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Buying a Dual Sport

Itís the fastest growing segment of motorcycle sales in the the Northwest. Dual Sport ownership doubles in the Northwest nearly every three years and has since the turn of the century. People want to catch an interstate in the morning, have lunch in the mountains mid-day and then return to civilization via an unimproved fire road. But with so many choices, which is the right one for you?

Okay, letís face it, buying a dual sport motorcycle isnít all that complicated. It ranks right up there with making Top Ramen on the degree of difficulty lists. But some people still manage to screw it up.

Like me.

After 12 years of not riding, I went out and bought the motorcycle I thought made sense after a long hiatus away from the sport - a 325 pound (dry) Honda XR 650L. Along with being just a tad heavier than Anna Nichole Smith, it was tall. My ears would pop when I got on the thing. It scared the rabbit pellets out of me the first few times I rode it.

That doesnít mean the XR650L is a bad motorcycle. Not at all. It just was a little much for my transition back into the sport.

Above: It's tall design means there's plenty of fork travel on a Honda XR650L.  (Confidential to Randy Newman, this is not the bike for you)

Thankfully, someone stole it, which allowed me to go back and repeat the purchase process. What luck!

(You may be wondering how I can afford such Zen-like calm after the theft of something so important. Well, I got even. On a recent trip to Jamaica, I paid a witch doctor to place a curse on the thieves. Now, I can talk about the event completely anger-free, comfortable in the knowledge that, as you read this, their genitals are turning black and falling off. Itís amazing what twenty dollars and a vile of chicken blood will buy you these days.)

So my advice is to be smart and ask a few questions before you buy.

Whatís your ability level?

Seriously, be honest here. Youíll save yourself a lot of money if you do. If youíre a beginner, buy yourself a small used bike and get comfortable on that. Give yourself three to six months to learn how to manage it. Take the motorcycle safety course and get your endorsement. Then go get yourself one that you can grow into. Buying yourself a sparkling new bike right off the bat will probably result in broken turn signals and a bruised ego. (After you drop it following a two mile-an-hour spaz-out in the Supermarket parking lot-in front of a school bus full of kids that all laughed and pointed at you. Not that Iíd know.)

Better to do that with a clapped-out Yamaha XT-350 or something.

How tall are you?

If you are shorter than 5í6", the world of dual-sport motorcycling is going to be tougher for you to enjoy. Because of long-travel suspensions and the tall valve trains of four-stroke cylinders, modern off-road motorcycles tend to be a leggy bunch. The aftermarket does provide kits that shorten the suspension on most popular models.

Otherwise, look to models in the 250 range such as the Honda CRF230L, Kawasaki's KLX250, Suzuki's DR-200SE and Yamaha's WR250R and the XT250.

While some manufacturers sell street legal dual sport bikes under the 230cc range, you won't get far on a major highway without ticking off a line of drivers behind you. Continuous speeds exceeding 50 mph on such small bikes is not a good idea.

Remember too, that over the years BMW has offered lowering lits for their popular F650GS models

Or look into some platform Alpinestars.

Above:  BMW's F650GS was offered with a optional lowering kit.

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What kind of riding are you really going to do?

This is where youíll have to separate fantasy from reality. Sure, in your imagination youíll be riding a BMW GS to Terra Del Fuego. But in reality, youíll probably be riding horse trails in Redmond on your way back from getting a box of Lucky Charms for the kids.

So ask yourself a couple of questions.

What kind of off-road riding will you be doing? Mostly unpaved Forest Service fire roads? Or gnarly single track barely wider than your handlebars?

The tighter and more aggressive the off-road riding, the smaller and more dirt-oriented the dual sport should be.

Above: Aprilia's ETV1000 Caponard handles the unimproved roads and fireroads well, but may be a bit too cumbersome if you plan to do any single track riding.

How much do you want to spend?

Dual sports can cost anywhere from $500 for a used bailing wire special to more than $20,000 for a pimped-out BMW GS Adventure model. How much you can afford is really between you and your CPA. But if youíre at the low end of the used spectrum, your two main concerns are safety and reliability. So while $650 may seem like a great deal for an old motorcycle, itís rather a lot to spend for a roadside bonfire. If you donít know anything about buying used motorcycles, talk to someone who does.

Just do your research and take your time, because if there is one thing worse than buying the wrong bike, itís doing it twice.

Above: Kawasaki's KLX400SR is a low priced dual sport you can find used, but would you consider riding one around the world? 

World Traveler Advisory

When selecting a dual sport, consider where you plan to be riding it. If youíre going on the next Globe Riders world tour to China, Russia and Germany, a Kawasaki, Suzuki or Yamaha would not be the weapon of choice. The unreliability factor of some of these bikes over the long run can really cause you grief when youíre in the middle of Russia looking for Japanese motorcycle parts. Your best move is to talk with other dual sport enthusiasts that have ridden internationally and see what they have found to be durable through the various road conditions that change by the kilometer. BMW is the one brand most will tend to agree is both durable and easy to find parts for all over the planet.

Above: BMW's R1150GS is the weapon of choice for many who take their dual sport abroad.  Whether it's the streets of Bejing, or the deserts of Africa, parts and service are often available within hours on many cities in the world.

By John "Dirt Clod" Schofield/Spring 2002/Revised 2010

Northwest Dualsport Links and Resources

Who makes what?


F650GS, F800GS & R11/1200 GS models, HP2
Notes: These are absolutely amazing motorcycles. Some are more ideal for hardcore technical dirt riding, while the larger models will go practically anywhere else for as long as you want them too (e.g. 600 miles a day).

For Northwest Dealers CLICK HERE


CRF230L, XR650L
Notes: The XR650L is a very tall motorcycle. But it offers a long-travel suspension, rock-solid reliability and tremendous aftermarket support (including lowering kits). Honda's technology is ancient dating back to 1988 for the XR. However that means you can fix the bike alongside the road a lot easier than something fuel injected or utilizing a computer system. But honestly, why not sell the larger Varadero in the US.

For Northwest Dealers CLICK HERE


KLX250, KLR650
Notes: The KLX250 is a wonderful day ride bike, while the 650 has been a favorite of many in it's long running history. Both are affordable and ample supplies are on the used market as well, where you'll also find a 250 Sherpa or KLX400 now and then.

For Northwest Dealers CLICK HERE


950, 990 Adventure Series
Notes: I love KTM. Everything about them is top-notch. Like BMW, they are rather pricey. Unlike BMW, they are light.

For Northwest Dealers CLICK HERE


DR-200SE, DR-Z400S, DR650SE, VStrom 650, Vstrom 1000
Notes: The 200 is not practical for highway use and uses old technology. The DR-Z400S and DR650SE are better choices. If you plan to mount a lot of luggage and create an adventure vessel then the VStrom series is the way to go. Most owners will tell you, the 650 is better for off-highway use due since it's lighter and more agile.

For Northwest Dealers CLICK HERE


XT-250, WR250F
Notes: The introduction of both these models had us wondering? Why the heck don't these guys sell larger format dual sport bikes in the US the way they used to sell the TDM 800.

For Northwest Dealers CLICK HERE





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