For 20 years the mainstream dual sport motorcycle class in the United States has been stuck in a backwater swamp with few signs of life. The last time Honda updated the XR650L was never – it’s been the same bike since Honda introduced it to the world in 1992, a whopping 26 years ago. There have been no performance improvements to the Suzuki DRZ400 since its release in 2000 while the DR650 has remained unchanged for 28 years. Kawasaki’s last major update of the KLR650 was in 2008 and, as of model year 2019, has discontinued the KLR rather than spend the money to modernize it. Even the “new” Yamaha WR250R is 10 years old and has never been upgraded. Some of the smaller European manufacturers have built modern dual sport bikes that were excellent but with relatively few dealers in the USA riders tended to shy away, worried about parts availability, service, and aftermarket support.
Of the major manufacturers, KTM is solely responsible for keeping the dual sport class on life support by constantly upgrading the various dual sport bikes it sells. The fact is if you wanted a modern dual sport bike you bought KTM, which is why most dual sport rallies and events in recent years have consisted of a sea of orange bikes.
I’m happy to report that today we have something to celebrate. In the past 5 years the dual sport market has progressed from being a one trick pony to the point that there are now enough choices to have an actual motorcycle comparison. Cycle News just published a dual sport shootout of the 2019 class, consisting of the new Honda CRF450L, Beta 430 RR-S, Husqvarna FE450, and the KTM 500 EXC-F. It doesn’t really matter who won the shootout – they are all excellent bikes in their own way – I’m just excited that there are actually enough modern bikes for a shootout to take place.
So, if it has been a while since you took a good look at the dual sport market, it’s time for a revisit. I think you will be pleased with what you find.