Two Strokes Versus Four: Confessions of a Woods Racer

I got a text from a buddy a few weeks ago: “so… 2-stroke or 4-stroke?”

My short reply: “two-stroke for off-road-only riding; four-stroke if there’s pavement involved.”

Afterward, the conversation evolved into a much deeper philosophical discussion about the right bike for the right job for the right person.

The genesis behind my buddy’s question was suspicion that I prefer two-strokes for dirt riding, coupled with the knowledge that I recently sold my Husky two-stroke and kept my 350 four-stroke. His confusion was well-founded, considering my recent commentary about the KTM 350, along with my public praise of modern enduro two-strokes.

I want to talk about why I sold my Husky, but first I want to offer a few words about two-strokes versus four. I recognize this topic has been covered ad nauseam. Yet, the question lingers. With few exceptions, I find most content on this topic compares smokers against strokers in motocross. While that’s relevant, it plays to the strengths of modern four-strokes. Inversely, if we’re talking about hard enduro, 4-bangers are the minority of the population. If you’re new to dirt bikes, or just debating your next off-road motorcycle, I’ll try to offer a differing perspective, especially regarding recreational riding or cross-country racing here on the east coast.

Two Stroke


  • Stall resistance
  • Explosive power
  • Runs cooler
  • More agile (less reciprocating mass)


  • Vibration
  • More wheelspin
  • Less stable at high speed
  • Narrower power band

Subjective Traits

  • Simplified maintenance
  • Little to no engine braking
  • Limited range (premix)
  • Typically carbureted

Four Stroke


  • Wide tractable power band
  • Highspeed stability
  • Less vibration
  • Longer range (fuel efficiency, no pre-mixing)


  • Stalling/flameouts (high compression)
  • More involved maintenance
  • More overheating risk
  • “Feels” heavier at low speeds

Subjective Traits

  • Fuel-injection
  • Engine braking
  • Emissions

Before delving into the details, I need to offer context to the discussion. In this case, I’m debating modern, high-performance off-road machines. There are docile four-stroke off-road motorcycles on the market like the KLX230R and the CRF250f. Those bikes are trail bikes with “de-tuned” engines, supple, limited, suspension, extra heft, and very affordable price tags. At this stage, there are very few two-stroke “trail bikes” on the market; motorcycles like the KDX200 really don’t exist anymore (on dealer floors). By and large, most off-road motorcycles are developed for racing applications but have been purchased by leisure riders, but that’s a story for a different day.

In 2021 I raced my Husqvarna TE250 two-stroke and my KTM 350 XCf-w four-stroke bikes in Ohio, Indiana, and Kentucky. My takeaway from these experiences has been that two strokes excel in tight singletrack, large obstacles when the pace is slower, and resist overheating in severe conditions. Inversely, the four-stroke shines in the mud, on hill climbs, and prolonged periods at constant RPMs, like connecting trails with paved roads.

Per the bulleted list above, with fewer reciprocating parts, the two-stroke “dips” between the trees with less effort. That makes “steering with your feet” easier and coupled with low compression “stall resistance”, tight single-track trails and low-speed obstacles are nowhere nearly as taxing. KTM’s 350 four-banger balances big bore toque with quarter-liter liveliness; which makes it a formidable weapon in the woods. At the same time, there’s nothing worse than flubbing a clutch pull, and having an engine flame-out (stall) just as you’re cresting a big log.

For folks that don’t already know, the two-stroke has a “power stroke” every time the piston gets back to the top of the stroke, which means a two-stroke (as the name would suggest) puts power to the ground “twice as often” as a four-stroke. This characteristic is what makes the two-stroke power band so narrow, feel “peaky”, and tends to invite excessive wheelspin in novice hands. The four-stroke powerband is wider, making it more predictable, but requires more displacement to make equal horsepower to a two-stroke.

When the Kentucky clay is getting showered by spring storms, poor form on a two-stroke feels like wrestling a greased pig up the bluegrass foothills. The two-stroke is much happier to “tip” left and right as you desperately clutch your way up the sloppy hillside as the rear wheel spins up. All those rotating parts in the modern 4-stroke create more centrifugal force that makes the bike stand up proud as it accelerates. “Tipping resistance” combined with that wider powerband can make those sloppy hill climbs a less eventful experience.

Countless articles dedicated to dirtbike maintenance are readily available on the interwebs. Despite this, I feel like many still believe that two-strokes require more maintenance than a four-stroke engine. I retort, “by what metric?” Checks per hour, dollars per service, or number of consumable parts? Two-strokes have fewer moving parts and fewer consumables (shims, oil filters, cam cover gaskets). Both two-strokes and four strokes need pistons replaced, albeit, by the pre-scribed frequency, the two-stroke more often. However, without valves, the two-stroke piston swap is easier. Four-stroke engines have valve trains and engine “timing” one must be cognizant about when removing engine innards. Two-strokes do consume oil with each tank of gas but need transmission oil changed less frequently as a result. Most modern 4-stroke owner manuals prescribe oil changes every 15 engine hours and valve checks or adjustments every 30. The smoker manual says to change the transmission oil every 30 hours and ride. Two-stroke expansion pipes (headers) take a lot of abuse, but a two-stroke full exhaust system is almost half of a comparable four-stroke system. Needless to say, if either bike is well maintained and ridden for leisure, the cost of ownership is likely equal. That said, in the event of a major engine overhaul by a professional mechanic, the two-stroke will save you a few bills.

After having to bypass the thermostat on my 350 to get the fan running again during the 24-hour race this year, I want to point out the difference in heat management between the two engines. Both of my bikes are fitted with dual-radiators, but only the four-stroke has a stock fan. Despite the same intended use, the two-stroke didn’t come with a fan because they tend to run cooler. They will overheat, but it doesn’t take much movement to get them cooled off. The two-stroke is so much cooler that you can nearly touch the expansion pipe just after shutting the engine off. Inversely, the header pipe on my high-compression 350 is scalding within seconds of firing it up. This in itself isn’t a problem or necessarily an advantage to either machine, but it does make the 4-stroke more complicated and can be a liability if you’re riding a 4-stroke slow in harsh conditions or find yourself a long way from tools or spare parts.

Where and how you like to ride has a massive impact on “the best” bike for you. Do you like riding tracks and jumps? Do you ride “flowing” single track? Do you go to OHV parts and designated trails? Do you ride dry or muddy trails? Do you like riding through rock fields and crossing endless logs and ledges?

For me, I like slow difficult terrain and my local riding options are limited. The Dayton off-road terrain predominantly means riding wet clay, rocky creek beds, and over endless ash trees that have fallen over the years. I like soft suspension, explosive power for log jumping, and an engine that resists stalling and overheating. I don’t have kids, so I tend to ride more than the average motorcyclist in my demographic. I’m a cheapskate so I don’t like paying people to work on my bikes, meanwhile, I would rather ride than wrench, so less frequent “in-depth” maintenance is “better” from my perspective. I’m much more willing to sacrifice performance for maintenance simplicity than more casual riders.

Inversely, folks that spend time on more open trails, and prefer riding fast, maintained tracks with fewer obstacles may lean toward the four-stroke. Newer off-road riders would likely benefit from the more even, tractable power delivery of the four-stroke, which makes the bike feel more “planted” in slick conditions. It’s also important to note that most modern dirt bike manuals are written for race applications. Folks that casually trail ride their modern four-stroke bikes will find they don’t need to replace engine wear parts as frequently. If they keep air filters clean and avoid dusty conditions they’ll likely find their valves need less attention. A Four-stroke also has the benefit of being able to fill up at a local gas station (though it likely requires premium). Many modern two-strokes do have “oil injection”, but carburetors and “pre-mix” still rule the day with many two-stroke bikes. Having to carry pre-mix oil can be a pain, and many two-strokes don’t have the range of modern 4-stroke enduro bikes (my 350 can go 90 miles on the stock tank). Many 4-stroke dirt bikes are sold in street legal trims today. Plating a two-stroke is possible, but engine vibrations, logistics, and fussing with government agencies can make “dual-sport” riding a two-stroke more taxing.

So why did I sell my two-stroke?

In the summer of 2020 I bought my Husky from a friend. I spent the first winter in my new garage doing a “top-end” rebuild on it; a fresh piston and cleaned up the power valve, etc. Nothing indicated decreased performance, I just knew it had a lot of hours on it, it was cheap, and “something for me to do” during a tumultuous time at home. I bought a different set of front forks, had the shock serviced, replaced the linage “triangle”, and a host of other things in the two years I owned it. I raced the Husky for 2 seasons in Kentucky, and despite all the work I put into it, I continued to be disappointed with the suspension. The bike does not make the rider, however, I know “stiff” suspension when I feel it. Considering the time and cash I’d put into it, I was approaching the point I didn’t want to sink more money into having the suspension re-valved.

“That’s silly, it’s not that much money!” you say? You’re correct, it’s not. However, when you have a KTM 350 XCf-w parked right next to your two-stroke, and absolutely love that suspension, it seems like a silly expense. I had two dirt bikes, and the 350 made (almost) everything effortless, so I put the Husky on marketplace, and it disappeared in days. The 350 engine sounds like a bag of hammers, and despite being “tuned” to resist stalling at low speeds, it does flame out from time to time, which is irritating. However, all said and done, I’m still happy with my choice. Selling the Husky meant bringing home a proper Dual Sport, and long term I’m likely to look at replacing the 350 with something more like a YZ250X or 300 enduro. Per my previous comments, I prefer the way two-strokes make power off-road, effortlessly dart between the trees, and overall simplicity. The 350 is a killer dirt bike; for a four-stroke, it does a tremendous job in the grinding, gnarly slow stuff, so it’s a great bike for almost anyone and will certainly hang around for a while longer. Your Mileage May Vary.

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The Motorcycle Cheapskate: Defining Value

When folks ask me how I got into motorcycles, the answer is some variation of:
“After watching a movie with a sweet motorcycle, I used $4 a gallon gas to justify buying a scooter.”

For whatever it’s worth, the movie was Tron: Legacy, but the scooter was a Tomos Nitro 150 (SYM GY6 clone). I kept $4 in quarters in a Ziploc bag under the seat which was enough to ride about 85 miles on a tank. I rode that scooter to work every day possible as I desperately milked the last bit of life out of my “college car”. Needless to say, I’ve evolved from urban scooter life (for now), but there’s no denying that the money-saving motivation is still alive and well.

The reminiscence of my scooter days was caused by the sudden appearance of the dreaded “R-word” in the latest news headlines. As everyone that’s reading this already knows, the current financial climate is making many of us question our spending decisions. Considering the rumors of imminent economic contraction, I can’t help debating the stereotypical behaviors of the motorcycle community coupled with the business strategies of the larger franchises. Even in good conditions, I can’t help asking myself, “what’s a motorcycle really worth?”

More specifically, I had a recent back in forth with my buddy Ted (Host of the Motorcycle Men Podcast). I took the Pan America for a test ride a few weeks back and I really like it; so much so, I would say it’s in hot competition with the Africa Twin and the V85TT as my number one pick for a (new) sport touring motorcycle. That said, at $17,400 for the base model, there’s some pretty stiff competition in the 1000cc+ adventure touring class. Considering Honda’s base model Africa Twin retails for $14,500, what are you getting from Harley-Davidson for the extra three grand?

This same question can be applied to a number of “premium” motorcycle brands and models. I’d like to extend this idea a little bit further; I can understand someone suggesting that comparing a Harley-Davidson cruiser to a Japanese sport bike is unfair because the buyers likely have two very different metrics that influence choice. So for argument’s sake, let’s take a closer look at the “adventure touring segment”. While there’s no question that American motorcycle buyers simply “like what they like”, so they buy a motorcycle that strikes their fancy. An honest assessment of the stereotypical American motorcyclist will likely reveal they most riders are casual commuters and social creatures. I often call motorcycles “pontoon boats with wheels”, as most owners ride from one place to another for food, drink, and comradery. We can argue until the cows come home about the intended use case for a given “class” of motorcycle and what customer it fits, but the cold hard truth is that virtually any motorcycle for sale today is capable of doing what 90% of American riders choose to do with their bikes.

Under that premise, and even debating motorcycles among the ADV touring category, I can’t help asking, how would one treat a new Kawasaki Versys 650 any differently than the target customer for the Pan America? Considering the price of current heavyweight ADV bikes, you could feasibly purchase two brand new motorcycles for the same price; i.e. a Tenere 700 and a Himalayan, a Versys 650 and a KLR, and the list goes on.

As I’ve said elsewhere, I get it, there’s no metric for taste. We can talk about horsepower differences, comfort on the highway, and all kinds of subjective wants and needs that dictate the rationalized decisions of discretionary spending. We can argue about annual long-distance vacations versus daily commuting and all sorts of nuanced differences that drive the need for more displacement and factory farkles. So beyond horsepower and displacement, I’d be remiss to not point out the price creep and the coincidence of electronic doodads.

In my mind, the Tenere 700 was a cold bucket of water on the ADV marketing folks, considering it arrived as the “no-frills” ADV machine in a world more and more dominated by throttle by wire, rider modes, and a host of other electronic “rider aides”. Old school LCD dash, cable throttle, ABS, but no cruise control or other electronic assistance, all for the low, low price of $10,300. Meanwhile, Triumph offers their off-road-oriented Tiger 900 Rally for $15,400, fitted with TFT display, ABS, traction control, rider modes, and of course, cruise control. For 50 Benjamin’s, the British are offering you an extra 200cc, slipper clutch, 22 horsepower, and an electronics suite. You get more features for more money on the Triumph, hell, you even get an extra cylinder on the Tiger. That said, how much does the riding experience change from the Tenere to the Tiger?

Mark Gardiner likes to use the metric “smiles per mile”. I love that metric, considering how I endlessly debate about motorcycles. Being the budget-conscious rider, “miles per dollar” for tires, and “smiles per dollar” for motorcycles is definitely the metric of choice for the frugal motorcyclist. I admit and acknowledge that a motorcycle purchase is primarily emotionally motivated; people like what they like. If it’s possible to set that aside, if you think about the riding experience from an objective perspective, how much does a TFT display impact the practical use of a motorcycle? How much “better” does the motorcycle “feel” in sport mode versus “normal” mode? Is 1 horsepower worth $100?

There are no wrong answers here. I don’t begrudge anyone for their financial success or purchase of premium goods, more power to you. I don’t judge people for borrowing money to have the motorcycle of their dreams before their health precludes such a life experience. Simultaneously, as the threat of constricting budgets encroaches on the dinner table, I question the direction of the motorcycle market as it relates to cost and technology. More “stuff” is currently associated with more money. For the last decade, money has been “cheap” (i.e. low-interest financing), but there are threats to that business plan on the horizon. Considering the discretionary nature of motorcycle purchases, I expect that more and more buyers will take a closer look at “what am I getting for my money?” If you’re riding your motorcycle exactly how you like to ride it, on your absolutely favorite road or trail, how much time is actually spent looking at that TFT dash?

My history is a little fuzzy, but I believe the café racer craze emerged as a result of “recession budgets” and a surplus of 80’s era motorcycles. As our economic future comes into question, I suggest we as motorcyclists assess the value of our current market offerings, and how they will impact the growth of our sport. When times are tough, is a more affordable machine 90% as fun as a premium alternative? Will the techno-wiz-bangery become difficult to maintain when I don’t have the cash to pay a dealer? How much are rider aides worth, and do they make the riding experience more valuable?

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The 13 Motorcyclists You’ll Meet

Over the years that I’ve been riding motorcycles, the topic of segmentation and polarity comes up frequently in conversation. Cruiser people versus sportbike people versus commuters; greybeards and teenage fools… The longer I ride, despite the discussion about tribalism, I find common personality archetypes in every circle. Folks may not get your flavor of motorcycling, but that’s because you enjoy very different things about the hobby. I did a podcast about “Taste” a while back, and your personality archetype is an extension of your taste. Do you know any of these people? Which one of these is you?

Warning: Satire, exaggeration, and a dose of painful truth lie beyond this point.

The Adrenaline Junky

Some people call this person reckless, inconsiderate, or squirrelly kid (SQUID), but even if you haven’t met this person, you’ve seen them around. Pro stunt riders on manufacturer Instagram videos, a bike splitting lanes at eighty miles an hour, or that friend of yours that lives to grind down pegs. These folks are interested in going fast, taking risks, or in other ways using the bike to “feel alive”. Like all of these archetypes, these people come in all shapes, sizes, and levels of intensity; the speed demon in your life may be completely collected in town but a hooligan on the backroads, or hoon around on the sidewalk with their supermoto. Broken bones aren’t a requirement, but battle scars are common sight. Experiences vary…

The Utilitarian

There’s nothing worse than paying for something you don’t need or can make yourself. Watch-words of the utilitarian. Vegans of the motorcycle community, it’s virtually guaranteed this archetype buys strictly used bikes. Motorcycles, which in all likelihood, are wearing as many zip ties as they are factory graphics, badges or logos. The Utilitarian may love motorcycles for the experience, but half the enjoyment is absolutely about living on the cheap. Milkcrate luggage, used snowmobile gear, and a premium member on Alibaba, the utilitarian knows how to rub two pennies together better than an extreme couponer at Aldi. The utilitarian unquestionably knows how to perform all routine maintenance tasks on their bike, including valve adjustments and tire changes, but some of these personalities may struggle to maintain a “reliable” motorcycle for the duration of a group ride. When you’re trying to save a few bucks, the Utilitarian buddy is priceless in a jam. Unfortunately, a Utilitarian without self-awareness may dampen the spirit of “fun” in a group setting with their preoccupation with “budget sense”.

The Commuter

Tall mirrors, drink holder, and likely a continuously variable transmission, the commuter is easily spotted; typically because it’s pissing down rain and they’re wearing that florescent yellow rain suit. Often confused with the Utilitarian, the commuter knows how to sip the gas and avoid the most stoplights to get across the city. Despite the effort required to combat the weather, the commuter is a model of efficiency, every feature of the motorcycle tuned for maximum comfort and ease of use; one-piece riding suit, dual-pane visor, and yet no wrinkles to be found in their work clothes. They seldom speak of long motorcycle trips, typically a rare sight on a long group ride, but their odometer speaks for itself.

The Trophy Collector

Milwaukee orange, Italian red, or perhaps Bavarian white, black and blue, you’ve unquestionably seen the trophy collector parked in front of the coffee shop or curbside at bike night. The guy who just bought the “Panigale, CVO, or “M-series”, no expense has been spared in the pursuit of “the best motorcycle”. It may have been the recent promotion, divorce, or retirement, the Trophy Collector has “spiked the football” with purchase of a top-shelf motorcycle and all too often they’re prepared to tell you all about it. In its extreme form, this person is the most irritating “Harley Bro”, snobbish aristocrat, or self-absorbed d-bag that trying to advertise their superior status to the masses with the shiniest bike at every social occasion. Meanwhile, its most innocent is the retiree that humbly rides their celebratory purchase to cars and coffee, and afterward parks the bike at end of the driveway to sparkle in the afternoon sun, reflecting on life’s accomplishments in solitude. From bougie prick out to convince you they’re above your station, to content introvert, the motorcycle is the greatest status symbol; be it for good or evil.

The Socialite

Helmet off at every stop or a cold beer at every gas station, this person seldom skips a gathering of motorcyclists. For the socialite, riding motorcycles is fun, but it’s really about the people. While very common among the cruiser community, where poker-runs and other “bar to bar” events are more popular, this archetype exists in every circle. Riding beyond a hundred miles may be a challenge, unless there’s a glass of wine or an ice cream sundae at the end of the rainbow; riding is great, but the motorcycle is a vehicle to mix it up with the people, not for transportation or leisure. While several of the other archetypes may overlap to some degree, the socialite is both the most common personality you’ll encounter in most circles, but this archetype is often combined with several of the others on this list. This person may be the proud owner of a lonely motorcycle, or the curator of a garage full of classics, but you won’t have to guess, they rub elbows with enough people you’ll hear their name eventually.

The Rebel

Ear-splitting exhaust, obnoxious stereo and (insert “look at me I’m different” motorcycle trope here). Love it or hate it, motorcycles are associated with counter-culture. There are endless jokes (and articles like this one) about “posers” buying corporate products in the interest of rebelling against the system (like buying the most popular selling motorcycle brand in the country). It’s hilarious to think, entire companies have a business plan centered around making you look like an “individual”. As motorcyclists we laugh and poke at the irony… whilst we make up something around 3% of the population on the roadways. As cliché as it may be, this person exists. You may know this person, or you may have just observed this archetype in traffic. They don’t want to “conform to social norms” and for whatever reason, have chosen the motorcycle as the ideal transportation medium. Some of these folks literally don’t fit into society and don’t want to… others are just adult role-playing as the “bad boy”. Reasons, seriousness, and legitimacy aside, this list wouldn’t be complete without our cultural rebels.

The Museum Curator

At some point, you make an acquaintance that mentioned a different motorcycle in each interaction. At first, you think suspect this is the trophy collector, but you soon realize this person doesn’t see motorcycles as a status symbol, their garage is more like a museum. This person may be the rider that never sells a motorcycle they’ve bought. They might buy “basket case” bikes like puzzles and slowly piece them together over many years. They could be the person that goes from one segment of riding to another but always keeps the last bike. They may also be the vintage motorcycle collector or just a moto-hoarder. While you may question their financial decisions, you’re happy to have them around considering they likely know a few things about a bike you’re looking at buying; if nothing else, they have a rad garage to host a party. The curator recognizes something special in each machine, they may even have names for each of their motorcycles. Each piece of the collection likely has a story, a story they’ll happily tell when the appropriate time arrives. For the curator, experiencing each machine is important, but also “saving” them, “protecting” them, appreciating their uniqueness, and recognizing their emotional value (if not straight anthropomorphism).

The Mechanic

Photo by Bill DeVore

At first glance, this person might easily be confused for the curator or just a hoarder; you’ll soon recognize the mechanic as the tools are scattered about the motorcycle lifts, along with the baskets of parts. The garage may be trashed, but the valves are lapped, and the tires on that forty-year-old classic have fresh “whiskers”. Unlike the socialite, motorcycles aren’t about meeting the people, their favorite pastime is “getting intimate with your motorcycle.” Some mechanics have evolved out of necessity; a consequence of abusing machines or unbridled passion for piling miles on the odometer. In either case, wrenching on machines provides as much joy to the mechanic as using said machines for their intended purpose. As a new motorcyclist, befriending this person is infinitely valuable, as they have knowledge to share and all the correct tools to keep you from learning hard lessons thanks to Harbor Freight. One thing’s for sure though, you better return that expensive tool you borrowed.

The Artist

While beauty may be in the eye of the beholder, the artist is pretty easy to spot; custom paint, vinyl graphics, or handmade details are dead giveaways that you’re in the presence of an artist. The artist starts looking for basketcase bikes on the cheap when the temperatures start to dip in fall. They’ve spent the winter in the garage tinkering, grinding, painting, and polishing, and come spring (or the following springs…) the butterfly emerges from the shed. They show up to a few bike nights, maybe a show, and the next thing you know, you spot the bike on marketplace. For the artist, it’s not about riding or even having the bike, it’s about building it. To the artist, the joy of motorcycles is about taking a blank canvas, if only in their imagination, and converting it into something tangible… and when it’s over, setting it free for someone else to appreciate; all in pursuit of the next project.
Many people know a custom builder in their circle that fits this profile, but there’s also a more benign sub-species. If you maintain any sphere of motorcycle friends, you have a friend that tends to cycle through bikes with regularity. Every couple of years, new bikes are moving in and out of the stable. This person buys a bike, then talks about future plans with their buddies. Shortly after, they throw a pile of parts at the bike to make it “just the way they want it.” Once complete, they ride it for a little while, and within a year or so it’s moved on to another owner and a “fresh” replacement has taken up its stead. While not solely focused on “creativity” and “art” like the conventional bike builder, this breed of artist is interested in fitting a “newer” motorcycle just to one person’s liking and once complete, they can’t seem to avoid their drifting heart as it lusts after another. Of course, not to be confused with another closely related subspecies…


The Fear Of Missing Out Motorcycle Bro seems to have a new bike virtually every time you see them. This archetype often has the “latest and greatest”, not unlike the Trophy collector, but it’s not about having a “better” bike than the rest of the crew, it’s actually about “experiencing” everything the motorcycle market has to offer. Experience isn’t limited to new motorcycles, there’s also a variety of FOMO bro that’s a savage Craigslist shark. “Horse trading” bikes on the regular, this rider knows more about titles, transferring plates, and the inner workings of the local BMV than any dealership, and most BMV employees for that matter. Similar to the mechanic, FOMO bro is actually a very useful acquaintance to make, assuming you’re capable of resisting the urge to “Keep up with the Joneses”. If you’re thinking about the purchase of a new motorcycle, wait around long enough and FOMO bro is likely to bring one home; if you’re close enough, they may even lend you the keys for a test ride. That’ll save you the headache from hassling with a dealer, and maybe even extend the saddle time to help prevent you from making a horrible financial decision… or making one, depending on how the ride goes.

The Racer

“Want to meet up sometime for a few twisty backroads?”
“I don’t ride on the street; I only do track days”
“There’s a dual-sport ride Sunday, you wanna go?”
“Yeah… I don’t do pavement”
Sound familiar? If you’ve been riding long enough, you’ve had one of these exchanges. Often confused with the Adrenaline Junky, the “Racer” is a specific type of motorcyclist. Easier to spot in street bike circles, the racer has a high-performance motorcycle in the garage; likely sans headlight, turn signals, and undoubtedly EPA compliant equipment. The racer feels much safer in full leathers and as far away from licensed automobile drivers as possible. The racer may not actively compete, only attending track days; their focus is (almost) solely on “closed course” motorcycling. The racer can be both, on or off the pavement, while also hyper-competitive, or simply interested in laying down the fastest lap times in the pursuit of besting themselves. The racer is unintimidated by spending big bucks on tires, tearing down an engine, or sliding down the track (or trail). Discussions about the hassle of routine maintenance are petty to the racer, considering each weekend typically ends with some kind of motorcycle assembly overhaul (Race on Sunday, shop on Monday). Assuming there’s no ego to compete with, the racer is an incredible friend to have around, as they’re a wealth of knowledge if you’re interested in learning advanced motorcycle skills.

The Traveler

It’s about the journey, not the destination. The traveler is interested in seeing new places, meeting new people, and gathering experiences. Coincidentally, the traveler chose the motorcycle as the best means to accomplish those goals. The traveler often appreciates a more relaxed pace, both because they want to maximize the advantages of riding a motorcycle (smelling the morning air, being literally in the weather, confronting danger head one), but also because they know they have to ride somewhere else tomorrow. Maintaining the machine out of necessity, planning ahead, or flying by the seat of their pants are all common facets of the traveler. Some of these motorcyclists are highly detailed map and planning experts, while others are frighteningly spontaneous. In either case, these people are a wealth of information for the run-of-the-mill motorcyclists as they have real-world experience when it comes to packing for a weekend camping trip, dealing with border crossings, or roadside calamity.

The Postulant

Often confused with FOMO bro, the postulant is also on a journey of experiencing “all things motorcycle”. The key difference is that for the “student”, the postulant is on a path to learn everything there is to know about each motorcycle discipline. It may appear that this person is buying one bike after another to just “have” a new one, but in reality, as the postulant approaches (perceived) mastery of one segment of motorcycles, they have purchased another motorcycle in attempt to begin a new challenge and learn new skills in a different segment. From the outside, it may appear they’ve gone from street bikes to dirt bikes, from dirt bikes to trials riding with an insatiable appetite. While this may be true to some extent, the obsession is with learning new things and mastering new skills; new motorcycles are simply a vehicle to accomplish this goal. The Postulant may have a favorite motorcycle or a favorite riding segment, but they’ll tell you, they’ve never met a motorcycle they didn’t like, and they’ve never had a bad day on a motorcycle. For the Postulant, motorcycles are a religion.

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Harley Sportster Project: Adventure Tourer Planning

For folks not following on Instagram, I brought home a new (to me) motorcycle a couple of weeks ago. “Charlotte” is a 2006 Harley-Davidson Sportster 883 Custom with about 9,000 miles on the clock. For anyone that followed the Dirtster Project stories, it goes without saying I have a soft spot for Evolution engine Harleys. I wrote a bit about leaving “the cruiser life” when I started lusting after the Triumph Tiger. My perspective on my “preferred” riding experience remains the same, however, I believe I’ve become a bit more “self-aware” over the last 6 odd years.

On any day of the week, if I’m riding the Scrambler to work, commuting across Dayton, through a decade-old construction zone, and playing a little fast and loose with traffic laws. I know better, but I’m apparently too childish to change, or simply fall prey to my frustration and emotions regarding inattentive drivers, and nonsense traffic patterns. With that, several solid seasons of maintaining dirt bikes has worn down my patience. I obviously know my Triumph inside and out, and after replacing clutch packs, sight glasses, wheel bearings, and who knows what else, I’d much rather be riding than wrenching.

What if I could buy a motorcycle that’s about as needy as a car? All I need to do is buy oil, gas, and tires? Hydraulicly adjusted valves, belt drive, and slow-wearing tires? Sure, that sounds good about now. Unlike the sanitized cabin of a car, what if I could feel like I was going fast when I’m actually going slow? Having driven a “Deuce-n-a-half” while working for Uncle Sam, there’s something to be said for being “actively engaged” in the driving process. Here’s the thing, you only have so much attention you can devote to anything. The more raw and “stimulating” the experience, the less attention you can focus on something else. A rubber mount Sportster shakes and vibrates at idle. The carburetor adds a very specific “character” to the riding experience, at least that’s what I like to call it when it’s coughing in protest of the low temperatures. Three paragraphs to say, I want to embrace a more “relaxed” riding experience on the street… at least for a while.

Current State of Affairs

Being a 16-year-old used motorcycle, Charlotte has no shortage of aftermarket parts and previous owner “modifications”. Forward controls were stock on the 883 custom, it also has drag bars, no front turn signals, speedometer hood, fender accents, custom rear brake light, special license plate bracket, a leather tank “accent”, custom grips, and other chrome odds and ends. Horses for courses… I want to return this bike to stock form (less forward controls) as much as financially prudent.


The forward controls with drag bars really irritate my back. That’s one of the reasons I started to outgrow the Speedmaster. Unfortunately, the reach from the Harley seat to the bars is especially long, making it more uncomfortable. I’m hoping a cheap bar swap to something closer to stock fixes this. While shipped from the factory with forward controls, I’ve been looking around at all kinds of online flea markets in search of mid controls for this model. Aside from an ironing board seat, I was really happy with the cockpit ergos on the Dirtster, I could see that being a possible solution long-term, but I’m going to get these bars swapped for cheap asap and see if that makes it more ridable in the meantime. Mid controls, despite being used are gonna set me back almost $200.


This is where my vision for this bike has divergent ends. As one could imagine, one of Harley-Davidson’s current challenges is that they’re known for emphasis on form over function. The “Sport” has been systematically removed from the “Sportster” over the decades as “slammed” suspension and loud pipes seemed to take priority over “rideability”. That said, the “lowered” rear shocks, and I suspect, softer or lower front forks mean I don’t ride this bike nearly as fast as her British stablemate. That does accomplish my intent to “enjoy the experience” a bit more, but functionally I want to get some progressive 13-inch shocks on the back of this bike straight away. As I said, the best I can tell, the front end looks like it’s sitting lower in the 5-inch stroke when I sit on it than I believe it should. I don’t know for sure, but it may have a set of lowering springs in it, it’s likely long overdue for a fork service. Either way, I may spend the Benjamin it will take to drop some fresh progressive springs into the forks along with new fluid.


Top boxes are the ugliest thing you can do to a motorcycle while simultaneously the most functional. I love the function of a tail bag on a cruiser. I have the intention of commuting on this street bike as much as possible, and I hate, excuse me, “loathe” wearing a backpack, so I need a solid place to put my lunch and a change of clothes on this Sporty right now. It currently has one of those leather “tool roll” type bags zip-tied to the bar riser, which works for a garage door opener, but here’s a shocker, it’s ugly as sin to my eyes. I’m on the fence about how long I want to preserve the “form” of this machine. I say that as I keep a tank bag on the Scrambler almost permanently now. The leather fringe “accent” the previous owner put on the tank is fugly, and it’s glued down to the tank. I started to pull it off, but I’m not sure just yet how to remove the soft glue and I have a strong suspicion it’s hiding a scratch in the paint. Ultimately I want it off the tank and I’ll put down a piece of clear vinyl to protect the tank and drop a tank bag on it for long weekends.

Wind Protection

Long-time readers know I’m not a big fan of windshields. With the drag bars, I can ride on the highway without a windshield pretty easily… but there’s no way I’m tolerating this setup for long. Once I have mid-controls installed, I expect I’ll feel a lot more pressure on my arms and chest and I’ll be looking for a solution. Per my go-to, I’m likely to buy or fabricate a flyscreen for the Sporty. Dart makes a great screen, unfortunately, they don’t seem to offer the larger Marlin screen for the Sportster. It’s entirely possible the standard screen will work just fine, it’s obviously been quite functional on the Scrambler for tens of thousands of miles at this point, but we’ll see if the ergos work out on the Sporty.

Long-Term Vision

For right now I want a bare-bones commuter and weekend motorcycle. I want to spend as much time as I can riding with my Dad, go see my Grandma, and generally have a bike that’s in the garage and ready to ride at any moment the mood strikes me. That said, long-term I want to build a utilitarian long-distance touring bike. Are there better solutions? Absolutely there are. Are they as simple as a carbureted Sportster? Perhaps; but few of them have hydraulicly adjusted valves. Oil changes can be done in a parking lot, belts can last up to a hundred thousand miles, and while carbs are finicky, with so few wires and sensors, it’s much easier to work on a carb’d bike when the time comes.

To be more specific, to build a comfortable touring machine, I want to upgrade the suspension, swap wheels out for better tire choices, find suitable luggage that makes living off the bike easier, and fine-tuning the ergonomics to ensure the bike is all-day comfortable for weeks at a time. Helping Jeff build Ripley The Dirtster offered a wealth of knowledge on both building a purpose-built Harley, but also in how to work on a motorcycle. The recent updates to Rosie the Scrambler were heavily influenced by my experience working with Jeff.

There’s no doubt that a “touring” motorcycle in my mind is an “Adventure Touring” motorcycle, but I don’t want to take it to the same level of off-road capability we did with Ripley. Five to six inches of Suspension travel will likely be plenty assuming the springy bits are set up properly for my weight and intended use. There are a myriad of front suspension options for the Sporty, from Ohlins and Andreani fork cartridges, Traxxion Dynamics Damper rods, emulators, and springs, and who knows what else. Progressive makes a (non-adjustable) fork cartridge kit as cheap as $250 for the sporty, while a set of fully adjustable Andreani kit is around $700. Ideally, I’d lean toward an adjustable solution, but Rosie’s spring damper forks have worked well so far. On the back end, the story is the same. 13.5” rear shocks are under $400 if I’m not picky; inversely I can spend a pretty penny on piggyback shocks from multiple brands that are close to two grand. I want to be able to firmly put my feet on the ground, especially if I’m on the road for a week at a time, so ride height is important, but my biggest concerns are comfort and ergonomics, the 2 inches of shock travel I have now is laughably bad.

Speaking of “adventure touring”, I’m on the fence about having the wheels re-laced with dual 17’s for better street rubber, or springing for more ADV-friendly 19”/17” buns. Right now the Sporty is wearing a 21” front wheel and a 16” rear. The 21” front has lots of cruiser and dirt tire options, but that 16” rear is pretty limiting if I want sport-touring rubber. I bring up all of this because for as thrifty as cruiser tires can be long-term (I got like 16,000 miles out of a rear tire on my Speedmaster), they generally suck in the rain and cold. I may try out a set of Pirelli Night Dragons and so on to see how those shake out, but I have a strong suspicion that long-term I’ll be trading the stock rear wheel for a spoked wheel and have them re-laced with more ADV oriented wheel sizes.

Luggage is a whole new conversation; I’m generally a proponent of soft luggage, especially for adventure and off-road riding. That said, I admit I’m interested in having lockable luggage for a bike that I expect to see spend most of its life on pavement. Considering it’s a Harley, the solutions are virtually infinite, from lockable HD replica hard bags to ultra-utilitarian hard panniers from Tusk or Givi. Fiberglass replica Harley “bags” would match the aesthetics better, but might prove a bit delicate if I find myself burning down a dirt road in Utah. I guess we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.

Ultimately I see a blend of the “Burly Scrambler” and my Triumph. Right now I want to keep the belt drive for functionality, but I want the best tire options I can get to burn up the pavement rain or shine. Similar to Rosie, I expect to see Charlotte experience an evolution in form and function over time. I think the ultimate goal will be a V-twin Scrambler with bags, 15″ rear shocks, cartridge forks, heated grips, mid controls, comfort seal, upright ergos, and a dashboard full of navigation tools. I don’t think I’ll be an Iron Butt Rally competitor, but I’d like the machine to be capable of such a feat.

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Triumph Scrambler Project: Stage 4 Upgrades

Somewhere in late 2020, I started writing this update on the status of Rosie the Scrambler and it “got lost in the move”. At any rate, a buddy of mine asked me the other day if I planned on posting something that covered all the stuff I’ve done to the Scrambler since I’ve had it. As I’m publishing a library of “scrammy knowledge” here on the blog, it seemed fitting to post that update here first.

Springy Bits

Somewhere during “3 months to slow the spread” a buddy sent me a screenshot of A&J Cycles selling a suspension kit for the 865 Scrambler. Considering I hadn’t driven my Jeep in months, the wife didn’t seem too upset about me spending saved gas money on a suspension upgrade I’d been putting off for years. I’d put something like 66,000 miles on the Hagon 2810 shocks and they were pretty much tapped at that point. For folks interested, I have advised elsewhere and will continue to say, I wouldn’t buy the 2810s again. They were a good shock for $375, but I would scrape together another $150 and buy a better set for your Triumph twin if given the opportunity.

Anywho, A&J was selling a set of Ohlins S36 TR538 twin shocks, Ohlins fork springs, Free Spirit +30mm travel kit, and Ohlins fork pre-load adjusters for a bundled price. The parts were gently used for like 500 miles or less so I jumped on them. I’d been wanting to add the extra travel to the front forks for a long time, essentially giving the front end of the bike 6″ of overall travel. Equating that at the back of the machine is still a bit elusive, but at the moment, the new Swedish shocks add a little extra over stock, along with increasing the overall length to balance out the gains in the front. The bike handles better on the road and also gains a significant lean angle now that the entire bike is an inch taller.

After the upgrade, the bike leaned over on the kickstand significantly. I drilled a hole in the foot of the stand and bolted a 1″ piece of Delrin rod to the bottom of the foot to get the bike back to a more acceptable lean angle. There are more elegant solutions for this problem, but the “puck” on the bottom of the kickstand also serves as a wider footprint to avoid sinking in the mud.


After the suspension upgrade, I took the Scrammy to Red River Scramble 2020. While blasting around contrary creek below Lago Linda Hideaway, I cut a corner a little too close and my left peg had a run-in with a healthy log. I kept the bike up and enjoyed the rest of the day, but my foot was a bit sore for the next week and I swore the bike felt funny. When I got home I realized I’d bent the aluminum mounting point in the Joker Machine pegs I’d installed back in phase 2.

Up to this point, I was actually sharpening the teeth on the Joker Machine pegs every so often as they were wearing down with use. I was actually thinking about replacing them when the universe intervened. I had my eye on the SW-Motech pegs, however, due to supply chain issues I couldn’t find them anywhere. Fortunately, I stumbled on Pivot-Pegz while googling alternatives. Originally I wasn’t a big fan of Pivot-Pegz; I felt like they would be unnerving as your feet rotate forwards and backward with the bike for like 15 degrees or something. After riding my buddy Krey’s CRF450L with pivot pegz, I was sold. In the end, the Pivot Pegz struck me as higher quality and better looking than what was offered from SW-Motech for Triumph twins, and the price was the same so it turned out to be a win-win. That also combined with the fact the Pivot Pegz are a shade higher than the stock or Joker Machine pegs which adds just a hair more ground clearance.


I’ve hated the chrome bars on the Scrambler since day one. After endless winter riding and living outside the chrome was starting to rust, and there’s no doubt the steel was heavy. I don’t even recall the circumstances, but I had an ADV-rider thread pinned with compatible bars sizes so I was already primed when the time came to pull the trigger. While I hated the chrome, I had always liked the stock bar dimensions, so I wanted to stay as close to that as I could. Ultimately I went with the Pro-Taper ATV high bend. The stock bars were 7/8″ and both sets of risers I have are also 7/8″ so I skipped out on the “far-bar” options, while I do prefer those over the traditional crossbar. The crossbar makes it slightly more difficult to mount your phone on the bars and so on, but it’s a worthy compromise at this stage.

Beefier Handguards

When I mounted the Tiger 800 handguards on the Scrambler, lots of wisdom on the internet said “that cheap plastic won’t protect your bike in a fall!”
While that proved partially correct, I know many tiger owners with significant slides where those handguards protected their bike just fine. Ultimately I wanted harder wrap-around protection that would be more robust against tree limbs and whatnot as my eyes were on taking the Scrambler deeper into the woods. The fact I lost the threaded bar ends of the stock bars also made this decision easy.

I was looking for a good set of Acerbis handguards but wasn’t entirely sure the fitment was going to be right so I decided to be “cheap” and buy a set of generic Tusk handguards. The universal fitment proved to be “one size fits most”, which left a bit to be desired initially. I took the aluminum guards to work, put them in a vice, heated them with a propane torch, and added a 10-degree bend at the end of the forward mounting point and now they fit great. Easy peasy.

Front Sprocket Cover

Way back when, I said I wanted to remove dead weight from the bike. There are no less than 4 retail options for replacement front sprocket covers for air-cooled Triumph twins on the market right now. Several of which leave the front open, which will naturally lead to chain lube and grime baking on the engine case. Rosie’s paint is far from factory finish at this stage, but I still don’t want to bake oil on the case if I can help it.

In the search for a suitable front sprocket cover, I had an inkling to make my own. Low and behold, a used front sprocket cover was available on eBay for $12. That’s over $100 cheaper than anything available from a retail store.

When the cover arrived, I dunked it into the solvent tank at work to get all the road grime and grease out of it. Fortunately, that also helped to remove some of the ungodly silver rattle-can paint adorned to it. Unfortunately, that revealed the ugly red rattle-can treatment it received beforehand. I took some “fine-line” tape and drew a line on the cover for where I wanted to cut loose the excess casting material and headed over to the band saw. With some patience and a lot of cutting and grinding, I got the cover down to an acceptable shape. Because I’m a stickler for originality, I decided to add a few “lightening” holes to the cover before final sand and paint. I put the cover in the blast booth to remove the ridiculous red in preparation for a fresh coat of black paint. To my surprise, some of the original black powder coat was still there. 4 coats of semi-gloss primer and it was ready for installation. I cut the cover in a manner that actually excluded the 5th mounting hole at the bottom. I wasn’t sure if that screw had any bearing on the subsequent cover, so I found a shorter bolt to take up its stead, painted it black, and plugged it in.


Since I was already spending my lunch break in the shop, I decided it was time to remove the rusted chrome from the throttle body covers, along with applying a permanent coat of black paint to the headlight grill. I mentioned from day one I wanted to remove as much chrome as possible from the bike, and after enduring the Ride-365 challenge, the throttle body covers looked awful. Since I was already spraying the new sprocket cover, it was easy to toss these parts in the blast booth and give them a refresh. The anodized coating on the skid plate was also fading after thousands of miles of punishment from road grit and gravel. I decided to blast the skid plate as well, and instead of painting it, I liked the look of naked aluminum so I left it. Hopefully it holds up.

Rox Risers

Back in stage 1, I installed a set of 30mm bar risers from SW-Motech. Those have been good risers and comfortable for many years, but after the sale of the CRF250L, I retained the +50mm Rox Risers for use on the Scrambler. Ultimately, even with risers, my hand position is too close to my feet and I find myself jammed up over the tank when things get aggressive. To open the riding space, I’ve installed the Rox risers so I can rotate the bars forward for ADV riding, but also closer to the rider when I expect to spend days in the saddle. This of course creates another problem…

Brake Lines

While I’ve yet to ascertain the exact cause, I’ve spent a great deal of time fussing with the rear brake caliper on this bike. I don’t know if it’s loaded with dirt too often, neglected, or corroded after 80,000 miles, but the rear caliper sticks from time to time in after a rushed evening of fixing it in the dark, I foolishly forgot to re-apply a critical zip-tie that held the rear brake line down to the swingarm. Said brake line was subsequently smashed in the rear shock in the ride that followed and I’ve unfortunately been riding that way every since.

Per my comments above about rox risers, after adding 30mm of travel to the front forks and another 20mm of bar rise from where it was, the front brake line was totally tapped. Since I was already replacing the back brake line, I sprung for a new set of Spiegler Brake lines with an additional 3″ of length for the front. Installation was pretty straightforward, and tips to Spiegler, the rotation clamp and a pair of channel locks makes it super convenient to remove twist from the brake lines. That was definitely a tricky part of installing the rear brake relocation with the stock line years ago.

Front Fender

After installing the “fenda extenda” years ago, I was pretty happy with the front fender. Despite internet comments about mud being caked and stuck in low fenders on ADV bikes, I’m pretty aware of the fact that if most of these fat bikes are in mud and clay of that caliber… a low fender is losing altitude in the priorities list.

However… subtlety is not exactly my strong suit. When I started entertaining the idea of racing the Scrambler in the KXCR Adventure Class, I wondered if a high fender would be prudent… and if nothing else, look cool. I looked over the front forks for a bit and grabbed one of the three extra dirt bike fenders laying around in the garage and realized bending a bracket to adapt a dirt bike fender that would mount to existing holes for the rectifier would be pretty simple.

A piece of scrap metal and a $22 fender in hand (2015 KTM 350 XCf-w), installation and look turned out almost exactly what I had in mind. Admittedly the modern fender is a bit angular from the side, but weight and function is pretty much a wash. I now need to fashion a good oil cooler guard to prevent tray rocks from being problematic, and a “fender skirt” may be required, but thus far I’m happy with the result.

Rear Fender

I don’t know if I’ve hated the rear fender from go… (I did) but I know I’ve never liked the taillight assembly. This whole modification process was kicked off mid-winter when I pulled a piece of cardboard and laser-cut polycarbonate out of the drawer. With the help of a friend, I fabricated the plastic fender delete plate years ago but never got around to finishing it. A piece of plastic and a tail light bracket would be lighter and easy to install. Unfortunately, per my previous comments, I’ve always been concerned about wearing excess mud from deleting the fender. After the dirtbike front fender idea started taking shape, I debated the purchase of a rear dirt bike fender, considering replacement plastics are nearly all cheaper than plastic replica Triumph fenders or deletion kits.

Surfing the web I liked the look of the 2004 Suzuki RM125 rear fender so I decided to take a $25 gamble and buy one. The evening it showed up I immediately tore it out of the plastic to check the fit. I was shocked to find this plastic fender fit almost identically to the stock fender, but with an outward sweep instead of following the wheel contour. I drilled some holes in the fender to hold it in place with the stock fasteners and started bending a cardboard bracket to hold the taillight and indicators. The dirtbike fender had some excess plastic intended for rigidity and to be hidden behind the rest of the dirtbike plastics and airbox. I took a razor blade and trimmed the excess plastic and sanded the contour ever so slightly to make it smooth. Some metric fasteners and some blue Loctite and it was time to figure out how to make a tail light…

Light Emitting Diodes

Per my comments about the taillights, I’ve never liked any of the lights on this bike. The stock signals are stupid big, the ones the first owner mounted were subtle but riddled with Chinesium and aluminum oxide. The headlight sucks, but more on that later… So it was finally time to spend a few bucks and get this mess under control. Per my comments about the new tail fender, I bought a low-profile brake light and cheap LED indicators to replace the stockers (still Chinese… but plastic). A co-worker hooked me up with a piece of aircraft aluminum and I went to work with the bandsaw, a vice, and a hammer and made a bracket based on my cardboard template. Some black paint and a few more bolts and the lights fit as intended.

Wiring the new lights was naturally the next problem. The stock tail light assembly had specific connectors that didn’t match the equipment I bought. I debated with myself for a while, trying to decide if I wanted to cut the factory loom or not. As “old” as this bike is on the odometer, I took out a pair of dikes and cut the spaceship taillight loose, and got to work with my soldering iron.

The new tail section isn’t show quality by any means, but it’s functional and dramatically “better looking” in my eyes than the factory fender and adornments. With the new high fender, the straight rear “tail” matches the lines nicely and some marginal weight reduction to boot.


This is actually a Tarantino entry, at some point in 2018, I saw a friend install a set of Volkswagen Beetle exhaust tips on his Scrambler. I asked him about the make and model and ordered a set from Amazon myself. It was like a $35 investment but shaves like 14 pounds off the rear end of the bike. The weight loss is obviously a huge perk, especially after I had to have a co-worker tig weld the exhaust hanger a while back. On the flip side, the VW tips make the Scrambler extremely, arguably obnoxiously, loud. If you’re into loud pipes, it’s a solid choice considering the money. That said, I may bomb around town with the lighter exhaust for a while, but I typically go back to the TORs when I know I’m spending long days in the saddle.

What’s Next?

At this stage, I’ve accomplished nearly everything I had in my head about building an ADV bike out of a Scrambler. I admit I’m not 100% satisfied with the exhaust since the stock pipes are still a bit heavy and the VW pipes, while saving 14-pounds, are exceptionally loud. I hate the stock headlight, but I’m still a bit hesitant to shell out $500 for the LED unit I want, compounded by the fact I’m afraid all the wires won’t fit well in the tiny 5-3/4-inch headlight bowl. And lastly, I would really like to ditch the heavy, chrome, dented wheels for some purpose-built aluminum hoops, but that’s an $800 inventment, minimum. With 80,000 miles on the clock, another $2000-3000 in parts seems a little excessive… but can you put a price on your dream bike? Considering everything this bike has done and has still yet to do… it’s a perplexing question indeed.

Putting more Adventure into Moto Adventurer

Triumph Scrambler Project: Planning

Triumph Scrambler Project: Stage 1

Triumph Scrambler Project: Stage 2

Triumph Scrambler Project: Stage 3

Triumph Scrambler Project: Rally Planning

Ride 365 Challenge: Aftermath

Posted in Bikes | Tagged , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Kuhl Silencr Kargo Pants: Post-ride Hiking Attire

I know what you’re thinking, “Drew, isn’t this a motorcycle blog?”
Why yes, yes it is, but hang with me here. While I’ve proven to myself that I’m capable of riding year-round, there’s no doubt I much prefer hiking in the winter months to suffering through boring rides on the freeway in frigid temperatures. Moreover, if you’re the “adventure moto-camping” sort, these hiking pants are right up your alley.

Long-time followers, both here and on Instagram, know that I love exploring the backwoods as much as I enjoy riding (both if I can get it). In other interest of transparency, Kuhl found Moto Adventurer and reached out to me about potentially reviewing a pair of their hiking pants. Per my comments above, assuming everyone was willing to wait for the end of the season, I wasn’t opposed to testing out some hiking gear in the finest Kentucky briar patches. Kuhl sent me this pair of pants and asked me quote, “We’d like you to write a genuine review, with pros and cons, when you field-test the products.”

Prior to this review, my experience with hiking pants has been mostly jeans and a duffel bag full of mil-spec cargo pants. I may not have a lot of experience with modern retail hike-wear, but I can shamelessly say I’ve successfully destroyed tactical clothing all across the globe. Hopefully, that means I know a thing or two about what works and what doesn’t.

The Look

Straight away I noticed the riveted details, subdued embroidery, and stitched logos. For folks unfamiliar, “rip-stop” material has a very distinct look and texture. As a veteran, it’s an unmistakable fabric. The Army issued me “winter” and summer-weight uniforms, and the rip-stop “waffle” pattern made it easy to pull the more comfortable summer-weight uniforms out of my wall locker.

Kuhl offers the Silencr Kargo pant in Kahki, “carbon” grey, and an earthy “Dark Roast”. As a victim of dichromacy (red-green color deficiency), my closet tends to be mostly of shades of black, white, and grey. Kuhl sent me a set of “Dark Roast” pants to test, and I admit, that color has grown on me to the point I think I prefer it among the three.

The Feel

At 5’10”, 180 pounds I am the “average Joe”. I typically wear 34×32 jeans and in “Army sizing” I’m “medium-regular”. These Kuhl pants fit true to size. After looking at photos online I was a little concerned they may be a little more form-fitting than I like, but I was pleasantly surprised. The lightweight “Flex-fabric” moves with you, isn’t tight nor constrains movement. Ideal for hiking as one would imagine.

Putting the pants on for the first time I was relieved to see the use of a “through” button as a waist closure. Uncle Sam has me conditioned to old-school sewn buttons, but more modern pants have used riveted buttons. Those more modern “snaps” are great until they’re exposed to the elements; dirt and dust get into the button and they won’t “unsnap” which typically leads to the destruction of the button and a calamity in the backcountry. Kuhl on the other hand uses a more modern snap that can shed sand, grit, and corrosion without getting stuck.

After years of tearing the crotch out of “Mil-Spec” tactical pants when stepping over logs, I’m pleased to see that Kuhl accommodates movement with “gusseted crotch” stitching and paneling. The pant legs include articulated knee stitching that makes walking and climbing over obstacles more comfortable. The belt loops are wider with more reinforcement than I’m accustomed to. The pockets are made from comfortable stretch fabric, and the cargo pockets are closed with hidden snaps in lieu of velcro (I despise velcro closures thanks to the ACU blunder). The ankles also have a cinching feature if you want to make sure critters don’t climb up your trousers.

The Result

Through mid to late fall, I spent time in the woods taking photos of cross-country racing, climbing hills, wading through thorn bushes, and tiptoeing through briar patches in these pants. Today when I’m headed into the garage, I reach for an old pair of Army service trousers to cover in grease and destroy, but when I’m headed anywhere else, I reach for these Silencr pants. They fit correctly, they’re lightweight, have cargo pockets, and make it easy to move in the woods or are just comfortable to sit and watch a movie on the couch. The rip-stop fabric makes it easy to brush off “hitchhikers”, they’re tough enough to not tear when snagged by thorny rose bushes and are lightweight enough to keep you cool when you start breaking a sweat.

Ultimately I think these are great 3-season pants for folks that want to enjoy hiking, camping, and “adventuring”. The lightweight fabric is great for combating the weather and it fits perfectly. However, I admit I’m concerned about wearing out the seat or the knees if I spend too much time sliding around on sharp surfaces. The fabric resists being torn by the bluegrass briars just fine, but if you’re going to climb around on logs and boulders, I’m concerned you could tatter them prematurely. That said, I have yet to wear the seat out of mine, I’m just saying it’s a “lightweight” fabric, if you’re going to be hard on the material, you may want to consider Kuhl’s Destroyr or Klash pants.

Would I buy another set?

Admittedly I’m a thrifty dude. That said I’m going to be hard-pressed to not buy a second set, especially for winter. As I said, the Silencr will be good for spring-summer-fall, but I’m concerned they’ll be a little too thin for January and February locally unless you’re keeping your heart rate up. I reached out to Kuhl to see what winter-weight pants they suggested; so I’ll be keeping my eye out for the Destroyr as winter approaches later this year. For folks interested, the Silencr pants list for $99 retail. The typical camo tactical pants I normally wear will set you back anywhere from $45 to $70. Considering the features, fabric, and fitment, to me they’re worth the money. My Levi 569s will cost me $70 at this point, and they definitely aren’t made like they used to me.

Posted in Gear - Maintenance - Safety, Reviews | Tagged , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

What’s a Dual-Sport Motorcycle? Part 2

In the previous edition of “What’s a Dual-Sport motorcycle?” I outlined some ground rules and essentially drew a circle around the bikes I feel fit squarely in the segment. While talking to motorcyclists that are considering the purchase of a new dual-sport, I find that many are still unfamiliar with the breadth of models available, moreover the divide in both cost and capability between the bikes at both extremes of the range. 

With that in mind, I want to describe the various sub-categories of dual-sport motorcycles in more detail. I also want to highlight some of the models available from rarer brands. If you have the patience, I’m gonna take a deep dive into the specifications of various models. Lastly, I think there’s a demand for a motorcycle squarely in the middle of the segment that I don’t think currently exists from any of the manufacturers.

What Dual-Sports are currently for sale

I full-well understand you can get on the internet and find a deal on a gently used Suzuki DR350. Considering that many older dual-sport motorcycles were built from cast iron, there’s an infinite list of reliable “street and trail” motorcycles available on the used market. In the interest of discussing current trends in the market, combined with a little pandering to folks that prefer to buy new or “barely used”, I am going to focus on models that are currently in showrooms or bikes that were for sale from the factory in the last couple years.

Considering that criteria, I’ve created a list of 24 motorcycles that fit my definition of “Dual-Sport”. I have decided to omit the new Husqvarnas in this case because they are incredibly close to the offerings from KTM. For folks that are very active in that sub-category, I can appreciate there are nuance differences between a KTM 690 and the Husky 701, but on the stat sheet, they are arguably identical and likely chasing the same customer. 

Recent Model Year Dual-Sports:

  • 2022 KTM 350 EXC-f
  • 2022 KTM 500 EXC-f
  • 2021 KTM 690 Enduro R
  • 2020 Yamaha WR250R
  • 2020 Yamaha XT250
  • 2020 Suzuki DR-200S
  • 2022 Suzuki DR-Z400S
  • 2022 Suzuki DR650
  • 2021 Kawasaki KLX230
  • 2021 Kawasaki KLX300
  • 2021 Kawasaki KLR650
  • 2021 Honda CRF300L
  • 2021 Honda CRF300L Rally
  • 2021 Honda CRF450RL
  • 2021 Honda XR650L
  • 2021 Beta 500 RR-S
  • 2021 Beta 430 RR-S
  • 2021 Beta 390 RR-S
  • 2021 Beta 350 RR-S
  • 2021 SWM RS 500 R
  • 2021 SWM RS 300 R
  • 2021 SWM Super Dual 600
  • 2021 Zero FX ZF3.6
  • 2021 AJP PR7

Old School Dual Sports

Honda Photo

While I’m not going to pretend I’m a motorcycle historian, I feel safe making the accusation that the XR650L, DR650, DR200, and XT250 are the ancestors of many of the motorcycles on this list. Successor to the XR600 (kind of), the XR650L was released in the early 90’s and is virtually unchanged today. Like the other bikes in the sub-segment, the XR represents a reliable, Japanese, air-cooled powerplant, with long-travel suspension, reasonable maintenance intervals (for the era), and simplicity. I have a strong suspicion that these models are short for this world. However, if you’re not concerned about fuel injection, upside-down suspension, liquid cooling, and performance, this subgroup gives you a lot of bike for not a lot of money. Moreover, aside from its weight, the XR650L still scores very high in this category as far as capability, assuming you’re prepared to wrestle the 350-ish pounds; but more about that later.  

Race bikes with plates

I mentioned this group of bikes repetitively in the previous article. In recent years I’ve seen more street-legal off-road models being offered, namely Honda’s CRF450L. Beta offers all four of their 4-stroke off-road race bikes in street-legal trim levels. KTM has cut their 250cc offering in recent years, but their 350 and 500 enduro models are offered in “EXC-f” DOT compliant variants here in the US. SWM also makes two street-legal off-road motorcycles, but I’ll get into that brand a little more in a minute. 

Most of the models in this group are European, and all of the big-brand models have an off-road only equivalent elsewhere in their lineup. It goes without saying, these bikes are intended for primarily off-road use, having road-going accouterments so you can legally use public roads to connect trails. It’s not to say that bikes like the KTM 500 are incapable of being a “go anywhere” dual-sport. The point is that these bikes emphasize performance at the cost of maintenance. These are unquestionably the most capable motorcycles in the segment, but that capability comes at a price. 

Low Maintenance Machines

The most modern of the Japanese subset of dual-sports represents the antithesis to “Race bikes with plates”. Many of these bikes are the evolution of “trail bikes” that have road-legal equipment. Long-time readers know my experience with the CRF250L. Needless to say, that bike brought me to this segment and even following its sale, I still find myself most at home in this sub-set of bikes at this stage in life. Bikes like the 250L have given way to the new CRF300L (and Rally) but trace their roots back to the CRF230L, which hearken back to the XR models of yesteryear. Kawasaki offers the new KLX300, successor to the KLX250, but also the new KLX230 which is a road-legal version of their trail bike. Arguably encroaching on the adventure segment, the KLR 650 returned from a short hiatus in 2021 with some modernization, mainly fuel injection. With a 6-gallon gas tank and almost 8,000 miles between oil changes, the KLR is the touring king of the dual-sport segment. An orange antagonist to the KLR, the KTM 690 Enduro R brings buckets of performance to this segment at the price of about 350 pounds. The 690 stands atop this list with the most horsepower, has respectable suspension, and only needs fresh oil every 6,000 miles. The 690 also commands the highest asking price, just barely edging out the KTM 5-hundo. 

Rare Birds

After patrolling the internet and asking Instagram what everyone’s favorite dual-sport is, I discovered a few “fringe” brands or unexpected entries to the segment. 

Speedy Working Motorcycles (the before mentioned SWM) is an Italian motorcycle manufacturer that inherited the intellectual property from Husqvarna when the brand was purchased by KTM. Today KTM builds bikes with white plastics labeled Husqvarna with the same powerplants and major components, leaving the legacy engine designs to the owners of the before mentioned intellectual property. While I don’t know a whole lot about the pre-2014 era motorcycles, I’m under the impression that the bikes offered today by SWM are very similar. Moreover, at least on paper, these bikes are very capable. SWM offers a 300 and 500 enduro model, both street legal, along with a 600cc model that competes with the DR650 and KTM 690 in stats and intended consumer.

AJP Photo

Considering what I just said about SWM, AJP is a Portuguese company that specializes in custom motorcycles. AJP has several bikes in the Enduro and supermoto segments along with the street-legal PR7. The PR7 is somewhat analogous to the KTM 690 and the KLR; performance-oriented like the 690 with premium suspension, but also has a full rally fairing for folks that are more interested in long-distance dual-sporting. Like SWM, the PR7 is powered by the pre-2014 Husqvarna TE630 engine, but with a frame bespoke to AJP. An argument could be made that the PR7 is a factory-made rally bike aimed at mortal motorcyclists like myself. Alternatively, the PR7 is perhaps the most advanced adventure motorcycle on the market; weighing 365 pounds, with 10 inches of suspension travel, carrying 4.5 gallons of gas, the PR7 barely edges out of the T7 at $11,500. Not a bad deal to change oil every 3,000 miles. 

Zero photo

While better known for their electric street bikes, Zero also offers a dual-sport model in a few different trims. With no engine to service, electric motorcycles prove to be an interesting answer to the dual-sport question. Assuming the electrics prove to be hardy enough, and range isn’t a deal-breaker, the Zero FX has comparable suspension travel to the older 250-ish models, with none of the mechanical fussing. Also, among race bikes, a $9500 price tag isn’t shabby considering you’ll never change oil or check valves; after a chain conversion, you can just buy tires and ride.

The nerdiest of all stat sheet racing

When folks started naming their favorite dual-sport motorcycles I started a list. Being a nerdy engineer I put that list into excel so I could sort by brand. Naturally, I couldn’t help myself, so I started populating weights and prices. This led to including performance statistics from the manufacturer’s website. Being a stickler for maintenance, I looked up the oil change intervals in all of the owner’s manuals. When you can see the entire segment and compare each model against the other by simply sorting based on specification, it’s interesting to see how each of them stack up. Again, my fascination with the numbers got the better of me as I decided there must be some kind of “rating system” I could apply to each machine. I scored each specification in order from 1-24 in Olympic format (equal scores make a tie, i.e. all 4 Beta models have identical suspension travel). 

Click HERE to download this spreadsheet

The categories were weight, rear-wheel horsepower, engine compression, maintenance interval, transmission (5-speed vs 6-speed), price, suspension travel, suspension adjustability, ground clearance, and fuel capacity. When added together, ultimately the motorcycles with the lowest score made for the “highest performance” bikes considering the averages. This became more interesting when the scores are adjusted for price. 

When sorting strictly on performance, the KTM and Beta 500s reign supreme with premium suspension, thoroughbred engines, and big horsepower. Interestingly enough, the old XR650L comes in 4th despite being 30 years old. That low compression, long-travel suspension, and 650cc lump still does well despite the weight. When adjusted for cost the Big Red Pig moves to the top considering you get nearly equivalent performance (on paper), but at nearly half the cost ($6,999). This becomes more interesting when you see the Honda CRF300L Rally move up to 3rd place with its 8,000-mile oil change interval and 3-and-a-half gallon gas tank. Even more surprising to me was that with no transmission, engine braking, or engine maintenance, the Zero FX lands in 4th place. I knew after comparing stat sheets against the CRF250L that Zero’s “dual-sport” was very close in capability to my former 250cc Japanese multi-tool, but the latest model boasts respectable weight savings and reasonable suspension considering its clear street bias. While range is most certainly a concern with riders likely to find themselves well away from civilization, for urban dual-sport riders, the Zero FX seems like an easy motorcycle to live with, at least on paper. 

My scoring system is of course not without flaws. Weight and suspension travel seem like clear delineations when stat-sheet racing, but engine compression is subjective. As far as race bikes are concerned, power, weight, and suspension are key, but in the dual-sport range, I feel the metric shifts more toward reliability, ease of ownership, and flexibility between on-road and off-road performance. I chose engine compression as a quantitative statistic to represent engine stress, reliability, along with “tendency to flameout”. For folks unfamiliar, the 4-stroke thoroughbreds like the KTM 350 and CRF450L require a great deal of clutch work to avoid “stalling” at low speeds. Many have suggested an aftermarket ECU is absolutely critical for dual-sport riding on the CRF450L. Based on my own experience, I don’t want one because the flameout issue is so prevalent despite modifications (EveRide and I agree). Fuel capacity also doesn’t equate to overall range, which I think is more important. Unfortunately, those numbers are more ambiguous in this category considering usage varies so widely, thus forcing me to use capacity as an empirical measurement. 

Ultimately, these are the categories I chose as they’re most applicable to me. Things like “seat height” would also be relevant, as would subjective categories such as “comfort”, “wind protection”, and “highway vibrations”. I welcome criticism and most certainly conversation on these stats and other ways to slice the segment. Ultimately this spreadsheet proved to be more thought-provoking than I ever could have imagined. The thought of building a race-capable ADV bike out of a CRF300L was born from this exercise; as was locating an AJP dealer. 

There’s a bike missing from this line-up

Back in August, I handed off my 250L to a new owner. While I never fell in love with that bike like Rosie the Scrambler, I was no doubt in love with what that bike was capable of. Unfortunately, that motorcycle needed another inch of suspension travel and ground clearance, probably another 5-ish horsepower, and at least 20 pounds of weight reductive measures.

After compiling all of the statistics for the 24 bikes on this list, I couldn’t resist looking at the averages for each of the performance stats. Even with 4 Beta motorcycles weighing down the “race bike” end of the scales, I was still surprised by the results. 307 Pounds, 33 HP, 11.4 to 1 compression ratio, oil change intervals every 3500 miles, 6-speed transmission, 10.3 inches of suspension travel, 2.8-gallon gas tank, for the “low price” of $8,000. 

I would argue, “average” does not define “the middle” of the dual-sport category. Considering the CRF300L Rally does so well when adjusted for price, and the CRF300L not too far behind, I started writing down the stats for my “dual-sport unicorn” if I could have one. Starting with weight, if the new 300L is 309 pounds, the KTM 500 weighs 259, and the CRF450L is 291 pounds, is it possible to put a street-focused engine in a new frame to achieve a 291-pound road-ready weight? 291 pounds is a hefty race bike, but an ultra-light multi-tool by comparison. While I love the 35 horsepower of my KTM 350, there’s no doubt I don’t come close to using all of it. After years on the CRF250L, I think 27 ponies is totally reasonable. Considering I want to get back to using regular unleaded, 10.7:1 compression ratio is ideal. As I said, 10-inches of suspension travel is a must, along with a 6-speed transmission, and since the 250L would easily do 90 miles on a tank, 2.4 gallons of gas will get the job done fine. Lastly, while I loved not having to change oil every 8,000 miles, it was $25 and I did it multiple times a season, so reducing that frequency to 3,000 miles for oil and 6,000 miles to check valves is very reasonable in the shadow of the Euro-machines. 

When I plugged the unicorn into the stat sheet and tallied up the scores, with a $7,600 price tag, this unicorn bike rose to second from the top of the list for “best bike per dollar”. Naturally, I don’t speak for everyone, but among 50-50 dual-sport riders, I feel many complain about the weight of the Japanese models, grouse about their lack of power, but are more than happy with how much abuse they can handle and still get back in the ring.

Obviously, there’s a massive difference between a bike on paper and riding a motorcycle. All the stat sheet racing in the world doesn’t make for a signature on a sales contract. That aside, this mythical dual-sport creature I’ve described is my “wish-list” for what I want from my next do-all machine. Considering the “average” stats, anecdotal comments, and “internet wisdom”, I suspect I’m not alone. It would be incredible to see Yamaha drop a WR350R on the market in the near future and check all of these boxes for us. 

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Racing Dirtbikes: Reflections on Cross-Country Racing

  • 13 Hare Scrambles
  • 1 Enduro
  • 3 Racing Series
  • 4,300 miles of driving
  • 65 hours behind the wheel
  • 30 hours in the woods
  • Nearly 1,000 miles of off-road riding
  • 4 savage mudders
  • 2 Second places finishes
  • 4th Place finish for KXCR B Open Class
  • 22nd Overall PM Racer in the series


I vividly remember my dad sitting me down as a kid and explaining to me, “there’s always someone better than you.” There’s always going to be some kid that hits a baseball better or runs faster, that’s just how life works. If you think you’re hot stuff. If you’re confident you can ride circles around everyone you know in town, sign up to race a local off-road riding series… and get humbled. 

Two years ago when I signed up to ride my first off-road race, I thought I knew how to ride a motorcycle. I rapidly discovered I didn’t know shit. Even racing in C class, there were lots of folks with superior skills to mine. Moving up to ride in the “PM class”, those A-class riders feel untouchable from where I’m at. Moreover, even if we’re all having a great day, a little moisture on the ground tends to bring us all to the edge of skill level and endurance. You may be racing other humans, but as I’ve written elsewhere, you’re racing nature and yourself more than anything. Along with that, show me the best racers in the world, given an unlimited amount of time, nature will always prevail. “Embracing the suck” is much easier said than done, but when it’s over, those moments are the most memorable.

Test Your Metal

For many of us, public failure is an experience we want to avoid. Wearing mismatched socks, getting toilet paper stuck to your shoes, and dumping your motorcycle in the parking lot tend to induce feelings of embarrassment. Unfortunately, that aspect of human nature can also prevent us from taking risks; which in turn tends to prevent us from experiencing life’s greatest “highs”.

Public ridicule, embarrassment and shame are obviously things we all want to avoid. What many of us don’t realize, is that much of those “expectations” are in our heads. Falling off your motorcycle off-road sucks, but you know what? We’ve all fallen off a motorcycle; we didn’t exit the womb as professional motorcycle riders. The vast majority of us had to practice to avoid public calamity… and like the fight against nature, if you follow the best riders long enough, you’ll witness their mistakes and discover they too are mortal.  

I say all of that to say, if you’re into motorcycling as a self-improvement project, you should give racing a try, regardless of your age. Yes, there are inherent risks to racing, as with all rewarding activities in life. That said, I’ve never learned so much, so fast, and found such a welcoming community as I’ve discovered in racing. 

Discover a New Family

I’ve spent no less than 24 months in a designated “combat zone”. If I’ve learned nothing else from my time in those places, I’ve learned that mutual suffering builds bonds. Why am I encouraging you to race if it involves suffering? “Suffering” is a matter of perspective; to the American teenager, the internet being down for two days is suffering. To GI Joe, digging a hole in the dirt to bury a wire in a 110°F heat, that might be suffering. To a motorcyclist, sitting on the starting line as the skies open up on a 50°F day is suffering. All of these things are “hard” but sufferable. What you don’t immediately realize is that there are others enduring misery with you.

Over time, the stories of this shared suffering builds relationships as you laugh about the struggles and absurdity. Together, we’re humbled by nature and competition each passing Sunday, and that mutual suffering builds unbreakable bonds and lasting relationships. Folks welcome newcomers with open arms because we’ve all realized, racing is “hard”, but “showing up”, knowing it’s cold, it may rain, and worse, you might not even finish, is actually the hardest part. 

Know Your Motorcycle

It’s one thing to have a motorcycle for a long time and know its character. It’s something else to push the motorcycle to its limits, know its capabilities, and spend hours keeping the machine running to the best of your ability. There’s nothing like riding a high-performance machine in the environment it was intended for. Unfortunately, performance comes at a cost, and in the world of off-road, it means hours dedicated to replacing and refurbishing parts and consumables that wear out. I’m of the mindset that this is arguably the worst part of racing. I enjoy wrenching on bikes, but it doesn’t hold a candle to riding bikes. Even when the weather stinks, riding is better than working, but waiting on a necessary part or breaking a bolt really drains the fun from riding. 

All that said, it’s incredibly rewarding knowing that you’ve invested the time in keeping your bike in working order when you cross that finish line on Sunday. You might be the last bike that finished that day, but it’s very likely, someone else is getting a DNF (did not finish) because of a mechanical failure. There’s a sense of accomplishment in that, moreover, you gain an understanding of what maintenance activities are critical and when they’re not. When can a chain go one more round, and when that sprocket needs replaced, less you get stranded on the trail with a derailed chain. It takes a lot of work to keep the bike going, but over time it’s one less worry in your mind when you’re sitting on the starting line. 

Believe in Yourself

There’s a famous line from Rocky Balboa that I absolutely love:

“It’s not about how hard you hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward. How much you can take and keep moving forward.” 

It’s a cliche movie line when you live in reality, but it goes through your mind when you’re picking your bike up for the fifth time. If you don’t try, you’ll never fail; but if you never try, you’ll never know what you’re capable of. It’s unlikely I will ever be a professional motorcycle racer at this stage in life. However, after two seasons of off-road racing, I have skills today I wouldn’t have gained if I didn’t try racing. After racing, I still find intimidating obstacles out on the trail, but I now know that I have tried and failed, and tried and succeeded in the past. This has made me more willing to tackle more difficult trails as the rewards are worth the effort and things feel achievable. Believe in yourself. We’ve all started from zero, we’ve all fallen over, many of us have thrown in the towel, but the reward is climbing back on the bike eventually and ultimately conquering our fears. 

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What’s a Dual-Sport Motorcycle?

You’ve probably heard the expressions “enduro” or “Street & Trail” in the past, but today I suspect most folks use the word “dual-sport” to describe a motorcycle that’s intended for use both on and off the pavement. On and off-road riding? Sure my Scrambler does that; but does that make my Scrambler a dual-sport motorcycle? Well, I suppose it depends on who you ask. Let’s take a closer look, shall we?

This is the KLR 650. To many, the KLR is the king of all dual sports. Ask around, any motorcyclist with any off-road chops has heard of the KLR; Many will suggest that, along with cockroaches, KLRs will inherit the earth after our mass extinction. Forged in some ancient dwarven cave, the KLR is powered by a single-cylinder, 650cc lump. Climbing up to the seat, you’ll notice plush suspension, assuming you didn’t fall over because you can’t touch the ground. Below the front fender, there’s a run-of-the-mill 21-inch hoop shod with some flavor of knobby-ish tires, and because it’s a KLR, there’s a milk crate hiding about somewhere. For a little over six-grand, this juggernaut could be yours.

Let’s look at the opposite end of the spectrum for a moment, shall we? Here’s the KTM 350 EXC-f. This top-of-the-line motorcycle from Austria is probably as close as you can get to flat-out race bike while still saying “Why yes officer, here’s my license and registration.” Tipping the scales around 250 pounds, this bike is only a few bills and a “DOT light kit” away from the starting line at the local hare scramble.

To some, these two bikes may look the same, to others the differences are evident. To me, these motorcycles are lightyears apart; one’s a race bike with a plate, the other arguably an adventure motorcycle. That said, when you look at each manufacturer’s website, you’ll find them labeled as “Dual-Sports”.

So what’s a dual-sport?

At a minimum, off-road riding capability and the necessary equipment to make the motorcycle street-legal. In most U.S. States, that means headlight, tail light, indicators, mirrors, horn, a street motorcycle title, along with plate and tag.

By that definition, the Tenere 700, my Scrambler, and the TW200 would all be dual-sports. A Harley Sporter with a determined rider could be a dual-sport for that matter. Should dual-sports be lightweight? Do they need specific wheels or tires to be categorized as a dual-sport? What makes a motorcycle off-road capable? The KTM 390 Adventure and the Kawasaki Versys 300X are both lighter than the KLR, are they also dual-sports? Perhaps this “street and trail” expression needs a little more definition.

If appointed dictator for life, I would say a Dual-Sport is:

A single-cylinder motorcycle designed for off-road use, with 21″ front wheel, and comes fitted with street-legal equipment and sold with a street title from the factory.

By that definition, despite its off-road capability, the multi-cylinder Versys 300 is out. Like the Versys, the 390 Adventure is sporting a 19″ front wheel, even worse, it has cast wheels, which is another reason I put it firmly in the Adventure category. Bikes like the Tenere 700 and the KTM 890 Adventure R start encroaching on the specifications and capabilities of the KLR. Both bikes tip the scales shockingly close to the 2021 KLR, and both have 21-inch spoked wheels out front. However, in both cases, these bikes are sporting twin-cylinder engines, and for as much as I love them, they’re still designed for more pavement than trail use.

That same metric will also exclude a perennial favorite, unfortunately. If you go to Yamaha’s website under dual-sport, you’ll find the ever revered TW-200. Like Suzuki’s VanVan200, the “TeeDub” is a micro motorcycle that is far more capable than most could ever imagine. If not for riding the TW through my favorite parts of the Danial Boone Backcountry Byway, I wouldn’t even be writing this article right now. Folks have ridden the mighty TeeDub across the country. A beast of burden that’s well prepared to be loaded with camping gear or hauling a deer out of the woods. All that said, with its 14-inch rear wheel and balloon tires, I would wager to say the TW200 was designed as a “farm bike”, a more useful answer to the mini-bike, than it was intended for modern public (American) roads.

Despite said exclusions, the Royal Enfield Himalayan still fits the necessary criteria to be a Dual-Sport, even with its heft and limited suspension travel. With that in mind, perhaps I’ll add another qualifying statement to this definition. To fall under the umbrella of dual-sport, the motorcycle should be capable of finishing a hare scramble. While I still suspect the 890 Adventure or the TW200 could accomplish such a feat in the right hands, most of us mortals agree, it would be a futile attempt on our part.

What kind of dual-sport motorcycles are there?

We can split hairs all day, but despite my attempt to narrow the definition, there’s still a massive gap between the lightest, heaviest, cheapest, and most expensive motorcycles under this multi-purpose tent.

Folks come in all flavors, but I find dual-sport riders typically come from former racers and off-road riders, or street riders that are dipping their toe into “woods riding”. As a result, I typically sub-categorize the dual-sport segment into two groups: Dirt bikes with plates, and leggy street bikes.

Long-time readers know all about the CRF250L I owned for 10,000 miles. While not as capable as Yamaha’s WR250R, I wager to say that the Japanese 250cc dual sports are the heart of the segment. The 250L would set you back around five grand new. It had 9-inches of suspension travel, tipped the scales just over 300 pounds, and asked that you change the oil every 8,000 miles. It was a lazy street bike, but could carve a corner with the best of them. It was a capable dirt bike, but certainly on the portly side. Jack of all trades, master of none is unquestionably its mantra.

Now let’s take a look at KTM’s 350 XCf-w. Kailub Russel rode XC version of this bike to go on to win the AMA Grand National CrossCountry series in 2020. I imagine it looks familiar, as KTM offers virtually the exact same bike with factory DOT equipment, and a sticker that says “EXC-f”. Like the race bike, the street-legal EXC weighs 65 pounds less than the CRF250L, needs an oil change every 500 miles, and will set you back an additional $6,000 over the little red pig.

In the middle of this field are bikes like the DR200 and KLX230. Both of these bikes will get you through the woods without a lot a fussing; maybe some lifting, and cussing, but they will gladly take the flogging and ask for more the next day. Moreover, when you’re hustling along the pavement, you’ll be whistling in your helmet, albeit not breaking traffic laws, but you certainly won’t be changing oil at the end of the trip, maybe not even after the next one. Those race bikes, on the other hand, will pull dank whoolies, cross logs with ease, and unabashedly tear up singletrack, whilst vibrating the fillings out of your skull on the pavement and will likely need a refill of the dino juice Sunday evening.

Speaking plainly, while I’ve been specific and deliberate to draw a fine line in the sand about what constitutes a dual-sport, the range of bikes that fall into that circle is vast. Between weight, suspension travel, horsepower, comfort, and price, there’s a massive chasm between the big-bore 650s designed in the 90s, versus the most modern street-legal European race machines. It’s also easy to suggest that the antiquated 650s are the closest to the adventure category considering weight and street manners, while the European bikes parody their race-ready brethren, the capabilities and price vary wildly across the field.

What’s a Dual-Sport for?

Ultimately I think the dual-sport segment grew out of the need for street legal equipment to connect the trails. As more and more backroads became paved, and the distance between trails became greater, street-legal off-road machines gained better and better road manners. Similar to how street motorcycles found off-road chops to define the adventure segment, bikes like the DRZ-400 and the WR250R have defined the dual-sport segment with equal capabilities as both commuters and off-road explorers. That I think is the epitome of what makes a dual-sport a dual-sport; definitions aside, the ability to ride on-road and off-road equally. Capable of tackling single track, while also capable of crossing the country… mind you, not in a hurry.

Stay tuned for an in-depth trip down the rabbit hole looking at every bike in this segment…

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Shinko Off-road Tires: Longterm Review

At the beginning of this year, I contacted Shinko Tires about their off-road offerings. Since I had plans to compete all season in Kentucky Cross-Country Racing (KXCR), Shinko sent me 3 tires to test. Full disclosure, Shinko didn’t ask me to publish any particular content, use any specific language, or even link back to their website. The words that you read here are all mine, Shinko only asked that I ride and test the tires and share my thoughts on my channels. Moreover, as the season progressed, I purchased, with my own money, 3 additional tires, coincidentally Shinko branded buns. With the housekeeping details out of the way, let’s talk about some “tars”.

216MX (Extreme Offroad/Enduro/Desert tire)

90/90-21 & 90/100-21 (DOT & FIM)

Last year I ran the Michelin Starcross 5 medium for the entire season. Comparing the 216 to the Starcross 5, I felt more confidence under heavy breaking and as advertised, felt like the 216MX fatty “danced” a lot less in the endless wet roots found on the KXCR courses. This season, the fatty front has seen 8 Cross-Country (XC) races in the Bluegrass state. I took a peek at the hour meter yesterday and realized this tire has been on the Husky for 46 hours. After all the rocks and nonsense around KXCR’s training facility (“The Holler”) in Clay City (KY), and Dayton Dirt Riders, I’m retiring this 216 after the next race. The rocks have finally started taking a toll on the knobs after nearly a full race season. Despite some tearing, I was surprised to find that the breaking edges of the knobs still look sharp considering how long they’ve been mounted. After consulting the Shinko website, I discovered that these tires are actually DOT; I had no idea prior to this writing. While I am concerned about these knobs flexing on the twisty pavement of the Kentucky backroads, at some point I may buy a full set of the 216s for my Dual-Sport to see how they hold up to featherweight adventure riding.

Considering the diverse conditions I see here in southern Ohio and Appalachian Kentucky, the guys at Shinko thought it best to send me a front tire intended for enduro and extreme off-road terrain. Shinko sent the 216MX tire in both the “Chubby” 90/90-21 and the 90/100-21 “Fat Tire”. Historically I’ve run a 90/90-21 front tire on both my CRF250L, so I chose to run the “Fatty” 216MX for this year’s XC racing season. According to Shinko, the 90/100 “fat tire” has a “fuller” profile to avoid deflection through rocks, over roots and other obstacles.

I’ve loved the 216s to the point I will be hesitant to try something new for racing. After all of this time, I think the biggest downfall has been “tire flex” at low pressure. This, like so many other things, is a combination of factors. I run ultra-heavy-duty tubes. Folks that run tubliss, bibs, or traditional “heavy-duty” tubes will likely encounter different behavior from the same tire. Because I run tubes, I try not to get below 8 PSI when racing, with the exception of serious mudders. incidentally, I was running the 90/90-21 216 MX at the John Vincent mudder this year and stopped to let more air out of the tires during the first lap. Unbeknownst to me, I apparently let virtually all the air out of the front. With the ultra-heavy-duty tube and a rim-lock, the front wheel felt really low, but never felt flat, despite having no air in it the next morning. The 216 obviously does a great job of clearing mud, and under “normal” circumstances feels great (in my unsophisticated hands), and only struggles in the worst conditions. Having run both, the 90 and 100 width tires, the 90 definitely feels a bit more “twitchy” by comparison, especially on the slick stuff. I have no empirical evidence, but I suspect the “fatty” also flexes a bit more and helps clear the treads.

520 Dual Compound (Intermediate to Hard Terrain Tire)

120/100-18 (Not for Highway Service)

When discussing the Kentucky terrain conditions, Shinko recommended the 525, however, because of supply chain limitations at the time, they suggested I give the 520 Dual Compound tire a try. The Husqvarna’s manual calls for a 110/100-18 size rear tire, however, Shinko sent a 120/100-18. Long-time followers know, I have no qualms with trying various tire sizes, so this was a no-brainer for me. Moreover, I suspect a lot of folks run 120 width tires for trail and cross-country riding (more on that in a minute).

The 520 was my first experience with a “hybrid” soft compound off-road tire. As anyone that knows me will tell you, if I see a rocky creekbed or a boulder field… I’m hitting those lines with the dirt bike. With that, Dayton Dirt Riders has a rule, they don’t cut trees. If a tree falls, you go over, or you go around; that’s the way it is. Between rock ledges, river rock creekbeds, and endless logs, the 520 was well at home at my in my favorite riding areas.

Beyond enduro obstacles, my mind was blown by the way the 520 put power to the ground. In the fluffy loamy soil, the 520 tractored up the Appalachian foothills in “The Holler” with gusto. I could definitely feel the traction improvement considering the combination of the wider profile and the softer compound that could spread out over the dirt.

As the racing season proceeded, the 520 was forced to face off against the dreaded Kentucky Clay. “The Holler” in, aptly named, Clay City is kind of KXCR’s “home track”, like Dayton Dirt Riders, the clay soil is baked all summer by the sun until it’s hard as a rock or it’s ground to moon dust by the races. When it rains, the top surface of the clay holds onto the water, and yet the rain won’t penetrate the deeper levels of soil, which turns the course into a skating rink. This unfortunately is where I finally started to experience the limitation of the 520DC. As long as the rear tire had enough wheel speed to stay clean, things were pretty good. If I slowed down, the more compact knobs would become loaded. Clay is obviously a challenge for all off-road tires, so I blame my skill level much more than the tire. That said, I do feel like the softer knobs would flex and fold on the hard clay instead of dig like a traditional compound tire, but more on that than a second.

525 Hybrid Cheater (intermediate terrain Enduro/Extreme single-track)

110/100-18(Not for Highway Service)

After the first 5 rounds of XC racing, I noticed a lot of tread wear on the 520. Being a directional tire, I decided it was time for something new. Considering several of my racing buddies run the 525 Hybrid Cheater, it seemed like the natural successor to the 520.

Shinko says the 525 Hybrid “Cheater” is intended for intermediate terrain, enduro, and extreme single track. Like the 520, the 525 “cheater” is a softer compound for more tire flex. The 525 has lines square knobs, unlike the directional chevron patterns seen on the 520. The 525 knobs are also spaced further apart for more efficient cleaning; which was the biggest reason I chose it.

After 5 additional XC races through the Bluegrass and 1 in Ohio, I was happier with how the 525 handled the Miami River clay and avoided being loaded up on the race track. Like the 520DC, the softer compound really shined in the rocky hill climbs and creek beds.

Inversely, the limitation of the 525 appears to be tread life, and while not a severe as the 520DC (which feels softer, but I don’t have a durometer to check), the 525 knobs also felt like they fold on the polished clay. Tread life obviously has a lot to do with the hamfistedness of the rider. At the same time, one would expect a soft compound tire to struggle with longevity. In addition, per my comments above, 110/100-18 is the prescribed tire size for my two-stroke. After experiencing the 120 width tire, the wider tire definitely felt more confidence-inspiring, both in power delivery and cornering. Compared to the 520DC, I felt like the 525 had more wheelspin in the corners and hills climbs after the track had been beaten down over a few laps.

To test my theory about knob “folding”, long-term I want to try a standard compound 525 with a 120 width and see how I like it. I have a strong suspicion, despite my interest in the Shinko 546, the wider, traditional rubber 525 may be the best all-around solution for the highly variable terrain I ride.

504/505 Hard Terrain Tire

80/100-21 Front & 110/100-18 Rear (Not for Highway Service)

As the summer progressed, Red River Scramble was rapidly approaching. For first-time readers, 5 years ago a bunch of Instagrammers meeting for pizza and adventure riding turned into an annual rally near Red River Gorge, Kentucky. Between pre-rally reconnaissance rides and 4 days of the toughest dual-sport routes I know, I wanted the gnarliest off-road tires I could get my hands on, but still strong enough to permit me to ride like a hooligan on the pavement.

Again, I went back to look over Shinko’s offerings. Shinko sells the 244 and 804/805 tires, but I felt that neither of those DOT offerings would be ideal for a lightweight dual-sport and the copious mud and sand I see in the gorge. While not DOT approved, I landed on the Shinko 505 after seeing several friends run that tire at previous events. I was concerned the front knobs might not be firm enough to handle braking on pavement, but in the interest of “science” ordered the matching 504 anyway.

From sandstone ledges, bottomless Jeep pits, rocks, creekbed sand washes, and The Holler in “Clay City”, I couldn’t be happier with the 504/505. After five days of riding like a moron off-road and on-road, the front knobs still look like new, and the rear knobs aren’t half worn. The leading edge of the rear tire is beat up from some wheel spin on the rocks and braking on asphalt, but after 30 minutes with the “knobby knife”, they’re sharped up and ready for more.

The tight knob pattern of the 505 naturally struggles in the sticky mud and clay, so wheel speed is critical. That said, if the trail is dryer than it is wet, or you’re in the sandy loam of the gorge area, the 505 puts down solid traction. Having seen the 505 on the trail in the past, I was most impressed with the performance of the front. I expected those knobs to be fully loaded with clay and mud at the first sight of damp trail. The only time I really struggled was the swampy section of The Holler known as “no man’s land”. The 504/505 combo was so good, I want to take them to a race during the dry season to see how they fare.

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