MadaSuki: A Tribute to Suzuki’s Mighty DR-Z Paris-Dakar Rally Racers…
In the late 80s, Suzuki decided to take the offensive in the legendary Paris-Dakar Rally, pitting a big single against the twin-powered “Desert Boeings” that were dominating the trans-African rally raids. But the 1988 Suzuki DR-Z800 would be no ordinary single. To help develop and race their new uber-single, Suzuki enlisted the legendary racer and team manager Gaston Rahier — a fiery, short-statured Belgian who’d turned from motocross to rallying, winning the Paris-Dakar on a BMW in ’84 and ’85.
The ’88 DR-Z800 was a truly BIG single, displacing over 800cc with a claimed power output of 67 hp at 6500 rpm. While it gave away perhaps 10 horsepower to the big twins, it was 60+ pounds lighter, coming in at 341 pounds wet. Even with the oversized fuel tank, that was nearly 50 pounds lighter than the production DR800 Big, accomplished with extensive use of titanium hardware, full titanium exhaust, and carbon/kevlar fenders. Rahier knew the light weight and aerodynamic efficiency of the “duck nose” would be a real advantage toward the end of those hard 375-mile stages, when fatigue was a real factor. Says Stefan Hessler of Hessler Rallye Team, who later campaigned the DR-Z with Rahier:
“The very small Rahier was able to use the beak so skillfully that the DR ZETA cut aerodynamically like a rocket through the desert wind and was actually able to keep up with the pace of the 2-cylinder!”
Enter Alf and Mihaela, the husband/wife team behind Romanian workshop Bandisca. Operating out of Bucharest, Bandisca is known for pushing against the established patterns of bike-building design. Last year, they built their Suzuki SV650 “Caballo de Hierro” — a tribute to the Suzuki endurance racers of yesteryear. For 2020, they again wanted to do something a bit different…
“We are a bit tired of building typical cafe racers, scramblers, trackers on a trendy shape for our customers — we understand that’s what the market demands, but it’s always ‘more of the same.'”
So they decided to build a tribute to the DR Zeta rally bikes, colloquially known as “Bikes of Thunder,” enlisting the help of true rally race workshops like Germany’s Hessler Rallye Team and Spain’s GZ Parts — both of which were so excited about the “MadaSuki” project they wound up lending a wealth of expertise and parts. Thus, this uber-single could be much more than a show bike, as Alf and Mihaela had envisioned:
“The bike should be a true rally bike, not only an aesthetic creation.”
Starting with a 1990 Suzuki DR800 Big SR42B — the closest thing to the mighty DR-Z800 rally bike — they’ve created a DR Zeta that would make the late Rahier proud. As always, Mihaela was responsible for the original design. Hessler Rallye Team did the cylinder work, boring the engine to 809cc, while Alf worked on the head and refreshed the engine internals. Combined with dual Mikuni carbs and a custom intake and exhaust, this giant single now puts out 70 hp — on par with the factory racer!
Brakes and suspension were duly upgraded, and Alf shaped the bodywork from a lightweight aluminum alloy.
“All bodywork is mounted with a quick release system that allows us to disassemble the whole machine in less than ten minutes.”
As far as instrumentation, the MadaSuki is as legit as it gets, running a Hessler electric roadbook device and GZ Parts OdoCap computer in the rally tower, just behind the bespoke “duck nose” and double headlights. The stunning paint scheme — also Mihaela’s design — harks back to the blood-red Marlboro livery of Rahier’s ’88 DR-Z800 Dakar racer.
The bike was originally slated to be revealed at the Bike Shed Show this past summer, but alas, Covid-19 had other plans. With no shows for the foreseeable future, we’re honored that Alf and Mihaela entrusted BikeBound to introduce this incredible rally raid tribute to the world. It might just be our favorite build of 2020.
Below, we get the full story on the project from Alf — aka Bandisca’s “grumpy owner” — as well as more stunning shots from Mihaela (@lopezmihaela).
Suzuki DR-Z800 “MadaSuki”: In the Builder’s Words
Donor Model: SUZUKI DR800BIG SR42B 1990
This project started one year ago on an idea of building a show bike for 2020.
As always, starting a new show project required a brainstorm between Mihaela and me, we are a bit tired of building typical cafe racers, scramblers, trackers on a trendy shape for our customers — we understand that’s what the market demands, but it’s always “more of the same.”
In 2019, we decided to take a bit different line, building an endurance bike with our Caballo de Hierro, and for 2020 we decided to build a tribute to rally bikes with our MadaSuki.
Choosing the donor wasn’t difficult… What was the most controversial Dakar bike ever? Who was our favorite Dakar hero? Both questions quickly got an answer: the Suzuki DRZ800 and Gaston Rahier.
So we went with a Suzuki DR800BIG as the donor model, selecting a SR42B 1990 model because of the big bore 779 cc engine (the SR41 was 750) and it has a closer shape to the original 1988 DRZ800 Dakar than the SR43 .
Honestly, it’s been years since I worked on enduro bikes and never worked on a rally bike before, but we saw it clearly — the bike should be a true rally bike, not only an aesthetic creation.
Visualizing the shape was not a problem — Mihaela saw clearly from the beginning that we should keep the big tank and the duck nose, but slim down the tail for a lighter profile.
For performance reasons, we decided not to touch the frame. The DR800 has amazing riding capabilities that we didn’t want to give up. While it seems like this would simplify the work, it was just the opposite. Creating the new rear body elements of Mihaela’s proposed shape without altering the frame was a lot of work. We used a very light aluminum alloy for the tail, undertail and side panels — very tricky to work with because it doesn’t perform as normal aluminum would, and we messed up some pieces along the way until I got used to shaping this metal.
During this weird year, we’ve had a lot of down moments with the pandemic, closing down, and lack of supplies — and also all shows were cancelled. We’d planned to release the bike at the Bike Shed Show, and when the cancellation was announced, it was kind of a head-in-hands moment. But fortunately our partners in crime with this project continued working and sustaining us, and we decided not to stop the project and take advantage of the situation in order to get the bike as close to perfection as we could.
Performance was a priority, so we decided to ask for help to those that really know about this bike. The answer wasn’t far, we got it in Germany at Hessler Rallye Team. I contacted Stefan Hessler, the one and only magician of Big Ducks, and immediately he became so interested in our adventure. We have to thank this guy so much for months of help, tips, tricks, and all materials provided for making our MadaSuki the closest thing possible to the original DRZ 800 from a technical point of view.
The 779cc engine has been overbored to 809cc. The cylinder work was done by Hessler in Germany while we worked here on the cylinder head, planishing it, polishing ports, new valves, guides, etc, following Stefan’s instructions. The piston is a performance CP Carrillo made on demand. All engine internals were inspected and refreshed, new timing and balancing chains, new racing performance camshaft, new rocker arms, new bearings, new stator, new EBC Performance clutch with hydraulic Magura HYMEC actuator and master cylinder, new cooling lines, a complete overbore and overhaul so the bike could be considered brand new from the engine point of view.
For feeding the monster, we’re trusting a pair of Mikuni flat slide carbs also mounted and set up by Stefan Hessler — the best way to feed that torque-hungry big single. We combine it with a custom intake pipe and a foam UNI filter pod.
On the exhaust side, we’re using a custom Inox header combined with a bespoke performance Sebring muffler — also as suggested by Stefan.
This combo is a blast, the overbored big single is now giving 70 hp (vs the stock 50hp) with a monster torque curve that makes the bike a very nervous demon!
For supporting this upgrade, we implemented a pair of upgraded YSS forks with a rear Wilbers fully adjustable shock that allow us to play with the suspension a lot. Front brake was also upgraded to a 320mm full floating rotor with a four-piston caliper commanded by a Magura master cylinder, all reinforced with a corresponding lower bracket. The rear brake is standard enough with the 280mm rotor and double-piston caliper upgraded with a performance EBC rotor.
Another important chapter on a rally bike are electrics and controls. We discarded the old electric wiring and made a brand new one using siliconic cable. The main electrics are commanded by a Motogadget M. Unit and the bike’s controls are on the right side of the handlebar, integrated into a bespoke push button switch setup made by our friends at 0711Motorcycles — also in Germany.
A key part of the electrics were the instruments. We needed real rally instruments on this bike, so we installed a rally tower with a Hessler electric roadbook device, and for navigation we looked to our Spanish friends at GZ Parts — these guys produce high-quality rally equipment developed by themselves from their experience as rally riders. They are very well-known in the rally raid championships in Spain. They also became so interested in our project and provided us two OdoCap rally computers with their corresponding handlebar controls, which we placed on the left side of the handlebar. The OdoCaps are one of the most accurate devices on the market, combining traditional wheel sensor technology with GPS technology. The bike dashboard is now a Daytona Asura computer that gives us very exhaustive info on the bike in a clear way — rpm, speed, hours, oil temp, ambient temp, odometer and trips, warning lights, voltage.
The decisions as far as paint, as always, were taken by Mihaela, and from my point of view it’s one of her best works — the colors and lines are simply immaculate, providing a very aggressive and stylish look at the same time. The duck nose mod with the double headlights and the clear windshield are simply awesome, and as required on a rally bike, all bodywork is mounted with a quick release system that allows us to disassemble the whole machine in less than ten minutes.
Also, despite the light shape, the bike is ready to receive all rally accoutrements, with hard-points for holding a toolbox, panniers, or additional fuel tanks, and also protection crashbars if required.
In the end, the Covid era allowed us to create the most perfect bike we’ve ever built.
This demon was supposed to participate in the Romanian Moonride 2020, which was cancelled, and other events that never took place, but, looking at the bright side, that will allow me to ride its first kilometers myself and get it ready for the best next year possible. And yes…the bike is addictive and you can’t get down off it — even I look small, like Rahier on the DRZ, hahaha!!
As there are no shows, no events, no nothing…we thought the best way to release this bike was having it featured at BikeBound, because it’s the real place of the real custom alive scene without discrimination, and also because it’s the place where we always feel welcome.
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Photo credit: Mihaela Lopez