If you are a beginner who is looking to educate themselves on the basic requirements of dirt biking, then you have come to the right place. You are about to find out everything you need to know to get started. You may not have even decided on your preferred style of dirt bike. This article will give you the broad strokes which could help you make that decision.
Who is this article designed to help?
Anyone who is considering starting the following;
- Dirt bike/trail riding
- Adventure riding
We will be sharing our best practice, advice, and tips and tricks. We will also answer the questions most regularly asked by newbie riders. Covering dirt bikes, dirt bike equipment and dirt bike communities, we feel this is one of the most comprehensive resources for beginners that you will find on the internet.
Main Topics covered in this Guide:
- Choosing your first dirt bike
- Dirt bike maintenance
- Learning to ride a dirt bike
- Choosing the right dirt bike gear
- Basic legal requirements
- Finding your local dirt bike/off-road community
What is a Dirt bike or trail bike?
This style of bike is identifiable by its long suspension travel, knobbly tires, and distinctive bodywork components which are most likely plastic. Classic models are air-cooled (up to the early 1980s), but most modern bikes are water-cooled.
It is true to say that most people think of a dirt bike as being used for trails, woodland, farmland and sand, rather than competitive dirt riding. Once people start to compete, they tend to use motocross or enduro to describe their bike. The phrase dirt bike can apply to motocross and enduro-style bikes and is more of an umbrella term than a definitive description. When using the term dirt bike, it is good to consider the context. The following sections break dirt bikes down into their categories.
Choosing your first dirt bike
Dirt Biking generally takes place at a circuit made up of jumps, straights, corners and various other obstacles. Motocross is a competitive event and based on a group start. The winner is the leading rider across the line at the chequered flag.
Because of the competitive nature of motocross, a dedicated motocross bike will have trick suspension, super-lightweight components and performance parts. Motocross bikes suit intensive 45-minute sessions on track. Engines are classed in 80cc/125cc/250cc/400cc derivatives. Motocross bikes were often 2-stroke, although 4-stroke engines have become more popular. To learn more about engines read this guide to the 2 stroke and 4 stroke engine.
As the name suggests, enduro bikes are for endurance. If you ride enduro, you will be riding for extended periods, in all weathers, and possibly in the dark. Enduro bikes have a bigger engine range than motocross, (up to 600cc +).
Enduro bikes are more substantial, more comfortable to ride, fitted with lights and may have a less race-focused riding position. It is common for enduro bikes to have more gears than their motocross counterpart. Manufacturers of motocross bikes often offer an enduro version of an MX engine.
Motocross or Enduro?
There are many factors which will go toward helping you decide which is the best style machine for you. If you intend to ride local trails, woodland and fields, then the best kind of dirt bike might be the more enduro orientated machine. If racing is your goal, you may as well start the way you mean to go on and get straight onto a motocross bike. A motocross bike will still be excellent for trails and woodlands too, but an enduro bike will not cut it at your first MX race.
If you have seen footage from the world-famous Paris-Dakar ride, you have witnessed adventure riding. The TV series, the long way round, and the wrong way round starring Ewan Mcgregor and Charlie Boorman was responsible for a spike in interest in the adventure bike.
Adventure bikes mix off-road and on-road riding. The BMW GS, Honda Trans-Alp and Africa Twin are good examples. Engines can be as big as 1200cc. Built for comfort, and extremely robust, they are the hardest off-road bike to manoeuvre due to there height and weight.
Adventure riding is very specialist. If you want to tour extensively, and wish to include off-road riding, then an adventure bike will appeal for sure. Adventure bikes are like two-wheeled. Jeeps though, so you won’t be doing much in the way of jumps, or technical sections. Of course, there is always someone out there that will prove you wrong.
An adventure bike can go fast off-road, as this guy demonstrates.
Key search terms for buying your first dirt bike:
Used dirt bikes for sale – to locate the latest second-hand machines in your area.
What size dirt bike -for help in picking the right engine for you
Beginner dirt bike for kids – if you are looking to purchase for your child
Beginner dirt bike for adults – if you are looking for suitable bikes for 14+
Buying a dirt bike; frequently asked questions
Are dirt bikes dangerous?
We have a very philosophical approach to answering this question. Dirt bikes are not dangerous, in isolation, and without a rider on them. Therefore danger is only a possibility when a rider is on board. Even then, the risk is only a threat when the rider makes a wrong decision.
This answer is not patronising or playing down the danger, (This opinion does not include competitive riding or extreme motocross which are higher risk right from the off, just amateur weekend riding). Instead, it set’s up the tone for your entire dirt bike experience. If you decide to ride too fast for your ability, do not pay attention to what is going on around you, or try to keep up with more advanced riders, then you can expect to run into trouble. Some of that trouble will hurt.
Ultimately, you are in control of how fast your bike goes. Most spills will not end up in serious injury. It certainly helps your outlook once you have accepted falling as part of the dirt bike experience. The trick is to minimise falls and crashes as much as possible. You can do this by riding with intelligence and not ego.
Learn techniques and visualise them before you try them on track.
Start by riding slowly, using the correct technique and then build your speed until it feels like you are on the verge of losing control. The moment just before you feel out of control—practice in this zone. We could call this your “skill threshold”.
By staying on the safe side of your ability, you will get used to each technique without too many falls. When a given method starts to feel second nature, then increase the speed until you feel on the edge of losing control again. This pace is your new “skill threshold.”
If you apply this way of thinking to every aspect of dirt bike riding, you will get faster safely. Less time on the ground means less injury, more confidence and faster lap times.
Can kids ride a dirt bike?
They can, and they should. Most world champions started as very young children. Teaching your kid the same approach as above, and taking the time to understand the nuances of the techniques yourself, will ensure your kids will have a great time riding dirt bikes.
We understand that it can be nerve-wracking for parents to allow kids to ride a dirt bike. Often, the fears are yours, not the child’s, so don’t project adult insecurities on to them and make them nervous too. Young riders are incredible when they are allowed to develop naturally by their parents.
Don’t believe us? Check this out!
The reason this kid is so good has something to do with natural balance, and no doubt the influence of an upbringing within a motocross environment. We would bet our bikes that this kid hears minimal negative talk, discouraging comments or criticism.
What is the best starter dirt bike?
The answer to this often asked question has a lot to do with what you intend to do with your bike. For now, we will answer in very general terms as “which bike is best” will be the subject of a future article.
At this point, all you need to do is find a bike that inspires you. For a bike to inspire you to ride well, it needs to be comfortable, perform within the range of your abilities and be suitable for the purpose you intend using it.
- Test ride a few different models.
- In the beginning, most bikes will handle far more than you can throw at them. Shortlist the bikes that make you feel safe and positive.
- Expect to trade up within the first year or two. Buying a bike that you expect to grow into will impede your development as a rider. Better to have an 80cc that you learn to ride flat out, than a 400cc that scares the life out of you every time you get on it. That 80cc will give you all of the necessary basic skills on which you can build. It will allow you to find the limit of a bike. Technique over ego, always!
- Read our Ultimate guide about the best beginner dirt bikes
Most kids will be over the moon to be getting a dirt bike in the first place. This enthusiasm takes the pressure off in terms of which manufacturer to buy. Almost every pee-wee or junior dirt bike is of a similar standard. It makes sense to stick with a manufacturer your junior wants to ride.
- Don’t buy a dirt bike that is too big. As with adults, kids need to be able to control and feel confident on a dirt bike. Smaller engines and lower saddles are available for pee wee riders of 2yo plus. Junior (8yo to 12yo) MX and enduro also have their size bikes.
- Even if you do not intend to ride yourself, you should take time to understand the basics of dirt biking. If you have zero interest, and still wish to encourage your child, then it might be a good idea to find a local mentor that can help out.
- Check out the TOP 3 Kids Dirt Bikes in 2020
Is riding a dirt bike good exercise?
Dirt biking is hugely physical. Expect to sweat profusely and find muscles that you have never worked before. You will see an overall lift in your fitness once you start to ride regularly. We would not suggest that you take up dirt bike riding purely to get fit though. There are far more efficient ways to do that. What we would suggest is, if you intend to take up regular dirt bike riding, join a local gym or take up other forms of fitness exercise. The fitter you are, the more comfortable you will find dirt riding. Dropping your weight, and increasing stamina will only help improve your riding.
Popular fitness regimes for dirt riding include:
- Free weights to improve overall strength (low weight, high reps)
- Mountain bike riding, for cardio fitness AND improved riding skills
- Swimming for flexibility, cardio and endurance
- Yoga for core strength and flexibility
OK, so you are clear on what type of dirt bike you are going to be looking for, and you understand that you have to buy one suitable for your skill level. Your thinking strategically and are looking at 50cc for pee-wees, 80cc to 125cc bikes for novice adults or junior riders. You are even thinking about your overall fitness. What is next?
One thing that a lot of newbie riders do not appreciate is that dirt bikes need a fair amount of fettling.
Dirt bike maintenance
How much does it cost to keep a dirt bike running?
If you have ridden road bikes, or even track bikes, then you will be familiar with the kind of maintenance that is required to keep a bike running well. Unlike car owners, most bike owners prefer to get to know their machines by carrying out maintenance themselves. If this is not you, then you will need to budget for regular servicing. If you have ridden a mountain bike, then you will be aware of the increased wear caused by your most significant enemies; mud, grit and water.
There are some fundamental differences in the way that dirt bikes are maintained. For example; you will track your dirt bikes service history in hours not miles. As most dirt bikes have no milometer, it is impossible to keep track of distances covered, so running time is used instead.
How you ride has a significant bearing on the wear and tear. When racing in a world series, a rider will expect to get no more than four hours out of an engine before it requires an overhaul. For you as a beginner, that will be more like two whole seasons. Regardless, you need to develop a method of tracking ride time and carrying out maintenance tasks. There are apps available to help with this type of schedule. Some timers fit on to your dirt bike.
Regular dirt bike servicing costs include:
- Mechanics hourly rate – $20 to $50 an hour depending on the standard required.
- Air filter and air filter oil
- Engine Oil / 2 stroke
- Brake fluids
- Engine oil filter
- Spark plugs
- Fork oil
- Chain and replacement links
- Motocross Tires
- Disc pads
- Control cables
- Piston and rings
- Valve kits
- Radiator Coolant
High cost, infrequent dirt bike maintenance could include:
Dirt bikes are not cheap to own. To ensure you get the best out of yours, you will need to clean and lubricate your bike thoroughly after every outing. Before every ride, you will need to go through a thorough checklist. At regular hourly intervals, you will need to spend time with the spanners getting your hands dirty. (Either that or you will need to pay someone else to do it).
Hourly intervals are approximate and vary for each manufacturer. They fall roughly into; 2.5, 7.5, 15, 22.5 and 30 hours give or take. At 30 hours, the schedule starts over again.
If you are unsure as to whether you are going to take to dirt bike riding and maintenance, we highly recommend buying a good quality mountain bike first. Spend a few months riding a mountain bike while you are researching dirt bikes. Not only will you get fitter, and learn some critical basics for riding in the dirt; you will also get to play with the spanners as you maintain your mountain bike. Mountain bike ownership is very similar to dirt bike ownership. It is the perfect preparation and will continue to help you after you have started riding a dirt bike. If you can’t deal with the maintenance or cleaning a mountain bike requires, you might decide that dirt bikes are not for you either.
Still with us? Well done. It looks like you are the right type for the demands of dirt biking. Welcome to the club. Now it is time to get serious.
Learning to ride a dirt bike
How do I learn to ride a dirt bike?
Riding is the fun part! That said if you or your offspring are as competitive as we are, you will want to get faster and more confident quickly. Here are three steps to developing your dirt bike skills.
Step one of learning to ride a dirt bike; Watch closely
Watching is the key to a quick start in dirt bike riding. Get on to google and type in “Motocross clubs near me” or “dirt bike tracks near me”. Head on over and mill around. Watch the riders preparing. Pick good vantage points for cornering, jumps and passing. Then sit and watch. You will start to see and hear patterns very quickly. Where are the fastest riders braking?
You will see the front end dive on the suspension when a rider breaks hard. When are they shutting off the throttle, and opening it up again? How does this change between the 80cc juniors and the big class? What part of the track are riders aiming for when entering and exiting corners? When riders crash or bog down, what are the contributing factors? Are they coming in too hot, or failing to brake in the right place?
Watch, listen and learn. If you intend to race at some point, use the fact that you have no bike yet as an advantage. Play dumb, ask stupid questions. Riders love to talk. They will be less forthcoming once you are astride a dirt bike on the start line. To learn more about this, read our guide dirt biking tips for beginners.
When the weather is poor, then watch videos. Try to filter out the lower production, amateur videos from those made by experts. You do not want to learn bad habits. Subscribe to channels. Consume.
Step two of learning to ride a dirt bike; ride, and then ride some more
You will soon find your local haunts for dirt bike riding. You might prefer track or circuit riding, especially if you are in a big city. If you are in the right part of the country, then you might have easy access to green lanes, moorland, farms, woodland or even beaches. Ride with other people.
Dirt Biking with company is vital on two levels. Firstly, you can keep an eye on each other in case someone falls. Secondly, you will be able to follow each other and provide insights. Using a go-pro helps too, as you can watch back footage from the day.
If you can ride with someone who is slightly more advanced, this will accelerate your development. Dirt Riding with someone who is way ahead of your level will only benefit you if the mentor is willing to hold back and bring you along in your skills. A bullish show-off who is intent only on showing you how good they can ride is not a wise choice of ride partner. Not only will you be left with negative feelings, you most likely crash trying to keep up.
Step three of learning to ride a dirt bike; Motocross schools, track days and holidays
OK, this is not an essential step, but sustained periods of riding are a superb way of bringing your skills on quickly. Spending several consecutive days in the saddle will cement the relationship you have with your bike, and your confidence will grow accordingly. These types of event cater to different categories of rider. Always go in the beginner group. It is better to be at the front of your group, making significant progress, than to find yourself struggling to hang on to the intermediates and ending up on your ass.
There are some fantastic organisations out there who are providing quality residential packages for motocross schools, holiday and track day packages. You can find out more here.
We are heading into the last two sections of our ultimate beginners guide to dirt bike riding. We will be looking at the gear you will need, and some of the legal aspects of riding off-road.
Choosing the right gear for dirt biking
What gear do I need to ride a dirt bike?
Total novices often short cut the gear they wear as a way of saving money. It is not uncommon to see riders buying second-hand boots or even second-hand helmets. Motocross Advice would actively discourage this. You never know what damage an item has sustained until it receives a significant blow. You do not want to find out that the stitching on a boot is rotten when you snag your leg on a tree trunk. Equally, helmets are only good for one hard impact. If you drop a brand new helmet, you should buy a new one. You cannot trust the integrity of a crash helmet based on its condition.
If you have a total amount of $5000, we advise that you deduct the cost of a new helmet, goggles, boots, gloves and clothing gear from that budget. The figure left is what you have to spend on your bike. If you approach budgeting like this, you will not be at risk. So, how much does new gear cost?
Entry-level dirt bike helmets
Expect to pay between $90 and $150 for a good quality dirt bike helmet. Look for safety certification, including DOT, SNELL, ACU, ECE, SHARP. SHARP is the lowest level of certification. Be aware that not all dirt bike helmets are road legal.
- Removable peak
- D-Ring Strap
- Thermoplastic, or composite shell
- Washable lining
- Air venting
These are the absolute minimum features required. With the $90 plus budget, you will be able to get basic MIPS (multiple impact protection system).
Here you can find all about the best entry-level dirt bike helmets.
Entry-level dirt bike boots:
There is a wealth of entry-level boots available for significantly under the $200 mark. Some as low as $120.00 or less. The reasons you should be looking at dedicated dirt bike boots are two-fold. The way you grip a dirt bike is not the same as the way you grip a road bike. Both the side panels and sole of a dirt bike boot repel heat and increase grip. A road bike boot or lace-up walking boot will not help you maintain contact with your bike in the same way. Handling and speed will always be affected by wearing the wrong type of boot.
Secondly, you subject your ankles and joints to a whole different set of forces when riding a dirt bike. The toe, heel and ankle area of a dirt bike boot will protect you from the type of impacts you will get on a trail, as well as stop injuries from hyperextension. By purchasing the right kind of boot, you will not only avoid unnecessary injuries, but you will be able to ride with more confidence too.
Here you can find all about the best beginner dirt bike boots.
Entry-level dirt bike gloves
Gloves are the second of the three critical points of contact. (The first is boots; the third is your ass). Gloves need to protect you from flying debris, wind, moisture, and impacts. However, dirt bike gloves also need to allow freedom of movement and “feel”. Feel means that you get feedback from the bike through the handlebars. Your dirt bike gloves mustn’t be chunky, or stiff like road bike gloves.
Expect to pay between $15 and $20.
To learn more about the best dirt bike gloves, read this guide about motocross gloves.
Entry-level dirt bike gear
Finally, you will want to purchase at least one set of branded dirt bike gear. By gear, we mean jerseys and trousers. Expect to pay around $35 each for primary jerseys and approximately $50 for basic pants.
Motocross or weekend riders will be looking for simple gear. Enduro and adventure riders may want more pockets in the trousers, and a padded seat would also be an advantage. Most equipment contains ventilation, and the better quality gear is overlocked and de-seamed in sensitive places.
For the best possible dirt bike gear, read our review about the best dirt bike gear brands.
You will have hours of fun picking out the right equipment and creating the perfect look for your dirt bike. Put the most significant effort, and budget to the helmet, then the boots. Your gloves and gear will come last on your priority list.
Do I need dirt bike Armour?
For the first few rides, we would say no. You want to be able to move around freely on the bike, and feeling too protected could even make you overconfident. However, you should start thinking about adding armour as soon as you can afford to. Consider buying body-armour in the following order:
- Chest and back protector. A proper chest and back protector is always going to be useful to you, even for low-speed tumbles. Landing across a tree trunk can hurt, even if you fall off at two miles an hour. A chest and back protector will stop impact injuries, as well as those caused by sliding should you fall off at speed.
- Next up, you should start looking at Elbow guards. As the name suggests, this armour will protect your elbow joints from impact and compression injuries.
- As your speeds increase, and mainly when you start learning to jump, you are ready to add knee braces. Knee braces are another exoskeleton design. High tech components stop hyperextension, compression and impact.
- Last on your list of armour components is a neck collar to protect your neck from hyperextension and hyperflexion.
We have now reached the final part of our beginners guide to dirt bike riding. A lot of questions we see from beginners relate to law and insurance.
Basic legal requirements about dirt biking
Is it illegal to ride a dirt bike on the streets?
Most off-road bikes have the option to be registered as road legal. There may be implications when you register your bike for road use, and it will inevitably lead to a compromise in off-road performance. Any road legal dirt bike will need road-legal tires, and these rarely perform as well as dedicated off-road tires. If you have to register your bike for road use, you will need to ensure all local bylaws and regulations are satisfied. If your bike is non-road legal, then you will need a trailer, or van to transport your dirt bike to and from your destinations.
Do I need insurance to ride off-road?
Insurance is a complicated situation. You must take advice from local sources or law departments. In some states in the USA, you must insure your dirt bike, even if you never ride on the road. In other states and countries, you are at liberty to ride without insurance when off-road.
However, just because you are allowed to ride without insurance, this does not mean you should. When racing in competitions, you will most likely be obliged to take out public liability and sports insurance. If you injure another rider or spectator, the financial costs of a lawsuit could run into the millions. It makes sense to seek out an affordable policy to protect yourself against third-party claims.
Another factor that you may wish to consider is personal injury. If you are self-employed, extended time off work could prove to be the end of your business. Recovery times for some fractures can last far longer than savings! Many personal injury policies cover racing and dirt bike riding.
You may have to list dirt bike riding as a hobby, and racing or track days almost definitely need to be specified. If you can afford it, you should even consider taking out extra insurance specifically to cover dirt biking accidents, rather than relying purely on a personal injury policy.
Do I need a license for a dirt bike?
If you are riding on any public highway, you will require a driving license for a motorcycle. You will also need insurance and relevant certification.
If you are riding on private property, you can ride without any form of license, providing you have the express permission of the landowner.
Where can I ride a dirt bike off-road?
In many places, the definition of private property does NOT extend to off-road tracks, forests or open parkland were other members of the public can be found. Care should be taken in areas of outstanding natural beauty, national parks and protected moorland, as dirt bike riding could be forbidden. Check local bylaws for more information. DO NOT ASSUME that you can ride somewhere just because it is remote or it is not a public highway. The UK is a country where land rights are particularly stringent. Even in the UK, there are many places where riders can enjoy miles of uninterrupted riding.
What’s next – am I ready for some dirt biking?
You now have an excellent overview of what lies ahead. Start researching bikes, and if you are able, start some short off-road rides on a mountain bike.
Set yourself a goal to start test riding bikes. Don’t go out with cash in your pocket! For the first few test rides, just go an look. Get to try a few dirt bikes and retain how they feel.
Draw up a shortlist and start watching out for them, or even set up alerts.
Building your Dirt Biking Community
Finally, you need to fond your local and online dirt bike community. Instagram, Facebook, Youtube and dedicated blogs such as ours, are all useful resources. Sign up and join in!
You are in the first part of a long and enjoyable journey. See you on the trail!
We will be back with more motocross advice soon.
Martin, and Team MA