There's a loyal following for many of the "adventure-touring" motorcycles, cycles like the KTM 990 Adventure or BMW F800GS and 1200GS. On the other hand, many dirt bike riders are now turning to "plated" dirt bikes, bridging the gap between asphalt and a desert enduro bike. Do we need to draw a literal "line in the sand" about what makes a legitimate off-pavement motorcycle?
I have ridden this '84 XR350R for nearly two decades and also own an '84 XR500R. Despite growing parts availability issues, these bikes are failsafe mounts for open desert riding. For the magazine's 2012 King of the Hammers coverage, I took the XR350R to Johnson Valley. A dual-sport conversion for plating this cycle has been considered, if so, highway riding would be limited. I would not hesitate to take this machine over the Rubicon Trail and often ride to remote desert and mountain reaches!
For decades, I have ridden dirt bikes (primarily Honda XRs) in single track woods and open desert. I have ridden on asphalt for over half a century, beginning with motorcycles like a vintage BSA 650 Lightning, a Victor 441 and a Rocket III 750. More recently, my highway cycles were an older BMW 80GS boxer, a Honda GL1500 Goldwing and a BMW Kll00LT.
Despite my respect for high end adventure touring motorcycles like the KTM 990 Adventure, I have an opinion and will share it: Serious dirt bike riding requires a true dirt bike—adventure-touring bikes, even the best of them, are no match for a true enduro motorcycle off the pavement...
KTM, Yamaha, Honda, the Christini AWD DS and others now offer serious dirt motorcycles that meet DOT and EPA highway requirements for street legal use. (I do not include Kawasaki's KLR among "lightweight" dirt plated bikes, as the beloved KLR650 has crept from 325 pounds to a porky 432 pounds in recent years!) As an open desert and single track woods rider, I am drawn to these bikes.
Unless a lot of asphalt is in the plan, I believe a true dirt bike with D.O.T. approved knobby tires is the best mount for serious off-pavement use—and moderate distance road riding...
Contemporary dirt motorcycles with minimalist D.O.T. equipment weigh under 300 pounds. An adventure touring beast can run over 500 pounds, in particular a road-ready machine like the BMW 1200GS. While I truly appreciate the handling, safety and highway agility of a BMW motorcycle, jerking a 525-plus pound motorcycle out of a sand trap is not my idea of a good time...For those who do think of this as an "adventure", I heartily recommend Warn Industries' new line of portable winches designed for adventure touring motorcycles.
Admittedly, the plated dirt bikes are minimalist and intended that way: A KTM 500 EXC tips the scale around 250 pounds...These machines remain true enduro motorcycles. Slightly higher in weight is the AWD Christini, coming in at 288 pounds with two-wheel drive traction, a worthy trade-off and ready solution for those sand traps!
Before adventure touring motorcycle aficionados boycott this forum, let me add that I have owned a BMW 80GS and a BMW K1100LT. Each was terrific—on the highway. "In the day", I owned BSA motorcycles, including a 441cc Victor, and despite the Victor's lighter weight, it was a stodgy motorcycle off-pavement. Today's dirt motorcycles would run circles around a Victor—or any other vintage "enduro" or "scrambler" motorcycle with vertical rear shock-coil springs!
So, I'm raising these questions: 1) Is there a place for adventure touring motorcycles off-pavement? 2) Can a rider on a lightweight dual-sport with DOT knobby tires survive much time on the asphalt—if so, how much? What are your views on each motorcycle design?...Join this forum and share your off-pavement experiences and preferences!