Beginner Dirt Bikes Guide

My "beginner" dirt bike

My first dirt bike was a 250 2 stroke.  As I searched the internet for a good deal, I managed to convince myself that I had to have a 250 and that I would just figure it out.  This was a disaster.  The 250cc 2 stroke was way too much for my skill level.  Every time I punched it, the front wheel would jump off the ground in a power wheelie that I was not ready for.

That bike didn’t last long, so I switched to a 125cc 2 stroke because the price at the time of 2 strokes was much less than 4 strokes.  This bike was more manageable, but the power band still got me nervous since I was just starting out.

If I had to do it all over again as an adult, I would get a 250cc 4 stroke.  I fully believe that this would have allowed me to focus on the fundamentals of getting good at riding instead of keeping me racked with fear that the bike was going to get away from me.  When you are first starting out, fundamentals are key.  If you can get those down, your skill level will advance much faster.

In this article we will look at the best dirt bikes for kids, teenagers, and adults, as well as have a quick discussion around 2 strokes vs 4 strokes.

Best Dirt Bikes for Beginners

beginners dirt bike my bike
My Current Dirt Bike

2 Stroke vs 4 Stroke

When you first start looking at a dirt bike to learn with, the first decision that should be made is what kind of dirt bike you are looking for, 2 stroke or 4 stroke.  2 stroke dirt bikes are lighter, arguably require less maintenance, and require mixed gas (typically at a 50:1 ratio for newer 2 strokes).  A 4 stroke on the other hand is heavier, some people say require lots of maintenance (but the maintenance is far easier than a 2 stroke), and have a crank case full of oil instead of mixing gas.

2 strokes and 4 strokes run on different principals, but at the highest level, a 2 stroke fires once per rotation and a 4 stroke fires once every 2 rotations. 

The power deliver on a 4 stroke is smooth throughout the throttle range.  If you give it a quarter if the throttle, you get a quarter of the power and so forth.  With a 2 stroke, there is a very defined power band, where if you give it half throttle you may only be getting a quarter of the power, but if you give it three quarters of the throttle you may get all of it.  This makes for some dicey riding if you are not familiar with it.

For beginners, I always recommend a 4 stroke.  The power is much more manageable.  I feel it is more important for you to actually enjoy riding a dirt bike than it is for you to go fast, especially when you first start.  Plus, beginner dirt bikes are generally more cost effective to purchase used and have a good secondary market for resale.

Engine Size

So, we have established that if you are a beginner you should probably start looking at a 4 stroke.  Don’t just go out there and buy the biggest one you can find.  These will weigh quite a bit, and have way more power than you need when just starting out.  Another thing to consider is the type of dirt bike riding that you intend to do.  If it is primarily trails, then you will want to get a bike more suited for trails.  If tracks are more your style then you will want to get a motocross style bike.

Below, I will give recommendations for both kids, teenagers, and adults as far as engine size goes.

Weight

You are going to fall when you first start riding dirt bikes.  That is fine, and if you are geared up you should be able to get back up and try again.  But, make sure that you can actually life the bike off the ground.  So make sure you check the weight of the bike.  You don’t need the lightest bike on the market, but make sure it is something that you can handle instead of something that will handle you.

Resale Value

As I mentioned before, buying a beginners bike isn’t like throwing money down the toilet.  You can always just resell it when you are ready to move up.  Just keep in mind that at this point in your dirt biking life you want to give yourself the best shot at success.  Hoping on a 2 stroke 250 and thinking that you will just figure it out is a recipe for disaster.

What are the best Dirt Bikes for Kids?

When your kid is first starting out riding, there is a ton to learn.  If you have a small child that is rearing to go, I recommend looking at one of the tiny bikes like a PW50 or if your child is a little larger, maybe a pit bike.  Be sure to read my article on Best Dirt Bike Gear for Kids to get them squared away with protection.

Clutch vs Clutch-less

Many of the kids bikes are clutch-less, meaning that there is one less thing to worry about.  Your child will have plenty to keep them occupied learning the throttle and brakes.  With clutch-less bikes there is no clutch lever, but everything else is the same.  This is akin to riding a pedal bike so if your kid knows how to ride a pedal bike then they should take to a dirt bike pretty quickly.

As your child moves up in size, they will want to start learning and using a clutch.  This is a skill that will live with them the rest of their lives, so if you have a preteen kid, you will want to start them off with a clutch bike.  Clutch-less is only for the smaller children.

Weight

Weight is especially important for a kid.  Kids inherently want to keep up, and if they spend the entire time fighting with their dirt bike then they will become frustrated and want to go home.  The beginner bikes weight around 90 pounds and your child should be able to handle them with a little practice.

Engine Size

Shoot for 50ccs for a child, and maybe 65 ccs for a pre-teen.  Most of the bikes in this category are going to be 2 stroke, which earlier in this article I advised against, but given their small size and manageable power bands a 2 stroke will be fine.

Training Wheels

Many of the smaller 50cc dirt bikes have an add on option for training wheels.  If your child is having trouble staying up, I highly recommend them as it will allow them to gain confidence when first starting out.  Just like a normal pedal bike, don’t keep them on too long.  As soon as he/she becomes stable on the dirt bike, go ahead and take them off and sell them.

Resale Value

Buy your kids dirt bike used.  The resale value on this class bike is small, with some PW50s being as cheap as a couple of hundred dollars used.  This means that when your child grows out of the bike you should be able to sell it pretty quickly without taking too much of a loss.

Good Dirt Bikes For Kids

Here are some examples of some great dirt bikes for kids.  The links are for new bikes, but I would recommend you buy a used bike of the same or similar model:

KTM 50SX
Yamaha PW50
Honda CRF50

Dirt Bikes for Teenagers vs Dirt Bikes for Kids

A teenager is going to want and need more bike than a child.  In this category, you should be looking for a motocross style dirt bike that is manageable for them.  The biggest brands all have bikes in this category, so here are some things that you should keep in mind.

Clutch

All of these bikes are going to have a clutch.  The clutch is on the left hand side and the rear brakes move to a foot pedal on the right.  Clutch control is a skill that has to be learned and there are plenty of ways to do this.  The most obvious is to put the dirt bike in the yard and have your child slowly release the clutch until the bike starts moving.  Let him/her go about 10 feet, pull in the clutch and have the bike roll to a stop.  Continue doing this over and over until your child develops the comfort they need.

Engine Size

There are both 2 stroke and 4 stroke bikes in this category.  Again, I would recommend a 4 stroke bike as it has a much more manageable power band, and when you get into this size category, the power band begins to matter.  With a 4 stroke, power is delivered smoothly throughout the throttle twist, but with a 2 stroke it comes all at once, typically towards the top of the throttle twist.

A good size here would be a 125ish cc 4 stroke dirt bike or a 85cc 2 stroke.  There are lots of options in this category, and I have listed some recommendations below.

Does your Teenager want to race dirt bikes?

If your kid has designs on racing, then be sure to check your local AMA chapter rules.  There are different age and size classes, so you want to make sure that whatever bike you pick fits into that class and allows them to race.

Dirt Bike Options for Teenagers

Here are some options to consider when looking for a dirt bike for your teenager:

Honda CRF125F (Big Wheel)
Yamaha YZ85
Kawasaki KX85

Best Beginner Dirt Bike for Adults

The options for adult dirt bikes are extremely varied, however it is easy to pick one out.  I believe that you should probably stay away from the lower power trail bikes such as the TTR line by Yamaha.  These look appealing and are great bikes, they just don’t give you very much room to grow.  They are a true beginner bike and it is hard to advance past the beginner stage on one.

Engine Size

This is easy.  Get a 250cc 4 stroke dirt bike from your preferred brand, or at the best deal.  Stay away from the Chinese dirt bikes that you can buy on amazon for insanely low prices and get a name brand that you can find parts for easily.  If you don’t want to mess with the maintenance on a 4 stroke then get a 125cc 2 stroke.

Power to Grow

The power on a 250cc 4 stroke is going to be manageable but it also gives you room to grow.  The light bike classes of pro racers run 250cc dirt bikes.  So if you have to have a single bike to ride for the rest of your life, a 250cc 4 stroke will meet those needs.  In the 2 stroke category, a 125 2 stroke has a good amount of power, a great power to weight ratio, and are a ton of fun.  Just keep in mind that the power band on a 125cc 2 stroke will be noticeable so you will need to account for that when you are riding.

Beginner Dirt Bikes for Adults

All major dirt bike manufacturers are going to offer a 250cc 4 stroke dirt bike.  Here are some links to their latest models, again, this is to just give you an idea because I believe you really should be buying a used dirt bike as your first bike.

Yamaha YZ250F
Kawasaki KX 250
Honda CRF250F

Wrapping Up

When you start looking for your first dirt bike, expect to get overwhelmed.  There are so many options out there, and so many different opinions.  One school of thought is to just get the biggest bike you can and try and figure it out, and the other is to buy and sell your way to your skill level.  As I hope you have seen, my experience has lead me to believe that it is best to buy and sell your way into the perfect bike for your skill level.

The last thing you want to do is get frustrated.  That is the quickest way to failure.  Also, it is important to keep realistic expectations about what you can do.  The first time you take a jump you will get a pit in your stomach.  The pros make it look so easy, but that is because their entire job is to ride a dirt bike and workout all day every day.  Just don’t think you’re going to be scrubbing jumps your first time to the track.

Now that you know what dirt bike you need, it is time to buy it!  Read my article on How to Buy a Used Dirt Bike for steps on what to check and how to make sure you don’t get taken advantage of.  Once you have a bike, I have another article for how to ride it!

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