Dual-sport bikes have improved steadily over the years because they had to. Some makers have dropped dedicated off-road bikes and offer only street-legal bikes. That’s because U.S. federal law now has requirements that off-road bikes pass noise and emissions regulations that are almost as strict and just as costly for the maker. This buyer’s guide deals only with federally approved models. For other Dirt Bike Magazine Buyer’s Guides, click here.
The Husqvarna 701 is built around a single OHC motor with a fly-by-wire throttle and downdraft EFI system that makes big-time power. The bike is beefy, but the overall seat height is reasonable, aided by the fuel tank under the seat. It has linkage rear suspension and a WP closed-cartridge 4CS fork.
New for this year, the Husqvarna 701 Supermoto features 74 horsepower via a single-overhead-camshaft design that uses advanced electronics, a 50mm Keihin fuel injection and a six-speed gearbox, all wrapped around a state-of-the-art chassis. At 319 pounds, the 701 Supermoto is a beast on the racetrack and a thrill on the highway.
KTM made few changes to its ADV/dual-sport bike for 2019. The engine is fit with a twin-plug ignition and ride-by-wire, and the water-cooled, LC4, single-cylinder powerplant delivers 67 horsepower. The motor in KTM’s own Duke street bike makes slightly more power, but this machine can still handle an off-road excursion quite adeptly. The trellis frame is unusual in the off-road world, but the bike is very dirt-worthy.
Suzuki’s DR650S can be called a classic with its air-cooled, carbureted powerplant. As with the Kawasaki KLR, the technology is dated, but it’s generally considered a capable performer on fire roads. The weight isn’t overly ponderous, though it does lack decent fuel range, luggage capacity and wind protection.
Of the two Japanese 650cc dual-sport bikes, the Honda is by far the most dirt-worthy. The air-cooled, electric-start, CV-carbureted five-speed retains most of its original heritage from almost three decades ago. Its suspension is still very good off-road, although the XR is girthy (346 pounds with petrol) and underpowered by modern standards.
For a recent test of the Honda XR650L, click here.
This is the alpha male of the Husqvarna line with a six-speed, EFI, balanced powerplant that makes superb off-road power and still meets or surpasses every standard set by the U.S. government. The FE501 is very similar to the KTM 500EXC-F, but has linkage rear suspension, Magura brakes/hydraulic clutch and a carbon fiber subframe among other differences. The suspension is WP, the fork an Xplor unit and the triple clamps are machined.
For more editorial features on the Husqvarna FE501, click here.
This Italian company is making waves in the off-road arena as it goes into the ring fighting KTM for a place in the hard-core dual-sport world. Of Beta’s four dual-sport bikes, the 500 is the largest. All of them are based on the same chassis and motor, and feature Sachs ZF forks, shock, Trail Tech Voyager GPS, fuel injection, six speeds, and, of course, electric start. Beta claims a weight of 247 pounds wet with no fuel.
For more editorial features on the Beta 500RR-S, click here.
The KTM dual-sport flagship received a new motor in 2017, plus new measures to make it super quiet with very little loss in performance. Among them are a reed valve in the intake boot and Continental TKC 80 tires. It’s a link-less rear suspension system and is fit with the WP Xplor split fork design that makes for easier on-the-fly adjustments.
For more editorial features on the KTM 500EXC, click here.
It’s been six years since the KTM buyout of Husqvarna. The former Husky factory in Italy is now producing motorcycles under the SWM name. The RS500 is based on the 2007–2010 Husqvarna TE500. That bike gets the credit for being the first of today’s hard-core dual-sports. The the RS is KYB-equipped and comes in at a very competitive price. SWM will offer a Super Motard version and a new RS300 later in the year.
For more editorial features on SWM, click here.
ZERO FX ZF3.6: $8495
The Zero FX is an electric dual-sport that’s wicked fast and easily the match of a 450cc gasoline-powered street-legal bike in terms of acceleration. The bike has two battery options. The ZF7.2 is rated at 7.2kWh and has a range between 39 and 91 miles, depending on the mode selected and the riding style. The ZF3.6 has a range between 19 and 27 miles, but has a battery that’s compact enough to be changed in the field. An extra battery sells for $2895. The FX with the ZF7.2 battery option sells for $10,495.
For more editorial features on Zero Motorcycle, click here.
Christini’s all-wheel-drive system uses telescoping drive shafts to power the front wheel at a reduced speed so that it only engages when there is wheelspin in the rear. The 450 has an Asian-made engine and chassis that bear a striking resemblance to the Honda CRF450X’s, but it has fuel injection, WP suspension, a skid plate, handguards. The Explorer version has some additional add-ons, which include an extended rear rack tank and Christini’s U.S.-engineered AWD system.
CSC RX4 ($5895)
This is a brand-new entry-level ADV bike from an upstart company. CSC has already had some success with a 250cc dual-sport bike, and now there’s a new 450 in the line. The RX4 has a 450cc fuel-injected DOHC motor with a six-speed gearbox. The 5.3 gallon fuel tank gives it a range of around 300 miles. CSC also offeres removable aluminum panniers that are priced well and look awesome. The company sells its products on line and offers a two-year warranty. The TT250 will be back for 2019 and carries an MSRP of $2195.
There is no doubt that the Husqvarna FE450 is one of the best dual-sport bikes going. The performance is smooth. There is very little vibration, and it is much easier to ride than the 501. Its performance is comparable to any full-time off-road 450s via a moto-based chassis, a WP Xplor fork, rear linkage, Magura brakes and a hydraulic clutch. It is fully compliant with DOT and EPA rules in all 50 states.
For more editorial features on the Husqvarna FE450, click here.
The dual-sporting public has been waiting for this machine ever since KTM blew up the world with its dirt-oriented street-legal machines. The new Honda 450L features a twin-spar aluminum frame, full Showa suspension, electric start and fuel injection. They call it a true trail-to-trail machine. To meet the EPA regs, Honda fit it with a catalytic muffler and technology that keep it quiet and legal. The one drawback is it ain’t no lightweight.
For more features on the Honda CRF450L, click here.
To create the 430RR, Beta started with the same chassis and motor platform used in the 500RR but decreased the bore 5mm. The machine is nimble and is fit with the new ZF Sachs fork and shock, a cooling fan, dual-map ignition and a Voyager GPS, making the 430 a very dirt-oriented motorcycle that just squeaks by sound and emission regulations under rules that are more relaxed for small manufacturers.
For more features on the Beta 430RR-S, click here.
The blood must run deep, as Husqvarna was the only brother to offer a 450cc dual-sport bike. KTM’s new 450EXC-F Six Days features a single OHC, fuel-injected, six-speed engine fit into the link-less chassis using a WP Xplor split fork and WP rear damper. This machine gets special machined triple clamps and is adorned with enduro options that are unique to the 450. The graphics package is ISDE-based around the Chilean event.
The Suzuki DR-Z400S commands a higher price tag than its big brother, the DR650, because it’s a more modern motorcycle and much more capable in the dirt. Still, the DR-Z has gone nearly unchanged for 18 years and is dated compared to the more expensive, hardcore dual-sport bikes from KTM, Husqvarna, Beta and now SWM. It is water-cooled but is normally aspirated.
Both of these bikes are built on the same basic platform. The 350 has a bore and stroke of 88mm x 57.4mm, and the 390 measures out to 88mm x 63.4mm. That gives the 350 a much lighter feel. Both come equipped with a Trail Voyager GPS, a new ZF Sachs fork and shock, are fuel-injected, and are fit with a cooling fan on the radiator.
There are many dual-sport aficionados who believe that this rates as one of the best legal dirt/street machines made. Extreme enduro riders love it because it has PDS rear suspension without linkage. That gives it more ground clearance. KTM’s competition-oriented 350XCF and even the Husqvarna FEs all use shock linkage. The 350 is fit with a Brembo hydraulic clutch, Brembo brakes and DOT-legal tires.
This is another of the bikes that was originally designed by Husqvarna in the days before KTM. It’s very similar to the SWM RS500 but with a smaller bore and stroke, and it isn’t related to the Husqvarna 310 that was introduced in the days of BMW’s ownership. The SWMs have only recently passed through U.S. testing and should be available later in the year.
The Husky FE250 is the smallest machine in the enduro line and is fully street-legal. It has linkage suspension, the open-chamber WP Xplor 48 fork and machined triple clamps. It uses Pro Taper bars, and Magura brakes and hydraulic clutch. Like all of the Husqvarna line, it comes with a chromoly frame and a composite carbon fiber subframe. The motor is fuel-injected, likes to be revved, and is fully EPA-compliant and super quiet.
Honda did a stellar job of painting the CRF250L into a little rally bike and keeping the price to an acceptable level. Nestled under the rally fairing, it’s essentially the same budget-minded, Thai-built, entry-level machine. Looks-wise, it’s a winner, though it is very mild in both motor output and suspension performance.
HONDA CRF250L: $5149 (2018)
In terms of value, the Honda CRF250L is an eye-opener. It’s manufactured in Thailand to keep the price down but is up to Honda’s standards. The power is fun, being fuel-injected, and the suspension at both ends is just under 10 inches. On the street, the bike is smooth and comfortable. On the trail, it’s fairly soft and doesn’t like to be hammered too hard.
KTM’s smallest dual-sport bike uses the same chassis and suspension as the FE350, but softer power makes it feel smaller and lighter. This machine is 90-percent dirt bike and will never be an open-highway cruiser. The horsepower level is potent if you rev it, but serious riders will search for mods trying for more bottom power. WP handles the suspension; the triple clamps are cast units and very adjustable.
This bike came back into Kawasaki’s lineup after a three-year hiatus. When it returned, it was fuel-injected and is moderately dirt-worthy as entry-level 250s go. It has adjustable suspension, a low seat height and smooth, easy-to-manage power, making it an entry-level, marginally accented, dual-sport machine. The camo version is $5549.
Of the Japanese 250cc dual-sport offerings, the Yamaha’s WR250R offers the most performance in both the motor department and the suspension. It’s still an entry-level bike with modest potential for serious dirt riding via adjustable dampers, fuel injection and dual disc brakes. It does carry a price that’s significantly higher than the Honda’s and Kawasaki’s.
Yamaha offers two 250cc dual-sport models, and the XT250 is the more price-conscious machine. The XT250 has an air-cooled, two-valve motor. It has decent travel in the suspension—8.9 inches up front and 7.1 inches in the rear. It uses a CV carburetor, and the transmission is a five-speed unit.
This machine has been in the Suzuki line consistently, mainly because it’s a very capable commuter and minor off-road excursion machine. The bike has an air-cooled, two-valve, carbureted motor, a rear drum brake and basic suspension. It features a 3.3-gallon fuel tank and gets a claimed 88 miles per gallon.
This model has only been in the U.S. market for a couple of years and is clearly inspired by the long-term success of the Yamaha TW200. The VanVan is very retro, with a low seat height and balloon-style tires. It features electric starting and is fuel-injected, targeting campground-level recreation and around-town street use.
Yamaha has a timeless classic in the TW, which has been around since the late 1980s. It features electric start, a low seat height, wide balloon tires and a front disc brake mated to a rear drum unit. It’s designed to cruise the campground or make trips to the local store and put a smile on your face.