DR650SE: Failures and Fixes

I’ve logged nearly a quarter of a million miles on DR’s since 1990, but it wasn’t until 2002 that I owned a DR650SE. Since that time I’ve studied the big DR’s engineering screw ups and came up with appropriate fixes for some of them.

Models from 1996 through 2002

The chronic leaky base gasket from hell often failed immediately after your warranty expired and Suzuki would not fix it. Ask Ron Jensen. In 2003 Suzuki finally redesigned the 650’s base gasket, making it two-ply steel as they did in the 350 model. Problem eliminated.

Models from 1998 and 1999

Suzuki had a couple of years of exploding left crankcase halves. Suzuki fixed the problem by going back to their original but improved starter mechanism.

All year models

“What happened to my upper drive chain control wheel? My goodness, it’s gone and there is a huge hole in the frame!” Top Gun fixed the problem by designing the Chain Master, a bracket and wheel assembly that is both stronger and more strategically located. Suzuki has not fixed this problem on the 2015 model, but Top Gun’s Chain Master will be available soon here on our website.

There have been exhaust header failures where the header flange and head meet. In 2005, with 20,000 miles on the clock, I was one block from my home when suddenly my DR650SE started to sound like the typical Harley, except the loud noise was coming from the header/head joint. It turned out the failure was caused by huge stresses created by a misaligned exhaust system.

The fix was not that difficult. I purchased a new header and gasket, which I then installed but did not tighten immediately. After installing the muffler and all the exhaust fasteners loosely, I began working from the front to the rear, shimming and tightening as I went. By the time I got to the rear muffler fastener, I needed slightly more than a ¼ inch of stacked fender washers in order to eliminate the stresses which had caused the problem in the first place. I highly recommend that all DR650SE owners have their exhaust systems checked for alignment and shimmed if necessary. I recommended that Jay Wilgus adjust his exhaust system before he and Emily continued on their journey from Michigan to the tip of South America. (Follow their DR650SE journey at www.liveitrightdreamride.com)

Secondary carb air filter. If you are an off-roader and don’t want dirt in your carburetor, use Top Gun’s secondary air filter and keep it clean. While you are at it, install a quality primary air filter, like the one from Uni (stock air filters ain’t no good).

Counter shaft seal failure. Jay and Emily Wilgus (who are enroute from Ann Arbor, Michigan to the tip of South America) informed me that some DR650SE counter shaft seals are blowing out, allowing the engine oil to escape. Although I’ve passed 140,000 miles on DR650SE’s with no failures, I have, on Jay’s advice, installed the new factory counter shaft seal retainer on all three of my DR650SE’s. Better to be safe than sorry. When Jay did his prep work, he also installed the retainers on both his and Emily’s bikes.

Leaky valve covers are a chronic problem with the DR650SE, although the condition doesn’t usually affect engine performance. There are three fixes:

  1. Clean the oil off the affected area and smear a little Suzuki 1207B on the offending joint.
  2. Remove the cover and reseal it properly (Be careful!)
  3. My way involves having the head removed and improved by Vey de la Cruz of Vey’s Power Sports in El Cajon.

We’ve been very happy with the results; no leaks, improved reliability and more power ain’t bad.

All year models (we think)

Neutral sending unit fastener failures are another chronic problem. There are two screws holding your neutral sending unit in place inside the clutch cover and behind the clutch basket. There are two fixes for this problem. One way is to remove the clutch cover and clutch basket, then remove the two screws holding the sending unit in place. Cut the wire near the inside of the crankcase and remove the plunger, spring and sending unit. Save those parts if you wish for later. Finally, reinstall the clutch basket and clutch cover. If you’d like to keep the neutral light, clean and put light Locktite on the two sending unit fasteners, then reinstall the clutch and cover. (Editor – As far as I know, we were the first to write about this now well-known problem back in November 2006)

There are other less important fixes for the DR650SE. Some of these are:

  • Side cover blue engagement cap for the right side front of the air box
  • MacDonald Products shift lever which is stronger than stock and less likely to punch a hole in your Dyno cover should your bike fall over to the left.
  • Top Gun’s rear foot peg relocating brackets, which I designed so Pauline could enjoy the back of the DR as she does on our KLR. I also fixed her part of the seat for a more comfortable ride.
  • “Zerking” suspension and rear brake lever.

In closing let me say that our fervent belief here at Top Gun is that you pick the best bike and then prep it carefully so as to eliminate all the weaknesses that could endanger you or ruin your fun.