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Old 08-01-2011, 07:58 PM   #1
motodavid2000 OP
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Joined: Jun 2009
Location: USA - Florida and Ohio
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Wicked Suzuki DR650 Build - Transformation to an Adventure Bike

I purchased a used 2004 blue Suzuki DR650SE that had been well cared for, lightly-modded, ridden mainly on the road and had very few miles on it. It was a stock motor and run-of-the-mill DR650SE, but the perfect foundation for my adventure bike build. I am building this moto for the specific purpose of a lengthy South America tour in the future.

Also many thanks to fellow inmate Lukas for great ideas & input as well as answering alot of my questions on his DR650 build. I have followed along with Jammin Jay as he rode through South America and experienced some of his frame & metal pannier issues. Also lots of great posts and helpful information on the DR650 thread - and others who have purpose-built DR650s.

What to call this thing ??? -- maybe a DR650F/Adventure. The "F" being "Frankenmoto" as I had planned a number of improvements, modifications and additions. My primary logic being keeping the motor essentially stock with virtually no internal mods thereby keeping it reliable and not making any more heat.

The primary missions for my build / bike selection are -- in order of priority:

1) Reliable - air cooled and carb (no FI or fuel pump wanted in 2nd and 3rd World countries), simple motor, stout frame

2) Functional - comfort, safety and dual-purpose (paved roads, gravel / dirt roads and some offroad)

3) Serviceable & repairable in the boonies

4) Light - I'm getting older every day and want to crash as little as possible and pick-up a bike with the least amount of weight
5) Secure as possible for critical gear, tools and travel documents

I have a very good friend who is (was) a professional moto mechanic and made his living for years at this. Several years ago, he burned out at being a full-time moto mechanic and has chosen a new career path; but agreed to be the primary builder on this moto in his somewhat cramped, but functional garage - along with my help when I am in town and not traveling on business.

He has a monster Snap-On rolling toolbox that just blows me away, and he has moto tools that I would never have - boroscopes, digital torque wrenches, specialized tools to disassemble and rebuild Ohlins forks, power drivers.....the list is endless. He was even sent to the Ducati factory in Italy to be certified as a mechanic on the Ducati Desmosedici and works on mine. In other words, he is the right guy to go through this bike.

In my opinion, the "cheapness" & compromise of most mass produced, relatively inexpensive dual-sport motorcycles, resides primarily in the suspension systems, as well as controls and seating. I planned a number of upgrades in those "weak" areas while maintaining the essential goodness and reliability of the motor.

This is not a monster power motor, but is dead reliable save for two known issues that I am aware of -

1) the neutral sending unit (NSU) which can loosen, the screws enter the crankcase and cause catastrophic engine / transmission failure

2) some examples of 3rd gear failures have been found - my understanding is pre-2004 units primarily but not exclusively, perhaps due to improper heat-treating of the 3rd gear. Total transmission / engine failure can result and you will be stranded.

I am building this DR650 to get me there and back again, not to go fast - I have lots of other bikes and cars to do that.

Click here if any interest in other motorized fun: My Garage

Here is the basic moto - the beginning.

Where will we travel in the future?


The first order of business was to completely disassemble the bike. The Suzuki DR650 has very few known structural issues with the frame or subframe. However, there is one instance that I know of where there was frame cracking [but not total failure] at the "Y" of the frame downcomer near the footpeg. The upper chain roller is also a known problem if the suspension is heavily compressed the chain can tear the roller out of the frame, leaving a gaping hole and a weakened structure.

As noted in my Alaska Ride Report, I was the owner / operator of MotoAdventures doing offroad enduro-style tours in Costa Rica, Central America and Peru, South America. We used Honda XR400s in Costa Rica and XR650Rs in Peru.

Both bikes experienced subframe cracking issues under the seat area with primary failures in the lateral struts that were welded between the horizontal sections of the sub-framework. Obviously there were severe loads being placed on the subframe to cause these types of failures - and the subframes were deficient.

I wanted to assess the structure of base Suzuki DR650 frame to see where I felt, based upon my experience with the frame issues on our Hondas, we may want to add frame gusseting and reinforcements. Fully loaded panniers induce lots of stresses on the DR650 frame & subframe.

Some of the disassembly photos:

Ultimately ending with a bare frame, ready to be cleaned, reinforced and powder coated.....

Lots, lots more to come

Prudhoe Bay Ride Report: Click Here

DR650 Adventure Bike Build: Click Here
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Old 08-01-2011, 08:21 PM   #2
Master of None
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Joined: Feb 2007
Location: the Root, Western Montana
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Originally Posted by Javarilla

Evolution, or, natural selection, has nothing to do with better.

It merely weeds out what is no longer suitable for the given context.

Originally Posted by Dragoon

I would rather be on my motorcycle thinking about God than in church thinking about my motorcycle.
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Old 08-01-2011, 09:22 PM   #3
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Location: Sacramento, CA
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Great job on your garage. I recommend that everyone look at his his garage. It's simply amazing.
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Old 08-02-2011, 05:06 AM   #4
motodavid2000 OP
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Location: USA - Florida and Ohio
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Wicked DR650 Subframe & Pannier Frame Reinforcements

After a lot of consideration, I had decided on aluminum panniers & topbox vs. soft luggage. I have had great experience with my BMW GS/Adventure in Alaska and wanted the real (or perceived) additional security of aluminum panniers in Central and South America - as I have alot of experience riding / touring in Central America and the petty theft that goes on there.

I pack way too heavy - I know - less is more and I am still trying to dump weight when I pack for a long moto trip. Here is a pic of my GS/Adventure along the Alaska Pipeline on the Haul Road - so you can see my addiction to packing too much & hence the need to bolster the DR650.

I decided to get a lighter (& simpler) motorcycle for South America as I do NOT want to have to pickup my GS/Adventure (the Big Girl)somewhere in the Andes Mountains in Peru at 13,000 feet. I am way too old for that.

We are lucky to have a number of creative machine shops and fabrication facilities in northern Ohio that have somehow survived the national economic downtown that have driven so many small shops out of business. We found a great local fabricator to assist with gusset fabrication, welding, installation and powder coating of the entire frame after reinforcement.

I am an engineer by trade, so I probably over-analyze – bear with me. Jammin Jay’s experience with his DR650 subframe and pannier frame failures motivated me to look for pre-emptive solutions. The frame failures Jay experienced were easily welded / repaired while on his tour; but still could be have been prevented had he known in advance of the stress and bending forces involved.

Here is a pic of Jammin Jay's DR650 subframe cracks - not pretty:

I focused on any frame / subframe areas that would be subjected to bending loads and repeated flexing thereby creating fatigue failures of the mild steel frame. These loads would be caused by my [overweight] body, a large aluminum topbox and side panniers, plus an extra 1 to 2 gallons of fuel carried in a Roto-Pax fuel container.

Given my experience operating a fleet of offroad enduro-tour bikes in both Central America and South America, plus a lot of research and hours of reading internet ride reports and viewing other DR650 buildups, I felt that I had a reasonably clear plan for how I wanted to integrate frame reinforcements.

After the frame was lightly bead-blasted, reinforced and re-assembly started. This is the top of the airbox (cutout by the PO) and the area above the upper shock mount - gusset added to the Y intersection of the frame tubes; and showing the new Wilber's shock with spring to my specs and is fully adjustable.

This is the Y intersection of the frame downcomer & the swingarm pivot. I found one failure in the DR650 thread here in the vertical part of the frame. Reinforced this area also.

Deep plate reinforcement in the rear subframe area to help carry the load of the aluminum panniers and pannier frames to prevent bending & flexing of the subframe members. Note the added plate between the laterals that tie both sides of the subframe together. Also we made full length welds and not just spot-welded or stitch-welded the stiffeners.

Pannier Frame Reinforcements

I am using Happy Trails panniers and pannier frames. There have been some failures of the frames that required field weld repairs and so I wanted to reinforce those joints where I felt that failures could be a problem - especially over lengthy washboard sections and the metal fatigue that can occur as a result of the cycling-stresses.

In a bad off, the panniers are frequently damaged and sometimes the pucks / bolts pull through the thin aluminum of the rear pannier box panel. What a mess to try and get the pannier back on your bike in the middle of nowhere using straps and duct tape.

To prevent a pull-through in a crash, I reinforced the back panel of each side pannier where the bolts and pucks hold the pannier to the pannier frame with an additional sheet of aluminum.

I also researched fuel tank options and decided that I did not want a 9 gallon Safari tank due to the size, installation problems that others had experienced and the weight [up high] of that much fuel on a DR650.

I went with a 4.9 gallon IMS plastic fuel tank and will add a Roto-Pax flat 1 or 2 gallon tank elsewhere on the bike at a later time. I want to ride it first and see how we best setup the bike and suspension with 4.9 gallons on-board. I am also using a Pingle rebuildable brass petcock.

We also worked on adding a steering stabilizer from Scotts, new instrument panel, new lighting system and also started searching for a solution to the front forks and suspension issues. I will address those later in a different post.

Reinstallation of the engine, new header, midpipe and exhaust can, test fit of the IMS fuel tank and sargent seat, and frame panniers - along with the swingarm, rear wheel, new sprocket and adjustable chain guide.

We decided to use the Mikuni TM40 flat-slide carb from ProCycle - for improved throttle response and serviceability. It came jetted for the exhaust system I was using - great piece.

More in the next post.......

Prudhoe Bay Ride Report: Click Here

DR650 Adventure Bike Build: Click Here
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Old 08-02-2011, 05:15 AM   #5
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Location: CharVegas
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good choice on the carb, you will be surprised how much of a difference it makes over the stock CV carb. Rev out is faster and smoother. I suggest getting the lower foot pegs from him too that was hands down the most comfortable change to the bike. I had the walmart pad already. I am just over 6 foot without shoes for reference.
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Old 08-02-2011, 06:07 AM   #6
motodavid2000 OP
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Front Suspension - Upgrade to USD Forks & Test Mount Panniers

A few goodies ordered and delivered - ready for installation.....

I really wanted a new clutch and heavy duty clutch springs if I got into sand to keep from burning the clutch plates. I also got new pegs, a skidpan, Barkbusters and engine case protectors.

I had a grand plan prior to starting this build and have been working to procure the various bits and pieces prior to each stage of the reassembly. Certainly one of the key failings of the stock DR650 - in my opinion - is the front suspension.

The main issues with the stock boingers are weak fork springs, terrible compression and rebound damping, major dive under braking and front axle pinch-bolts that require only 5 or 7 lbs-ft of torque.

I have read horror stories of DR650 front axle pinch bolts being snapped off by accident due to over-torque during a tire /tube repair in the field. I do NOT want to snap off pinch bolts in the boondocks in some little village with no communications. The bolt shaft snaps off and remains in the fork housing, so one would need an easy-out and a set of pinch bolts. This is just not the hot ticket, IMHO.

While a number of vendors offer differing solutions such as heavier springs and internal valving / damper setups, I was interested in dumping the stock forks after riding the stock bike for several rides. I needed a better solution - stock was just too much "pogo" and diving.

Stock forks - just not the greatest.

In the end, I decided to do a USD fork swap - with input & assistance from fellow inmate Lukas.

I had done a lot of research on grafting on a set of upside-down (USD) forks from a KTM. I read a story on ADVRider by Lukas who had successfully accomplished the task of getting a set of USD forks to work on a DR650.

After e-mailing him and having a conversation about such a transplant, he indicated that he had an extra set of forks, a front wheel and brake setup that he would be willing to sell me for a very reasonable price. We struck a deal, I paid him via PayPal and the forks arrived at my doorstep. Thanks Lukas for your help, honesty and answering all of my many questions regarding your DR650 build.

We proceeded to examine the steering stem diameter and length, stem bearings & bearing races, triple clamps and fork length and axle offsets. All looked like it would work - maybe, but the fork setup would be the challenge after we got the bike done and started to setup static sag and spring weights.

Headstock bearing race. We have had a lot of trouble getting the right bearings due to bearing cup and KTM steering stem diameters and bearing mismatches. This was a lot of experimentation with KTM bearings and Suzuki races & then a mix of Moose bearings, etc. Lots of trial and error until we got a mix that we think would work. The unloaded motion seemed to be smooth with no "stiction" or rough spots in the full steering arc.

Here is the first mockup with the new KTM forks in place. With the no weight on the bike and the lower fork tubes extended my DR650F / Adventure looks like a chopper!

KTM / Excel Front Wheel

Scott's Steering Damper Fitup and Positioning

Next up was test mounting the panniers and fabricating a secure box for travel documents. Here is the steel box which will have a lock added and will serve as the mounting point for the aluminum topbox also. The steel box is unobtrusive and does not draw attention.

Positioning everything correctly to ensure the side panniers' lid opening arc does not interfere with the topbox and also ability to remove the seat.

In my opinion, aluminum panniers are the best for maintaining security, however they can be a real danger in the event of a crash or even a tipover. Many riders have had legs & ankles broken by aluminum panniers during a crash, or caught under them while dabbing in a rough section.

Additionally, aluminum panniers may deform during a crash and require lots of "field adjustment" to get them to close and lock again after a crash. Soft bags will not generally not break your legs in a crash and will not suffer the bending in a crash. However, soft bags may rip or tear in a crash; and will leak in the rain and get your gear wet. They are also easily cut open by a thief with a razor-blade knife.

I really liked by aluminum panniers on my BWM R1200GS/Adventure when I rode to the Arctic Ocean at Prudhoe Bay. I felt that the aluminum panniers had the greater advantages of security and waterproof seals over the risk of breaking my leg in a crash. Hope that I made the right choice !

Prudhoe Bay Ride Report: Click Here

DR650 Adventure Bike Build: Click Here
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Old 08-02-2011, 06:44 AM   #7
motodavid2000 OP
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Location: USA - Florida and Ohio
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18 Inch Rear Wheel and Some Different Front Forks

One of the gripes with the stock DR650 is the 17 inch rear wheel size and the somewhat limited choices for knobby tires in the 17 inch size. An 18 inch wheel provides the rider with more tire choices and especially those tires with an offroad bias - i.e. knobbies. Well, what to do?

Stick with the stock 17 inch wheel and more limited tire choices or see if I can figure out how to lace an Excel wheel to the stock Suzuki cush-drive hub? How to find the right set of spokes to make this mod work? I spent alot of time looking at 18 inch DR350 wheels - hub will work but the rim is too narrow and the brake caliper and mounts don't line up to the DR650 mounts.

I was spending / wasting a ton of time trying to find a workable solution to mounting an 18 wheel. Ultimately, ProCycle once again saved my bacon. They had a prefabbed setup with a stock DR650 cush-drive hub laced to an 18 inch Excel wheel. Pricey for sure, but they had done the hard work to get the spokes and lace the wheel. Sold !!

Here is the new Excel 18 inch rear wheel.

Now that we had the KTM USD forks mounted, the fuel tank mounted and a mockup of the Scotts steering damper, we were ready to get steering stops fabricated so that the fork legs would not hit the IMS tank at full lock and we needed to get the Scotts damper tower welded to the frame backbone. I also wanted to get the standard key switch and fork lock to work with the KTM triple clamp setup. Not an easy fix.

Off to the fabricator's shop for one last visit.....

When we were at the fab shop, we spoke to the fabricator about all of the items that needed to get done. We were talking about the triple clamps and ideas to fabricate the custom steering stop, when he mentioned that he thought that he had a set brand new "leading axle" Ohlins forks that he had been given by the factory and had never used. What a surprise !!

We made a few measurements on length, axle offsets, fork stroke and tube diameters and we felt that we could make a few very minor mods and get the Ohlins to work with the KTM triple clamps. The price he offered was unbelievably low as he simply wanted to get rid of the forks. A really nice "gift".

In my truck on the way back from the fabricator. Note the Ohlins forks installed, the stock key lock installed on the upper triple clamp and the custom / adjustable steering stop.

Adjustable Steering Stops

Ohlins lower fork legs and axle mounting works with the Excel wheel & KTM / WP fork axle. Some spacers had to be fabricated to center the wheel and properly position the brake caliper on the disk.

Prudhoe Bay Ride Report: Click Here

DR650 Adventure Bike Build: Click Here
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Old 08-02-2011, 06:58 AM   #8
No wait....What?
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Location: Denver CO
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Maybe I didnt see it, but what did you coat the frame with?
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Old 08-02-2011, 07:00 AM   #9
motodavid2000 OP
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Location: USA - Florida and Ohio
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Lighting and Continuing Assembly

We also have a Vapor instrument panel to install along with a new 8 inch round Cyclops headlight with tubular frame.

This uses a standard halogen bulb that is easily found almost anywhere - well, maybe not the Andes Mountain villages, but most other locations. Also have LED driving lights to mount and power.

I have considered upgrading to a higher output stator, but want to see how everything works before I go through a stator upgrade.

Some pics of lighting and re-assembly progress:

Note the red anodized adjustment knob for the Cyclops headlight to adjust angle when loaded / unloaded.

LEDs mounted up and wired.

Pingel Rebuildable Fuel Petcock with temporary fuel line installed. Will add fuel line armor coil and an inline fuel filter soon.

LED turnsignals mounted to Barkbusters - and hopefully out of harm's way in an off.

Prudhoe Bay Ride Report: Click Here

DR650 Adventure Bike Build: Click Here
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Old 08-02-2011, 07:19 AM   #10
motodavid2000 OP
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Location: USA - Florida and Ohio
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Close to Maiden Voyage

Sine this is a Frankenmoto, I am using a Cemoto front fender that works with the KTM triple clamps, on a Suzuki frame with the right arc and clearance to the exhaust header, motor and oil cooler. The stock Suzi fender nor a stock KTM fender will work in the current configuration.

I also have carbon fiber lower fork leg protectors to install.

I am trying to decide if I am going to install a rock protector on the headlight or not. I may go with a clear Lexan cover or leave it as-is and hope that I don't take a rock to the lens.

Keyed locking Zumo GPS Mount from Touratech...

With Vapor Speedo & Tach installed along with the Zumo GPS.

Handbuilt / fabricated windscreen mount integrating Madstad adjustable mounts & instrument bracket for the Vapor and GPS mounts....

More or less finished - but still have lots of small things to do.....

Getting closer

Motor starts instantly and idles smoothly.
Prudhoe Bay Ride Report: Click Here

DR650 Adventure Bike Build: Click Here
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Old 08-02-2011, 08:01 AM   #11
NC Scott
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Wow. I know its "just" a DR650, but that is beautiful. Outstanding bike. I can't wait for the Ride Report.
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Old 08-02-2011, 09:24 AM   #12
Where to next?
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Location: Troy, Mo.
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Nice build !!!
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Old 08-02-2011, 10:28 AM   #13
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Awsome looking bike ...
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Old 08-02-2011, 12:10 PM   #14
Studly Adventurer
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Location: Prince George, BC
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Looks like a solid 'spare no expense' build. Looking forward to seeing what its capable of... bring on the ride report!
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Old 08-02-2011, 01:22 PM   #15
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Location: Iceland
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Stunning build, very interesting.

As an engineer and having the experience of “operating a fleet of offroad enduro-tour bikes” you must know the XR400 and XR650 down to the smallest detail.

So - why did you choose the DR650 for this build? Do you feel that the DR650 is the best platform? Why?
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