Newbie Guide to Dual Sport Motorcycles

dual sport motorcycles
Photo by markdvk

Dual sport motorcycles became popular in the late 1960s and early 1970s when they were referred to as “enduro bikes”.

The advantages of dual sports motorcycles are numerous. They are quite cheap compared to traditional motorcycles, provide superior fuel efficiency and are multi-functional.

Since dual sport bikes are legal to ride on the roads, they have all the typical equipment found on regular motorcycles like mirrors, lights, a horn, a speedometer, a muffler and a license plate.

Hidden behind these formalities is a bike that has the dexterity to take on rough trails and the functionality to perform on traditional roads.

History of dual purpose motorcycles

Riding in a dual sport bike

Photo by Mike Lawson

The first motorcycles hit the scene around 1900 and were used on both regular pavement and off-road dirt trails. Dual sport motorcycles carry forward with the tradition and spirit of these original motorcycles.

Yamaha is widely known for making the dual sport motorcycle popular. In 1968, they sold the enormously popular DT-1 with a 250cc engine. The DT-1 performed fantastically on trails thanks to its light weight. It also had adequate power to keep up with traffic on normal roads.

The first motorcycle that was actually marketed with the dual sport moniker was the Suzuki DR350 back in 1990. They called it a “DualSport” and described it as being a dirt bike that had a license plate. Ever since the DR350 hit the scene, the term “dual sport motorcycle” has been popular in the biking community.

Types of dual sport motorcycles

Dual purpose motorcycles generally fit into one of four types. To decide which is the best dual sport motorcycle for you, consider the style of riding you’re inclined to do.


Dual sports motorcycles that are considered “lightweight” tend to weigh around 250 to 300 pounds. These usually have an elongated travel suspension, elevated fenders, raised ground clearance and dirt friendly tires commonly called “knobbies”.

Lightweight bikes are ideal for harsh trails but can be ridden on traditional roads when desired.


Middleweight dual sports bikes typically weigh 300 to 350 pounds. They have reduced ground clearance and suspension travel. The tires of middleweight bikes are hybrids that will function well on both trails and regular pavement.

These bikes are ideal for well maintained trails and regular roads.


2012 Yamaha Super Tenere

Photo by EronsPics

Heavyweight motorcycles weigh 350 pounds on up and are meant for motorcyclists who desire to commute across long distances and partake in off-road riding on dirt trails from time to time.

These bikes typically have pavement oriented tires, very comfortable seats and significant space for carrying gear. They differ from touring bikes because they are easier to steer and lighter in weight.


Street legal dirt bikes are also considered to be dual sport bikes. These are motocross bikes that have been converted into multi-use bikes.

They have small sized wheels, reduced suspension travel, road style tires and an enlarged front brake that is intended for asphalt use.

How To Choose A Dual Sports Motorcycle

Dual sport motorcycles come in different heights, sizes and strengths. Bikes that are ridden on the street oftentimes sacrifice qualities that would improve their off-road abilities and vice versa.

  • Those that are primarily ridden on the trails tend to be much lighter than dual sport motorcycles that are mainly used on the roads.

    The logic is that trail riders will inevitably fall and when they do, they’ll have to be able to lift the bike back up off of the ground with relative ease.

While it is fairly easy to ride a motorcycle on roads, riding on off-road trails is another story.

  • Those who want to traverse a narrow single track should lean toward dual sport motorcycles with smaller engines for increased maneuverability and agility.

  • Those who prefer logging trails and areas with more space can choose any sort of dual sport motorcycle.

  • Dual sport motorcycles with larger engines will be ideal for extensive road trips while the smaller types will work for short trips in the summer or joy riding on the trails.

Those who prefer to ride on trails should also consider the dual sport motorcycle’s seat height.

  • Shorter riders should be sure that they can comfortably sit on their bike with their feet touching the ground. This will help them balance the bike to avoid dangerous and annoying tip overs when off-roading.

Kawasaki KLR650

Photo by Jimmy Smith

Anyone who is new to motorcycles should consider a smaller sized bike with a 250cc engine. Choosing a small sized bike will make riding much more fun as it will be easy to steer, balance and keep from tipping over.

Riders who prefer a bit more size and power should check out the Suzuki DRZ and the Husqvarna TE310.

What about the budget?

In terms of cost, dual sport motorcycles are an excellent bargain for the versatility that they provide.

Today’s Honda dual sport bikes like the 250L and Kawasakis like the KLR650 range from $4,500 to $6,500, respectively.

Anyone interested in purchasing a dual sport motorcycle will also benefit from perusing the used market.

Dual sport motorcycles don’t endure the same amount of spills, scrapes and general punishment as true off-road bikes that are only ridden on the trails. It should be relatively easy to find a used dual sport motorcycle in solid condition for a reasonable price.


Suzuki DRZ Dual Sport

Photo by Thomas Hart

While some manufacturers create dual sports motorcycles by adding street legal equipment to motorcycles that are built for strictly off-road riding, others design a brand new model with the dual sports motorcyclist in mind.

The latter is much more durable and is characteristic of the dual sport motorcycles made by Suzuki, Honda, Yamaha, BMW and Kawasaki. Other manufacturers even choose to alter their street motorcycle models to make them functional on the trails.

Those who own dual sports motorcycles also customize their bikes according to the surfaces that they most commonly ride on.

There’s a wide variety of handlebars, foot pegs, bash plates, tires and seats that can be added. Some motorcycle owners go as far as modifying their own off-road bikes with street equipment in order to make them legal to drive on conventional roads.

This can be quite challenging for riders who need to modify their bike’s fuel efficiency to meet the emission standards of certain states.

Those who have “adventure” style dual sports motorcycles designed for long trips and the occasional off-road excursion tend to add modifications like wind screens, petrol tanks and racks.

Dual sport motorcycles allow riders to use one bike to satisfy their cravings for off-road rides while simultaneously offering utility for conventional rides on roads.

Those who live in rural areas or spaces with unpaved trails will enjoy the versatility of dual sport motorcycles as they can take on difficult terrain while remaining functional on everyday streets.

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