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I've written six 4x4 Jeep® and truck books plus a Harley-Davidson book. Most know me as a 4WD Jeep, light 4x4 truck and automotive guy, some as a Harley-Davidson author, and few are aware that motorcycling has played a role in my life. My earliest on-highway vehicle operators license, at age 14, was a Nevada Scooter License. Unique to that era, without the sanctions of insurance and high registration fees, scooters were a recognized means for getting to high school. Nevada was the fifth largest state in the U.S.—with the smallest population at the time... I rode a Cushman on the highway and a friend's Honda Trail 55 on dirt. By sixteen, my attention turned to Jeep 4WDs and muscle cars, though I never turned my back on motorcycling. My first return to two wheels was a series of three pre-owned BSA motorcycles (each '69 model year by sheer coincidence). One was a Victor 441 B44, allegedly a scrambler but rather ill-equipped for the dirt by today's standards. Cycles with vertical rear shocks and short stroke, highway style front forks were hardly off-pavement material. (This was "On Any Sunday" stuff, and many of us, including J.N. Roberts, Steve McQueen and Malcolm Smith, rode near vertical rear shock machines.) If nothing else, at nearly 10:1 compression, the Victor was the quintessential "thumper" and a good way to learn about compression release starting! Several road bikes have been notable, my BSA 650 Lightning and 750 Rocket III, a BMW R80GS (that hardly met "off-road" standards despite the implications), a BMW K1100LT that was a highway delight and a Gold Wing GL1500 that I can only call "a beast"—ridiculously cumbersome and far beyond the realm of a flick-about motorcycle. My takeaway from the Gold Wing was that I'd never ride a cycle over 500 pounds again. So much for today's "cruiser", touring bikes and dressers! As long as I can swing a leg over the saddle, I'll take a sport bike under 500 pounds, hands down. We discovered serious dirt riding and cycles two decades ago when youngest son Jacob was 11-years-old. I wanted him to ride sensibly, and a vintage XR75 was the choice after a brief detour with a Kawasaki KX80. Honda's "red" assets caught our fancy, and I acquired a used XR200R to accompany Jacob. That quickly grew to an XR350R, passing the XR200R to Jacob (typical family maneuver with motorcycles). The XR350R had been prepped and "blueprinted" by the late Rick Sorensen for his daughter Natasha to race. Rick was a topnotch aircraft A&P mechanic and motorcycle tuner...In pristine condition, this cycle has remained in my stable since, impressive enough to warrant the acquisition of an XR500R counterpart. Both are '84 model Pro-Link chassis, the 500 boasts dry-sump engine oiling...hot for the era! Yes, I do ride dirt motorcycles—with passion and vigor, desert enduro type terrain my favorite, single track or destination "overlanding" well within bounds as well. Today's cycles draw me toward an XR650R Honda for my current kind of riding, fitted with a Dakar tank and dual-sport retrofit kit, ready for long distance travel. We live at Northern Nevada, a virtual Mecca for dirt riding and backcountry motorcycling access! A CRF450X might be a consideration, though "Dust to Glory" and the XR650R are forever etched in my mind—how can Johnny Campbell, Andy Grider, Steve Hengeveld and Mouse McCoy be wrong? The XR650R Honda is the ultimate icon, a virtual cult dirt bike for the desert. So, don't be surprised if I'm regularly peeking into this forum and even adding my two-cents worth. Dirt motorcycling is on my mind—a lot. It's an incentive to stay in top physical condition, to keep my reflexes primed and not to let chronological age blur my self-concept. I'm still healthy, quick reflexed, and more than ready to ride a converted dual-sport—anywhere, any time!—Moses Ludel At left is our third XR Honda, an XR350R. We have a fourth one, too, an XR500R, for possible restoration. Or maybe we'll add an XR650R built with Baja/Dakar trim with a dual-sport conversion!...Tying to the Karavan dual-motorcycle trailer, it's time to ride in the desert. The magazine's XJ Cherokee (right) provides a good tow platform for getting the dirt bike to a trailhead or desert dry lake. A dual-sport conversion would eliminate the tow need. This cycle has done a variety of chores for more than a dozen years, included getting me around with a video camcorder for covering the Stampede Race and King of the Hammers.
Snow drifts blocking your favorite dirt bike riding venues? Rainy season drenching the ground and making knee-deep mud? Does the down time in the off-season have you itching for a good ride? While you're going to the gym and anticipating the next riding season, check out this well done motorcycle enduro and trials technique instructional video depicting pro riders at South Africa! A hearty thanks to these professionals for sharing...
My recent comments on dual-sport motorcycles became the prelude to our latest acquisition: a Honda XR650R motorcycle for the 4WD Mechanix Magazine vehicle fleet! There's a long history behind my relationship to off-road motorcycling, which began when I acquired my first purpose built desert motorcycle in 1971, a 1969 BSA B44 Victor. In the mid-'eighties, my editor at Argus' OFF-ROAD Magazine was Rick Sieman, better known in motorcycle circles as Super Hunky. His legendary roles as both the Senior Editor at Dirt Bike and AMA Veteran Class Plate #1 were Rick's other credentials. When Rick encouraged me to ride the Mojave Desert with him at speed on Husqvarna and KTM motorcycles, I was sold! Over the last two decades, I have owned and ridden a variety of motorcycles, both highway and dirt types, finding the emerging dual-sport models increasingly more practical for off-road travel and journalism. My interest in motorcycle adventure travel with dual-sport cycles has also grown steadily. Our vintage '84 Honda XR350R has served well since the 'nineties. More recently, it has provided video access, I used it to cover events like the King of the Hammers and hard trails footage. I'm a Honda guy, and the XR650R has been on my radar screen since the cycle earned icon status in "Dust to Glory". (I confess to at least a dozen reruns of the motorcycle segments in that film, along with numerous reruns of the "Long Way Round" and "Long Way Down" travel documentaries.) When a 2000 XR650R became available with ultra low miles (just over 700 original miles!) and an extraordinary history, I took the leap—right into ownership of a BRP ("Big Red Pig")! In its earlier life, the bike had been "plated" in Texas as a dual-sport conversion and boasted a Baja Designs kit. The owner, a former F15 pilot and motorcycle enthusiast, had no time in his career to ride the motorcycle. After years of garaging the bike, he elected to sell it—and the magazine now has a new thumper dirt motorcycle in its stable! My 19-month-old grandson calls the XR650R the "Big Honda", and the XR350R has become the "Little Honda". A liquid cooled Honda XR650R was chosen over the KTM, Yamaha or even a Honda CRF450 for its desert enduro record and long distance stamina. The aim is a street legal dual-sport, light enough to do the desert and trails right while having the power to carry gear and video equipment as a filming platform. This is the start, and you can track the dual-sport Big Red Pig, the magazine's latest off-road vehicle project, at the forums photo gallery...Count on much more to come as the BRP gets readied for its chores and the single tracks! Moses
I recently started a topic on the merits of doing a dual-sport conversion and "plating" a dirt motorcycle rather than purchasing an OHV permit ("sticker"). Within my home State of Nevada, and many other states from coast to coast, it is perfectly legal to convert an off-road (dirt) motorcycle into a dual-sport for both on- and off-highway use. The motorcycle must be brought to DOT and state on-highway equipment standards. Insurance is a requirement as with any other highway legal vehicle. Such conversions are not allowed in the neighboring State of California on motorcycles built after 1977. There is much discussion across the motorcycle community regarding California's off-road motorcycle to dual sport conversion policy. I took the time to research the California rules. Here is a quick recap of what I shared earlier about the State of California ruling: "...The conversion of off-highway "dirt" motorcycles (deemed "off-road use" by the cycle manufacturer, DOT and EPA) has not been allowed within the Golden State since February 1, 2004. There are two exceptions: 1) motorcycles built prior to 1978, and 2) 1978-up cycles with less than 50cc displacement...According to the current regulations, California dual-sport conversions were acceptable on motorcycles built through model year 2002 if the conversion was completed and paperwork submitted to the DMV prior to February 1, 2004. From January 1, 2004 forward, the DMV has required "verification" or proof that the motorcycle came with an EPA and/or California emissions label for on-highway use. This ruling about "verification" went into effect on January 1, 2004, with a one-month "grace period" during that month....If there was a street title issued within these timeframes and the cycle has current registration and street use insurance, the cycle is still legal for highway or dual-purpose use...The internet is rife with rumors, anecdotal stories and speculation about the fate of California plated dual-sport motorcycles converted after January 31, 2004. According to a statement that reflects the actual California DMV regulations, some have good reason to fear: statement of the rulings. If you're puzzled, contemplating a dual-sport conversion or considering a cycle purchase intended for California registration, read the statement and at least know where you stand. Check with the DMV about whether "grandfathering" applies when an earlier dual-sport conversion goes through a title/ownership change." Just today, I purchased an ultra-low mileage Honda XR650R for a dual-sport conversion. At Nevada and many other states, this is a popular candidate for a dual-sport conversion. This particular motorcycle was first sold in Texas, had a Texas title, and was actually equipped for street legal use in the State of Texas. Nevada requires a complete verification of the conversion equipment, based on DOT and Nevada standards. The motorcycle will be inspected for its street legal equipment and DOT tires. This cycle currently has a Baja Designs dual-sport conversion kit, which will meet Nevada requirements as it did in the State of Texas. The seller/owner was denied California dual-sport registration and titling on this 2000 Honda XR650R. The sole explanation from the DMV was that the motorcycle did not have an on-highway OEM emissions sticker. This sticker is issued on EPA and EPA/California certified motorcycles built and sold for highway use. Note: Using the VIN, many motorcycles can be segregated quickly as "off-road use only" and "highway use". 2003-up cycles with a "C" or "3" in the 8th position of the VIN are automatically classified as "red sticker" or restricted off-road use with non-compliant emissions. Since February 1, 2004, no 1978 up off-highway motorcycle, green or red sticker eligible, has been eligible to convert into a dual-sport by the State of California. I'll skip the anecdotes and stories about motorcycles that have undergone a conversion after February 1, 2004, those owners that managed to secure a license plate in California. Cases of "knowing someone" or a "friendly" (more likely a naïve or overwhelmed) DMV counterperson who let one slip by, or whatever, are not as important as California's regulation on the books that says conversions on 1978-up motorcycles are not legal after January 1, 2004. Whether California thoroughly enforces this ruling or not, there is a regulation. When did California Air Resources Board start addressing motorcycle tailpipe emissions? Here is a statement from the California DMV's official "Vehicle Industry News": "The California Air Resources Board (ARB) established emission regulations for on-highway motorcycles beginning with 1978 year models. These regulations require an off-highway motorcycle to have an emission label affixed to the vehicle indicating certification by the manufacturer for on-highway use when converting to on-highway or dual registration. ARB, DMV, and the California State Parks' Off-Highway Motor Vehicle Recreation Division mutually agreed to begin implementation of these regulations January 1, 2004." If you own a motorcycle sold and marketed as an "off-highway" model, can you now get a "label" from the motorcycle's manufacturer? No—the manufacturer did not pursue such a label for this particular dirt motorcycle model. A label implies that the motorcycle has passed EPA and/or California emission standards and can be operated on the highway. So, why doesn't the manufacturer do this, especially in cases where the actual tailpipe emissions are in compliance with highway requirements? The reason is clear: These strictly dirt motorcycles may have a "clean" tailpipe, but they do not have D.O.T. approved lighting, a brake light, mirrors, reflectors and such. California's Air Resources Board apparently takes the position that motorcycles without these emissions labels were not "clean air" certified, and without certification, they were considered "polluters"—simply because they were not certified. The presumption is that off-highway "dirt" motorcycles built from 1978-up might create a pollution issue in California. Are four-stroke motorcycles "gross polluters"? Judging by fuel efficiency and the tuning requirements to run right, these vehicles should be contributing less tailpipe pollution per mile than automobiles, trucks and busses...Two-stroke engines, with high hydrocarbon emissions, might arguably be considered an issue, so we'll stick to four-strokes. Motorcycle engines, like other gasoline engines, run best at stoichiometric 14.7:1 air/fuel ratio when cruising. Tuning a motorcycle to run richer than stoichiometric would be detrimental to performance (unless there is a high performance camshaft and boosted compression ratio that will tolerate richer mixtures). In many cases, a street motorcycle engine design and its tuning will appear in an off-road motorcycle. It can be reasonably assumed that dirt tuning is somewhat like street tuning. (Crankcase emissions and evaporative emissions are a whole other issue.) Even if the off-road motorcycle ran richer, consider the displacement of dirt motorcycle engines. A well engineered 650cc engine is enormous for a dirt bike. True dirt bikes weigh so little that, in the case of an "uncorked" Honda XR650R, you're looking at a power-to-weight ratio of under 6 pounds (considering the bare cycle alone) per horsepower! The Baja racing version of these cycles has more like 4.5 pounds per horsepower. Given the relatively small displacement and this level of power to weight ratio, a motorcycle should be incapable, in reasonable tune, of being a gross polluter when compared to pre-catalytic converter automobiles, trucks/SUVs, commercial vehicles or a bus. Some argue that a motorcycle is typically one-person transportation. Has anyone checked recently to see what percentage of California's SUVs are in the two-person commuter lanes and how many SUVs have only a driver/occupant? Any state genuinely concerned about air quality and pollution levels should applaud any increase in motorcycle transportation on the streets. The lone motorcyclist, even on a "Big Red Pig" Honda XR650R converted dual sport motorcycle cannot possibly pollute as much as a popular SUV with California emissions certification. Lower compression engines in cycles like the street legal Honda XR650L (air-cooled) or a KLR Kawasaki can deliver 50-plus mpg. Even a properly tuned BRP, known for winning the Baja 1000 many times in modified form, can muster 40-plus mpg when driven sanely. Isn't that a measure of clean air success while reducing our dependency on foreign oil? Or are we so bureaucratic and rule-oriented in states like California that stickers and labels take precedence over dramatic reductions in fuel consumption and less pollution per mile from the use of smaller engines? As motorcycles shift to EFI from carburetors, tailpipe emission concerns decrease even more. Forward thinking manufacturers like KTM and Christini have now certified (at least EPA) their competitive dirt motorcycle models. (The KTM 500EXC and Christini 450DS are two examples.) These cycles are both DOT and EPA legal out of the box. Honda and others must follow. The lightweight, dual-sport motorcycle market is wide open. Consumers want lightweight, bona fide dirt motorcycles that are "dual-sports" for the purpose of titling, registering and legally running on public highways. Sure, a 250 pound dirt bike with knobby DOT tires is hardly the best candidate for the Autobahn or cross-country interstate highways. However, it does eliminate the need to lug your cycle to the OHV park in a pickup or on a trailer! In the meantime, there are many thousands of affordable used four-stroke dirt motorcycles out there whose owners could benefit from riding on the highway. Imagine, they'd be parking their pickup truck that gets 14 mpg and getting 35-60 mpg on the highway—if they can keep the front wheel on the ground... Moses