If the DRZ has an Achilles Heel when used as a dual sport adventure bike it is the narrow ratio transmission.  My riding consists of a mix of paved and non-paved roads and, as any DRZ owner will confirm, you just can’t get the right sprockets on the DRZ to meet the need.  If you gear the bike so that it can comfortably run highway speeds (up to 70 mph) then it is geared much too high for serious dirt riding.  Conversely, if you gear it low for the dirt then the engine will really be screaming (running high RPMs) at highway speeds.  Suzuki recognizes this issue because the street-only SM model (the supermoto) comes stock with 15/41 front/rear sprocket combo while the off-road only E model comes with 14/47 – equivalent to a 9 tooth difference on the rear sprocket just to make the bike good at either pavement only or dirt only.  As a point of comparison Kawasaki KLR riders will often change the front sprocket size by 1 tooth in order to bias the KLR toward dirt or street, which is a far cry from the DRZ needing an equivalent 9 tooth change in order to make it suitable for dirt or street duty.

The stock DRZ S model tries to split the difference between the E and SM models by running a 15/44 sprocket combo, resulting in gearing that is simultaneously a bit too high for tough dirt riding and too low for sustained highway speeds.  In stock form, the S model is good for easier dirt riding and for highway speeds up to about 55-60 mph.  If your riding consists of backroads and moderate dirt, then the stock DRZ transmission is just fine.  However, if you want a bike that can do both harder dirt riding and sustained highway riding at 70 mph then the DRZ transmission is sadly lacking.

This reason, more than any other, kept the DRZ off my list of possible dual sport adventure bikes.  Then a friend alerted me that Advanced Clutch Technology (ACT) had come out with a wide ratio transmission for the DRZ and the idea was planted in my brain – build a true dual sport adventure out of the DRZ.  I decided to buy a DRZ, add the ACT wide ratio transmission and a big bore kit, and build the bike Suzuki should already be making.  I started doing some internet research to learn more about the ACT gears.


ACT gears

A search on the DRZ forum on Thumper Talk revealed some interesting information.  The ACT gearset only changes 2nd through 5th gear; 1st gear remains stock.  It spreads the distance between 1st and 2nd gears 6.6%, with increasingly wider gaps at higher gears.

ACT RPM comparison

The owner of ACT posted some RPM/Speed charts on Thumper Talk to give riders an idea of the difference between a stock DRZ and one with the ACT gears installed.  As you can see in the first chart above, if you are running 15/44 sprockets then with the ACT gears you are just shifting into 5th gear at about the same speed where you maxed out the stock DRZ in 5th gear.  In real life, at about 60 mph on the stock DRZ your engine would be reving pretty high and would be quite buzzy (lots of vibration).  With the new ACT wide ratio gears you are shifting into 5th about 60 mph and are able to run 80 mph at significantly lower RPMs and engine vibration.

Recall, however, that with the stock 15/44 sprockets you are geared too high for serious dirt work.  Instead, the 14/47 combo that comes stock on the E model is a better choice for dirt riding.  Would the ACT gears allow you to run 14/47 to meet your dirt needs but still provide a high enough 5th gear for highway speeds?  That would be the ideal solution.  The 2nd chart above provides the answer to that question – yes, you can.  Even with a 14/47 combo 5th gear is still higher than a stock DRZ S model running the 15/44 sprocket combo.

After examining the ACT info I decided they would likely work very well in an adventure bike and that this could be a really fun project.  I found a 2003 S model and began the build process.  Luckily noted DRZ expert Erik Marquez lives less than two hours from me so I asked him to do the engine work for me.  He installed the ACT transmission,  a Cylinder Works big bore kit plus all the recommended “loctite fixes” for the DRZ.

Prior to beginning this project I had two concerns.  First was that the stock engine would be underpowered with the wide ratio transmission and would be unable to pull 5th gear effectively.  The second concern was that the gap between 1st and 2nd gears would be too large for serious dirt riding.

In order to address my first concern I added a big bore kit from Cylinder Works.  My thought process was that the big bore kit would compensate for the reduction in acceleration from the wide ratio transmission.  I will address this concern in detail during my discussion of the big bore kit later on.  For now, know that the this particular concern is a non-issue.

My second concern was that the gap between 1st and 2nd gears would be too wide.  If you’ve ever ridden a stock KLR or XR650L then you know both of those bikes have a too-large gap between 1st and 2nd.  When riding in more difficult terrain you will often find yourself either running too high RPMs in 1st gear or too low RPMs in 2nd gear.  It becomes even more noticeable when riding uphill in difficult terrain – 1st can easily be too slow for the best climbing speed but 2nd gear will be too fast for the terrain.

The stock DRZ transmission is perfect for serious dirt riding if you are running the appropriate sprockets.  When riding off-road the transmission’s narrow gear ratios mean that you can always find the right gear for the conditions you are riding in and your skill level.  A wider ratio transmission can make serious dirt riding more challenging if the gear ratios are too-wide.


After testing the ACT gearset in the mountains of northeast Mexico I was happy to confirm that the gap between the ACT wide ratio gears is not excessively large.  While the gap between 1st and 2nd is noticeably wider with the ACT gearset than the stock DRZ, it is not so large as to make the bike less capable on challenging terrain.  During my ride in Mexico I rode some fairly steep terrain (pictured above) and never felt like I was in a situation where 1st gear was too low but 2nd gear was too high.

The one thing I did notice during the initial break-in miles was that the gap between 4th and 5th gears is pretty large.  The concern with this was the same as with a too-large gap between 1st and 2nd.  Would I find myself in situations where I was going too fast for 4th gear but too slow to be in 5th gear?  Or would I find situations, such as long uphill sections, where I didn’t have enough power to stay in 5th gear and would have to downshift to 4th to make it to the top?

I can faithfully report that, for me and the type of riding I have done on the bike to date, the gap between 4th and 5th is not too large.  I have yet to find myself in a situation where I just couldn’t make either 4th or 5th gear work for me.

That being said, I don’t live in the mountains and, therefore, don’t have many opportunities to ride long or steep uphill pavement sections.  I also don’t live in the desert where I might find myself running 50-60 mph cross country.  In those situations you might find the gap between 4th and 5th less than perfect for your needs.  I just don’t know for sure.

In any case, for the type of riding I do, I much prefer a larger gap between 4th and 5th than between 1st and 2nd (or 2nd and 3rd).  As they say, YMMV.

Next:  Going Big – no replacement for displacement


Finally, A Wide Ratio Transmission — 23 Comments

  1. Pingback:DRZ – finally, a wide ratio transmission | The Texas Adventure Company

    • Hi, David.

      Yes, I’ve been through a few bikes. And, Lord willing, I’ll get to enjoy even more before my riding career is over. I would love the opportunity to own and ride every dual sport adventure bike on the market – I want to ride them all.

      I would not say the DRZ is the perfect ADV/dual sport bike for me because that would not be an accurate statement. The DRZ is a fine bike and the additions I have made to mine make it a significantly better dual sport adventure bike for the type of riding I do. But it would not be correct to say it is perfect or that other bikes – including the TE610, TE630, 690R, X-Challenge, and XR650L – could not serve me as well as the DRZ. I like the DRZ a lot but am not blind to the fact that there are other dual sport adventure bikes that are probably as good or better than the DRZ.

  2. I was just wondering what your average fuel mileage was after the big bore and wide ratio kit?

    currently I’m getting about 7L/100km on my stock KLX400 with 14-47 gears and D606 tires. i think that is about 40US miles per gallon

    • Excellent question. I was getting about 50 miles per gallon (mpg) before I made the changes to the DRZ. After installing the big bore kit I still average about 50 mpg. The big bore kit + wide ratio transmission doesn’t seem to have lowered fuel efficiency at all.

  3. Would the Wide ratio gears be sufficient on their own or would the power band be to stretched on the stock engine to pull through the wider gears?

    Does the Wide ratio gears need the BB?
    Have you used the wider gears on the stock engine?

    • Hi, Bryan.

      I did not use the wide ratio gears on a stock engine. My guess is that a stock engine would be fine with the wide ratio gears with one exception. If you had the bike loaded down and riding highway speed in 5th gear I think the bike might struggle maintaining speed trying to climb a long or steep hill.

      A big bore kit is easy to install. So if you went with the wide ratio gears now and found the stock engine to be lacking it wouldn’t be difficult to add a big bore kit.

    • Jerry,

      I didn’t do the gear install due to lack of available time. Erik Marquez of Marquez Racing is a well-known DRZ guy that happens to live about an hour from my place. I took the engine to him and he did the gears and the big bore kit. He did a great job.

    • Hi, Greg.

      I did not go with the fcr39 carb. I was debating whether to stay with the stock carb or go withe the FCR one and I ultimately decided to stay with stock because the big bore kit gave me the extra power I was looking for. Of course, your mileage may vary.


  4. The FCR carb will change the fuel millage no mater what you do, you’ll get less mpg. its because of the pumper, that squirts fuel when you give it throttle. no matter how many CC’s its got or how much stroke you put in it.

    Rich have you ridden with another person on a stock DRZ400, to see the differences between the two bikes Drag racing, and cruising comfort at speed? I’m just curious about the real world differences, I’m heavily thinking about doing what you did but add a 4mm stroker to the mix. I’ve got a full Yoshi exhaust HPC coated, 3×3 mod, FCR 39mm carb, and an otherwise stock bike. I want more highway road worthy geared bike that can handle the speeds with less RPM, and buzz.

    • Hi, Jim.

      No I haven’t had an opportunity to compare my DRZ side-by-side with a stock DRZ. The only comparison I can make with a stock DRZ is a mental one, comparing my modified DRZ to the two previous DRZs that I owned. From a real world usage, the changes I made transform the DRZ. The biggest difference was in the tranny. The ACT gearset really makes a world of difference in terms of making the DRZ more capable, especially at highway speeds.

      The two complaints I have with the DRZ are buzziness at highway speeds (my hands go numb after about 30 minutes of riding at 70 mph) and wind. The ACT gears lowered the RPMs at highway speed, which helped reduce the buzz. I added bar end weights, which helped a little too. But I was never able to decrease the buzz to a level I was completely comfortable with.

      I seem to be sensitive to the frequency of vibration that the DRZ puts out. I have a Honda XR650L that vibrates just as much as the DRZ but at a different frequency and the Honda doesn’t bother me at all. For this reason, I decided to sell the DRZ after I got the Honda, thus ending further comparison and experimentation with the DRZ.

      All summed up, for the type of riding I do (lots of highway and a fair amount of dirt) I wouldn’t own a DRZ without the ACT gearset. Of course, that’s just my opinion.



  5. 8,000 Klms later after mods. My bike has the ACT gears, Athena 4mm BB & Stroker 4mm crank.20Ltr Safari tank.Dirtbag panniers,screen ect.
    Overall performance is fantastic ,the mods compliment each other. I am using standard gearing for Australia 14/47 for general trail & road . 15/47 for longer outback trips.Has been clocked at 160 KPH with this gearing. Fuel consumption hasn,t changed & betters any of my mates DR650.Not as comfortable as the DR650 on the road ,the lighter weight more susceptible to wind buffering ,soon forgotten about once off road.I to have a buzz/resonance happening but only noticeable on rides more than 5 hrs with long Highway stretches.My previous ride was a BMW xchallenge which was to big for the trail riding I do now, so the KLX is close to what I need.I am 60 Yrs old & have a number of other bikes & this little machine is a thrill everytime I ride it. Gav

  6. Rich, I was not aware had done this write up, very nice..and thank you for the kind words.
    Mostly Im glad the motor turned out the way you envisioned it would. Its not uncommon for a theoretical “good idea” to end up disappointing in reality after the build… But alas, that just gives way for more building..lol
    Your notes on the build and personal observations are very insightful..I have book marked this write up to point others to, when they ask about the ACT wide ratio gears and “are they right for me”: An eternally difficult question to answer…And on occasion I have said yes, and the rider was not as enthusiastic as you were.. to each his own.



    • Hi, Eric.

      You are very welcome. I appreciate the great work you did on my DRZ motor and wanted to let other DRZ owners interested in this type of upgrade know where they could get it done with confidence.



  7. great write up. Let me know when you decide to sell your bike. I’d rather buy one done correctly then try to get this done myself. thank you,

  8. about how much would this cost to do? Would i see a big improvement if i kept the stock carb and did not get the big bore? I Have a RS2 exhaust and jetted stock carb.



  9. Nice discussion. I changed the front sprocket wheel on my DRZ-S from 15 to 16 several years ago and was pleasantly surprised by the improvement. The motor revs significantly less and I attain a speed that’s quite sufficient. I don’t do terrain living in central L.A. so there was no sacrifice in terrain capability. Nick

  10. Hello Rich,

    I’ve read this article a handful of times and am ready to jump. Now that you’ve had this for a few years, would you do it again? I’ve got an E model that I love on the fire roads and trails but boy does it suffer when pushing it on highway connections. It’s a great improvement over the DR 350 I rode for a long time but I do miss that 6th gear. Your write up of the wide ratio gears is informative and has my hopes up. would love to hear your overall impression after a few years on it.


    • Hi, Todd.

      I sold the DRZ a few years ago, after owning it for about 1.5 years. As my article stated, the wide ratio transmission and the big bore kit transform the DRZ. If I were to ever own a DRZ again, I would definitely make those two mods again. That being said, if you have the money, I suggest one of the modern, fuel injected dual sport bikes versus upgrading the DRZ.



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