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Common Tread

Ari's answers: Dual-sport suggestions

Jun 23, 2020

Lots of riders get their start in the dirt, and some never leave. Whether you roll exclusively on knobbies or never leave the pavement, this installment of Ari's answers has useful maintenance advice.  Let’s get into the questions, and the answers. 

Lots of riders get their start in the dirt, and some never leave! A dual-sport like this CRF250L is a terrific option for a first bike since it opens up so many riding opportunities. Photo by Adam Booth.

Instead of getting a Ninja 400 to learn on, would a dual-sport or something like that be better if I want to ride trails as well as roads? — @adnrew_abela9

Yes! If you live in a place that’s got access to trails or wilderness, a dual-sport is a terrific way to get into motorcycles. Off-road riding is excellent for skill building and a ton of fun, and the inevitable tipovers you’ll experience as you learn will likely have lower consequences (for you and your bike) in the dirt versus on pavement.

Dual-sports tend to be good street bikes, too, so long as you don’t mind the higher seat height, smaller fuel tank, lack of wind protection, and buzzy engine feel at high speeds. Most entry-level street bikes won’t have those drawbacks, but a Ninja or a similar machine isn’t nearly as versatile, either.

I also like dual-sports because they don’t have a lot of bodywork, so they’re easier to work on and maintain than a full-faired bike like a Ninja.

If you’re looking to buy new, I’d recommend a Honda CRF250L or Kawasaki KLX250, both of which are about $5,200. Of course there are plenty of used options, from a Suzuki DRZ400 to a Kawasaki KLR650 to any flavor of older Honda XR.

Good luck, have fun, and welcome to the wonderful world of two wheels!

Valve adjustments are a fairly advanced DIY procedure, but tackling it yourself will save big money. You can speed up the project by having a full set of shims on hand. Photo by Ari Henning.

I’m getting ready to check the valves on my 2006 Suzuki V-Strom DL650. Any suggestions on a shim maker? Where do you get your shim kits from? — @Qi 

I usually go with Hot Cams or Sprox.

I’m pretty sure I’m preaching to the choir here, but it definitely makes sense to invest in a kit rather than buying shims individually, if only for the time savings. Going the individual route you’re guaranteed an interruption in the project since, once you’ve removed your old shims and measured them, you’ll either need to run down to the local dealer or order your replacement shims online and wait for them to arrive. I’m just not that patient.

With a shim kit, you get three of each conceivable size, so you’ll have the correct thickness on hand and can wrap the project up right away. That makes Mr. Impatient here smile.

Shim kits are also a good value. OEM shims cost about $7 apiece, whereas a kit is usually about $75 and can be used on multiple bikes. As I recall, the 7.48 mm shims your Suzuki uses also work on Hondas, Kawasakis, and Triumphs, and I’m probably other brands as well.

Many of today's ADV tires – like this Bridgestone A41 – are essentially sport-touring tires with deeper, more abundant tread grooves that give them a bit more bite in the dirt. Bridgestone photo.

What would you recommend for a 75 percent on-road and 25 percent off-road tire? I enjoy off-roading my Duke 390 but I do spend a lot of time carving corners. — @andersyoooniverse

I’m sure there are other Zillans with more experience on this topic (I’m looking at you Spurgeon, Brandon, Zito, and Greaser), but I’d be inclined to spoon on a set of Bridgestone A41s. They’re engineered with that 75/25-percent split in mind, and I know from firsthand experience that they grip well in the twisties. They also have deep tread grooves that go all the way to the shoulder, so they offer a little more bite in the dirt. The A41s are also available in sizes to fit your lil Duke.

If you want something with a more aggressive 50/50 split, the Dunlop Trailmax Mission is a good choice and would look properly rugged on your KTM. The Shinko 705s have a similar tread pattern and are a lot cheaper, so they might be a good option, as well. I know the 705s are a popular choice for budget-minded ADVers. 

As it happens, I'm working on a vintage DR as well, though thankfully there's no glitter in mine. Any time I disassemble a bike, I'll use boxes, bags, and a marker to keep things organized. Photo by Ari Henning.

I’m beginning an engine rebuild on a little DR200. I believe the problem is located in the crankcase (the oil filter was full of metal shavings). Any advice you can offer for a first timer? — @liam.vm

For a first-time engine rebuild, you couldn’t have asked for a better bike to work on. It’s a very simple engine so it’ll be easy to work on, OEM and aftermarket parts are plentiful, and the model family has a strong following, so you’re liable to find loads of helpful info on online forums.

As far as advice, there are two recommendations that I think will help you be successful. First, buy a model-specific workshop manual. Whether that’s downloading a digital version, buying a factory book from the dealership, or sourcing an aftermarket manual like a Haynes or Clymer, it’ll serve as your guide throughout the rebuild process. Read it ahead of time and get familiar with the procedures before you dive in.

Next, be organized. Some cardboard boxes, a box of ziploc bags, a permanent marker, and your smartphone’s camera are super valuable. Take photos of assemblies and wiring before you start tearing stuff apart, and bag and box parts by component group, labeling things like weird shoulder bolts (you’re going to think that you’ll remember where it goes, but I promise you, you won’t). That way you can grab a bag, look at it, and know that it’s for, even if you have to put the project on pause for a few weeks while waiting for parts.