Recently, I’ve been asked to write an article about different types of motorcycles for a bike security company. All was well until I hit the ADV/off-road segment: in addition to the three main categories – adventure, dual-sport, and dirt bikes – you’ve got so many little sub-categories and niches within niches I would have gone way over the word count to list them all. And while for more experienced riders, a difference between an adventure and a dual sport bike is clear as day, what about someone who is just starting out?

Dirt Bikes

It seems that the golden era of large-capacity adventure bikes like the BMW GS 1200 is evolving in a different direction, and the post-Long Way Round world wants smaller, lighter, and more nimble motorcycles than the mammoth ADV beasts. Perhaps unsurprisingly, riders are looking to adventurize dirt bikes instead of trying to make the large ADV motorcycles more off-road friendly. Dirt bikes, motorcycles designed for off-road riding and typically no more than 450cc, can easily be made road legal; with new mods like rally kits, these bikes can go from dirt to adventure in no time. Steph Jeavons successfully circumnavigated the world on a Honda CRF250L, while the Rolling Hobo is the king of adventurizing KTM 500 EXC. Dirt bikes are fantastic for beginners, as they’re much lighter, easier to handle, and cheaper to maintain than the larger adventure bikes, and they can easily serve as travel motorcycles with upgraded suspension and some soft luggage.

Off Road vs Dual-Sport vs Adventure: What's the Difference? // ADV Rider

Dual-sport Bikes

A dual-sport bike is essentially a hybrid between a dirt and an adventure motorcycle. Capable off-road and sufferable on-road, dual-sport bikes are allrounders able to tackle more technical terrain yet maintain acceptable highway speeds when needed. A weapon of choice for a lot of RTW riders – just about every third traveler is probably riding around the world on either a Kawasaki KLR650 or a  Suzuki DR650 – these bikes are usually between the 450-750cc range, mid-weight, and easy enough to maintain on your own. A new generation of dual-sport bikes the Yamaha Tenere 700 or KTM 790 shows more and more riders are taking to the road on lighter, more dirt-oriented machines.

Off Road vs Dual-Sport vs Adventure: What's the Difference? // ADV Rider

Adventure Motorcycles

While the trend may be to go smaller, lighter, and more off-road ready, adventure motorcycles aren’t going anywhere any time soon. Large and heavy but powerful and comfortable, these bikes are in the range of 850-1200 cc; unlike the dual-sports, adventure bikes are great on-road and tolerable off-road. Aimed at riders who do high mileage and venture off-road occasionally, these beasts are capable of anything and everything between a weekend getaway and a two-year RTW.

Off Road vs Dual-Sport vs Adventure: What's the Difference? // ADV Rider

Image: Adobe

Mixing and Matching

While most riders start out with stock bikes, soon enough, the different motorcycle types and purposes begin to merge and mix in all sorts of weird and wonderful aftermarket mod ways. Any adventure bike can be made more off-road ready with the right suspension, light luggage, aggressive tires, and some serious skill; dual-sport bikes can be modified for both traveling and rally racing, and dirt bikes can be turned into RTW-ready adventure machines. Even if you aren’t mechanically minded, with time and experience, you’ll probably start experimenting with bike mods to one extent or another – to fit your specific riding style, skill level, and expectations is a tall order for a stock bike. I went from being unable to locate by carburetter to upgrading the suspension completely rebuilding my Suzuki DR650 (engine overhaul included), and if, God forbid, a new bike would come to the misfortune of finding me as its new owner, I’d immediately embark on a mission to modify it as much as I can to fit the sort of riding that I do.

So whether you choose a dirt, a dual-sport, or an adventure motorcycle as your first bike, nothing is final. People travel the world on small dirt bikes and race rallies on 1200c adventure beasts – nothing is impossible, and it’s all about who you are, what kind of riding you do, and where you want to go. Perhaps in the future, the lines between dirt, dual-sport, and ADV bikes will blur even more: as adventure riding evolves, so does the industry around it. Maybe, five years from now, there will be a bike capable of tackling gnarly technical terrain, racing the Dakar, and travel for years on end all in one.

What’s your preference – dirt, dual-sport, or adventure, and what bike would you like to see manufacturers working on next? Share in the comments below!

Featured image: Adobe

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