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So, What Is Dualsporting?

(The Holy Trail Of Dualsport)

By Tom Niemela

This is not an easy thing to pinpoint, but I'll give it a shot. Dualsport riding is simply an adventure on our chosen mode of transportation: motorcycle!  Dualsporting allows us freedom from the limitations of asphalt and the 'burbs.  

There are a couple descriptions on other websites that also try to explain the sport.  I know these folks well (Jim Pilon, Damon Powell and RL Lemke) and their words are about as accurate as they get. For the history of the first organized dualsport event by Jim Pilon in 1984 and more, check out "What Is Dualsport?" at Damon Powell's site.  Great stuff.  For even more great data check out "Dualsport Theory" at RL Lemke's site.   

As I started writing this, I remembered that I co-wrote an article many moons ago with my friend, Bob Schwarz (Oregon's Grandfather of Dualsporting).  Almost a decade later, the text still holds true, so I've included it at the tail end of this article, instead of reinventing the knobby.  Even though it was intended to help clubs host a dualsport, therefore promoting the sport further, it can also be used by a newbie that has never ridden one before and wants to be prepared with knowledge.  

I'll probably add more items, suggestions, etc. as time goes on for this article, but to start off with, something that hasn't really been defined - needs to be: Course Descriptions.  So here's my effort at some semblance of a standard:

Course descriptions

Note: this is assuming dry weather conditions.  Inclement weather or fire danger will dictate probably running only B or C courses, so as not to damage trails.  Letter designations are in key with typical AMA enduro class descriptions.

: VERY DIFFICULT [extremely advanced] -  sophisticated and complex trails that are only passable by a real dirt bike. Extreme uphills/downhills and trials-like sections, which require lower gearing.  Aggressive knobbies required. 
: DIFFICULT [advanced] - plenty of challenging trail that requires advanced trail techniques.  Aggressive knobbies highly suggested. 
: MODERATE [normal] - moderate or mild trail skills required.  Larger single-cylinder or two-up bikes should easily traverse these  sections.  Generally passable by an advanced Jeep/driver combo.  Regular dualsport tires are acceptable.
: EASY [very easy] - practically no trail.  Mostly gravel road. Passable by large 2-cylinder bikes, two-up,  or most any 4-wheel drive.  Regular dualsport tires are acceptable.

Hope that helps everyone know what to expect at an event!  This description only applies to course and not rider ability.  Obviously an extremely advanced rider could take a massive BMW GS1100 through sections that a beginner on a Honda 90 couldn't navigate.  Also a beginner rider may seem like an expert to others, and visa-versa.  It's all relative, so don't know how to evaluate that quite yet.  

So What Is The Best Dualsport Bike?

Wow, that's a tough question and it depends on what you want to do with your bike.  From the web, let me present an example of three scenarios:

  1. Rider #1 wants a bike for commuting that he can also ride around on fire roads and on an occasional trail. He guesses that it's to be used 90% street and 10% dirt.  The best bike for this rider would be a default dualsport bike from the manufacturer, which could include anything from a Honda 250XL to a BMW GS1100.  There is a plethora of bikes in this range that work great such as the Suzuki DR650, Kawasaki KLR650, Yamaha XT600, BMW 650 and KTM 620 Adventure.  The longer the commute, the bigger the bike.  If the commute is only a few miles, then a 250 would fit the bill.  The DR350 Suzuki is a great, popular mid-sized bike that will do everything nicely too.  Lengthy commutes lean toward the bigger bikes, but the off-road performance is less.
  2. Rider #2 wants a bike for commuting but he also wants it to be a competent dirt bike. He's a pretty serious dirt rider but can only afford one bike. He guesses that it's to be used 75% street and 25% dirt. This rider considers commuting as something that is necessary, but wants his one bike to be able to keep up on the trail.  Options in this range are the KTMs, and modified XRLs, DRSs, and KLXs.  
  3. Rider #3 has no interest in commuting. He wants a hardcore dirt bike that is barely street legal. Why? With land being closed everywhere by environmental extremists, it's getting harder to find long, dirt-only loops and he needs to ride on the pavement to connect trails. He guesses that it's to be used 5% street and 95% dirt.  This bike is typically a dirt bike that is modified to be street legal.  Common bikes for this are (but not limited to) 4-stroke enduro bikes like the KTM EXCs, XRs, WRs, KLXs, and DRs.  You just can't go wrong with something like an XR400 Honda and a Baja Design street-legal kit.  I had an XR600 Honda that worked flawless, but that's a bit bigger of a machine than most would like.  Many people make Kawasaki 200KDXs street legal and love 'em.

So as you can see, ALL dualsport bikes are the best, if that's what works best for you!  Personally I like the challenge of a bulldog, hardcore AA trail on my XR650, but I also like just cruising the back gravel roads on my BMW GS.  Just get me off the tarmac!

Dualsporting 101 or How To Host A Quality Dualsport Event

By Tom Niemela & Bob Schwarz, May 1994

Dualsport bikes have been around forever, it's just that people forgot about them for awhile. In the 50's and 60's, riders would take their Triumph, BSA, or Harley, unbolt the mirrors and go "Stump Jumping."  Then came the middle 70's when bikes started getting more specialized and began to excel at their particular design concept. No longer could you "run what ya brung" and remain competitive. Suddenly the DT1 Yamahas and SL Hondas weren't quite as appealing and technology went berzerko. Manufacturers were making bikes out of unobtainium and drilling holes in everything for lighter weight so that the bikes looked like Swiss Cheese. Then came the 80's and more technology. Riders were crying for and buying the latest trick thing in MX bikes, while the dualsport bike sat in the background and evolved slowly. The price of bikes started to soar. Now we are into the 90's and riders are rediscovering the "getting back to basics" philosophy on the relatively inexpensive dualsport bike. With the sudden popularity of the dualsport bike came organized dualsport events.

A dualsport event is a non-competitive, on/off-road, tour, not unlike our pavement bound street touring counterparts. Same concept: go to places that you haven't been before or just to get away from the annoyances of suburbia. The great thing about a dualsport bike is that you don't have to own the latest high-tech machinery to have fun. An old SL350 Honda can take you down the highway, while still yarding you through the mild trail sections. This opens up countless opportunities of adventure for the dualsport rider. This also draws a wider audience at a dualsport event. The goal, for a well run dualsport event, is to provide a pleasant on/off-road experience for riders of all ages and abilities. The following is what a club can expect when putting on a dualsport event and what a rider can also expect when entering one.


Most dualsport events consist of a course that has varying types of terrain and scenery with the main focus being more dirt than pavement. Pavement is generally just used to connect different off-road routes together. The course can be guided by many different styles: course arrows, ribbons, maps, and the most efficient being a roll chart method, similar to timekeeper enduros. The principal goal of a dualsport event is similar to a poker run; the riders ride at their own fun pace (without fear of having to be "timed" into the next checkpoint) to predetermined checkpoints and acquire points via games of chance or skill. Once the riders ride the entire course, the finish tally of points will decide who won first, second, and so on.


Many types of riders and bikes will appear at a dualsport event, which is one of the novelties of this type of sport. You will see old bikes, new bikes, trick bikes, rat bikes, street bikes, and dirt bikes. They all, obviously, must be street legal. On those same bikes will be  expert riders, amateur riders, street riders, old riders, young riders, male & female riders/passengers, and, yes, Martha, even dogs. How to satisfy such a variety of bikes and people? (The dogs are happy with an occasional sniff in the grass)  The easiest way is to have a main course with optional advanced and/or intermediate sections that branch off, but eventually return back to, the main course. The main course should, at its worst, be able to be traversed by a Jeep, as in a two-track road. The BMW GS rider can ride these with relative ease. The advanced course should be optional sections (that branch off and return to the main course) and would be for the more expert class of riders and riders with street-legal dirt bikes. These riders generally demand to be challenged, so go ahead and give them full blown enduro sections. This way the larger and slower dualsport machines can enjoy the ride, while the smaller, nimbler machines can also be challenged. Since we live in the Pacific Northwest, we can't help but have scenic rides, but adding a few little surprises on the course will make for a more memorable ride. Do you know of a particular waterfall, lake, historic site, or scenic overlook?  Run the course by these areas and let the riders enjoy it too!  Heck, I've even heard of one event where the course ran through the middle of an 'aromatic' barn!  (Yes, it was slick)  Most riders ride these events to see areas that they have never ridden before, so make it worth their money. An ideal length for a dualsport course is 100 to 150 miles a day, depending on the difficulty of the terrain. Don't forget that the riders may want to stop and visit at each checkpoint or take pictures along the way, so leave them plenty of time, but do stick to a predetermined cut-off time, since some riders still have to drive long distances to get home before dark. A good rule of thumb is to have available gas not much farther than 75 miles apart, since there are some bikes still being made that have the riders fiddling for reserve at around that mark.


Out of the many varieties of ways to lead riders through your course, the best is a roll chart, which is not something that bakers at Pillsbury use for measuring dough. A roll chart is similar to a timekeeper enduro roll chart in that it tells you mileages, comments, and turn indicators on a small 2" strip of paper. As the rider travels along, the roll chart is "rolled" through the holder like a scroll. For example, the chart might say "7.9 <-  John Doe Rd."  This simply means that at mile 7.9 the rider will make a left turn onto John Doe Rd. An important thing to remember when making a course using a roll chart is that most dualsport bikes are not resettable in tenths. Most of them reset only back to zero, so a course reset to zero should be performed every 10 to 20 miles (at the beginning of each roll chart "section") to  accommodate speedometer error. These resets should occur at some obvious geographical or structural location (such as a river, railroad crossing, bridge, intersection, etc.). A map should also be given to the riders as a means of backup should they get lost or to show them the general area that they will be covering. Ribbons and arrows are useful as confirmations from turns (and are almost mandatory in confusing trail sections), but the roll chart is the best way for the club and participants to ride the event. Ribbons should be consistent so that all ribbons are on the right side of the course to show the direction of travel. The roll chart should be their bible, though. How to get roll charts, you ask?  For those of you that get ecstatic when talking bits and bytes, a roll chart can be created and printed on a computer. Two methods that we know of are, (1) print out in multiple columns on a printer and then cut and tape them together (We use Microsoft Word and set the columns to 2" wide) or have them copied into full length columns at your local printing press and then slice them, (2) print out the course on a printer using 2" wide adding machine paper. This second way is a little more time consuming, but looks great. One commercial outlet is JART charts (800-666-JART), which are about $4 each. All riders must make a one-time purchase of a roll chart holder, which are usually available at the event or can be purchased at your local dealer for around $20 and is money well spent, or if you have a friend who is an old enduro rider, beg, borrow, or steal theirs!  Riders can tape, glue, or stuff the roll chart onto their bike if they don't want to spring for the chart holder, but the holder is highly recommended and is much safer.


No, we're not talking ignition timing gap. The riders will need some way to have a chance to win the big dollar prizes and trophies that your club has so meticulously acquired and prepared. This can be most anything, whether a game of chance or skill. A word of caution about the games of skill, though--at your dualsport event you must assume that you will receive entries of varying types of bikes. You could have Joe Blow show up on a Honda 90, while John Blow could also show up on a shiny new BMW GS 1000. If the games of skill are bike related, then John and his Beemer would be at a major disadvantage (about 200+ pounds worth, in fact) so the games of skill should be equal for everyone. Make the games of skill a tire roll, Frisbee golf throw, BB gun shoot, sprocket toss, horse shoes, dart throwing, or whatever makes all riders equal. Games of chance are easy: roll the dice, grab a poker card, flip a coin, play a toy slot machine, etc. The scoring at each check should be consistent with the other checks. If the maximum points that a rider can get at check #1 is 50, then check #2 should be about the same, and so forth with the remaining checks.  Along with that, a minimum of 1 point at any check is ideal to keep from having a tie in points.


As with any organized event, the hosting organization needs to perform other basic event duties, such as inform the riders to stay on the course if they break down, so that while the sweep crew is removing the course markings, the stranded riders can be found. Don't forget to get permission from the land owners for your event and apply for event insurance. There usually is no problem if you are just trail riding with your buddies, but if it is an event, contact the private land owners, BLM, Forest Service, etc. for permission. The State and County Police should also be notified in case the course may conflict with weekend traffic or somehow create other surprises within their jurisdiction. Don't forget to clean up after your event!  Be pro-active and also clean up litter left over from the lower life forms that give us a bad name. Run a sound test at the start of your dualsport event and penalize those with loud mufflers by docking points--this is our worst enemy, so we must be responsible for our actions and not invade other people's enjoyment of the forest. The quieter we are, the more places we can ride. Less sound equals more ground!

This article is by no means the gospel of dualsporting and only touches on some of the major issues, but it should help the prospective club or group that wants to put on a dualsport event realize what is involved. It's the same as any other event--but different!  This should also let the first time dualsport rider realize what he/she gets for their entry fee, besides a lot of fun!   Dualsporting can be measured in SPG (smiles per gallon) and a dualsport event is a conglomeration of touring and trail riding--the best of both worlds. Many dualsport events are available throughout the Northwest this year and there is probably one near you. Bolt on your blinkers, strap on your helmet, and go ride one!  You'll be hooked!