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DR Feelgood

Discussion in 'Bike Reviews, Questions and Suggestions' started by PatB, Feb 3, 2009.

  1. A few months ago, I was unfortunate enough to be shunted rather hard on my way home from work, as related here. The result, apart from the inevitable scrapes and bruises to my own tender flesh, was that the Blue Whale, my BMW R1100RT, was in the opinion of QBE, fatally harpooned and fit only for dog food. So I was in the market for a replacement.

    Once the dust had settled and QBE paid up, I had just over $9k to spend, including replacement gear (Draggins, basically) and the first insurance premium on the new bike. That should have left me spoiled for choice for a daily commuter but, when it came to matching my wishlist (low running costs, newish bike reliability, light and nimble for commuting, good performance for occasional out of town runs, fun) to what was available when I needed it (absolutely sod all on the used market in WA that I even remotely fancied :evil: ), I found myself surprisingly restricted.

    When it came right down to it, $7.5k OTR for a Suzuki DR650SE was about as good a deal, for as much bike, as I was going to get anywhere. It was there. I could afford it. Its simplicity, light weight and slenderness appealed. I walked into Lloyd Chapmans to do the deal on the Thursday and they had their black display bike PDI’d and rego’d for me to pick up on Saturday morning.

    I was a bit apprehensive about the ride home, partly due to the fact that I hadn’t ridden on the road since the crash and partly due to the fact that I’d had my gall bladder out a week previously and was still a bit fragile from the op. Still, better to ride the thing than (literally) bust a gut loading and unloading it from a trailer.

    First hiccup occurred before I even left the dealers forecourt. The DR has assorted idiot systems that, among other things, ensure you can’t start it without the clutch pulled, even in neutral. Being used to the BM, where you could, it took me a minute or two to figure out why it wouldn’t go. The push button kill switch didn’t help much either, there being little visual difference between off and on, unlike the rotary switches that I’m familiar with. To be fair, though, the DR will, at least idle in neutral sitting on the sidestand, whereas the BM wouldn’t so I reckon honours are about even in the pain in the arse stakes. Try and ride off on the DR with the sidestand down, though, and the engine will die the moment it’s clunked into gear.

    And I mean clunked into gear. Going into first seems to result in a jerk and a clonk no matter how careful you are. I’ve spent nearly 5000 kms playing with idle speeds, clutch cable adjustment, clutch control, feeling the lever home vs. banging it in, and getting a smooth neutral-first transition is still seemingly hit and miss. Most usually miss.

    Out into the traffic and first impressions were of enormous height, a weight and girth reminiscent of my old C90 Step-Thru and adequate power available given the recommended running in limit of half throttle. The seat was narrow, but not half as uncomfortable as various online accounts would have had me believe, and the pseudo dirt-bike serrated steel footpegs bit into the soles of my boots, making adjustment of foot position a bit of a chore.

    Braking was interesting as I wasn’t used to squashy, long travel suspension, although dive was not quite as wild as I expected. Not that Iwas using the front brake hard, given that I’d got a waxy new Bridgestone the width of a mountain bike tyre up front, without the backup of an effective ABS system.

    After a few kms I was getting used to the (relatively) quick steering and the pronounced rocking-horse effect that accompanies acceleration and deceleration, and starting to enjoy myself. A couple of filtering opportunities presented themselves and I found myself whistling feet-up through gaps that, whilst possible on the Whale, would have had me tiptoeing through with a fag-paper’s thickness either side of each mirror. Even half throttle got me away from the cars quite handily too.

    Speaking of mirrors, the stock items are rubbish. Unless you have some sort of Narcissus complex about the insides of your own elbows anyway. A bit of contortion gives you an adequate view, but thorough head checks are the order of the day when manouvring.

    And whilst we’re on the subject of peripherals, the instrumentation is basic to say the least. Speedo with odo and trip, alongside idiot lights for neutral, indicators and main beam, and that’s your lot. The lights are big, bright and visible (which is a good job, as I’ve had to refamiliarise with “push to cancel†switchgear, after BMW’s superb system) but the speedo is small and hard to read if you’re as blind at close quarters as I am. It also appears to be about as accurate as the $5 bicycle speedo it so closely resembles, judging by the amount of traffic that overtakes when it alleges I’m doing speed limit+, compared to similar circumstances on the R11. However, I’ll accept such deficiencies as a reasonable trade off for the bargain basement price tag.

    Having got the bike home, it was time to take stock. I’d downloaded a workshop manual off the web and, armed with a hard copy in a ring binder, I had a good look over my purchase.

    Materials and finish seemed very good, particularly considering that this is a very cheap bike. Nice ally rims, a lovely box section swingarm and a full stainless exhaust system all bode well. Mechanicals all very easily accessible for routine maintenance, and there’s really not much there anyway. Engine and electrics would not have appeared over-sophisticated 20 years ago and are now positively stone-age, which suits me just fine. I’m a great fan of air cooled simplicity (the main reason I chose the DR over the comparably priced/performance KLR), particularly here in WA where incautious use of the local water in your cooling system will dissolve your engine before your very eyes. No hoses, no pump, no thermostat, no radiator. Unless you’re seeking ultimate performance or (increasingly these days) minimal noise and tailpipe emissions, there’s no need for more. I discount the fact that air-coolers don’t like sitting in stationary traffic in Australian temperatures on the basis that they shouldn’t have to. “Sorry officer, I was trying to stop my engine from meltingâ€.

    Overall, I was very pleased.

    Over the following week, the DR went into service in its intended role as my daily commuter, covering the 90 km round trip without apparent effort. My journey is about 2/3 open road and 1/3 heavy stop start traffic and the DR seems almost perfectly adapted to this environment. Even running in, 100 km/h cruising is easy and, as noted earlier, there’s plenty available for those “brisk†takeoffs that are sometimes necessary. As the wax wore off the tyres I became more adventurous with lean angles and front brake pressures, finding nothing untoward to get upset about.
    Fuel consumption was steady at round about 4.5l/100 km, giving a fairly safe range of 200 km before reserve in the rather small tank. When it does hit reserve, it cuts very suddenly so you’ve got to be practiced with the under tank fuel tap fumble if you don’t want to get run down by that taxi you just split past.

    I’d been busy on Ebay, buying accessories from both Australia and overseas. The bike now sports a large rack (which doubles as rear indicator protection in the event of a drop), Scottoiler (which appears brilliant, now that I’ve got the flow rate set) and Bark Busters (more as lever/master cylinder protection than as an off-road aid). I’ve got a pair of side racks too, to allow the safe use of throw-over panniers, but I haven’t fitted them yet. They foul the pillion footrests in the folded position, so I need to sort out how to get round that. The photos on Ebay show them clear of the pegs on a US market bike so it appears that it can be done.

    After a week or so’s commuting, I had to go down to Bunbury for work on a couple of days. Although the 4am starts were a pain, the opportunity to stretch the bike’s legs was welcome. The trip is about 225 km each way and is mostly not terribly interesting highway. However, it gave me a chance to test the distance capabilities of the DR. On the first trip I was still running in, so I kept the cruise down to 100 and didn’t attempt much overtaking. Second time around, though, I’d put enough kms on the motor to open it up a bit.

    The result was an indicated….Ahem. Morning officer, 5l/100 km and a somewhat numb arse. To be fair, the seat lasts about as long as a thankful of fuel and there’s plenty of room to move around to spread the load a bit. It wouldn’t be much fun with a pillion though, leading me to think I might just ditch the passenger pegs altogether. The main comfort issue, for me, is the height of the footrests. They could do with being maybe 50 mm lower. Or maybe I’ve just got abnormally long shins. Whatever the reasons, I started to get cramps in my thighs after a while.

    After much umming and ahhing, I ended up resigning myself to giving the warranty the flick and servicing it myself. The initial 1000 km check was a piece of the proverbial, and I’m now knocking on the door of the 6000 km service. Basically change oil and filter, clean and re-oil air filter, check tappets (not scheduled but easy to do) and a general tighten and check over. Easy. At some stage I must get hold of or make a valve adjusting tool as they’ve got square ends on the adjusters rather than old style screwdriver slots or the Ural’s lovely hexes.

    Only problem so far has been with the nozzley things falling off me Scottoiler on a regular basis, resulting in oil to the tyre and none to the chain, and I can’t really blame that on Suzuki. The chain itself has needed one adjustment so far. A minor criticism is that the steps on the snail-cam adjusters seem a little coarse. For the last 4000 kms, the chain’s been in a position of being at the upper end of allowable play, with the resulting tendency to amplify the snatch that is the province of the thumper at low rpm, but if I click the adjusters round by a notch, it’s too tight. Damn. Given optimum chain adjustment, she’d pull smoothly from 55-50 kph in top.

    Now that it’s run in, it’s great fun to thrash, if only to listen to the bark of a big single. I think it’s mostly induction roar. The torque curve is great. I found a dyno readout for the DR online and was interested to note that it’s got a lovely torque curve, with something like 80% of max torque available between 3000 and 6000 rpm. Power and max speed are “sufficientâ€, whilst unlimited ground clearance means you don’t have to slow down for corners. Touching anything down on one of these, even with my classic perpendicular cornering tendencies, would be very hard to do without having actually crashed. I reckon I could get it round Wanneroo several seconds faster than the K100 I took to the track in October. That would really give the Gixxer numpties something to think about, particularly if I’ve stuck some stickier tyres on in the meantime.

    As previously noted, traffic doesn’t stop it. I was working between Christmas and New Year and commuting over virtually empty roads. Astonishingly, my journey times didn’t change by more than a couple of minutes over my usual rush hour performance, showing how well it filters. The only downside is the width of the bars (still narrower than the BMs mirrors by 100 mm) when you come up behind a pair of 4wds or vans. However, the squashy suspension means that, if you coordinate your braking right you can get the bike to duck under and continue on its merry way, barely breaking stride.

    I love it. It’s a truly brilliant, value-for-money bike that does everything competently that I’m ever likely to ask of it. It’s just a shame that the days of anything so (relatively) primitive are bound to be numbered. More people should buy big trailies :grin: .
  2. I very much enjoyed reading that :grin:
    There's something very satisfying about mechanical simplicity.
    I know what you mean about looking in the mirrors only to see your elbows!
  3. Thanks for the write up.

    I used to commute on a TTR250 when living in town and I was sure then that a trailie was THE best commuter available. The DR650 is on my "own one some day" list.

    Pics with all the racks and goodies please!

  4. i loved my DR, good writeup of its strenghts and weaknesses. goto love maintenance on them. doing valve clearences is a 10minute job :D

    yours being in better nick then mine probably helped its hwy ability.
  5. Great write up!

    First thing that annoyed me too - I still havn't done the quick fix to enable no clutch starts either. In the habit now I guess.

    I use mine for commuting and this is a big plus for me. Being 6ft tall as well means I can see well down the road and plan my attack

    :LOL: first time this happened I thought I was going to break down. Then it started back firing and with a quick flick, I was on my way

    Have you taken the snorkel off yet? Should add a little bit of power for a quick 5 min job
  6. No, I've not started playing with the airbox yet. I want to have a bunch of jets on hand and the time and inclination to fiddle with them, just in case some adjustment is needed.

    I picked up a pair of Weestrom mirrors last night, for $30. Riding to work this morning was a whole lot pleasanter and safer. They're still not the best mirrors I've ever had, but I've no longer got blind spots a B-double can hide in :grin: .
  7. Are the WeeStrom mirrors just a straight swap? Where abouts did you get them from?
  8. Yup. Unscrew DR mirrors, screw on WeeStrom units. The WeeStrom mirrors have a reflecting area maybe 1.5 times that of the originals and are moved up and out by ~30mm. Doesn't sound like much but it's made a big difference.

    All genuine Suzuki parts too :grin: .

    Got them off a bloke on the Perth Street Bikes forum which I frequent. He bought a damaged Strom at auction and ended up wrecking it when the motor proved to be beyond economic repair. Not sure where I'd go otherwise. Wreckers tend to be expensive. Maybe keep an eye on Ebay or look for suppliers of pattern parts?
  9. Cool thanks, will keep an eye out