Dual Sport or Adventure?

Posted by on 11/10/2014 to General Stuff
ADV riders, Dual Sport riders, and dirt bike riders need to choose gear based on their particular type of riding mission. However, there is no accepted definition of what separates an “Adventure" bike from a “Dual Sport" bike from a “plated dirt bike” (PDB in our lingo). This is probably due to the fact that no two people can agree on this. But, The BOMBERS, being the problem solvers they are, set about to create our own.

First, we don't subscribe to the concept that says "how you use it defines what it is". Many people feel that the bike is strictly defined by the way that one uses it. There is a sort of mental freedom that goes along with that, or perhaps a rejection of limit. What is interesting is that this is a very moto-specific attitude. People in other sports don't seem to flip out at the idea of definitions. No sane person would argue that Scarpa hiking boots are interchangeable with Asics trainers. Use a screwdriver to pound a nail, it still ain't a hammer.

We define Adventure Bikes (or "ADV") bikes as 650ccs and larger, multi cylinders, 400 lbs or more, and with passenger accommodations. ADV bikes are capable of higher speeds, long, steady, sustained time on the road, and if necessary, carrying a passenger. Their frame geometry, suspension, and tires allow them to travel on dirt, but their weight and size make it very challenging to ride on rough terrain. Lifting them up when dropped may be difficult for a single person, which is a limit for backcountry riding. Examples are the BMW GS twins, KTM 1190, Yamaha Super Tenere, Suzuki V-Strom, etc.

ADV riding brings need for serious protection against elements (water, wind, and cold), plus abrasion and impact protection for higher speeds. These goals, especially the protectors, should be integrated into the garment. Gear should fit more snug to the body to minimize rotation in falls, not flap or parachute, and to not allow cold spots. It should seal up snugly and not leak, because at 65 mph for hours on end, all you do is ponder the flaws in your gear.

We define "Dual Sport bikes" as 650ccs and less, single cylinder, with enough oil capacity to operate at medium intervals. They are usually 350 lbs or less, with at 10 inches of ground clearance and off road capable suspension. Dual sport bikes can ride fairly technical terrain, which means the riding is more physical. DS bikes are light enough to be picked up by a single person, so they are capable of going much deeper into The Dirty Zone, but are poor for extended time on the road. Carrying a passenger is possible, but is not particularly enjoyable. Examples are the DRz400, WR250R, KTM 690, Honda XR650L, and others.

Dual sport riding involves more technical terrain, which equals more physical exertion which equals an elevated heart rate, body heat, and big swings in body temperatures. Protection against the elements must be weighed against managing heat and exertion. In many cases waterproof construction is a liability. Noise level and perfect wind protection are less important; venting, loose fit, and modular construction (removable sleeves, collar) are desirable. An observation: it is common for dual sport riders to “over gear”....to choose stuff too heavy for physical riding.

Wind noise is really not a concern here.

A third category is "Plated dirt bikes". The BOMBERS say these are 600 ccs or less, <280 lbs, no passenger accommodations, and off road suspension. Their name is the most literal; they are dirt bikes with license plates to make them more convenient. They may be incorrectly described as dual sports, but they are intended for 90% off road use, and only very limited street riding. Examples are the ubiquitous KTM 450 and 530 EXCs, Husqvarna TE310s, and if you live in CO, ID, VT, and AZ, apparently anything with a spark plug.

NOT your fathers DR.....

There are a few bikes that blur these definitions, most notably the lovable / confounding Kawasaki KLR 650, which gets used in all these categories, plus for plowing snow, logging, towing, etc.

Shape Shifter.

The moto world is also dotted with freak talents like Jimmy Lewis, who can wield a GS like an ego piercing missile to shame people on 125s. This is great, but does that make them the same type of motorcycle? Or, should it be viewed in a contextual sense, meaning people with exceptional ability, taking a bike beyond its typical envelope?

Piece of cake, right?

Agree or disagree, our delineation is carefully considered, solid, and we feel, helpful when researching gear. We hope it helps you.

Undoubtedly, some kook who rides a Fat Boy on MX tracks will emerge, and argue we are completely wrong. Whatever. Our delineation is carefully considered, solid, and should help direct you when choosing gear. The important take aways are....1. there are subtle differences in bikes and riding, and 2. your gear choices need to compliment, not controvert, the design and capabilities of your bike(s).


Adventure Bikes
- > 650ccs
- Multi cylinders
- 400 lbs or more / may not be able to be lifted by single person if falls over
- Capable of extended road travel in comfort
- Examples: BMW GS twins, KTM 1190, Yamaha Super Tenere, Suzuki V-Strom, etc

Adventure Gear
- Serious protection against wind, rain, cold
- Waterproof construction critical
- Integrated abrasion and impact protection
- Gear should fit snugly

Dual Sport Bikes
- < 650cc
- Single cylinder
- 400 lbs or less
- Can be lifted by a single person
- Capable of rough off road travel, singletrack
- Examples: Suzuki DR650, KTM 690, Honda XR650L, Yamaha WR250R, etc

Dual Sport Gear
- More physical exertion demands more breathability
- Venting, modular construction are critical
- Looser fit
- Waterproof construction can be a liability
- Separate armor recommended

Plated Dirt Bikes
- < 600cc
- Single cylinder
- 280 lbs or less
- Can ride almost any terrain
- Street use as convenience only
- Examples: KTM 450 EXC, KTM 530 EXC, Husqvarna TE310, etc

Plated Dirt Bike Gear
- Best to use regular dirt gear, along with layers and accessories for versatility
- Rain / Cold shells, hydration packs, warmer gloves, etc.



Date: 11/11/2014
Scott Hart
Nice article. Helps put some clarity around this subject for myself and many other riders I'm sure! Since most of us don't have a few million bucks to spare, narrowing down our choices to a few bikes that can do a lot of stuff is pretty common. Heck, we feel fortunate to have more than one bike! But have to admit, the ultimate would be purpose built bikes and all the time needed to ride them! Hence we are often stuck on the Futons of the bike world. :-)
Date: 11/11/2014
I'm not a kook moto'ing a Fat Boy, but I am a 5'1" woman riding a Husqvarna TR650 Terra. It's only a single, but I'm half the size of the average ADV rider so I'm putting it firmly in the ADV category :-) Thanks for clearing up all those pesky gray areas, Airman JRF!
Date: 11/17/2014
LOL, every bike I've ever owned has been considered an "adventure bike" way before people bought them for their Starbucks runs. Every one of the above pics makes me wanna ride!
Date: 11/17/2014
I find the biggest discrepancies are with the Dual Sport and PDB. Many events I ride say they are for Dual Sport bikes but actually you need a PDB to ride unless you really want to struggle. The lines are really blurred between the two IIMHO.
Date: 11/17/2014
My ADV kinda sucks for most true DS purposes, but this won't stop me from riding it like a 25yo on very bad roads. However, your descriptions are still quite accurate for most uses and users. All this means is that I must own and use all three types of gear, and I'll dress depending on the day's (or week's) ride. My Leatt / Rock Garden combo gets the most use, until the temeratures fall.
Date: 11/17/2014
Hey! That's my buddy Dan on the SuperTenere above! Steve is right behind him on a Husky TE610. I took that photo as we were coming down Lippincott Pass in Death Valley. Dan definitely blurs the line on that thing LOL!
Date: 11/17/2014
I am honored that you'd chose a shot of my ride to put the thin orange crust above CrazyMike ;)
Date: 11/17/2014
Dirt Dame
Most seasoned riders know the difference, but some newbies don't. On our local DS forum, I have seen newcomers with no dirt riding experience (or sometimes, no MC riding experience whatsoever) join up and happily purchase a machine that is neither suited for their skill level or intent. This is the perfect guide for them.
Date: 11/17/2014
I can't agree more. I ride an 09 KLR650. I rode it in all terrains covering the above categories. I towed other motorcycles in the Mohave. I climbed long stairs when roads were closed in Mexico. I crossed Salt and Sea, sands, and mountains. I can attest that the mighty KLR650 gets serious action everywhere.
Date: 11/17/2014
Hmmm...what we've been trying to explain to peeps on ADV for years. They still just don't get it. LOL And everybody seems to think they are and their bike is, the exception to the rule. ;-)
Date: 11/17/2014
Good definitions. And having owned all three of the KTMs you have pictured, good choice of bikes to represent the different categories. I am a long time dirt bike guy, no tags needed. Got into Dual Sport/ADV riding a few years back. And it was like starting over. It's like a whole new sport. I had to buy new riding gear, camping gear, all kinds of crazy bags and straps. I had to add GoreTex to my lexicon. Nothing sucks worse than being cold and wet. And GoreTex ain't cheap. But worth every penny when you need it. It really re-energized my enjoyment of riding though. I was getting a little tired of riding around in circles at the Hare Scrambles events. And a big bike makes easy trails challenging. And yes, Jimmy Lewis is a freak of nature. He's a cool guy, meet him once, but he's still a freak.
Date: 11/17/2014
Forgot to add. The guys on ADVRider.com, with the $20K BMWs and KTMs buried up the gas cap in a mud hole. Those guys are rich equivalents of hillbilly quad riders. But who am I to judge. Makes for good deals on used bikes.
Date: 11/17/2014
KTM 640 Adventure, best DS bike ever!
Date: 11/18/2014
Michael Fletcher
Sums it up perfectly. I need to show this to my wife so she will finally understand why I must own a 950se, a te450, a yz250, and that is just the dirt side of things.
Date: 12/2/2014
You missed a category - the truly usable weekend dirt bike 250 or below. Here on Borneo around 70% of off-road riding is done on the tiny but capable KLX 150 "PDB". After 2 other larger bikes I've just bought one myself. I love it to bits, as it can go just about anywhere.
Date: 12/14/2014
Andre Soeperman
Now the Suxuki DR750 / 800 could being single cylinder and weight just about 200 kg would be dual sport adventure then. Although 20 years young. Nice in both classes. Mine has steel flexible brake lines, mikuni t36 pumper carbs, the neccessary changes in handlebar, digital dashboard and have now running the bike with metzellar 50/50 sahara 3 and just now the new karoo.
Date: 8/23/2016
I have ridden and owned motorcycles since 1973 when I got my first Honda XR75. Today at 56 I have 13 motorcycles in my garage all having a different purpose in my mine. The article above is the best desciption of a DS bike I have ever read. But i do have to say I think all 3 bikes are "dual sport" because the definition is.... a bike that can ride on dirt and is street legal. My main 3 DS bikes I own are a Honda CRF450X 10/90%, Honda XR 650L. 50/50 and a KTM950 Adv. 70/30%. Even tho all 3 are DS bikes each has a different purpose. The 450 is for riding short distances to the dirt. The 650 is for riding longer distances to discover new dirt. And the 950 is a luxury bike made to go any where around the world on dirt or street. That beind said, last week a friend of mine in Bend calls me up to take a ride up to Broken top. Ah choices. I could ride the 450 on single track the whole way or take the 650 half way up the road then dirt roads the rest or take the 950 which I choose because we were ridding 70% road then 30% dirt roads. My friend on his Ducati Scambler was fine on the road and survived the dirt. Here's the funny part to my story, the 3rd guy was an old friend from Cali. He shows up on a stock DR400 w tennis shoes, jeans and a black helmet with no visor ok. He had bought the bike in Alaska was passing thu town after riding it down to washington then Idaho ,yellowstone to Oregon. He had a milkbox on the back and bragged that he could bungee anything on it. He was on his way down to Newport beach so he could resupply then continue his ride to whereever. Being just 32 years old he had been traveling for the last 8 years on motorcycles. Asia on a 100cc bike. Before that Euope on a 200cc bike. There I was on my decked out 100hp KTM with my fancy Atomic-moto supplied outfit, thinking to myself.... "Just shut up and ride what ever dual sport you have"! Cheers

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