The DR-Z440w Report

The first DRZ I bought was a 2001 S model that I had for a little more than a year.  My intent was to use it as my dual sport adventure bike, riding it in places like Mexico, Big Bend, and the Ozark Mountains.  While I really liked the DRZ I described it’s narrow transmission as “the Achilles Heel of the DRZ”.

Here’s my first DRZ in Adventure ModeIMG_4551_edited-1-L.jpg

Despite all the positives with the DRZ I was dissatisfied with the transmission so when a deal I couldn’t resist popped up on a Husqvarna TE-610 that required me to trade the DRZ I didn’t hesitate.  What a revelation the Husky was.  The engine & transmission combo on the TE610 is the best I’ve ever experienced on a dual sport adventure bike.  Certainly the TE610 had other issues – no bike is perfect – but the engine & transmission were not one of them.  The wide ratio tranny on the Husky is fantastic.  You really can ride it on hard class 3 stuff and then ride it on the freeway at 80mph if you so choose.  All without having to change gearing.

I had the Husky for about four years when I found out about the ACT wide ratio transmission for the DRZ.  You know what happened after that.

Now that the project is done I’m calling my bike the DR-Z440w (w for wide ratio transmission).

Here she is, project completed, and ready for a 5 day adventure ride in Mexico.

 For several years now I’ve been reading posters on ADVrider wishing that one of the Big 4 Japanese companies would produce a new dual sport bike.  Generally they want a 300 pound, 50 horsepower, fuel injected, wide ratio 6 speed transmission bike with a strong subframe and reasonable maintenance intervals capable of adventure touring. (It should be noted that those clamoring for the Japanese to build the perfect 450 dual sport are ignoring the fact that the Husqvarna TE610, Husqvarna TE630, and KTM 690 are all very close to meeting their stated requirements.  It should also be noted that no 300 lb bike is likely to be a very good long-distance, high speed pavement tourer).  Every so often a thread pops up on ADVrider claiming the imminent release of a new Japanese dual sport bike.  Alas, to date all of those rumors have been just that – rumors.

Since the Japanese won’t build a new 450 dual sport bike, I built my own.  It seems to me the DR-Z440w is very close to meeting the desires of many riders clamoring for a new 450 from the Japanese manufacturers.  Admittedly the DRZw model doesn’t have a wide ratio 6 speed but the ACT wide ratio 5 speed seems to me to be more than reasonably acceptable.  Getting to 50 horsepower isn’t an obstacle, assuming you really must have 50 horsepower (I think most would find 40 horsepower more than adequate).  Accepting this, then the only thing really missing is fuel injection.  I don’t know how important fuel injection is but getting the DRZ jetted correctly isn’t particularly problematic.

And the price is right too.  Low mileage used DRZs aren’t exceptionally difficult to find at fair prices (I paid about $2000 for the 2003 model I bought) and adding a big bore kit, pipe, jetting, and a ACT wide ratio gears will run you less than $2000.  Even if you bought a new DRZ for $6000 you could completely outfit it for adventure riding for the same or less than the $11,000 cost of a new KTM 690.  (And as soon as you bought the KTM you would have to spend even more money converting it into a dual sport adventure bike).  Just food for thought.

In summary, the DR-Z440w has easily met my expectations.  The wide ratio ACT transmission significantly improves the DRZ as an dual sport adventure bike and the addition of a big bore kit on top of an aftermarket pipe, correct jetting, and some airbox mods make it sufficiently powerful for my needs and riding style.

These pics are of the DR-Z440w in Mexico, courtesy of my friend RacerJohn.




Introducing the DR-Z440w — 15 Comments

  1. Pingback:Introducing the DR-Z440w | The Texas Adventure Company

  2. Nice right up on what you have done to your bike, I’m going to do almost the same thing, Athena 434 plus 4 mm crank act trans stage two cams head work valves 1mm over valve job springs and everything else to the head. I love these bikes I’ve had two this one being the second. 55hp or more is my gole with the ability to cruise 75-80 on the highway. I think this should work just fine. Thanks for your right up.

    • Hi, Jim.

      A 55 hp DRZ will be a fire-breathing DRAGON! I figure mine is putting out about 40 hp – which is fine for my purposes. But, an extra 10-15 hp sure would be fun…


  3. I own an ’05 sm. I too feel that the 400 makes the perfect adv bike. I installed the wr kit two years ago, run a 19″ front wheel 17″ rear with Mefo Explorers, 440 kit, upgraded the suspension (Devol), and 35,000 miles of gravel etc later I still don’t want a big 1000cc adv bike that I can’t pick up.

    Ps the gravel travel in the pacific north wet is amazing.

  4. Hi, nice write up. Hove you had any trouble with the reliability of either the BB kit or the ACT wide ratio gear coupled to the extra power? I have a DRZ and this is something I would love to do.


    • Ben,

      I haven’t had any issues with either the big bore kit or the ACT gears. But, to be fair, I haven’t put multiply thousands of miles on the DRZ since making the changes. It’s possible – though I don’t think it is likely – that the big bore kit or the ACT gears are less durable than the stock piston or stock gears. I don’t think this is the case though. Other DRZ owners have done the same changes years before me and haven’t been reporting failures (which is one of the reasons I decided to go ahead with the project).

      Personally, I loved the transformation those 2 changes made in the DRZ. The combination was a significant improvement in the DRZ for the type of riding I do.

    • Hi, Shaun.

      I have been running Continental TKC 80 tires for several years and like them a lot. Recently, I decided to give the Michelin T63 tires a try. I have them on my XR650L. The T63 is Michelin’s competitor to the TKC80 and, so far, has been a good tire for me.

  5. Nice write up! I recently bought a 2004 400S with new suspension springs/valves , big bore 440, stage 2 cam, FCR and armor 7k miles. Got seller down to $3100. Much better bike than my old 01 400S.

    I’m now thinking about the wide ratio gears but I have a question. Does your bike have power to cruise comfortably over 75+ mph and what is your gearing?

    I geared up to a 15T 42T and can cruise 75mph easily (It’s seen up to 100 indicated when passing) but it’s pretty buzzy and high up in the RPM, can’t be good for engine life. I’m not sure adding wide ratio gears is going to help me, as at some point it can’t overcome wind resistance especially when geared up. 1st gear is a bit high, but it’ll still power wheelie in 1-2.

    Any thoughts? Traffic in my area cruises at 75-85 so I need to be able to safely keep up without blowing up the little engine. Alternative is to put better lighting on my XR650R and ride it more. I’ve bought several street bikes but would rather ride a dual sport or SM as a daily.

    Thanks, sorry for long post.

    • Garrett,

      I sold the bike two years ago so my answer is entirely from my (old) memory.

      With the wide ratio gears I was able to gear the bike with a sufficiently low first gear for off-pavement riding yet still have a sufficiently high enough 5th gear for riding the pavement. After adding the wide ratio gears I don’t think I ever tried to cruise faster than about 70. Even though the bike was better on pavement with the wide ration gears I never much cared for riding it faster than about 70 for any distance. The bike was too light and the wind too much for me to be comfortable. I’m sorry, I don’t remember what gearing I had on the bike – I either went with stock gearing or one tooth smaller up front (more than likely it was one tooth smaller in the front but I candidly don’t remember).

      I believe the motor had the power to cruise more than 70 but since I didn’t really try it I can’t say definitively.



  6. Rich,
    Do you recall the effect on fuel economy with the big bore/ wide ratio gearing given you already had the other mods in place as the base line?


    • Hi, Jim.

      I don’t recall any significant difference in the fuel mileage. I averaged about 50 mpg before and after the big bore kit.



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