Ask any dirt bike rider about their first dirt bike and they can tell you every detail. From the color of the scratched-up fenders to the sound of the motor rumble as they kicked the bike over for the first time. A lot of joy and frustration will be spent on the seat of your beginner dirt bike.
It’s easy to watch the moto professionals and select a dirt bike you want to purchase from the stands. Don’t do it. This should be the bike you strive for as you become a better rider but not necessarily your beginner dirt bike. Motocross for beginners does not start with the biggest, baddest dirt bikes on the market but one that matches your riding skill level and other attributes including overall body size along with the environment you will be riding in.
In this article, I will go over some features you should look for in a beginner dirt bike and then highlight some of the best dirt bikes for beginners you can get your hands on.
Tips When Choosing a Beginner Dirt Bike
Motocross vs. The Great Outdoors
Before you circle dirt bikes in your favorite motocross magazine, let’s talk about what kind of riding you will be doing. There are two differentiations in the world of dirt bikes; motocross racing and trail riding.
Although the word motocross is used interchangeably, motocross identifies the sport of dirt bike racing on a groomed outdoor track. For the sake of argument, racing is done for a specific number of laps on a designated course where the variables of the dirt are “set”. You know what to expect from each track.
Trail riding is enjoyed off the beaten path, in off-highway recreation areas that can have hundreds of miles of trails that you will never see twice. You choose a path and go; riding to the capability of yourself and whatever the terrain throws at you. Even if you have ridden a trail before, the conditions are everchanging. Rocks move and holes get deeper!
Dirt bikes that are made specifically for trail riding are going to have bigger tires (smaller wheels, more rubber) and softer suspension to make the ride more comfortable. Additional capacity in the gas tank and an optional reserve portion of the tank will make sure you spend more time out on the trail than dumping in another gallon.
Having a taller bike will aid in providing enough ground clearance when approaching obstacles like boulders, trees, and who knows what else. You will also see other comforts in off-road dirt bikes like the ability to start the bike with the push of a button instead of kicking it over, and over.
All the creature comfort add-ons do compromise the overall weight of an off-road specific dirt bike. Motocross racing dirt bikes will be lighter due to the absence of electric start and less gas tank capacity, giving the motocross rider the ability to manipulate the dirt bike easier over jumps, whoops, and turns. A motocross dirt bike will be a force to be reckoned with through a snappier power band that a rider must control in the twist of the throttle. These features make a nimble motocross dirt bike ideal for racing.
You don’t have to choose the exclusivity of motocross riding over trail riding or vice versa. I am only highlighting the differences between the two types of dirt bikes and why they are they tailored for that niche. Both motocross and trail dirt bikes can be ridden on any type of terrain, giving you the thrill of a lifetime!
Size Yourself Up
There is no “one size fits all” when choosing a beginner dirt bike. Each dirt bike rider is different in weight, height, and even the reach of their arms and legs. These variables make it difficult to assume that one size dirt bike will be the cookie cutter fit for a rider of certain size criteria.
The best way to find the perfectly sized dirt bikes that fits is to physically sit on the dirt bike. At a local motorcycle shop, there will be a showroom floor full of dirt bikes ranging in tire size, seat height, and motor size.
While under the supervision of a sales associate take, choose a couple of dirt bike models to get a feel for the overall weight and your maneuverability. For beginner dirt bike riders, two feet should be able to sit firmly on the ground as you steady the dirt bike under you while you are able to reach the handlebars with a slight, 90-degree angle in your elbows and your back comfortably straight up and down.
Remember that you will be bringing your feet up from the ground to the foot pegs when under acceleration of the dirt bike. Knees will need to have a slender bend so that the dirt bike rider can squeeze the tank in between while still having the flexibility to place a foot out towards the front wheel when turning or getting over an obstacle. Cramped up knees that are close to your body eliminates your ability to ride the dirt bike and let the bike take the abuse of the environment.
Tire Sizing of a Dirt Bike
Dirt bikes will have a large wheel in the front with a smaller wheel in the rear allowing the dirt bike to accelerate faster while navigating smoothly over rough terrain. Acceleration over rocks and whatever tough terrain calls for the rear tire to have more tread than the front.
Though most full-size bikes may share the same size overall diameter size, the wheel sizes vary slightly in the rear to help with traction. Smaller wheels with a larger tire and more rubber can be found on dirt bikes that are tailored for off-road, trail riding when the terrain is unpredictable.
A larger wheel size can make a ride more comfortable for a beginner dirt bike rider. As a rule of thumb, the bigger the tire the smaller the rock!
Rev it Up
The motor size of the dirt bike is described in the model name. Looking at the tag, you will notice varying numbers like 250cc or 450cc. CC stands for cubic centimeters and it is the engine displacement value or the volume of displacement in the dirt bike’s cylinders. A higher CC value will be relative to how much power the dirt bike can make with lower CC values showcasing a less-powerful dirt bike.
As you take a look at different dirt bikes, lower CC values aren’t always associated with smaller dirt bikes which relate to smaller tire size and lower ground clearance. Engine size does not determine the size of the motorcycle. A more powerful dirt bike will require increases in these characteristics in order to make for a smooth ride and it will also require a more skillful rider.
Another feature to note is two-stroke versus a four-stroke engine. Two-strokes are notorious for being your motocross ridden, racing dirt bikes but in the modern market, the reliability of the four-stroke motor has replaced the two-strokes out on the track. 91-octane pump gas can be used in any four-stroke engine which is what made them popular for trail ride enthusiasts while a two-stroke engine requires the mixture of oil and gasoline. Two-strokes are notoriously “snappier” in the powerband and this can be intimidating for a beginner dirt bike rider but It’s a feature that is really fun to overcome. Four-strokes will have more reliable motors and will deliver a more consistent power.
In smaller sized dirt bikes, the CC value grows pretty quickly. 50cc, 70cc, 85cc, to 125cc, and so on. When a dirt bike reaches the 250cc and 450cc, there will be various different dirt bikes that boast the same engine displacement. From here the only variance in models will be in overall weight and motor type. I recommend asking a sales professional or doing your research (you will find some great info at the end of this article) if you are searching for a dirt bike in this range.
Age is for the Birds
With a range in dirt bike rider ages, heights, and weights, there is also a variety of riding abilities that will be a secondary factor that can supersede a dirt biker’s size. Skill level will determine which is the best fitting dirt bike, making age and size just a number.
Each rider will learn to ride a dirt bike at his or her own pace and naturally some will invite the challenge of riding faster and more technical trails than others. As a beginner advances, they will literally out-ride their own bike and will require one that has the ability to create more power and get around obstacles tactfully.
Classifying a beginner rider is based on experience level rather than his or her age. Choosing a dirt bike suitable for a beginner will be based on the ability of the rider to control the power band and balance the bike. Bigger motor, shown through the engine CC size, equivalates to the amount of horsepower the dirt bike can generate. More horsepower, faster dirt bike.
There are many young motocross riders that absolutely shred. These little youngsters can hop on the seat of a dirt bike that is much too big for them in seat height and ride circles around older motocross riders. Unless required for specific racing classes, a younger rider may have a larger dirt bike that they can manipulate efficiently just based on their skill level.
Buying Your Beginner Dirt Bike
For beginner dirt bike riders, I highly recommend purchasing your first dirt bike on the secondary market. You are going to crash, scratch up, and break some parts; why subject a brand-new dirt bike to the abuse?
You can find used dirt bikes on a website such as Craigslist, Cycle Trader, eBay, and any other classified-style sites where a private owner can post for sale ads. There are a number of reasons riders sell their own dirt bikes like upgrading or outgrowing a smaller model and this is a great opportunity for you to snag a great deal without the hit of retail.
If you decide to purchase from a brick and mortar motorcycle shop, you will also have the opportunity to build a relationship with the store. Almost every motocross shop will have a part counter along with a service department and plenty of professional staff to help you as you grow your dirt bike enthusiasm.
In no particular order, let’s get on to the best five dirt bikes that I have researched to be the best selection for beginner dirt bike riders.
1. Honda CRF250X
Honda has one of largest varieties of motocross and trail riding dirt bikes on the market. You will find showrooms packed with Hondas but also on the secondary market based on its popularity for beginner and veteran riders. The CRF250X is an ideal dirt bike for the beginner dirt bike rider who is taller and looking to enjoy trail riding. Here are some of the benefits of riding red:
When you are out on the trail wheeling over boulders and balancing through single track, the last thing you’ll want to do is have to stop and kick the bike over after a stall. A rider can pull in the clutch, push the electric start button found on the handlebars, and get the CRF250X rolling again without skipping a beat. Smooth and hassle-free!
The wheelbase of the CRF250X is the same as its motocross cousin, the Honda CRF250F but it stands above in ground clearance to help it master over any terrain. With a wide tire, 18-inch wheel and a big 21-inch wheel in front, a beginner will feel confident and comfortable over the inconsistent terrain. The solid frame and wheel package allows a rider to go faster with poise. Once your feet are on the foot pegs, the challenge of balancing this dirt bike is gone.
The CRF250X has a four-stroke engine with a wider powerband, giving a beginner rider the ease to control the bike. The 250cc engine is a consistent power producer that allows for the throttle to be twisted without surprise while still packing plenty of torque. The power is not intimidating and control of the rear tire makes for a smooth ride.
Aftermarket parts galore
As I mentioned earlier, Honda is a popular brand that many beginners run to as their first dirt bike. A CRF250X can be customized with aftermarket parts to suit any rider. Some of my favorites include a suspension lowering kit to drop the bike down for shorter riders and larger gas tank for increased capacity out on the trail. Don’t forget, there are plenty of options for more protection on the bike from the abuse that can be found on a trail.
Weighing in at 254 pounds, the CRF250X was created to have a low center of gravity so any beginner dirt bike rider can easily manipulate this bike on the trail. The fuel tank sits between the frame instead of on top while the motor is nestled just below allowing a rider to sit above the bike’s center of gravity. You are now one with the dirt bike!
2. Honda CRF230F
Another Honda red team, the CRF230F a step below its big 250cc brother. This is a dirt bike that highlights Honda’s reliability as it is a bike that will keep running through whatever you throw at it. I personally had this 230F and even though I have graduated to a larger 450cc, it still sits in my garage as a great dirt bike to putt around on or share with less-experienced riders.
The CRF230FF air-cooled, four-stroke engine is notoriously reliable. This bike was designed to dump in a splash of gas and ride it until the tank is dry. Easy-peasy throttle control with no surprises coming from the powerband. Packed with the same push start button to turn her on and let her rip.
With its low center of gravity and overall weight of 249 pounds, this dirt bike can be easily moved around by a beginner dirt bike rider and is simple to pick up if you find yourself on the ground.
Standing up on the footpegs through rough terrain can be an intimidating feat for a beginner dirt bike rider. I may sound crazy but on the CRF230F, it is comfortable to sit down with confidence. The seat is super cushy and the suspension of the dirt bike is soft enough to ride with comfort through the terrain. Anyone can ride this dirt bike no matter the skill level.
The same tire size of 18-inch in the back, 21-inch in the rear as its older siblings, the CRF230F isn’t compromised in tackling over obstacles on the trail even with its lower ground clearance.
3. Yamaha YZ125
When I grew up riding dirt bikes, everyone wanted a Yamaha YZ125. This is the championship winning motocross dirt bike that you saw flying over triples in a Supercross race and was the first step to going pro for many dirt bike legends. The YZ125 was cool and is still crowned as the best 125cc, two-stroke dirt bikes on the market.
The Yamaha YZ125 was introduced to the United States market in the late 1970s and has been continually produced to this day. That means this dirt bike has gone through a lot of garages and service departments. The familiarity of how to work on, modify, and race this dirt bike is vast so a beginner does not have to turn far for some help on the YZ125.
Talk about light as a feather! With a tank of gas in, this dirt bike weighs in at 207 pounds. That is unheard of in the motocross scene which makes it a great dirt bike for a beginner to be able to control over a track or out on the trail. With the combination of a snappy two-stroke engine, beginners will need to be prepared to harness all that power as it outrides its own weight.
Blow it up, rebuild. Blow it up again and rebuild. All you need is a new piston, gasket, and rings to rebuild the motor of the YZ125 which means more time out on the track than its pricey, four-stroke competition. It is rumored that you can rebuild this baby in an hour.
Other factory dirt bike companies have eliminated their version of the 125cc dirt bike. The YZ125 masters over the class and still can be found shredding out on the track while producing champions ready for Supercross greatness.
4. Yamaha TTR-50
This is a dirt bike tailored for very young dirt bike riders. The Yamaha TTR-50 is a great platform for young riders learning to ride a dirt bike without the worry of balance or too much power generation.
This four-stroke engine with only three gears and no clutch is great to teach a beginner how to learn throttle control, braking, and balance. The motor can take the abuse of a beginner dirt bike rider with the ability to stay in just one gear and ride all day if they choose.
The TTR-50 may sit a little lower than many smaller dirt bikes but Yamaha did this to help confidence for the mini beginner riders. The ability to sit flat footed on the dirt bike gives beginner riders confidence and control over the bike. It even has the capability to bolt on some bicycle training wheels to keep up the little rider as the putt along.
If a beginner dirt bike rider isn’t ready for all the speed the TTR-50 generates, simply twist in a throttle limiter screw. This limits the ability of the throttle to be given past a certain point, controlling its speed. Comfortable going fast? Just pull the screw out a little more allowing more throttle twist.
This Yamaha can be found everywhere, especially on the secondary market. It’s going to get spilled over, crashed, and bruised up so if you find one for sale in a garage, snag it!
Push and Play
The TTR-50 is unique to its competition as it has an electric start button instead of a kick start. I feel this is best for new, young and smaller sized beginners.
5. Kawasaki KLX110
Wildly popular for beginner motocross riders and the veterans, the Kawasaki KLX110. Originally produced for smaller dirt bike enthusiasts, the KLX generated a new culture of modifications to make it the ideal dirt bike to scoot around in the pits.
The Kawasaki KLX110 opened up a market of modifications to make this mini dirt bike completely custom to your liking. Graphics, motor modifications, beefed up bolt-on parts made the KLX110 one of the most customizable dirt bikes on the market and helped keep its resale value up. Invest in a KLX110 for your first dirt bike and you may get more selling it later.
Weight just slightly more than the 50cc mini dirt bikes, the KLX110 generates more power with its 4-stroke engine with a low center of gravity making it ideal for any aged beginner rider. No clutch to burn and with four gears to pass through, she is plenty of speed for the beginners.
Don’t Matter Your Age
Beginners of any age enjoy the KLX110. Low ground clearance, controllable motor power; she’s the perfect dirt bike to get your feet wet on. Adults enjoy this dirt bike for its ability to handle their size, so much that you may find a battle of kid versus adult on who gets to ride it first.
What I like about this beginner dirt bike is the tire size. Most mini dirt bikes have a small tire size which throws away the comfort for the rider entering into rocky terrain but the KLX110 has a 12-inch rear and 14-inch front making it more predictable. It can handle more speed without having more ground clearance to balance.