First Motorcycle to Learn on & Ride on the Back of our Camper Van

JakeC

Member
Greetings!

I've been on the forum for a bit, but this is my first time on this side of it.
I'm looking into purchasing my first motorcycle to learn to ride on and thought I would come here to ask for your input.

I've ridden manual 4-Wheelers in the past, I know how to drive a manual transmission vehicle, and I'm a fairly big guy at 6'2" 300lbs. I don't need the biggest, fastest bike as safety is a pretty big concern of mine (and my girlfriend).

I've got a buddy selling a 1985 BMW K100RS for extremely cheap, if I want it, but it needs some work and it's about 1,000cc's and around 500lbs. I'm a little nervous of this as a first bike, which I think some people will agree with. It's also pretty heavy for a hitch mounted carrier, and I'd love the ability to simply put a motorcycle on the back of my 1989 Ford E250, drive to a parking lot or field, and practice and then later on at camp sites and some trail riding. My girlfriend and I will also be signing up for Motorcycle Safety classes soon, we're currently looking at options for that.

I've also been looking at dirt bikes, but there are so many numbers and letters that I'm not exactly sure what I'm looking at. I love the idea of a vintage bike, but I've got quite a few projects on the table as is. The quads that I've ridden were a Honda Sportrax 250 and a Honda 450 that was bulkier.

Our budget is around $1,000-$2,000, what are some of your suggestions?
 
Based on what you describe I think a mid-sized dual sport would be perfect for your stated needs, but it really does depend on what you want to do. Mid sized dual sports are:

  • good enough in the rough stuff where if your main vehicle gets stuck or damaged you can ride out of the sticks to get help.
  • can go on highways and public roads, fully street legal — turn signals, plates, etc.
  • generally light enough to haul on a hitch mount if you buy carefully.

Someone has already suggested a KTM. In my experience they are amazing bikes but biased towards high performance, and that comes with a significant maintenance obligation on some models (time and, if paying someone else, cost and frequency).

The correct answer in most cases of “what dual sport is best for a beginner?” Is usually the KLR 650. Its extremely robust, and while its not great at anything, it’s decent enough at everything. Once you have a year or two on a KLR you’ll know if you prefer more on road bias or more off road bias. But, the 650 might be heavy to haul on the back of your rig. However if I was handed a cheque for $20 grand and told “Drive around the world”, I’d buy a new KLR, have it fully equipped for adventure riding, and finish the trip with money left over.

I’d encourage you to take a look at the DRZ-400 as a lighter, smaller option to the KLR. There’s also a DRZ-650 but that might be too heavy too. I know some folks haul around 400 CC dual sports on hitch mounted carriers like this:


Here’s info on the DRZ:


On a similar vein but much more pricey, if you don’t like the look of the “dirt bike with turn signals” like the DR or the KLR, you could look at some Scramblers. Yamaha makes a nice one, as does Ducati and of course Triumph. Again, it sure about weight but the road manners of the triumph will be a bit better than the DR or KLR series.

I would also respectfully disagree with OverlandNA on avoiding older bikes as a general rule — it really depends on you and your comfort level. there is a huge benefit to older bikes and turning your own wrenches. Yes it will cost you in parts, but bikes are usually very easy and I dare say pleasant to work on as compared to cars and trucks — parts are less likely to crush you, it’s easier to access bits and bobs, and older bikes are extremely simple which means less time chasing sensors and electrics. The main advantage to all that is a fella with the right attitude can rebuild an entire small motorbike from stem to stern with a good shop manual and a few weekends, which means you’d be in an excellent position to fix it if it goes wrong on the trail. If this is your backup vehicle in case your main rig fails this redundancy of being able to fix it yourself is ideal.

Good idea on the safety course. I’d also recommend “Proficient Motorcycling” by David Hugh. And when it comes to first bike choice, ignore the old wives tale of ‘get something with a small motor so you don’t hurt yourself”. The smallest street legal bikes can still do highway speeds and whether you hit another car on a 250 CC ninja or a 1000 CC BMW at 60 mph, dead is dead. Far better to remember that the engines power is controlled by the rider. A safe and cautious attitude is FAR more important than the displacement. I’d also encourage you to consider a bike with ABS. On cars, it’s handy. On bikes it saves a lot of lives. Only some of the scrambler options above have it though and it usually only comes on bigger bikes. Not a deal breaker but if you are on the fence between two models the one with ABS will usually have the edge in terms of safety.
 

tienckb

Adventurer
Based on what you describe I think a mid-sized dual sport would be perfect for your stated needs, but it really does depend on what you want to do. Mid sized dual sports are:

  • good enough in the rough stuff where if your main vehicle gets stuck or damaged you can ride out of the sticks to get help.
  • can go on highways and public roads, fully street legal — turn signals, plates, etc.
  • generally light enough to haul on a hitch mount if you buy carefully.

Someone has already suggested a KTM. In my experience they are amazing bikes but biased towards high performance, and that comes with a significant maintenance obligation on some models (time and, if paying someone else, cost and frequency).

The correct answer in most cases of “what dual sport is best for a beginner?” Is usually the KLR 650. Its extremely robust, and while its not great at anything, it’s decent enough at everything. Once you have a year or two on a KLR you’ll know if you prefer more on road bias or more off road bias. But, the 650 might be heavy to haul on the back of your rig. However if I was handed a cheque for $20 grand and told “Drive around the world”, I’d buy a new KLR, have it fully equipped for adventure riding, and finish the trip with money left over.

I’d encourage you to take a look at the DRZ-400 as a lighter, smaller option to the KLR. There’s also a DRZ-650 but that might be too heavy too. I know some folks haul around 400 CC dual sports on hitch mounted carriers like this:


Here’s info on the DRZ:


On a similar vein but much more pricey, if you don’t like the look of the “dirt bike with turn signals” like the DR or the KLR, you could look at some Scramblers. Yamaha makes a nice one, as does Ducati and of course Triumph. Again, it sure about weight but the road manners of the triumph will be a bit better than the DR or KLR series.

I would also respectfully disagree with OverlandNA on avoiding older bikes as a general rule — it really depends on you and your comfort level. there is a huge benefit to older bikes and turning your own wrenches. Yes it will cost you in parts, but bikes are usually very easy and I dare say pleasant to work on as compared to cars and trucks — parts are less likely to crush you, it’s easier to access bits and bobs, and older bikes are extremely simple which means less time chasing sensors and electrics. The main advantage to all that is a fella with the right attitude can rebuild an entire small motorbike from stem to stern with a good shop manual and a few weekends, which means you’d be in an excellent position to fix it if it goes wrong on the trail. If this is your backup vehicle in case your main rig fails this redundancy of being able to fix it yourself is ideal.

Good idea on the safety course. I’d also recommend “Proficient Motorcycling” by David Hugh. And when it comes to first bike choice, ignore the old wives tale of ‘get something with a small motor so you don’t hurt yourself”. The smallest street legal bikes can still do highway speeds and whether you hit another car on a 250 CC ninja or a 1000 CC BMW at 60 mph, dead is dead. Far better to remember that the engines power is controlled by the rider. A safe and cautious attitude is FAR more important than the displacement. I’d also encourage you to consider a bike with ABS. On cars, it’s handy. On bikes it saves a lot of lives. Only some of the scrambler options above have it though and it usually only comes on bigger bikes. Not a deal breaker but if you are on the fence between two models the one with ABS will usually have the edge in terms of safety.



Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk
 

Pacific Northwest yetti

Expedition Medic
I second the KLR 650- Its a tractor and will put up with just about all the abuse you can give it. I learned to ride in November after taking a weekend class ( required in Oregon for your endorsement) and bought a 2004 KLR 650, in Santiago Chile,and rode it through Patagonia. It just kept going, freeway, rough gravel roads and trails, heavily loaded and in need of love when i picked it up. Got it for 2500 w/ 30k miles on it, it had been ridden down from California by an Ausie. I was the third owner
 

Pacific Northwest yetti

Expedition Medic
also- maybe find one with Crash Bars, and bark buster brand hand guards..for when it gets dumped. Also get good armor, jacket, pants, gloves and helmet. Last weekend i responded to a call of someone riding w/o any gear, always a bad idea.....
 

JakeC

Member
Based on what you describe I think a mid-sized dual sport would be perfect for your stated needs, but it really does depend on what you want to do. Mid sized dual sports are:

  • good enough in the rough stuff where if your main vehicle gets stuck or damaged you can ride out of the sticks to get help.
  • can go on highways and public roads, fully street legal — turn signals, plates, etc.
  • generally light enough to haul on a hitch mount if you buy carefully.
Someone has already suggested a KTM. In my experience they are amazing bikes but biased towards high performance, and that comes with a significant maintenance obligation on some models (time and, if paying someone else, cost and frequency).

The correct answer in most cases of “what dual sport is best for a beginner?” Is usually the KLR 650. Its extremely robust, and while its not great at anything, it’s decent enough at everything. Once you have a year or two on a KLR you’ll know if you prefer more on road bias or more off road bias. But, the 650 might be heavy to haul on the back of your rig. However if I was handed a cheque for $20 grand and told “Drive around the world”, I’d buy a new KLR, have it fully equipped for adventure riding, and finish the trip with money left over.

I’d encourage you to take a look at the DRZ-400 as a lighter, smaller option to the KLR. There’s also a DRZ-650 but that might be too heavy too. I know some folks haul around 400 CC dual sports on hitch mounted carriers like this:


Here’s info on the DRZ:


On a similar vein but much more pricey, if you don’t like the look of the “dirt bike with turn signals” like the DR or the KLR, you could look at some Scramblers. Yamaha makes a nice one, as does Ducati and of course Triumph. Again, it sure about weight but the road manners of the triumph will be a bit better than the DR or KLR series.

I would also respectfully disagree with OverlandNA on avoiding older bikes as a general rule — it really depends on you and your comfort level. there is a huge benefit to older bikes and turning your own wrenches. Yes it will cost you in parts, but bikes are usually very easy and I dare say pleasant to work on as compared to cars and trucks — parts are less likely to crush you, it’s easier to access bits and bobs, and older bikes are extremely simple which means less time chasing sensors and electrics. The main advantage to all that is a fella with the right attitude can rebuild an entire small motorbike from stem to stern with a good shop manual and a few weekends, which means you’d be in an excellent position to fix it if it goes wrong on the trail. If this is your backup vehicle in case your main rig fails this redundancy of being able to fix it yourself is ideal.

Good idea on the safety course. I’d also recommend “Proficient Motorcycling” by David Hugh. And when it comes to first bike choice, ignore the old wives tale of ‘get something with a small motor so you don’t hurt yourself”. The smallest street legal bikes can still do highway speeds and whether you hit another car on a 250 CC ninja or a 1000 CC BMW at 60 mph, dead is dead. Far better to remember that the engines power is controlled by the rider. A safe and cautious attitude is FAR more important than the displacement. I’d also encourage you to consider a bike with ABS. On cars, it’s handy. On bikes it saves a lot of lives. Only some of the scrambler options above have it though and it usually only comes on bigger bikes. Not a deal breaker but if you are on the fence between two models the one with ABS will usually have the edge in terms of safety.
Thanks for taking the time to write all of this out. It appears that the average KLR wet, weighs about 432 pounds which would make it slightly ideal for a rear carrier with a limit of around 500lbs. I definitely like the idea of Adventure Riding and using the van as a camp... with that being said, I denied my buddy's sale of his K100 just due to it needing some work and me already having so many projects. I think I'll stay on the hunt for the KLR and possibly an SV650. From research, it appears that the SV650 isn't so much of an adventure motorcycle, but is a decent bike to learn on.

I will also say I don't mind wrenching on the bike, as I definitely want to be knowledgeable on how to solve any issues that may arise.

Now... to sell this damn Volvo 240 project.

I second the KLR 650- Its a tractor and will put up with just about all the abuse you can give it. I learned to ride in November after taking a weekend class ( required in Oregon for your endorsement) and bought a 2004 KLR 650, in Santiago Chile,and rode it through Patagonia. It just kept going, freeway, rough gravel roads and trails, heavily loaded and in need of love when i picked it up. Got it for 2500 w/ 30k miles on it, it had been ridden down from California by an Ausie. I was the third owner
I've been watching and researching the KLR 650; checking out YouTube videos of people starting on them and the ins and outs and I do keep hearing the term "tractor" in reference to them. Their prices seem to be right within my range as well, from $2,000 to $3,500 depending on the year. I definitely intend to get one that isn't showroom quality.

also- maybe find one with Crash Bars, and bark buster brand hand guards..for when it gets dumped. Also get good armor, jacket, pants, gloves and helmet. Last weekend i responded to a call of someone riding w/o any gear, always a bad idea.....
Gear is definitely on the list, I'm 29 and just don't seem to bounce like I used to (lol)
 

Pacific Northwest yetti

Expedition Medic
Also 29- not many of us " younger " folks on here. I also dont bounce, I have started some gear reviews you can see in my signatures. For the Moto, and even the south american trip via the KLR.

I will do a write up on the SEDECI jacket and pants I used in SA.

With a background in emergency services, at work the other day someone was giving me **** for my armored jacket ( I rode to work that morning) I explained to them, i like my skin where it is and attached still.
 

tatanka48

Active member
as a big ole boy too and one who has ridden a KLR fro sea level to up n over the dirt road passes in Colorado i can tell you that they can solve your initial quest

their Achilles heel is their seat height

takes a rather long in the stride to "flat foot" one

that simply means you can stand astraddle one with both feet flat on the ground which is highly recommended for a beginning rider

if you can't you will drop it when you come to a stop

if you happen to fall under it you will be hurt or at least pinned to the ground needing extra help to get out from under it

there are lowering kits that can be installed by a decent mechanically inclined person w/ a coupla jacks and a compliment of simple metric tools

the KLR likely has one of the if not the best aftermarket followings of all skoots today and safety accessories are easily acquired

another issue w/ the KLR is it is a water buffalo(packs a radiator)

properly cared for and protected this isn't much of an issue

Suzuki makes a similar steed the DR-650 which last time i checked is air cooled making it somewhat simpler to maintain

both the KLR and the DR 650's are what they call THUMPERS hence the above reference to a tractor

both skoots would/could work quite well for your OP

neither would be very handy on a hitch carrier(cumberson weight loading and unloading)

my last dual sport skoot was a DR-350(air cooled single weighing in at about 200#±) which packed my 275# carcuss quite well on and off road and i only let her go because i was hanging up my helmet for good

good luck w/ your quest

T
 

perterra

Adventurer
I have a KLR, not sure I would choose it for a first bike. With your weight limit of wanting to haul it on a hitch carrier, I would probably look at a 250 Sherpa or just a KLR 250 on up to maybe a DR400 Suzuki. The ability to haul it on a hitch and good highway manners may not go together.

Just get two wheels under you for a few months, then decide what you like and what kind of riding you want to do. Nothing wrong with a KLR, but they are kind of a slug and in my experience, interstate speeds in any kind of wind other than head on or a tail wind can be exhausting. If I were buying a big thumper today, I would probably look at one of the BMW singles
 

Expedition_Matt

New member
You don't want to be sweating the whole time whether the carrier is going to give out. Try to get at least 20 % overhead on hitch and carrier. A bike under 350 lbs is ideal to start with. DR350, DRz400, XT350, etc. I put a KLR on my van and truck and it works fine. Don't be tempted to buy the cheap $100 carriers that claim 500 lbs of capacity. Get a 600 lb carrier and keep it loaded well below limit. Get excellent quality ratchet straps with extras, along with soft straps and you'll be good to go.

Did you think about trailer lights on the hitch carrier. You will likely need them if the bike blocks your lights.
 
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