DR-Z400E Dual-Sport Project – March 2013

I decided there would be some value in having two street legal dirt bikes in the family.  This would open up the possibility to do rides that require traversing some pavement, allow us to ride in places like Canyonlands that only allow plated vehicles, and it would open the door for some small scale adventure rides.  My son’s 2002 Suzuki DR-Z400E would make a fairly nice dual-sport bike, and I thought this would make a fun winter project.

It was really easy to get my Husaberg plated for street use – all I had to do was add a horn and blinkers – everything else was already there.  I thought it would also be easy to convert the DR-Z400E to street legal since the previous owner had it plated.  But I thought wrong.  This turned out to be a much more complex – and expensive – project than I expected.

Dual Sport

To get a dirt bike plated for street use in Utah, you need to have DOT approved tires, a horn, turn signals (blinkers), high and low beam headlight, license plate illumination, and brake lights.

You can buy a dual sport kit that includes all of this, but since this bike had previously been plated, I figured all I would need to add are DOT tires, blinkers, and a horn.

There were two issues that made this project more difficult than expected; one, the dual-sport work done by the previous owner was of very poor quality, and had to be redone, and two, most of the information I gained from forums on the Internet was wrong – most DRZ dual-sport information is referring to the street legal S model, while I am dealing with an E model.

  • Brake Lights – The previous owner installed a hydraulic brake light switch on the front brake, but not the back.  Unfortunately, this switch was no longer functional.  So, I ended up installing hydraulic switches on both front and back brake master cylinders.  This also entails bleeding the brakes and modifying the mount of the rear master cylinder.  I thought the 2002 DR-Z400E came with an LED taillight, which can be modified to work as both a brake and a tail light.  It turns out that mine had a dual filament incandescent bulb.  I also found that the previous owner did a terrible job with his wiring modifications, so I basically rewired all of the add-ons.
  • Blinkers – I ordered a set of low profile LED blinkers and a handlebar switch from SicAss Racing.  They sell equipment primarily aimed at KTM and Husaberg, but they also sell a universal kit that looked like it ought to work.  I used their equipment on my Husaberg and I was satisfied with the quality and price.  This equipment installed nicely, but I ended up moving my rear blinkers because the original mount location ended up being hidden behind the license plate.
  • Headlight – I had read that the 2002 DR-Z comes stock with a high-low headlight bulb, but only the low beam is wired up.  So, there would be no need to buy an aftermarket headlight assembly.  It turns out that the 2002 models come in two different flavors.  Mine does not have LED blinkers and it does not have the dual filament bulb.  I was unable to find a dual filament bulb that would fit the lamp housing, so I ended up buying a whole new headlight assembly.  I decided on a Trail Tech X2 dual sport headlight.  I ended up making some brackets to offset the highlight 1” forward and 1” up.  This gave me a little more space for the wiring and throttle cables and it allows the headlight to shine better over a front fender bag.  Also, the new headlight takes a fair amount of current and I feared the stock wiring harness was not up to the job.  So, I added an auxiliary power cord from the battery, through a fuse, and up to the headlight area.  I installed a power relay so the headlight would shut off with the key.  So now the stock wiring runs the ignition key, the electronic controller, and the brake lights.  The relay power drives the horn, headlights, blinkers, and my grip heaters.  Having a separate fuse means that if anything fails on this auxiliary circuit my bike should still be functional.
  • Horn – The challenge with adding a horn is deciding where to put it.  It would have fit nicely behind the stock headlight, but the new Trail Tech X2 headlight leaves very little room.  I ended up mounting it to the side of my radiator – just like I did on the Husaberg.
  • Mirror – I tried two or three different mirrors on my Husaberg before I found one that I really liked.  I found the Double Take Mirrors to work perfectly.  They are easy to adjust and easy to stow out of harm’s way when off road.
  • Tires –I decided to use the same tires I put on my Husaberg; Pirelli MT21 Rallycross tires on the front, and a Pirelli MT43 trials tire on the rear.  To get good off-road traction with the trials tire you need to run at pressures below 10 psi.  I installed a TubLiss system on my Husaberg, which is not DOT approved for highway use.  For the DR-Z I elected to just use heavy-duty tubes.  I will probably run the tires at around 8 psi when dirt riding, and around 18 psi for dual-sport and highway use.

Mechanical Updates

Reliability is a key concern when using a dirt bike on the highway.  ThumperTalk user forums have a lot of really useful information on the DR-Z400, including some recommended mechanical updates to improve reliability and performance.  I found some of their recommendations to be a bit extreme for me, but others well worth doing.

  • Free Power Mod – The DR-Z contains two connectors between the power regulator and the battery.  As these connectors corrode, the charge voltage reaching the battery is too low to provide sufficient charge.  Before understanding this problem, I would replace my battery every year, assuming I had a string of bad batteries.  I have now bypassed the two connectors which increases the charge voltage at the battery by 0.5-1.0 volts.  I have not had a battery problem since.
  • Lithium Battery – In order to shave off about 4 lbs of weight and to improve battery life and charge capacity, I replaced the standard lead-acid battery with a Shorai lithium battery.  So far I am very impressed with it.
  • Water Pump Fix – Older model DR-Z bikes are notorious for having a leaky water pump.  I first tried the RTV fix without success.  I finally just replaced the stock pump with a newer unit that supposedly resolves the issue.  This was actually done a few years ago.
  • Radiator & Engine Protection – When I first bought the bike I installed radiator guards and a skid plate.  The previous owner installed the engine case savers on both sides, which are a must-have item.  I also installed a nice set of hand-guards to protect my hands and the brake and clutch levers.
  • Cam Chain Tensioner (CCT) – It seems that most automatic cam chain tensioners are prone to failure.  I recently replaced the one on my Husaberg with a manual CCT, and I now did the same on the DR-Z.  I probably ought to make the same modification to my CRF250X.  DJH Cycle Sport has some excellent videos explaining the problem and the solution.
  • Grease – It is common for the steering head and swing arm bearings to have insufficient grease from the factory.  They recommend tearing down the bike and re-greasing these bearings before ever riding the bike.  Better late than never – I hope.  This is the first time I have removed a swing arm, and it wasn’t as difficult as I expected.  There was some corrision, but not too bad.  I greased it all well and reassembled.  I found that the swingarm grease zirt fittings tend to only apply grease to one side of the bearings.  For the new grease to go it, the old grease has to be pushed out past the dust seals.  Once the seal is forced open, all of the grease flows in that direction.  So periodic manual cleaning and greasing of the bearings is a good idea.
  • Gearing – I had previous geared down the bike one tooth on the front counter sprocket for off-road use.  I went back to stock gearing (14/47) for dual sport use.

Custom Fit

For long rides it is important to adjust the bike to properly fit your size and riding style.  Since I am 6’2” and my boys are 6’4”, it was helpful to make some adjustments.  I also installed new suspension springs that are appropriate for our weight.

  • Bar Risers – Long ago I found that bar risers really help – especially when you are standing.  I installed some risers that lifted the bars about 1-1/2” and moved them forward about an inch, providing more room for tall riders.
  • Foot Pegs – The stock DR-Z foot pegs are really narrow.  When standing for long periods of time, this becomes uncomfortable.  I installed pegs that are 57mm wide and about ½” lower.  This gave me more leg room and a more stable platform to stand on.  Since the pegs are lower, it was necessary to readjust the shifter and rear brake lever.
  • Springs – For your suspension to work properly, it is important to have the proper spring-rate springs on the shock and in the forks.  While changing the fork springs, it is worth replacing the fork oil and perhaps the oil seals.
  • Seat – Just sitting on the stock seat in the garage was enough to tell me the stock seat was not going to cut it on long rides.  After researching various options, I decided to buy replacement foam and seat cover from Seat Concepts.  Hopefully this will really help for those long days in the saddle.
  • Auxiliary Power – Since I had to run 12V up to the front of the bike for the headlight, it was easy to also provide full-time power to an auxiliary connector and my Garmin GPS.  The auxiliary power can be used to recharge a cell phone, pump up an air mattress, etc.  Since it is on all the time, it is important to not leave anything plugged in overnight as it could drain the battery.  Without a backup kick starter (which would be a nice add-on), it is best to avoid having a dead battery.

Adventure Riding

In my mind there are a few additional items to consider if using a dual sport bike for multi-day adventure rides.  You need to have sufficient fuel to get you between gas stops (which is a challenge on my Husaberg), and you need a way to carry your camping gear.

  • Fuel Tank – The stock tank holds 2.6 gallons of fuel.  I estimate this should give me a range of about 130 miles.  I decided to install a 4.0 gallon IMS tank, which should give me about a 200 mile range.  It was a challenge to get it installed, but Internet reports indicate that it is much easier once the tank molds to the  mounted shape.  I also learned that the tank holds about 1/3 gallon of fuel below the petcock – making this fuel essentially unavailable.  After installation, I added fuel one gallon at a time and marked the fuel level so I could easily estimate how much fuel I have remaining.  I was surprised to learn that I have to switch to reserve with full gallon of gas in the tank.
  • Tools – I have used rear fender bags on all of my bikes.  They work great for carrying the bike registration as well as a trail set of tools.  For my dual sport bikes I also use a front fender bag to carry tire repair equipment.  For the DRZ I installed a metal front fender brace to make it strong enough to support the extra weight.

Cargo Capacity – I bought a Wolfman tank bag to try with my Husaberg.  It will also work on the DRZ, but it is rather small (only 6 liters).  Since I want both my Husaberg and my DRZ to be useful for adventure riding, I also ordered a larger (10 liters) Giant Loop Fandango tank bag.  For my main camping gear, I decided to buy a Giant Loop Coyotte Bag when they had their end of season clearance sale.  I just couldn’t pass up the chance to save $100 on this luxury item.  This bag does not require any kind of rack or side panels, so it will mount on either my Husaberg or the DRZ.  It only holds 30 liters of gear, but it includes straps for putting tents and other items on top of the bag.  Now my primary problem will be getting my leg over the seat!  I also have a set of small waterproof river bags which I can strap on my second bike.

Registration & License

The final step is to get the bike inspected and then make the trip to the DMV to get it re-registered as a street legal motorcycle.  And then, of course, you also need to purchase insurance.

Test Ride – May 4, 2013

I finally had some extra time and warmer weather so I could take the bike for a test ride.  I was also able to test my new GoPro Hero3 Black Edition helmet camera at the same time.  I rode from my house up Big Cottonwood Canyon to Brighton Ski Resort, and back.  The ride took exactly one hour (recorded on camera).

The DRZ does not have quite the power of my Husaberg FE450 and I miss the six speed transmission, but overall I was pretty pleased with the ride.  The seat is definitely more comfortable than my Husaberg seat.  When I did a similar ride on the Berg, my butt was very sore half way up the canyon.  After the full hour on the Seat Concepts saddle I still felt pretty good.

I think this will make a pretty capable dual-sport/adventure bike – although I think a windscreen would be a nice addition.


After riding the bike on some dirt trails, I decided I needed to make a few adjustments.  The first thing I noticed was that the stock shift lever was too short.  It is about 1.5″ shorter than my Husaberg shifter – even though my new footpegs are further back than the stock pegs.

I solved this problem by installing an MSR shift lever that is 1″ longer than stock.  It is made of steel, so it is noticeably heavier than stock, but it should be strong.

The next thing I noticed was how flimsy the rear fender is – especially with a tool bag mounted on the fender.  So, I installed a Pro Moto Billet aluminum rear rack.  This makes it more difficult to remove or install the seat, but it will allow me to carry a lot more gear.

I have been really happy with Wolfman Enduro tank bags, but they mount directly to the fender.  I moved the old bag onto my daughter’s crf230f and installed a “Bag-It” Wolfman bag that is just slightly larger than the Enduro bag and is made to mount to a rack.

There is a little room on each side, so it should be possible to carry a few other small items on the rack.  Or, for multi-day trips, I can easily remove this bag and install something much larger.

About gardinerfamilyadventures

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15 Responses to DR-Z400E Dual-Sport Project – March 2013

  1. How did/do you like the DRZ compared to your Husaberg FE450 and KTM XCW 350? I know it’s older tech when it comes to motor and suspension, but these bikes always intrigue me for simplicity. They hold their value unbelievably. Still hoping I close the deal on the FE390. If not, the search continues.

  2. The poor DRZ sits in the shed most of the time. It is the last bike of our fleet to ever be ridden. It is just too heavy, and it isn’t as fun to ride as the Husaberg or the KTM. I moved from the Husaberg to the KTM 350, so my son that used to ride the DRZ is now riding the Husaberg. It took him about two seconds to adapt and enjoy it. And to my surprise, he hates the Seat Concepts seat on the DRZ. The 350 is even more fun to ride than the Husaberg because it is so light and nimble (and it is much easier to work on). The major advantage of our DRZ is the 4 gallon tank, but so far we have never done a ride longer than 120 miles, so it hasn’t been an issue. That plus the low maintenance of the bike. But there is a good chance our DRZ will be put up for sale.

  3. paul shepherd says:

    I love the tail tidy kit and rear blinker set you have, who makes it? I bought a r&g tail tidy kit but I don’t like it, yours is cool how the blinkers are flush mounted instead of sticking out… they break lolol.

  4. G E M says:

    Nicely done, Mr. Gardiner. As the owner of 2 DRZ400s, all your modifications make perfect sense to me. I am also a “mature” motorcyclist, like you. At only 5’9″ though, I don’t need the risers but do need lowering links and a lower saddle sold by Suzuki.

    Like you, I ride with a group of younger people who have much lighter/more-powerful/better-suspended bikes, including those orange bikes you see everywhere. While the DRZs don’t do it quite as elegantly as those bikes, in the hands of an experienced rider. they will go anywhere the others go.

    But at 340 lbs (with fuel and accessories) — you don’t want to drop a DRZ too many times. So carefully picking lines in technical areas is a must.

    One area where my Suzukis are superior is reliability. It seems so many of the guys I ride with have mechanical problems. Not the DRZs, though. They are bullet proof.

    Thanks for sharing the mods you’ve made. Again, the bike is quite well executed — weight notwithstanding.

    • Good comments. I actually bought the DRZ for my son. He is almost 6′ 5″ and he out grew our crf230 as a teenager. But now that he is in his mid-20s he is wanting a lighter bike. Just last week the two of us took the DRZ and my Husaberg FE450 for a test ride. We traded bikes back and forth, paying attention to what we liked and disliked about each bike. Our conclusion was that the DRZ is a great “casual” bike. It requires little maintenance, it is highly reliable, and it has a cushy ride and smooth power. It is easy to ride. The main disadvantage of the bike is the weight. It feels fine while riding, but while loading the trailer, or when you start tipping over on the trail, it is very heavy. But if you are a “casual” rider that enjoys a simple day of trail riding, the bike is hard to beat. But, if you want to ride more aggressively – lofting the front end up ledges or over whoops, or dart around the rocks, etc, the DRZ comes up short. The higher performance modern bikes are more fun to ride and easier to ride if you want to go fast or tackle more technical terrain. The DRZ can do the job, but the lighter bikes will be more fun. So it really all comes down to your riding style and objectives.

      • G E M says:

        Your assessment is on the money. The DRZ in its current form dates back 14 years — which ancient in a field that never seems to keep the same model around (in its current state) more then a couple of years. I believe it is based on the 1998 RM250 chassis and motor. So it definitely is long in the tooth.

        But its low-tech suspension and its modest power really aren’t that much of a handicap. It is its weight that makes it a handful in the tight stuff. Everything about the bike is robust. The same thing that makes it indestructable also makes it challenging to ride under certain conditions — particularly for a smaller rider like me (who is in his 60s).

        Had my 2008 fall over on me while picking my way through a single track boulder field a few years ago. If George, a very large guy, hadn’t been with us to pull the bike off of me, I might never have gotten out of there.

        I have now purchased a WR450 that is about 50lbs lighter than my S-Model Suzuki. I am hoping it will make me a better rider and extend my trail riding a few more years.

        I hope to get out your way this fall and ride Strawberry Ridge. The last time I was there was 3 years ago (in September) on a road bike trip to Park City with my wife and her brothers. Ran into a snow/Rainstorm above Heber City and my wife ran over a broken broken plier handle in the roadway — which blew her rear tire. The folks at the Yamaha dealer in HB stayed open late (on Memorial Day weekend no less), picked the bike up and hauled it in for the repair. Had it ready the next morning. Not the best memory, but that shop made it much better than it could have been.

        Time to stop my rambling. Wanted you to know that I enjoyed your videos and your comments on the Suzuki.

        Keep riding!

  5. Chris says:

    I was searching for some DRZ build threads when I stumbled upon this one. Two quick questions – what was the brand/model of bar risers, and are they a 1 1/8″ adapter style? I’ve been trying to find something like that for my DRZ.

    • A guy in Canada made those bar risers as a side business, but he no longer makes them – at least I can’t find him on the Internet any longer. You might try the Rox Speed bar risers. I think they are available in 7/8″ and 1-1/8″ and at various heights.

  6. Cooper says:

    I’m new to the dual sport/motorbike arena and came across your website. I have a 2004 DRZ400 and I’m looking for a part after I flipped my bike in Moab a month ago. I ended up busting my speedo gauge and light indicator as well. Do you happen to have a suggestion on a replacement part for Suzuki part number 36380-29F00?

    • I am guessing you have the 400S. I had the 400E, which did not have a speedometer of indicator lights. I added a Trail Tech speedometer and SicAss Racing sells a light control switch with LED indicator lights built in. If your bike had a neutral light, I don’t know of any products for that. Good luck.

  7. Dudley says:

    I appreciate your post. I am in the process of dual sporting my DRZE model as well. I purchased a S-model wire harness on Ebay and after hooking it up found that it is missing the connector for the blinkers and was wondering what you did to get all the electronics working on your conversion.

    Thank you!

    • I just ran my own wires. In most cases I just solder the connections. I don’t like connectors that quit working due to vibration or corrosion. Where I use connectors, I just buy some from Radio Shack. I used a Trail Tech computer for my speedometer. Good luck.

  8. Mike Gillis says:

    I noticed it looked like you had to modify the plastic ( slit in the side cover) for the rack to fit. I have an 04 DRZ 400E I recently purchased and there is no place to to attach the rack except the seat bolts. Did you have to drill and tap the frame or is there an existing bolt hole to attach the support arm on the rack.
    You did a very good job making it street legal. I am going to try and make mine street legal, but I am lucky, Texas does not require blinkers.

    • I did have to cut notches in the plastic, but I did not need to drill any holes. The rack mounts to the seat bolts and the fender bolts. The rack comes with complete instructions, which you can find here. Good luck with your street legal conversion. I have done about 5 bikes now, and I get better each time. Be careful how you route your wires to avoid a pinch or heat damage.

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