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Readers Respond to Drawing from the Dirt

Feeling that he might be missing the point with respect to why traditional street bike manufacturers are crossing over into the very competitive off-road market, Dirck looked to our readers in his post on May 15, 2007 for their thoughts regarding this new development. Below, in their unedited form, are the responses.

  • Dirtbikes are a step above disposable. While performance is king, I will not pay extra for a pretty dirtbike that I am going to wad up on a regular basis. Durable performance is what I want. Can the new guys beat the established players? I don’t know, but they should definitely research Cannondale. “We’ll use two airfilters, and make a low pressure intake. It will be great!” Everyone can laugh if they want, but my Cannondale bicycle is the equvialant to a top of the line motocross bike, and they totally missed the mark in the transition.

  • Maybe you should move out of Kalifornia? Here in TN and other areas in the east (KY, WV, VA), we seem to have plenty of areas to ride off-road. Lots of national forest roads, active private off-road parks. Even the state is actively developing OHV areas in many of our wildlife management areas (WMA). WV has developed the huge McCoy-Hatfield OHV area (hundreds of square miles) We even have the resource management companies (coal/timber) that allow and have permitted riding (and hunting) in their controlled areas. Not that these areas are likely to be filled with expensive BMW, Buell, and Aprilia bikes, but that wasn’t your point. Sure we don’t have wide open desert riding, but if woods and back country are your thing, we have plenty.

  • In response to your inquiry as to why long established street bike makers are venturing into the dirt bike arena I believe that I have a theory that is worth consideration. I believe that manufacturers like Aprilia and especially BMW see it as a way to train engineers and their whole organization in making light weight, rugged durability and ease of maintenance a higher priority in designing motorcycles while still producing a stylish, easy to sell product.

    I believe that these companies (Aprilia and BMW) have been directly threatened by KTM’s entrance into the street bike market with seriously competitive, light and stylish machines (SuperDuke 990, SuperMoto 990).

    The new KTM street bikes have demonstrated that the KTM organization can take the design parameters that are needed to make a competitive dirt bike (230 lbs. wet, 50hp, 12in of suspension travel, simplicity) and apply them to making street bikes in a way that no other European manufacturer has had to to stay competitive.

  • As a modestly “more affluent” older potential dirt bike rider, I can tell you it is not a lack of product that keeps from buying a dirt bike; it is a lack of legal riding areas. As a multi bike owner who has ridden for years and one who started on dirt bikes, it is definitely something I miss doing, and something I would love to do with my young children. Perhaps the manufacturers should get together and spend some development budget on buying some land we could ride on, or on converting some of the many closed and unused land fills, instead of on new product that can’t be used. Until then I will go mountain biking with my kids, reluctantly telling them no when they ask for a dirt bike, and take them to VIR as soon as they are old enough to get on the track.

    Great site, keep up the good work.

  • I’m one of the guys they are marketing these dirt bikes to….A 37yr old professional who has grown up on dirt/motocross bikes, has owned/raced street bikes, and now wants a cool, fast dirt bike that is (or can easily be made) street legal, and which would be competitive at hare scrambles and motard races in addition to being a bad ass and legal trail ride.

    I don’t want to tour on this bike (street bike or SUV full of my family will do that part), don’t want to go >100mph on the back roads (been there/done that, and if I want to do that again, I’ll buy an appropriate street bike), and just want a bike that will legally traverse the ever narrowing band of trails on public land around here, while allowing me to ride to work once in a while (city riding — 15 km), and then let me tear it up with motard/harescramble/enduro capability if I chose. Street bikes have become increasingly the domain of poseurs, but good dirt bikes (especially in the last 2-3 years) have the “raw purpose” built into them, and are usually wielded by knowledgable riders. You see one of these on the street, and you know the guy just plain loves to RIDE!

    Criteria for buying- If it gets blown away by a true motocross bikes, I don’t want it
    – If it breaks down all the time, I don’t want it

    – If it doesn’t have a “cool factor”, I don’t want it
    – If I can’t ride in more than 1 discipline (dirt + street/motard), I don’t want it
    – If its too expensive, I don’t want it
    – Needs electric start (just because I’m lazy)

    To scratch this itch, I have just bought a Honda CRF450X and converting to street legal, and setting up with motard gear. I would have bought an Aprillia SVX, but DANG was it expensive (and warranty was provided only at one place, and expected to be expensive too). The DRZ400 you ask?…PUHLEEZE…its an overweight, slow joke, compared to what else is out there for dirt bikes. In 2-3 years, I’ll be looking for a newer/neater bike, hopefully manufacturers will have something for me then (or maybe I’ll pick up a 1-2 year old Aprillia….)

    I don’t think I’m alone, as I’ve got 3 of my friends doing the same thing in my area of central Ontario. I think the market is there.

  • Riding areas are closing but the places you can ride dual sport bikes is expanding. Dual purpose bikes are light and fun to ride – not to mention usually less expensive. Think of them as SUV’s on two wheels.

  • If the bike manufacturers want to sell us more dirt bikes, then they should start helping us fight for places to ride!

    No riding areas = no dirt bike sales.

  • The answer is in your previous editorial headline,”More isn’t always better”.Technology has provided us with some unbelievable advancements over the last two decades.Suspension,brakes,frames,power have made huge leaps.Unfortunately many of these advancements have appeared on full out race replica street bikes with street riding ergonomics far worse then the cruiser bikes all of us “real” motorcyclists like to snicker at.Why pursue off road bikes? Enduro and motard crossover application is why. I know the North American market has been very slow to adopt the motard and adventure style motorcycle .BMW’s GS being one big exception.I do believe off road style street bike it is going to play a large role moving forward.Comfortable ergonomics,suspension compliance and travel,light weight,simplicity of design as well as sufficient power but not crazy power all make sense for the street.I have been riding on and off road for 30 years and am no prude when it comes to sport bikes,but I am not sure 180 or 200 rear wheel horsepower is going to be a good thing for our sport in the long run. Ever pick up an off road magazine lately?Some are huge with tons of aftermarket companies advertising within their pages.The demographics of this market point to the future of street bikes.Ducati’s Hypermotard.KTM’s Super Duke are two examples of where we are going.I say we cannot get there fast enough.

  • I read your column regarding what motives manufacturers may have in developing more dirt bikes.

    To be honest, I am equally perplexed. I started riding 4 years ago at 38. I have never ridden a dirt bike though have always thought it would be fun however the issue has always been access. There are not convenient areas to take these bikes. Even existing mountain bike trails are starting to disappear so though I would love to get a dirt bike the access issue all but kills my desire from a practicality stand point. The concept of a dual sport bike is very appealing in that it would satisfy road work, trails (if I can actually find some) and the abundance of dirt back roads that are in my area. Today’s motocrossers and enduros without their ability to be licensed won’t work. I wonder if these companies are chasing a disappearing market, not because of desire but because of shrinking riding areas. Maybe California and other western states can sustain some growth, but here in the Midwest I just can’t see it.

    I guess I am also surprised, If they can create a dirt bike/dual sport that has true off road capabilities wrapped in a street legal package that would be compelling if the price is right. In the mean time I’ll stick to the road.

  • You are right on. The off-road marketplace is ridiculously saturated already. Even Beta is going to import an off road line next year. Add on Aprilla, BMW, and HD/Buell to the big four, KTM and Husky and you have a classic market glut. How can they even think of maintaining profitability?

    However, there is a demographic spike right now of 40 – 50 year olds with relatively large disposable incomes. Many want to relive their dirt bike riding youth. The local off-road racing organization here in the Carolinas, NCHSA, is enjoying its largest enrollment ever. The question is, how long will this spike last given the diminishing venues for the sport?

  • It’s mostly like SUV’s and mountain bicycles. The image is attractive but they seldom see dirt. Besides,…with the glut of 600cc sportbikes and look-alike cruisers, it’s nice to see stripped down basic motorcycles back in the showroom.

  • You raise an interesting point. Land is disappearing. What I don’t understand is why more manufacturers (the Japanese for instance) don’t manufacture barely street legal offroad/enduro bikes like Husky and KTM are doing. “Dualsporting” off road bikes is getting harder and harder with some states simply refusing to issue a tag to any vehicle that was originally manufactured as an off road vehicle (no matter how many modifications you have done). Perhaps this is an area of the motorcycle industry BMW and others could develop and dominate?

  • Most riders got their start/introduction to motorcycling was thru a dirt bike. Because you can’t ride a streetbike on public road until your 16 yrs old or older, the only way to learn how to properly ride a bike and operate the clutch/brake/shifting controls is thru a dirt bike on private property. That’s how I got my start. When I was 14, I got a Suzuki DS80. I rode that until I was 16. I didn’t ride a street bike until I was 21 yrs old, but I knew how to properly and safely ride a street bike from my previous experience thru dirt bikes. I’ve been riding ever since. I don’t change bikes much, having only gone thru 3 street bikes. But just recently I wanted to get back into dirt bike scene since the 4 stroke has come out.

    So maybe there is a market for high end dirt bike.
    These bike may not be good in dirt like most dual purpose bikes, but they may look good doing it and image sells. Also look at the interest in Motards bikes recently. There’s a interest in bikes that are out of the norm, but how big of a market is still unknown. But if a manufacturer could get one model that’s a hit that makes your company stand out, it will have a jump on the other manufacturer.
    Manufacturers are always looking to do that, testing the waters at these motorcycle shows. Never know, I might see my next bike around the corner.

  • The upside of new manufacturers entering the “dirt bike” market is we might get more powerful lobbying partners to help us keep some of the freaking land open so we can ride off-highway in the US. We need every voice available to fight this fight.

    Another positive is we are just now starting to see “Real” dirt bikes available as “Dual Sport” bikes with 07 KTM EXC’s. Plated bikes are the future.

    I live in California and our two Senators are the worst offenders at shutting down public lands. Most riders don’t have a clue where there local politicians stand and everyone has a knee jerk reaction to anything that might threaten “the environment.”

    We -as riders- are not politically correct and are seen as a threat to the environment. Burning fossil fuels, making noise and destroying fragile ecosystems.

    But the truth is that politicians want to limit your freedoms and your rights and do it in the name of helping you: Bullshit. Thank god for me Mexico is 100 miles away, There I can ride off-road —at least I can today.

  • Dirck, your whole question is based on the assumption that “land available for off-road riding continually disappears.” Is that true?

    North of Spokane, Washington, where I did my off road riding in the 70’s, National Forests and public land stretch to the Canadian border. Last time I was back up there some of the roads and trails we used to ride were completely grown over from lack of use. I guess if your idea of off-road riding is a vacant lot next door, there might be declining opportunities, but there are still many thousands of miles of primitive roads and trails throughout the U.S that are open to motorcycles. So I don’t see why the market for new dual-sports and adventure touring bikes shouldn’t be fabulous right now.

    As far as dedicated off-road bikes, for crying out loud, have you been to a motocross lately? When I raced in the 70’s we were a little rag tag bunch of kooks pursuing an unusual recreation. The tracks were primitive and so was the equipment. Most of us showed up wth our bikes in a borrowed pickup truck. We considered it high tech if someone was using tie-downs; a lot of us just leaned our motorcycles against some old tires in the bed.

    Back in Minnesota, a few weeks ago I flagged at the local motocross track. It was a Saturday practice, for crying out loud, and the pits were full of motor homes and fully enclosed trailers stocked with rollaway tool chests and power washers. Vendors could rebuild an engine or relace a wheel on site. The track was equipped with a sprinking system to control dust, and all the flagging stations are now wooden towers. And we have more local tracks than ever!

    There must be a hundred-fold, possibly a thousand-fold increase in the amount of money in off-road racing. When I was racing Dirt Bike magazine was the only motorcycle magazine devoted exclusively to off-road riding. Now there are more than a dozen, and they are fat with full color advertising. Motocross Fox and Flying Machine Factory have gone from porting cylinders in private garages to setting fashion trends.

    So in summary, we have more miles of primitive roads and trails than you could ride in a life time. We have enough closed-course competition venues to give you a choice of track and event every weekend. And we have an unbelievable influx of cash into the sport. What was your question again?

  • Dirck: Simply put, the proliferation of new dirt bikes is the industry reaction to the banning of 2-stroke engines throughout the USA. CA has led the way, but other states are now on the ‘green’ bandwagon. Virtually all new off-road machines are 4-stroke powered. Many ring-dingers will soon need a 4-stroke choice to replace their now illegal ride. Industry looking ahead.
    A change for the better.

  • Guys, are you out to lunch? I even seem to recall articles where you discuss the fun of riding a bike that is more flickable, more fun at slow speed, and that is more than single dimensional. I wager that over half of the supermotard bikes purchased and ridden, never see any dirt that isn’t strewn across pavement. Of course, that does not include me, where half of my SM riding takes place off pavement…but the fun to be had on pavement is tough to argue against.

    A perfect example is to take a look at your average 1000cc sportbike.
    What are they doing these days…100MPH in first gear? Come on. Maybe it is my age (40), but that no longer sounds appealing. I agree that a hyper sports bike is fun, smooth, and stupid fast…but you stop being able to develop skills of that come with riding a bike at its limits.
    There is nobody I know of that can ride a modern bike anywhere near its limits on the street…hell not even on the track it seems. And don’t forget the bill that comes along with dropping a modern hyper bike…I have tossed my DRZ-SM several times (remember, I frequently ride in the dirt), and I have not spent a single dime on getting back to like new condition, because unless you look closely, you cannot tell.

    I don’t know where your comments came from…perhaps trying to still up comments from readers. I suspect you already know what sorts of responses you will get.

  • At 37 I finally discovered off road trail riding a few months ago. This is the most 2 wheeled fun I have had in 20 years of riding. I am currently riding on public trails in the Daniel Boone National Forest. Although public riding lands are fading, private riding areas are becoming more prevalent in Kentucky. I personally welcome new manufactures in the dirt arena; however, I would be hard pressed to find a better off road machine than my Suzuki DRZ400.

  • It comes down to affluence plain and simple. No matter how much we bitch about the cost of living, people are just richer than they used to be. We live in bigger houses, own fancier cars, eat more, and have more stuff than our parents did. We spend far more, live in greater comfort, and have much higher debt than any previous generation.

    Added to this is the baby boomer inheritance windfall. Our parents and grandparents, who unlike us saved money, left behind sizable estates and this money is now buying muscle cars, Harleys, boats, etc. A $10,000 BMW dirt bike – no problem!

  • Great quandary! Of course this is an opinion backed up by 30+ years of riding both dirt and street.
    It strikes me as being the “HARLEY Syndrome”, you know, the new Harley rider who can afford one and parks it in the garage along with his skull rag and black leather vest. In this narcissistic era we live in there are so many people who are trying to keep up with what they perceive as the “happening crowd” they purchase whatever they perceive to be that level of recreational vehicle. Of course MC manufacturers will market to that desire. If you, as you pointed out in your article, really researched the availability of off road riding and the shear effort it takes to get there you would have to give pause before purchasing such machines if you do not actively race. But you can park one in the garage and dream can’t you?

  • It would make sense to go after older dirtbike riders. Many of them are affluent re-entry riders who remember the fun and glory of their youth. They no longer want to wrench, they just want reliablity so they can ride when they have time. As to where, these riders are affluent enough to trailer their bike, or take special vacations to go riding in special places. I think or them as a subset of RUBies. Call them GEMs: Geriatric Ex-Motocrossers.

  • I, for one, do not like “cookie cutter’ bikes. Something that everyone has. I ride a 2001 KTM 400 that I DSed. I ride a Triumph Bonnie. I also have a BMW 1150 RT and 2004 BoxerCup Replika. Not much cookie cutter in that group. My new Adventure bike is a 2007 KTM 640. (Sold the Uly…….non-adventure bike)

    So………possibly, the BMW rider who may want to ride off road, doesn’t want what everyone else has. It shows in his/her choice of street bike.. Might reflect the same in his off road taste as well. (His or hers. I don’t want the wrath of Ms. Edge that has been seen in today’s post…………..whew. Glad I am not on her bad side………..yet.)

    BTW……..I did own a Buell Uly for a while. Read about it here and bght one. I just sold it after 20 months and only 2200 miles. Lesson learned…………don’t buy unless you can ride, and spend some time on it.

  • My theory is that in SA, in particular, the dirt bike market offers the perception of virtually carefree riding without the associated danger of morons in cages taking you out on the public roads.

    Quad bikes have sold at record levels for the last 3 years.

    BMW would find a huge market here as they have found out with the GS range.

    The perception of safety on public roads versus the dirt would be an interesting topic to research as some medical insurance companies indicate that the accident with injuries factor is weighted 2 injuries for dirt bikes to 1 for road.

  • I ride BMWs. Maybe not much longer. KTM is filling every BMW niche that BMW offers.

    To get to you point. Check out Older guys are
    looking to do adventure touring. Which ties nicely to dirt bikes.
    If BMW wanted to get their manufacturing numbers up. Then cheaper dirt bikes are the way to go. Besides a KTM 525 sells for more than an BMW F-650.

  • The new BMW 650’s are here. What a pricey group! If they are aiming for new riders, I wonder who is going to bank roll the purchase.

    For the older riders, the KLR 650 is without doubt the market leader in dual sport sales. Even with its’ weight and required engine mods. If you live in Southeast Texas, KTM dukes and Adventure bikes are non-existent.

    I test rode two BMW F650’s as a purchase for my wife to learn on. I found the engine power was down compared to my 9 year old stock DR650. Off idle acceleration was slow and the engine seemed to work hard to develop power. The brakes were weak with little feedback. I tried braking with the ABS on and off. No improvement.

    A recent dual sport event stacked up like this: 14 riders: 6 KLR’s, 3 Honda’s XR650’s w/ Baja lighting, 1 Honda XL650, 2 KTM 525EXC’s, 2 Suzuki DR650’s. The Forest Service is very serious about “street legal” requirements, so the KTM’s were on the edge.

    BMW is the leader in marketing and promotion of their products. With the Long Way Round” movie, they convinced a whole generation that riding 800+ pound bikes in the dirt is easy and manly. My hat is off to the “GS” group.

  • It would be nice to see more effort from all the manufacturers in helping saving offroad area to ride. Maybe even trying to make more areas to ride.
    I live in Humboldt county Ca. and there is very little legal places to ride.

  • Firstly let me thank you for the numerous times you have helped me get through very stressful days with short breaks reading your excellent articles. I am in my mid 40’s and still doing a lot of dirt biking ( motocross,off road and dual purpose) on the tiny Island of Barbados in the Caribbean about 166 sq.miles in area in total.

    Why your article intrigued me is that you mentioned the declining availability of land to ride off road on and just wanted to put some perspective on this dilemma. We have one main riding area of about 10 or 12 square miles which we ride off road which has changed very little in the last 30 years but is very diverse with altitude changes and small stream crossings but quite challenging. We also ride the dirt roads between the sugar cane fields mixed with some tarmac stretches and of course there is one motocross track which we change a bit every Easter.

    Between the three or four different areas mentioned above we can keep ourselves pretty busy and entertained even though we are very limited in space. I cannot imagine how an enormous country like yours can begin to restrict your riding areas to a point where the public is concerned about declining riding areas but don’t despair there is still a lot of fun to be had even in limited areas once you use your imagination .

    With regards to the introduction of new up-market off-road / enduro models the standard of living in Western Europe is such that second and third bikes are considered in ones garage and if your street bike happens to be a BMW a Yamaha WR 450 just won’t look right anymore if you can have the BMW equivalent. Don’t forget also the sudden huge attraction of SuperMoto. Even down here in Barbados lots of motocross bikes are now on the road with SuperMoto wheels and being used for getting to the office. This may be another area that BMW etc. may be looking to target.

  • For BMW it is easy. Put your label on another guys dirt bike, raise the price two or three thousand and sell some bikes. Buell, probably the same thing, except it will have to vibrate like hell. Aprilia is a real race outfit, so I wish them luck.

  • As a motorcyclist mostly off road for the last 35+ years:

    1) I agree maybe about the building of brand loyalty but none of these bikes are entry level – BMW is not building a low buck machine- so I think this is a small factor.

    2) Large mfrs have seen the success some smaller companies ( like husky and Gas Gas ) in this market has had, and their current core markets are getting saturated.

    3) KTM is expanding into some of their markets (new Duke), as is Husky with the SM bikes— so its a defensive strategy.

    4) While unfortunately the riding opportunities in the classic sense will continue to diminish as America continues its leftward & downward slide, dual sporting has really gained popularity in the 7-10 years. Many of these events are tailored in difficulty appeal to riders of modest skills and limited time and who as you state, are a little older. These people have the money for a nice bike, but can enjoy it only maybe half a dozen times a year- for that they want a really well made well backed machine, no problem with the law, that can give them some fun at rides like this with a minimum of preparation. I also think that people are staying active longer and riding a dual sport at 45 or 50 years old is no big deal- so its a new market of customers. So there may be a niche there, and as you see most of these new machines are definitely going to be fully street legal. Husky threw everybody for a loop two years ago when they made the TEs for the US market street legal (Damn, those are nice!)

Thank you to everyone who took the time to reply.

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