DRZ400 Review - Pros and Cons as an Adventure Bike

As we all know, a bike that ticks all the boxes and is considered the perfect adventure bike is a mythical machine. However, the DRZ400 does a pretty good job of ticking a good portion of those boxes and can be considered a pretty good adventure bike for riders who enjoy routes that lean more towards off-road riding.

For eight years I rode a DRZ400 kitted out as an adventure bike and clocked up over 180,000 km of adventure riding in the South Island of New Zealand. This review is on the DRZ400 being ridden as an adventure bike (with camping and fly fishing gear) and predominately ridden over off-road terrain.

Road legal DRZ400E loaded up on a riding and fishing trip

DRZ400 On Road Characteristics

Having a shallow five-speed gear cluster, the DRZ400 generally leans toward favouring either off-road or on-road riding. I run a 15/44 sprocket combo which I found to be the best middle of the range compromise that allowed me to cruise at 100 km/h while still being able to tackle technical off-road terrain, albeit with a bit of feathering of the clutch in the really technical stuff.

At 100 km/h the bike will rev to 6250 rpm. This seems high but it ticks along day after day at 100 km/h with no issues other than the naturally expected vibes you get from any small capacity single cylinder bike.

There is however a solution to this, a wide ratio gear set for the DRZ400. Two companies offer these wide ratio gear sets, ACT and Nova. The wide ratio gear set completely changes the bike and fixes what is the most commonly complained about aspect of the DRZ400 when the bike is used for adventure riding. I installed the ACT gear set and it made a marked improvement. 

The stock seat is as comfortable as a plank of wood. A wide seat (such as a Seat Concepts seat) can be considered a must-do for anyone that wants to travel long distances or ride for long periods. Additionally, I added an Airhawk seat cushion. These things are great and make such a difference to any small cylinder bike that can be viby at 100kmph. 

The factory DRZ400E brakes are respectable but by no means outstanding. They serve the purpose of stopping the bike well however when the DRZ400 is used as an adventure bike and carries all that extra weight, the limitations of the small 250mm front brake rotor are exposed. Upgrading the front brake rotor from a 250mm to a 270mm adds that extra bit of stopping power that makes braking more effective. 

Overall the bike generally handles well on the open road. Being only 400cc it lacks fistfuls of aggressive power however the DRZ400 has adequate horsepower to combat steep inclines, headwinds, overtake slow vehicles and be enjoyable to ride on the road.

Photo 2 of DRZ400 Review as an Adventure Bike
Towering trees on a stretch of SH7
Reference Link : SH7 - Lewis Pass

DRZ400 Off-Road Characteristics

The DRZ400 shines in this area as it is a very capable off-road machine. A mixture of good ground clearance, respectable suspension, adequate power and easy handling makes for an enjoyable bike to ride. It is a far cry from a lightweight enduro bike however Suzuki has never claimed it to be so. It is just a solid, reliable and capable off-road machine.

The DRZ400 can handle deep water crossings with ease as long as it has been correctly setup. Click on the link below for steps on setting up the DRZ400 for deep water crossings

Upgrading a DRZ400 for Adventure Riding

Some bikes lack aftermarket parts to kit them out as adventure bikes however the DRZ400 has a number of companies producing a wide range of aftermarket products to adequately set up a DRZ400 as an adventure bike. A rundown of the products I used to kit out my DRZ400 is here: DRZ400 Adventure Bike Build

DRZ400 Weight

This is one of the DRZ400’s positive attributes. With many adventure bikes on the market weighing upwards of 160 kg, the DRZ400 can be considered a fairly lightweight machine coming in at only 138 kg curb weight. Naturally adding adventure accessories and luggage increases this, however the overall weight still makes for an adventure bike that is fairly nimble in the technical terrain and can be easily picked up by a solo rider when you have one of those not so glamorous moments ;)

DRZ400 Seat Height

The seat height is not necessarily the lowest you will find nor is it the highest. The good thing is, for the shorter riders like me who want to be able to sit on the bike with both feet touching, the DRZ400 can be easily lowered.

The best method to lower the DRZ400 and preserve suspension performance is having the suspension professionally lowered. I have had mine professionally lowered 35mm, resprung for my weight and revalved. This makes the bike far more manageable and the revalving actually improves the suspension performance. This cost me around NZ$1,600 and is worth every penny.

Lowering links up to 2 inches are available but this is not recommended for the DRZ400. Lowering links change the suspension architecture and the suspension performance is negatively affected. For more information on lowering a DRZ400 for adventure riding click here: Lowering the suspension of an adventure bike.

There are a number of aftermarket seats available for the DRZ400 that will lower the bike up to 1 inch without having to touch the suspension. This is a very cost-effective way to lower a DRZ400 up to 1 inch. Seat Concepts is the option I prefer.

DRZ400 Servicing Intervals

Mulit-day or multi-week adventure rides place importance on the service intervals of a bike. The DRZ400 has very friendly service intervals which offers great flexibility when planning long trips. Additionally the bike is quick and easy to service when the time comes to giving it a bit of workshop loving. 

DRZ400 Reliability

The DRZ400 is an outstandingly reliable “dirt bike” and is commonly referred to as bullet-proof. Used as an “adventure bike” however it places far more demands on the engine, especially when carrying heavy loads. I have found three important areas need attention to maintain the DRZ400’s reliability when used as an adventure bike.

Regulator/Rectifier upgrade 
The DRZ400 has very few known issues that haven't been identified and remedied by Suzuki in the current DRZ400 models. However, one thing that has gone unchanged is the old shunt style regulator/rectifier. The shunt operation of the regulator/rectifier is hard on stators and often leads to the stator overheating and failing. Once this fails, the bike is immobilised. This is one of the most common issues the DRZ400 suffers from at around the 20,000km mark on average.

Stators that overheat can cause oil degradation which prematurely ages the oil and reduces the amount of protection the oil can provide. Additionally the coating over the stator windings burns and breaks away from the stator contaminating the oil. Stators that fail can lead to premature engine wear.

Replacing the stator is fairly low cost, especially with the number of aftermarket options out there. Click here to buy a DRZ400 aftermarket stator.

However, there is a better option than replacing the factory style shunt style regulator/rectifier. Upgrading the factory shunt regulator/rectifier to a modern series regulator/rectifier is significantly gentler to the stator in the way that series regulator/rectifiers handle excess current and avoid overheating of the stator. It allows your stator to run cooler with the result being longer life out of your stator and improved bike reliability.

One option is an upgrade to the SH775 regulator/rectifier. Click here for info on a DRZ400 SH775 regulator/rectifier upgrade 

Failed DRZ400 Stator
Photo 4 of DRZ400 Review as an Adventure Bike
This is one of 5 stators that I burnt out prior to upgrading to the SH775
Buy Replacement DRZ400 Stator

Radiator fan install

While the DRZ400S and DRZ400SM come with a fan from factory, the DRZ400E does not. When riding slow technical terrain fully laden with gear it is hard work on the engine and the bike will overheat. This is further amplified when riding in very hot ambient temperatures. A simple solution for the DRZ400E is to install a radiator fan.

Click here for info on Installing a radiator fan on a DRZ400

DRZ400E radiator fan install
Buy This DRZ400 Fan Kit

Oil quality and change intervals

The oil change intervals vary considerably between the DRZ400S/SM and the DRZ400E. The DRZ400S/SM has factory recommend changes at 6000 km while the DRZ400E has recommended oil changes every 60 hours or approximately 3000 km. This is primarily due to the DRZ400E motor being more highly strung than the DRZ400S/SM with its higher compression ratio, aggressive cam profiles, carburettor setup and combined with the fact off-road bikes are generally ridden hard the entire time the motor is running.

Motors are given a hard time adventure riding technical terrain when fully loaded, the DRZ400 is no exception. The heavy demands can reduce oil life quicker than the factory specified change intervals. On some long trips, without doing oil changes en route, if I exceed the 3000 km oil change interval the oil is noticeably degraded in sight, feel and smell. Keeping oil changes under 3000 km ensures the oil remains healthy and continues to provide the protection the engine needs. Where possible I try to aim for oil changes around 2000 km to 2500 km. 

It goes without saying that if the riding you do pushes the limits for oil change intervals, the oil used should be the highest quality to provide the best longevity and protection possible. 

The DRZ400 in closing

While recently we have seen the highest number of new adventure bikes released to the market than ever before, the magic pill perfect lightweight adventure bike still doesn't exist. Even from the array of bike manufacturers beginning to address the mid-sized adventure bike market, the DRZ400 still stands as a strong contender amongst them. 

Admittedly there is a long list of upgrades required to transform a stock DRZ400 into an adventure bike, but what the DRZ400 does represent is a lightweight, reliable and affordable foundation to build a great adventure bike.

The DRZ400 can handle deep water crossings with ease as long as it has been correctly setup. Click on the link below for steps on setting up the DRZ400 for deep water crossings
The most current DRZ400 build. Click on the link below for the full bike build details
Author of this article: RMOTO