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

Old Bike Australasia - - CONTENTS - Story and pho­tos Ge­of­frey Ellis

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.

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