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Suzuki DR-Z400S Project Bike

Suzuki DR-Z400S Project Bike

Posted by John Adamczyk on Oct 16th 2017

Offroading doesn't just consist of side-by-sides here at 5X Offroad. We are also lovers of the two-wheel variety of off road machines! With that, we didn't want to just reserve our offerings to UTV's and side-by-sides, but also include popular dual-sport and offroad motorcycles, specifically the Suzuki DR-Z400. Here's the story of our DRZ and what our plans are with it:

When I was about 14-years old, my father bought me a 1987 Honda CR-125. This bike was almost ten years old at the time, and fairly well-used. Since it was during the peak of the mid/late-nineties supercross boom, when Jeremy McGrath reigned as the king of any motocross event happening, and every kid wanted a Honda dirt bike (Honda must have sold a TON of dirt bikes during the nineties!). I was lucky to have parents that were crazy enough to let their son have a high-strung two-stroke dirt bike - and even luckier to live on 5-acres of property with an old Ford tractor at my disposal - but as I look back on my experience with the bike, I think it might have been a subtle approach to keep me out of trouble during my teenage years, because while the CR-125 was fun, it was also a lot of maintenance! It was a great learning experience for me though, as I learned a lot about engines and maintaining motorcycles during my time with the bike. And if it was actually a plan of my parents to give me a high-maintenance dirt bike to keep me distracted from getting into trouble with the rest of my friends, it worked!

Fast-forward twenty one years and I still have a love for motorcycles with knobby tires (the CR was sold when I was 16 and got a heavy speeding ticket that needed paid). While high-strung motorcross bikes are fun and I still desire to launch myself over jumps, being 35 years old, having a family, and needing to go to work the next day keep me from doing it (even though I still feel I could mentally). But it sure doesn't keep me from having a few dirt bikes around the house! Always browsing the classifieds for fun and never being able to pass up a deal, I have amassed a small collection of hardware in the form of a variety of mini-bikes and pit bikes, a mid-size Kawasaki KLX125 toss-around bike, and the topic of this article, a 2005 Suzuki DR-Z400S.

While the other bikes (Honda Z50 Monkey Bike, Yamaha PW50, Honda ZR50, and KLX125) were "stumble upons", the DRZ was more strategic of an acquisition though, as I was looking to get my motorcycle endorsement here in Florida, but I was not interested in riding daily, nor are the roads really fun to ride on here in Central Florida (straight, and filled with tourists who are a motorcyclists worst enemy). With most of my riding desires being offroad, the concept behind a dual-sport motorcycle really caught my attention. Dual-Sports can range in variety though, and also in price. My search narrowed me to this criteria: affordability, good power, good aftermarket support, and reliability (in a nod to my remembrance of that old CR). While the KTM 450 EXC's were at the top of my list being the closest thing to a motocross bike and biased towards offroad riding rather than street, they were super expensive, and with that, brought super expensive aftermarket parts and more expensive maintenance. Always a Honda fan, I really liked the legendary XR400R, but with it ceasing production in 2004, it wasn't really a great choice for carrying a torch for aftermarket parts into the future and making a project bike out of. Loving the Kawasaki color scheme, I was drawn to the KLX400, which I found out was really a Suzuki DR-Z400 with green plastics and only produced for one year. With that, there was really only one player in my game that fit the criteria I was looking for and made sense: the DRZ!

It didn't take me long to find what I was looking for. The DRZ started production in 2000 and is still in production 17 years later. The bike is essentially unchanged, with the only variations coming by way of an "S" (street legal offroad), "E" (non-street legal offroad), and "SM" (supermoto) models. With 17 model years worth of bikes out there, there were A LOT of used bikes to choose from, and being patient yielded me an essentially brand new 2005 with only 1200 miles on the odometer. It was like buying a demo bike off the showroom floor that had been forgotten to be sold for 12 years! The best part of this was I found this bike for $2800 (which I now realize was a super deal). This story is probably not uncommon though, as the average price range for a well-used DRZ is around $3000 on the low-end, which makes perfect sense as a brand new one is only $6500. With them being exactly the same from 2000-2017, the only thing you need concern yourself with is whether you want an SM (onroad) or S (offroad), and the color. I wanted the S, and didn't care about color. Finding an S is a bit tougher than finding the SM (especially in Florida), but even with that, it didn't take long.

Having the DRZ has been fun. It is a little heavier than what I'm used to, but that only matters on small, tight trails and in soft sand. I had a lot of trouble navigating the soft sugar sand trails of the Ocala National Forest in dry season with the stock dual-sport "half knobby" tires, and the stock gearing is better suited to street duty, with 1st being clunky in slow stuff, causing you to have to go faster than you want to. The S is a little confused in this area and I feel it should've come with better gearing from the factory, but luckily tires and gears are easily changed (which we did already). The bike is also very tall, and even at 6'1", I find it a bit too tall for my liking. I love a smaller bike for "chuckability" and for blasting on our home trails in the Florida sand, and the DRZ is not really that throwable like a smaller bike or motocross bike is. This is it's design though, as a smaller bikes or motocross bikes are designed for being small and throwable and motocross bikes for racing, however they most certainly cannot handle the public roads like a DRZ. It's hard to do everything well though, especially when you're talking in terms of offroad motorcycles that can still work well on the street. Sure, a $10k KTM might do it better, but it's also $10k. For $7k less, I got something that will do the same things, just not as quick. It's a compromise, but not a huge one. 

Thinking critically on the "compromise" aspect of the DRZ, I actually like this, as a $10k KTM doesn't need anything in terms of improvements. When you pay that much more for a bike, it better not need upgraded! The DRZ on the other hand is a blank palette. It gives you the basics in a versatile platform and dead-reliable powertrain, but doesn't trick everything out to 105%, so there's plenty of room to improve the DRZ. This is our goal with our DRZ, to start chipping away at the things that we think could be improved, then offer these things to you for your own DRZ's with our experiences providing the examples of whether those things are worth it to you, or not. We've already done a few things to our DRZ - of which we'll cover - but nothing major. We're eager to get our hands into it and see what works out there in terms of helping to get this bike a little more "chuckable"!

Thanks for reading, and we hope you follow along as we journey into improving our DRZ and expanding our website offerings to cover the DRZ as our knowledge of the bike deepens. 

John

2005 Suzuki DR-Z400S

2005 Suzuki DR-Z400S

2005 Suzuki DR-Z400S

2005 Suzuki DR-Z400S

2005 Suzuki DR-Z400S

2005 Suzuki DR-Z400S

2005 Suzuki DR-Z400S

2005 Suzuki DR-Z400S

2005 Suzuki DR-Z400S

2005 Suzuki DR-Z400S

2005 Suzuki DR-Z400S