Long, lean, and dirt-friendly: three(ish) words that describe the ideal enduro motorcycle.
Off-road riding has exploded in popularity over the last decade or so, largely due to a groundswell of interest in the much-hyped adventure motorcycle segment, but even the most capable ADVs have their limits.
The most significant one is weight, and many new ADV owners are quickly learning that these big, heavy machines just aren’t the right tool for the job when gravel roads turn to singletrack trails. Indeed, when it comes to off-road, lighter is better, and nothing is lighter or more capable in the dirt than a proper enduro motorcycle.
The Enduro Motorcycle: What Is It?
Truth be told, if you asked ten different people this question, you’d likely get ten different answers in return. Enduros, dual sports, trail bikes… Oftentimes the lines between these designations are blurry at best, but we have a few specific criteria for anything we’d consider an enduro.
To our eyes, a proper enduro motorcycle is essentially a motocross bike that’s been “softened up” for trail and/or occasional street use. Ideally this means they have the same tall stance (and therefore ground clearance) as a motocross machine, the same sort of high output/low weight single cylinder engines, and the same sort of highly-capable long travel suspension as well.
We’ll also note that while many of the more “hardcore” enduro riders often ride off-road only machines that aren’t legal on the pavement, we consider the ability to register and ride an enduro on public roads a major plus. Whether you ever actually take it to the street is entirely up to you, but having the ability to legally hop on the pavement to link up off-road trails or light up a twisty backroad is always nice, and adds a ton of value and versatility to any motorcycle.
Now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s take a look at our favorite enduro models of 2023 from a few of the top manufacturers.
Best Enduro Motorcycle Overall / Best KTM Enduro
You’ve gotta love KTM for keeping the two-stroke flag flying. While the reliability and comparatively low maintenance of a modern fuel-injected four-stroke are always appreciated, there are just no beating bikes like the KTM 300 XC-W when it comes to lightweight performance.
If there’s any doubt in your mind about that, you need look no further than last year’s Hard Enduro World Championship winner Manuel Lettenbichler, who rode a factory KTM 300 XC-W to a victory among some of the most capable machines on the planet.
If ever there were a true off-the-shelf race bike, the KTM 300 XC-W fits the bill, but consider yourself warned: this fuel-injected, water-cooled, long-travel beast is not for beginners or the faint of heart.
Best Honda Enduro Motorcycle
Honda has no shortage of great 450cc off-roaders in their lineup, all of which are based around their CRF450R motocrosser. This includes both the race-ready CRF450RX enduro and the CRF450RL dual sport, but for our money, we’re going with the CRF450X, and if you’re doing anything outside of competition, you probably should too.
We love the 450X because it splits the difference between the heavy (and heavily detuned) CRF450RL and the hardline character of the 450RX, which feels more like a motocross bike with an 18” rear than a do-it-all enduro. We’ll also note that the Honda CRF450X is also one of the very few enduro motorcycles in 2023 that’s eligible for California’s coveted green sticker registration, which means you can ride it year-round in all 50 states.
Best Electric Enduro Motorcycle
While electric motorcycles have come a long way in the last decade, range anxiety at highway speeds is still a major limiting factor. For that reason, we’re going with the off-road-only Electric Motion Escape R as the electric enduro motorcycle to beat, and for good reason.
This trials-meets-trail machine is a proven technical performer, having taken a first-place finish (as well as five of the ten top finishing spots overall) in this year’s Redbull TKO Hard Enduro electric class.
The Escape R wants for nothing in terms of technical performance with plush suspension, fantastic power delivery, and three selectable power maps to choose from on the fly.
We also love the Escape R’s hydraulic diaphragm clutch, which allows for precise modulation of the electric motor’s power delivery over technical terrain, a rare feature for these gearless electric motos.
Best Street Legal Enduro Motorcycle
While street-legal dirt bikes and enduros are conventionally much mellower than their motocross siblings, the folks at KTM have never been much for convention. Enter the KTM 500 EXC-F, an enduro motorcycle that’s so outrageously light, powerful, and capable, it feels downright illegal to ride on public roads.
While you simply have to ride one of these yourself to understand just how bonkers they really are, we’ll put it this way: this is a bike with a no-holds-barred 510cc engine, nearly 12 inches of blissfully tuned suspension travel, and a top speed somewhere in the neighborhood of 100 mph that weighs just 233 pounds dry from the factory. That’s just four pounds heavier than KTM’s own EXC 250 with twice the engine. We’ll let you do the math on how long it’ll take you to lose your driver’s license…
Best Yamaha Enduro Motorcycle
While Big Blue has been lacking a proper street-legal enduro in their lineup since the death of the venerable WR250R, the 2023 WR450F is just what the doctor ordered for trail aficionados and woods racers alike.
What you’re looking at here is essentially a tweaked YZ450F motocrosser with revised fuel mapping, a wide-ration gearbox, and a headlight, and that’s a very good thing indeed.
All the usual ingredients for a capable enduro motorcycle are here including long-travel KYB suspension, a razor-sharp chassis, and aggressive power delivery, but one of the coolest things about the WR is its wireless tuning feature.
By downloading Yamaha’s free Power Tuner app to your smartphone, you can custom-tune the WR’s fuel delivery, diagnose potential issues, and record riding information on the fly. Yamaha even includes a handlebar-mounted switch that allows you to switch between your power maps on the fly, which is great when transitioning between tight woods sections to wide-open trails.
Best Suzuki Enduro Motorcycle
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Suzuki has been making the DRZ400S for two decades at this point, and while the recipe is a far cry from a high-performance motocross-derived enduro, the big 400 is just as lovable today as it was in its heyday.
In a nutshell, here’s what Suzuki’s OG enduro motorcycle has going for it: it’s affordable, it’s street legal, it’s capable off-road, and its engine has a 20+ year track record of proven reliability.
The DRZ400’s insanely long production run also means this enduro has one of the largest selections of aftermarket parts on the planet: whether you’re looking for a big bore kit for extra power, a custom-tuned suspension setup for technical trails, or an extra large gas tank for some dual-sport shenanigans, someone out there has what you need.
Best Kawasaki Enduro Motorcycle
While many of the enduros on our list are closely related to their motocross siblings, Kawasaki’s KX450X is arguably the closest thing to a hardcore motocrosser in our lineup. If you’ve got a background around the MX ring and want an enduro machine that feels as familiar as possible, you’ll be right at home on the KX450X.
That’s because the KX450X uses the exact same engine as the motocross version (albeit with slightly adjusted fuel mapping), as well as the exact same close-ratio 5-speed gearbox.
The differences between the two are about as minimal as you’ll find, and aside from the 18” rear wheel, everything from the power delivery to the suspension feel has a distinct motocross character. This will be a plus for some and a minus for others, but if you prefer your enduro on the aggressive side, this is one of the gnarliest four strokes on the market.
Best BMW Enduro Motorcycle
There was a time when BMW made a proper enduro motorcycle, and many of us still look back fondly on the beastly G450X, which saw its final day on the Motorrad production line back in 2011. Nowadays if you want a Bimmer that knows its way around the dirt, you’ll have to choose from their GS line of adventure bikes, and the closest you’ll find to an actual enduro at your local dealer is the F 850 GS Adventure.
Yes, it’s a much heavier bike than your typical enduro and no, it’s not exactly ideal for technical singletrack, but if you’re a die-hard fan of BMW engineering, the middleweight 850 is currently the best game in town.
The good news is that you’re getting a proper 21” front wheel, a respectable 9.1 inches of suspension travel, and a grunty twin-cylinder engine that makes fat wads of usable torque throughout the rev range. We’ll also note that while the F 850 GS Adventure technically isn’t a true enduro, it’s easily the best bike on our list for pavement use, and the only one we’d volunteer to ride long highway stretches on.
Frequently Asked Questions About Enduro Motorcycles
Enduro motorcycles are similar to motocross bikes, having similar long-travel suspension, but generally use more tame engines designed to be more reliable and durable for long periods of times and distances.
The best enduro motorbike is the KTM 300 XC-W.
Trail vs enduro motorcycles differ because enduro motorcycles are designed for racing, while trail bikes are more for leisurely riding in the woods.
You can ride an enduro bike on the road as long as you have all the necessary requirements on the bike and followed the laws around registration and use.
Generally, enduro bikes are not good for long rides. They are more designed for racing.
Yes, you can absolutely ride an enduro bike on trails.
The King of Enduro is Graham Jarvis. We won the Scottish Six Days Trial four times, the British Trials Championship five times, and the Scott Trial nine times.
The most powerful enduro is the KTM 500 EXC-F.
2 strokes are popular in enduro because they’re lighter, easier to maneuver, and are much cheaper to rebuild.