Funny, that looks the exact same as the current model!
Suzuki’s 100th anniversary is coming up, and the company is feeling festive. As part of the celebration, the company is dusting off old marketing videos for some of its most iconic models. Like, for example, this one. It’s the original promo for the DR650SE dual sport and it’s spectacular.
Suzuki introduced the DR650SE in 1996, as a direct descendant of the DR650S and the DR600S. The DR600S debuted in the mid-’80s and set the pattern for the line. The kickstart-only 600S was powered by an air-cooled, SOHC, four-valve, 589cc motor that made just under 45 horsepower at the crank.
Like most mid-’80s big-bore thumpers, the 600 had decent power and relatively light weight but suffered from terrible vibration. The DR600S was never a big seller in North America but it proved a bit more popular in Europe and the U.K..
Its successor, the DR650S, was introduced around 1990. It was basically the same idea as the DR600S; a big thumper, lots of vibration, kickstart-only. Suzuki didn’t change the engine much, except for the addition of an oil cooler. It was a bit more popular than the DR600S, but still never made much of a dent in North America. Dual sport riders and budget-minded ADVers saw the Kawasaki KLR650—with its superior comfort, fuel range, and an electric starter—as a better choice.
Suzuki released the DR650SE in 1996 (also known as the DR650S in some markets, to add to the confusion).It got an electric starter, which addressed at least one of the aforementioned issues, but the fuel tank still limited to riders to roughly 100 miles between fill-ups and the stock seat was notoriously uncomfortable. For the next decade, American customers still preferred the KLR650. Then, in 2008, Team Green overhauled the KLR, making it more plasticky and customers turned to the DR650 instead.
The SE model had its shortcomings, but they were easily fixed by add-ons. Bolt on a larger IMS fuel tank and a more comfortable saddle, and you had a machine that was still lighter than the KLR. That was just the start. In a few years, the aftermarket offered everything you could imagine for the DR650SE: Pumper carbs, rally bodywork, suspension, hot camshafts, big-valve heads, and even a 790cc big bore kit.
In stock form, the DR650SE wasn’t a bad bike. It was still a better street machine than the Honda XR650L, and handled the dirt more easily than a Kawasaki KLR650. It was Goldilocks’ “just right” dual sport. As time went on, more and more customers got on board the idea, especially in markets where Suzuki discounted the bike heavily, and offered extended warranty.
As the bike approaches its 25th anniversary in 2021, what’s changed since its 1996 debut? Not much. In the early years of production, Suzuki swapped the paper base gasket out with a metal gasket to stop engine leaks. More recently, Suzuki also started Loctiting the infamous Neutral Sending Unit (NSU) screws, after some customers complained the screws backed out and ruined their transmissions. Otherwise, it’s basically the same bike that debuted in the ‘90s, with an air/oil-cooled, 644cc, SOHC, single-cylinder engine making 44 horsepower, a steel frame, a wet weight around 360 pounds, and a low price tag.
Plenty of customers want a fuel-injected version, but don’t get your hopes up. Due to the realities of emissions testing, Suzuki would be more likely to axe this model, than update it. Enjoy your single-cylinder dinosaur if you have one, because you’re unlikely to ever see a big, affordable thumper like this enter the market again.