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Dual Sport and Adventure Bikes

Riding both on-road and off-road?  Or even just off-road with some on-road connectors? riding is one of the faster growing segments of the sport and within the BMA.  For good reason!  You can cover an amazing variety of off-road AND on-road terrain with a dual-sport bike. 

This is another broad category with many sub-classes and displacements available. Given the growing popularity and sheer volume of choices, we will expand on this category a bit more.

These are street-legal bikes with anywhere from a lot to a little off-road capability. Some are essentially trail bikes made street legal with minimum modification. Others are street bikes with minor modifications to market them as dual-sport.

Many riders like to be able to ride to their favourite off-road riding area, versus trailering or otherwise carrying their dirt bike down the highway. Or maybe they want to do an occasional commute to work to change things up! 

Some purists would say most of these "dual sport" bikes are like all season tires – “a compromise”. Although you can certainly buy bikes in this class with great off-road versatility in which very little has been compromised, there is some truth here. Something that is designed to work best on the trail will not perform best on road and vice-versa.

Remember that you will need the appropriate licensing and insurance to ride a dual-sport bike (or any road-approved bike) on the road.

Let’s break down this class of bikes into three categories:


Street-Legal Dirt Bikes

At one extreme are street-legal dirt bikes. In order to be street legal, they must have lights, mirrors, horn, DOT approved brakes/tires and emissions equipment. Many of these requirements add weight. Dirt bikes generally aim to be as light as possible to improve off-road handling. But “light weight” is not always desirable as it relates to on-road capability.  Despite being road legal, they can be a poor choice for extended road riding. The stock seat isn't comfortable for long, the fuel range is shorter and a light-weight bike can be buffeted around much more at speed or when passing by oncoming traffic. Examples in this category:  KTM EXC-F series, Husqvarna FE series, Honda CRF-L and the Beta RRS series.

50/50 Dual-Sport Bikes

As the title suggests, here the compromise is more evenly split between on/off-road capabilities. 

The seat height is sometimes lower, the ground clearance is reduced as is the suspension travel. The gas tanks are larger and the seats are wider and generally more comfortable for those longer rides.

These bikes do a “good” job of everything, so long as you don't compare it directly to a more focused road or off-road machine. These bikes are most fun when ridden in the company of other 50/50 dual-sport bikes. Yes, they are fun!

With the appropriate rider capability, you can ride to your favourite trail, enjoy your favourite variety of off-road terrain and then ride back home again.

These two categories of bikes featured above are what most people mean when they refer to “Dual Sport” bikes.  Examples in this category: Suzuki DR-Z400 and DR650, Kawasaki KLR 650, KLX250, Yamaha WR250R, XT250 and Honda CRF250L/CRF450L.

Adventure Bikes

At the other extreme in the dual-sport category are Adventure Touring bikes.

Are these Dual-Sport bikes? Some think they are!  (Look up Chris Birch on YouTube and see what he can do on an 1100+CC Adventure Bike!)  “Bing”…  Back to mere-mortal reality.

Adventure Bikes are primarily designed for on-road and back-road/gravel-road type adventures.  By design, some of these are really just street bikes with a few styling cues to imply off-road capability.

Others are large dirt bikes or specifically designed from the ground up with more off-road centric features. For riders that have the desire and/or skills, they may adventure further off-road onto ATV two-track or even the occasional single-track terrain.  

Some in this class are large and heavy compared to dirt bikes to improve their on-road, longer range riding comfort and are not well suited for single track trails.

Others in the class have similar designs and features to their larger cousins with smaller engine sizes (300-600cc) and sometimes lower seat heights for the vertically challenged! 

Picking up one of these larger bikes is difficult at best!  Keep this in mind if you plan to venture farther off-road.  However, they can travel great distances in comfort on paved or dirt roads allowing you to enjoy multi-day “adventures” on your own, or with a pillion. 

Technology such as ABS brakes, traction control, heated seats/grips and a whole host of other on-board electronics are becoming more common on the higher-end models.  Examples in this category: BMW GS1200, KTM 1190 & 790R, Suzuki V-Strom, Yamaha Tenere, Triumph Tiger, Kawasaki Versus-X 300 and many others!