What Replaces the Legacy Thumpers?

I’ve waxed poetic about the dual-sport segment in the past, perhaps ad nauseam. when I look at the landscape of travel-friendly dual-purpose and adventure machines, the glaring age of the big 650 thumpers is particularly obvious. While the architecture originates from 1987, Kawasaki has invested a little bit of effort in recent years to keep the KLR alive against the wave of middleweight adventure machines cropping up all over the market. In contrast, Suzuki’s DR650 dates back to 1990 with Honda’s Big Red Pig, the XR650L following shortly after in ‘92. While I wouldn’t be surprised to see Kawasaki carry the new KLR model into 2026 maybe ’30, I’d say we’re on the eve of seeing the DR and XR 650 thumpers get a facelift, if not outright retired. Thanks to increasing noise and emissions standards, along with American lust for techy wiz-bang-ery, I have a hard time seeing any of these dual-sport dinosaurs holding out much longer. Certainly, I could be wrong, in an era of endless sequels, why risk new when you can rebrand old? But if I’m right, what will fill the void between the DR-Z400 and the Ténéré 700?

Sequels are the in thing now right?

The glaring exception to this discussion is the KTM 690 Enduro and its Husqvarna and GasGas sister bikes. Long travel suspension, modern, counterbalanced, liquid-cooled, low maintenance mills mean these Austrian offerings are likely to live on, well into the future, assuming the demand remains high enough. Considering the XR’s age, and the effort Honda spent on developing the CRF450L, it’s at least plausible that Big Red might spend some research and development cash on designing a modern big-bore dual-sport remotely on par with the KTM. This thought seems more feasible if you consider the exceptionally high resale value of 690 Enduros. I’ve bookmarked several on Marketplace over the years and while cheaper than the $13k new, it’s still a pretty penny to take one home. Considering the 690 evolved from the Dakar racing 640 power plant, it seems reasonable that a CRF650L could be born out of the liquid-cooled XR650R of Baja legend, de-tuned for a slightly more relaxed riding experience while maintaining a flavor of a racing pedigree.

Unfortunately, I fear Suzuki is a lost cause at this point. Many have asserted that the DR650 is one of the best budget buys for long-distance mixed-terrain riding; capable like the XR but without the heft of the KLR. With the advent of the all-new V-Strom 800DE, there is a glimmer of hope that the Suzuki R&D department hasn’t been shuttered. Inversely, I’d still be remiss to not mention the fact that Suzuki’s motocross bikes are still missing that magic e-start button. If the folks on the yellow team won’t install a starter motor in their premier off-road race bikes, I’m not sure we should hold our breath for a new dual-sport. I would however take a fuel-injected, slimmed, and cosmetically updated DRZ as a consolation prize.

Two for the price of one?

In recent years it seems to me that performance gains from 450 singles have overshadowed the mantra of “no replacement for displacement.” In Dakar, 950 twins begot 640 singles which begot 450 rally bikes of today. Safety arguably drove much of that regression but considering these 450 machines are in a race development loop, I wonder if the days of paint-shaker big-bore singles are ending.

On the other end of this segment, the most daring adventure riders are clamoring for lighter, more affordable, and lower displacement twins. The clearest evidence of this trend arrives with the new Aprilia Tuareg, flexing just 15 cubic centimeters over the XR650L. To this point, the Ténéré 700 makes equal horsepower to the 690 Enduro, despite the T7’s (marginally) lower displacement and cheaper price tag. In the weight department, there’s obviously a large disparity between the 650 singles and the youngest generation of ADV offerings, but I actually think this is a part of the overall trend. Modern dual-sports and even dirt bikes are becoming more high-performance oriented, adventure bikes the same. As 450s have replaced the 650s, the 700s are displacing heavier, big twin adventure motorcycles more suited for touring. If this trend holds true, I suspect we may see new, cross-platform, 500 and 600-cc twins emerge in this space.

There’s no question, poly-cylinder motorcycles are more complex and therefore more expensive to produce versus singles, but when engines can be shared across multiple chassis, like the new Hornet and TransAlp 750, the economics start to make more sense. Also, despite my preference for off-road rowdiness, I have an inkling that most dual sport riders prefer the smoother delivery of the twin when the pavement arrives, versus the vibey nature of the big thumpers. Ultimately, If I get what I want, that means bikes like the CB500X will find a knobby-shod, CRF500L with an 18/21-inch wheel combo sharing floor space in the dealer showroom.

Is this a witch hunt for a product no one wants?

Honda’s Big Red Pig is now over 3 decades old and is arguably completely unchanged. The jigs and dies that make those bikes were paid for long ago, and yet there seems to be no indication of refresh or retirement. Do consumers even want an updated 650 single or even a replacement for that matter? With the versatility of today’s 250s and 450s, are the largest of the thumpers headed for extinction?

This segment has become even murkier with additions like the 410 cc Royal Enfield Himalayan, the twin-cylinder Kawasaki Versys-X 300, and the KTM 390 Adventure. Rumor has it that the 390 is expected to get a spoked wheel option very soon. That said, I was anxious to see a marginal bump in displacement and capability but I just read the news that KTM has decided to jettison its 490 adventure development. Many brands offer strict pavement models ranging in displacements from 250 to at least 1300. In the absence of the antiquated air-cooled 650s, is it still prudent to have 500 and 600cc offerings or has the Tuareg 660 and the T7 occupied that space?

What do you think will fill the void when these bikes are gone?

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8 Responses to What Replaces the Legacy Thumpers?

  1. rider marc says:

    Nice posting! Definitely lots to consider for this topic.

    Having bought a new ’94 KLX-650C over the KLR-650, I’m still not sure why Kawasaki discontinued the KLX650 and stayed with the KLR650. Anyway, years later I bought a new ’17 690ER with specific riding plans for that summer and no plan to keep outside of warranty. Afterwards it would be sold or traded. I ended up tossing in the C14 of 5.5 years and 53k miles and the 690ER for my current ’17 Africa Twin (AT). My AT has been many of the same places the 690ER was ridden and picks up where the C14 couldn’t be ridden. My C14 has been up the Moki Dugway and down the Burr Trail in Utah too! I was pushing that bike. Even in Tennesse, I’d end up on paved goat trails and knew there was a more suited bike for my local rides. The AT has been that bike for nearly six years now. I can take it off pavement and comfortably ride to and from those areas. It’s not too tall; but, it’s heavier than it needs to be.

    There are two sets of saddlebags for my AT–OEM Honda plastic and Wolfman Expedition. Different rides, different bags. The hard plastic OEM Honda bags are fine for home-based adventures that are mostly paved roads. Out west in the Rockies, the Wolfman bags are best.

    The thing is, when I want to ride forest service roads with the AT, I’d prefer to use my Wolfman E12’s and carry only tools and spares in an attempt to keep the weight down. Those are day rides from a basecamp where I’ve trailered the AT with the F150.

    So bikes like the T7 and Taureg will still be heavy off pavement for most of us. Then, I wonder if the rear sub-frame is stout enough for racks and saddlebags. I know the AT’s frame is suited for that kind of load and it’s a heavy(ish) bike.

    Last summer, while in Colorado with the AT, I added a KLX300SM for some different riding yet. Since then, I’ve built-up a second set of wheels sporting a 19 inch front and the same 17 rear and fit some TKC80’s. SM wheels for my KY/TN/NC riding and the “dirt” wheels for Colorado this summer.

    With the KLX300 in the garage, my AT is most likely going to ridden in the street. No aspirations for single track since my WR400F days.

    Back in the early 2000’s Kawasaki sold a green version of the DRZ400S. So, they have some experience with that mid-size thumper engine and dual sport bikes; but, for some reason Kawasaki hasn’t provided a KLX450 dual sport.

    Universal engines? Yes, that is a the trend now. It makes sense to do that. Manufacturers most likely need a few engines than can be shared. The “right” engine matters. For now it doesn’t seem like we’ll be seeing new big-bore thumpers top four manufacturers due to developement and manufacturing tooling for small annual sales.

    Having had a new MT125 Elsinore dual sport as a kid, I never thought twice about six inches of suspension travel. It’s fine for most dual sport riding, and a quality 6-8 would be ideal–especially for bikes with a universal twin engine.

    KTM will continue to apply their twins to those brands you mention. Honda apparently will be bringing more dual sport twins; but, will Kawasaki offer a more off pavement/dirt version of the Versys line-up?

    Manufacturers should stayed tuned-in with their users intentions before creating dual sport and adventure bikes. Also, why not offer a build your own program like Beta? Let riders have Ohlins suspension if desired and street riders have a robust rear sub-frame for example. Wheel size and spoke/cast choices too.

    For me, there is a clear separation between light, nimble dual sports and capable adventure bikes.

    Liked by 1 person

    • MotoADVR says:

      Thanks for so much feedback Marc! I especially appreciate your knowledge of the older models.

      The Dual-Sport segment seems to be my happy place as far as motorcycles are concerned, and despite my passion for ADV, I feel like the segment I love the most is the most overlooked by the manufacturers. I’m assuming it’s because most riders learn harder into pavement OR dirt, and don’t ride the line as strictly as I do.

      Per your comments I’m hopeful we’ll see more development in the versysX, perhaps a 400 twin with 21/18” wheels. Kawasaki has the financial backing to take more risks considering the diversification of their parent company. Assuming they see any return on it.

      Liked by 1 person

      • rider marc says:

        You bet. I hear ya about the dual sport bikes. For me adventure bikes are a rugged touring bikes.

        That would be nice if Kawasaki could increase the 300 twin to at least 400cc without enlarging the cases, cylinder, and head thereby no real weight change. Right now the -X has 19/17 inch wheels which has some good tire options. Just not sure about actual fit under fenders and in the swingarm. Still, there might not be a need for increasing the engine size.

        Check out the 19/17 inch “dirt” wheels on the 300SM here: https://ridermarctoolingaround.wordpress.com/2023/02/07/its-been-a-while/

        The 110/80-19 and 130/80-17 are nearly the height of the typical 21/18 wheels. I like the additional width for the front.

        Having two sets of wheels with specific-use tires is like having two bikes.

        Even my AT has a second set of wheels fit with 90% off pavement tires for out west.

        Liked by 1 person

      • MotoADVR says:

        Funny you say that. My scrambler is 19/17 and I’m about to re-lace to 21/18 and only lose 15mm of fender clearance (theoretically). I will likey buy a second set of wheels

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Simon says:

    Wise words all round and allow me to give you a European input. The various (stupid) EU regulations are basically killing off any older engines plus any singles cos they cannot get thro the noise and emissions stuff. Hence air cooling switched to water cooling, hence two strokes are almost dead in the water and hence Yamaha (for instance) has finished with the FJR bikes as well as the old 660 singles (Tenere and Supermoto versions). I LOVED my FJR1300 which takes some beating for long trips and I also loved my XT660X but these are now distant memories sob.
    I just purchased a Honda CRF250L for some no/off road gentle fun and this bike is GREAT but again almost strangled to death both on the intake and the exhaust side so needs some love and attention to make her ride as she should. All the best guys, Simon

    Liked by 1 person

    • MotoADVR says:

      I’m a big fan of the 250L. Had one for 10k miles. Easiest bike to own I’ve ever had. And agreed, I think overtly it’s about emissions, but covertly it’s about driving progression and consumerism… which won’t last forever. Either way, I’m not so quietly waiting for a 400 twin.


  3. Simon says:

    Hey I am also considering a T700 Yamaha, I test rode one and really liked it. Seems a great compromise between the HUGE 1200 Super Tenere (I had one but FAR too big and heavy so sold it on fairly quickly) and the smaller singles like the CRF250. For me touring was the FJR1300 which took me all over Europe, amazing engine shaft drive plus 150 horses and a low seating position made her THE BEST.

    Liked by 1 person

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