A few months ago, I embarked on a quest to completely strip and rebuild Lucy, my Suzuki DR650. The full story of the bike and the stripping-and-rebuilding project can be found here; as so many of you requested updates on the final result, here it is, the end of the four-month, fully Kafkaesque rebuild odyssey that claimed a serious chunk of resources, most of my sanity, and often, my grip on reality altogether.

Stripping the bike down was the easy part. Despite a long-ish list of parts that needed to be ordered, I was naively optimistic about the duration of the project; a couple of weeks, tops, I mused.

Suzuki DR650 Rebuild: Can You KTM-ize a Travel Donkey? // ADV Rider

I was dead wrong.

After reassembling the bike and discovering a few more minor issues – stripped gear shifter nut tread, hiccupy carb – there came a day of reckoning when a regular oil filter check showed a collection of fine metal dust and tiny metal shards inside. Panic-stricken, I cleaned the filter and put in some 300 km to see if the metal dust shards would reappear; maybe it was from the cam chain change last year, maybe it was something else that would just go away, I desperately hoped. It didn’t. Three hundred kilometers later, the metal shavings were clogging the oil filter again.

To set the scene fully, all of this was taking place in Andalucia, a country of stunning natural beauty, the friendliest locals imaginable, and a “manana” culture so robust it’d put all of South America to shame. With lots of help and guidance, the bike was stripped and rebuilt, but there was no way I could perform open heart surgery on the engine, and the only way out of this mess was to take it to a shop. The first dealer in Malaga wasn’t too keen; at first, I was told to just buy a new bike, since the metal shards in the oil filter indicated the engine was done. Next up, they agreed to open it up but, after poking around the clutch a little, decided they just didn’t want to bother, told me to ride the bike until it dies, and sent me home.

Suzuki DR650 Rebuild: Can You KTM-ize a Travel Donkey? // ADV Rider

Finally, a Yamaha dealer in nearby town agreed to take on the job. After opening the engine, the head mechanic discovered the 4th and 5th transmission gear sprockets were showing some serious sings of wear, and they’d need to be replaced.

After some thought, we’d decided to replace all of the sprockets and throw in a new piston for good measure; after the rebuild, the engine would be good as new, or so the theory went.

At first, it all seemed fairly straightforward. We had a diagnosis – worn gear sprockets – and a course of action: order new sprockets, new piston, and piston rings, and get to work. Simple enough – but for the notorious Andalusian love of benevolent vagueness.

At first, I was told the dealership would order all the parts, not to worry, and once Suzuki sends them over, the head mechanic will rebuild the engine – all in all, ten days, two weeks, at the most. Two weeks later, it transpired only Suzuki Japan had one of the sprockets, and I should order it myself; so began the thoroughly Kafkaesque process of asking the dealership which parts had they ordered, exactly, and were they sure about it, then trying to hunt down gear sprockets in Spain, the Netherlands, Japan, and the US, arguing with sales reps, enlisting friends to order the parts in California and ship them over to Spain – some US parts stores don’t ship to Europe – dealing with import taxes and tracking numbers, harassing the Yamaha dealership that kept forgetting to order bits and bobs, ordering the wrong ones, or having a siesta; all in all, it took over two months to arrive from diagnosis to full engine restoration, by which point I was ready to burn the bike to the ground and get myself a pony instead.

All in all, however, there it finally is; fully rebuilt and restored Suzuki DR650 with KMTey ambitions.

Suzuki DR650 Rebuild: Can You KTM-ize a Travel Donkey? // ADV Rider

During the process, I also replaced the stock (modified) carb with a flatslide Mikuni TM40 as recommended and supplied by Hessler Racing in Germany; Stefan Hessler is the DR doctor and guru in Europe, and his advice and help was invaluable along the way. I’ve been wanting a better bite for ages now, making Lucy more KTM-ey than DR-ey, always being told it was impossible; and yet, with Hessler’s Mikuni, the bike now does indeed spring forward much more willingly – so much so, in fact, that we almost flew off a cliff during the first test ride in the nearby Gorafe Desert as I’d been used to a much more sluggish throttle response.

Suzuki DR650

During the test run with fully loaded luggage, I also realized my TFX Suspension was seriously out of whack; it’s fully adjustable, and ideally, you’d want to make notes when you set the preload to softer or harder. I hadn’t, and the result was a wandering, wobbly front, especially uncomfortable in corners. Thankfully, I still had my Motool – a digital suspension tuner with the Slacker app.

Suzuki DR650 Rebuild: Can You KTM-ize a Travel Donkey? // ADV Rider

A quick check showed the recommended sag for my set up was somewhere in the 35mm area. Mine was a hundred. Big whoops – but, with the harder suspension setting, the sag went back to normal, and the bike is now feeling as steady as ever, even with all the luggage and gear.

The final touch was a set of MotoZ Desert tires, as the plan now is to stick to dirt all the way to the next rally race. They don’t come cheap in Europe, but I remember them being extremely durable, and so far, they have been beautifully grippy in sand, mud, and rocks alike.

Suzuki DR650 Rebuild: Can You KTM-ize a Travel Donkey? // ADV Rider

All in all, the full rebuild including the engine and carb lasted nearly 4 months, cost over $3,500, and annihilated any remaining traces of arrogance and naivety. I am eternally grateful to everyone who helped and pitched in, smuggled parts, gave advice, and put up with incessant questions; it takes a village to rebuild a bike, and I’m thankful I had one here in Andalusia. Would I do it again, though?



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