Best Dual Sport Motorcycle

Street-legal dirt bike comparison test.

2019 was a significant year for the dual sport market. The biggest news was Honda introducing its all-new model—the CRF450L. The Japanese manufacturer joined a competitive class of European-made motorcycles including KTM, Husqvarna, and Beta. The KTM EXC-F lineup and Husqvarna FE models received relatively minor updates for 2019 such as a new lithium-ion battery and revised settings in the WP suspension components. The Beta RR-S models returned for 2019 with changes including fully redesigned ZF Sachs suspension components, new EFI mapping, and a larger-diameter clutch actuator.

2019 KTM 500 EXC-F, 2019 Beta 430 RR-S, 2019 Honda CRF450L, and 2019 Husqvarna FE 450.
KTM 500 EXC-F versus Beta 430 RR-S versus Honda CRF450L versus Husqvarna FE 450.Drew Ruiz

One of Dirt Rider's sister publications, Cycle World, assembled four dual sport motorcycles—the Beta 430 RR-S, Honda CRF450L, Husqvarna FE 450, and KTM 500 EXC-F—to contest for its best 450 dual sport motorcycle shootout for 2019. The 2019 KTM 500 EXC-F was chosen rather than the 2019 KTM 450 EXC-F Six Days due to pricing and availability. While the 450 EXC-F Six Days is the best fit in terms of displacement for this comparison, it's a special model that retails for $11,899, $700 more than the 500 EXC-F, and is produced in much smaller quantities and released months after the standard EXC-F models.

2019 KTM 500 EXC-F, 2019 Beta 430 RR-S, 2019 Honda CRF450L, and 2019 Husqvarna FE 450 in Moab, Utah.
The 2019 Dual Sport Shootout took place in scenic Moab, Utah.Drew Ruiz

After taking delivery of the 450 dual sports, they were all weighed, measured, and run on our in-house dyno. Being that the four motorcycles are spec'd with different tires in stock trim—the 430 RR-S with Michelin Enduro knobbies, the CRF450L with IRC GP-21 and GP922 rubber, and the Austrian duo with Continental TKC 80 units—we mounted Metzeler 6 Days Extreme DOT knobby tires on each bike front and rear to ensure consistency in traction among them for the duration of the test.

Bike Weight, Full Tank (lb.) Fuel Capacity (gal.) Seat Height (in.) MSRP
430 RR-S 269 2.1 37.2 $10,499
CRF450L 292 2.0 37.5 $10,399
FE 450 262 2.25 37.6 $11,099
500 EXC-F 259 2.25 37.1 $11,199

Our group of four test riders, a photographer, and a videographer made the 730-mile trek from the Bonnier Motorcycle Group office in Irvine, California, to the Sand Flats Recreational Area in Moab, Utah. We parked our Lance camper and trailer at the campground, where it remained for the entirety of the shootout. During the three days of testing, all travel was done on the four dual sports.

Metzeler 6 Days Extreme DOT knobby tires on dual sport motorcycles.
To ensure traction parity among the four bikes, we mounted Metzeler 6 Days Extreme DOT knobby tires on all of them.Drew Ruiz

Read on to find out how the four bikes stacked up, and to check out Cycle World's full in-depth story, click here.

450 Dual Sport Engine Comparison

The dyno test drew some interesting results. Despite having the smallest displacement, the Beta 430 RR-S topped the charts with 44.45 hp at 8,130 rpm and 32.10 pound-feet of torque at 6,640 rpm. Coming in the runner-up spot was the bike with the highest displacement: the 2019 500 EXC-F. The KTM cranked out 41 hp at 7,800 rpm and 29.51 pound-feet at 6,690 rpm. Rounding out the podium of the stationary power competition was the newcomer to the class: the Honda CRF450L. Big Red's numbers were 38.21 hp at 7,360 rpm and 28 pound-feet at 6,510 rpm. The Husqvarna FE 450 churned out the least horsepower and torque with 35.08 hp at 8,230 rpm and 25.47 pound-feet at 6,070 rpm.

2019 450 Dual Sport Shootout Dyno Comparison Chart
2019 450 Dual Sport Shootout Dyno Comparison ChartRobert Martin

On the dirt and the pavement, the KTM 500 EXC-F was the best overall engine due to its power output and linear power delivery. While it didn't pull as hard as the 2019 430 RR-S at peak, it came on stronger and smoother off the bottom than the Italian machine. The KTM's 510cc SOHC powerplant excelled in every type of dual sport riding condition from tight trails to more wide-open dirt sections, and on pavement.

2019 Beta 430 RR-S riding in Utah desert.
The 430 RR-S has the snappiest, most aggressive engine character of the four motorcycles in this comparison.Drew Ruiz

The engine character of the Beta 430 RR-S is similar to that of a motocross or cross-country bike. Its snappy, quick-revving nature makes it fun to ride. It rolls on very gradually off the bottom, comes alive in the midrange, pulls hard on the top-end, but signs off quickly as it approaches the rev limiter. While the 431cc DOHC engine made for an exciting ride, it also tended to wear out the rider quicker than the other bikes, especially on long days in the saddle negotiating technical terrain. It’s also the loudest motorcycle in this test.

Even though the 2019 FE 450 ranked lowest on the dyno in both horsepower and torque, the Husqvarna’s engine is very usable with its predictable, linear power delivery. It had more than enough power to tackle any obstacle we encountered at Moab and shined when traction conditions were minimal. The 2019 Husqvarna FE 450 was the easiest to ride over the three-day test due to its relatively soft power delivery and lack of hit anywhere in the powerband. It’s the slowest-revving and has the least bottom-end thrust of the four bikes as well.

The 2019 Honda CRF450L engine hits hard off the bottom, but quickly signs off in the midrange and has minimal top-end. Being the only bike in the shootout with a cable clutch, the Honda has the hardest clutch pull, which makes it difficult to keep the engine running in tight situations. With its catalytic converter in the exhaust, plastic engine covers, and rubber ring on the rear sprocket, the CRF450L is noticeably the quietest of the four bikes.

450 Dual Sport Suspension Comparison

2019 Honda CRF450L riding in desert.
With relatively stiff suspension settings and agreeable ergonomics, the CRF450L is easy to hop on and feel comfortable at speed right away.Drew Ruiz

With a WP Xplor fork and WP Xplor PDS shock, the 500 EXC-F offers a plush ride when navigating small trail obstacles and bumps. The orange machine also handles big impacts such as drop-offs and jump landings well, but doesn’t offer as much bottoming resistance as the CRF450L. The test team was split on whether the KTM or Beta offered the best overall suspension package.

Although some of the test riders were not familiar with the ZF Sachs suspension that comes on the 430 RR-S, they were all impressed with how they performed. Similar to the KTM 500 EXC-F, both ends offered impressive bottoming resistance on large hits; again, not as much as the 2019 CRF450L, but the Italian machine also handles smaller-sized, lower-speed obstacles with plenty of comfort.

2019 Husqvarna FE 450 riding in desert.
With a mellow power delivery and soft suspension settings, the FE 450 excels when traction is hard to come by and in technical terrain.Drew Ruiz

The WP Xplor fork and Xplor shock on the 2019 FE 450 provides the softest ride of all of the bikes in this shootout. The Husqvarna’s suspension excels in lower-speed, more technical terrain, gobbling up any small trail obstacles in its path with a remarkable amount of plushness. However, when speeds increase and the terrain becomes rougher, the Husqvarna FE 450 was more susceptible to bottoming than the other three bikes.

The 2019 CRF450L’s Showa suspension components are set up for speed. The Honda handles high-speed bumps and the hardest hits better than any bike in the shootout with its excellent bottoming control. On the opposite end of the spectrum, it was the least comfortable to ride in slower going areas and in rough terrain due to its overall stiffness, especially at the top of the stroke. This caused the fork to occasionally deflect off of small obstacles as well.

450 Dual Sport Chassis And Handling Comparison

2019 KTM 500 EXC-F climbing up desert hill.
Being the lightest bike in the shootout, the 500 EXC-F is incredibly nimble and easy to throw around.Drew Ruiz

Topping the handling department in this four-bike comparison test was the 2019 KTM 500 EXC-F. It weighed in at 259 pounds wet (measured on our scale), which makes it the lightest bike in the shootout. It offers the best combination of nimbleness and stability, making it the easiest to throw around in tight sections and is confidence inspiring at speed.

The 2019 Beta 430 RR-S is the third-heaviest bike in the shootout, coming in at 269 pounds on our automotive scale. Despite being 10 pounds more than the KTM, it didn’t feel that much heavier than the orange machine due to its snappy engine character and nimble handling, which enables it to tackle tight trails with ease. The quick handling of the 430 RR-S is somewhat of a trade-off though, as it’s slightly less stable than the 500 EXC-F on high-speed terrain.

Coming in at 262 pounds filled with fuel and ready to ride, the 2019 Husqvarna FE 450 is the second-lightest bike of the four gathered here, 3 pounds heavier than the 500 EXC-F. It has a quick-handling, yet stable chassis. In terms of the weight itself, the 3-pound difference between it and its not-so-distant relative, the 500 EXC-F, isn’t noticeable, but it feels slightly heavier than the KTM due to its softer, less snappy power delivery.

The Honda’s handling capability is hampered by its weight. Coming in at 292 pounds filled with fuel, the 2019 Honda CRF450L is by far the heaviest in the test. It’s 23 pounds more than the 430 RR-S, 30 pounds heavier than the FE 450, and 33 pounds more than the 500 EXC-F. Despite its extra weight, the Honda is a good overall handling machine. It corners well and is rock solid at speed. Big Red’s additional weight is less noticeable in faster-paced areas, but it becomes extremely apparent in tight, technical terrain. It simply wears you out quicker than the other three bikes. It’s also the only bike to not come with hand guards in stock trim, which test riders complained about on cold mornings and when vegetation occasionally slapped their hands or grabbed a lever.

2019 KTM 500 EXC-F, 2019 Beta 430 RR-S, 2019 Honda CRF450L, and Husqvarna FE 450 in the Utah desert.
The four motorcycles in this shootout are all great machines, but at the end of the rigorous three-day test, each had exposed its strengths and weaknesses.Drew Ruiz

What Is The Best 450 Dual Sport Motorcycle?

While each of the dual sport motorcycles in this shootout has its strengths and weaknesses, at the end of the three-day test, the rankings were clear. The 2019 Honda CRF450L is an impressive machine, especially in its first year on the market, but it’s held back by its weight, short powerband, and stiff clutch. For these reasons, it finished fourth in this very competitive shootout.

The 2019 Husqvarna FE 450 performed well in most situations, most notably when traction was hard to come by, but it lacked the low-end grunt and overall suspension performance of the two front-runners, which put it on the final podium position in this comparison test. The 2019 Beta 430 RR-S fought tooth and nail for the top spot, but its slight nervousness at speed and overly aggressive power delivery slotted it into the runner-up spot.

The best dual sport of the rigorous three-day test was the 2019 KTM 500 EXC-F. The orange machine checked all of the boxes in the wide variety of terrain Moab had to offer and, at the end of the day, was the preferred choice among test riders.

Gearbox