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Best Dirt Bikes for Beginners

Updated on October 4, 2010

Best Dirt Bikes for Beginners

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Honda CRF150FHonda CRF230F - one of the best dirt bikes for women and adult beginnersYamaha TT-R125LE - another great dirt bike for women and teens
Honda CRF150F
Honda CRF150F
Honda CRF230F - one of the best dirt bikes for women and adult beginners
Honda CRF230F - one of the best dirt bikes for women and adult beginners
Yamaha TT-R125LE - another great dirt bike for women and teens
Yamaha TT-R125LE - another great dirt bike for women and teens

The Best Beginner Dirt Bikes

Are you a beginner off-road riding enthusiast? If so, you need to decide what kind of dirt bike to buy. But first, we need to discuss the differing styles of riding, as the best dirt bike for you will depend on what kind of riding you want to do, your stature and size, and your budget.

You see, the term dirt bikes encompasses a varied set of off-road motorcycles, the most popular of which are:

  • Motocross Bikes
  • Off-road/Trail Bikes
  • Enduro/Dual-Sport Bikes

Motocross bikes are race-tuned, high-horsepower machines built for racing on motocross or supercross tracks. Historically, they were all two-stroke. Today, four-stroke technology has advanced far enough to dominate even in this arena. Typically, motocross bike are not recommended for beginners. They are more expensive to buy, harder to maintain, more challenging to ride, and have a somewhat singleminded, limited utility in the world beyond race tracks.

Enduro/Dual-Sport bikes are typically off-road bikes that have been fitted with lights, restricted mufflers, and potentially other electric bits such as turn signals to make them street-legal. Bikes referred to as "dual-sports" are typically legal on public roads; "enduro" bikes are less likely to be. Yet both types of bikes are comfortable on both tarmac and dirt -- hence the name "dual-sport." These bikes are typically four-strokes. For the adult beginner who wants a bike he/she can take both off-road and to the grocery store, a dual-sport may be a good beginner's dirt bike. For riders younger than 16, or who are any shorter than about 5'6", a dual-sport is typically too big a bike, and not very manageable off-road. In this article, we are going to focus primarily on trail bikes. Read this article for the best beginner dual sports.

Off-Road/Trail bikes typically look very similar to motocross bikes, yet their suspension, horsepower, and MSRP are much tamer. These bikes are also often referred to as "playbikes." For the female or child beginner who plans to ride solely off-road with their dirt bike, these are typically the best choice. They usually come with four-stroke engines that are easier to manage and maintain than friskier motocross two-strokes.

If you pick up a buyer's guide such as, say, the 2010 Motorcycle Buyer's Guide produced by the publishers of Motorcyclist and Dirt Rider magazines, you will see a clear delineation between Off-Road, Mini, and Motocross bikes. When it comes to the best dirt bikes for beginners, it's probably best to keep your shopping to the first two sections.

Two-Stroke vs Four-Stroke Dirt Bikes

Back in the day, most dirt bikes were two-strokes, and some folks still think of a two-stroker as the quintessential off-road bike. However, these days most experts recommend that beginner dirt bike riders opt for a four-stroke. Two-strokes take more skill to ride, and although they offer more top-end speed and horsepower per cubic measure of displacement, you typically have to ride them high in their RPM range to wring the most power out of them. For a beginner dirt rider who has never even ridden a motorcycle before, a more forgiving power and torque curve is recommended.

The Best Trail Bikes for Beginners

For most beginners, we recommend a four-stroke off road or trail bike whose engine displacement and seat height is commensurate with the rider's stature and strength. Often a bike which is slightly too small is more fun to "horse around" in the dirt than a bike that's overlarge, and it's never fun to crash or drop a bike (which will happen when playing in the dirt) and not be able to pick it up.

Generally, we recommend a bike from one of the following lineups:

  • Honda CRF "F" Series (not the "X" or "R" bikes)
  • Kawasaki KLX Series
  • Suzuki DR-Z Series
  • Yamaha TT-R Series

Honda:  If you want a fairly new bike, Honda's range of CRF off-road bikes which end in "F" are a good choice. These include a very wide range of displacement and seat height options, such as:

  • CRF50F
  • CRF70F
  • CRF80F
  • CRF100F
  • CRF150F
  • CRF230F

The number in the name equates to the engine displacement, and seat heights range from 21.6" for the CRF50 (which is the best-selling bike of ALL-TIME, BTW) to 34.1" for the CRF230F. Prices range from $1349 to $3899. These bikes are all four-strokes, and they are built to be nearly indestructible. The CRF models replaced the older Honda XR dirt bikes. These may make good options if you want a good bike on a budget. You could opt, example, for a Honda XR100, XR200, XR250, or even the XR400. I personally started dirt-riding on an XR200, and as I was only 5'5" tall at the time, my father and I have often said that, looking back, an XR100 would have been a better choice as my first dirt bike.

Kawasaki:  Kawasaki offers the KLX100 and KLX100L (same bike but taller). Seat height is either 26.8" or 28.7".  Price is $2099 to $2249.

Suzuki: The Suzuki DR-Z bikes, like the Honda CRFs, come in a range of sizes.

  • DR-Z70
  • DR-Z125
  • DR-Z125L (a bigger-wheel version like the KLX100L)
  • DR-Z400S/SM: these bikes are both street-legal. The "S" model is a dual-sport; the SM is a supermoto (lower than the "S," with street tires instead of knobbies). They are great bikes for an adult beginner dirt biker who will spend more time on the street than the dirt.

Yamaha:  Yamaha offers the following four-stroke, beginner-friendly TT-R models:

  • TT-R50E
  • TT-R110E
  • TT-R125E
  • TT-R125LE - this 31.7" tall bike is an especially good pick as one of the best dirt bikes for women and teen riders. It costs $2999

A Word on Insuring a Dirt Bike

These days, new dirt bikes are anything but cheap. Heck, motocross bikes cost much more than many streetbikes. There have been too many stories of dirt bikes stolen right off of trailers or out of the back of pickup trucks.

Most large insurers do provide some form of dirt bike insurance. We recommend that you insure your off-road motorcycles against theft and damage. The rates are typically significantly lower than those you can expect on a street bike.

In our resources section, we have also included a link to an article on protecting your bike against theft.

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