Buying your first dirt bike is super exciting, but if you don't know exactly what to look for, you could end up with a pile of rubbish! But get it right, and you'll have a dirt bike that will last you for many years. In this post we'll list the best dirt bikes for beginners, and you'll find out exactly what to look for when choosing your first dirt bike.
How to choose a dirt bike
THINGS TO CONSIDER
There's lots to think about when you're choosing your first dirt bike, and we'll go through all of the points below in this post.
- What type of riding will you be doing?
- Would you like a two stroke, or a four stroke engine?
- How much power do you need?
- Do you want electric or kick start?
- Look at the specifications for things like seat height and weight
- What is your budget?
- Are you buying new or used?
- Think of your future goals as a rider
1. What type of riding will you be doing
The first thing to think about is the type of riding you plan on doing. Do you like the sound of ripping around a motocross track battling for the lead against 30 other riders? Or do 100 mile enduro races sound more appealing? If you've never ridden a dirt bike, it can be difficult to know what type of riding will appeal to you the most, so let's look at a few:
Motocross racing is purely off road, and races are held on enclosed dirt circuits. You'll race in a certain class depending on your engine size, skill level, and experience, and you'll need to be very fit.
You wouldn't want to buy a dirt bike and then go straight into a race with no riding experience, so you'll need to learn, train, and practice on purpose built practice tracks, in the woods, or anywhere else you have access to.
As I mentioned you'll need to be very fit, as racing a dirt bike around a track for over 30 minutes is very demanding. Motocross takes a lot of physical endurance, and when you begin you'll struggle to do two laps without tiring, so lots of training is required if you want to be competitive.
Enduro races are also held on off road courses, but they differ from motocross as they use more natural terrain, and the courses are much longer. Instead of a single finish line, riders will have to go through multiple checkpoints to gain points, while sticking to a strict schedule.
Courses may have tough obstacles like slippery log piles that you must ride over, or rocky sections that you have to find a way through. Also expect big hill climbs, water sections, deep mud that is near impossible to ride through, and wooded sections with roots and tree stumps.
Enduro bikes will normally be road registered with lights etc, as some courses require riders to travel by road to different stages of the course. The setup will be similar to a motocross race bike, and competitions are split into three classes:
Enduro 1 - 100 to 125 cc 2-stroke or 175 - 250 cc 4-stroke.
Enduro 2 - 175 to 250 cc 2-stroke or 290 - 450 cc 4-stroke.
Enduro 3 - 290 to 500 cc 2-stroke or 475 - 650 cc 4-stroke.
Freestyle motocross started with motocross racers having fun out in the hills while practising. Riders would find the biggest jumps they could, and pull basic motocross showboating tricks like no footers and heel clickers.
In the beginning you wouldn't buy a dirt bike just to start riding freestyle motocross, you had to come from a racing background. But freestyle has progressed, and people are now buying dirt bikes specifically to start freestyle motocross.
You don't have to compete, you can have a lot of fun at your friends compound hitting ramps all day long; but if you do want to compete you'll need to go big! Gone are the days of pulling a cliffhanger to no handed landing and winning a competition. Double back flips and front flips are now standard tricks, and you won't get anywhere unless you are pulling back flips at the very least.
Freeriding is all about having fun doing what you enjoy the most, without the pressure of being judged or competing against other riders. You'll get a bike you feel comfortable riding, and you'll find long fast tracks, big jumps, technical sections, and you might even hit the odd motocross practice track.
Freeriding is one of the best ways to develop a variety of skills on a dirt bike, and whether you're into racing, freestyle, or enduro, you'll love to freeride!
2. two stroke or four stroke
Now you've decided what type of riding you want to do, you can choose between the two stroke and four stroke engine. So what's the difference?
A two stroke engine will provide the best power to weight ratio, they are very light and they produce their power at higher revs, so you'll need to ride in the power band. Many manufacturers have stopped producing larger 2 strokes due to emission regulations, as they burn a lot of oil, but they are still available both new and used.
A two stroke engine will require pre mixed fuel, meaning you will have to mix specialized two stroke oil with the fuel, at the correct ratio. A two stroke engine will also burn more fuel, so the running costs will be higher.
Two stroke engines can be very fussy, and they require a precise mixture and carburettor setting to run at peak performance. Just slight changes to the fuel/air mixture, or small changes in air temperature can lead to a melted piston, and a full engine rebuild. With this in mind, the mixture should always be set according to the manufacturers recommendations.
One big plus of two stroke engines, is that they are very simple to work on, and parts are fairly cheap. A full top end rebuild can be completed in under two hours, and will cost you under 200 dollars.
Four stroke dirt bikes are much heavier, and produce around half the power of a two stroke engine of the same cylinder capacity. This is why you will see 125 cc 2- strokes, racing against 250 cc 4-strokes. All of the top manufacturers are producing four stroke adult dirt bikes, and many even make four stroke kids dirt bikes.
The fuel burn is much less than a two stroke engine of the same size, and you will not need to pre mix the fuel. This means you can add fuel straight from the pump, saving on time, and on running costs. This also means there are less emissions, and you don't get the lingering smell associated with a two stroke engine.
There are more moving parts to a four stroke engine, which makes them more expensive, and much more difficult to work on. Rebuilding a four stroke engine will cost more than double the price of rebuilding a two stroke engine, and it will take much longer. But providing you run clean engine oil, and change the oil filter regularly, they won't need rebuilding for a very long time.
Four stroke engines have less power compared to a two stroke engine of the same size, but the power will be produced lower in the rev range. This means you will have more speed out of the corners, and on up hill sections of courses.
Check out THIS POST to find out all of the differences between 2-stroke and 4-stroke engines, and how they affect the dirt bike.
3. How much power do you need
It's vital that you get this part right. Too much power will make the learning process much harder, and not enough power will mean you soon outgrow the bike, or you loose races!
This will depend on the age of the child, and their goals. A good learner bike for younger kids is something like the Yamaha PW 50, Yamaha haven't changed the bike in 30 years because it’s ideal for young, first-time riders. Other options include bikes like the KTM 50 sx, the Husqvarna TC 50, or the Cobra CX 50 JR.
Kids around 7 - 8 years old can move onto 65 cc 2-stroke bikes, and at the age of 10-12, an 85 cc - 100 cc 2-stroke is a good step up. Kids can then move onto 125 cc 2-strokes, or 250 4-strokes at the age of 14 - 16 years old.
Adults have many choices, and this can depend on the type of riding you chose earlier. It's really not advisable to jump straight onto a powerful 450 4-stroke dirt bike, or a 250 2-stroke if you've never ridden before.
Motocross dirt bikes
If you're choosing a dirt bike for racing motocross, most adults will do just fine with a 250 cc 4-stroke. But these bikes are still very powerful and will require lots of practice. 125 cc 2-strokes are also good starter bikes, but the aggressive power band can tire the arms, and is more likely to cause arm pump problems than a four stroke.
Manufacturers like Honda, Yamaha, Suzuki, Kawasaki, and KTM will all be good choices for those of you that want four stroke engines. But bare in mind that Suzuki, Kawasaki and Honda aren't producing adult 2-strokes anymore, so you will be more limited on the choice of 2-strokes if you're buying new.
Freestyle motocross bikes
Freestyle riders will want plenty of power to clear the big gaps, and a lighter bike is usually preferred. Most riders will use two strokes, especially to begin with, so a 125 cc 2-stroke will be perfect for complete freestyle beginners.
KTM and Yamaha are both producing 125 cc 2 strokes that are perfect for the job, but the bike will need some modifications if you plan on being competitive. If you aren't buying new, some of the older two stroke bikes are still perfect for freestyle motocross.
Freeriding and fun dirt bikes
If you're looking at just having a bit of fun, or if the thought of a powerful bike scares you, you may want a less powerful bike. Something like the Honda CRF 150, or the CRF230F will have a less aggressive power-band, and will be perfect for total beginner male or female riders.
Pretty much every make of dirt bike available is good for freeriding, but stay away from cheap Chinese bikes at all costs. These bikes are heavy, under-powered, cheaply built, and they will break on your first ride. These are definitely not the best dirt bike for beginners!
4. Electric start or kick start dirt bike
Most modern dirt bikes are very easy to start with a kick starter, so this will come down to personal preference for most riders.
Racers who are very competitive may prefer an electric start, to start the engine as fast as possible. During a race every split second will count, so a stall could cost you the race. Many manufacturers are now adding electric starters; Honda were one of the first with the 2018 CRF250/450R, but older bikes will only have the kick start option.
Most enduro bikes will have electric start, this can be really handy if you happen to stall the bike while you're half way up a very steep slippery hill. A touch of a button and away you go, but kicking the bike in this situation could be very difficult to do.
Bare in mind that electric start dirt bikes will be slightly heavier because of the starter motor, and the battery. This only adds a couple of kilos, but this may not suit some riders.
Always check the specifications of the dirt bike before going to buy it. This will tell you important things that could make or brake your decision. You'll see seat height, which will be important for shorter riders, horsepower to give you a good idea of the power output, etc.
You'll also see the weight quoted in KG. Some riders struggle to hold up heavier dirt bikes, and to pick them back up after a crash, so this is important. Make sure every detail fits your requirements, and don't buy a dirt bike that has specifications you aren't completely happy with.
6. Your budget
Your budget really doesn't have to get in the way of buying a good dirt bike. You can find some older models that are in very good condition really cheap. If the list price of a used dirt bike is $1000, it doesn't matter what extras are fitted, the bike will sell for that price. This means you can get a top spec dirt bike, with loads of extras, and expensive add-ons for a great price.
Be patient when looking for a used dirt bike, and don't rush into buying the first one that comes up, as you could end up with something terrible. Be careful buying off sites like eBay, sellers are desperate to sell their dirt bike, and they will always make it sound loads better than it actually is. And lastly, always view the dirt bike before sending any deposits, as dirt bikes always look better on photos than they do when you go to see them!
7. New or used
You've just learned that you can find some really good used dirt bikes, but it can take a long time to find a good one. If you're good with a spanner, and don't mid replacing a few bearings, or replacing a worn out piston and rings, then a used bike could be a good choice.
You can check out my full guide to buying a used dirt bike HERE.
If you have plenty of money then don't hesitate to buy a new dirt bike. You'll be getting the most up to date technology, something that hasn't been messed with or bodged, and you'll have a manufacturers warranty.
New bikes are obviously pricey, but you will have an awesome dirt bike that will last you a very long time. Expect to pay more for a four stroke, and for enduro bikes that have extras like lights and speedometers, etc. A brand new adult 2-stroke competition dirt bike will cost you around the $7,500 mark, and a 4-stroke will cost you about $8,500.
8. Your future goals as a rider
By now you should have a fairly good idea of what style of riding appeals to you, and what dirt bike you're leaning towards. But before going any further, think long and hard about your future goals as a rider, and remember that riders can learn and progress really fast.
You may buy a Honda CRF230F, with the intention of doing some fun riding around the local woods, only to realise you're actually pretty good, and you want to race. You then find out the bike you bought is no good for competition, and you have to fork out again for a suitable bike.
This happens a lot! And although it's good for the manufacturers, it really isn't good for your wallet! Take your time, consider everything you've just learned, and make the right choice to avoid buying twice.
Now you've found out what the best dirt bike for beginners is, you can learn how to ride one by checking out THIS POST!
Or learn some fun facts about dirt bikes HERE.