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What's a dual-sport bike? Enduro? Huh?

Dual-Sport machines taking a break on a ride
Dual-Sport machines taking a break on a ride
Tom Batchelor

Questions that get bounced around in the motorcycle neophyte groups almost universally includes dual-sport or dual-purpose motorcycles. What the heck are they? "Looks like a dirt-bike!" Off-highway use, what's that? Fact remains, to many people this term dual-sport remains confusing. In reality, however, it's actually pretty simple.

Dual-sport or dual-purpose motorcycles means, on and off-road. Pretty easy there to get that part. But, can't nearly every motorcycle physically move upon its own power with a duly anointed operator on and off road as well? Sure, physics speak related, assuming the traction co-efficient is there for some semi-bald street tire, any bike can traverse both environments.

But what the dual-sport moniker really speaks of is, street-legal versus off-highway use dirt bikes. Street legal being the key part here. Any bike, really, as we covered shortly before can be ridden both on and off road, if one is silly enough to take an Ultra Classic through Florida's sandy trails. At least for a few feet, it'll actually move, right? But dirt bikes, which are designed to do exactly what street bikes aren't, are either street-legal or not.

Motocross machines are not street-legal. They're not manufactured to be, they're not titled or certified to be and thus, they cannot sport a licence tag legally. There are some caveats to this generally, where certain states allow a fairly easy re-classification of a previously sanctioned OHV (off highway vehicle) to HV or highway vehicle use. Highway, meaning generally, legally ordained roadways as per the definition of probably many DOT and state laws regulating such malarkey.

Manufacturers have taken the base concept of a dirt-bike or MX bike and manufactured DOT compliant machines that are indeed street legal. Hence, dual-sport or dual-purpose. They can be operated on or off road.

Enduro's are another style that back in the day, used to mean dual-sport. In the 1970's when many of us were enjoying the explosion of motorcycle technological development for the day, increased displacement engines and even some turbo bikes for the street, an enduro meant a bike that could be ridden legally on or off road. Since then, the enduro niche' has fallen more defined into sort of a hybrid of the OHV and dual-sport.

Enduro machines, generally, are not street legal from the factory. They do often sport head and tail lights, but that's because enduro events and races are held in darkness. Enduro events are completely unlike motocross in one primary way: cross country riding. Motocross is set on a fixed track length, engineered jumps, pits, etc. Enduro is hard-core, cross country rocky hill climbing through a marked course and generally is a timed event. It can also take place over several days or more. The enduro "races" are exclusively off-road (off-pavement) so street-legal machines aren't required. Enduro bikes have the technology of the MX machine, aggressive tires and larger displacement very often than their MX siblings, but are very close. Enduro machines have power and ergo's that favor tactile control at sometimes slow speeds over crazy terrain whereas, MX bikes are more suspension and handling oriented.

Dual-sport machines aren't enduro's and aren't MX bikes. They're dual-purpose, period. Favoring a more street capable behavior than their enduro/MX cousins, dual-sport bikes have a headlight, tail, brake light and turn signals, along with other DOT required items such as reflectors and not to be forgotten, the EPA gracing the engine with it's good housekeeping seal of approval for emissions. They are generally tamer than the other bikes mentioned here and offer decent ergo's for longer periods in the saddle. Depending upon the brand, suspensions differ hugely, with higher-priced (more off-road engineered) bikes like KTM's dual-sport line having a huge following among hard-core dual-sport folks. At the bottom is the entry-level 125cc, 175cc or even 250cc bikes from brands like Suzuki and Yamaha. Certain brands make more MX or Enduro than dual-sport and others are more heavily dual-sport oriented. A good example is Suzuki's DR series bikes. Originally a DR200, they currently spit out 250's, 350's and 650's. Suzuki also has the DRZ400 dual-sport which many riders put head-to-head against the likes of KTM for hard-core dual-sport riding. Kawasaki only has the KLX250 and the KLR650. Other marques are similarly lean in the dual-sport market.

Which dual-sport bike to get is a whole 'nuther convo so we'll save that for another time. Just know the difference when you're out looking and do your research. Buying a used "enduro" from a guy who knows a friend of a friend's cousin and finding out it's not street legal, well that really sucks.

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