Balance is for losers. Any bike that’s “well-rounded” or has “broad appeal” is purpose built to be bad at everything. That’s been the sad truth about dual-sport bikes since the invention of the license plate.
Thankfully, there are people in key places at major motorcycle factories who have come to understand that. The new crop of dual-sport bikes has been designed with dirt as the number one priority. That was never the case in the old days, when the best we could hope for was a 320-pounder with high fenders. Now, the goal is to make a dirt bike that’s legal on the road. Unfortunately, the Feds haven’t made that easy. The regs for DOT and EPA approval are vague and subject to different interpretations. As a result, each of the companies plays by a different set of rules–some very conservative, others right on the edge. We gathered the Honda CRF450L, the Husqvarna FE450, the Beta 430RR-S and the KTM 500EXC for a battle in the dirt. They don’t exactly match in displacement, but this isn’t about a racing class. These are what we consider the four best dual-sport bikes in the world from an off-road rider’s point of view. We will let other publications talk about how well rounded they are for commuters and road riders. For us, the street portion of the test has only two questions: 1. Is it legal on the road? 2. Is it practical on the road? For all bikes, the answers are yes and yes.With our dirt-heavy emphasis, we stripped the bikes of their original tires. The Honda’s IRCs are mostly aimed at street and the Continentals on the KTM and Husky were selected to help pass sound tests. Only the Michelin Enduros on the Beta are dirt oriented, but even they have reduced knob height as required in Europe. We put all the bikes on Mitas tires, which are the most aggressive DOT knobbies we could find. If you don’t know Mitas, you might remember the firm’s parent company: Trelleborg. Then we evaluated them mostly in the dirt. For us, pavement is simply a means to connect trails.
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