After years of believing I was a mechanically challenged individual incapable of so much as taking the airbox cover off, I have recently embarked on a mission to completely strip and rebuild my old Suzuki DR650. Arguably, it’s an insane task for someone who until recently couldn’t even take the tank off alone; but I’m a big believer in learning on the job, and over the years, fixing minor issues and replacing things on my beloved Lucy has increased my confidence somewhat. At the end of the day, the DR650 is a simple machine, so being stuck in Spain and waiting for the North African borders to open, I’ve got the time, the help, and the garage to give it a go.
DR650 Mods and Mileage
To start off with, I got Lucy in 2017. It’s a 2011 model and it already had some 35,000 or so miles on it; it was rebuilt and modified by @rtwpaul, the details of which can be found here. The carb was modified with the Procycle jet kit, the wheels and brake/clutch levers as well as footpegs replaced by Warp9 awesomeness, a steering damper added, a Sargent replaced with a Seat Concepts one; all in all, the bike was ready for adventure. Ever since, I have replaced burnt clutch plates a few times, swapped out the entire suspension for fully adjustable TFX Suspension set up, replaced the cam chain, and swapped out the Safari 30 liter tank with a 25 liter Acerbis. Lucy also gets a valve adjustment every 1,5 years or so, and I replace the spark plugs and chain and sprockets more or less every year. So far, I had no major issues with the bike despite dragging it through all sorts of terrain from North America to the Caribbean, South America, and Europe, two sea voyages, two rally races, and lots of inept single-track riding and involuntary landings.
So why the need to strip everything down and rebuild what’s already good enough for the type of riding, traveling, and amateur racing I do?
For one thing, I have the time, the tools, and someone to help me. I’m curious what the insides of the bike look like after four years of continuous abuse, and whether I may find some major issues that need addressing before I set off for Africa. For another, it’s the experience – although I have learned to deal with minor things on the road, I’ve never taken the bike apart, and I figure it’ll be a pretty steep learning curve. And finally, as I’m still plagued by the delusions of grandeur when it comes to amateur rally racing, I wonder what further mods I could do to prep Lucy for what’s to come in the next few years.
Zip Ties And cracked Frames
It turns out, stripping a bike down isn’t all that complicated. It took one day of undoing bolts and nuts, bagging the evidence (I’m putting all smaller parts in ziploc baggies and labeling every single part and wire so I know what goes where when rebuilding), and examining the results. And to be honest, given what the bike has been put through, I expected the finds to be much worse. Yet, what I found so far was:
- a small crack in the subframe; good to spot it and weld it now before it escalates
- metal rings connecting the exhaust pipe rusted so badly it looks like something dug up in an archeological site
- swingarm and shock linkage bearings looking somewhat tired
- a mess of extra wires I no longer need or use
- an ungodly amount of zip ties holding everything together
- a reasonable amount of rusty bolts that need replacing
- sketchy-looking gear shift shaft (the seal may need replacing)
Other than that, the bike still looks like it can take a few more years of travel, off-road riding, and a rally race or two. I’m replacing all bearings (including the steering bearings, even though they still look good and have plenty of grease on them), welding the cracked frame, taking the engine for a valve adjustment and a look-see at that shift shaft, redoing the wiring, powder-coating the frame, and rebuilding the DR650 back to its former glory minus the luggage rack (I’m swapping for a rackless system).
All in all, the rebuild process shouldn’t take more than a couple of weeks, mostly because the parts will take a while to arrive, and hopefully, once everything is done, Lucy will be ready for a new adventure. Eventually, this bike will be replaced by something lighter and more agile, or perhaps something like the T7; but for now and especially for the first few years, the DR650 has been an excellent pack mule able for all sorts of on road and off-road shenanigans, travels, and attempts at racing. I’m sure there are better, newer, more capable bikes out there for RTW travel, but a DR650 s a bit like a cold-blooded schoolmaster horse: it forgives rookie mistakes and bad riding, takes the abuse, and keeps on plodding along teaching you to be a better rider along the way. And for that, I’m grateful.
Have you done a bike rebuild recently? Share the wisdom in the comments below!