By Chad de Alva

Suzuki’s DR 650 is a legendary motorcycle. For more than 30 years, the bike has remained essentially the same: It’s still the carbureted, oil-cooled, analog speedometer, dual sport stalwart that has a worldwide cult-status following. The DR 650 is affordable, Toyota Hilux reliable, fixable with duct tape and a sledgehammer, and countless examples of the bike have been ridden around the world. While other bikes are leveraging more and more computer processing power and sensors to deliver their riding experiences, the DR continues to provide an analog, mechanical experience that feels like a trip back in time. Yet that’s precisely what makes a DR so much fun to ride. There are no computer-controlled safety nets in the form of traction control or ABS on a DR. How hard a DR can brake into a corner, or how much power it can put to the ground is directly correlated to the rider’s ability. That’s why riding a DR 650 delivers a rewarding and fulfilling riding experience that never gets old – and that’s exactly why we decided to build another one.

Inspiration for Upshift’s third DR 650 project build came largely from a good friend who had an awesome DR 650 for a few years. His particular DR was extensively modified, and the sum of the bike’s parts was a very capable dual sport bike that had no problem hanging with modern dual sport and adventure bikes on everything from twisty tar to sand dunes.  Our buddy’s DR could crush miles on the slab commuting to work, and tackle BDRs and all sorts of off-road riding short of properly technical singletrack on the weekends – in other words, the bike was a true 50/50 machine that worked very well. A big part of this DR’s performance was due to the conversion to inverted forks, which is something that we knew we wanted to do to our DR build. With a performance target in mind and a list of things we wanted to improve upon over our last build, we got to work sourcing a new bike and parts.


As luck would have it, our friends at Seat Concepts had a set of Suzuki DR-Z 400 Super Moto (SM) forks on hand, and these inverted forks would work perfectly for our DR 650 build. The SM forks have the same amount of travel as stock DR forks, so we wouldn’t destroy the DR’s chassis geometry by switching to the SM forks. Featuring externally adjustable compression and rebound, and larger diameter and therefore stiffer fork tubes, the SM forks were ideal for the conversion process. With the SM forks in hand, our next move was to properly set these forks up for our unique needs and rider weights.

In the rear, we went straight to the top shelf offering: A Nitron R3 shock which was setup for our unique requirements. With externally adjustable high and low speed compression and rebound damping and an optional hydraulic preload adjuster, the Nitron R3 is a proper shock that gives the DR a rear end that can keep up with the front.



Switching to DR-Z 400 SM forks meant that we would need to completely reinvent the front end of our DR as SM forks have a wider spacing than the DR forks. Thankfully, Super Moto triple clamps drop right into the DR’s frame, and we used a pair of Zeta machined triple clamps to hold our SM forks. Mounting the DR’s dash to the SM triple clamps is another story, however. More on that in a minute. The SM has a larger axle diameter than the DR, so our solution was to build a unicorn wheel – and for that we turned to Dubya USA. 

We sourced a stock DR-Z 400 SM front hub, which Dubya cerakoted black and laced to an Excel 21x1.85” rim with stainless spokes and black nipples. This wheel is significantly stronger than stock, and the OEM hub, wheel bearings, seals, and spacers ensure factory fit and finish. This OEM hub allowed us to use the SM’s 320mm OEM rotor and front brake assembly as well, which gave us plenty of front wheel stopping power.

The rear wheel was built in the same way. We sourced a complete OEM DR 650 hub, which Dubya cerakoted black and laced to a 17x2.5” rear Excel rim using the same black nipples and stainless spokes. This wheelset perfectly compliments the DR’s black livery, and provides additional strength and stiffness so we can push the bike as hard as we dare off-road without having to worry about launching a stock rim.

Wrapping the DR’s wheels are Mitas E-10 tires in 90/90-21 front and 140/80-17 rear sizing. These tires provide a good balance of on and off-road performance catering to the DRs dual sport capability. Ultra heavy duty tubes in both tires allow us to run lower pressures off-road for additional traction, and they add pinch flat resistance. 



One of the best parts of the DR 650 is the John Deere tractor-like reliability of its motor. Bearing this in mind, we opted to leave the top end of the motor stock, and only add performance by splitting cases and changing out the transmission. Nova Racing makes a wide ratio transmission kit for the DR 650 that increases gear spread by 13%, allowing for lower first and second ratios while increasing third through fifth gear ratios. Durability is also increased as the Nova cogs are machined and case hardened. Final drive ratios are stock (15/42), and we opted to replace the stock drive cushions with polyurethane cushions.

On the intake side of the motor, we swapped the stock carburetor for a Mikuni TM40 Carb, which provides much better fueling and other quality of life improvements, like an easy to reach choke knob and fuel screw. On the exhaust side, we replaced the stock boat anchor system with a LeoVince X-3. This system provides significant weight savings over the stock unit and comes with USFS approved spark arrestor. The X-3 is also much quieter than other aftermarket options out there, and it still delivers that classic thumper soundtrack without hurting your ears.



Changing the DR over to SM triple clamps required us to develop our own solutions for mounting all of the dash accoutrements and indicator lamps. I developed a 3D-printed bracket that holds the ignition switch so that the DR’s steering lock could be used with the SM triple clamps. The same process was applied to the Neutral, Turn, and Hi-Beam indicator lamp unit which mounts on the top triple clamp right next to the ignition switch. The stock mechanical speedometer/odometer was replaced with a Trail Tech Vapor computer. 

A set of Cheetah Factory Racing Hard Enduro bars wrapped in Motion Pro Grips provide mounting points for the stock levers, and the whole package is protected by a set of Acerbis X-Factor full wrap hand guards. Doubletake Mirrors are standard parts on all our bikes, and a single Enduro mirror keeps the DR road legal. Rounding out the cockpit is the Cyclops Adventure Sports Cyclops Rally Light with a Phoenix LED headlight. Cyclops Multi-function 3.0 LED turn signals provide a low profile replacement to the stock units, and they add a measure of additional safety to the bike: the front signals work as daytime running lights, and the rear signals light up red when the brake is applied.


An Acerbis 5.3 gallon tank expands the bike’s range significantly, while an Acerbis skid plate protects the bike’s belly. The stock footpegs and mounts were replaced with rigid mounts and IMS core pegs for additional boot grip. A Warp 9 rear brake lever provides additional feel and durability over the stock brake lever. Seat Concepts was the obvious source for a real seat that provides all day comfort, and a Pro Moto Billet rack that provides a platform to secure small items, or to anchor a Mosko Moto Reckless 40 luggage system when we’re out for longer rides. 


After months spent turning wrenches, sourcing and developing parts, tuning and testing other parts and systems, our DR 650 was finally ready for a shakedown ride. Given that many riding areas in the western United States are still closed thanks to a record-breaking winter snowfall, we decided to get one more desert trip in, so we headed to the sand, slickrock, and cedar mesas of Utah.

On road, our DR 650’s wide ratio transmission quickly proved its worth while sampling some of the twisty-windy narrow paved roads that climb up and down the mesas. The Mitas tires provided plenty of grip on the tar, and the SM-spec front rotor was a welcome addition when it came to diving into the corners. With balanced wheels and an open air cockpit where you sit on the bike as opposed to in it, our DR 650 is a joy to ride on pavement. From cruising through town to getting after it while chasing your buddies on ADV bikes through canyon country, the DR 650 does a great job with the road half of the dual sport equation.

In the dirt, the DR 650’s new front end and suspension package quickly demonstrated that it was absolutely worth the work of reinventing the bike’s front end. On technical slick rock 4x4 trails, we could jump up and down obstacles with complete confidence. Flying over embedded rocks did nothing to upset the chassis, nor did G-outs no matter how fast we ran into them. For the record, in case anyone else wants to really up their DR’s forks, DR-Z 400 Super Moto Forks work brilliantly on a DR 650. 

Supermoto forks also provide additional stiffness, and combined with a much better front wheel, I was riding the DR point and shoot style in a matter of minutes. The bike proved that it could handle anything I pointed it at, so the game became finding the fun line, instead of looking for the easy line to get the bike through an obstacle.

Our changes to the bike’s bars, pegs, grips, and seat all helped to create a cockpit that worked well for my 6-foot 1-inch frame whether I was sitting or standing. We put three solid days in on the DR while in Utah, and I wouldn’t hesitate to put a few weeks or longer on this bike thanks to its ergonomics that felt comfortable and balanced. 


It’s always interesting to see how reality compares to your expectations. After so many hours sunk into this bike build splitting cases, replacing the front end, developing parts, and on all of the little details, DR 3.0 managed to hit most all of its targets. The bike is a joy on road, and it’s plenty capable once the pavement ends, whether that’s crushing dirt roads and two tracks or getting a little sand fix in. The bike has great 50/50 manners, and thanks to its Reckless 40 luggage system, it’s load-and-go ready for any sort of BDR or multi day riding mission. Dropping the luggage would make the bike a great commuter, or a great option for an after-work throttle therapy session. Project bikes are never truly finished, and the process of building, testing and revising will continue with this bike – we’re still fine tuning the carb and we’ll probably explore different tires depending on how the bike will be used in the coming months. Yet as it sits, our DR 650 is an awesome dual sport bike that proves that old-school air (and oil) cooled bikes are still a treat to ride. If the number of folks who have stopped us to ask about the DR is any indicator – we’re clearly not alone in thinking bikes like this are awesome.


• LeoVince X-3 Enduro Slip-On Muffler

• Mikuni TM40 Kit w/DT1 Filter

• Billet Throttle Tube

• Nova Racing Wide Ratio Transmission

• Barnett Clutch Kit

• 250 Conversion Brake Light Kit

• JNS Engineering - Low Foot Peg Low Mounts

• Cush Drive Premium Polyurethane Damper

• Nitron - R3 Adventure Series Shock

• Pro Cycle Case Saver

• Warp 9 brake Lever

• Warp 9 Rim Locks

Battery: Antigravity Battery ATZ10-RS - CLICK HERE to see on TMBR MOTO

Front Suspension: Custom DRZ400 Supermoto fork conversion by 7K machine

Tires : Mitas E-10 Enduro, Rear: 140/80-17, Front: 90/90-21

Wheels: Dubya Excel Rims with HD Spokes

Headlight: Cyclops Phoenix LED Rally Light

Turn Signals: Cyclops Multi Function 3.0 LED Turn Signal Kit

Handlebars: Cheetah Factory Racing Enduro Bar - CLICK HERE  to see on TMBR MOTO

Grips: Motion Pro - CLICK HERE to see on TMBR MOTO

Seat: Seat Concepts Comfort

Digital Dash: Trail Tech Vapor - CLICK HERE to see on TMBR MOTO

Hand Guards: Acerbis X-Factor

Fuel Tank: Acerbis 5.3 Gallon - CLICK HERE to see on TMBR MOTO

Skid Plate: Acerbis - CLICK HERE to see on TMBR MOTO

Footpegs: IMS Core Enduro

Mirrors: Doubletake Mirrors - CLICK HERE to see on TMBR MOTO

Cargo Rack: FastWay Pro Moto Billet

Luggage: Mosko Moto Reckless 40L System