Preparing for a Dual-Sport Adventure: Getting Started

Dual Sport 101

Dual-sport motorcycles perfectly match my need to explore. I have owned several cruiser road touring motorcycles. I have also owned dirt bikes, ATV’s, snowmobiles, plus mountain bikes and road bicycles. But only dual-sport motorcycles allow you to go ANYWHERE! Since I love to travel, dual-sport motorcycles have allowed me to cross the country from Key West, FL to Alaska, and on thousands of miles of back roads in between. I have now owned and outfitted several brands of dual-sport motorcycles. My experience includes the Trans-America Trail (TAT) as well as the Arizona, Utah, and Colorado Backcountry Discovery Routes (BDR’s) plus many overnighters and day trips.

At Cinnamon Pass on the Trans-America Trail and COBDR, Yamaha WR250R

Dual-sport motorcycles continue to be best-sellers. Even street bike manufacturers have tried to crowd into the market with “scrambler” versions of their sport motorcycles.

But why do most dual-sport motorcycles see very little adventure, apart from short stretches of gravel roads close to home? Dual-sport motorcycles are very accessible and affordable. Yet a large percentage of owners are intimidated by the idea of venturing off on an extended ride. Many suffer from paralysis by analysis!

So, I am going to break dual-sport riding into smaller chunks. By reducing the process of preparing for a multi-day ride into a series of smaller steps, I hope you will feel confident and prepared to join me on the roads and trails! Let’s call this “Dual Sport 101”.

Get Educated

You are reading this article because you want to learn – or learn more – about riding motorcycles on multi-day adventures. You want to be an “ADV rider”! Welcome, there is plenty of room for everyone and every style of riding. Because there are many styles, note that everything I am about to say is my opinion. My opinions are based on tens of thousands of miles, but you still may find that some things that don’t match your style.

My first recommendation is to surf the Internet and sample the blogs, articles, forum posts, and videos of other ADV riders. Pay closest attention to “ride reports” from people who have gone specifically where you would like to go. Look for tips and comments about what they would do different if they rode the same route again.

Mile Zero of the Alaska Highway, Honda NC700X

If you haven’t already bought a dual sport motorcycle and are trying to decide on the perfect bike for you there are several other things to watch for. What problems did these riders experience with the bike? Are there specific mechanical issues that can be avoided by preparation in advance or maintenance? Were the problems a result of the wrong bike for the ride (too big or small?) Were the problems self-inflicted (too much weight or attempting a route beyond their skill level?) Did the rider have experience with this motorcycle model on previous trips, or was it set-up specifically just for this ride? (In other words, was this a one-shot deal or is this a dual sport you will be happy with for several years and for a variety of riding, on and off paved roads.)

Whether or not you already own a dual sport motorcycle, you need to be clear on this fact: the perfect, ready-to-ride, adventure motorcycle does not exist and never will. EVERY motorcycle is a compromise of features, some of which will be pluses one day and negatives the next day in different conditions. Besides, your riding requirements and your skill level are also going to change.

Thankfully, the popularity of the dual-sport class has spurred both motorcycle manufacturers and aftermarket suppliers to design a wealth of accessories. This means if your new bike is completely bare, or the included parts don’t match your needs, you can add accessories or replace just about anything on the bike!

The reality is that NO motorcycle is ideally equipped for ADV riding right off the showroom floor. Sure, some rides have literally started from the dealer, but to have the most capable and comfortable ADV bike you will need to add, subtract, and replace parts to arrive at YOUR perfect cycle. And then you may need to adjust the parts and pieces from one ride to another.

CSC RX3 Adventure with hard and soft luggage outside of Sedona, AZ

For example, I have toured with both soft bags and hard luggage. My current preference for ADV rides (with a mix of off-road riding) is a combination of hard rear top box (tools) and soft panniers (clothes and food.) If camping, I add a soft duffel across the passenger seat for tent, mattress, and sleeping bag. You won’t find this combination on any stock motorcycle – you must build it yourself. I also use a tank bag that serves as my “glove compartment” for the many, small miscellaneous items I need throughout the day.

Which ADV Motorcycle?

For every brand and motorcycle model you will find raving fans and mortal enemies. Be prepared to face critics no matter what you choose. But disregard the critics when you find the dual-sport that suits YOU since your opinion is the only one that matters.

Your choice of ADV bike should depend on all these factors: • Percentage of road versus off-road miles you have planned • Technical difficulty of the off-road miles • Length of the trip - although we will talk about limiting your baggage size and weight later • Your skill level combined with your age, strength and endurance levels

After many years and many miles, I strongly recommend ALWAYS erring on the side of lightness and simplicity.

When the going gets tough, NO ONE ever wished for a heavier motorcycle! It doesn’t matter if you are riding in rocks, sand, mud, snow, loose gravel or rough pavement – heavy bikes will wear you out faster and punish you harder if you make a mistake. At the same time, the most deluxe and expensive luxury adventure bikes are as complex as the modern automobile. You are far more likely to have a problem with an electronic module than get a flat tire! And I guarantee that when the problem occurs you will be “in the soup” far from any dealer or even the reach of a tow truck.

Stuck in one inch of mud on the UTBDR, Triumph Tiger 800XC

So, do your research and then make an informed decision. But don’t sweat it too much. Find a dual-sport bike that fits you, first, and with the motor and basic features you like. Remember, riders have completed adventures on everything from a 50cc Honda Ruckus to modified Harleys. (Plus, like me, you will probably buy and sell several ADV bikes as your tastes and riding goals change.)

One other note of caution when shopping for your dual-sport adventure motorcycle: Beware of being wrongly influenced by “round-the-world” travelogues and movies. My advice is based on ADV riding in the U.S. and Canada. I don’t care about parts and repair prospects in Thailand. I don’t care about fuel capacity to cross the Sahara. When riding anywhere in the U.S. or Canada it will be unnecessary to carry fuel for more than a 250-mile range or food for more than two days – and this includes the TAT and BDR routes.

My first "adventure bike" the DL650 "Wee-Strom"

My first “ADV” bike purchase was a “highly-recommended” Suzuki DL650 V-Strom “Adventure”. Then, I spent weeks and hundreds of dollars adding farkles to this “adventure” model to prepare for my first (solo) ride on the eastern sections of the Trans-America Trail. The V-Strom was a dependable and smooth-running bike that was great on the road portions of the route. But when I got stuck on a rocky water crossing the FIRST day of the off-road riding, I knew immediately that I was overloaded with an unnecessarily heavy bike. Before the western, mountain sections of the TAT, I sold the V-Strom and bought a much lighter Yamaha WR250R – which meant that I spent another $2,000 outfitting this street-legal motocross bike for long-distance ADV riding. After 2,000 miles of torturous riding on the WR250R “ball buster” I got rid of it, too!

Make a List

Before you buy or replace luggage on your dual-sport adventure bike, make a list of everything you plan to carry. Divide the list into categories and think about how you can isolate categories into different bags, boxes, or compartments. You don’t want to have to open every bag or compartment when you stop for a lunch break. You don’t want to unpack all your camping gear and clothes if you need to tighten a bolt or fix a flat tire. You need to be able to add or remove layers of clothes – including rain gear – without dismantling your entire kit.

If you are organized when you pack, you will be efficient when you unpack daily at the motel or campsite. Then you will be equally efficient when you repack the next morning. If you are unorganized, you won’t be able to repack the same gear in the same space. You will be left scratching your head, wondering and cursing how it all fit before? You are going to irritate your fellow riders who have been ready to hit the trail for an hour. By the third day you risk getting dropped or mugged! You will end up tying clothes and shoes and other junk on the outside of your luggage – which will either get lost or ruined or could even cause an accident when it tangles in the chain or wheels.

Muley Point campsite above Valley of the Gods, UTBDR

A few of the ADV luggage companies and resellers actually ride motorcycles! Watch their packing videos and adapt any ideas that suit you. Check out the videos of ADV riders who have lived on their bikes for weeks at a time. Ignore all the videos by posers that begin with, “I haven’t used this yet, but here is my initial review.”

In the next part of this series, I will list the gear that I carry on multi-day adventures. I warn you upfront, this list will seem inadequate. Your FIRST list is going to have too much gear, clothes, tools, food, whatever. After all, you spent good money on deluxe ADV luggage that looks like it could go around the world. But I want you to start to develop the discipline to carry LESS than the capacity of your luggage. Your goal is to have room left over after you close the lids or zippers. And your bike will handle MUCH better with less weight.

Less is MORE! Eventually, you are going to tip over in the rocks, get stuck in a creek, or be fighting a head wind in a thunder storm. I have BEEN THERE. When – not IF – this occurs, you will thank me for carrying less weight and bulk on your dual-sport bike. Here is an example of packing light by the Big Dog himself:

Check out Mark's YouTube channel at BigDogAdventures

Your Assignment: start making your list including clothes to wear and pack (appropriate for the location and timing of your planned ride), camping gear, cooking gear and food, plus tools that you will carry. List EVERYTHING right down to your underwear, matches, and maps.

Next: Dual Sport 101 Packing

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