For most of the world, an outdoor lifestyle involves motor vehicles. In North America, 4x4 utility vehicles long ago became the icon for backcountry travel, which now spans four generations of postwar Jeep, SUV and 4x4 light truck enthusiasts. When not used for work chores, these vehicles have taken families camping, hunting," rock hounding", fishing, exploring and rock crawling. 4x4s have accessed the most primitive and scenic reaches of the globe.
The emergence of dirt motorcycles, ATVs and the popular S-by-S UTVs has given us an even wider range of vehicle choices. Dirt motorcycles, once strictly competition-oriented for desert, Six-Days Trials and motocross use, have expanded into the dual-sport crossovers and license plated, bona fide dirt enduro bikes. The sport bikes have now given up their top sales segment status to the "adventure-touring" class of heavyweight highway/occasional dirt use cycles—not so "occasional" for Ewan McGregor and Charlie Boorman in the two "Long Way..." documentary series that have attracted millions of bucket list followers! "Long Way Down"* was a 15,000 mile ride, with extensive primitive roads through the African continent.
*Note: Want to treat your family to a moto, geography and cultural lesson? Watch the 45-minute segments, available as streaming video at Netflix!
Each of us has our motor vehicle legacy, and in my case, the focus has been both 4x4 utility/SUV vehicles and dirt motorcycles. I have my reasons. My view of 4x4s and dirt motorcycles breaks down like this:
1) 4x4 Utility Vehicles: The Jeep CJs and current XJ Cherokee 4x4, two FJ40 Land Cruisers and an I-H Scout were each "family oriented". (We also had a string of beam axle GM 4x4 pickup trucks and 3/4-ton 4WD Suburbans that doubled for work and recreational/family use.) Camping, hunting, fishing and outdoor exploring are instant memories, each of these vehicles has its special association with remote "places". I drove a Jeep CJ-5 4x4 with my learner's permit and took the driver's license exam in that F-head model. Our children and grandchildren have each benefitted from a "4x4 lifestyle", and outdoor activities have defined our family for four generations. On the upside, a 4x4 utility, SUV or light truck can be a family foundation for outdoor activity and recreation; the downside is the ridiculously high price of admission to the new vehicle market...A "used 4x4" can be the practical alternative.
2) Dual-Sport Motorcycles: I grew up at rural Nevada when the state's population was so sparse that a "Scooter License" was available at the age of 14. Who would pass up such an opportunity? I bought a '55 Cushman/Allstate and quickly outfitted it with an oversized Super Eagle long block. That 'sleeper' made 60 mph. If it's in your blood, one motorcycle leads to another, and my first bona fide "off-pavement" bike came in the form of a two-year-old 1969 BSA 441cc Victor single-cylinder thumper, which really had more place on-pavement but looked very cool as an "On Any Sunday" scrambler/enduro of that era. Drawn to BSAs, I eventually owned an A65L Lightning and A75R Rocket III, both for pavement only...My resumption of dirt bike riding came two decades later, as riding with our youngest son Jacob led to a string of pre-owned Honda XR air-cooled models. The latest acquisition, 2000 Honda XR650R feels "just right" for open desert while the remaining '84 Honda XR350R makes for a nice single-track trail and moderate desert runner...The upside of dirt motorcycles is the incredibly reasonable price of admission when compared to a 4x4 vehicle; the limitation is that this is not "family recreation" unless the entire family rides on individual motorcycles and enjoys the sport.
Unless we see a dramatic decrease in the gap between income and the cost of new motor vehicles, and a real drop in fuel costs, the used vehicle alternative will become increasingly more popular for 4x4 enthusiasts. If there is no whole family "buy-in" (spouse or kids simply don't like bouncing around in a 4x4 all day), the powersports (i.e., dirt/dual-sport motorcycle, ATV or UTV) option becomes viable for those interested.
This lower price of admission for a dirt motorcycle can be the leverage when you're the only one in the family who likes motorized, off-pavement travel and recreation. It's easier to keep peace in the family with the purchase and prep of a dirt or dual-sport motorcycle, for well under $10K even if bought new, than trying to push the idea of a showroom fresh JK Wrangler Rubicon Unlimited (4-Door) 4x4 at $40K—plus an additional $12K-$15K worth of "must have" add-ons and upgrades planned within five minutes of buying the Jeep—or after the first undercarriage-pounding rock crawl on stock diameter tires with that 116" wheelbase! Many spouses will go along with a used or new dirt bike expenditure in the $2500 to $9000 price range.
4x4s and dirt motorcycles are two distinctly different paradigms. If the whole family does not ride in the dirt, a motorcycle will be a solitary outlet for Dad (or Mom in this era) and friends with similar interests. For whole family recreation, a used or even the right new 4x4 makes sense. Buying used might leave enough funding for a dirt bike, too!
Another consideration is riding skill. I'm lucky that my muscle memories for two-wheel motorized on- and off-highway cycling date back fifty years now. Riding in the dirt and on-pavement for that long builds reflexes and survival skills. It even compensates for aging to a degree. (Often, I am pleasantly surprised to "pull it off" with a strictly reflexive move at this ripe age!) On the other hand, without putting a damper on anyone's enthusiasm, I caution middle-age, first time riders: Go gradually, you've got a lot of catching up to do!
Note: Having ridden highway under the "Basic Speed Law" at rural Nevada in the day, on a tuned BSA Rocket III that could soar to 115 mph without hesitation, with over fifty years of off-pavement riding experience as well, my health "secret" is defensive riding. That's the only way to stay uninjured and alive, frankly. Fortunately, I've never been down on the pavement nor done a high-side or "endo"/cartwheel in the dirt...No broken bones or injuries, I'm grateful and ever vigilant.
If you have years of on-highway riding experience, that helps a lot in the dirt. However, riding off-pavement is it's own critter, beware of the handling quirks and dynamics that are unique to dirt riding. There are courses and trail riding schools. Watch every video you can on how to ride dirt at speed...On that note, don't ride at speed until you're good and ready! For those of us with a level head, motorcycling is potentially dangerous, and if you doubt that and do not ride defensively and reasonably, while wearing the right riding gear for the environment, you can expect to hear your friends and family's resounding, "I told you those things are dangerous!"
Before gushing further about dirt and dual-sport motorcycles, I admit that dirt riding is a totally different angle. Camping out requires lightweight, easy to tote equipment—and not much of it! Inexpensive motels or B&Bs are a welcome alternative after eating dust all day. Weather becomes an issue, icy highways a hazard, mud a grind, and scorching heat a quick way to dehydrate. (Wear and use a Camelback or similar device!) If you like the comfort of a heater and air conditioning, a dirt motorcycle is not the way to go...If you want a five-muscle group exercise machine and an incentive for staying in good physical condition, a dirt bike and single track trails or open desert riding will do the trick!
For our household, the current rolling stock and applications break down like this:
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1) 1999 XJ Cherokee 4WD doubles as a daily driver/magazine chores and true trail use vehicle with its 6-inch long arm suspension lift and 33" tires, a winch on a winch bumper and ARB Air Lockers front and rear with 4.10 axle gearing.
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2) 2005 Dodge Ram 3500 4WD Quad-Cab with Cummins 5.9L engine, our primary work vehicle, "ultimate" hauler and tow vehicle when needed. 95% of the Ram's life has been eating up highway miles at a tolerable 21-plus mpg...A great utility workhorse and overall vehicle, great ride quality for those 720 miles (each way) trips to Moab!
3) Honda XR650R motorcycle recently added to the stable and earmarked for outdoor promotion and use as a video filming platform. The iconic desert enduro motorcycle ("Dust to Glory" star in its HRC form), converted for dual-sport riding, license plated and insured, this bike is at home both on pavement and in the dirt...This is the fifth XR in our household, and another one (an XR400R in "as new" condition) heads into youngest son Jacob's garage later today. Honda XR motorcycle inventory: The wholly intact 1984 Honda XR500R needs some restorative work and currently rests under a protective tarp; the pristine '83 XR200R went to a good home years ago; Jacob's original and pieced together XR75 got ridden into the ground ($70 total invested, it ran for five years); and the '84 XR350R has remained in the stable, maintained meticulously.
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4) 1984 Honda XR350R motorcycle that was built for hare-and-hound by an A&E licensed aircraft mechanic then never raced. This is a pristine, highly dependable air-cooled thumper with factory dual carburetors. (Many whine about the dual carbs, they are fundamental and not difficult to rebuild and sync, I'd be delighted to share details.) This engine starts on the first or second kick every time, hot or cold, and the four-valve technology makes it a kick-butt, fun and highly dependable motorcycle! Despite wife Donna's prodding about why I need more than one motorcycle, I've managed to keep this endearing motorcycle in the stable.
All of our motor vehicles are paid for, and that has been the trend for us. We did buy the 2005 Ram new, the only vehicle in this batch that came off a dealer's lot. Each of the other vehicles was a "private party" purchase. We have enough funding left at the end of the day to buy the fuel, outdoor gear, fly fishing tackle, hunting paraphernalia and other outdoor lifestyle necessities.
If being on a vehicle "cash footing" sounds appealing, these forums, the magazine and my Vimeo On Demand instructional videos can help you enjoy an affordable, motorized outdoor lifestyle!