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Looking at the Junior Weights

Manufacturers have responded with smaller, street-legal dual sports

As the dual sport market began to crescendo a few years ago, many riders started to look towards manufacturers for a new set of options, that would meet a changing set of needs. Some riders where aging and wanted lighter weights, others wanted to have more capability on the trail and others we're looking for better beginner options, that they wouldn't' top out on in 6 months.

Photo: The BMW 310GS setup with a Rally Raid system to take it to the next level.

Sure, the current crop had its merits. Big bikes like the 1200 GS were super valuable on cross country treks where you might have to spend hours on the pavement. Midweight riders like the KLR 650 proved to be nice all-around performers at a killer price. And yes, lightweight riders, like the CRF 250 were great for around town and into the single track, but couldn't we also have… you know, something else?

That "something else" for many, was an adequately powered, lightweight, dual purpose machine that could be fitted with aftermarket accessories to comfortably hit the highway, tackle the dirt and just be generally easier to handle.

It took a few years, but recently, we have started to see a sort of "Junior-Middleweight" class emerge.

First, there was the Kawasaki 300 Versys and the BMW 310 GS. Then Royal Enfield started making noise with its 411cc Himalayan. And now, it's officially been confirmed that Honda will be producing a street legal version of its vaunted 450cc motocross machine.

So how will this new Honda motorcycle stack up against the competition? Will it finally prove to be that elusive, light weight, trail and highway worthy machine that so many owners are looking for?

Let's take a look at the burgeoning class and see where it all stands.

Honda CRF450L

  • Biggest Upside - Long term, this could turn into the 450cc dual sport platform that many have been looking for. Reliable, notable off-road heritage and almost certain to be overflowing with aftermarket accessories.
  • Biggest Downside - Over 10 G's - Just about $2500 shy of the Africa Twin.
  • Most Likely Upgrade - Fuel Capacity, no question. Riders will want at least 200 miles out this.
  • Would Be Nice - If they would give riders the option of a factory equipped adventure tourer ala the CRF250 Rally. You know like the CRF450 Rally the teams at Dakar use.

Suzuki DRZ400

  • Biggest Upside - Well, it's proven - And rock solid. The DRZ maybe a relic, but like it's step cousin the KLR, not much has changed for a reason. Also, the aftermarket parts available mean you can make it do pretty much anything you want.
  • Biggest Downside - 5 speed gearbox and no fuel injection. Although, a carburetor might be an advantage for the home mechanic.
  • Most Likely Upgrade - As a lightweight adventure touring machine, upgrading the fuel capacity from the stock 2.6 gallons is a must.
  • Would Be Nice - If Suzuki would put a little polish on the ole' 400 and bring it into the 2000's. There is something to be said for "dead simple" technology, but as the reliability of components improve, the DRZ could afford a few upgrades. - Or hell, maybe just a few more CC's and a six-speed transmission. It's kind of a loveable tractor.

BMW 310GS

  • Biggest Upside - A claimed 70+ miles per gallon and a stock 3-gallon tank make this a great 1st bike. And with a list price of $5,695, this is about as affordable as a BMW gets.
  • Biggest Downside - I can't help but wish that this came stock with spoked wheels and semi knobby tires.
  • Most Likely Upgrade - Hot on the heels of Rally Raids success with the Honda CB500, the English parts manufacturer have just announced a similar kit for the pintsize BMW. It includes spoked wheels and semi knobby tires.
  • Would Be Nice - Is 310 CC's too small? Maybe a 450's next.

Royal Enfield Himalayan

  • Biggest Upside - $4,500 for a brand new dual sport motorcycle with killer style!
  • Biggest Downside - $4,500 for a brand new dual sport motorcycle with killer style?
  • Most Likely Upgrade - A custom tool kit. I'm all in the new Royal Enfield, but first generation of any motorcycle and a good tool kit, will go a long way.
  • Would Be Nice - If it we're just a tad lighter. At a reported 420 lbs wet, it's only 12 lbs lighter than the Kawasaki KLR 650 and a whopping 50 lbs heavier than the Suzuki DR 650.

KTM EXC500F

  • Biggest Upside - This thing is beast. The best technology, the best power and super light.
  • Biggest Downside - Unless you have expert level riding skills, you'll probably struggle to wring all the value out of this $10,699 machine.
  • Most Likely Upgrade - Can you put aluminum panniers on one of these? I guess soft bags are fine.
  • Would Be Nice - If it were 8 grand - Really there isn't much room for criticism.

Sure, some may still be left wanting that elusive, stripped down Yamaha Tenere, but all things considered, the industry has responded well to the calls for more mid power options. From 300 - 450 cc and from $4,500 to $10,700 there suddenly seems to be something for everyone.

Derek Roberts/July 2018


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