Take a truck, add some bikes, get the best off-road experience



The Ford F-250 gets you to your adventure and the bikes take you through it

Nestled into the mohair back seat of a 1948 DeSoto Custom Club Coupe long ago, a young kid’s eyes peered out the window at shimmering Mono Lake sprawled across the desert beneath High Sierra peaks. Magnificently big and blue, it begged exploration; he thought … someday.

One spontaneous attempt in the 1970s aboard a period two-stroke bike led only to being stuck in the muck. But this fall, the combination of a Ford F-250 4×4 Crew Cab XLT, Honda CRF250L and Kawasaki KLX250S (plus an older Yamaha WR250R, not part of the test) lit the proverbial light bulb; we had to try again. “A man must travel,” wrote Lord Byron. Indeed.

And so off set two high-school hommes and the now-well-seasoned DeSoto kid. We already knew that, together, a crew-cab 4WD pickup and dual-sport motorcycles offer huge motoring bandwidth: The truck gets you comfortably to the doorstep of adventure, and the bikes take you through it. And possibly, finally, around Mono Lake.

Originally, a new F-150 4×4 SuperCrew King Ranch filled the truck role, but when its transmission pump broke en route, we substituted the F-250 seen here. Instead of the F-150’s EcoBoost V6, the F-250 has a normally aspirated 6.2-liter V8 driving through a six-speed automatic and selectable high-/low-range 4WD—perhaps minor overkill. We recorded a less-than-impressive 13.7 mpg for our trip, which included some scrabbly old mining roads. 

Photo: Honda CRF250L

The truck’s ample torque and low-range 4WD paid dividends in wheeling us into the backcountry, however, while descent control aided our return. Further, the roomy cab and flip-up rear seat with integrated storage bin accepted our gear with ease, while the 6.8-foot bed took the 250cc bikes. Slotting a third bike in backward was awkward, but it worked—and it’s not like those dual-sports were going to stay cooped up in the bed for long, anyway.

The CRF250L is Honda’s effort to attract new dual-sport riders. Although a bit chunky at 320 pounds wet, it’s refined, yet powerful enough to tackle steep, rocky trails early on our trip. The dunes on the eastern edge of Mono Lake were another matter, proving vexing as the street-legal tires fought for grip. The result was a plowing, fishtailing motorbike.

Fortunately, for every fall and stall, restarting was easy thanks to electronic fuel injection. In all, civilized though it is, the stock CRF felt too top-heavy and disconnected to excel off-road.

This left the KLX250S, long in Kawasaki’s lineup. Although outdated with carburetion instead of EFI, its 22 pounds lower curb weight compared to the Honda (a 7 percent reduction), more connected-feeling chassis, and narrower seating and bodywork make it a superior off-road package. Although hardly a Baja winner in standard form, the KLX proved the more adroit of the two models while navigating Mono’s perimeter trails. 

Photo: Kawasaki KLX250S and Honda CRF250L

Kawasaki KLX250S and Honda CRF250L

Like the Honda, however, the Kawasaki cockpit cramps taller riders; aftermarket handlebar risers would help. Also mirroring the Honda (but unlike many bikes of yore), it proved completely reliable.

Altogether, the Mono loop is 48 miles, including a final highway stint at day’s end, which the dual-sport bikes adequately and legally dispatched. The sun drops quickly behind the Sierras, so it was nearly dark by the time we got the bikes reloaded and our bodies chucked back into the comfy F-250.

After a long, hot day battling dirt bikes through wind, sand and rocks, climbing into well-cushioned seats may be the best part of the motorcycle/pickup package. And  A/C is a massive plus.

Reflected through the eyes of a kid, Mono Lake was immense, formidable. In the end, sand washes, and riding around it really wasn’t all that hard. Therein lies a lesson: When it comes to living fully, the greatest hurdles are often mental—there are really no excuses, only opportunities. This time, with a modern pickup to get us to a dream two-track and modern bikes to take us down it, there were blissfully none of the former and plenty of the latter. Give the utilitarian combo a try when it comes time to face down the dusty trails of your memories—it’s got our vote.



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