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-   -   Which Small Dual Sport for the Dempster Highway (http://www.horizonsunlimited.com/hubb/which-bike/small-dual-sport-dempster-highway-57417)

normw 31 May 2011 01:38

Which Small Dual Sport for the Dempster Highway
I'm interested in riding the Dempster Highway to Inuvik. As familiar and reliable as my trusty Kawasaki ZR-7S is, I know from experience up north and in Baja that it is truly a menace on dirt or gravel roads and would be no fun at all on the Dempster, particularly if there's fresh gravel or rain involved.

My current thinking is to go light and acquire a quarter litre-ish dual sport. Having previously ridden up to Whitehorse, I have no need to do that again, so I'd trailer the d/s up and begin riding from there. Therefore, high speed highway travel is not a real concern, although I would like to do some touring into Alaska as well.

There's plenty of choice available around here including the Suzuki DR200SE, Yamaha XT225/250, Honda CRF230L, Kawasaki Sherpa and the Kawasaki KLX250S. I've sort of ruled the KLX250S out because it's much taller than the others and has the unecessary complexity of liquid cooling. The seat looks dirt bike uncomfortable as well.

Occasionally, a DR350 or Honda XR250L comes up for sale but they're typically of a certain age and rare here so I would not consider them.

Other than that it seems to be a toss up. Has anybody done the Dempster on a bike of this sort or have any strong preference or dislike to pass along? Are the electrical systems on these bikes capable of powering a vest?



Mr. Ron 31 May 2011 03:36

Why not just go 400cc, like the Suzuki DRZ400? Almost same size and weight, just a bit more power. Come to think of it, the good old Honda XR400 is an old bullet proof favorite and cheap if you can find it. And the KTM's, Husquvarnas and Husabergs all come street legal.I'm asuming you not carrying a huge amout of luggage?

NEVIL 31 May 2011 20:03

Hi Norm,

A light bike is certainly the way to go if you're planning to trailer the bike up to Dawson. My friend and I rode the Dempster last year on the wettest 4 days imaginable. On a dry day, the road can be dusty but totally manageable for even the heaviest of bikes but the rain can churn up a paste of mud and calcium chloride that is as slick as pottery glaze and about 4 inches deep. This can and will get flung by your tyres into any radiator or oil cooler that's positioned near the front wheel. My friend's KLR overheated twice due to this issue.
Just be cautious of cooler location upon purchasing your bike.......just in case it rains half way on your trip.
Fuel load is also a good factor to consider bearing in mind that the first gas station is at Eagle Plains, 360 kms from the start of the Dempster.
Tyre repairs could well be part of your day too so this could be another fator when purchasing the bike.

Kindest regards



NEVIL 31 May 2011 20:06

Oh....one more thing.

I met a girl on a CRF 230L that had ridden the Dempster and Dalton in 2009. She had ridden the bike from Philadelphia and changed the oil only once.
I now have huge respect not only for her but the bike too.

All the best and good riding!


normw 4 Jun 2011 00:22

Thanks for the comments.

To me the KTMs, Husquvarnas etc. are essentially tall dirt bikes with lights and not really what I had in mind. A few decades of experience have taught me that being able to get your feet good and flat on the ground will save the day in many awkward situations and I've made that an essential in my research.

The intersection of calcium chloride infused silt with radiators and oil coolers is one I'm familiar with after a very wet trip on the Cassiar Highway a few years ago. However, I learned an interesting lesson which is that...it's all in the fender friend.

I went to considerable trouble before the trip equip to my ZR-7S with a stainless steel oil cooler cover, which had to be sourced from England. The cooler is right up front and looked very vulnerable to being sprayed. However, when my friends and I hit the slimy dirt sections of Cassiar it proved to be completely unnecessary. In fact, the front end of my Kawasaki completed the trip in sparkling clean condition, looking as though it had been through a car wash.

My friend's BMW 650GS, on the other hand, was completely covered in that rapidly hardening grey crap as was he. Progress was painfully slow as he needed to stop every few minutes to wipe off his face shield. That model year the GS came with only the high dirt bike style fender, which was useless at dealing with the spray. On the other hand, the Kawasaki's almost sport bike type fender did a perfect job. Surprising, really, when you consider the "adventure" heritage of the BMW.

A letter to BMW brought an acknowledgement that they were aware of the issue and an offer of a free, second, low fender installation. I notice that subsequent model years dealt with the issue.

Perhaps Nevil's friend's KLR needed something like that to prevent the overheating problem.


normw 30 May 2012 04:58

KLR vs. KLX250s
The plan to ride the Dempster Highway to Inuvik is still extant and we leave in mid July. I still haven't acquired an appropriate bike but my interest in doing it on a small dual sport remains alive.

I previously dismissed the Kawasaki KLX250s as essentially a too tall (for me) dirt bike with lights but today I tried out a 2009 model and my thinking has changed. It's true that the the 35 inch seat height prevents me from getting both feet flat on the ground, something I've always insisted on in the past. But the bike felt so light that the height seemed unimportant. I had the secure feeling that I could just stick out a leg in a pinch. I was also pleased at how easily it maintained freeway speeds.

Kawasaki doesn't sell may KLX250s models around here which may explain why they're relatively expensive. I can purchase a low km. KLR 650 with some after market stuff on it for essentially the same price as the totally unadorned stock, low km. 250.

So that's the follow up question: For the Dempster. and bearing the above in mind - a KLR 650 (lowered perhaps) or a KLK250s? I have zero off road experience and all of this ruminating is based on the possibility that I may need to deal with a road that is one or more of slimy, muddy, rutted or afflicted with loose gravel, in which case I'd like to struggle less and enjoy myself more.



John Downs 30 May 2012 10:18

Hi Norm,

I did a quick check of Craigslist.org in Vancouver and can see why you would consider a KLR 650. There are scads of good examples available used.

Although I personally would favor a Super Sherpa which would tick all of your boxes like this one that looks new:

2007 Kawasaki Super Sherpa

Much better fuel economy than a KLR and easily cruises at 100 KPH on the open road. I had to put an aftermarket XR650 gas tank on mine to be able to travel 360
kilometers without having to strap on a spare gas tank. I am poor and gas is expensive in Canada so I prefer the more economical 250. Low seat height, air cooled, dirt simple, 6 speeds, stainless exhaust. After 30,000 troublefree kilometers I am smitten.

Although you seem to favor Kawasakis, another excellent bike albeit with a taller seat height like the KLX250S would be the WR250R such as this:

2008 yamaha wr250r enduro

Also needs after market fuel tank, but what a great bike. Check out Bigdogs website where he sings it's praises:


And then there is:

2010 suzuki Dr 650

which is favored by many.

Plenty of good choices for your trip.

Kindest regards,
John Downs

normw 18 Jun 2012 09:23

Well, I've gone for the KLX250s and found a new 2011 example for a not at all bad $4500.00 CDN. Given the northern destination I've ordered heated grips, a windscreen, radiator guards as well as a tail rack and side racks intended for soft luggage. Never previously owned anything like it or, for that matter, anything new.

Although not much of a mechanic I have this idea of hacksawing up some old Givi side racks and attaching the remnants somehow so that I can clip on my hard cases. All of this should theoretically yield a proper looking travelling machine.

The tank holds a pitiful 7.7 litres so I figure I'll need to carry 10 extra litres to reliably make the first available fuel 360 km. up the Dempster.

I attended the recent HU dinner where Miguel Silvestre entertained us with his Spanish exploration retracing RTW escapades (thank you Grant and whoever else organized it). Afterwards, in the restaurant parking lot I gazed upon the line up of BMWs (including one belonging to the inspirational Ms. Coates) and Vstroms. Big tanks, wide seats, power to burn. Hmm...some doubts entered my mind as to the wisdom of the going light concept. Time will tell.


Gipper 18 Jun 2012 21:38


Dont worry, the 'Perfect' bike does not exist - what we are able to buy and ride are all compromises in one way or another, the perfect bike would have the performance and long distance comfort of a 1200GSA, handle like a KTM250 in the dirt, have the fuel economy of a scooter, be as easy as a bicycle to pick up when you drop it, would never breakdown and you could service it for $5 every 10,000 miles

I rode a TTR 250 around Europe (all of it) and sold it with 75,000 kms on the clock, one thing is for sure that you get to see everything on a smaller bike as you bimble along and if you are not up against a tight deadline then they are perfectly adequate. They might not be ideal on the long stretches of straight highway in North America and you have to be realistic about the distances you can cover in a day, though I managed a few very long days of over 500 miles through France and Spain. When you get to the dirt though, it will all start to make sense - especially if you are new to riding, the light front end and soft power delivery is great in slippery conditions and if you do get it wrong they are easy to pick up and you wont be blubbing about smashing up an expensive fairing. Combine that with great fuel economy and not chewing through tyres like bigger bikes tend to and they are very cheap to run. Just pack light and go!

At some point in the future you may find its time to move on to a larger capacity bike, but remember they too have compromises.

For some inspiration, check out Lois Pryce riding her TTR250 through Africa:

Trans-Africa 2006

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