pretty much decided to get a Husqvarna TE610 when I stumbled on your wide ratio DRZ. I could probably buy a used DRZ and add a wide ratio kit plus big bore kit on it for about the same cost as buying a good used TE610.

    What are your thoughts on the positives and negatives of each approach?

    Thanks.

    • Hi, Trent.

      Good question. In my opinion, the DRZ with the big bore kit and wide ratio tranny is close to being as good as the TE610. There are a few things about the DRZ that I like better than the TE and there are things on the TE that I like over the DRZ. However, when everything is added up, I think the TE610 is a better overall bike than the DR-Z440w (and the TE is significantly better than a standard DRZ without the wide ratio transmission and big bore kit). If I had to pick one I would pick the TE610. That being said, the DRZ has some noticeable advantages over the TE – advantages that could easily make it the better choice for someone. In particular, the DRZ is currently in production, has more aftermarket support, has a larger user base making it easier to find answers to issues, and is often easier and less expensive to buy. Those attributes could make the DRZ a better choice for you, based on your particular situation. So, in summary, I think the TE is a better bike than even a DR-Z440w, but other factors may make the DRZ a better choice for any particular rider.

  2. Those roads in the Ozarks you have posted…they look really familiar…I have a place in Red Star…just outside of Boston…just outside of Pettigrew, AR. I can’t wait to get back there…your pics bring back great memories…the Ozarks are a true national treasure.

    Rode a KLR650 over every inch of Madison county…most of Newton county too. Thinking of getting a DRZ400S and doing it all again. Nice website you have…the wide ratio tranny looks sweet…I’d like one to go with my bike.

  3. I live in Austin and have a 2014 DRZ-400s. I just stumbled across your website and I am anxious to read your posts and thoughts. Many thanks,
    Dennis Cole No need to post this.

    • I live in North Carolina I have raced Serra enduros for 20 years back in 2001 I raced the drz400e an had some good races before then an after then I rode Ktm to me the Drz was the most fun I had racing I love the bike soo much I told my friends I would own another one just recently I bout a used drz400s I replaced the pegs added a 3.2 gal ims tank an 14/ 47 gearing an now I dual sport I love the drz400s. Great bike

  4. I’m planning an all road trip with a friend in May from Chicago to North Carolina. We’re going to ride the Blue Ridge Parkway, Tail of the dragon, etc. We’ll do about 350 miles the first two days down, and the last 2 days back, and anywhere between 100-200 miles each day down there on rides. He’ll be on his Harley and I’m taking my DRZ. It’s a bone stock DRZ. Here’s what I’ve done to hopefully prepare it for the trip: It came with two different sizes (both large) removable windshields, and although I much prefer riding it without one, it DEFINITELY makes a huge difference in the wind/cold, so it’ll be on there for this trip. The second thing that I did was put a 3 tooth smaller rear sprocket on, so I’m running 15/41, which makes the gearing a little taller for highway speeds. We are planning on taking secondary roads, so we can hopefully keep it to 60-65mph, but we’ll see. The other thing that I did to prepare it for this trip is send my seat into Fisher Upholstery, who’s known for the DRZ seat work. Several guys that have started with the Seat Concepts seats have moved to Fisher seats and said they were worlds better than even the Seat Concepts, which are also good seats. As far as storage, I bought a Wolfman blackhawk tank bag, their 40 liter Expedition waterproof duffel, and also have a somewhat ghetto Action packer mounted on to a rack on the back of the bike. On the action packer are two agri-tubes mounted that each have 30 ounce MSR fuel bottles in them, to give me another 25 miles in the unlikely event that I run out of gas. Just a little reassurance. On the roads that we’ll be on, gas stations won’t be too far and few between, so it’s more of a feel-good measure. Hopefully I’ve done enough to prep. I have good riding gear, all the way down to smartwool compression socks and waterproof sealskinz socks in case it rains (I’ll be wearing Gaerne motocross boots that aren’t truly waterproof). All together, I’m anticipating a 2,000 mile round trip. Should be an adventure, even if it is all pavement.

  5. Just curious… I’m ramping up to do the WABDR, a mostly dirt path from Oregon to Canada. What do you recommend for rear suspension tweaks? I’ll be going pretty lightweight with the Giant Loop Coyote and an overall light camping gear setup. I weigh 170 pounds without all the gear on. Your thoughts and experience would be greatly appreciated. Thanks!!
    Travis

    • Hi, Travis.

      I don’t know that there are any tweaks I recommend. However, I would suggest that having the correct spring rate would do more than anything to make the rear (and front) suspension work optimally for you.

      Cheers,

      Rich

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