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The Dual-Sport Gets Its Due: Why It's The Ideal Urban Motorcycle

Chaparral Motorsports
November 9, 2018
Last Updated: June 11, 2020

Regular commuters, urban tourists, students, and others wanting better fuel economy through greener personal transport all search for the perfect city motorcycle. Scooters are usually the first machines that come to mind, but standard, middleweight, and muscle bikes also contend for the title with their own combinations of performance, size, gas mileage, and aesthetics. Although dual-sport bikes are often-overlooked options, they can offer the perfect combination of agility, power, width, stature, and fuel consumption that riders need to handle typical city traffic and road conditions.

The Evolution of the Dual-Sport Bike

Surprised that dual-sport machines might outclass other categories for urban riding? The idea's not so strange, once you consider that essentially all early 20th century motorcycles were dual-sport machines. Manufacturers later debuted heavier versions for street riding, and "enduro" bikes made for both off-road riding and the open highway gained popularity during the late 1960s.

While makers like Honda modified their street bike designs for the trails, others like Yamaha adapted their lightweight trail bikes for the city. Keep in mind that the 1990 Suzuki DR350 was marketed as "a dirt bike with a license plate," so most envision trail machines retooled for street riding. Eventually, these evolved into the first dual-sport bikes of the early 1990s and eventually into the motorcycles we recognize today.

This quick history lesson underscores an important point: versatility. Dual-sport machines were always street legal from the beginning, but most of these are classified in one of three different categories:

  • Lightweight: models weighing around 300 pounds or less with engines around the 250cc mark, and are equipped with dirt riding tires, feature a long travel suspension and usually come with raised fenders and a higher ground clearance.
  • Middleweight: bikes weighing between 300 and 400 pounds, typically have 300-800cc engines, and offer equally effective performance on both dirt and pavement
  • Heavyweight: machines weighing over 400 pounds, feature engines in the range of 800cc-1200cc, and are designed mostly for long-distance riding on pavement with features like comfortable seating and room for luggage. While they are technically "dual sport" motorcycles, these bikes are typically referred to as Adventures bikes or ADV bikes.

These categories are general guidelines intended to help riders purchase models that best fit their needs. For the remainder of this article we are going to focus on the more easily attainable/least expensive of three categories; lightweight dual sports.

Three Machines That Make the Grade

One great example is the 2018 Honda CRF250L Rally, a dual-sport motorcycle outfitted with a 250cc dual overhead cam four-stroke engine with a 10.7:1 compression ratio. Classified as a middleweight dual-sport bike, the ABS model has a seat height of 35.2" and sports a curb weight of 346.1 pounds. With its engine power and dimensions, it's got more than enough kick to pick up speed when you need it most but it's just the right size to nimbly navigate intense traffic.

Meanwhile, with 11" or front suspension travel and 10" or rear travel the Rally can easily handle broken pavement and potholes just as well as off-road rocks and bumpy patches. It should be noted, that due to its 2.7 gallon fuel tank, extra body work, mini windscreen, head light setup, and a few other details, the Rally falls a bit on the heavy side for a typical "lightweight dual sport". It's brother on the other hand, the CRF 250L has slightly different dimensions, doesn't have these extra features nor the added weight and comes in at 317 pounds. The CRF250L Rally with ABS has a starting price $6,199 while the stripped down non-ABS CRF250L comes in at $5,149.

For riders who want a slightly smaller machine for both commuting and off-road adventures, the Yamaha XT250 may be an ideal small dual-sport bike. The 2019 model is equipped with a 249cc air-cooled single overhead cam four-stroke engine, weighs in at 291 pounds with a seat height of 31.7".

The engine's 9.5:1 compression ratio combined with other key features such as its modern fuel injection, electric starter and dual disc brakes make this slender and lightweight bike an ideal choice for both urban environments and country trails. A starting price of $5,199 places the XT250 within easy reach of most commuters.

Another favorite commuter dual sport comes from one of the early innovators of the dual-sport category: the Suzuki DR200S. This agile bike comes with a 199cc sing overhead cam four-stroke engine with an 9.4:1 compression ratio. It's mild on torque and power output which can come as a benefit for new riders or those who aren't concerned with high performance.

Other bonuses such as its electric start, large fuel capacity of 3.4 gallons, and 278-pound curb weight, make this a very versatile motorcycle for city riders who want a street-legal bike that also effortlessly handles their off-road desires. Probably the most attractive perk however, is the budget-friendly price of $4,649.

Getting the Most Bike for Your Buck

The Honda CRF250L Rally, Yamaha XT250 and Suzuki DR200S are just three examples of lightweight dual-sport motorcycles that solidly pull double duty as trusty commuters and nimble offroaders. At the same time, they also prove that the right small dual-sport bike may be a better fit for your urban riding than a scooter, standard commuter, or muscle bike. The key is finding one equipped with the right balance of size and performance to handle your needs.

Once you've chosen your ideal motorcycle, it's up to you to keep it ready for your daily commute and weekend excursions. Chaparral Motorsports has all the OEM and aftermarket gear you need for your standard maintenance, repairs, upgrades and more, offering an expansive inventory plus top-notch customer service and free shipping options. Need help finding the right gear? Contact Chaparral at (800) 841-2960.

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