Great Article about DRZ400 Adventure Preparation

Here is a fab article I found from Dave Lomax, Director of Adventure Spec on his DRZ400 overland preparation..

Link to article here

‘Fear is one of the most powerful sales tools in the world. It has been used for centuries to sell everything from insurance to political ideals. In these days of modern ‘cotton-wool-wrapping’ the fear mongers are pedalling their wares more than ever and a classic example applied to one of my passions is the purchase and creation of a bike for remote independent motorcycling.

The principle of this complex sounding activity is very simple. You acquire a bike, transport/ride it to somewhere remote, ride around, and then transport/ride it home again. During this process a number of things are important.

You ride safely and within your limits (aided by a well setup bike)
The bike doesn’t break down (aided by a well prepared bike)
You don’t get lost (aided by modern GPS technology)
You can carry enough equipment and fuel to supply your needs of food and shelter while riding. (aided by suitable luggage and equipment)

Simple Huh!

Sadly, most people starting to plan a cheap riding trip seem to find that things begin to go wrong almost immediately as they are steered towards to ever more complex and expensive solutions by advertising, ‘doom-sayers’ and the dreaded, ‘experts’, groups of people (usually on internet forums) who have often never seen a desert or been on a long distance unsupported riding trip in their lives but who seem know everything about anything.

Even more worrying are the people who don’t even start trying to do anything about riding anywhere at all because they fear it is too expensive or dangerous to even try. ‘Oh, I couldn’t possibly afford the £10000 it would cost for a new BMW!’, ‘Ooh, that’s far to dangerous!!’, are not unusual comments.

Well, here is the news. £2500 for a fully prepared bike is a perfectly reasonable figure to spend and £350 per week should be the figure you set yourself for the weekly cost of your trip. And there’s more, when you return you can ‘de-equip’ your bike and probably sell it for more than £2000 to offset your costs.

Cost for a three week adventure holiday of a lifetime, £1500. Make that a month away and you still haven’t broken the £1750 figure. Now who can’t afford it?!

My bike of choice for this venture will be the venerable DRZ400e. Already a great trail bike, it makes an even more spectacular cheap adventure bike. Light, low-tech and ultra reliable, its ‘average’ handling and slightly heavy chassis mean racers just don’t like it. For adventure riders a 2l oil capacity, simple steel frame, FCR carb, and a 5000 mile service interval make it a gift from heaven.

Without race credentials second hand values are low and a great donor bike can be had for very little money. A quick look around the TBM small ads and Ebay show 2005 bikes with around 3000 miles for about £1800. I’ve been buying these bikes since 2003 and with a little effort have never paid more than £1900 for a superbly tidy example.

Once you have your chosen bike back safely at home its time to find out about its Achilles heal(s). No bike is perfect and all have issues that can cause problems, even new from the factory. Finding out about them now and fixing them means a reliable and trustworthy bike later on.

For the DRZ a propensity to eat cam chains, spit off its primary drive nut, blow its output drive shaft seal, and crack its engine casings when dropped means we need to get a few things sorted before we move on. Also, no standard kick-start gives a little cause for concern

Firstly, get yourself a decent workshop manual. I prefer the Clymer series and recommend that you carry out all the prep work yourself if you can. The more you know about your bike the better prepared it, and you, will be. Take your time and get to know your steed, that way you’ll always be looking over it as you ride and will be familiar with how it should look and feel. At the risk of sounding a bit like a hippy you’ll become more ‘at-one’ with your machine and will be amazed how often your eye will pick up little problems before they become serious.

So, lets get started with the DRZ specific issues. Not only do DRZ’s eat cam chains at a ferocious pace, but they also suffer problems with the tensioning arrangements. A simple fix is to remove the cam chain tensioner and see how much wear there is on the cam chain as soon as you get the bike. If you have chosen your new bike well all should be fine, in which case you can replace the tensioner and feel happy with your choice (if the bike is older than 2003 you should replace the tensioner regardless with one from a later model, these bikes had cam chain tensioners that were modified to correct earlier faults) or an aftermarket manual tensioner from If the chain is beyond recommended wear limits its time for a change and it seems your bike choosing skills may be weak young jedi! (my bikes have all required new cam chains at around 12-15000 miles).

Next on the list is your primary drive nut. On a few bikes these have been known to come loose, and as we’re going to add a kick start to the machine anyway we can kill two birds with one stone by an ‘all-in-one’ fix. Riding in remote regions without a kick-start is not a good idea, you can’t bump start a DRZ on a dirt surface and the DRZ battery is not strong. A £100 kit from your Suzuki dealer will see you with a shiny new kick-start and following the fitting instructions will lead to uncovering your primary drive nut which can be removed and loctited permanently before re-assembly (please note: Loctite comes in MANY forms. For this job you want a permanent fixing compound than can only be removed by heating with a blowtorch). Whilst you have the right side engine cover off take the opportunity to quickly check the tolerances on your clutch plates and springs to ensure there is no wear. A low mileage minter like yours should show no change from new specs. Re-assemble and smile knowingly, you have a kickstart modified, loctited primary drive nutted, clutchtastic bike. It’s coming together!

Having completed this task its time to save those engine cases. A quick look around the Internet will see you purchasing two aluminium engine case covers for about £20. A heat resistant silicon sealing session will see them firmly attached to your engine and we’re almost done with the motor. A case saver to replace the standard chain cover will help you clean dirt from behind your front sprocket and stop a broken chain smashing your carefully protected engine casings.

Whilst case saver fitting is progressing removal of your front sprocket will show a metal plate held in place by two No3 Phillips machine screws. Impact drive them off (they are tough buggers to remove) and have a peek behind the plate. Here lives the famous oil seal that will inevitably fail at some point in your wanderings (make sure you carry a couple of spares), re-attach the plate using the two machine screws and little vibration-proof loctite, use a normal screwdriver for this and the next time you feel a warm sensation over your left boot you’re either over excited again or its time to remove your sprocket and cover plate ready for a 30 second oil seal change to stop any more oil exiting the engine.

At this point after a full engine service your bike’s engine is ready to roll. The recommended oil level for a filter change is 1.7l . I put in 2l (and have tested the engine oil pressure and found no difference) to help extend the working life of the oil but would not recommend you deviate from any instructions given in manuals or elsewhere.

Some riders advocate playing with your FCR Carb pump settings to increase fuel economy, personally I have found that an easy throttle hand at an average off-road speed of 40mph can yield as much at 70mpg anyway so I don’t bother.

If you plan on being away for a long time and covering lots of miles I recommend a re-usable stainless oil filter. It saves carrying bags of spare filters with you and also stops littering the landfills of the world with used oil filters.

Finally, a good quality bash plate should protect your engine and water pump as well as your lower engine casings. A great model for £65 is the Guard-it-Technology plate from

Our next big spend will be on a wheel rebuild. Aluminium spoke nipples with steel spokes are a bad combination if they work loose and are ridden on for any length of time as the nipples wear easily and cannot be re-tightened. A total rebuild of both wheels with stainless nipples and double butted spokes will mean years of trouble/fiddle free operation and shouldn’t cost more than £100. Make sure you use a reputable builder with a proven track record though; a badly rebuilt wheel will be much weaker than standard item. Fitted with 4mm heavy duty tubes (filled with a sealing agent like Ultra Seal or Slime) and tyres of your choice these wheels are now almost ready to roll (other options include fitting rim-locks if you intend to run your tubed tyres at low pressures, or fitting mousses/tyre balls to remove the threat of punctures altogether). As a final touch I always replace my wheel bearings before any trip, for the price it seems foolish not to, but a simple check should be sufficient to ensure all is well. Replace your wheels and stare lovingly at your shiny new kit.

A brake bleeding session and pad check should ensure you are as ready to stop as you are to go. Don’t forget to check for disk wear when you have the pads off!

Chain and sprockets are next on the list. Firstly, aluminium sprockets are out. Their only advantage over steel is weight but the downside of extremely fast wear is a far bigger problem. The road biased DRZ400s runs 15/47 tooth sprockets, the Trail Oriented DRZ400e, 14/47. I have always been happy with the 14/47 combination, it allows me to cruise at 100kmh on the road and ride comfortably in mud and soft sand off-road. Extended road sections may warrant a 15/47 combo, but I’d carry a 14 tooth spare for any intermediate tricky off-road stuff.

I never lube my chain when I ride, mainly because I spend so much time in the desert, and lube and desert sand equal grinding paste. If you feel you must lube then use the ‘dry’ style spray lube and wait for the solvent to evaporate before riding. A good quality ‘O’ or ‘X’ ring chain will complete the operation. Always buy a chain at least four links longer than you need and keep the extra links after fitting. These together with a few spare split links and good quality lightweight aluminium chain tool such as the Motion Pro T6 means a chain rebuild is possible anywhere.

Its now time for some more spending…You will most certainly need a larger tank on the bike if you hope to cover any real distance between fuel stops and this is where a good deal of advance warning comes in handy. A new tank won’t be cheap but regular second hand offerings do appear on websites like the Horizons Unlimited Bulletin Board, Ebay, and You should be looking to pay from £50 for smaller tank (Acerbis, Clarke, IMS, Aqualine, approx 16l) up to £350 for a new 27l Aqualine unit. I can usually get a comfortable 300km out of my second hand Acerbis15l as long as I take it easy.

Once the old tank is off think carefully about how well the new tank design protects your cooling system and radiators in the event of a fall. Some tanks like the Clarke are excellent, others like the Acerbis are not so good. If you feel your bike’s radiators will have direct contact with the ground in the event of a fall then its time to fit some protective radiator guards. These will prevent crush injuries and flying stones from damaging the radiator cores. At the same time if you plan on travelling anywhere hot (40 Dec C plus) or running the bike under heavy loads at slow speeds for any length of time (i.e. soft sand running) then fit a 1.6 bar radiator cap and instead of using the usual water/antifreeze solution try running water/water wetter. Search for details on the Internet to see how it works but extensive testing has shown me that my DRZ runs 20 degrees C cooler on this mix than on standard antifreeze/water. I have never once needed an electric cooling fan (not fitted as standard on DRZ ‘e’ models) and have never even boiled the bike!

Once your new/second hand tank has been sourced and fitted make sure you use good quality fuel hose and stainless removable hose clips to connect it to the carb. This is so that you can easily remove the fuel pipe should you need get at your petrol for siphoning, cleaning, stove fuel etc. Don’t forget to fit small inline fuel filters between your tank and carb, filling stations in remote places often consist of old water bottles and can contain more solids than petrol!

Our bike is pretty much ready to ride now, but another vitally important part of the preparation process is looming. Making sure we are relaxed on the bike so that we get less fatigued as we ride.

Lets start with noise. The DRZ comes with a loud pipe as standard and you may want to start by changing it. I use a CRD unit and the exhaust note is noticeably quieter. At the very least a simple exhaust end can repack will yield great results for almost no cost.

After noise comes comfort. The suspension on the DRZ is far from race spec, but at sensible speeds it is perfectly adequate if setup correctly. Make sure you understand about things such as ‘static’ sag for the rear shock and that you have fresh oil in your forks set at the correct level. A well set up bike will reduce fatigue massively and make riding pleasurable rather than a battle. Spend a day playing with your settings, making sure your bike is loaded up to your travelling spec before you start.

A re-padded/shaped seat can also reap benefits and can be acquired for very reasonable money. There are at least two old gentlemen working around the M62 corridor that will re-cover your seat for around £30, or if you are feeling brave why not have a go yourself, it’s actually a pretty simple process.

Although I am not a fan you may feel the need for a higher screen to protect you against flies and wind. A new model will cost you upwards of £50 but is only a bent piece of perspex or polycarbonate. Again, buy from a local ironmongers, cut, and fit.

We have already talked about the saddle, but what about body position? If you are not comfortable standing when riding then its time to accessorise! A set of Renthal handlebars is a must, OEM bars are poor quality and will bend almost instantly if you drop the bike. Luckily for us Renthal bars come in a range of different sizes and shapes and a set of ‘Dakar Riser’ bars normally do the trick making a more comfortable position what standing on the pegs. If these still aren’t enough them a set of bar risers should lift things by a further inch and sort things out. By contrast the footpegs on the DRZ ‘e’ model are a reasonable size and I run them as standard, but you may feel you need something aftermarket if you have size 12 feet..

In addition to mechanical add ons you will also need a 12v supply running from your battery to the cockpit of your bike. I use a simple set of two wires made from 17amp cable with a 10amp fuse in the positive line. I terminate this at the front of the bike with a standard cigarette lighter socket which I use as a charger for my phone at night and a power supply take off for my GPS during the day. My GPS also supplies all the information I need such as speed and distance and does so far more accurately than a standard speedo. I mount my GPS with a simple RAM GPS mount which attaches to the handlebars of the bike and is infinitely adjustable depending on my riding position.

The final job is luggage selection. Riding any kind of hard luggage off road tends to lead to broken legs and isn’t something I would recommend. By far the best solution I have found is either a set of simple throw over panniers sitting on a homemade flat bar rack or even better (if you have the cash) one of the new Giant Loop rear saddlebags. They are a great solution to the ‘no-rear-rack-soft-luggage’ problem that has transformed the way I ride.

By the time you have finished these you should have a well prepared and fully ready bike!

Good luck.



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