Jean-Baptiste Escriva builds a big-single street tracker…
The Suzuki DR800S — aka the DR Big — was the next evolution of the DR750S, the production version of the mighty duck-nosed Suzuki DR-Z that Gaston Rahier piloted in the Paris-Dakar Rally. It was a truly mighty rally replica, featuring a 779cc single-cylinder engine that made 54 horsepower and 44 foot-pounds of torque — a kingly thumper at the time, designed to embody the adventurous spirit of the great African rallies.
“The DR Big is fun, punches above its weight in charm and is surprisingly versatile for a big single, including a spot of touring thanks to its excellent range.” —MCN
Our new friend Jean-Baptiste Escriva (@jbe_675) is a mechanical engineer for an electric bike company in the south of France, who spends most of his free time in the garage, turning spanners and banging knuckles:
“I have always been a gearhead and I am constantly wrenching on something whether it is motorcycles, old Japanese cars, machine tools, and so on…”
He picked up this first-year 1991 DR800S in rough shape and went to work on his first full build, built in a classic street tracker style and intended as a daily rider rather than a show bike.
“I tried to make a ‘complete’ build with no cut corners rather than an original show bike. This bike is daily driven so I made sure that it not only looks good, but also performs well, with solid brakes, good and comfy suspension, good lighting, and so on.”
He did nearly all of the work himself, which included the replacement of every last bearing and bushing, detabbing/sandblasting/powder-coating the frame, rebuilding a set of secondhand 19-inch Takasago rims, rewiring the entire bike to work with a small Lithium battery, and much more. Jean-Baptiste even learned to TIG weld for the project, fabbing up the full custom 42.4mm stainless steel exhaust:
“I even bought the welder for this precise job and learned to use it, by myself, with a lot of practice, scrap metal and wasted argon.”
He even did the paint himself in the garage — 12 coats! The result is one of the most elegant big-single street trackers we’ve seen — a timeless beauty that’s a hoot on the street:
“The bike is an absolute blast to ride. It’s 160kg with an 800cc 54hp big thumper engine. It’s really different from all the bikes that I’ve ridden so far.”
Below, we get the full story from Jean-Baptiste, along with more shots from photographer Patrice Victoire.
In the Builder’s Words
My name is Jean-Baptiste, I’m French and I am 27. This is my 1991 Suzuki DR800S. I bought the bike in pretty rough shape and built it into a street tracker with limited budget and resources.
I did 99% percent of the work by myself, in my 30m2 garage, including machining, TIG and MIG welding, wheel building, sandblasting, paint, powdercoat, wiring loom… The only thing I haven’t done by myself is the upholstery (but I plan to learn how to do so for my future build).
To give you a quick rundown of what has been done to the bike:
-Frame de-tabbed, new rear hoop is welded, sandblasted and powdercoated.
-Almost every part has been sandblasted and repainted.
-Every bushing or bearing has been replaced.
-Fork is internally modified to be lowered and stiffer; rear shock was replaced with a ‘86 Yamaha Ténéré unit. Headlight is an SV650 unit with some custom brackets.
-Wheels are secondhand 19” Takasago rims from various dirt bikes that I straightened, sandblasted, and powdercoated black. Wheels are built around the stock hubs, sandblasted and painted metallic gold, with some custom stainless steel spokes.
Tires are Mitas 130/80 and 140/80 highway-approved dirt track tires.
-Front brake is a custom budget big brake kit made with a re-drilled KTM Supermoto 320mm rotor, a Ducati 749 Brembo caliper (machined to clear spokes and repainted) and various adapter bracket or spacer are custom made in 7075 aluminium.
Brake master is a 650 Bandit unit from a crashed bike.
-Rear caliper was rebuilt, sandblasted, and color-matched to the hubs and front caliper. Rear brake master was replaced with a CRF 450 master, which has an incorporated reservoir.
-Exhaust system is fully custom, in 42.4mm stainless steel. Silencers are cheap Ebay ones that I modified to keep only the outer shell — all the internals are custom. It was my first time TIG welding (I even bought the welder for this job!), so I am pretty proud of this exhaust.
-Stock Mikuni carbs are kept, with a re-jetting. A 2-in-2 manifold is designed and 3D printed in order to fit two gigantic green paper air filters.
-All the electrics and a lithium battery are hidden into a small steel box hidden behind the seat. Wiring loom was modified and redone. Taillight is a Honda Grom unit with integrated turn signals.
-Honda CM fuel tank and XR750 rear fairing. Paint job is homemade, in the garage. No stickers, only paint and masking.
-Custom rear axle license plate holder. Triumph Street Triple alloy side stand.
-T100 front fender with custom aluminium support bracket.
-Engine was serviced and repainted.
I am sure I forgot a lot of things… It is not easy to sum up seven months of work.
I know the bike is not the most original one, but I love the classic dirt tracker look. For my first full bike build, I tried to make a “complete” build with no cut corners rather than an original show bike. This bike is daily driven so I made sure that it not only looks good, but also performs well, with solid brakes, good and comfy suspension, good lighting, and so on.
The bike is an absolute blast to ride. It’s 160kg with a 800cc 54hp big thumper engine. It’s really different from all the bikes that I’ve ridden so far.
• Please tell us a bit about yourself, your history with motorcycles, and your workshop.
My name is Jean-Baptiste, I am 27 years old, I live in the south of France and I work as a mechanical engineer for an electric bike company. I have always been a gearhead and I am constantly wrenching on something whether it is motorcycles, old Japanese cars, machine tools, and so on…
I am not a professional bike builder for now, but I would love to be one day. For now I am building bikes for family and friends, or for myself like this 1991 Suzuki DR 800 S.
I started riding bikes at 20 y.o. with my first motorcycle: a 1993 Yamaha XT600K that I rapidly turned into a supermoto. This bike made me fall in love with the big single cylinder engine. Seven years later I still own it and it’s now heavily modified.
The workshop where I work on bikes is my mother’s house garage — it is not huge but it’s well organised for its size and well suited for what I am doing.
• Was there anything done during this build that you are particularly proud of?
There are two things that I am particularly proud of: the exhaust system and the tank paint. These two jobs were the most anticipated and frightening tasks of the project, and oddly they turned out pretty fine.
This exhaust system was my first-ever TIG welding. I even bought the welder for this precise job and learned to use it, by myself, with a lot of practice, scrap metal and wasted argon.
Regarding the paint, it is not my first time painting a bike but I never paint anything with more than one color. In total, the tank has 12 coats of paint and clearcoat. One error in only one coat of paint and you can start over the complete job. And when you don’t paint in a paint booth but in a dusty garage, errors happen really fast. But, once again, oddly, it turned out great.
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