1996 Suzuki DR350

So, after 3 or 4 years dual sporting on the big KLR650, I decided move "down" to something a bit more dirt-worthy. The KLR650 is an incredibly versatile do anything motorcycle and would be a good choice if you're limited to one bike and do a lot of pavement riding. However, I'm not limited to only one and as the KLR is a bit of a pig off pavement I thought I'd try something a little lighter for my off-pavement work.

I really like the concept of the new batch of street legal 250s but being newer bikes they require a more significant investment than a older "classic". And unfortunately, the seats on those newer DS bikes all seem to be the really narrow current motocross style. Yeah, they look cool and they're probably just fine for a hour or so in the woods but they tend to be a bit uncomfortable on an all day 200+ mile dual sport ride. Plus, a mechanical failure in the woods is lot different from one in a paved road and I really like the simplicity and ruggedness of air cooling and a gravity fed carburetor for an off-road bike. There are just fewer potential failure points compared to a bike with a radiator, water pump and battery-dependent electric fuel pump and electronic fuel injection.

I've always thought the now out-of-production DR350 with its six speed gearbox was nearly an ideal light dual sport combining both good off-road capabilities and adequate on-pavement capabilities to handle the "commute" to the DS riding in my part of the country so I started watching Craig's list and eBay for one.

A while back I ran across a '92 "S" model for a very reasonable price. Originally it was all decked out in the blue, purple and pink "Barbie" colors that were popular at the time but other than the less-than-current color scheme it actually looked pretty good and it was wearing a brand new set of Dunlop D606s. The float needle was leaking when I went to look at it so it was hard to start but after getting it fired up it ran pretty well. After getting it home and sorting out the carb it really ran great and would generally start on the first or second kick even when cold. Oh yeah, it is kick start only. A minor inconvenience yes, but the '94 electric start model gained 26 lbs that I've concluded I can live without.


At home in the southern Appalachians


On a jeep trail in the George Washington National Forest (VA)


Shortly after buying the "S" model, I stumbled across a non-running '97 off-road DR350 (Suzuki made both) that the owner was selling as a parts bike. He thought was beyond repair. The compression seemed down a bit which I later learned was due to the automatic compression release that my older bike didn't have and the suspension components, brakes, wheels seat and fenders all appeared to be in good shape. I bought that one really cheap as an organ donor. Within an hour of taking it off the trailer at home I had it running too - good lick! The 5 year newer off-road bike had a better rear shock and much better forks plus a slightly larger plastic tank and a more performance-oriented flat-slide "pumper" carb. All good stuff that has mostly been migrated to the street legal model. So, I ended up with a great street legal DS bike with a spare of nearly everything including a complete running engine. Since then I've bought two other street models which I "fixed up" and sold or traded and several off-road models (without titles) have been parts donors. All in all, I've owned 7 or 8 DR350 bikes in various states of repair (disrepair?) but currently have only one.

The original '92 model is now gone and in it's place is a '96 "S" model frame with an off-road motor. It has the much improved late-model forks and 3-way adjustable rear shock from the '97 off-road model. I've also replaced the stock tank with a 4.2 gal Clark model and the seat with a custom seat built by a local upholsterer. These were all positive changes that make my DR a better all-day DS ride.

The DR350 is pretty much all I had hoped. It has plenty of power for DS riding (about 30 hp vs the KLR650's 36). I've ridden several 650cc DS bikes and while the power of the bigger motors is nice on pavement it really isn't usable in most off-pavement situations in this part of the country - maybe in the desert... I put this bike on the scale and it weighs about 300lbs with a gallon or so of gas in the tank. That's at least a hundred pounds lighter than the porky KLR plus it feels like it carries its weight lower. Compared to the KLR, the little DR has a better off-road suspension with about 2" more ground clearance. With the wide-ratio six-speed gearbox, it's quite capable of cruising comfortably at 2-lane speeds (~5,800 rpm at 60 mph - redline is 9,500) and it will still chug up everything I've pointed it at so far.

At 13,500 ft (Imogene Pass, CO)

On the White Rim Trail in Canyonlands National Park (UT)  

The primary gearing (crankshaft to clutch basket) was lowered on all DR350s in '94 when the "S" model got electric start. With the new, lower geared motor, I've found 15/43 to work well for the final gearing. That's about 1/2 gear lower than the original gearing on the "S" model but is still considerably taller than the off-road bike's OE gearing (14/49). The off-road model's Mikuni TM33 "pumper" carb provides dramatically improved throttle response over the standard "S" model's constant velocity unit and after getting it dialed in I'm still seeing around 60 mpg. I did encounter some jetting "issues" when riding daily for a couple of weeks above 10K feet in the Rockies. I had to rejet (leaner, of course) in the hotel parking lot in Silverton, CO in order to not routinely rich foul the plug. In my experience bikes with CV carbs seem to tolerate altitude changes better than those with cable operated slide carbs.

I never really like the "cyclops" look of the OE headlight on the 350 so I've replaced mine with the light and shroud from a late model DR650. The instruments are now a TrailTech Vapor mounted on a custom dash and I've moved the handlebars forward a bit to put me into a better riding position. The pipe is a "Jesse" modification. The luggage rack /grab handles are custom.. This bike has an "S" model charging system and Dual Star heated grips but being kickstart, I'm running it without a battery (0.9 farad capacitor). The little Wolfman Expedition tank bag tops it off. It's a great DS bike for me!



In addition to yoeman's duty in the southern Appalachians where I live, the DR350 had been ridden from TN to NM (almost ~ 2500 miles) on part of the Trans-America Trail  and has made trips (on a trailer) for dual-sporting to CO and UT. Even after a couple of years and trying out numerous newer bikes, I still think this is the right dual sport mount for me.

I recently bought a newer and larger DR650 to explore some longer range "adventure riding" and while the 650 certainly has longer legs, IMO, the 350 is a superior dual-sport mount in almost every other way. In anything really rugged, I'm definitely wanting my little DR350!

There is a very nice model history for the DR350 here. Yeah, these bikes are kind of "old school" but then so am I.



DR350 S (street legal)
Overall Length: 2,235 mm (88.0 in)
Overall Width: 885 mm (34.8 in)
Overall Height: 1,245 mm (49.0 in)
Seat height: 890 mm (35.0 in)
Wheelbase: 1,440 mm (56.7 in)
Trail: 115 mm (4.6 in)
Ground Clearance: 290 mm (11.4 in)
Front Suspension: 11" travel, 2-way (pre-load, compression) adjustable rod-type forks
Rear Suspension 11" travel 2-way (pre-load, compression) adjustable shock
Claimed Dry Weight: 118 kg (260 lbs)
Engine: Air/oil-cooled 348 cc 1-cylinder SOHC 4-stroke, 4 valves, Dry-sump lubrication
Carburetor: Mikuni BST33 33 mm constant velocity (CV) carb, 30 hp @ 6,000 rpm
Transmission: Wet clutch with 6 speeds.
Generator: Flywheel magneto for spark with a 3 phase AC generator and battery (~225 watts)

My primary bike has the engine and suspension from this model.

1997 DR350R (off-road only)
Overall Length: 2165 mm (85.2 in)
Overall Width: 885 mm (34.8 in)
Overall Height: 1245 mm (49.0 in)
Seat height: 920 mm (36.2 in)
Wheelbase: 1450 mm (57.1 in)
Trail: 118 mm (4.65 in)
Ground Clearance: 310 mm (12.2 in)
Claimed Dry Weight: 113 kg (249 lbs)
Front Suspension: 11" travel, 3-way (pre-load, compression, rebound) adjustable cartridge-type forks
Rear Suspension 11" travel 3-way (pre-load, compression, rebound) adjustable shock
Engine: Air/oil-cooled 348 cc SOHC 1-cylinder, 4 valves, Dry sump lubrication
Carburetor: Mikuni TM33 33 mm flat slide "pumper" carb
Transmission: Wet clutch with 6 speeds
Generator: Flywheel Magneto for spark with 90 watt lighting coil