Off the Beaten Path

This married couple have made their lifestyle a business, catering to hardcore dual-sport riders

"You can always tell when this stuff is designed by people who don't ride," says Francois Saint Laurent. He's showing a customer protective jacket-and-pants sets, and explaining why the clothing section at Dual Sport Touring, the Blount County shop he owns with his wife Megan, is not exactly a bargain bin. "There are low-end jackets where you'll be going down the road and reach up with your clutch hand to open a collar vent. All of a sudden the exposed male Velcro on your wrist is attached to the female Velcro on your chest and your arm is stuck there. They never even wore it around the block."

Francois and Megan Saint Laurent are themselves hardcore dual-sport riders. Their no-nonsense shop is filled with essentials for that growing group, which is increasingly finding its way to East Tennessee. What seems to separate Dual Sport Touring from other accessory shops and dealership parts departments is that everything they stock is there because they have used it and can recommend it. Some of their products were developed with their input. Some of their products are designed and manufactured by them. So for every item on the shelf, here, there is a war story about why. Back to the REV'IT jackets—which were designed by cyclists:

"I rode to Canada one Friday, and got back on Monday," says Francois, a Quebec native. "I wore this jacket and these pants. Aside from sleeping, I never took them off. They're that comfortable. You definitely get what you pay for."

Megan and Francois have about as many snapshots of themselves, on their website and around the store, as most typical happily married couples. What you notice after a while, however, is that there tends not to be any pavement in their photos. And in most of their photos, both of them are usually muddy and sporting high-tech protective cycling gear.

"The dual-sport market," says Francois, "the sport-touring market, are the people who actually ride. We focus on those two core markets because those are the people who actually ride. They don't trailer their bikes to Sturgis or Daytona, they ride them. We'll be here in January and there's snow flurries and somebody will pull up on a KLR looking for a warmer jacket. One day there was snow on the roads but our gravel was clear. These two guys pull up, one of them wants a stickier tire for the weather."

For riders like yours truly, who see the ideal saddle position as more or less vertical, over clean and dry pavement, and have an aversion to bumping into stationary objects and sliding around on unpredictable surfaces near cliffs and water and whatnot, distance off-road riding is a fresh concept. Likewise, much of what Dual Sport sells is unfamiliar, even while function is mostly obvious. Megan says that is exactly why their store is so important to dual-sport riders, and it is exactly why they are trusted and much appreciated by locals, tourists, and others around the world who take advantage of their mail order service.

"They're an under-served market," says Megan. "The sportbike riders are taken care of. But there's nobody around here who's knowledgeable about dual-sporting or sport-touring, the people who put 15 or 20,000 miles a year on their bikes. They don't have anywhere to go and have the conversation about which is the better helmet?

"The dual-sporting here is unparalleled. There are thousands of miles of everything from single-track to groomed gravel. If you want to get off the pavement, you have so many options here."

Francois adds with a chuckle, "And for every mile of unpaved road there's two miles of ditch!"

Dual-sport riding is obviously an exercise in self-sufficiency. It is essentially a series of problem-solving tasks: fences, fuel, repairs to both bike and rider, etc. That makes the sport challenging and exciting. Surprisingly, that removes certain challenges from serving dual-sport riders. For instance, at Dual Sport Touring, motorcycle lifts and mechanic stations are conspicuously absent. That fellow who needed the tire on the snowy day? He changed it himself, and apparently most of his peers, male and female, are equally capable.

"We don't work on motorcycles," says Francois. "Everybody in the dual sport world should pretty much know how to change a tire and do it by hand, because you're not going to have a store or a machine in the middle of the bush somewhere."

Since they opened the store, the Saint Laurents have been too preoccupied to do much riding together. Their most recent grand excursion was two summers ago, riding the Continental Divide, from Canada to Albuquerque, off-road. They both commute by bike, however, and have trained the new shop dog, Kenda, to ride in a tank bag.

In August, Megan will be riding solo on her vintage Beemer to the AMA women's rally in Colorado. Feel free to poke fun if you see her in the meantime: she'll be using roads.