As more riders seek the freedom to explore wide-open spaces on two wheels, adventure and dual sport motorcycles have become among the fastest growing segments of new motorcycle sales. Both types of motorcycles differ from purely on-road motorcycles in their ability to comfortably navigate a variety of paved and unpaved terrain. Adventure motorcycles combine the long-haul comfort and convenience of long-distance touring motorcycles with the ability to tackle the type of rough roads that are frequently encountered in rural areas far off the beaten path. Dual sport motorcycles feature similar multi-surface capabilities but tend to be lighter, smaller and less powerful than adventure bikes, making them even more nimble when the pavement ends but not as comfortable for long-distance travel or as capable in very rough terrain as an off-road-only dirt bike.
Both types of motorcycles are factory equipped with components that provide comfort and versatility in a variety of terrain, but most stock adventure and dual sport bikes can benefit from a few key upgrades. Let’s take a closer look at some of the most popular and useful modifications you can make for safety, comfort and convenience when the pavement ends.
Tire choice is the most important decision a rider can make when deciding how to use or modify an adventure or dual sport motorcycle. No other single modification can match the profound effect of tire selection on the way a motorcycle handles on or off the road. There are many options to consider, but the choice typically comes down to the percentage of riding one expects to spend off pavement. Dual-use motorcycle tires are generally rated with a percentage that indicates the split between on- and off-road use. For example, a 50/50 tire would be appropriate for a rider who intends to spend an equal amount of time on and off paved roads. We suggest taking a critical look at your style of riding before considering a tire choice. If you like riding mainly on the street with an occasional foray off road on groomed gravel or fire roads, we suggest starting with a tire rated for an 80/20 or 70/30 mix of road to dirt riding. If you know you’ll be predominantly riding on dirt, consider a 50/50 tire, but be prepared to sacrifice some performance on the street. It's also important to consider the compounds used in tires and the tread pattern, as this affects how quickly the tires wear out. Off-road biased tires with widely spaced, knobby tread blocks and soft rubber compounds wear much more quickly than street-biased tires.
The suspension on your motorcycle is critical to comfort, performance and ride quality on any terrain. Adventure and dual sport motorcycles are equipped with front and rear suspension components that provide an increased range of travel compared to a purely on-road motorcycle to better absorb the ups and downs encountered off pavement. However, you may still experience a harsh ride over bumps and ruts or frequently bottom out the suspension, especially with a passenger or luggage. If your motorcycle is equipped with adjustable suspension settings, the first step is to ensure that the preload setting, or sag, is properly adjusted for the weight of the rider and gear. Check your motorcycle owner’s manual for the correct procedure. More expensive models may also feature adjustable compression and rebound settings for the forks and rear shock absorber to allow you to tune the ride quality for high- and low-speed bumps and improved handling. With any adjustable suspension, this is usually a trial-and-error process, so it’s a good idea to make small adjustments one at a time to determine where the suspension is best set for your riding style. For more extreme off-road conditions, some riders may choose to upgrade their stock suspension to aftermarket components with custom-tuned spring rates and more responsive compression and rebound settings.
Riding your motorcycle on rough, technical terrain presents additional considerations to both the rider and the machine when it comes to protective equipment. There’s nothing worse than being in the middle of the woods with oil draining from a hole in the engine case or side cover. Most adventure and dual sport motorcycles come with a factory-installed plastic skid plate that provides limited protection to the underside of the engine from rocks and other debris. Upgrading to a larger, sturdier aftermarket unit that provides more robust protection to a wider area of the underside of your bike is a good idea. Also consider the size and location of your oil drain plug. Many factory plugs hang below the stock skid plate, where they can easily be struck or damaged. Consider replacing it with a low-profile plug or drilling and safety wiring it for added security. Additionally, it’s a good idea to consider adding handguards to your bike. These can save your hands and levers if you ever hit a tree or drop the bike on its side. Another great investment is a set of aftermarket foot pegs that offer more grip and a larger platform than stock pegs, an especially useful item when riding standing up. Finally, if your motorcycle is not equipped with a center stand, adding one is useful, especially when parking. A center stand also makes many maintenance tasks easier, such as lubricating a chain or changing the front or rear tire.
A big part of the appeal of adventure and dual sport motorcycles is their ability to take you on a self-supported journey of discovery over nearly any distance or type of terrain you desire. Having the ability to be self-sufficient while carrying all the necessary equipment to camp, cook or repair your motorcycle while on the road requires a thoughtful approach to the gear you select and how to carry it. The three most popular options for luggage are hard-sided or soft-sided cases, also known as panniers, both of which are attached to the motorcycle with frame-mounted racks, or soft-sided rack-less systems that can be easily mounted without a separate rack. There are pros and cons to each option. Hard-sided cases are more easily lockable and offer the highest degree of protection from the elements but can be more easily damaged in the event of a tip-over or crash. In rare instances, they can also cause an injury to the rider if a foot or leg becomes trapped under the leading edge of the case. Rack-mounted soft panniers generally hold up well in falls but are more easily damaged by sharp objects and greater care must be paid to keeping their contents dry. Rack-less systems are similar to soft cases, with universal mounting systems that allow them to be attached to virtually any motorcycle, but tend to be more expensive.
Whichever system you choose, selecting the gear to carry in them is another topic unto itself. The best advice we can offer is to find the right balance between carrying too little and too much by building your kit through constant testing and evolution. Start out with a list of what you think you need and try it on a short overnight trip, then reassess your needs and add or subtract as necessary before heading out on a longer excursion.
Although many riders seek off-grid experiences to detach from their connected lives, it can be helpful to have a GPS unit or personal location device if you choose to head far off the beaten path on your next adventure. Not only can these devices help you find your way, they can also save your life in the wilderness if you become lost or injured. Many companies offer mounts to attach GPS units, cell phones or other devices onto the handlebars of your bike; these can easily be removed but will help keep you connected during your adventure.
Aside from these suggested modifications, it’s imperative to diligently care for and maintain your motorcycle, especially when taking it off road. Before you head out for any ride, check over your bike to make sure it’s in good working order using the T-CLOCS method recommended by the Motorcycle Safety Foundation. When it comes time for any needed maintenance, Quicksilver® offers a wide variety of products, including oils and other lubricants, to keep any type of motorcycle in top operating condition.