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7 Best Dual Sport Motorcycles

Dual sport bikes offer the best of both worlds – at home doing both on and off-road riding.

The dual sport motorcycle is basically a street legal dirt bike and is the ideal ride for those who like the idea of riding their bike out of town to the desert or woods for a bit of weekend trail riding. The alternative being a full blown enduro or motocross bike and a van to transport it in.

Here’s a compilation of the best dual sport models available today.

Honda CRF300L – £5,149 – $5,249

The Honda CRF300L is the best dual sport bike for novice dirt riders
The Honda CRF300L is one of the best dual sport motorcycles available for novice dirt riders
  • Engine:                4 valve, DOHC, single

  • Capacity:            286 cc

  • Max Power:        27 bhp / 20.1 kW @ 8,500 rpm

  • Max Torque:      26.6 Nm / 19.6 lb ft @ 6,500 rpm

  • Gearbox:             6-speed manual

  • Top speed:         80 mph / 129 kph

  • Fuel capacity:     7.8 L / 2 US Gal

  • Seat height:        880 mm / 34.6 inches

  • Wet weight:       142 kg / 313 lb

The CRF300L and CRF300 Rally are very new to the dual sport motorcycle market. The successors to the hugely popular CRF250L and CRF250 Rally, the new 300 essentially builds on all the good aspects of the 250 cc motorcycle while making improvements, primarily in the engine department.

Increasing the engine’s displacement by 37 cc to the CRF300L’s 286 cc may not seem like much of a boost as it only results in 4 more horsepower and 4.5 more Nm of torque, but when you compare it to the 250L, you’ll see that it has 20% more power overall and is 5 kg lighter. When viewed in that light, it seems to be a significant improvement.

When compared to many other dual sport bikes, the Honda is fairly heavy, but if it follows in the footsteps of the 250L, you’ll get a bike that is bombproof and has some nice extras, including switchable ABS and in honesty once the CRF is moving you hardly feel the wait while riding.

Unfortunately, Honda didn’t take the time to upgrade the suspension which was a shortcoming of the CRF250L that has carried over, but thankfully the aftermarket support companies have already taken care of that.

Even with the extra power the CRF300L is a gentle machine and the best dual sport bike for those starting out on the dirt for the first time.

Yamaha WR250R

The Yamaha WR250R is beginner friendly
Yamaha WR250R
  • Engine:                 4 valve, DOHC, single

  • Capacity:              249 cc

  • Max Power:        30.3 bhp / 22.6 kW @ 8,500 rpm

  • Max Torque:      23.7 Nm / 17.5 lb ft @ 6,500 rpm

  • Gearbox:             6-speed manual

  • Top speed:         87 mph / 140 kph

  • Fuel capacity:     7.6 L / 1.9 US Gal

  • Seat height:        930 mm / 36.6 inches

  • Wet weight:       134 kg / 295 lb

The Yamaha WR250R is a middle-of-the-road dual sport motorcycle that isn’t designed for racing but can accommodate a variety of riding styles from different riders. 

Despite sharing similarities to the more racing focused WR250F motorcycle (including most of the name) the engine in the WR250R is completely different. To keep the maintenance levels low, the Yamaha WR250R has a street-based engine that is tuned for smooth and predictable power which makes it beginner-friendly, and it’s geared more towards highway riding than its stable mate.

It’s not lacking power, but it definitely doesn’t have the same instant burst of torque normal attributed to enduros or motocross bikes.

Similar to the Honda CRF, the little Yamaha does have a big weakness in its suspension setup, which is typically one of the first modifications owners make to improve the bike’s off-road performance and/or more comfortable over longer distance adventure riding.

The WR250R was initially introduced by Yamaha in 2008, but it was regrettably discontinued in 2020, perhaps owing to low sales. Fortunately, there are still plenty of great second-hand Yamaha WR250R models available for those looking for a bargain on the used marketplace.

Kawasaki KLX250 – £4,199 / $5,399

Kawasaki KLX250 dual sport bike
The Kawasaki KLX250 dual sport bike offers great value
  •  Engine:                 4 valve, DOHC, single

  • Capacity:              249 cc

  • Max Power:        21.5 bhp / 15.7 kW @ 7,500 rpm

  • Max Torque:      25.1 Nm / 18.5 lb ft @ 7,500 rpm

  • Gearbox:             6-speed manual

  • Top speed:         85 mph / 137 kph

  • Fuel capacity:     7.7 L / 2 US Gal

  • Seat height:        890 mm / 35 inches

  • Wet weight:       138 kg / 304 lb

Whereas Honda and Yamaha have made their dual sport bikes beginner friendly with suitability towards the road, Kawasaki have gone down a different path for their dual sport motorcycle, the KLX250.

The Kawasaki KLX250 is no all-round motorcycle. It’s a proper dirt-focused enduro bike with all the bits and pieces bolted on to make it a street legal dirt bike.

Aimed at the novice and experienced rider alike, it handles the trails with ease and is extremely nimble with low gearing to excel on those hill climbs and ruts.

It can be ridden on the road and is fun on small blasts around city streets, however attempt to go long distance and you’ll find the KLX lacking. Kawasaki claim it’ll reach a top speed of 85 mph, I find that extremely unlikely, and you probably wouldn’t want to anyway.

It’s not as versatile as many other dual sport motorcycles are and certainly has more of a single focus, but with this in mind it does that extremely well. The KLX is starting to feel it’s age a bit as Kawasaki haven’t given it any significant updates for a long time but still a very capable machine, a great green lane motorcycle, has a robust engine and given the cost, a bargain.

Suzuki DR Z400S – $7,099  (2023 model USA ONLY)

The Suzuki DR Z400S is still a very well-liked dual sport motorcycle
Suzuki DR Z400S
  • Engine:                 4 valve, DOHC, single

  • Capacity:              398 cc

  • Max Power:        39.7 bhp / 29.2 kW @ 8,500 rpm

  • Max Torque:      39 Nm / 28.8 lb ft @ 6,600 rpm

  • Gearbox:             5-speed manual

  • Top speed:         94 mph / 152 kph

  • Fuel capacity:     10 L / 2.6 US Gal

  • Seat height:        935 mm / 36.8 inches

  • Wet weight:       142 kg / 313 lb

The Suzuki DR Z400S is still a very well-liked dual sport motorcycle among people who prefer a little light trail riding and longer distance road trips despite now being over 20 years old. The DRZ was popular not just in the UK but also in America and Australia, where its rough and ready design made it ideal for wilderness exploration.

In the UK they remain a very popular motorcycle with TRF members so support for these bikes is plentiful.

Reliable and fairly cheap to buy, the Suzuki DR Z400S is a bike that will plod on through just about any conditions. The engine is a reliable water-cooled, single-cylinder unit that, if I’m being honest, doesn’t have to work very hard to generate its 39 bhp and 39 Nm of torque. As a consequence, the engine has a strong track record for reliability.

It’s single two-piston front caliper isn’t the best but sufficient to the task of stopping the bike unless of course, you’re planning on riding around past the speed limit all the time.

The suspension is built with off-road use in mind, which results in a wallowy ride, it is something you get used to over time but with luggage attached or a passenger the shock almost hits the end of its travel.

The Suzuki DR Z400S was eventually discontinued back in the noughties however Suzuki is bringing it back for 2023! Currently just for the USA market it’s been priced at $7,099 and other than new colours it doesn’t feature any new changes.

KTM 500 EXC-F – £10,170 / $11,799

KTM 500 EXC-F
The KTM 500 EXC-F is one of the best dual sport bikes available thanks to an amazing weight to power ratio
  • Engine:                 4 valve, DOHC, single

  • Capacity:              510 cc

  • Max Power:        39.4 bhp / 29.3 kW @ 8,100 rpm

  • Max Torque:      37.5 Nm / 27.7 lb ft @ 5,200 rpm

  • Gearbox:             6-speed manual

  • Top speed:         80 mph / 129 kph

  • Fuel capacity:     8.5 L / 2.2 US Gal

  • Seat height:        960 mm / 37.7 inches

  • Wet weight:       114 kg / 251 lb

The KTM 500 EXC-F is another dual sport motorcycle that has been around for a long time and had many iterations over the years. Head out on the green lanes or to a local rally and you’ll see many of these around.

A lot of people are drawn to the KTM 500 EXC-F simply because of its engine size and weight; with 510 cc in a 114 kg package, the KTM 500 EXC-F is an absolute featherweight in the dual sport motorcycle world, which is one of the reasons that it’s so manageable in tight terrain.

The power is subtle and so oddly quiet that it’s almost unnerving and it doesn’t demand that you be in the optimum gear at all times because the torque can get you through nearly any situation.

The ability to flick and control a 510 cc trail bike is much valued in the handling department and the KTM 500 EXC-F shines in this respect. However, if you were considering loading up with heavy luggage or a passenger and travelling a long distance, some firmer springs might be in order since both suspension ends are quite soft, with the front end becoming a little divey under hard braking.

The KTM 500 EXC-F is not cheap, it’s a KTM and they never are, but what you are paying for is the years of off-road expertise put into one machine and the meticulous weight saving that the other dual sport bikes never underwent, and it makes a difference when you’re off-road.

Also, if you didn’t fancy it in the traditional KTM orange you can always buy the Husqvarna 501 knowing it’s the exact same motorcycle with a different colour and badge.

Honda XR650L – £5,109 / $6,999

Honda XR650L
The Honda XR650L is a proven go anywhere work horse that never lets you down
  • Engine:                 4 valve, DOHC, single

  • Capacity:              644 cc

  • Max Power:        43.6 bhp / 32.1 kW @ 6,000 rpm

  • Max Torque:      51.9 Nm / 38.2 lb ft @ 5,000 rpm

  • Gearbox:             5-speed manual

  • Top speed:         110 mph / 177 kph

  • Fuel capacity:     10.6 L / 2.8 US Gal

  • Seat height:        940 mm / 37 inches

  • Wet weight:       158 kg / 348 lb

The Honda XR650L was once regarded as the best dual sport motorcycle money could buy and it dominated the enduro and dirt bike racing scene. Since then, the market and technology have advanced, and the modern purpose-built machines have taken over.

The XR650L—while still a fantastic dual sport motorcycle—now serves in a new capacity as a cross-platform tool for commuters, trail riders, and adventure riders.

The Honda XR works everywhere, which is part of its appeal. However to really set it up for some rougher off-roading changing the foot pegs, handlebars, sprockets for lower gearing and of course, knobbly tires and the XR becomes unstoppable.

The big 650 cc single cylinder motorcycle hasn’t seen any significant changes in more than decade, but that hasn’t prevented the XR650L from selling well each year as it is just a great, simple bike, which is why Honda have kept it in production for 30 years!

The 650cc 4-stroke engine offers excellent low-end power to get you moving even if it is by no means a high-performance motorcycle. This makes it ideal for adding a large amount of luggage or a passenger.

At motorway speeds, the Honda XR650L is wonderfully smooth and content, and the vibration is at such a low frequency that it’s actually kind of pleasant. That is probably the most vital point to understand about the Honda XR650L. It is durable, reasonably priced, and still does the job well, it just so happens to be that the job is pretty much everything.

Kawasaki KLR650 – $6,699 (2022 model USA ONLY)

Kawasaki KLR650
The Kawasaki KLR650 blurs the lines between dual sport motorcycles and adventure bikes
  •  Engine:                 4 valve, DOHC, single

  • Capacity:              652 cc

  • Max Power:        38.5 bhp / 28.7 kW @ 6,000 rpm

  • Max Torque:      51.5 Nm / 39.1 lb ft @ 4,500 rpm

  • Gearbox:             5-speed manual

  • Top speed:         80 mph / 129 kph

  • Fuel capacity:     23 L / 6.1 US Gal

  • Seat height:        871 mm / 34.3 inches

  • Wet weight:       207 kg / 456 lb

Given the larger fuel tank and a few other features of the Kawasaki KLR650, the last bike on the list is a little different and truly blurs the boundaries between a Dual Sport motorcycle and an Adventure bike.

I think it’s worth mentioning though because it’s been a reliable globe trotter and trails bike long before the phrase “adventure bike” really caught on.

I’ll be talking about the original Kawasaki KLR650 as the new one is exactly that and not available to us mortals in the UK, yet.

The Kawasaki KLR is the oldest bike on our list at 35 years old. It shares the same philosophy as the Honda XR650L and Suzuki DR Z400S; it’s easy to use, reliable, and comfortable on the road while being more capable off-road than many other bigger displacement bikes.

The KLR is one of the heavier dual sport motorcycles, and because of this, it feels different while riding off-road; it ploughs into mud and dirt rather than skipping over and around it.

At first, this might feel disconcerting, but once you get used to it, you’ll be able to go speeding along the off-road tracks and take on even tighter, rougher terrain. Along with the stiff forks and wheels, the smooth low-end power is a tremendous aid in this situation.

It all sounds very similar to the Suzuki DR Z400S and Honda XR650L but the Kawasaki KLR650 trumps them both in two key areas:

First, range (the KLR has a 23-litre fuel tank that’s good for over 300 miles).

Second, pricing. It sold for less than $5,000.00 at retail for years, which was more than $600 cheaper than its competitors. As a result, Suzuki’s DR Z400S, the second best-selling dual sport, has been outsold by the KLR650 on a continuous basis, by a factor of two to one according to Kawasaki.

Dual Sport vs Adventure Bike – What’s the Difference and which is Best for me?

Both adventure motorcycles and dual sport bikes are intended for use on and off-road. The main difference is where each is most comfortable. Adventure bikes have design aspects to allow them off-road use, yet they are more comfortable for those extended road journeys.

On the other side of the coin the best dual sport motorcycles are designed primarily for off-road use but can go on roads but lack in features to make a long-distance trip comfortable.

This may seem like an over simplification and essentially it is so I’ll just bullet point the key features of each below:

Dual Sport Motorcycle

  •  Single cylinder engine

  • 250 cc – 650 cc

  • Small fuel tank (100 miles or less range)

  • Motocross style seat

  • Minimal body panels…limited to necessary and functional

  • No windscreen

  • High ground clearance

  • Geared for low speed on trails

  • 21-inch front wheel

  • Average brake system, no ABS

  • High handlebars

  • Spoked wheels

Adventure Motorcycle

  • Multi-cylinder engine

  • 650 cc – 1,300 cc

  • Large fuel tank (200+ miles range)

  • Large, padded seat for rider comfort during long treks

  • Windscreen for long distance riding comfort

  • High ground clearance, but lower than a dual sport bike

  • Higher gear ratio for highway speeds

  • Heavy-duty brakes with ABS

  • Luggage system

 Verdict

Motorcyclists have been looking for the unicorn for years. The perfect bike, capable of performing all the functions of both an adventure and dual sport bike.

Many have worked from both ends, myself included, to take an adventure bike and make it more usable off-road and also a dual sport bike and make it more friendly on the road for long distances without detracting from it’s off-road capabilities.

Even the large manufacturers have begun to realise this and started to build low-capacity adventure bikes to further shrink the gap between the two.

There still isn’t a perfect bike; the Unicorn eludes us still, but in more recent years it has felt as though the hunt is starting to bear fruit.

I switched from adventure bikes to dual sport motorcycles in more recent years, and I currently own the Honda CRF250L, which is the CRF300L’s forerunner. A higher windscreen, different tires, heated grips, a luggage system, and a nicer seat are just a few of the improvements I’ve made to it to make it more suited for long term road riding.

I’m happy to report my modifications haven’t significantly reduced its original off-road riding capabilities. There are still adjustments I’d like to make, and I’d really love some more power for those longer road rides as well.

It’s not the unicorn in my eyes, but it’s as near as I’ve ever been before, so maybe a stallion with a cone on its head.

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