Dual-sports are the mutts of the motorcycle world. They’re neither pure off-road bikes nor true street bikes; they don’t have the outright prowess to tackle a motocross track or crack triple-digit speeds. Yet this mixed lineage isn’t all bad, as they can go places and do things in more comfort than any of the purebreds. We put this mantra to the test when we took on a dual-sport story of a different nature.Photographer Joe Bonnello conceived the idea to ride a lap around the Hangtown track right after the National. We just had to ride north to Central California (Sacramento, to be precise) to do it! Our crew (Bonnello, Karel Kramer, Rob Jordan, Russ Stratten and myself) decided on an oval path through the state: up the coast and down through the mountains via Yosemite National Park. Naturally the route evolved as we traveled; two more weeks to fully take advantage of the potential trails and roads we had to bypass would have been nice. Along the way we really got to know the four bikes-Honda’s XR650L, Kawasaki’s KLR650 and Suzuki’s DR-Z400S and DR650SE-and learned that some pavement can actually be fun.Sadly, most dirt guys hear “dual-sport” and think fire roads or that stretch of pavement they suffer along to get to the next trailhead. After nearly 1300 miles, we must say that’s a nice idea, but the true beauty of these versatile mutts is you can go anywhere on them. We rode highway, fire roads, chunky/dirty concrete ridges, city streets, dirt trails, a motocross track, backcountry roads and through Yosemite. The bottom line is if you want freedom to move about, these bikes are the logical choice. Just like the mixed breed at the pound, they have a certain charm in their imperfection that is sure to win over the hearts of the adventurous.Our RouteOriginally, we had the grand plan. That was amended immediately with route modification one: I-10 to the Pacific Coast Highway (aka California Route 1) and up the coast to Santa Barbara. A quick stop for lunch and it was back to zooming north to our next destination: a winding ridgeline road that is dirty pavement with spectacular views of Santa Barbara and the shoreline below. The dual-sports were right at home here, and if time had permitted, we would have explored some of the fire roads we discovered-next time for sure.Refueling was to be at Los Olivos, but we hit the max range of the DR-Z almost 10 miles out of town. After unloading a couple of liters from the KLR “mother ship” into the 400 and the DR650, which was on reserve, we continued. This gas wasn’t enough and Bonnello demonstrated his one-legged pushing technique. Much to our angst, the sole gas station in Los Olivos was no more, and we had to limp another mile to the next town, eventually coasting both Suzukis to the pump. We filled up the thirsty beasts before charging on to Big Sur, our destination for the day. Along the way we stopped at William R. Hearst Memorial State Beach near San Simeon to ogle the hundreds of elephant seals sprawled out on the sand and watch the sunset. With twilight upon us, we bundled up and hit the fun section of PCH-the road gets super twisty-to our hotel in Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park.We spent the night at the Big Sur Lodge (831/667-3100), which is nestled in the trees and offers a nice place to relax. There was no television, but the rooms were spacious and the beds comfy. We arrived too late to sample the dinner cuisine, but our breakfast was outstanding.It was another early-morning start as our goal for this day was to blow out of Big Sur atop the fire roads overlooking the coastline, ride down San Francisco’s Lombard Street, cross the Golden Gate Bridge, roll the scenic Shoreline Highway to Muir Beach and wind up in Cameron Park by nightfall. Yes, that’s about a week’s worth of riding in a day. Including a minor mechanical drama-Jordan takes the honors here. When he went to dab while crossing a V-ditch, you guessed it-nothing but air, and he tipped over onto a conveniently placed boulder, snapping the DR-Z’s clutch perch in two. Some duct tape, zip-ties and a little creativity and we were able to make it to Monterey where Kramer located a dealership and purchased a Yamaha lever. Some parking-lot repair work-we grafted the perch to the stock mounting plate-and it was time for lunch. A taqueria sated our hunger and gave us a chance to unwind.The rest of the afternoon was spent hurtling toward San Francisco. After a little incident in San Mateo County involving flashing lights and sirens, we continued our sojourn to Lombard Street and our goal of riding down the landmark. Even with a GPS and our stopping for directions, it seemed to take forever to reach the famous tourist spot. The biggest surprise wasn’t the volume of traffic, but how good the traction was on the bricks that surface the street. Next stop: the Golden Gate Bridge. We were losing our race with daylight so we jettisoned any sightseeing north of the city. We hightailed it across the bridge as Bonnello snapped photos, and the sun dropped out of sight as we arrived at the vista point, where we mixed with plenty of other tourists for another stunning view. San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge are very photogenic, and we spent a while soaking up the scene as the night grew darker.Stratten recommended a stomach-mandated route adjustment as we opted to head back into the city to an Italian restaurant before hitting I-80. The place turned out to be closed, but after some meandering we settled on the Pasta Pomodoro, a nice new twist on traditional Italian cuisine. The restaurant also makes a mean doppio espresso, perfect for staying awake the entire three-hour trek to our hotel. It was 2:30 a.m. when we rolled into the Cameron Park Inn (916/933-1164).Day three’s plan was to head out to the Hangtown track, get our passes and pick up some Dunlop knobbies so we could play in the dirt near Placerville. Kramer had Bridgestones mounted and was ready for Dunlops when Jordan and I returned. Former national MX champ Chuck Sun arrived with a detailed route that included latitude/longitude numbers, short directions and mileage, and we were off to get the bikes into some serious Central Cal dirt. We wrapped up the day in proper adventure mode when we discovered a superb Mexican/Salvadoran restaurant tucked away in the hills. Our server introduced us to some Salvadoran appetizers called pupusas-like pita bread stuffed with meat and/or cheese.On the fourth day we played spectator at Hangtown. After watching Mike Alessi and Grant Langston spar and RC dispatch his competition, it was time to suit up and hit the track ourselves. After all, riding the National motocross track was our main goal on this trip, and Ed Santin and the Dirt Diggers Club handled the red tape and cleared us to ride a lap as the fans were heading home. We plotted the course with the Garmin (see www.dirtrider.com for the map) set on 1-second updates as we putted around the turns and jumps, and Bonnello documented the event for posterity. It was a blast and an eye-opener. Not the part about dual-sports not being exactly what you’d want in the land of doubles and knee-deep ruts, but just how the pros fly over the rough track with its ruts, chop and monster uphill double. It was an awe-inspiring and humbling experience.Monday morning found us breaking camp and hitting the road early. We had a date with Yosemite National Park, getting there almost exclusively on small country roads. Bonnello was lead dog here through some gorgeous scenery. We used the GPS for tracking the route and, more importantly, resolving any “right or left?” debates as we meandered our way south. Since Sun was headed our way to his home in Las Vegas, he tagged along on his KTM 950.Along the way we crossed a “new” bridge adjacent to the old Ward’s Ferry crossing. Tucked well off the beaten path, the bridge was an obvious local hangout. Joey B. chatted up the good ole boys, getting the lowdown that he’s able to worm out of people. Although the calendar said May, snowdrifts were still abundant in Yosemite and at this time Tioga Road, the main route through the park, was still being cleared. With no possibility of heading to the desert, we made it to the park with plenty of daylight and I was able to relax and quit pressuring our talkative Italian to hurry up. One thing was for sure, it was time to break out the cameras and join the rest of the crowds in tourist mode, gawking at Bridalveil Fall or trying to find the climbers on the massive face of El Capitan. Then it was time to zip to our hotel in Oakhurst (Comfort Inn: 559/683-8282). For sure, the road through Yosemite Valley seemed as if it was designed for bikes, with nice long sweepers, banked hairpins and many pullover spots for cars to let the bikes by. It was another pavement-can-be-fun moment.Our last day was basically a get-home-fast trek. We did play in the Sierra foothills but were all too soon on I-41 into Fresno, where we jumped on Highway 99 for the worst stretch of the entire experience, always looking to the hills dreaming of the roads and trails we were missing. Our six-day, almost 1300-mile adventure ended in L.A. just in time for rush hour. Well, at least you can lane-split in California! If you want to see the DR path or use it as a base plan for your own quest, the route is on our website (www.dirtrider.com) along with some of the options we didn’t get a chance to exercise. There’s always next time.Which puppy is the one for you?Before I answer “Which is the best dual-sport?” I have to ask, “What do you plan to do with it?” I know that may sound clichd, but each of these four bikes has some unique advantages over its peers. Unlike most comparisons, the differences here are not subtle and all of these machines could stand improvement. We installed a DynoJet jetting kit in every bike except the DR650 and bigger gas tanks on all except the KLR mother ship. An IMS unit went on the XR, a Clarke on the DR-Z and an older but still good Acerbis tank on the DR. Factory 909 aluminum bars were mandatory for comfort with the exception of the KLR, since its bar bend practically requires an ATV handlebar, short of a new top clamp and bar mounts.