Another bike - DRZ-400S


After riding the BMW F650 all over creation a while, including some offroad as well as an offroad class on the relatively heavy bike, I wanted something a bit…lighter, but meanwhile also something I could commute on.

Let’s face it - in an ideal world, I’d also be able to take it on shorter (but still several hour) road trips.

KTM had been building up a reputation for a while, but when I was looking for the DRZ, the general consensus being fast and awesome, but also finicky and low maintenance intervals - which makes sense for literally a competition dirt bike having lights and minimum required road/DOT requirements added to it.

I had considered an older DR350 or even an XT350, but just wasn’t feeling they were up to any highway travel.  An old-tech-but-reliable DR650 was also in the mix, at a wet weight of ~360lbs, vs the ~425+ of my F650, and the DRZ-400S coming in around 320lbs web.  I later rode a DR650 across Costa Rica with a waterproof backpack on and off-road, and had prior DR experience over the years - great bike as well, although the big DR definitely needs suspension work out of the box.

The DRZ-400S is a bit newer technology that the DR, but is still carburated.  Meanwhile, it essentially is a dirt bike with a plate, with a few lights added and a small dash for speedometer and tripmeter.  It also has effectively ‘real dirt suspension and travel’ - not nescessarily best of breed, but serious front and rear suspension travel compared to any of the ‘adventure’ bikes out there.  

I actually had my first DRZ stolen from my driveway - while I was at a friend’s wake (he was hit by a drunk driver..RIP, Lou..), and wound up buying a second one.  

Out of the box, the immediate mods were adding bark busters, a Sargent replacement seat, a rear rack to make commuting easier(something to strap a messenger bag to), and a set of Pro-Taper bars.

Off-road performance

In short - it’s a ‘real dirt bike.’  Compared to the F650 and many others, the bike performs.  Yes, it’s heavier than a true MX bike, bit it’s great all-around in the dirt, can climb anything I’ve encountered, has enough suspension travel to handle some real off-roading.  I have zero complaints on the DRZ off-road, noting I’m not looking to relive my teen years but still looking for the ability to pretty much go through or over whatever I come across within reason.  

Of course, the DRZ is a bit de-tuned from it’s all-dirt peers, and considering your intended purposes, you may want to adjust your sprocket teeth for more low grunt, but it was fine as is for a mixture of dirt track and woods riding for me.  

On-road performance

So once again - ‘it’s a real dirt bike.’  It’s light(ish), has ~10” of suspension travel, a 21” spoked front wheel, and no fairing/windshield of note.  The OEM seat might as well be a piece of plywood and needs replacement.  You need to add a rack of some kind unless you really want to wear a backpack everywhere (which IMO isn’t the safest solution).  

 On the road, in general - the bike is a blast.  Add a pair of SM rims from the DRZ-400SM and you’ve got a dual-duty hooligan bike.  

The downsides on the road are directly related to what makes it off-road-worthy - it’s relative lightness means it blows around easily on the highway in heavy winds, or with passing 18-wheelers.  The front 21” wheel, especially with knobbies or ‘real’ off/on-road capable tires, isn’t a streetfighter setup, but does well enough, IMO.

The biggest downsides other than the wind/18-wheeler effect, is the gearing - you can adjust sprocket tooth count a bit to shift the low end grunt or top end speed a bit, but the bike has 5 gears.  Mine tops out somewhere around 85-88MPH indicated (which is ~5-10% optimistic), but runs out of oomph as you reach ~75MPH or so, which limits the ability for higher-speed highway avoidance and manuevering.  It’s not terrible and I commuted daily on the bike for some time, but it’s really not a highway bike as is.  

Adding a 6th gear would transform the bike, and it’s undoubtedly one of the main wishes of other DRZ owners.

Besides altering the OE 15/44 tooth sprockets, the other option out there besides exhaust and the usual airbox mods, or building the motor($$$), is adding a Keihin FCR39 carb to it, which will open up a bit more top-end and grunt all around.  

General Conclusions on the DRZ

The bike overall is great, but has limitations.  If your goal is literally to ride to the trails with an occasional trip into or through town, it’s a great option, and same for local/around town hoologanism and general commuting - as long as you don’t spend a lot of time above 75-80MPH.

I’m still considering adding the FCR carb to mine, as well as considering other options - even including a purpose-built DR650, possibly building an engine for the DR, or looking into a still-light-but-off-road-worthy option as they come out (e.g. possibly a KTM variant…although would hate to give up rock-solid Suzuki reliability).  

To be…continued.