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I am considering a change with my DL1000. Looking at several bikes. I will stay with a dual sport/adventure bike for comfort, but there are a few with 17 inch front and back, some of the reviews i read seem to say a 17 inch front is too small to consider taking the bike on dirt, but somehow a 19 inch front makes all the difference in the world.

Is this really true? Can 2 inches make this a black and white decision?

I ride mostly pavement, but i want to be able to hit a dirt road on occasion, some of the roads up North are only dirt.
 

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From N00bie to Wannabe
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It does make a difference on sketchy surfaces & sand. 21" is preferred!
Having said that; if you are only riding off road on primarily maintained surfaces: use a little extra caution and you should be fine.
Supermotos run 17" slicks on the compacted dirt but not if it's wet!
If you really intend to do Northern unpaved roads especially if you're loaded down, go for the bigger rim. There will probably be a few times it could make the difference between a save and a slide!
Imo
 

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A larger diameter rolls over obstacles more easily.
21 inch will have a narrower, longer contact patch and a given diameter.
19 inch will have a wider, similar length contact patch, and with the taller tire profile the diameter comes closer to the 21 inch diameter.
The 21 inch wheel should have more pounds per square inch of contact with the smaller contact patch (more bite).
21 inch wheel will be lighter to maneuver (change direction steering) because of less weight.
17 inch wheel can't match the larger diameters of the other two...

There's no reason you can't run a 17 inch knobby (if it will fit between the forks/fender) but it won't handle the same as a 21 inch wheel...
 

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My brother used to have a weeStrom, .. he just bought a Triumph 800xc with the 21" front tire for the off-road purpose. So I'd say go for the extra 4 inch. Size does matter.
 

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Ridin hard n dirty
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if your only going to ride a dirt road a 17" will be fine. I have taken my R6, SV650 up lots of dirt roads and took my Supermoto up east side Harrison 2 up all with road tires...Heck I even rode my Maxim 650 on a Motocross track and was jumping it. Street tires do have reasonable traction until you hit mud or loose dirt

When you go off road make sure you bring a pump cause to be safe and get traction you got to drop the pressure in your tires...Then when you get back on pavement pump them up.

You want the tire to be soft enough so when you ride over a marble size rock the tire will not lift the bike off the ground.
 

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I've got 2 BMW's, one with 21" front, and one with 19" front. The 21" front is MUCH better, and easier offroad.
 

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Vanillla Gorilla
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I have a WRX250 it has stock 17" wheels. I put some dirt tires on it and took it off road. As others have stated, if it is just a dirt road, not many obstacles etc it is just fine. When you start going more "real" off roading then the bigger wheels make a big difference. I took my friends dirt bike out after I had my wrx out and I was very surprised at how much easier it goes over bumps, tree roots, that kind of thing.

It also raises the front up some so that when you are standing it makes it much more comfortable. I have now bought a set of 21" font and 18" rear rims and tires for my bike.
 

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If your plan is to ride to Alaska, a 17" front wheel is fine. If you are planning on ACTUAL OFFROAD RIDING, yes the larger front wheel makes a HUGE amount of difference.
 
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