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Dual Sports

March 1999

Finding the Ultimate Dual-Sport Bike – Part 1

I can’t count how many times I’ve been asked "So what’s the ultimate dual-sport bike?" Every time I have the same reply, "It depends." Yeah, I know that sounds like a cop out, but it’s true. To show what I mean, I’ll provide a few examples:

  1. Rider #1 wants a bike for commuting that he can also ride around on fire roads and on an occasional trail. He guesses that it’s to be used 90% street and 10% dirt.
  2. Rider #2 also wants a bike for commuting but he also wants it to be a competent dirt bike. He’s a pretty serious dirt rider but can only afford one bike. He guesses that it’s to be used 75% street and 25% dirt.
  3. Rider #3 has no interest in commuting. He wants a hardcore dirt bike that is barely street legal. Why? With land being closed everywhere, it’s getting harder to find long dirt-only loops and he needs to ride on the pavement to connect trails. He guesses that it’s to be used 5% street and 95% dirt.


DR650S Dual-Sport Motorcycle

For Rider #1, most likely, an off-the-floor dual-sport is probably the answer. Something like a Honda XRL or a Suzuki DRS. The size depends on the commute. For example if he has a 20-mile highway commute a Honda XR650L or a Suzuki DRS650 is probably in order. If there’s not much highway riding than a mid-size is probably better, something like the Suzuki DRS350. The height, weight, and experience of the rider will also make a difference in which bike to choose. I used to use a 1987 Honda XL600 for a 20-mile highway commute. In all honesty, I really would have liked an electric starter at 7:00am instead of kicking it all morning. Other than that, this was an excellent commuter. It was also great on fire roads. I used it for some pretty hardcore trail riding and that was not fun. It was way too heavy and didn’t have nearly enough suspension.

My XR600
XR600 with Dual-Sport Kit

Rider #2 would probably be happier buying a dirt bike and converting it to street legal by adding lights, a horn, etc. Again, the size of the bike should depend on the type of commute and the size and experience of the rider. Some good candidates are the Honda XR600 and XR400. The Suzuki DR series should also be considered, but the XRs are known to be much more competent off-road bikes. I currently have an XR600 that’s been converted, and it would certainly work well for this. The XR400 is a great dirt bike, but a little small for a highway commute.

KLXDS01.jpg (13227 bytes)

KLX300 with Dual-Sport Kit

Rider #3 should be considering a mid-size bike like the XR400, KLX300, or WR400 (since they aren’t available in California, I have no personal experience with the WRs). These are excellent dirt bikes, having a reasonable amount of power while remaining fairly light. For most the XR600 is going to be too much of a handful for hardcore dirt biking (though many including myself do it). This rider may also want to consider trying to convert a two-stroke to street legal. We’re going to give this a try in later parts of this series.

Over the next several months we intend to share our experiences of searching for the ultimate dual-sport. To start with, I’ll chronicle the trials and tribulations of my ’87 XL600 along with comparing the two different approaches Brad and I have used on our, what were nearly identical, XR600s.

"Dual Sports" by Ev'Mon