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-   -   TS185ER Ultimate long-distance weapon?? (http://www.horizonsunlimited.com/hubb/suzuki-tech/ts185er-ultimate-long-distance-weapon-8377)

Nigel Marx 26 Feb 2003 10:15

TS185ER Ultimate long-distance weapon??
We have our bike now, and I have now started on the process to ready them for the ride from here in NZ to UK (except for the wet bits). Why a TS185? If you are asking that question, you are in good company. Many are
asking us that. I had a list of things that I considered important for a bike to use on a long distance ride thru the kind of roads and countries that are between here and there. We have many overland travellers stay with us over that last three years and using their words of wisdom and my own 35 years experience of riding on and off roads (I learnt to ride at 7 years old and rode almost daily for 9 years before I ever rode on a sealed surface) helped guide the choice.
The bike must have the following attributes;

1) Reliable
2) Carry one person and reasonable amount of gear.
3) Light in weight (for m'lady who is a little 'un)
4) Easy to fix
5) Simple design
6) Economical on fuel
7) 350km Range on a tank
8) Spares easily available
9) Low seat height (see 3) above)
10) Adequate power
11) Comfortable
12) Easy to modify
13) Cheap to buy (Carnet etc in mind)

1) Reliable
To address 1), I used to be a farmer and had the farm version of the TS185 for 12 years. In that time I had 3 on the farm, usually two at a time and know that they are one of the most robust and reliable bikes ever made. I have never had a crank, clutch or transmission fail. They were used every day for hours a day on the farm in all conditions from dusty summers to axle deep in mud and cowshit all winter. They were idled for hours behind walking cows and then trashed until the spark-plug electrodes melted together (True!! It happened several times).

2) Carry one person and reasonable amount of gear.
Re 2) The TS185ER has a short two person seat with a large gap between the end of the seat and the end of the mudguard with the taillight. Part of the deal on the bikes meant that a well made Smiths carrier was included. While being heavy-ish (made of steel tube), they are easy to repair and well proven on farms all over NZ. There is also a proper sub-frame to support it and the rear guard, which is also going to be easy to strengthen. A smallish topbox, some custom made alloy panniers styled as much as possible on the Al Jesse panniers I have on the F650 will be made, and with a toolbox-cum-engine protector (wide enough to also act as crash protection) and some frames either side of the tank for panniers should see enough stow space. The plan is for my bike to carry 60% of the gear, and Kitty's 40% with the dual seat still fitted to carry the two of us when needed.

3) Light in weight
Re 3): Being a 185cc two stroke they are certainly light, and slim, but with a fairly large frame they are still a proper bike to ride. Standard with all fluids they are 110Kgs. Being light and narrow they will be easy to freight, get in and out of doorways in hotels, guest houses, and alleyways, and of course stand up if when they go down.

4) Easy to fix
Re 4): Hey, they are single cylinder air-cooled two-strokes, with cable operated clutch and brakes! You can strip out and rebuild the clutch, carbie, and both brakes in under an hour. The top end can come off and be back on in less than 15 minutes! I rest my case! Many components are common to a wide range other small Suzuki's (and other brands too!) Having been the person who did all the repairs on my own and most of my neighbours bikes when I was farming I know there will be very little that I cannot do myself easily.

5) Simple design
Re 5); See Re 4) and then add bullet-proof electronic ignition, cable drum brakes, no rear suspension linkages (dual shocks so should on fail there is still one to help take the load), standard sized tyres and bearings, no water cooling, no hydraulics, no DOHC etc.... Need I go on?

6) Economical on fuel
Re 6); Hmmmm... this is where a two-stroke is marginal... so far I am getting about 26km/l. I am sure any increase in efficiency as the bikes are run in would be off-set on a trip by the extra gear. I don't expect to get better than that. Still, it is about 6-8km/l better than I get with the F650.

7) 350km Range on a tank
Re 7); Relates a lot to 6) but the standard 7litre tank will have to go. The farm version (TF185) has a 13litre tank and will fit without major mods, but at 25km/l that is still short of my 350km range. I could carry a spare can with about 3 litres, or more probably I will add small additions to the underside of the 13 litre tanks, as they are steel and will be easy to weld to. Is 350km enough? Too much?

8) Spares easily available
Re 8); The Suzuki TS/TF185 and variants has been in continuous production since 1971!! They have been sold all over the world and are still sold in many countries new. They have many components in common with other Suzuki models. Many parts like bearings, seals and brake parts are standard to bikes of a number of brands in all the countries we are likely to travel through. Not only that but the technology will be familiar to anyone we need to help us. Tyres are a common size so will be cheap and easy to obtain.

9) Low seat height
Re 9); 820mm with some room for improvement there too. Standard things like raising the forks in the clamps and fitting shorter rear units when we fit some decent after-market shocks should see Kitty's bike down to under 780mm. A lot better than the likes of an XT600 at 855mm.

10) Adequate power
Re 10); Now this is where I am sure there will be dissent. What is adequate power? After having at least 20 Round-The-Worlders staying with us at times over the last 3 years, and riding with them, my guess is the average speed of most travellers, wether they are riding R1150GSs or DR230s, or anything else in between, is between 70 and 90 km/hr. The TS with 18HP will top out at around 125km/hr. I don't think touring at 80-85 km/hr is an unrealistic expectation. With the luggage off, they will make great bikes for exploring the more out-of-the-way places when we have set up camp.

11) Comfortable
Re 11); Again a Hmmmmm. I am fitting the TF185 single saddle to my bike as I will have a bigger top-box covering the pillion seat. This means I will have most of the weight. The standard seat is no better than most traillie seats, but I am hoping with a sheepskin it will be OK for Kitty. The single saddle from the TF185 is designed for a farmers butt to be comphy all day so I am sure it will be as good as I can get. The footpegs are lower than most trail bikes so it is more roomy than you might expect. The little single does make more than its share of vibes, so I am going to weight the handlebars until things settle down. Softer heated grips are a must too. Not ideal but acceptable.

12) Easy to modify
Re 12); There is always something to do here with any bike I think. Some good rear shocks, tool carrier/engine protector/front and rear panniers. Modified TF185 fuel tanks and seat, stock TF185 handlebar and headlight protector. Heated grips. A top box. Home made chain oiler. Reinforced subframe. Clean up the ports and maybe a very mild port job. What else?

13) Cheap to buy
Re 13); This is one of the best things about the whole project! The cost of the bikes new here in NZ, including two spare knobbly tyres, two different spare back sprockets, one spare front sprocket, new DID O-Ring chain and Smith rear carrier was NZ$3295 (US$1700 at today's rate) including taxes. This was a special deal as I have done a lot of work for the dealer over the years, often working odd hours, to keep their computers going. List price is NZ$4400. This made all the difference when we were considering wether to take one bike or two. These two small bikes will not be much more expensive to freight than one larger bike (such as a BMW R1150GS).

OK, I'm the first to admit there are good things about bigger bikes too, but egos aside, if the 185s are as reliable for me as the ones I used to run, then I honestly think these are the best bikes for the trip.
I am very interested in what all you more experienced travellers have to say.


Nigel in NZ

--"Ride tall, ride small"--


[This message has been edited by Nigel Marx (edited 26 February 2003).]

[This message has been edited by Nigel Marx (edited 27 February 2003).]

Grant Johnson 26 Feb 2003 23:44

Good choice Nigel!

I raced a TS185 very successfully - in 1972/73 - and it never let me down. Bullet-proof, even hopped up and flogged hard in cross-country racing / ISDT qualifier stuff.

There was a large plastic tank available then, no idea if it still is, from a US company.

As for speed of a small bike against a little bike on the long road, a Japanese woman travelling RTW with a friend on Honda CT90 "postie bikes" met up with some travellers on big trail bikes - 600cc +, and travelled with them through a part of Africa.

When asked about speed of the CT90's against the big bikes, she said (essentially - I have the quote somewhere...) "we travel about the same distance per year..."

I would suggest seeing about better rear shocks, and do as suggested for all touring bikes - get some of the weight forward via tank panniers. Also a container to carry good 2 stroke oil is probably a good idea - again, carried well forward.

Otherwise I think it's a great choice. Looking forward to hearing more about your adventures on the road! Are you doing a website or do you want a blog?

Grant Johnson

Seek, and ye shall find.


One world, Two wheels.

Nigel Marx 28 Feb 2003 01:09

Hi Grant.
Yes, I agree about the standard shocks. I have my eye on some Hagon off road shocks for NZ$375 (under US$200) for a pair. With a bike that is about half the weight of most travellers bikes, I am sure the shocks will get an easier life. I have a plan for some tank panniers in mind, with a frame fixed to the tank, engine bars and bike frame that extends slightly forward of the tank and forks,with clearance for turning of course, as the tank is quite small (short). There is not much room for a tank bag/tank pannier arrangement without going forward. A supply of good two-smoke oil is a good idea too. I had in mind a custom built alloy container under the front of one bike's engine, and a similar container but for tools etc under the other bike. But I am sure things will evolve as time passes and no plans are fixed yet.


Nigel in NZ

--"How can I be lost if I don't care where I am?"--

lost1 17 Mar 2003 10:50

Hello Nigel and Kitty

Wow, congratulations on your decision. I know that you thought long and hard about it.
I would first like to apologize for not writing you guys sooner to thank you for your warm hospitality in NZ.

On another note. Remember Melie's Suzuki DR 200. The little princess has 45000 klms on it and has no signs of stopping.
So far we have:
Replaced battery
Replace headlamp
Replaced front brake pads.
Replaced original chain and sprockets
Replaced frt sprocket fastening bolt (fell off!)
Adjusted the valves once.
The bike burns about a cup of oil every 4000 klms.
Melie has crashed the thing more times than I can count ( I would have quit riding long ago if I crashed as much as her in the first few months). The bike has no crash damage, I repeat the bike has no crash damage. Not even the mirrors or turnsignals

We attribute this to the soft saddlebags that we used. The bags and the flyweight of the bike saved it everytime. Sure the bags got torn and ripped off the straps etc, but We are certain that had they been alum boxes Melie and the bike would have faired ALOT worse. Nigel, I know that you know the whole bag vs box issue, but for a learning rider that often puts an errant foot down at inopportune times, a solid piece of box is much less forgiving. Topboxes are nasty things if you decide to let go of the bars and the bike wants to travel a few more meters on its own. We had a small top box made out of cordura and put a smaller sealable plastic type lunchbox inside it to protect our goodies.
I learned to sew as well.
The weight was reasonably well balanced and required no rear rack. We never cracked the rear frame.
The dr200 never had crashbars for the engine, and it was skinny enough that we felt they weren't needed.
Handlebar protection is needed. THey also keep your hands out of the windchill.

A few points to ponder:

vibration, yes but not as bad as my new KTM. Foam grips, good padded gloves, rubber dampened footpegs and the seat.
Would adding a bit of weight to the flywheel/magneto help?

Electrics, enough watts to run heated grips with headlight on. Can headlight be turned off?
Is there an oil filter, at least a magnetic drainplug? We never had any overheating problems, but we are 4 strokers with 800 ml sump.
Melies bike was asthmatic before we found a drill to open the airbox.

You may need to put some kind of snorkel on the baffle to keep the bike from drooling goo all over your stuff.
Drum brakes last 2 days short of forever.

Economy of motion. Hmm got me there. They could be a bit thirsty at speed. 2 stroke oil can be found almost anywhere. I wouldn't worry too much about carrying liters of the stuff. You want to be as light as bearably possible.

We were very impressed with Melie's bike. If it wasn't for my ego, I would say it was the best touring rig that we came across in SE Asia. The power was good enough to maintain 95 kmh throughout Australia. I didnt even change stock gearing.
The bike was a bit hard to accelerate to a floating speed on the loose sand and took some flogging. Melie said she would have liked a bit more horsepower then(after she beat my Dr 600, a Dr 650 and an 1150 to the top of Cape York!) We never overheated it. Long steep uphills at altitude with head winds took a bit more patience, but we were still passing trucks.

Be very careful about the security of your machines. They are much closer to what us 'common' people use and a lot more desirable than that big intimidating fuel injected digital whatzit 1000 that don't have a kickstart. Theft could be an issue.

Frankly I had been dreaming of taking Yamaha Dt 175s around the world for the same reasons as you two. I think it is one of the most practical bikes you can ride. You will never turn your back on a road because your bike is too big and heavy.

Anyway, I am starting to ramble. Let me know if you have any questions.

take care,

mike and melie

Nigel Marx 21 Mar 2003 06:55

Hi Mike and Melie.
Thanks for your kind words and encouragement. I am glad that Melie's bike has worked out so well. I know you were considering it as a "starter" bike for her but were reconsidering while you were here. I have always been a fan of small bikes so it was no "leap of faith" for me to go down that road. So far Melie's is the only long distance bike under 600cc that has graced our garage, and I had even mis-remembered it and talked of it as a DR230.
As to your advice; I will head it well and have now changed my plans for Kitty's bike. Soft panniers for her to start with and if they turn out well, I will make some for mine too. I have seen some fine stainless steel soft bag security protectors that might be the go with them too. I will also head your advice about bike security too. Some good cable locks will be included in the budget. Being small I hope we can put them under cover or inside hotels more often which will also help. But fuel economy is still a worry. As the bikes are now more run in and I ride at about 80km/h the milage has dropped to around 24km/l. I can see some customing of fuel tanks in my future.
I had come to the same conclusion about a snorkel for the exhaust as even the number plate is splattered now.
I have also got an email from some interesting sounding chaps who is doing some serious miles on two TF125 Suzukis. 25,000km with no problems so far, in Africa and Asia. May the faith spread! *grin*


Nigel in NZ

--"How can I be lost if I don't care where I am?"--

mika 23 Mar 2003 20:17

hi all,

yes, I agree - very good choice !

and thanks again for the invitation to nz, but I had spend to much time in oz and wanted to get to South America.

for my girlfriend we bought a xr200r (made in Brazil) in buenos aires - fantastic bike. Only the crankshaft bearings were bad quality, but easy to replace in Brazil.

I guess you will find two stroke oil all along the way, but better to carry a liter.

and with the money you save, not taking the bmw, you can return via South America to NZ ...

greetings from Sao Paulo



TerryS 14 Apr 2003 12:23

Just a small point, but you might want to consider U-Locks for bike security......having seen several cut cable locks lately lying forlornly on the ground, I now use a simple one through my back wheel. It makes the heavy end non-wheelable and will slow down anyone without friends and a truck.
I like yellow (avoids abrupt stops because you can't forget it as easily).

simmo 14 Apr 2003 16:26

TS185Errr very easy to fix..I seized mine in city traffic ..overheated. i went back the next morning with a hammer..removed the head and hit the top of the piston till it freed up then replaced the head and rode it home! I continued to ride it for some months after without any further attention just not as hard. Come to think of it my MZ ETZ250 had a similar experience.Have fun.

Nigel Marx 16 Apr 2003 03:52

Thanks for the words of advise about the cable lock. I will heed it well. Several more people have chimed in with good things to say about soft panniers rather than boxes. Looks like they will be the go. High-sided my bike a few weeks ago when I got a bit air-borne coming into a tight corner with only some small scratches on the front mudguard the result. So I now know they crash pretty damn well too.


Nigel in NZ

--"How can I be lost if I don't care where I am?"--

michio 5 Oct 2006 03:41

Hi, Everyone.
I just registered this site and hope I can get some answer. I just got my new DR650 and my dealer told me to come back after 500miles so they can check up but the cost is $300 US so I'm wondering if I should(it's not required by law)do it. 2 of my friends said it's too expencive and not worth doing. I want to know your(you guys!) opinion. Thanks!

Nigel Marx 6 Oct 2006 06:59

Wow! My old post lives again!
Be careful about not getting a dealer to do the service as often your guarantee will be void if the schedualed services are not done (by a dealer!).


Nigel in NZ

Bernard 6 Oct 2006 12:36

Not only does it live again but it serves to inspire again.
I had forgotten how much fun I had as a younger man on my '77 TS185.
Two up, with luggage we toured Ireland. Never once thought about lack of power. I will be searching for one. My wife's gonna kill me.

Bernard 6 Oct 2006 14:24

And what about the TS250 and TS400? I have just been searching and there are a few 250s about. I can't remember seeing the 400 in the U.K. I imagine the 400 was a fantastic ride.

oldbmw 6 Oct 2006 19:50

I was with you all the way Nigel until it got to the two stroke bit :)

steve gs 8 Oct 2006 03:09


Originally Posted by Nigel Marx
Wow! My old post lives again!


Nigel in NZ

Nigel, your post (and should) will live forever because, though not for everyone, the smaller trailbikes/enduros/dual sports (pick the name that suits you) are perfect overlanding machines for many of us. I also have a F650GSD and often prefer my Suzuki DR200SE for backcountry traveling here in the USA and Canada because of it's lightweight, excellent fuel economy, and simplicity.
The 2 strokes are no longer marketed here any longer (as street legal) as I'm sure you know. I think the Kawasaki KE100 was the last offered. We have a 2000 KE100, a fine machine but the DR200SE is quieter, a bit larger, and gets better fuel economy. I grew up with a 73 Kaw 175 and 78 Yamaha IT175 and my current DR200SE is just a continuation of the tradition.

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