Dirt biking and dirt bikes are intimidating. Table top jumps, ledges, muddy berms, steep hill climbs, and daunting descents lie in wait for riders around each bend. Throw in 15 or 20 other riders to the equation racing to the first turn or being stuck on a trail with a snapped chain, and dirt biking begins to sound less appealing. However, it is that freedom, exhilaration, and adrenalin that truly defines dirt biking. Conquering your fears, besting your rivals, and seeking adventures is why millions of riders around the world live for the thrills of dirt biking.
When it comes to picking the best dirt bike, there are a myriad of considerations to make even for experienced and seasoned dirt bike riders. For beginners, it can be an overwhelming prospect. You must consider your height, weight, riding skill, and riding experience. First, you need to know what type of dirt bike riding you’ll be doing so you can pick the right bike. Then there are a bunch of technical considerations about each bike to make.
In this article we’ll guide you through the best bikes for the types of dirt biking you can do, what you need to look out for, and we’ll answer some of your FAQs about dirt biking and dirt bikes to help you make a better-informed decision when shopping for your first dirt bike.
Beginner Dirt Bikes Aren’t Only for Kids:
Shopping for a beginner dirt bike doesn’t necessarily mean we’re discussing kids’ bikes here. That is a topic for another article. For this one, we’re focusing on adults taking on dirt biking. Dirt noobs, if you will. If you’re in the fortunate position to afford another bike in your garage or are looking to transition from street riding to dirt, you’re not alone.
Dirt biking is taking the world by storm as motorcycle riders are looking for safer riding conditions away from those big metal cages and their dangerous drivers. Picking a dirt bike for an adult beginner dirt biker will carry the same considerations as those for a kid: rider experience, rider height, and rider weight. We’ll deep dive into those a little further on in this article.
Types of Dirt Biking:
The most important aspect when choosing a dirt bike is not which brand, or engine size, but which type of dirt bike. When thinking of dirt biking, you’ll think of one of two types: motocross or trail riding. While these bikes may look similar, there are key differences in their design that determines and defines their type of dirt biking and their specific performance.
Motocross (or MX) is the sport of dirt bike racing on a track, with big jumps, high-speed turns, and large fields of racers. On the other hand, trail riding is off-road riding: think of trail riding as a high-speed version of mountain biking with your friends having fun on a network of trails.
MX versus Trail:
Motocross bikes have small rear wheels, larger front wheels, feature narrow seats, are designed to be as lightweight as possible, and run stiff suspensions for absorbing landings from high jumps. At first glance, trail bikes look like MX bikes, but these types of dirt bikes have much bigger gas tanks, run softer (and sometimes shorter forks) suspension, have slightly larger rear wheels compared to MX bikes and some have the same sized (or slightly larger) front wheel too.
MX bikes are designed and developed to be ridden in short sprints of 20 or 30 minutes at a time, whereas trail bikes are designed for rides of hundreds or more miles – before needing to be refueled to continue the fun on the trails again.
Best Beginner Dirt Bikes for Motocross Riding:
#1: Yamaha YZ125:
This is the only Japanese two-stroke, 125cc MX bike still in production. It weighs only 200 lbs., has a (adjustable) seat height of 38” and features race-ready componentry right out of the box. With its lightweight, it makes for incredible acceleration, is easy to move around a track on the ground and in the air, and the two-stroke engine technology is legendary in terms of reliability and durability. This bike is perfect for riders weighing less than 150 lbs.
#2: Honda CRF250R:
This is a MX bike for those with racing aspirations. You might be a dirt bike beginner now, but in a few months, you’ll be looking for increased performance. The Honda CRF250R has race-winning performance that’s not intimidating to ride. This bike is ideal for riders weighing over 150 lbs. and delivers an armful more power than the 125cc in this line-up. It weighs in at 237 lbs. and offers a seat height of 38”. The chassis, suspension and fork are dialed for racing and are highly regarded by MX beginners and masters alike.
#3: Husqvarna FC450:
The Husqvarna FC450 builds on the performance of the 250cc MX bike mentioned above. Despite the larger engine, the FC450 weighs even less at 222 lbs than the Honda. The 450cc category of MX bike is developed with the heavier and taller rider in mind – and for the more experienced MX racer: if you’re taller than 6’ and weigh over 200 lbs. you’ll find the size of the FC450 more comfortable even with its seat height of 37”. The “Husky” comprises leading chassis technology that includes carbon fiber rear assemblies and an engine that develops 63 hp to the rear wheel to make it a choice pick for beginners and experienced MX riders and racers.
Best Beginner Dirt Bikes for Trail Riding:
#1: Honda CRF230F:
This is one of the most popular trail riding bikes on the planet. It has a seat height of 34.6” and weighs 249 lbs., features an electric starter, snail-type chain adjuster for easier maintenance, a keyed ignition, disc brakes, more robust rims, and a retuned suspension and fork to soak up a wider variety of terrain and riding conditions than an MX bike. As a four-stroker, it offers friendlier riding on the trails where you won’t need to push the engine into the higher rev ranges for optimum power delivery. This is best for a rider weighing around 150 lbs. and is of average build and height.
#2: Yamaha YZ125X:
The YZ125X is a two-stroke, lightweight trail bike: only 209 lbs. and 37.6” seat height. While nearly 50 lbs lighter than the CRF230F, this bike doesn’t give much away in terms of power too. You need to wind the throttle on a bit to reach the sweet power band, but it scores heavily as a firm favorite with dirt bike beginners thanks to its excellent and forgiving suspension setup, larger rear sprocket for more predictable speeds, and a sealed O-ring chain or low-maintenance.
#3: Kawasaki KX 250X:
The Kawasaki KX 250X is dripping with features. This four-stroke trail bike weighs 230 lbs. and has a seat height of 37.2” to make it the most nimble-handling of the four-stroke trail bikes on the market for beginners. It includes a launch control mode, easy engine tuning, all touch points are adjustable for rider preference, and an advanced rear suspension setup that’s easy to tune for even dirt biking newbies.
When choosing either an MX bike or a trail bike, you’ll need to consider your height and weight, dirt biking experience and riding skill level. Your street bike might have an engine displacement of 600 or 1,000cc, but when it comes to dirt bikes and their relatively small engine sizes of 125 to 450cc, don’t be fooled into thinking that they’ll be easier to ride. These bikes require as much skill and experience to master as a 1,000cc track motorcycle.
A rider’s height is incredibly important to the kind of dirt bike you can get. Following a specific size standard isn’t always going to provide the right solution: we’re all different in our shapes and sizes, with different length torsos, arms, and legs. Dirt bikes have different seat heights, from 33” to 39” which might not seem like a big difference but the seating positions, leg positions and handlebars are different. The best advice is to climb onto as many dirt bikes of different sizes that you can to see which dirt bike feels most comfortable.
Your feet must be able to touch the ground when you sit on the bike with your bum in line with the bike’s foot pegs and your back must be straight. If your feet are flat-footed on the ground, the dirt bike is too small for you. If your toes can just reach the ground, the bike is likely the right size for you. Also, your knees must have a short bend and your arms must be able to turn the handlebars in both directions without touching your knees when your feet are on the foot pegs. Dirt bikes are highly maneuverable and require you to use your body weight and body position to pivot the bike through turns.
Simply put, riders who weigh over 150 lbs. can handle dirt bikes with engine displacement sizes of 250cc and 450cc. For riders under 150 lbs., you’ll need to look at smaller engine dirt bikes – not because of experience or skill necessarily, but because of the weight of the bike.
A few decades ago, two-strokes were the fastest, most powerful dirt bikes on the market. A few years ago, most dirt bike riders changed to four-strokes as their engine development and technology saw them meet – and in some instances exceed – two-strokes for power. It is now a rider’s preference.
Two-strokes are slightly lighter and easier to control for dirt biking newbies. They require a rider to hang onto the throttle cables a little longer as they reach peak power and torque at higher rpms, while four-strokes are heavier and taller in design, and require a smoother rider input to gain the best performance. Read our article on two-strokes vs four-strokes for a more detailed investigation into the difference in maintenance, reliability and user-friendliness.
Both types of dirt biking disciplines and dirt bikes require a different skill set to street riding. You may be an experienced road rider, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be as great on a dirt bike. Dirt biking is a lot about bike balancing and super sharp hand-eye coordination. Most beginner dirt bikers take a period of learning and adjustment to come to grips with a dirt bike. Dirt biking – both MX and trail riding – is wholly different to street riding: braking, accelerating, cornering are all completely different to when riding on paved roads. Dirt bikers, on the other hand, find it far easier to acclimatize to road bikes and street riding. That’s why so many MotoGP and circuit racers rely on dirt biking for their training.
As we’ve already mentioned, don’t underestimate the engine size and power output of dirt bikes: they’re zippy and can accelerate on dirt as fast as most road bikes can on the street. Your motorcycling experience will also determine which type of dirt bike you choose: as a beginner, with little experience of motorcycling in general, you’d be advised to buy a smaller engined dirt bike first to familiarise yourself with the basics of biking and dirt biking. Buying a larger and powerful dirt bike will only prove to be uncontrollable and dangerous to you. If you’re aim is to get your youngster into the sport, check out this article on the best 50cc dirt bikes for kids.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs):
Picking the right dirt bike can be a confusing process. By considering all the factors we’ve outlined in our article, you’ll not only be able to make the best-informed decision on which type of bike, but also on what type of dirt bike riding you’ll likely to do most of the time. We’ve listed the XX best dirt bikes for beginners to help you narrow your shopping list so you can get onto the trails or MX track sooner.