10 Dual Sport Motorcycles That Offer The Best Of Both Worlds
Dual Sport Motorcycles: The Best Of Both Worlds
Dual sport motorcycles are always a popular option, but there are plenty of people who like to think that they’re not particularly good on-road or off-road – and that’s simply not true. There are plenty of dual sport motorcycles that offer the best of both worlds, and here are our top 10 favorites. It’s easy to see why a lot of riders like to bash dual sports: how can something be good on asphalt and also handles itself in the mud? If they’re so good at both, why aren’t all motorcycles dual motorcycles? And while these questions have good answers, it’s not worth answering until we examine exactly what a dual sport motorcycle is.
What Are Dual Sport Motorcycles?
The clue is in the title somewhat, and yes it’s essentially a motorcycle that is designed to perform two tasks, but there’s a little more to it than that. Wikipedia actually sums it up the best and gives the shortest and most concise definition: “A dual-sport motorcycle is a type of street-legal motorcycle that is designed for both on and off-road use.” And that’s all there is to it really. It has to be road-legal, has to perform well on the street, and it has to be able to perform well off-road at the same time. Sticking a set of knobbly tires on any old motorcycle won’t cut it either. While putting off-road tires on a GSX-R might make it appear a little more dual sport than it was before, it won’t be fun to ride on roads, and it certainly won’t be enjoyable off-road either. Real dual sport machines have to be good at both.
Who Buys Them?
A lot of people. There’s a good reason why models like the BMW R 1200 GS continually top the bestselling motorcycle lists: they’re capable, they’re practical, and they’re one tool that’s good for a million jobs. They can handle the stop-start of urban traffic, they can handle fast roads for your commute to work, they’re great in the twisties, and if you’re feeling adventurous and want to leave the asphalt behind, they can tear it up with the best of them in the rough. And because they’re good at a wide range of jobs, they’re also quite attractive prospects for novice and experienced riders alike. But which ones are the best?
What To Look For
Despite the example above, we ‘re not entertaining the BMW R 1200 GS on this list. Why? Because it’s the stock answer for these articles. It’s a great bike, but everyone already knows that from serious off-road adventure enthusiasts to the dull middle-managing paper pusher who lives next door, living his dreams vicariously through Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman. We know the BMW R 1200 GS is a thing, so we’re not including it. However, if you want to know more about it, give this a read. But what other options exist?
In fact, there are plenty of dual sport motorcycles on the market, and the vast majority of them are excellent. While we’re covering some of the big names in the list, you should also take a look at the likes of Beta Motorcycles, Husqvarna, Triumph, and even a few up and coming Chinese makes too, because the Chinese are really getting their sh*t together. Also, we’ve decided to order the list from smaller displacements to larger, just to give a broader overview of what’s on offer across the market. Anyway, let’s take a look at our favorite dual sport motorcycles…that aren’t BMWs!
Top 10 Rough Roading Dual Sport Motorcycles That Aren’t BMWs!
#10. The Yamaha WR250R
If you’re in the market for a small capacity dual sport motorcycle that’s geared more towards off-road riding, then we’d recommend the Yamaha WR250R. It’s not going to be the best machine for highways, but as a 250, you’d probably guessed that already. What it lacks in highway speed it makes up for in off-road competence. Powered by a compact but potent liquid-cooled, four valve, 250cc single cylinder engine, with a six-speed transmission, and plush long travel suspension, the WR250R is a very capable dual sport motorcycle. It’s actually very similar to its YZ250F competition-only stablemate, but retuned to deliver smoother and more controllable power.
The other main differences between the hardcore dirt-only YZ250R and the tamer road-legal WR250R are the addition of those road-legal components including headlights, mirrors, and a side stand, and most importantly, softer suspension for more relaxed riding, and a quieter exhaust with less harmful emissions. For a beginner, or for those looking for versatile and incredibly fun dirt bike, then the Yamaha WR250R is one of the coolest little dual sport motorcycles out there, all in a package starting from$8,099.
#09. The Honda CRF250L Rally
The Honda CRF250L Rally appears on pretty much all of our lists to do with off-road motorcycles or Honda products in general – and for good reason. We absolutely love it. What Honda have done with this is take the already capable, tried and tested, and highly respected CRF250L dirt bike and transform it into something a little more road-oriented. Honda managed this by borrowing some nice styling elements from their Paris-Dakar machines and souping up the little CRF accordingly. Unlike the Yamaha above though, the CRF250L Rally is slightly more road-oriented than off-road, but if you think it can’t handle itself in the dirt, you’ll be surprised at just how good it performs when you take it off-road.
Powered by a strong 249.6cc liquid-cooled single cylinder engine, the CRF is good for about 24 hp. It might not have the power figures you’d hoped for, and while it certainly isn’t the fastest bike on the road, the improved styling gives it a striking road presence that should stop car drivers from bullying you into the sidewalk. Or into the rough – and then you can show them how off-road capable you really are. The Honda CRF250L comes complete with LED lights, dual sport tires, and optional ABS. But the best thing about this dual sport machine is the price tag. For $5,149, you can have one of these of your own.
#08. The Yamaha XT250
Our second 250 helping from Yamaha is quite different from the first. If the WR250R is more dirt-focused, then the XT250 is its more road-oriented equivalent. It should still be counted amongst the ranks of the best dual sport motorcycles though, despite its road-focused bias, but as long as you know that before you purchase one then you’ll be fine. It’s not going to be the perfect companion for touring the uncharted interior of the Gobi desert, but for some light trail riding on the weekend, and for proper urban traffic, it’s an absolute gem of a dual sport. At its core, it’s a fun motorcycle to ride – just dispel any illusions you had of keeping up with highway traffic or entering into a motocross event. But anything in between is just fine.
Powered by an air-cooled, fuel-injected, four-stroke, 249cc single cylinder engine, the Yamaha XT250 offers a snappy throttle response and smooth power delivery, with the urgency off a dirt bike but with the dignity of a small street bike…if that makes sense? The Yamaha’s long travel suspension gives you 11.2 inches of ground clearance to play with, and a seat height of only 31.9 inches, making it an ideal machine for shorter riders. And the price? $5,199.
#07. The Suzuki DR-Z400S
Suzuki’s iconic DR-Z400S has been around for years, and has been an industry mainstay in the dual sport motorcycles category since it first rolled on to the scene in 2000. Since then, it has made a name for itself as a versatile and competent dual sport machine for those looking for everyday practicality and off-road thrills but with more grunt than a 250. Even the modern iterations of the DR-Z400S are old-school in nature, which is not bad thing. The design and mechanics come from an age of simplicity, making these babies easy to ride, easy to service, and easy to find replacement parts for. And that’s another good reason to consider the DR-Z400S when you’re out shopping for dual sport motorcycles.
The DR-Z’s liquid-cooled 398cc single cylinder motor is one of the few modern dirt bikes that still comes with a carburetor rather than fuel-injection, but that carb allows for silky smooth power delivery, and thanks to the bolt-action reliability of its five speed gearbox, it’s a recipe for success. It’s got the grunt to thrash over, under, around, and through most obstacles, with enough suspension to carry you through comfortably. Overall, it offers a wonderful balance of off-road capabilities and on-road, every day riding. With an asking price of $6,599, you could do a lot worse than this venerable dual sport warrior.
#06. The Honda XR650L
Another “oldie” but “goodie” we have the seldom updated but always essential Honda XR650L. While the rest of the off-road Honda XR line was culled, the XR650L bravely soldiers on, and that’s because it’s pretty much irreplaceable. It’s as basic as it ever was, powered by a torquey, air-cooled, single cylinder lump, with very little in the way of modern upgrades, but that’s not a bad thing – it means Honda pretty much nailed it first time ‘round. Though a little dated in styling, and perhaps a little dowdy in nature, never discount this veteran, because it’s still very much a contender. It’s quite off-road biased though, but don’t let that put you off.
So what if the engine is still pretty much the same 1993 Radial Four Valve Combustion unit? This air-cooled 644cc is as reliable as sin and pushes out more power than you probably need, to the tune of around 40 horsepower and 47.2 lb-ft of peak torque. The five speed transmission is completely bullet-proof, and the suspension is remarkably good considering that it hasn’t been updated in years. Seriously though, it’s definitely more of a dirt bike than a road bike, so if you’re looking for something that you’re going to ride on the road for the majority of your time, this probably isn’t your ideal weapon of choice. But if old school dirt riding is your thing then… With an MSRP of $6,899, the Honda XR650L is one of the most well respected dual sport motorcycles out there.
#05. The Kawasaki KLR650R
If the Honda is a little too off-road for your liking, here is the yin to its proverbial to its proverbial yang: the Kawasaki KLR650R. While it looks the part, and would appear to tick all of the dual sport boxes, we would say that the KLR650R is very much a road-biased motorcycle, despite how it looks. And yes, you can certainly tackle a few mild trails, a bit scrap ground here and there, or cross a shallow stream or two, but if you’re looking at getting dirty and scrambling up dry river beds, move on, because this probably won’t do it. Or if it does do it, it won’t have been an enjoyable experience. But what it lacks in off-road spice it makes up for in road-focused adventure touring enthusiasm.
As part of the line up since 1987, the most recent “generation” of KLR650 appeared in 2008, and not a lot has changed since then. It still boasts 41mm forks, dual piston brake calipers for the front and rear, a new cooling system, heavy duty spoked wheels, a dual beam headlight, and updated bodywork that you see today. At its heart, the Kawasaki KLR650 is powered by a powerful 651cc single cylinder engine which produces enough oompf to make it a worthy adventure touring machine. With a price tag of $6,690, it’s worth investigating. We recommend paying a little more for the awesome digital camo paint job.
#04. The Suzuki DR650S
So what if you want a mid-sized ride that actually excels both on and off road? You find yourself a Suzuki DR650S, which many consider to be the king of the dual sport motorcycles. It actually is a dual sport, with no particular bias at all. Well, it’s great on the asphalt but you probably don’t want to munch too many miles on top of one. It’s awesome off-road as well, but if you’re looking at long sessions thrashing around the sand pit, then the suspension might be sticking point. It’s not better than the Kawasaki on-road, and not quite as good as the Honda off-road – but it’s performs admirably at both of its tasks, without any drastic weaknesses, and that’s what makes it so good.
Old school in design, the current Suzuki DR650S is very much like the DR600 of yesteryear: it features a simple four-valve SOHC 644cc engine, with smooth power delivery and a very strong bottom end. The gearbox is a little happier on road than off, but it’s not debilitating in the dirt, and while the suspension could be a little better, it does the job and rises to the challenge. There are plenty of plus points for the Suzuki DR650S, but since it is such a renowned motorcycle, and since the design really hasn’t changed much over the years, you can pick these up anywhere for very reasonable prices. However, if you want a new one, you’ll need to part with $6,499.
#03. The KTM 690 Enduro R
Putting the KTM 690 Enduro R in the dual sport motorcycles category might be a bit of a stretch for some people. Sure, it’s an amazing off-road machine, but it’s not really in the shape of an adventure tourer or something like that, and its performance specification is almost too crazy for some. You see, that magical KTM engine offers a power output of 67 horsepower, which is quite a bit more than the rest of the 600cc-ish machines listed above. It’s also not particularly comfortable for long hours in the saddle either. But some riders don’t want saddle bags and cushy pillows. Some want bikes that can tear up the dirt…that can also be thrown into tight corners when the moment takes them. And the KTM 690 Enduro R is just that.
Yeah, it’s mostly off-road and lives up to the KTM name in every single way that you’d expect with rock steady WP Suspension forks and shocks and a race derived off-road chassis, but it also has some unexpected road-focused accoutrements that might surprise you. The KTM 690 Enduro R might not look like much as a street bike, but KTM have seen fit to equip it with ABS as standard, given it a slipper clutch, and treated it with three modes of ride-by-wire throttle valve management. Prices start from $10,799, so add that to your dual sport motorcycles shopping list.
#02. The KTM Super Adventure 1290 R
At the bigger end of the dual sport motorcycles spectrum we have the KTM Super Adventure 1290 R. This is a machine that KTM described as “versatility without compromise” and we’re inclined to agree. Let’s not forget that KTM are the undisputed masters of the off-road realm, and they also make fearsome street-bikes too – so when the two worlds collide, only good things can happen. But yeah, it’s a big, expensive, heavy adventure bike that no one in their right mind would ever consider riding off road, right? Wrong! It’s actually very capable off-road, and if you’re too scared to even try then you have no business buying one in the first place. It’s big, it’s brawny, and it’s versatile: the KTM Super Adventure 1290 R – one of the best dual sport motorcycles on the market.
Powered by a huge liquid cooled 1301cc v-twin engine that’s capable of deliver an enormous 160 horsepower and a huge 103.2 lb-ft of peak torque, the KTM can clearly handle itself both on and off road. To match the torque output, KTM have kitted the Super Adventure out with heavy-duty spoked wheels with knobbly tires, and generous long travel suspension to the tune of 8.7 inches, offering almost 10 inches of ground clearance. And to compliment the KTM’s massive horsepower, the Austrians have treated the 1290 R with ABS, Brembo brakes, cruise control, traction control with a lean angle sensor and an adjustable windscreen. It’s definitely a dual sport motorcycle, but it’s not for the novice rider. The $18,000 should deter the unworthy though…
#01. The Honda CRF1000L Africa Twin
If we had to choose a heavyweight dual sport motorcycle to carry us over rough terrain, along smooth highways and into any kind of situation, then we’d have to choose the Honda CRF1000L Africa Twin. The modern incarnation of the legendary Africa Twin is one hell of a motorcycle, and it excels at whatever task you put it to. It can cross deserts, it can cross cities, it can get down and dirty, and it can even be a formidable track day weapon, and that’s why we list it as one of our favorite dual sport motorcycles ever made. It’s versatile, it’s practical, it can handle anything and everything, and of course, it’s a Honda.
Powered by a liquid-cooled, four-stroke, Unicam 8 valve, 998cc parallel-twin engine that produces 93.8 horsepower at 7,500 rpm and 72.2 lb-ft of torque at 6,000 rpm, it might not be as powerful as some of its competitors, but it’s that restraint that makes it a superior choice in our opinion. Power isn’t everything, and when you’re switching between paved roads and rough surfaces, huge power isn’t what’s required. That being said, it can hold its own on the highway, without compromising its nimble off-road nature. Boasting long-travel suspension, adjustable riding settings, dual channel ABS with an optional rear tire disabler, selective torque control with three modes, fully adjustable front and rear suspension, and manual and automatic transmission, it’s not hard to see why we rate the Honda CRF1000L so highly. And the fact that it comes with a rather attractive MSRP of $13,299…which undercuts the KTM quite nicely.