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DUAL SPORTING 101

Part one of a Bonehead's Guide to Dual Sporting. (Me, being the bonehead)

By John "Dirt Clod" Schofield

Have you ever been on your road bike miles away from civilization and you pass one of those dirt roads that head off into the woods? You've seen them peeling enticingly off the pavement on highways like 2, 12, or 101. As you pass by, your mind wanders to what alpine vistas they might reveal; a quiet mountain stream, a forgotten meadow dotted with wild flowers or a bullet-riddled Chevy Citation.

Now, the brave among us might take their road bike down that dirt path to see where it leads. I, however, am not brave. I rode my VFR down a couple miles of dirt road and it wasn't an experience I care to repeat. For those of you unfamiliar with the joys of piloting a100 horsepower sportbike down a twisty gravel road, imagine trying to steer a hyperactive pig that's somehow gotten into your mothers muscle relaxers. If that makes me a chicken, then show me the hen house.

Anyway, where was I? Oh yeah.

Well, if those little Forest Service adventures stay with you long after you've passed them, you're just a large personal check away from dual sporting. As the sport utility vehicles of the motorcycling world, dual sports are go-anywhere, do-anything thank-you-sir-may-I-have-another adventure companions. Naysayers will say they are neither fish, nor foul. Not particularly good on the road or in the dirt. These are the same people who look at Angeline Jolie and say, "Yeah, but can she cook?" They are missing the point. On a dual sport, you feel like the master of all you survey. Terra Del Fuego? No problem. Point Barrow? Back by lunch. Summit Rainier? Wake me when you're through. You can pretend you're equal parts Indiana Jones, Meriwether Lewis and Malcolm Smith. That is, until a June bug in the Adam's apple snaps you out of your reverie.

There are three kinds of dual sports:

The planetary assault vehicle

Let's see, what country would make a bike that could conquer the world?  Maybe we should ask Poland. Yes, Germany's BMW makes the best example of this type of machine, the GS. So overly engineered and overly capable, it's a bit like using the space shuttle for a flight to Pasco. But that's precisely what makes them so marvelous. You can literally throw a leg over it and say, "Next stop Cabo San Lucas," and mean it. But at a Willard Scott-like 530 pounds, they limit how you define "off road."

Well-maintained fire roads? Sure. Single track? You're either incredibly good, very rich or huffing paint fumes. The crunch of a Beemer's cylinder head striking a rock, ranks right up there with accidentally sitting on someone's Stradivarius, on my list of expensive sounds.

The Hybrids

These are, for all intents and purposes, well-mannered dirt bikes. But soft suspensions, de-tuned engines and more relaxed ergonomics make them excellent commuter bikes. (Especially considering those moon-crater potholes that seem to be everywhere these days.) In fact, I've read accounts of people "commuting" to South America on their Kawasaki KLR650s. While very light for a road bike, they are still a little heavy for a dirt use. Still, I've seen talented riders take these behemoths everywhere that an off-road-only bike can go. The only difference is they leave shiny bits of turn signal in the woods behind them.

The Dual Sport Conversions

This is where you take a dirt bike and retrofit street legal lights,signals and a horn. It's a great idea for those dirt-only riders who need to connect trailheads with little bits of Forest Service road or highway. Unfortunately, Washington State recently decided that this was against the rules. There are two ways around this; buy an already-licensed dual sport conversion, or grab a P.O. Box in Oregon and license your new bike down there. All because some guy with a clip-on tie in some cubicle said so. Okay, that covers the basics. In part two, we'll explore some of the epic dual sport rides around Puget Sound.

Until then, see you in the dirt.


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