"WHAT DUAL SPORT / ADV MOTORCYCLE SHOULD I BUY?" WHILE THE QUESTION IS EASY, THE INDIVIDUAL RESPONSES CAN BE OVERWHELMING.
When we read dual sport motorcycle reviews in magazines or watch ADV reviews online, we're getting the opinions of a few experienced individuals. Assuming these people have a range of knowledge and can objectively base their reviews on owner experience versus other relevant motorcycles, these reviews can be an awesome resource. This is all well and good, but there are several inherent problems. What's the ownership experience? What are their biases? What is their skill level? Experience? Are they boosting the review for a sponsor or worried about selling ad space in their magazine? Or maybe they're knocking the bike because they're sponsored (or want to be sponsored) by a competitor? Are they comparing dual sport motorcycles to road bikes, or adventure motorcycles to dirt bikes? And then there's the biggie, when's the last time you heard a negative review from anybody who relies on sponsorship or selling ads?
Dual sport and adventure motorcycle forums are another outstanding resource for very specific information, but not without their own problems. In bike-specific forums, motorcycles are sometimes unscrupulously idolized while competitors are unfairly demonized. Even motorcycles that are utterly terrible have very loyal and very passionate fans... It's like this: If we get a bad mattress, we try something else until we are comfortable, right? Imagine somebody who not only refuses to sleep on anything else because they worship their nasty old mattress, but they also try to convince others to sleep on the same mattress. It makes about as much sense as a bad motorcycle. Why not just get what works for you? And it's not like you're married to your motorcycle. There's nothing wrong with trying something new.
In general forums or motorcycle groups, responses to the question "What dual sport motorcycle should I buy?" can be tricky to sort through for an accurate picture of community feedback. Forums are an excellent resource, and there are many very helpful dual sport and ADV experts who are willing to offer a hand. Sorting through that information, along with the few people who won't hesitate to belittle, haze, mock, criticize, and/or troll, to get an accurate picture of community feedback can be daunting. Usually responses to "Which dual sport should I get?" go like this:
Go ride every dual sport and find out for yourself.
Buy a dual sport like mine because all others are garbage.
Why are you asking a question that has been answered a thousand times in previous posts?
The correct answer above is really unhelpful, but it really just "depends." Why? Because personal preference really is the key factor. Just like the dudes in the forum or the rider in the review will tell you the perfect bike for them, they have no idea what your preferences are, nor what type of riding you'll actually be doing, how far you'll be going, how nasty the trail might be, or how far you have to travel on slab to get to said nasty trail. No matter how good a review is, or how helpful the forum posts are, only you know what you really need. And when you're new to riding dual sports, sometimes you think you know what you want, but find out later that you LOVE something else.
In my location, I can ride five minutes on the road and get to some of the best riding in the world. This means I don't need a ton of on-road capability. However between hosting rallies and just loving riding in general, I also ride A LOT, so I need something that doesn't require a ton of maintenance. Believe it or not, hosting a niche YouTube channel doesn't pay a ton, so my bike has to be affordable as well. My dual sport of choice is the Suzuki DRZ 400. Now these responses would be totally different depending on my location, my fitness level, my budget, and my preferences. The DRZ is great for me, but it might be a terrible choice for you.
So how do we answer the question, "Which dual sport is right for me?" I can't answer it for everybody, but I can at least show an overall glimpse of where each bike is at in terms of off-road and on-road performance. I wanted to pool the collective responses of every dual sport and ADV enthusiast I could, not to get the specific information that forums and reviews so excellently provide, but a general public overview of the on and off road capabilities of the most popular dual sport and adventure motorcycles. I also thought it would be fun to rank them by price, weight, value for money, and a few other factors.
I SURVEYED THOUSANDS OF RIDERS ABOUT THE ON-ROAD AND OFF-ROAD PERFORMANCE OF THEIR DUAL SPORT AND ADV MOTORCYCLES, AND THESE ARE THE RESULTS.
As the old adage goes, there are lies, damn lies, and statistics. Take the charts below with a grain of salt. I'm not an expert statistician, nor am I very good at writing surveys. I don't have access to every bike on the list to weigh, and even if I did, I don't have a scale. Prices of motorcycles vary wildly due to age, condition, mods, location, and about a billion other factors. At best, prices are ballpark. To keep results simple, there was rounding involved. Yes, rounding. In a statistical survey. That should tell you all you need to know about the accuracy of these results. This isn't meant to be an exact, perfect, definitive end-all be-all ranking, but rather a quick and dirty glimpse of community opinion.
On the upside, the sample sizes for the general surveys were pretty solid. (That means we got a lot of responses, so outliers like fanboys, haters, and/or idol worship are minimized.) Even more encouraging, the expert surveys yielded very close results to the public surveys, which means there's a pretty good consensus as to what these motorcycles are capable of.
That being said, I put together the survey, and even I don't agree with all of the results. The Honda Africa Twin is apparently better off road than the tried and true (and 100lb lighter) KLR 650? I don't think so. Sure, the Honda is a capable off road machine, but on a gnarly trail I'd take a KLR over an AT any day. (To be fair, I also have a KLR shrine in my room surrounded by votive candles. Also to be fair, if I had an Africa Twin I'd probably have a shrine to it, too. I really, really love motorcycles.)
TOP RANKED DUAL SPORT AND ADV MOTORCYCLES: BEST ON-ROAD PERFORMANCE
TOP RANKED DUAL SPORT AND ADV MOTORCYCLES: BEST OFF-ROAD PERFORMANCE
TOP RANKED DUAL SPORT AND ADV MOTORCYCLES - BEST TOTAL RANGE OF CAPABILITY
A dual sport motorcycle isn't a dual sport unless it can handle a little bit of everything... so just how much "everything" can these bikes take on? A good measure of dual sport capabilities would be its on road score PLUS its off road score. The top bikes on this list are considered excellent dual sport and adventure motorcycles by the community for outstanding scores both on and off road. The dual sport ranked most capable for dirt oriented performance is the Husqvarna FE350, with rankings shifted heavily toward dirt. The Adventure bike ranked most capable for more road and ADV performance is the Honda Africa Twin with rankings shifted favorably toward on road performance. The Suzuki DR650, KTM 690, Honda XR650L & R, and Husqvarna 701 are tied for the top ranked do-it-all motorcycle with good scores both on and off road.
TOP RANKED DUAL SPORT AND ADV MOTORCYCLES - PRICED LOWEST TO HIGHEST
Thank (or blame) the KLR guys (me included) for making price one of the definitive factors in dual sport and adventure motorcycling. In the dual sport/ADV hobby/passion/obsession, most riders prioritize experiences rather than glam. This means that "expensive" doesn't always correlate with "cool" for many dual sport riders. Like extreme coupon clipping, but without the scissors and with a piston or two, a large segment of the community considers "cool" to get the most capable machine for the lowest price.
On the top of the "cheapo" list we find several Japanese dual sport motorcycles that may be old and aging, but they're still fantastic. Even the cheapest bike on the list, the discontinued Yamaha XT225 is an incredible dual sport. It's capable of 60mph back road cruising and handling gnarly trails with it's light weight and low seat height, even though it ties for the lowest range of capability, it's still at home doing nasty trails or longer adventures. Now this isn't to say it's going to win Baja or slay in the whoops, but what it lacks in power and suspension it makes up for in weight and seat height. This is a very easy to ride, very accessible bike that can be muscled up or down about anything. It just goes to show that any dual sport, from the least expensive to the most expensive, can offer up an enormous amount of adventuring.
The lower-middle of the price list features "ten thousand dollar dirt bikes" starting with the outstanding Husqvarna FE350, which ranked highest in overall capability. You get what you pay for! KTM and Husqvarna are churning out near-perfect numbers in dirt performance, and rightfully so. Their dual sport models are very close to their dirt-specific models, which makes them roost-flinging weapons on the trails, but keep their scores relatively low when it comes to on-road performance. This didn't make a lot of sense to me because I've ridden high-performance KTM and Husqvarna dual sports on the highway and to me, they performed better than other motorcycles that scored around a 5, like the Suzuki DRZ 400, Yamaha WR250R, and even the Royal Enfield Himalayan in my opinion. They have more power, they can be smoother, and they're not wound out so much in the RPMs (sometimes due to extra power, sometimes due to a 6th gear.) To me, they are better on the highway. However, the community stuck them with a 5. If it was just one bike, I could deal with it. But since nearly all the high performance dirt-oriented dual sports scored a 5 or below, I had to dig into this. So I conducted several personal interviews and engaged in the perusal of a few hundred forum posts, and came up with possible reasons for the lower highway score. My theory is that riders of high-performance dirt-oriented dual sports have higher maintenance intervals (either real or percieved) and would rather spend the engine hours in the good stuff than buzzing down a highway. Like you'd take care of a Benz a little more than an old minivan, a rider of a higher priced, higher performance KTM or Husqvarna might also take care of his or her motorcycle more than say, a cheaper, older Japanese dual sport. Another possibility is that riders who buy dual sports that come dirt-ready, (even race-ready!) from the factory, may not choose mods to reduce that off road performance in favor of on-road capability. Conversely, riders who buy cheaper, often heavier motorcycles in the middle of the price and capability range wouldn't hesitate to mod their dual sports to work better in either direction.
You'll notice a big shift between the "ten thousand dollar dirt bikes" and the more road worthy Adventure Motorcycles starting at the Honda CRF1000L Africa Twin. It comes as no surprise that the most expensive motorcycles skew toward excellent on-road performance as comfortable and capable mile-gobbling adventure machines.
DUAL SPORT UNICORNS DO NOT, AND MAY NEVER EXIST
As I note in the video, the closer a bike comes to perfection in one area (dirt or road), the more expensive it gets. Unfortunately, none of the top dirt performers scored more than a 5 on road. Similarly, none of the top road performers scored more than a 5 in the dirt. So even though every motorcycle on this list is a capable machine, as of this article there is no "unicorn" bike. I think the Suzuki DR650, Honda XR650 (both L&R), KTM 690, and Husqvarna 701 come close to unicorn territory because they can handle quite a bit off road and still cruise on the highway, but they still struggle a bit in either scenario. Imagine a dual sport with performance as good as the newish Honda CRF450L (8.25) off road, and as good as a Vstrom (8) on the road. That would be a definite dual sport unicorn.
Then there are factors that really do eliminate the possibility of there ever being a "unicorn bike". Weight is a good thing on road (to a point) and a crippling factor off road. Suspension will either be good on road or off road, rarely if ever both. Tires are either knobby for dirt, or grippy for the road. A 50-50 tire will do both, but neither very well. Got a big fairing and a wind screen to make things more tolerable on the highway? Those things will add weight, bulk, and possibly break your collar bone off road. Did you drop your gearing to crawl up those gnarly hill climbs? That's great, but your top speed is going to drop like a stone.
TOP RANKED DUAL SPORT AND ADV MOTORCYCLES - BEST VALUE FOR MONEY
This is where things start to get really, really interesting. Not every new rider (or even experienced rider) wants to dish out $10,000.00+ for the most capable motorcycle on this list. Believe me it's worth every penny, but that's still a high price to pay for something that performs into the extremes. For most new riders, do you really need the best of the best?
So I did some simple math. I divided the average cost of the bike by the range of capability, and found out the cost for every one of those vaunted range points.
The Yamaha XT225 is ranked as one of the least capable motorcycles on the list, but still a great little dual sport. It's very light, very low, and very cheap. I really, really love the XT225, but I do think that over time, a rider might want a little more grunt, a little better suspension, and a whole lot better road performance.
Before I did this particular list, I was a bit crushed that my beloved KLR 650 wasn't scoring particularly well in any category. Sure, it's a good road bike, and an okay off-roader, but not ranked as high as it's DR and XR counterparts. It always found itself in the middle of the pack on everything. Well, this list explains why the KLR has such a loyal and loving following; it's capable and it's cheap. Of the cheap motorcycles that can still hold their own in the dirt, it scores the best on-road. As an adventure platform, it's everything you need for less.
Now before you just go down the list and say, "Oh, the XT ranks number one, the XR650L ranks number two, the KLR is third, etc..." you should actually look at the "Cost per range point" column. I know, I know... spreadsheets aren't the coolest thing ever, but just take a peek.
Yes, the XT blows everything else away by about $45 per range point. That's significant! However, the XR650L & R, the KLR 650, and the Suzuki DRZ400 are all within $10 per range point. Seeing as how the prices on this survey are very, VERY ballpark, a difference of $10 per point is negligible, and there's an enormous margin of error.
If value for money is a priority, though, then the top results of this list are pretty revealing. Beyond being nearly indestructible, they also explain why these top motorcycles sell so incredibly well.
Best beginner/light/low dual sport for the money: Yamaha XT225
Best 50-50 (50 road, 50 dirt) dual sport for the money: Honda XR650L
Best 60-40 (60 road, 40 dirt) dual sport for the money: Kawasaki KLR 650
Best 40-60 (40 road, 60 dirt) dual sport for the money: Suzuki DRZ 400
Best Adventure Tourer Motorcycle for the money: Suzuki DL1000 Vstrom
Now why didn't the XR650R make the list? Because even though it ties the DRZ 400 off road and beats it on road, it's technically not a dual sport. It has to be modified to be street legal, and even then it's not legal in all areas. It was added to the survey because enough people have made it street legal, and it really is SO good, that I had to include it. On the downside? It's kick start only.
DUAL SPORT AND ADV MOTORCYCLES - APPROXIMATE WEIGHT
I thought it would be fun to do a ranked list of dual sports and adventure motorcycles by weight, so here it is. Keep in mind, these weights are all very ballpark. I retrieved each weight from Google, then rounded by ten. Sound reliable? It's not... but it's close.
Why settle on such a ballpark figure instead of getting specific? Assuming you buy a used dual sport, there are a ton of factors involved in weight. Tank size, battery type, emissions control, and aftermarket exhausts can make a hefty difference. Not to mention mods, farkles, racks, bars... When it comes to weight, manufacturers lie and riders exaggerate. The only way to really know is with a scale. On this list, the weights may be off, but the rankings are close.
DUAL SPORT AND ADV MOTORCYCLES - COST PER ON ROAD AND OFF ROAD POINTS
Let's say you made a mistake and bought a dual sport, then only used half of its range of capability by either riding on road only or off road only. Just for kicks, I made a list of prices per on road and off road range points.