Written by Lukas Eddy. Posted in Bikes With more power than the smaller bikes and less weight than the bigger adventure bikes midweight 400cc dual-sport motorcycles can be exciting performers off road. Add some luggage and you’ve got the recipe for serious backcountry adventure potential on these versatile machines. There are budget-friendly used options as well as more expensive, higher performing enduros and even a midweight adventure tourer with serious heavyweight features.
Comfort on the highway won’t always be a highlight, but we feel these are good examples that range from serious dirt machines to more comfortable long distance tourers. • Suzuki DR350SE Born towards the end of the era of midweight air-cooled dual-sports of the late 1980s and early 1990s, the initial DR350S was kick start only and could be difficult to fire up when hot. While they were already good bikes, they were greatly improved in 1994 with the addition of an electric starter (and an “SE” model designation).
From there, they changed little until the end of their run. For their final two years, 1998 and 1999, the DR350SE got the cartridge forks from the dirt-only model, a welcome improvement over the simpler damping rod forks. The DR350SE was basically a street-legalized trail bike instead of the other way around, so extended highway miles won’t be as comfortable as off-roading. With a seat height of 35-inches, a typical dual-sport stretch, the DR350SE was considered somewhat heavy back in the day.
By comparison, they weighed slightly less than modern liquid-cooled 250s. Liquid cooling adds consistency to performance, but the simplicity of the single cam air-cooled motor is an attractive feature on these older dual-sports. In fact, Austin Vince and a group of riders took several of them on a ’round the world expedition they called Terra Circa, and again a few years later on Mondo Enduro (MondoEnduro.
com), proving that small displacement dirt-oriented bikes could be functional adventure motorcycles. If you’ve never seen Austin’s films about these two RTW trips, you’re in for a treat. Swapping the CV carb for a pumper carb from a DR350 dirt model will wake up the street model, and some jetting and exhaust work can help get the most out of the motor, but it’s typically best if kept close to the stock setup.
A seat swap, a larger plastic gas tank to replace the steel one, and a luggage rack on the rear will make this midweight more suited for backcountry exploration. The aftermarket isn’t as active as it is for newer or longer running bikes Also, a DR350SE in poor condition isn’t worth much, but well taken care of examples are worth the extra dough. A bike with similar options along this direction include the Yamaha XT350s.
PROS CONS ▲ Low cost ▼ Limited aftermarket ▲ Reliable SOHC air cooled motor ▼ 1997 and earlier had more basic suspension ▲ Good suspension and ground clearance for that era • Honda CB500X Released less than four years ago, the newer CB500X may not be as easy to find on the used market, but that could also be because owners don’t want to give them up. The stock version of the CB500X is somewhat street focused with cast 17-inch wheels and 6.
6 inches of ground clearance. However, compared to many modern adventure bikes, the CB500X doesn’t come as close to breaking the 500-pound mark. Instead, it’s lighter than the more dirt oriented Kawasaki KLR650 while still offering the modern features found on many adventure bikes at twice the cost. The reliable, liquid-cooled, fuel-injected 471cc twin is a change from the usual single-cylinder thumpers that dominate the dual-sport class, and power output is smooth and user-friendly.
Features on the much bigger adventure bikes such as ABS, massive stator outputs for accessories, and relatively low seat heights are not lost on the CB500X. ABS is available as a dealer option and the stator puts out a whopping 500W, which can run your fog lights, GPS and more without a hiccup. The low seat height is 32-inches, but if you’re more interested in increasing ground clearance than you are in keeping the seat low, there are noteworthy aftermarket options.
Rally Raid Products came up with a solution to increase the adventure capability of the CB500X with multiple levels of available upgrades including suspension, wheels, engine guards and luggage. While not cheap, these upgrades help the CB500X fill the gap that’s left when trying to make a dual-sport more touring-friendly. It may have roots from the paved side of the field, but it hits the modern adventure mark with reliability and updated technology that, especially when coupled with the Rally Raid setup, makes it a user-friendly adventure bike.
PROS CONS ▲ Good long distance capability and comfort ▼ Rally Raid Products setup adds cost ▲ ABS available that can be turned off ▼ Limited ground clearance and suspension ▲ Smooth, fuel efficient twin-cylinder engine is easy to use • KTM 450/525 EXC (2007+) Many dual-sports appear more as dirt bikes sporting street makeup, but a closer inspection can sometimes reveal street-influenced design characteristics.
Case in point, the street legal line of KTM 450/525 dual-sports really are dedicated dirt bikes with little more than lights, license plates and some emissions compromises. Limited luggage and fuel capacity and comparably more stringent maintenance intervals ensure these bikes work best for the light travelling, soft luggage carrying adventure riders that value performance and capability over almost everything else.
The older 450/525 EXCs had kick and electric starters which means you won’t have to face the challenge of hopping over the 37-plus-inch seat height to bump start them. Long travel, fully adjustable WP suspension, high power output and later fuel-injection confirm the age-old saying “you get what you pay for.” The first street legal KTM 450 in 2007 used the legendary Racing Four Stroke (RFS) motor that established a reputation at the World Enduro Championship and holds a solid reliability record.
The 2008 switch to the XC4 motor saw possible decreases in reliability, but the issues seemed to have been ironed out by 2010. The introduction of a fuel-injection system in 2010 made for less maintenance, but those who find comfort in being able to troubleshoot a carb on the side of a trail may be more interested in the older versions. While highway speeds are not an issue for the motors and wide ratio six-speed gearboxes, rider comfort on the highway won’t be a strong suit for these light bikes.
Bigger aftermarket tanks, better seats and lightweight luggage will get these incredibly performance-oriented dual-sports through anything you can throw at them. Stay on top of maintenance and you will reap the rewards of modern enduro technology that can push your adventure riding boundaries. While less common, the similar Husqvarna TE450 and TE510 dual-sports are comparable performers in this category.
PROS CONS ▲ High engine output ▼ More frequent maintenance intervals ▲ Excellent inverted, fully adjustable WP cartridge forks and fully adjustable WP rear shock ▼ High cost ▲ Lightweight • Suzuki DRZ400S The DRZ400S is actually an evolution of the DR350SE, welcoming more displacement, liquid-cooling, and with time, upgraded suspension. Massive front forks, minimal wind protection and dirt bike ergonomics place this bike on the dirt-friendly side of the midweight dual-sport world, but when the going gets rough you’ll be happy for those characteristics.
Early 2000 and 2001 models had the simpler damping rod forks, but then the DRZ400S quickly received the better cartridge forks from the dirt-only “E” model. In stock form it’s got reliable, functional horsepower, and for those who want to push the limits there are plenty of aftermarket resources to increase horsepower by leaps and bounds. Some find the five-speed gearbox ratios limiting for doing both technical low speed work and highway riding without changing sprocket ratios, but it can cruise at 65 mph with relative ease.
You may notice the weight is almost exactly halfway between the liquid-cooled 250cc dual-sports and the lightest 650cc dual-sports, which is indicative of the middle-of-the-road nature of these bikes. Less than half an inch shorter than the big Honda XR650L, this is still a tall bike that can be a challenge when in low speed technical terrain and loaded with gear. But nowadays the DRZ platform still weighs considerably less than any of the bigger adventure bikes.
People have been modifying the DRZ400 platform for a long time, so aftermarket resources are everywhere to get it ready for everything. Peter Foulkes and Jon Brookbanks showed us that with upgrades like a bigger tank, a skid plate, and wind protection can help take this capable dual-sport literally around the world. Another option in this direction is the nearly identical Kawasaki KLX400, which is dirt-only like the “E” model but can be found with street legal conversions.
PROS CONS ▲ Reliable, proven engine ▼ Five-speed only ▲ Big aftermarket options ▼ Small gas tank ▲ Good, adjustable, dirt friendly Kayaba suspension * * * This isn’t intended to be a fully comprehensive list of the best used midweight dual-sport adventure bikes money can buy, however, we feel they offer excellent value in the world of dual-sport adventure riding. The merits and drawbacks discussed in this list should prompt further exploration into finding the right bike for you, so please let us know your suggestions in the comments! Click to enlarge image Honda-CB500X.
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Written by Lukas Eddy. Posted in Bikes Putting out triple-digit horsepower and weighing over a quarter of a ton, these are the behemoths of the adventure motorcycling world. Some hint to their racing heritage, others have been on well documented world tours—but all foster communities that are great resources for their owners. A few are more street-oriented and will eat up highway miles, while others are more at home off pavement.
However, all will pass the 100mph mark with few complaints. Bikes like the new Honda CRF1000L Africa Twin and KTM 1190/1290 Adventure models could also be on this list, but they rarely show up in the used market, so were excluded. • KTM 950/990 Adventure The KTM 950/990 Adventures take high powered LC8 V-twin motors, tuck them under 5.8 gallons of fuel yet still manage to keep roughly a foot of ground clearance for dirt-worthy performance.
In fact, the LC8 platform won the Dakar Rally in 2002 before engine size restrictions came into play. They make more than enough power to move you, and any of the various luggage options, at high speed over long distances. The adjustable suspension has fairly long travel between nine and 11 inches that help make these bikes the most dirt focused in the 900cc+ class. There are some differences between the 950 and the 990 and between the S, R and Standard model designations.
Weighing around 500 lbs. and making nearly 100 horsepower, the 950 and 990 Adventures have the power for incredible riding off road and on the highway. The 950 Adventure S model has longer, more dirt-friendly suspension and taller ground clearance, which also raises the seat height to 36 inches. The 950 Adventure models are all carbureted, but still use fuel pumps, so trailside fixes may be more complicated.
Fuel injection makes the 990 Adventures more complex and ABS is available on the Standard model. The 990 Adventure R is also taller with more capable suspension, although it lacks ABS, ensuring the relative dirt bias. The big KTM's stator puts out 450 watts that won’t complain about GPSes and auxiliary lights. While there are a few issues to sort out with these bikes, they’ve been well documented for years.
There’s all kinds of luggage options as well as aftermarket parts such as massive double digit capacity fuel tanks and better seats that will let you take these big but very dirt capable adventure bikes into new territory. PROS CONS ▲ Class leading 11–12-inch ground clearance ▼ Tall seat can be a challenge ▲ Class leading suspension travel ▼ Some issues for certain years, but they’re well documented ▲ Relatively lightweight • Suzuki DL1000 V-Strom If you want to chomp on highway miles for hours but still carve up some gravel roads, the V-Strom DL1000 might be a great choice.
Suzuki doesn’t advertise it as a backcountry explorer, but with the right tires the well balanced and relatively light DL1000 can do well on dirt roads, and a skilled rider can push it through a surprising array of terrain. Introduced in 2002 for the growing large-displacement adventure motorcycle market, the 520-lb. V-Strom 1000 weighed less than even more dirt-oriented bikes such as the BMW R1150GS.
Still, with cast wheels, 6.3 inches of suspension travel and 6.5 inches of ground clearance it’s not ideal for blasting through technical terrain or high speed deserts. What the big V-Strom does well is put away the street miles in a comfortable manner while maintaining more dirt prowess than dedicated sport-touring bikes. The big, liquid-cooled V-twin engine makes smooth, consistent power that’s easy to use around town and won’t shy away from high speeds.
Handling on the street at speed is also noteworthy, and it only gets better with more street-oriented tires. Overall handling was also improved recently in 2014 with the introduction of a largely redesigned and lighter 502-lb. bike with ABS and three-stage traction control, along with changes in the engine, clutch, suspension, cosmetics and the frame. Unfortunately, disabling ABS requires a mod for dirt riding.
All of the DL1000 models have relatively low 33.1- to 33.4-inch seats that make their 502–520 lbs. quite manageable. The large windshield provides good rider comfort between fill-ups for the 5.8-gallon tank and the roughly 400-watt stator has some room for things like heated grips. This is a relatively light 1000cc adventure touring bike with noteworthy reliability and street performance that justifies the appreciation it has earned from riders.
PROS CONS ▲ Great mile-eater with comfortable ergonomics ▼ ABS can’t be easily switched off ▲ Relatively lightweight and low seat height ▼ Limited ground clearance ▲ Very reliable platform • BMW R1150/1200GS The original GS was first introduced for 1981 as a revolutionary compromise between dirt riding and luggage-bound road touring, and that iconic horizontally-opposed engine platform is still with us today.
In 1999, the R1150GS hit the market with spoked 19- and 17-inch wheels, 7.8 inches of ground clearance, a big 5.8-gallon fuel tank and reliable air/oil engine cooling. Two years later, the R1150GS Adventure (GSA) arrived with a bigger 7.9-gallon fuel tank, longer suspension with taller corresponding ground clearance and seat height, and more dirt-friendly gearing, among other small changes. In 2004, the lighter R1200GS model arrived at roughly 525 lbs.
, and a year later so did the 570-lb. kitted-out R1200GSA. 2013 saw the introduction of the first liquid-cooled R1200GSes. In 2008 the switchable ABS was improved, and the optional Electronic Suspension Adjustment (ESA) and Automatic Stability Control (ASC) were made available. While both R1150GS models have wire wheels, only the R1200GSA has more dirt-friendly wire wheels. The 1150GSes had the lowest adjustable seats at 33.
1 inches, and the R1200GSAs have the tallest at 35.8 inches. The big weight and tall height can make it challenging to ride off road, but a skilled rider can do impressive things with these bikes. The wide engine profile does limit tight, technical riding where physical fitment is a challenge, however, on some earlier models the air intake can pull water during river crossings. The fuel range on these bikes can be incredible with up to 8.
7 gallons capacity for some GSA models while the fairing keeps the wind from tiring you out on long rides. The R-GS series are frequent RTWers, establishing their reputation, so dealerships, parts, accessories and other resources can be relatively easy to find wherever you take the offspring of the bike that helped start the adventure riding craze. PROS CONS ▲ GSA models have gigantic fuel capacity ▼ Heavy with limited ground clearance ▲ Massive automotive-style alternator output at 720 watts for the R1200GS ▼ Wide profile can limit tight technical riding ▲ Involved online community resources • Ducati Multistrada 1200 Ducati has a reputation for producing hot, technologically advanced sport bikes, and that design experience hasn’t been lost on the Multistrada 1200.
This bike is the most spaceship-like adventure motorcycle on this list, with ride-by-wire technology, eight-stage traction control, four selective fuel maps, ABS and available electronically adjustable suspension. It was even released with a keyless ignition system. The original standard models had ABS as an optional feature with manually adjustable suspension while the two S-trim models had full electronics packages.
The S Touring version came with heated grips and a center stand, as well. While the traction control helps moderate the detuned but still very powerful 1198cc superbike engine, the ABS helps slow the 527-lb. mass. The Multistrada platform isn’t as ideal for spirited off-road riding because of the exposed front cylinder and header, street-based wheels and under seven inches of ground clearance. The suspension components are good with fully adjustable manual or electronic units with 6.
7 inches of travel. The entire bike is a dramatic improvement over the earlier Multistrada models, but it won’t compete well off road against adventure bikes with five more inches of ground clearance and suspension travel. At the same time, the more dirt-focused adventure bikes with 21-inch front wire wheels won’t be able to carve the canyons like the cast 17-inch wheels on the Multistrada. The seat is a standard 33 inches and the 527 lbs.
wet is also in the middle of the pack in this list. The electronics add potential complication to trailside fixes, but this bike was designed to give sport bikes a run for their money in the canyons while still having the ability to haul luggage while spending days in the saddle. If you plan on putting the Multistrada through its paces off road, a skid plate to protect the forward cylinder and header are highly recommended.
Adventure bikes have been getting more electronically involved over the years, and Ducati has been helping that movement with the Multistrada 1200 since 2010. PROS CONS ▲ Fully adjustable suspension ▼ High cost ▲ ABS, electronically adjustable fuel maps and traction control ▼ Limited ground clearance and exposed underslung header ▲ Street-friendly high power • Yamaha XT1200Z Super Ténéré Named after Africa’s Ténéré Desert that influenced the formation of the Dakar Rally in the late 1970s, the Yamaha Super Ténéré is a modern take on the race bike that brought in multiple victories in the 1990s.
However, the XT1200Z Super Ténéré released in 2010 is not as capable off road as a rally bike. Weighing 575 lbs. wet, this is no small bike to be muscling around the backcountry, but the balanced chassis carries the weight well. An adjustable seat height of 33.3–34.4 inches can help riders manage the weight. The roughly 8-inch ground clearance that is fairly normal for this class won’t break any records, but a skid plate may be necessary so you don’t break anything else.
The brakes, however, get an ABS treatment that is expected for big modern adventure bikes, but only recent model years have the ability to easy shut off the ABS for dirt riding. The brake system has a balancing function that can manage brake pressure between the wheels. Further, electronic aids running off the massive 600-watt stator are the ride-by-wire throttle with cruise control and a three-stage traction control, including no traction control to unleash all 1199cc of power.
The ES version of the Super Ténéré has heated grips and makes the already fully adjustable suspension more convenient with electronic adjustment. These electronic systems won’t be quite as easy to troubleshoot in the field if there are issues, however. Depending on your proportions you may experience buffeting from the relatively small windshield, but there are good aftermarket options available.
While it’s capabilities are slightly more geared toward pavement than the dirt, the Super Ténéré still has the standard 19- and 17-inch wire wheels that are better for the rough stuff than their cast counterparts. The shaft drive is also far less maintenance intensive than the chains on many other bikes or the shafts of BMWs. This is a torquey motor paired with a well balanced chassis that can spend long hours on the freeway before chugging through the dirt to get to a scenic area to camp.
Check out ADVMoto's Project S10 Here! PROS CONS ▲ Relatively low, adjustable seat height ▼ ABS not easy to disable on early models ▲ Full electronic suite of accessories available ▼ Considerable weight for technical riding ▲ Dirt-friendly spoked wheels with good street characteristics This isn’t a fully comprehensive list of the best 900cc+ dual-sport or adventure bikes available, but we feel they offer great value for many different types of adventure riding.
There are further street-touring options like the Kawasaki Versys 1000 that appeal to some, and rarer but more dirt-based examples like the BMW HP2 Enduro and KTM 950 Super Enduro R that may appeal to others. The merits and drawbacks discussed here should help you find the right adventure bike for your purposes, so please let us know your suggestions in the comments!