If, as said above, tires connect our thoughts to the roadbed, suspensions transmit the road to our wrists and butt and they certainly characterized a motorcycle, transforming it in a touring bike rather than an off-road rock biter.
Usually, manufacturers differentiate their models with versions more suitable for off-road, offering lengthened suspensions and new hydraulics.
For more challenging off-road, the suspension travel should be around 250 mm which inevitably makes riding on paved roads less fun and less accurate and, above all, brings the seat at a prohibitive height for maneuvering (even in off-road) for people shorter than 1.80m.
In these last years, technology made much progress in this field and the introduction of active and semi-active suspensions allow an agility unthinkable a few years ago; so, yes, electronics is bad in the mind of purists, but it is absolutely convenient if you want your cake and eat it too!
Those who know me are aware that I feel very strongly about this issue …. there is nothing to be done: a light motorcycle is cool, maneuverable, fast and a godsend off-road.
So, if you plan to ride off-road with a certain frequency, you should prefer 10 kg less to 10 hp more but, mainly, make sure that the kilos are well distributed!
The position of the center of gravity multiplies or diminishes the weight. Bikes of the same weight can be completely different to drive and unfortunately there is no remedy for this: if you are torn between two models you should test ride them in person to evaluate the differences.
If long-range tours are your dream, make sure that the bike can be equipped with reliable luggage holders and has a strong frame to support them; for trips longer than one week, cases are a must; if instead your typical trip focuses on woods, mud and maybe a tent, then you won’t need a lot of clean underwear and you will be forced to use soft bags secured with rubber belts, so luggage will take second place since whatever solution won’t be comfortable.
In the old single-cylinder bikes of the 80s (Ténéré, XT, Big, etc.), the big tank was a distinctive characteristic, a display of their desert pedigree.
Nowadays, a tank that holds more than 30 liters makes no sense, in my opinion; thanks to globalization gas can always be found not very far way practically everywhere.
With a minimum mileage of 200-250 km off-road (mind you, not on-road!) you can tour any part of the world without big problems.
I intentionally left the engine as last, because the mechanical excellence achieved is such that all engines have more than enough power for “dual” use.
We can affirm that a V engine is narrower and has a smaller transversal footprint that facilitates off-road riding, but all this is relative since even KTM, that made a brand of the V, offers the forward-facing two-cylinder 790, as the excellent Africa Twin and the long-awaited Yamaha T7.
So again, the only distinction is use: if off-road prevails, treatability and smaller displacement are preferable to full displacement and horsepower; on the other hand, in two-up trips with luggage, power could be the parameter to consider.
One last comment is on a layout that seems to have disappeared from the “dual” concept: the single-cylinder! Up to the early 90s, it was a prerogative of the all-around enduros; today it may be considered dated and uncomfortable on long trips but, in case off-road is the main use, and if you are not tall, the single-cylinder has no rivals weight- and treatability-wise.
MAINTENANCE AND RELIABILITY
Last but not least, reliability and maintenance routines, two aspects that should be taken for granted on bikes used to tour remote places.
Today’s machines, even if much more sophisticated than ten years ago, guarantee a certain mileage (especially the multi-cylinder bikes).
The best way to achieve the design specifications given by engineers is to properly maintain the bike, but this is not important when you are still choosing the bike, it will be when you are planning your trip!