I’ve recently decided that I want a smaller dual sport motorcycle. Small dual sport motorcycles are lighter and handles better than large adventure bikes, but most of them are still capable of touring long distance.
I’ve compared seven of the more popular small dual sport bikes in the video below. The rest of the post summarizes all the detailed specifications.
The 7 bikes in this review range from the cheapest Chinese TT250 at $2 295 to the Kawasaki KLX300S that retails for $5 599. That is a huge difference in price from cheapest to most expensive. When I look at these prices, I would not buy a new Japanese dual sport. It would have to be between a good second-hand Jap or a new Chinese motorcycle.
The advantage of paying less for your bike is that you have more cash left for that long trip. Or to get a second bike!
Small dual sport bikes generally have engine sizes ranging from 125 cc to 300 cc.
Biggest engines usually mean more power and it is therefore no surprise that the Honda CRF300L is the most powerful of these 7 small dual sport motorcycles.
At 27 hp (8 500 rmp) the Honda is just ahead of the Kawasaki KLX300S that produces 26 hp at 8 000 rpm.
It is no surprise that the smaller Honda Trail125 delivers the least power from that 125 cc engine.
Surprisingly, the Honda CRF300L delivers 17.6% more torque than the Kawasaki KLX300, despite having a slightly smaller engine. What’s more is that the torque of the Honda peaks at 500 rpm lower than that of the KLX.
A big advantage of small dual sport bikes is that they are lighter than their 650 cc counterparts. The Trail125 was always going to be the lightest, but the DR200SE and TW200 hits the spot at 278 lbs wet compared to the porky CRL300L and KLX300S.
Weight is not only important for handling in the tough stuff, but it makes it so much easier (especially on the back) to pick up the bike after a tumble.
You might be thinking “Who in their right mind will tour with a small dual sport bike”, but I can attest from personal experience that 200 cc is enough to go very far indeed. We toured 9 630 miles through Africa for 3 months on two 200 cc Chinese delivery bikes without any problems (read more here).
Fuel range is a very important consideration when you are travelling far from. The advantage of smaller engines is better fuel economy. Add to that a larger tank and you can easily reach the next town in remote locations.
Both the Suzuki DR200SE and the CSC TT250 Chinese bike have larger tanks than my massive Honda XR650L. That will come in handy when you are touring in areas where the next town with a gas station is 200 miles away.
The whole idea of a dual sport bike is to be able to venture off road. That’s where the real adventure starts. And that’s where high ground clearance can come in handy.
It was interesting to see that the TT250 has the most ground clearance (11.5 inches). That said, all the others are at least 10 inches or more off the ground.
Another consideration in the dirt is the amount of suspension travel. Taller suspension will soak up bump better, but also allow for a better ride when loaded up with camping gear.
The Honda CRF300L beats the other bikes in the front and rear, but the Kawasaki KLX300S has adjustable suspension at both ends. The rest of the small dual sport bikes range from a measly 3.9 and 3.4 inches front and rear on the Honda Trail 125 to 10 and 9.1 inches on the KLX.
Many riders, not just beginners and women, complain about dual sport bikes being too tall. At anything below 6 feet a rider may struggle to put both feet flat on the ground. That’s another great advantage of a smaller dual sport motorcycle.
Not all of these smaller dual sport bikes are accommodating to the vertically challenged, however. The Kawasaki KLX 300 S, for instance, has a tall seat height of 35.2 inches. The Yamaha TW 200 is the lowest. At only 31.1 inches, it is the reason why my wife rode a TW when taking her bike test. The Honda Trail 125 and Yamaha XT 250 is not much taller.
Probably a meaningless comparison to most, compression ratio is interesting to me as it gives some insight into the design of the engine. A lower compression ratio usually means a less technologically advances engine that will more forgiving of dirty fuel in the farthest reaches of the Third World.
Higher compression ratios usually translate into more power. That’s why you see upward of 13 : 1 on bikes like the KTM 890 Adventure. In our little comparison, the lowest compression ratio is that of the CSC TT250.
Most modern motorcycles nowadays have disc brakes front and rear. Of the 7 small dual sports bikes in this sample, only the Suzuki DR 200 and the TW 200 still have drums in the rear. Rotor sizes can give us some indication of stopping power. It was a surprise to see that the TT 250 has the biggest disc up front.
In the rear, the KLX300S has bigger discs than the rest, with the TT 250 and CRF 300L close behind.
Most dual sport bikes have 21 inch front wheels and 18 inch in the rear. Bigger diameter wheels roll over obstacles more easily. Of the 7 small dual sport bikes I researched for this post, only two diverged from the 21/18 combination. The Honda Trail 125 has 17 inch tires front and rear for that classic look.
The Yamaha TW 200 is the strangest. It runs an 18 inch rear tire in the front with a 14 inch ATV tire in the rear. This allows for great traction at almost any lean angle and very nimble maneuverability on tight trails.
Tighter emissions regulations mean that more small bikes are being equipped with electronic fuel injection (EFI). Of the seven bikes on my list, only three still deliver fuel and air via a carburetor. The Chinese built CSC TT 250, the long-standing Suzuki DR 200 S and the old agri-Yamaha TW 200 have not yet crossed over to the dark side of EFI.
If it sounds like I don’t like EFI, it is only because I prefer the simplicity of a carb. If you drown your EFI bike you may as well call your buddy to bring his truck. Any bush mechanic will be able to help you fix your carb, something I experienced first hand in rural Western Tanzania.
I damaged the float of my carb after cleaning dirty fuel out of the float bowl. Luckily, a nearby mechanic working from under a tree managed to find a replacement and fix my bike while I wait.
Apart from the 4-speed semi automatic Honda Trail 125 and the 6-speed boxes of the Honda CRF 300 L and the Kawasaki KLX 300 S, all the bikes have standard 5-speed transmissions. The CRF, however, has a slipper clutch too. Just something else that can brake.
Which one is best? You tell me by commenting on my video. Personally, I like the primitive design and long production run of the Suzuki DR 200 SE. It also has the biggest tank. The XT 250 is another great option, but I’d go for the older XT 350 with dual carburetors and a 6-speed gearbox.
Happy dual sporting!