Motocross / Dirt Bikes

How to choose an off-road motorcycle: You're here for one simple reason, because you love motorcycles. One of the greatest things about these machines is the range of riding you can do with one, and these days that correlates to bikes that are meant for different jobs. Below we'll go through a few of the options out in the ever-expanding dirt bike market.

Within the dirt-related motorcycle market, there are three main areas to choose from...depending on whether you want a pure motocross machine, off-road play bike, or a dual sport bike. But even within each of these segments there are bikes that blur the lines and cross over into the other categories.

Deciding what to ride

The easiest way to settle on which bike to choose is to be honest with yourself on what type of riding you're likely going to do. If your only time on the bike consists of spinning laps at the track, then a motocross model is the obvious choice. Moving across to off-road, you have a few more options ranging from trail bikes (for days in the desert or mountains), or you have XC or "cross-country" race models that are much more based off their moto counterparts. If your riding is split between motocross and off-road in almost any way, these cross-country race bikes are your best bet. For many, they're a bit easier to ride on a motocross track, but also allow you to play in off-road or even race off-road competitively. With these current models, a full trail bike is an optimal choice if you're sticking to riding for fun off-road and just racing in that area a little bit.

From there, deciding between a trail bike or something more in the arena of a dual sport or adventure bike are your next options. Are you focused on open riding areas, versus being equipped with a license plate for on-road action, with occasional time off the roads? If you're spending a bit of time on the pavement, a small dual sport bike is a great choice that isn't that far behind a trail bike in terms of off-road capability. Honestly, tire choice on a dual-sport bike will ultimately decided how much time in the dirt you can handle. Beyond that, if long-distance travel is more in your wheelhouse, with increasing amounts of asphalt, then you may want to look towards the larger capacity adventure bikes to quell your need to explore.

Differences in the Bikes

Whether it's a 450 or 250 four-stroke, the newest bikes are packed with the latest and greatest features available in the dirt market. Whether it be the engines or suspension, we've never been closer to what the pros roll out on the track with at a national. The newest segment, cross-country or off-road race bikes, are fairly close to these motocross models, albeit with different suspension settings, EFI mapping, and typically an 18-inch rear wheel. But other than that, they're internally a close copy of their motocross brethren but massaged for a different purpose.

On a true off-road/trail machine, you'll typically find the addition of headlights, taillights, larger fuel tanks, kickstands, and even different suspension components that flex more...beyond just being tuned for the rigors of the trails, These components can add a bit of weight. In the powerplant, you'll find lower compression, different cams, and even different transmissions with wider spacing between gears. These are put in place to make the bike easier to ride, last longer, and work across a wider range of terrains. These bikes are sometimes labeled as beginner bikes because of their power differences, but in the hands of a seasoned vet, they're still a blast when on their home turf.

There's also another area of trail bikes, suited more towards the less experienced or younger rider, such as Yamaha's TT125 and Honda's CRF230F...or Suzuki's smaller DRZ line. These bikes are typically air-cooled four-strokes, with extremely mellow power delivery, and have basic/non-tunable suspension components, meant to simply (and durably) play around on in the great outdoors. The seat heights are low, the suspension travel is a few inches shorter than a full-on motocross bike, and some even have automatic clutches. These bikes are really only suited for track use on mini tracks with true beginners aboard.

For riding on all terrain (paved and off-road), you've got the dual sport and adventure bike segments. For the rider that wants to go about anywhere, a dual sport bike is the optimal choice. Most of these bikes are based off of off-road machines and there are some standalone design features. These bikes include changes to further their reliability and operating range, while also adding changes to make them more street-friendly. These include dual-sport tires, turn signals, a license plate, and engines that produce very usable torque. Want to ride to work, then peel off the road and go up some random mountain? Want to cruise around the local vet track, or head out into an OHV park in the mountains? A dual sport bike can probably get you there. And with the general size of a dirt bike, these machines feel like toys compared to the last item on our list.

Adventure bikes are growing in popularity, and these giant touring machines are like oversized dual sport bikes. They're powerful and stable enough for long-range touring, and can handle plenty of off-road action, though their size and weight will be a limiting factor. Operating under a similar guise as a dual sport machine, these bikes are meant to take you anywhere you want. Not as nimble or off-road capable as the smaller dual sports, they make up for it with big engines and carrying capacities for the road. Want to go state to state, ride off some dirt roads, roll through some state parks and some more mild OHV areas? These bikes can handle the job well and in more comfort. Between dual sport and adventure you have to figure out how much street/dirt you have planned and how long the journey will be. The longer the trip and on the easier terrain, the more desirable the bigger adventure machines become.

What about price?

This is where things get a bit tricky, as the price spread can be quite wide across some segments and smaller for others. Starting with motocross, outside of mini bikes, a full-sized brand new machine...whether two-stroke or four-stroke...125, 250, or 450, range from the mid $7,000 range and a bit over $9,000 these days. Realistically, competing models are very close between each brand and that's why we perform our yearly shootouts to give you some solid buying advice. Off-road race or cross-country machines are a few hundred dollars more than their motocross brethren, as they're basically the same machines with a few tweaks.

Larger trail/off-road machines in the 250, 350, 450, or 500 range are similar in price to the cross-country machines, if not a hundred dollars or so more because of a few added features. Moving to dual-sport bikes, the older, more trail-based models can be cheaper than a motocross bike, but the models based on an MX model, such as KTM and Husqvarna's latest offerings dwell up towards the $10,000 range when brand new. Smaller beginner trail machines such as Yamaha's TTR line, Suzuki's DRZ and Honda's smaller F lineup can start in the higher $2,000 range and end around $5,000.

The largest adventure lines really range the farthest in price, starting with repurposed street machines in the mid-$7,000 range and going up towards $10,000. With specialized models reaching anywhere from $10,000 to $16,000 or $17,000...depending upon engine size and overall features.


That's what we're here for! Want to learn more about a bike your interested in? Roll through our product guide to find a review or even write your own to help others. Beyond that, you can even jump in our forum and ask other members about a certain bike or bikes.

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