“The best bang for your buck,” is a phrase that can be applied to compare just about anything. If you were to apply it to motorcycles you might use it to consider which bike you could get the most use and fun out of. The world of motorcycles is a diverse one with many segments and categories, but if you’re looking for diversity (as in rideable terrain) so you can get the utmost use out of your motorcycle then you’d definitely want to consider a dual sport bike. While these motorcycles aren’t the fastest, sportiest, and don’t often offer the latest and greatest advancements in technology, what they do offer is the ability to be used as everything from a daily commuter, grocery getter, or back roads wanderer to off road world traveler. Totally utilitarian, these bikes outfitted with their all terrain motorcycle tires can deliver you just about anywhere you want to go on or off road at an extremely affordable price —hence, best bang for your buck.
Below are our choices for the top five budget-friendly dual sport motorcycles.
One of the most popular dual sport motorcycles has to be the Kawasaki KLR650. Well suited for the highways, deserts, mountains or the big city, the KLR650 is a smart and reliable choice for riders seeking the versatility of a tour-ready dual-sport motorcycle. The KLR650 has the look and feel of a middleweight adventure motorcycle, and in this role the versatile Kawasaki is finding its real niche.
The KLR was introduced in 1987 and was pretty much left alone by Kawi for some 20 years. For the 2008 the model year the bike got some much needed updating. Kawasaki improved the throttle response with revised ignition mapping. Revised cam timing contributed to improved high RPM highway travel, while a redesigned cylinder head with new intake porting resulted in greater low-end torque and quicker throttle response in heavier city traffic. The most significant change for 2008 however was the new bodywork; a new streamlined, frame-mounted fairing gave the bike a much sportier, big adventure bike type look.
Most recently Kawasaki made some further refinements with the 2014.5 model receiving improved suspension characteristics with 40 percent stiffer fork springs and the fork oil level raised 5mm to reduce bottoming. The new springs also improved rebound damping by 28%. The rear suspension was also made 63 percent stiffer with damping increased by 80%. In addition, a redesigned seat with improved padding made for better long distance comfort. Running at 432 pounds, the KLR isn’t exactly light, it’s the heaviest in this grouping by nearly 70 pounds (the DR 650S comes in at a curb weight of 366 pounds), nor is it the nimblest, but Kawasaki has hit a sweet spot with the KLR, recognizing that many are looking for a scaled down adventure bike with an emphasis on street cruising and the ability of traveling country dirt roads, fire breaks, and simple trails when the journey calls for it. The KLR can easily handle this type of travel and is great for the long distance moto-camping excursions. The KLR650 has a 6.1 gallon fuel tank and fantastic gas mileage so it is able to range far before needing to stop.
The KLR650 is ideally suited for 80 percent on road 20 percent off-road travel as it favors street riding. The fairing works extremely well in blocking wind and is a must have for long distance cool weather travel and the large luggage rack allows plenty of room to strap on bags, tents, and other adventure necessities. The KLR650 is the largest dual sport motorcycle on the list, however, despite the longer and heavier feel the KLR650 is super smooth and handles surprisingly well for its stature. This bike is quite a motorcycle for an economical price. MSRP for the 2015 model: $6,599.
Bulletproof reliability is what the Honda XR series of dual sport motorcycles have always been about. The Honda XR650L has remained relatively unchanged since 1992 except for some different colors and graphics. Solid design and engineering has given the popular Honda a lifespan that requires little change.
The XR650L is for those who refuse to stop where the pavement ends and prefer to add lots of dirt roads, trails, and forgotten byways into their motorcycle adventure. With a heavy emphasis on off road capabilities and the ability to run the streets legally the XR650L is the perfect platform for riders who are in the opposite 80/20 crowd than those of the KLR650. The XR650L is 80% off road and 20% on road in its configuration.
The XR650L features convenient electric starting, excellent power, and torque that is ideally suited for both on and off road riding. The ergonomics of the XR favor an off road stance as the bike is taller with greater travel than most dual-purpose motorcycles. The seat height is 37” making the XR650L quite tall in the saddle and a chore for anyone smaller in stature to balance while waiting at a red light. The Honda’s height and suspension travel make the XR650L quite capable in the dirt, yet still handles unexpectedly well on the street. For extended high speed road travel the Honda does not compete with the creature comforts offered by the KLR650’s windscreen and better asphalt orientation, but its rugged reliability, excellent off road characteristics, and competent road handling make the XR650L a serious dual-sport contender. MSRP for the 2015 model: $6,690.
The Suzuki DR-Z400S looks like a dirt bike because it is. Like the Honda XR650L, Suzuki has built a dual-sport motorcycle that is very much at home on the trail. The Suzuki is based around off road riding but is legal, capable and very competent on the street. A very sharp looking dual sport, the DR-Z400S is an excellent blend and compromise making it an excellent dual-sport mount.
The DR-Z400S has very quick throttle response, strong torque across the power band and is more than adequate for zipping around town, in and out of city traffic and then heading straight out to the hills. If serious off road riding with a little street action is what you crave the Suzuki DR-Z400S fits the bill quite nicely. Suzuki uses regular telescopic, oil-damped, long travel (11.3 in), 49mm cartridge-style forks with protective rubber boots, and features adjustable compression/rebound damping along with adjustable spring preload for smooth performance on all types of on/off-road terrain. For the rear suspension Suzuki employs a lightweight aluminum swingarm tied to a mono-shock, rear shock absorber that features 11.6 “ of travel, compression damping/preload adjustments. The shock connects to the swingarm through a progressive linkage system.
The DR-Z400 is powered by a four-stroke, 398cc, DOHC, liquid-cooled, dry-sump engine that produces strong low-RPM power which comes in handy in off road riding. The 5-speed trans is smooth and easily clickable through all gears with easy to find neutral. Lightweight riders or those who keep on-bike storage/luggage to a minimum will find the power output adequate. However, adding heavy loads really cuts into the bike’s off road fun factor and running at higher highway speeds for long distances, ringing out the 398cc mill gets to be pretty buzzy. Keep the bike in its element and respect its limitations and the Suzuki DR-Z400S is a tough to beat dual-sport motorcycle whether on the trail or commuting across town. MSRP for the 2015 model: $6,599.
Upon initial review one might think of the Suzuki DR 650S as the big brother to the DR-Z400, however, closer inspection reveals that they share very few of the same genes, making them more like cousins than siblings. Where the DR-Z400 is a more of a dirt bike adorned with street-legal components, the 650 is more of a true amalgamation of street meets dirt. Compared to the Z, the 644cc air-cooled engine of the DR 650 makes long distance highway travel a much more pleasant experience with the ability to run above most legal speed limits a breeze. Those who have ridden Honda’s XR650L and Kawasaki’s KLR often comment on the DR 650’s spunky (read torquey) motor and praise it for its smooth power delivery.
While the DR 650 does have more displacement than the Z, the 650 sports a 2” lower seat height and offers the lowest riding position of the bunch (barely squeaking under the KLR by .2”). For those that have shorter inseams the lower seat height makes frequent on/off-the bike errands and riding in stop-and-go traffic a little easier. The seat is also shaped differently than that on the DR-Z and has a dip in the center to give the rider a more “in-the-bike” feel rather than on top of the bike. Speaking of getting on and off the bike, with a 3.5 gallon fuel tank, gas stops will be less frequent as compared to the 2.6 gallon tank on the 400.
Suspension for the DR 650 is pretty straight forward with conventional, telescopic, coil spring and oil damped front sliders and a single link-type, coil-over, oil-damped shock in the rear. While it might not feel as agile or sporty in the dirt as the DR-Z does, the DR 650 is still fully capable of tackling fire roads, river beds, and single track with confidence; in addition, the extra weight (nearly 50 pounds over the DR-Z) helps make for a more stable ride when zipping down the highway fighting cross winds or turbulence from big rigs. Nearly indestructible, the DR 650 will run for miles taking any abuse you can throw at it, all while requiring very little initial investment. MSRP for 2015 model: $6,499.
The Yamaha WR250R is for ideal for those who ride off road way more than on, but is yet still highly street accessible. The WR250R is directly descended from Yamaha’s highly successful YZ motocrossers so it is without a doubt an off road oriented machine. The WR250R is Yamaha’s first fuel-injected on/off road motorcycle that relays input from a crank sensor, intake air pressure sensor, and throttle position sensor to a compact ECU to provide optimum combustion. The ECU controlled exhaust valve, along with the electronic intake control valve, helps to broaden the powerband making the WR250R a very rider friendly motorcycle.
The WR250R is lightweight and narrow just like a motocrosser giving the motorcycle a very capable and agile feel off road. The electric start and quiet muffler make the motorcycle more manageable and less obtrusive when on road and its street legality allows you to run into town out of the hills for lunch, or to access another riding area without having to load the bike onto a trailer.
The Yamaha WR250R is not a motorcycle you would even remotely consider using extensively on the road. It lacks the size necessary to make it a longer distance dual-sport, but it is ideal for fire roads and trails that require a license to travel and for brief excursions into town. MSRP for 2015 model: $6,690.