You have to give BMW credit for making a whole new class of motorcycle legitimate. The R1200GS invented the adventure bike category with the help of a surprisingly large number of riders who feel the urge to go off-road touring. The 1200GS is a true luxury dirt bike and is only demeaned by those who have never ridden one and/or can’t afford one.
Price: $16,150

We had a brief affair with the new Yamaha twin-cylinder adventure bike last year and loved it. It’s more high tech than most of its kind, with a traction-control mode that doesn’t let the rear wheel spin. This can be disabled when wheelspin is just part of the fun. Yamaha offers sturdy luggage and other accessories.
Price: $13,900

While KTM hasn’t officially released the 2012 version of the 990, we expect it to be similar to the existing model. It’s the most dirt-worthy of the mammoth bikes in its class. The big V-twin gets good traction without any electronic assistance. It has antilock brakes like most of the others, which cannot be temporarily disabled.
Price: TBA

There are some riders who are just too small to deal with something as massive as the R1200GS, but they still want all the off-road panache and luxury. That’s why the F800GS exists. It’s a vertical twin with a chain drive, but it can be loaded with all the same long-distance trappings as the big guy.
Price: $12,355

BMW’s idea of a compact adventure bike is still a very substantial motorcycle. The F650GS is actually a 798cc twin-cylinder machine. It’s labeled a 650 to separate it from the more upscale F800GS. It produces about 71 horsepower and has a chain final drive. There is a large selection of accessories, like luggage and hot grips.
Price: $10,155

This is positioned as kind of an entry-level BMW. At 652cc, it has a smaller displacement than the “other” 650 in BMW’s line, using a single-cylinder, DOHC motor manufactured by Kymco. The seat height is deliberately low, and the machine weighs a claimed 386 pounds without fuel, making it a featherweight adventure bike.
Price: $7850

It seems strange, but the Aprilia 550cc V-twin seems almost as light and nimble as a 125 motocrosser by comparison to the other multi-cylinder dirt bikes. This bike is the only twin that could be called a “real” dirt bike and can go places that no BMW or Super Tenere could get near. The RSVs haven’t changed significantly since 2009, and the 2012 models have not yet been announced. Price: $9299/$8699

This machine is a much more capable dirt bike than most people assume. It isn’t that far removed from the original XR600R dirt bike that Scott Summers raced in the East and guys like Johnny Campbell raced in Baja. The dual-sport version has an electric starter and a few more pounds, and these days it has very dated ergonomics.
Price: $6690

We don’t know what bike has the record for the longest production run—it’s probably something built in Russia. But, the KLR650R has to be close. It returns yet again in 2012 and is a cult icon among commuters because of its mini fairing and bulletproof motor. It’s not much of a dirt bike, but it doesn’t have to be.
Price: $6299

Suzuki has been very conservative about releasing updated models in recent years. But one of the early 2012s is the adventure-oriented V-Strom. It’s a bike rarely used off-road, but clearly it has the look and features for dirt-road touring. For 2012 it gets ABS, which is becoming more common on adventure bikes due to insurance and regulations.
Price: $8299

This company continues to amaze us with quality and refinement, which seems to elude much bigger manufacturers. The flagship of Beta’s RS dual-sport line is the 520, which bears only a passing resemblance to a KTM. It still has a good old carburetor and requires no road map to become fully dirt-worthy.
Price: $9399

Husqvarna was actually the first company to offer what we now call “hardcore” dual-sport bikes. The TE511 and TE449 carry on that tradition as dirt bikes that are street-legal. They are big machines, but the suspension is stiffer this year and the fuel injection much smoother. They, too, use the BMW motor with the crank-mounted clutch.
Price: $8999/$8699

The only thing that will prevent the 500EXC from being KTM’s best seller is availability. The new fuel-injected motor that graces the off-road XC-W will be offered in a street configuration. The fuel metering will be different, but otherwise it is said to be almost the same machine as the off-road bike.
Price: $9699

BETA 450RS/350RS
It turns out that 350cc is a great size for a dual-sport, so Beta downsized its 450 and now offers a choice for the same price. The 350’s bore is 8mm smaller and the stroke is 6.4mm shorter. Otherwise, they both have a new chromoly frame this year, along with Marzocchi/Sachs suspension and a six-speed gearbox.
Price: $9299/$9299

We’ve been waiting for this one. KTM finally saw the true calling for the 350. Yeah, sure, it might have won a couple of world MX titles, but the bike was always meant to be a full-blooded dual-sport bike. The street-legal version of Mike Alessi’s MXer has wider gear ratios and EPA-approved EFI metering.
Price: $9499


We absolutely loved the TE310 dual-sport bike in 2011. Our test bike ran perfectly once we configured it in competition mode. But metering inconsistencies from one model to the next plagued the production run. The issues seem to be worked out now. Husky will make a limited run of short-seat-height versions.
Price: $8199/$7599

The KLX is an old-world, small dual-sport that is cheap and dependable but not very sexy. It can keep up with traffic on the freeway for those who want inexpensive transportation, and gas mileage is in the 60-mpg range. Off-road, it’s no racer. The Marines once used the KLX250s for messenger bikes overseas.
Price: $4999

A couple of years ago, Yamaha tried to make a big splash with the aluminum-frame, fuel-injected 250. It overshot the market with too much complexity and a high expense. Now, the old-world XT250 makes up for it with a good price and simplicity. The XT has an air-cooled, two-valve motor that’s been around for years.
Price: $5090

This is like an XR650L that was washed in hot water and shrunk. The low seat height and light weight make it the perfect beginner bike, and even experienced riders search out CRF230Ls to take their DMV tests. The electric-start 230 is Brazilian-made, very reliable and affordable. It’s not a good platform for your world-championship assault, though.
Price: TBA

When Yamaha came out with this bike in the early ’90s, no one could have guessed what would happen. It became the all-time favorite bumper bike on motor homes all across America. It’s small, light, inexpensive and has a super-low seat height thanks to its funky little wheels. The air-cooled. two-valve motor will run forever.
Price: $4490


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