What are some of the must-have Suzuki DR650 mods, and how are they going to change your bike?
The mighty Suzuki DR650: the tractor, the indestructible plough horse, the cucaracha. If you own a DR650, you know exactly what we’re talking about. These bikes have been around forever, and they’re still the most popular weapon of choice among seasoned overland travelers, dual-sport maniacs, off-road nutcases and, yes, even rally riders (more on that later).
But if you’ve got a stock DR, should you mess with it? What are some of the most important Suzuki DR650 mods you need?
The thing with stock DR’s is that they…work. They will get you through any sort of terrain, do any distance you ask of them, and forgive you all the rookie mistakes. Riding a DR650 as a beginner rider is like having a schoolmaster horse: it will patiently correct your mistakes, forgive you your target fixation, rollover (or plow through) any obstacles you misdirect it towards, and will not complain when you drop it.
However, a few Suzuki DR650 mods can transform the bike from a plod-along Shetland pony to an aggressive and sprightly showjumper.
Wait But Why?
On a stock DR650, the suspension is meh at best, the power is underwhelming, and the seat – my god, the seat – is like a wooden plank. Stock footpegs aren’t exactly made for long hours standing up, the clutch and throttle levers are mediocre, and don’t get me started on the fact that the thing has no windshield.
Now, a brand-new stock Suzuki DR650 costs a whopping $6,699. In other words, that’s pretty much the cheapest adventure/dual-sport/overland motorcycle you can lay your paws on. If you’re just starting out, taming the stock DR650 will be more than enough for the first six months or a year.
As you progress, however, you may want to improve a few things on the faithful Tractor Factor bike.
Lucy, my 2011 Suzuki DR650 SE, was my first Big Bike. I’d never ridden anything bigger than 150cc off-road, so riding a 650cc across the Trans American Trail was, to put it mildly, a tad intimidating. That’s why I named it after Lucifer, if you must know.
But what happened next was nothing short of miraculous. The DR650 gave me confidence! When I first took it off the road, I made all the newbie rider mistakes imaginable, yet I rarely went down. The DR is built solidly, it’s well-balanced, and it just sort of rolls along even when you’re not entirely sure what you’re doing.
Pre-mods Before the Mods
However, my second-hand DR came already modified (find the details of the original DR650 build by a previous owner here).
It had a modified carb with Procycle jet kit and extra holes in the airbox, which gave it a little more oomph, especially when tackling steeper inclines. The stock wheel rims were replaced by Warp9 Racing rims, which made them last longer and withstand rougher terrain. The footpegs and levers were also replaced by Warp9 aftermarket parts, and it had Barkbusters handguards which I was eternally grateful for (I have an uncanny talent for hitting trees on narrow trails).
Instead of a stock seat, it had a Seat Concepts which is an amazing piece of innovation – it’s wide and comfy for on-road travel but narrow enough at the tank to allow you to stand up easily when riding off-road. The stock tank boasting a measly 13L capacity was replaced by a 30-liter Safari tank, and it also had a steering damper and a DIY windshield you can make at home from a garbage can.
So right off the bat, my bike wasn’t stock – but I didn’t stop there with the DR650 mods.
Suzuki DR650 Mods to Consider
Lucy and I travelled sections of the Trans America Trail, a little bit of the Trans Canada Trail, and then covered Mexico, Guatemala, Cuba, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Chile. Not bad for a second-hand dual-sport bike, but our adventures didn’t end there.
While I already had several Suzuki DR650 mods installed when I got the bike, I can’t say I appreciated them very much. It wasn’t because I was ungrateful – but I was, in all honestly, fairly ignorant. I didn’t have much to compare my DR with; I didn’t have a lot of dual-sport or adventure motorcycle experience, and I wasn’t exactly mechanically minded.
So for the first two years, my lightly modified DR650 worked perfectly for me. I rode off-road more and more, covered longer and longer distances, and overall, I was absolutely happy with the bike.
If you own a stock DR650 and you’ve only modified the carb, got a better seat, and maybe added a windshield, you don’t really need much more – especially if you’re a newer rider. The stock or mildly modified DR650 will work amazingly for months and years to come, and it’ll be a fantastic teacher and travel companion.
However, if you find yourself getting better at riding, traveling off-road more and more, and progressing as a rider, you may want to consider a few other Suzuki DR650 mods. You don’t need to do them all at once, and you can add them one by one as you realize you want more balance, more power, and more bite.
For me – someone who progressed slowly and couldn’t quite locate the carburetor at all for the first few years, let alone modify it further – the more revolutionary DR650 mods came much later.
But they’ve completely transformed Lucy and the way I ride.
Suzuki DR650 Suspension Mods
The first major change on my DR was a suspension upgrade. I confess, I didn’t really have an understanding of how much a bike’s suspension setup influences the way the bike handles and rides at first. I was interested in riding and traveling, not the inner workings of poor loyal Lucy.
Then, a friend of mine told me how changing her bike’s suspension completely transformed the way her bike handled. “Put it this way: everything that used to be hard work with stock suspension is now easy”, she told me.
That got my attention.
Having started riding motorcycles as an adult, I struggled with confidence riding off-road, especially at speed or on more technical sections.
So when my buddy told me about this new suspension magic that would make my off-roading life easier, I got curious. I got myself a custom, adjustable TFX Suspension setup.
And boy was it an eye-opener.
Why Worry About Suspension
Essentially, your bike’s suspension is what keeps it balanced, supple, and easy to handle. If your suspension is crap – and most stock suspension is – your bike will either be too stiff and capricious or too soft and unstable. Proper suspension set up to your specific weight, height, luggage, and riding mode, on the other hand, will make the bike much more agile, nimble, and responsive.
I chose TFX Suspension because they’re extremely nerdy about what they do. “Our goal is to make riders feel like they’re floating on a magic carpet when riding, not wrestling an unwieldy beast”, Hans Fischer, the founder of TFX, told me.
And it’s not just a slick marketing slogan – they really deliver.
TFX Suspension Upgrade for DR650
When I got my TFX rear shock and front fork springs, I wasn’t too optimistic about the outcome. I hoped it would make some difference, but I wasn’t holding my breath.
Then, I hit the trails.
It was like seeing the light. Before the TFX overhaul, I would struggle on rocky terrain, the bike bouncing all over the place like a wild-eyed bronco. It would painfully nose-dive into bigger holes, front forks squealing, the rear wheel bucking, and it would fishtail and wobble on slippery forest trails.
With TFX suspension, I rolled over rocks and babyheads like pebbles. Ok, maybe not pebbles, but rocky trails became much easier, and the balance improved so much I didn’t fall even when I made mistakes. Whenever I hit holes at speed, the bike would just float over them instead of performing those painful dives, and it was much more stable on slippery surfaces and sand.
But the revelations didn’t end here. All of a sudden, Lucy was cornering much better on paved roads. It leaned into corners so obediently it did give me that magic carpet feeling, and it felt significantly more stable and well-balanced overall.
Horses for Courses
The best part is, I can easily adjust the suspension for different riding. I can set it stiffer when the bike is fully loaded so my front doesn’t feel loose and wobbly, and I can soften it for off-road riding. It’s worked wonders so far for on-road traveling and off-road riding loaded and unloaded.
It’s helped my skills and confidence massively, and I would never go back to stock suspension in a million years. Yes, it was that transformative, and if there’s only one Suzuki DR650 mod you’re willing to do, get yourself a better suspension setup. It will change the way your DR650 handles for the better.
DR650 Carb Mods
As mentioned previously, my DR650 carb was already modified. However, as I started doing some amateur rally races and tried different bikes like the KTM450 and KTM 500 EXC, I found myself wanting more bite to my DR. I wanted a more aggressive throttle response. In essence, I wanted to make my DR650 more… KTM-ey.
Most people told me it was impossible. “You’re getting everything that you’re ever going to get out of this bike, and that’s that. If you want a KTM, get a KTM – a DR will never have that kind of bite”, most folks told me.
I refused to accept it. If the suspension upgrade made such a huge difference, surely there was a way to get more throttle response out of Lucy, too?
A solution came from Hessler Racing, a German rally racing team obsessed with DR’s. Stefan Hessler is probably the most knowledgeable guy in Europe when it comes to Suzuki – the man owns the original DR Big Gaston Rahier used to race in Paris-Dakar – and he recommended a Mikuni Flatslide Carb for DR650.
Now, the thing isn’t cheap, for sure. But if you want more out of your throttle response, this is it.
The first time I rode Lucy with the flatslide carb, I was literally laughing in my helmet the whole way. It was that awesome: it achieved what I wanted! It made my DR’s throttle response a lot more KTM-ey, pardon my professional mechanic speak.
In fact, it made such a huge difference it took me a few days to get used to it. Lucy felt like a totally different bike – it bit into dirt like a beast and happily jumped forward even when fully loaded (before, it was always somewhat hesitant in comparison).
Do You Need a Flatslide Carb for your DR650?
I was obsessed with getting more out of the DR650, and the flatlside carb made it happen. But do you actually need it?
Compared to a stock DR650, slightly modifying the carb with the Procycle jet kit and gauging another hole in the airbox will already make a massive difference. And I do mean massive – I rode a stock DR650 on a tour in Ecuador, and the contrast with Lucy (pre-flatslide was huge).
So for a little while, yes, the smaller (and cheaper) carb mod will work wonders. But if you’re wanting more bite, more throttle response, and more dirt biking fun, the flatslide carb is absolutely worth it. If you get it from Hessler Racing, you can ask them to tune it to your specific bike’s model and year for maximum results. Fun fact: although I now have a much, much better throttle response, my DR650 still has the original tractor factor, too. That s, I can still start from second gear if I fail to stick it in first for whatever reason, and the thing doesn’t stall. Ever.
DR650 Safari 30l Tanks vs Acerbis 22l Tank
One final change I made on my DR650 was replacing the monster Safari 30l tank with a 22l Acerbis. To be frank, never needed the 600km range – not even in South America – and I wanted a smaller, narrower tank to be able to stand up properly when riding off-road. Don’t get me wrong, the Safari is great, but it’s so chunky it’s hard to get over it when you’re standing up on the pegs and want to move your body forward.
The Acerbis 22l tank, on the other hand, is much skinnier, and I can control the bike better when riding off-road.
If you really need a big fuel range, stick with the Safari. If 400km range is enough for you and you ride off-road a lot, the Acerbis may be a better bet.
Double Take Mirrors
This one may not be an essential DR650 mod, but if you’re as crash-prone as I am and find yourself constantly trashing your mirrors, get a pair of Double Takes.
For years, I used cheap mirrors I’d destroy within months, and I got used to riding with cracked mirrors, ill-fitting mirrors, and no mirrors at all.
Double Take mirrors had saved the day: sturdy and well built, these babies can be folded inward when you’re hitting the trails. Because of the solid RAM mounts, it’s near-impossible to destroy them. Trust me, I’ve tried: during the SWANK Sardinia Rally, I managed to crash into a stone fence (long story). The front fairing was done, the roadbook holder only barely survived, and the GPS mount was mangled beyond recognition. The Double Take mirrors, on the other hand, held just fine – so much so, in fact, that I cannibalized one mirror mount to keep the GPS unit running. After the race, I put the mirror back on and travelled happily ever after.
So far, this is hands-down the best mirror set I’ve ever had.
Rally Racing with DR650 Mods
Alrighty, so here is one final confession: in 2019, I started racing amateur rally races on the DR. When I say racing, I mostly just mean surviving – I’m still an underwhelmingly mediocre rider, and rally podium places just aren’t in my future. Still, I have tons of fun, I improve my riding with each race, and it’s just something that gets my heart beating faster. To date, Lucy and I have finished Hellas Rally Raid, Bosnia Rally, the Dinaric Rally, and SWANK Sardinia Rally. Once again, we didn’t place (unless you count being right at the back of the pack), but the bike held well.
And to compare the Hellas Rally Race in 2019 vs SWANK Sardinia Rally in 2021, I did a hell of a lot better. Granted, it’s because I improved my riding since Hellas, but the suspension upgrade and the flatslide carb helped a ton. A ton.
Am I considering any more Suzuki DR650 mods? Not really. I don’t think there’s anything else I can modify or add to make Lucy go faster or be nimbler or more aggressive. For me, it’s plenty of bike right now, and I think I’ve reached the limits of what can be done.
I may be wrong -if you’ve got any more neat DR650 mods and tricks, let me know in the comments below!
IWant to do the same or similar Suzuki DR650 mods on your bike? Here’s a list of parts, companies, and resources that can be helpful:
Warp 9 Racing (wheels, rims, footpegs, levers)
ProCycle (carb kits)
Safari Tanks (big-range fuel tanks)
Acerbis Tanks (mid-range fuel tanks)
TFX Suspension (custom adjustable suspension)
Hessler Racing (DR650 mods, parts, and advice)
Barkbuster Handguards (handguards)
Seat Concepts (aftermarket seats)
Double Take (ADV and enduro mirrors)