The dry and dusty days of summer are fading away in some parts of the West so now’s the time to wipe the dust off that dual-sport in your shed and hit the moist trails. Don’t have one? Consider this relic from decades ago: Suzuki’s trusty DR-Z400S. Although old, the DR-Z still gets it done with a proven level of all-around competence.
If the DR-Z400S looks about 20 years old, well, that’s because it is. But what it lacks in style it makes up for in usefulness. Plus its retro-styling, with the right riding gear, makes the Suzuki dare we say kind of fashionable— much like driving around town in an old Desert Storm-painted diesel Hummer.
Priced about a thousand dollars more than some of its 250cc-powered competition, the 400 not only packs more punch but offers a more full-sized perch that’s better suited to larger fellas.
Because it’s an old school street-legal dirt bike, the lofty 36.8 in seat height makes for a stretch— especially when trying to swing a leg over it on uneven terrain. Consider yourself warned. But get rolling and it feels lithe and apt to play. Curb weight is rated at 317 pounds which isn’t exactly light, yet is about 100 pounds less than a typical road bike. The manual disc brakes are easy to use and prove up to the task and the rear brake is plenty effective for off-roading.
Fuel-injection is absent making for a degree of cold bloodedness, but use the carburetor’s choke and let it idle for about a minute and the 398cc Single runs cleanly ever after, hot or cold day or night. It will also be more EMP warfare-friendly, as your KLR buddies will be quick to point out (joking).
We noticed some engine hesitation while riding on bumpy trails, about 1000 miles above sea level, so some jetting work, and a more free-flowing exhaust would be worthy upgrades in our book.
Its e-start equipped water-cooled Single is a tractor off-road allowing it to climb over obstacles and up steep terrain easily— especially compared to a high revving 250. Notch it into gear, give it some gas, and it will lug up most any incline with a bit of momentum. Plenty of ground clearance, capable suspension— with damping adjustment— and real off-road sized wheels (21-inch front, 18-inch rear) afford true off-road capability. More so than other brand’s fancier looking dual sports.
Perhaps the only limiting factor in how wild you can get off-road is the OE-fitted tires. Although highly versatile, a sharper knob would give a deeper footprint. The footpegs are decently sized offering an acceptable base to work from and the no-frills steel handlebar offers an acceptable bend for most.
Because the engine produces a steady stream of torque, you’ll rarely feel the need to slip the clutch at low speeds and the five-speed gearbox is wide enough to keep the engine lugging in the meat of its powerband whether crawling through the woods or riding in top gear at 80 mph.
Of course, on the street, the engine delivers more than its fair share of engine vibration— especially at highway speeds, but as long as you keep cross-country jaunts short, it isn’t a deal breaker. Although narrow as measured against a street bike, the dirt bike style seat is aptly supportive and there is room if you want to bring a passenger along for a quick spin.
If highway riding is part of the day’s route, you’ll find it quite easy to deplete the capacity of the 2.6-gallon fuel tank. Fortunately, there is a low fuel light and an old school reserve tank flip knob to access the remnants of the tank, if you’re trying to squeak out another couple miles to the next fill up. If you’re planning on really doing some exploring—do yourself a favor and bring a small water bottle filled with gas, just in case.
If you’ve got the space, than the DR-Z is one of the bikes you should have in your garage— especially if you live in a small town. It’s the two-wheel equivalent of your grandpa’s stone axe— a no frills dual-sport that gets the job done now and likely for another two decades when the rain hits and it’s time to explore the outdoors.