Project Husqvarna TE610 Part 1: Dual Sport Adventure Bike Options
By Dan Barnes
Buying a semi-obscure Italian motorcycle and riding it out to the middle of nowhere may not seem to be a well-thought-out plan, but really, there was some thought. I swear. An off-road bike is ridiculous fun, but it's also kind of like having a track car that needs a trailer. The goal of this project is a bike that can be ridden out of the driveway, cruise on the freeway to get to the mountains, then hit dirt roads, jeep trails and singletrack, stringing them together with a patch of pavement here or there if needed. A go anywhere, do anything bike.
I am a big guy and usually get the call when a friend has something heavy to move. This bike needed to be big, with plenty of power, but not heavy. I wanted it to look like a motorcycle, not a garden tractor or, worse, a garden tractor wrapped in Tupperware®. And it needed to be good enough off-road to climb obstacles and thread through trees on singletrack. Not a low-buck touring bike with sorta-long-travel suspension. A dirt bike. And it needed to have benefitted from a few years of depreciation. The list gets short really quickly.
|Honda's XR650R was built from 2000 to 2007, originally with one purpose: to win Baja. And it did win, every time it was fielded in a factory effort. Photo courtesy American Honda Motor Co., Inc.|
The XR650R is a great bike: lightweight for a thumper over 600cc, powerful and fast. It looks right. The fact that it's kick-start only doesn't bother me, but some people strongly prefer a “magic button”. One could still buy new XR650Rs several years after their model years, but their hanging around in dealerships may have been due to the lack of electric start and the impossibility of registering one for street use in California after January 2004.
Because it was conceived as a race bike, Honda never made the XRR meet federal emissions requirements for road use, and California is one of a growing number of states that choose to enforce those rules. There are 2002-and-older XR650Rs in California with valid license plates, but if you didn't own the bike before the cutoff to convert it to road use in 2004, even buying one with a current plate seems to leave you liable to eventually receive a nastygram from Sacramento, inviting you to trade your now-useless piece of stamped aluminum for an OHV sticker.
It can be debated whether there are strategies for getting around this, but after reading everything I could find about the issue, I decided not to take the risk. In spite of that reality, it seems that most XRRs have had the equipment installed to make them street-legal where that's possible: lighting, horn, etc. If you are strong enough to not worry about kick-starting a big thumper and live in a state that will give you a plate for pretty much anything with two wheels, lights and a horn, an XRR is a solid choice.
|KTM's EXC series is among the best options for a dirt bike-with-a-plate, but its high-performance focus leads to compromises that make it less suited for long distance adventures. Photo courtesy Mathis P. and KTM|
KTM has both the 530 EXC, which is a fairly conventional dirt bike, and the 690 Enduro R, which is shifted a little more toward dual-purpose work as well as being reorganized from standard motorcycle architecture, with the fuel tank under the seat. New or nearly so, they both cost more than I was prepared to spend for a toy.
The older 525 EXC is another good bike, but neither it nor the 530 have the long legs and ranginess I wanted for the highway parts of longer rides. A tiny engine oil capacity causes the oil to run hot, necessitating frequent changes. Valves need to be checked frequently, though they at least have threaded adjusters instead of shims.
|Photo courtesy American Suzuki||Photo courtesy Kawasaki Motors Corp., U.S.A.|
The Suzuki DR650SE and Kawasaki KLR 650 make good long-distance touring bikes for dirt roads, but are just too heavy for the dirt I plan to ride. Kawasaki also made the much more dirt-oriented KLX650 from 1993-1996 in kick- and electric-start versions, but sold about 12 of them and then stopped. People who have them say they are great bikes, but the newest one is now 15 years old and there is virtually no aftermarket support.