Suzuki DR250 Patrol Frontline defender
The role of military motorcycles has continually changed since their first duties began over 100 years ago. When the Australian Army purchased the Suzuki DR250S Patrol, the type of motorcycle moved to the off-road style and their use started to change to
Military motorcycles conjure an image of the big German side-cars fitted with a large machine gun, Harley-Davidsons with rifle holsters and British motorcycle despatch riders from WW2 as this was the golden era of military motorcycles. The invention of the very versatile Jeep, followed by continually improving communication systems signalled the end for motorcycles as military vehicles with the quad bike being the final straw. This decline and an unclear way forward saw very out-dated single cylinder BSAs still being used by the Australian Army well after their use by date. A similar situation was experienced by all Commonwealth forces as Britain had always decided what vehicles would be purchased but with the closure of British motorcycle producers that policy became redundant.
In 1980 the Australian Military Police motorcycles were replaced by Suzuki GS400 twins to be used in parades and official functions and except for drab green paint, large leather saddlebags and a large windscreen were the same as the civilian model. However, overseas the role of the motorcycle was changing to genuine off-road motorcycles being used by special army units. Whether Suzuki Cornell Australia were made aware of this is not known but adverts in Australian motorcycle magazines started to appear titled “Prepare for action” with a photo of a supposed soldier leaping a Suzuki DR250 over a commanding officer seated in a Jeep towing a cannon. The marketing campaign must have been effective convincing the Australian Army to purchase a very small quantity of the off road Suzuki DR250 military Patrol motorcycles in 1985.* (see sidebar) The DR range was Suzuki’s four-stroke engine entry into the off-road market with the Patrol being based on the civilian model DR250S. With a capacity of 250cc, the engine had a single overhead cam, four valves and featured Suzuki’s twin swirl combustion chamber (TSCC) which was used on most Suzuki models supposedly producing more power, an advertising claim that in the case of the DR250 was not necessarily a reality. In Suzuki’s
long lasting tradition the motor was, to use an appropriate expression, “bullet proof”. Where the civilian DR250 had 6 volt electrics the Army Patrol was 12 volt but both models suffered electrical problems and at the smell of water these problems would develop. Rear suspension was a new monoshock arrangement marketed as “Full Floater” and was quite a good set-up. Unfortunately the suspension on the DR Patrol was let down by a lightweight steel swinging arm that if subjected to hard riding would bend and it would have been interesting to see the one used in the “Prepare for action” adverts as it would have been banana shaped. Both the enduro version DRZ250 and the TS250X had heavy duty aluminium swing arms, a feature that would have been of benefit to the DR. Front suspension was by air assisted, leading axle telescopic front forks which handled the task. The frame was a simple square tube spine frame in the style of many trail bikes but did not loop around the bottom of the engine leaving it exposed. Suzuki fitted a lightweight steel engine guard that although deforming very easily, achieved the task of protecting the underside of the engine. All of the Suzuki DR’s had a design fault being the lower steering head roller bearing. Rough or corrugated road riding would pound the rollers into the outer race to a point where the steering would become difficult as the rollers would only move from notch to notch. The Australian Army contract specifications were broad and being a reconnaissance vehicle the Patrol would have been used in a sedate manner so the weaknesses would never have been an issue.
The DR250 Patrol was a special military use motorcycle manufactured by Suzuki that although basically a DR250 had differences. The Patrol had a rounder and wider cross-section seat with a unique black covering instead of the squarer motocross blue seat of the civilian model. Steel tube hand guards were attached to the handlebars and a small tube crash bar/foot protector was added. Only one colour scheme existed being khaki and with the exception of the black “Suzuki” on the tank all graphics were deleted as were the gold wheel rims. On delivery to the Army a large rear carrier was fitted with the seat mounts being modified to give additional support to the rack. Convoy lights were fitted to the front and rear of the Patrol and the wiring extensively modified with two extra switches added to give a wider range of lighting options from all four indicators working simultaneously through to the engine running but no brake lights etc operating or just black-out lights with the park light in the headlight becoming the black-out headlight. The “kill” button became the ignition switch which is logical because in the heat of battle who wants to be looking for a missing key although ironically the petrol cap retained the key lock. The ignition switch just operated some light options. Attached each side of the head light were the Army identification tag and the lubricants information. The DR250S was really a soft road, commuter vehicle rather than a serious off road motorcycle but
its task was reconnaissance in areas such as the northern parts of Australia and it was suitable for this. On occasion it may have been used for despatches or convoy escort but in reality the motorcycles were rarely used. When the Suzuki DR250 Patrol was chosen it appeared as though the Army were not sure what its role would be and hence the large cumbersome pack rack and convoy lights. Their replacement, the XT600 Yamaha did not have large racks or convoy
lights and the current Army Suzuki DRZ400s are standard except for aesthetic camouflage differences and the rear shock being re-valved to SAS specifications – the only Australian Army unit still using motorcycles, again for reconnaissance. As a point of interest, in 1955 the USA defence forces had 25,000 motorcycles where-as today they have only 400 which are NATO-spec diesel-powered Kawasaki KLR 650s with the majority of the motor being designed in England but made in the USA in a joint venture. The reasons for diesel are that the least combustible fuel should be used in the “battle space” and a one-fuel-does-all policy. The featured DR250 Patrol was purchased from a Commonwealth Government auction in Adelaide on the 4th April 1991, with the auctioneer stating that the bike had been based in Darwin but this is all the history known as the Army records are no longer accessible. The Army’s use of these motorcycles was limited as two were purchased at the auction and after five years of Army life one had travelled 5497 km and the other 4056 km. This motorcycle was used as a commuter by my son and travelled 35,000 km trouble free (except electrical), but when restored the second bike’s 4600 km motor was fitted as it had not been used in the last 26 years and was still in good condition when inspected. Although the Suzuki DR250S Patrol is not necessarily a desirable motorcycle, it is very rare with only a handful being imported and is a genuine part of Australia’s motorcycling history. The featured DR250S Patrol is owned by my grandsons Ben and Tom, both Vintage Japanese Motorcycle Club associate members, who worked with me to bring the bike back to its current condition. The ammo box carriers are not standard issue.
Rear convoy lights.
Bash plate guards the engine.
Additional light switches marked SL and the 4 lights plus ignition switch park light converted to black-out light position.
Army issue handguards plus ID plate on headlight surround and switch for all indicators to flash.
Owners Ben and Tom with the Patrol.