A segment in motorcycling which is still growing slightly, even in these sad economic times, is what is known as dual-sport riding. In fact, it may be because of the economy that the number of dual-sport motorcycles being purchased is an increasing percentage of overall motorcycle sales. Dual-sport motorcycles are built to ride on paved streets and also designed to handle well in the dirt; at least a majority of them do (some are more street-oriented than others).
The appeal is rather simple; no loading up your truck and driving out to a remote area - or your local MX track - unloading it and riding, and then packing it all up when you are tired and dirty. It would seem obvious how advantageous it would be to ride to that remote area instead. The bonus is that you get to enjoy the roads both to and from your off-road playground location; and these are often down long sinuous asphalt which is fun to even drive on. And, bonus, most dual sport motorcycles are rather inexpensive – read: CHEAP.
That last part is important in a time when you save every penny. Most of the world is learning to be more frugal these days, and this fun sport is one way to do that. Buying a good bike for a dual-sport machine depends on what your goals are, but most mid-sized, well-powered, reliable and nice handling dual-sport motorcycles are somewhere in the neighborhood of US$5,000 to $9,000 new. If you go on the used market, a similar bike could cost as little as $1,500, depending on where you live. It does seem like spending money to save money makes no sense, but in this case it really does.
The dual-sport is also a great commuter vehicle. It can carry what most people need to have on-hand for their occupation and carry it all safely to your office. They are motorcycles, so they take up little space, they sip fuel and taking the long way home on one – thus bypassing the traffic – is a lot more fun. The fuel savings alone versus an average SUV can save enough to make the payment on the bike. Even former non-motorcyclists are purchasing a dual-sport in place of a scooter because the dual-sport is also durable and reliable. Some would say ‘tougher’ looking, but that is not always true…have you seen the new scooters?
It is this next aspect of dual-sport ownership, though, which makes them all the more enjoyable; they can be ridden on dirt – meaning, off of the road. This opens up all sorts of opportunities. You may find an alternate route to your destination through some old horse trail or fire road, and now you can do that. You can decide to head off on a motorized trail in a state forest nearby, go ahead.
As long as you have your appropriate permits for it (which are also very inexpensive), you can ride a dual-sport anywhere motorized transportation is allowed – National Parks, National Forests, fire roads, or even your own personal track in your backyard (check legal restrictions). There are almost no limits to your ability to explore new roads and paths, and thus new worlds. It is likely that you have been riding down a long and twisty road only to find it ending with a sign which indicates that the road is over with and you will soon be on gravel. With a dual-sport, you don’t have to do a u-turn, you can simply keep riding. Essentially, you can now take the ‘…road less traveled’ and become any cliché that you like.
There are many popular models of dual-sport motorcycles from which to choose, and the selection is only getting larger in recent years. The Japanese have the market covered with such popular machines as the Kawasaki KLR650, Suzuki DR-Z400S, Honda XR650L or Yamaha WR250R. A limited list to be sure, but a good representation. The Europeans are in the market as well with the BMW G650GS and F800GS, Husqvarna TE630, or about half of the KTM model line-up.
Again, there are many more models than what is written herein, so take a look around the market and you are bound to find one which fits you physically and skill-wise as well. Next will come the gear and the accessories – you will need gear which can handle off-road conditions as your street gear is likely too heavy or too easily damaged and you need to be comfortable as well. As for helmet choice, the standard is to use a more dirt-oriented version given that you will be moving a bit slower when not on the asphalt and you need better cooling air-flow; the ‘open’ design of a dirt-oriented helmet allows that. Just make sure to get a very good set of goggles too.
The last concern, but one which should not be forgotten, is that you should have training. Unless you have had experience in the dirt, you need to get yourself some. You can do that on your own, but it would be beneficial to attend a class or have a good mentor ride with you and teach. There are many instinctive moves which can save you on the street, but will get you nowhere on a loose and rocky surface. Prepare yourself well; become comfortable off-road and you will find only fun when you take a path off of paved surfaces.
It is up to you how you want to pursue this sport, but you will find plenty of friends and colleagues who will want to join you on your adventures. Choose wisely, and only bring along others who are at your skill level or above and whom you can trust. Be safe, wear proper gear and always carry a mobile phone or emergency locator, just in case you get stuck out in the middle of nowhere. Once you are prepared and have some experience under your belt, there is almost no limit to the places you can go and see. Have fun and enjoy your new path to adventure!