When looking for my first motorcycle I wanted something fun and that would stay fun for my in-town commuting mission with occasional out of town weekend rides. Coming from a cycling background with thousands of miles on road and mountain bikes, cruiser style motorcycles (like I used for motorcycle safety training) feel awkward and weird to me and I wanted a motorcycle that was a more natural fit vs. something that I would have to adapt to. After some research, I learned about the DR-Z400SM which is basically a big dirt bike with street wheels and tires. After two years of ownership and riding at least 3 days every week, this bike has met all expectations and continues to put a smile on my face every time I ride it. There’s nothing exotic about this bike but it’s a super solid all-around fun machine that fits my in-town mission perfectly.
Reliability. Suzuki is known for making reliable bikes and the DRZ400 is no exception. What it lacks in exotic features and high-end performance it more than makes up for it in rock solid dependability. Sometimes wrenching is fun but riding is always more fun.
After market. Because the DR-Z400 series has been in production since 2000 a thriving aftermarket has developed around this bike and there’s a wide selection of aftermarket parts and upgrades available.
Performance. The 398 cc engine in stock configuration makes 33 HP and 25 ft-pounds so this won’t exactly give you an adrenaline hit when you twist the throttle but it’s enough to keep the bike fun beyond the honeymoon phase.
Weight. At 322lbs the DR-Z400SM is lower in weight than other bikes you might be considering in the 600+cc class and this makes the bike more maneuverable and fun.
Riding position. The DRZ400 is more like riding a big mountain bike and if you prefer a more upright position then you’ll like the DRZ400. I took motorcycle safety training on a small 250cc cruiser style bike and I found the seating position awkward and uncomfortable. I feel like I have more control on the DRZ400 and this probably has a lot to do with being able to weight the foot pegs like I do on a mountain bike when cornering and maneuvering at slow speed.
Used prices. Good condition DRZ400’s with low miles can typically be found on the used market in the $3,000 to $5,000 range which is a significant discount from the dealership $7200+ MSRP. For first-bike shoppers, I recommend avoiding bikes that have been heavily modified, better to stick to stock. You’ll find plenty of bikes for sale with upgraded cams, bigger cylinder, bigger carb, airbox modified, jetted and silencer (aka muffler) “upgrades”. Buy a bike like this if you feel like spending a lot of time and money fixing the previous owners learning mistakes.
Seat height. At 35″, the DRZ400 seat is higher compared to other starter bikes. There are different ways to deal with this from riding style adjustments to more complicated lowering modifications. It really depends on inseam length but riders under 5’9″” will be challenged to put both feet flat on the ground. A lot of shorter riders adjust by putting only one foot down (left is better because you can then hold the back brake with your right foot) instead of two. There are popular seat modifications that will lower the seat by about 1″” and there are lowering kits that will bring the seat height down another 2″.
Highway performance. DR-Z’s have 5 speed transmissions and are less suitable for long highway rides at 65MPH+ speeds typical on interstates. Some owners manage but if frequent highway trips are important to you then you should consider a different bike, i.e., with a larger engine and better top-end gearing for highway speeds.
Fuel economy. DRZ400’s have a carburetor and don’t have fuel injection and even though it’s mostly a trouble-free carb it doesn’t match the fuel economy of a modern fuel injection setup. Like they say, your mileage will vary but most riders report getting somewhere in the 40 to 50 MPG range and this will depend largely on your riding style. I consistently get 42MPG for in-town riding.
Thumper Talk, a popular forum for DR-Z riders. “Thumper” refers to the (sweet) sound a single cylinder engine makes.