The internet constantly asks the question, “what is the best (motorcycle, tire, oil, etc. etc) ? There is, of course, no real answer for that question except for the individual who is using the thing asked about, though the opinions drawn by the query are many and passioned.

Humans are mostly the same, but the small differences between us are what makes each of us unique. We like what we like and it is normal for us to want others to like it too. But if everyone liked the exact same thing, we’d have only one flavor of ice cream, one brand of beer and …perhaps most horrifying of all….one kind/brand/style of motorcycle. It would make advertising unnecessary, and that might be a good thing, but in my view (which of course I would like everyone else to adopt 😁) it would be pretty boring.

I haven’t ridden every motorcycle out there, but in six decades behind handlebars, on the roads all over this country, many others, and in the woods, I’ve been exposed to quite a few.

This bike, the one that I’m going to extol, was introduced in its present form in 1996 and, some would say, not changed much since then. It isn’t “the best” for everyone, but it leaves very few boxes unticked for me.

It’s even game for touring duty when the mood strikes it

The DR650, if viewed coldly, is an outdated, unsophisticated motorcycle, lacking most of the technological innovations of the 21st century that have made “modern” motorcycles more powerful, better handling, and safer than anything we’ve had before.

The perfect winter bike

But, I can’t view motorcycles of any sort in that coldly rational, logical way. They have been a part of my life since my first ride on the back age 10 and an intimate presence since my first owned and operated example when I was 14. I’m in my 70’s now and have had only one three month period (when I sold one for college tuition and had to wait until I could acquire enough cash for a basket case to rebuild and get back on the road) without at least one to ride.

The DR650 is elemental, lighter than many of its fellow two wheelers of similar engine size, simple to maintain, capable of many kinds of use that most of its more sophisticated brethren struggle with when out of their design envelope and of course, with its simplicity comes a nearly infinite capacity for modification. There is no excess of horsepower, just exactly enough for it to do what it does best. I love the basic architecture of it, the tall single cylinder engine and the tight, minimal frame fitted around the essentials. It brings to mind the classic British singles of my formative years,, the Matchless G80CS, the Norton ES2, any Velocette and others.

When a cold but clear day comes along

For me, it is an absolute joy to ride. I have other motorcycles in the garage (it’s not hard to collect a few when you’ve had as long as I have) big ones, little ones, and even a sidecar rig, but the DR650 is the one that I reach for most often when I’m “just going for a ride” without any destination other than to see where that road or track goes. Something in the thump of the big single, the light and nimble stance on the road, the ability to easily make a quick feet-up turnaround on a narrow backroad to get to the turnoff I just saw, makes it perfect for my needs. If I were younger, it would make a fine single track trail explorer and I still make sure it gets a dirt road in its diet once in a while. It makes me smile when I think about it, when I ride it and when I think about having ridden it. It just fits. That is enough to keep it in the garage, in the spot where it’s easily taken out on a moment’s notice.

About johngrice

Retired small town lawyer, lifelong motorcyclist, traveler and old guy sitting around thinking.
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  1. Jack Flack says:

    Nice story/bike write up!


  2. Markku Manninen says:

    My words exactly! I’m awaiting my sixth riding season on my ’97 DR. It’s my only bike, but as I’ve found out, I can go anywhere with it. Nimble in the city, stable on gravel and passable on long tours. I’m 65 next month, and won’t usually ride more than 160 miles per day. I love its lightness. I’ve picked it up twice and I sure know I couldn’t lift a Tenere or any other heaver bike. It’s been reliable except for a persistent problem with the headlight bulbs. Had to get a new rectifier and switch to LED before the troubles disappeared. If there’s one thing I’m not happy with, is the fuel consumption. The humble thumper is as thirsty as a Triumph Rocket 3!


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