Retro: Suzuki DR Big

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Arriving after the adventure touring segment had been invented by the likes of the BMW R80GS and Yamaha Tenere and before it was popularized by two twats with support trucks, the little known Doctor Big can’t claim to have had much influence on motorcycling as a whole. It can claim to have had a huge impact on motorcycle styling. Released in 1988, this Suzuki represents the first known example of the now common pointless-front-mudguard-thing and is trotted out by Triumph as proof that the Tiger 800 doesn’t rip off the F800GS’s design.

We first learned of Doctor Big, or “Desert Express” as he’s known by people with more mature senses of humor, in something of an aside in Kevin Ash’s Tiger 800 review about Triumph being peeved that people (read: us) think the Triumph is unmistakably an effort to copy the GS’s design. It is, but Triumph argues that the BMW itself is simply a copy, of this Suzuki. And thus Doctor Big’s place in history is assured.

Initially released as a 52bhp 727cc in 1988 and then a 54bhp, 779cc in 1990 the DR lived up to it’s “Big” monicker. Sure, the F800Gs and Tiger both have 800cc motors too and 1200cc is now considered normal for the class, but the good DR’s entire capacity was composed of a single-cylinder. That was good, because it branched off from the adventure touring evolutionary tree to be more of a dirt bike that could also just about manage a highway than a highway bike that could just about manage some dirt. Suzuki’s process for achieving that seemed simply to be take a dirt bike and make enormous.

Like most other bikes in the segment, Doctor Big was born with some serious Paris-Dakar cred. Gaston Rahier rode for Suzuki for a couple of years in the late ‘80s after his famous victories for BMW helped stamp the GS name in history books. Perhaps its this heritage which explains why the Desert Express initially came with a 7.7-gallon fuel tank allegedly so large that riders struggled to straddle it with their legs. In 1991, that tank was reduced to a mere 6.3 gallons.

That giant fuel tank wasn’t Doctor Big’s only problem, owners also complain of the ridiculously tall 34.5” seat height, cheapo suspension and weak front brake. Oddly, we can’t find much mention from actual owners complaining of vibration, we can only assume they knew what they were getting themselves in for. The early 750 motors are also said to have a penchant for grenading.

The top speed for the 54bhp, 46lb/ft, 194kg/427lbs DR is said to be just over 100mph, but owners recommend cruising at no more than 70 for long stretches.

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As you’d expect from a scaled-up dirt bike, the DR appears to be far more capable off-road than contemporaries like the Honda Africa Twin or even the Yamaha Super Tenere. Watching it in this video, it appears to do very dirt bike-like things while emitting an unholy racket.

Oddly, there’s no word as to what Suzuki was thinking with the pointless-front-mudguard-thing or if it fully realized the evil it was releasing on the world when it first thought that such a device would enhance faux-dirt cred.

The DR was never officially imported to the States, although it appears a few have made their way here and is significant mostly as a footnote in adventure touring history. Big demonstrates what it would have been like had the class evolved more in the direction of large dirt bikes and less in the direction of tourers with knobby tires. Allegedly, the DR was produced until 1999 and has now been replaced in Suzuki’s range by the V-strom, a bike finally serving as a home for the utterly awesome, yet ill-fated TL v-twin. Doctor Big will always be remembered as the reason Triumph definitely didn’t just copy the F800GS.

Sources: South Bay Riders, ADVRider, Suzuki Cycles

  • motoguru

    That thing is INSANE!

  • Sasha Pave

    Wasn’t that a porno title in the 70′s?

  • Pete


  • Ducky

    Is this possibly the largest production thumper engine in existence? How bad can vibrations get? Can you imagine the exhaust at idle? THUMP THUMP THUMP THUMP

    • mcfaite

      I rode in France five years ago with a guy who had the 800 cc version of the Big DR. The vibrations got so bad that it cracked its own gas tank…

      It’s a hella fun bike, though!

    • Tim

      On a similar (but different) note, what is the biggest single cylinder production 2 stroke bike produced? As a kid I remember the Maico 760 story in Dirt Bike. I apparently don’t know how to properly post a link, but this article is pretty cool..

    • yipY

      They have a counterbalancer(or two) and don’t vibe much at all.

  • Ken D

    Things that look like they could go off-road but don’t are what the moneyed classes want these days. They restore a sense of endeavour to those of us who hire someone to mow the lawn. The DR is like the original Range Rover, so much more honest than the modern one.

  • contender

    This makes me like my superbike-barred TLS even more.

  • dux

    Sounds like a machine gun. Nice.

  • scottydigital

    Somehow I can not imagine a machine like this every being produced again. Truly the work of a few crazy scientists. :)

  • Braam

    Mate of mine just picked up a 92 800 model in Sao Paulo for no money, 14000 on the clock, runs beautifully. Has after market exhaust and riding behind it you get hit by some serious Exhaust blast. Thing of wonder.

  • slowestGSXRever

    That is the greatest sounding thing ever.

  • BigHank53

    Somewhere I’ve got a photograph of a Sound of Singles roadracer some French lunatics built with one of the 779cc motors. 102kg wet weight, if I recall correctly…