Veteran road rider, first foray into dirt?

Discussion in 'Thumpers' started by ZappBranigan, Aug 10, 2021.

  1. ZappBranigan

    ZappBranigan Still Riding

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    I started riding in 1982, currently on bikes no. 11 & 12 (Honda 919 and Triumph Bonneville) but I have to admit that I'm starting to get bored with road riding.

    It's not that I don't enjoy it, it's just that I've lived in the Denver area most of my life and with all the riding I've been doing, I've literally ridden every paved road within a ~200 mile radius and I'm getting tired of riding the same ones.

    I'm 3 years away from retirement and hope to do a lot of long distance riding after that, probably on a sport touring bike or a big bagger (haven't decided yet which one.) Who knows, maybe even a Gold Wing?

    But in the meantime, I'm starting to get the itch to explore the many dirt roads that are relatively close and accessible to me. Funny thing: The first motorcycle I ever rode was a Kawasaki 175 dirt bike, but I haven't really ridden any dirt bikes since then (at least not on the dirt.)

    Wife and I were on a camping trip at Grand Mesa this past weekend and while we were there I saw a couple of guys on dirt bikes exploring the dirt roads and it looked like it would be fun.

    My biggest concern with dirt riding is that I have bad knees (my avatar explains why ;) 4 surgeries so far and more are likely in my future ) and I'm a little worried about possibly falling and injuring myself while out alone. On paved roads I'm pretty confident but as I said, I've never really ridden much on dirt. I know there is a local guy here in Denver who teaches a "dirt riding class" and I will probably sign up for it. I'm also thinking that for safety reasons, it would be prudent to not ride alone (though I frequently ride alone on my road bikes.)

    And then of course there's the "which bike?" question. My inclination is to start off with something lighter, in the 200 - 350 class. I'm pretty sure an electric starter would be a requirement (again, knees.) Street legal would be preferred, although I do own a pickup truck (F-150) so something that could ride in a hitch-mounted carrier would probably work for me too.

    I see tons and tons of KLR 650s., DR650's, etc, but I'm just not sure I need something that big. I'm cognizant of the fact that anything I ride off road I need to be able to pick up off the ground so lighter feels like a better idea than heavier. I have zero interest in any kind of "adventure bike" that weighs 500#, so something like a GS would not be what I'm looking for.

    As far as where I'd want to ride, nothing extreme, "motocross style" or even single-track, just exploring the dirt roads on 2 wheels instead of 4. A plated bike would likely be my best bet just because many of the dirt roads are restricted to street-legal vehicles only.

    So where to get started? One thing that concerns me when I shop on CL is that I'm very leery of a bike that has been "messed with." When I see an ad for a bike with a laundry list of items that have been replaced or "upgraded", it makes me think that the bike has likely been thrashed to within an inch of its life. As a general rule (with ALL vehicles I buy) I have a strong preference for one that is as close to stock as possible.

    Also, being a cheap SOB, I'm trying to keep the price in the low(er) ranges. Would love to find something sub-$2000 but I don't think that's realistic. Under $3k seems like a reasonable goal. With Summer coming to a close soon, I'll likely start my shopping in fall when people put their bikes up for sale rather than into storage.

    I should point out that I'm fairly tall (6'1" with a 34" inseam) so from what I've seen I would "fit" on almost any dual-sport type bike pretty easily.

    Anyway, just looking for input on how to get started dirt riding.
    #1
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  2. Gedrog

    Gedrog 1000 mile stare a 1000 stories to tell

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    Different part of the world but also insane enough to jump out of a perfectly good Dakota's and Flossies so I have the same problems
    Good Knee protection and Neck protection from Leatt

    First of all, you are hitting the nail on the head with small bikes oodles of fun but not really made for long-distance travel unless you are patient and live with its limitations

    TW200, WR250, KLX250, CRF250L, XR250L FE's 350, 350 EXC all perfect I am sure there are tons of other models just for the masses to bring up

    The next level is 450-500CC classes of above minor differences in weight but will better suit longer distances with a comfy seat upgrade only a couple of kilo's heavier

    The next level in the 140 - 170KG range is the 701, 690 enduro, and DR650, XR650L, TT600R, AJP PR7, SWM Superdual X & CRF250L

    The next level in the 190-220 KG range is Tenere 700 , Taureg 660 (new for 2022), KTM 790 and 890, KLR 650, F650GS Dakar and G650 Sertao CB500X
    Some of the small bikes can weigh as heavy so don't be fooled by the CC

    I always say go ride the bike, if it gives you confidence and put a smile on your face then you have the right bike, no point listening to other people's recommendations which always end up in an argument about which brand is better and you end up buying a bike that scares the bejesus out of you, only to end up gathering cobwebs in the corner of the garage. Try as many as you can you will eventually settle on one that makes you happy. Ride until you get confidence and then upgrade to something more powerful if the need arises.
    #2
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  3. Cuttlefish

    Cuttlefish Riding to disappear.

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    Only thing I would add to previous excellent post is that altitude robs your power so the 250s may feel too anaemic up high which puts you into the next size bracket up.
    Cruising around and learning the ropes a DRZ400 could be the ticket when jetted to suit the altitude and suit the budget.
    #3
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  4. Beezer

    Beezer Long timer Supporter

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    and as a general rule, the japanese 250s are a bit under-sprung for a big guy. another vote for the DRZ. maybe a DR350. I don't think a KTM is in your budget range but thats a good choice
    #4
  5. timeOday

    timeOday Long timer

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    I think you are already on the right track bike-wise.

    One thought, do lay the bike over in your yard and pick it up before going offroading alone.
    Drops are approx. 100x more common vs road riding!
    Drop it downhill on a sideslope, so the tires are higher than the handlebars, man it is a lift!
    #5
  6. Mr. Fixit

    Mr. Fixit Reevaluating

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    Another vote for starting out light, even if it's "not fast enough". Be sure you can pick it up, and/or crawl out from under it when you are head-down in a ditch with it laying on your legs and the exhaust is burning through your pants, or pinning you down in a water crossing.

    Dirt requires a very different skillset than pavement. Learning those skills when old and gimpy isn't the same as when you were 15 and made of rubber.
    #6
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  7. Adanac rider

    Adanac rider O.S.T.R. 62 Supporter

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    What your looking for is that UNICORN bike a lot of us are looking for .In your case I would recommend the DR-650 , the altitude won't make it anemic and it's not too bad to pick-up while being fairly reasonably priced . Up grades would be suspension and maybe a windshield .
    #7
  8. gusthedog

    gusthedog Been here awhile

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    I have a Royal Enfield Himalayan. Grouse bike. Nice low centre of gravity and low seat height. Being fuel injected (the last two years), you don't have to worry about jets.

    Ive just ticked over 6,000 trouble free KMs on mine since I got it late last year.

    Just an alternative to other bikes mentioned above. Not to everyone's liking but at least it's not as ugly as the dirt bike inspired bikes mentioned.

    It's bike no 21 for me. I've owned most of the German and Japanese dual sports. The Himalayan makes me smile more than them all
    #8
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  9. Navin

    Navin Long timer

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    Get look at a CSC 250, the enduro or even the cafe with some luggy tires (diy scrambler) would do your job just fine. Cheap, new, good support from those guys, low seat, etc... I suggest this over a GPX FSE250E or small framed 250S as that seems like overkill for your description but another stellar starter bike, plate available in many states but not all.

    or a Grom/Z-125/GPX ADV140 style bike.

    F044FDFE-581A-4B34-9238-C6F982F3B805.png 9547B626-4015-45BE-9C41-ED0DD28052A5.png F4CD0845-A792-48F5-8D3F-E1FDD087CBB4.png
    #9
  10. ZappBranigan

    ZappBranigan Still Riding

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    Yes, the DR is definitely on the list. Either the 650 or the 350 (an old Army friend of mine rode a DR350SE for years, it was a very reliable bike and "SE" meant it had an electric starter.)

    CSC: Is that one of those Chinese companies that sells knockoffs of older Japanese designs? I think I've seen a few of those around, but I have to say I'm leery of what may be a "fly by night" company. At least if I get a bike made by the "big 4", KTM or Husky I will know I can get parts for it.

    I should add that a strong factor would be the ability to ride from my home to a riding area. As I said, I do have a pickup but would prefer to not have to spend time loading a bike up and then unloading at the trailhead - so that's another reason I definitely want a street-legal bike. My home is no more than 10 minutes from the mountains and probably no more than 30 minutes from some ride-able dirt trails, so the ability to ride for ~30 minutes on state highways at 55 mph would be a real advantage. Perhaps that means a 650 would be more better?

    KLRs are as common as weeds but it has a water cooled engine, right? I'm just thinking that an air-cooled DR or Honda XR would be lighter and simpler overall.
    #10
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  11. MotoChris521

    MotoChris521 motominded

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    Another vote for the lowly DRZ400. Cheap , good power, fully adjustable suspension. Gearing is the main issue for dual sport, BUT,if you ride mainly in the dirt or street, you can gear it for each and it's not an issue. E models are about 20lbs more than an early KTM.
    #11
  12. ZappBranigan

    ZappBranigan Still Riding

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    I should add that I was considering a Yamaha TW200, since I think it's just such a cool looking bike with its fat tires.

    Two problems, though: First off, I'm concerned that a carbureted 200 will just be too gutless for me at ~ 200 lbs, and second, it seems that over the past 5 years or so, the TW has acquired "cult status" which means that good examples are hard to find and crazy expensive when you can find them (such as a 10 year old TW being offered for maybe $1000 less than a brand new one.)
    #12
  13. ZappBranigan

    ZappBranigan Still Riding

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    So let me ask a dumb question here: Are there any street legal 2 stroke bikes anymore? Any reason to prefer 2 stroke over 4? Or have 2 strokes fallen to emissions and noise regulations? I'm old enough to remember the RD 400 and the GT500 and 750 2 stroke street bikes and supposedly 2 strokes are both lighter and more powerful than 4 strokes but require oil to be mixed with fuel.
    #13
  14. Navin

    Navin Long timer

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    With a $3000 KTM/Husky theres a good chance you cant get some parts new anymore and frankly the $2000-3000 used bike range hold many..... well, roaches so expect to spend mo monies either way. CSC and GPX are hardly fly by night, and their bikes are built with parts and engines built by reputable factories that build those things for just about every major brand in existence from BMW to HD to Honda.

    There are plenty of CSC snd GPX threads in here. Research.
    #14
  15. Gedrog

    Gedrog 1000 mile stare a 1000 stories to tell

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    GPX is a KTM/Husky knockoff
    @Navin is a local dealer or spokesperson for these products so he will push his product
    Some good reviews about their garb but again longevity and support is a concern

    If you want to check weight Google-fu example xr650l specs
    #15
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  16. Navin

    Navin Long timer

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    Im a customer/enthusiast. Period. Im telling this guy to look at CSC. :thumb
    #16
  17. ZappBranigan

    ZappBranigan Still Riding

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    OK, so I'm doing a little Craigslist browsing and I have some questions:

    I see DR650's and Honda XR650's from the mid-90's for sale. Any reason to avoid an "older" bike like this, assuming the condition is otherwise OK? I'm just wondering if there are known issues/problems with some of the older bikes that may have been fixed with later versions.

    Same question with regard to the venerable KLR. Am I right in thinking that over the years the changes to these bikes have been relatively minor? Lots of recommendations for the DRZ-400 but at least as of right now, I'm not finding a lot of them for sale, at least not compared to KLRs which seem to be as common as weeds.

    Another silly question: Why does everybody seem to change out the tank? More capacity? Or are they likely getting damaged off road?
    #17
  18. Navin

    Navin Long timer

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    For exploring dirt roads you could go down to a 100cc 4T as long as a top speed of 40/45 MPH was enough. Gearing small bores for dirt will pull a full sized rider around, up and over many things. 200cc is very adequate and 250 air cooled bikes not much stringer but again just fine. They push max speed with true dirt gearing to maybe 55/60. I doubt youd need real low dirt gearing anyway.
    #18
  19. Gedrog

    Gedrog 1000 mile stare a 1000 stories to tell

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    I chucked that one in because they look like fun bike just pootling about not being powerful and all good fun
    The DRZ400 mentioned and the Royal Enfield Himmy are both really good bikes I forgot to add them to my list
    Anything that has EFI is better in the sense you don't have to tickle the carbs because EFI will automatically adjust for altitude so if you get hold of a 250-450 with EFI you would be good as gold
    There is a DR650 EFI conversion kit but not cheap

    Suspension is the first thing on any bike to address hence add $2-600 to the price tag unless you buy something that already had suspension work done for a rider with the same weight
    #19
  20. Gedrog

    Gedrog 1000 mile stare a 1000 stories to tell

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