THURSDAY THROWBACK: SUZUKI DR BIG 1988-1996

Suzuki's much loved DR BIG
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A look back at Suzuki's iconic yet underdeveloped legend, the DR BIG.

In 1988 Suzuki birthed a production model of the race bike Gaston Rahier had been campaigning in the Paris to Dakar Rally. Gaston’s bike was an evolutionary leap from the DR 500, Marc Joineau, rode to third place in 1983, but it was never able to crack the podium of the great race. In fact, Joineau’s third-place still stands as Suzuki’s highest placing.

Gaston Rahier Dr Big
Gaston Rahier next to his mammoth race bike – step ladder no doubt just out of the photo

The DR 750S BIG came to be through the efforts of Bert Poensgen, then Suzuki’s European Marketing and Sales Director, who saw the popularity of BMW, Yamaha and Honda’s production offerings and believed there were more slices of that pie to be had.

And Suzuki didn’t screw around, launching a bike with the biggest single-cylinder engine (air-cooled 727cc), ever seen at that time.

Offered in a choice of blue and white or red with white trim, the striking bike sported the beak seen on the racing models, something that has since been adopted by other brands and returned to Suzuki via the V-Strom.

With a seat height taller than the 2021 Africa Twin, the DR BIG wasn’t big in name only. In fact, those two bikes designed several decades apart share similar wheelbase, width, and ground clearance figures.

The 1990 didn’t get much in the way of updates but the graphics are still instantly recognisable today

In 1990 the BIG got bigger with a six millimetre longer stroke that took the 727cc to 779 and the DR800 was born with a striking new blue and white trim livery.

1991 Suzuki DR BIG in red
The 1991 saw decent updates, but this was the last time the Suzuki engineers paid any solid attention

For 1991 the DR800S received new graphics and a new instrument cluster as well as a new exhaust and seat. The fuel tank ergonomics were improved, and the capacity decreased from 29 to 24 litres and suspension scored some upgrades.

Suzuki says Big is beautiful
But…not beautiful enough to last another year



Suzuki let the DR BIG go after 1997, around the same time Honda stopped developing (but not producing), the Africa Twin. But it was BMW that pushed forward and changed the adventure bike world. One wonders what might have been had Suzuki kept evolving the DR BIG but the company saw its future in sports bikes and it’s hard to argue given the models the company has produced with that line of thinking.

Of course, a hybrid of the DR BIG and the preference for road bikes can be seen in the V-Strom now.

The DR BIG attracts a lot of love given it was born, saw one round of decent changes and was then cut. And much of that has to do with its association with the great Gaston Rahier and the absolutely iconic aesthetics of particularly the first two iterations. Suzuki built a beautiful looking bike in 1988 and that look alone has survived the test of time.

Suzuki’s 1988 dakar promo video