Beginners Guide: How to Choose a Dirt Bike

What to consider

By Miki Keller

With so many different models out there, deciding on your first dirt bike can be a daunting process. To help you choose, we've compiled a list of things to keep in mind when browsing through the various makes and models.

What is your height and weight?

Your height and weight are a big part of making the right bike decision. You'll want to feel comfortable on the bike. When you first start riding, you may feel like you have more control when you can sit on the bike and touch the ground with both feet. However, as long as you can touch the ground with one foot, you are more than capable of holding up the bike and starting and stopping safely.

Consider this: Some of the best woman motocross racers in the world are less than 5-foot-4, and yet they race 250F and 450Fs motorcycles (the larger-sized motocross bikes). However, the the weight of the bike in relation to your weight is another issue. Make sure to get a bike that has enough "grunt" or "get up and go" for your weight. Also, make sure the bike isn't too heavy for you to pick up. Try it—lay the bike down and see if you can manage to pick it up on your own. If not, move on to something lighter.


Do you want a four-stroke or a two-stroke?

The difference between a four-stroke and a two-stroke is the way the engine works. In simple terms, four-strokes have smooth power delivery, whereas two-strokes have abrupt power delivery, meaning they're "snappier" but harder to control. It used to be that four-strokes were sluggish and heavy—and thus not the best choice for race bikes—but over the last couple of years, motorcycle manufacturers have dedicated a lot of resources toward research and development of four-stroke race bikes. They are now lighter and snappier, but they still have smooth power. Of course, if you compare the cc's (the displacement of the motor) of a four-stroke versus a two-stroke, the two-stroke will have more power.

Both two- and four-stroke bikes require basic maintenance. Two-strokes call for pre-mix gas, which means adding oil to your gas at a specific ratio. They also usually require more top-end rebuilds (replacing the rings and pistons) than four-strokes do. Four-strokes can run on regular pump gas, but their engine oil needs to be changed more often than a two-stroke's does, and the oil filter needs to be changed regularly—how often depends on how hard and how long you ride your bike.


Are you interested mostly in trail riding or in track riding?

If you are planning to mostly trail ride on your bike, you should look for a four-stroke bike with hand guards (to protect you from trees and rocks), a skid plate (to protect the bike from rocks), a headlight (for safety during the day and for better vision at dusk), and possibly an electric start (to make it easier to restart the bike if you get stuck in a tricky spot on the trail). You can also look at dual-sport bikes, which are street legal. Depending on where you live, this can be a great way to eliminate the need for a way to transport your bike to off-road riding areas.

If you are riding tracks (motocross), you are going to want more of a race bike, such as a 250F (four-stroke) or 125cc (two-stroke)—something lighter with better suspension for jumping. Keep in mind that a motocross bike can be used on trails, but a trail bike has a harder time crossing over to the track. This is because trail bikes are heavier, and their suspensions are not set up for jumping.


What is your ability level?

Because we are assuming most people reading this are beginners, what we are really asking is, how aggressive are you? Do you adapt to new things fairly easily? Do you participate in other action sports? If so, you may want to look into getting a bike that you can progress into rather than a bike that you will outride within a year.

Are you open to buying a used model?

A used bike can be a great and affordable way to ease into the sport. A used bike that has been well taken care of is a good way to start, so look for one that is no more than five years old (three if you're considering a 250F). This way, you'll have a better shot at getting a bike that hasn't been abused.

Regardless of its age, how do you know if a bike has been taken care of? First, look for anything broken or bent. Then start the bike and make sure it doesn't make any weird noises. Once you've done that, take the bike for a ride and see how it drives and feels. If you are unsure about bikes, have someone who knows motorcycles look at it with you. In addition, always try to get the owner's manual when you purchase your bike. The owner's manual will come in very handy when you have to do basic maintenance, and it should contain instructions on how to remove the air filter, adjust the chain, check the tire pressure, and so on. Also be sure to ask the previous owner for receipts for all services done on the bike. This will give you a good history on the bike's maintenance and any issues the previous owner may have had.


Examples of Popular Dirt Bikes

Dirt bikes designed for trail riding and beginners (these bikes are four-stroke unless otherwise indicated):

  • Honda CRF150, CRF230, CRF250X, CRF250R
  • Kawasaki KLX110
  • Suzuki DR-Z125
  • Yamaha TT-R110, TT-R125, TT-R250, WR250, YZ250F
  • KTM 150 XC and 200 XC- W (two-stroke)

Dirt bikes designed for motocross:

  • Honda CRF80R
  • Kawasaki KX85 and KX100
  • Suzuki RM-Z250 and RM80
  • Yamaha YZ85 and YZ125
  • KTM 125 SX

Miki's Last Bit of Advice on Dirt Bikes

Note on 80cc bikes: Some salespeople will direct women toward 80cc machines because they seem like the right fit in terms of size. However, keep in mind that 80cc bikes are actually better suited for young and aggressive racers.

Note on 450F bikes: A 450 is by no means a beginner bike. This type of bike has an extreme amount of power and is best left to experienced riders.

Note on brands: All the brands of dirt bikes listed above are good. If you are buying new, choose a motorcycle dealership that offers the best customer service and is involved in the motocross or dirt bike community, either through sponsorships or through rider events. Another option is to choose a brand that expressly supports women-specific motocross and dirt bike riding. Reading the bike reviews in dirt bike magazines is a great way to become more knowledgeable about the various brands and models available.

Miki Keller is the founder of the Women's Motocross Association (WMA).

20 thoughts on Beginners Guide: How to Choose a Dirt Bike

  1. I really want a dirt bike badly but my parents can’t afford one. I am 14.

    1. Maybe you can start a savings fund specifically for your future dirt bike. Start offering to do odd jobs around the neighborhood, babysitting, dog walking, lawn mowing, etc. When you finally have enough for the bike, you’ll be so proud that you were able to get it yourself! Good luck, Derion!

  2. I have never ridden a dirt bike but I want to get into it. I’m 5 feet 1 inch and I have nowhere to begin. I would mostly trail ride, but I want something that goes fast and isn’t a baby bike. I wouldn’t be buying a brand new one. But I don’t know where to start.

    1. You might be interested in some of the advice from our readers when a similar question was asked here. Good luck with your search!

  3. Nowadays you can also consider an electric dirt bike.

  4. I’m 4 feet 11 inches and started out on a TTR-110 with an automatic clutch, but now I’m looking to move up to something with a real clutch.I’m trying to decide between a Kawasaki KLX110L and a Honda CRF125. The KLX is smaller, lighter, and I have better footing, but the CRF seems like a better bike overall, and one that I would ride for many years. Any advice you could give me would be greatly appreciated.

    1. With almost identical seat heights, the biggest difference that we see is that the Honda is 25 pounds heavier than the Kawasaki. If you consider how often you may have to pick up the bike, this might be a deciding factor. Assess yourself and your riding style, as well as your skill level. If you are the type of rider who is going to be challenging yourself, which may result in a lot of tipovers, that 25 pounds could end up feeling like 100 pounds by the end of a long day.But if you don’t think you won’t need to pick up the bike much or if it’s not too difficult, it does sound like you would prefer the Honda. Trust your instincts and get the bike you know is the best for you.Good luck, and have fun!

  5. I am 16, 5 feet 2 inches’ and weigh 115 pounds. I ride a Yamaha TTR125 but it’s too small and I really need a good motocross bike. What bike should I get?

    1. There are so many options out there and as many opinions about which one to get. Take your time, visit dealerships to try them out for size, do lots of research, and I’m sure you’ll find the one that fits your needs/wants/requirements. Have fun!

  6. I’m in my 50s, 5 feet 6 inches and 115 pounds. I bought a Honda CRF150R and shaved the seat foam down a couple inches. Put on skinny grips, an adjustable riser, added two teeth to the rear sprocket for a nicer single track ratio and just added a Rekluse clutch. I hope to upgrade in a year or two to the new Beta X Trainer 300, which is between a full-size dirt bike and a trials bike (my background is trials).

  7. I’m 5 feet 6 inches and about 140 pounds. I only rode a few times before but I’m looking for a good bike fit for me. I learn super fast so I’d rather start with a larger bike rather then a small one so I can progress more with one bike. Any ideas?

  8. I am 60 years old. I am a crazy dirt bike rider but the newer bikes sit very high. I am 5 feet 1 inch and 150 pounds. I need a bike with a bite. I love riding up hills and am crazy. Fearless. But I am tired of riding bikes where I have to find rocks to stop at because I can’t reach the ground.

  9. I’m 5-feet-4 and currently ride a Yamaha 125TR big wheel. I love the weight of this bike, but what I don’t love is that the ride takes every bump and is very squirrelly. I ride single track with lots of rocks, hils, rivers, etc. I started with the Yamaha 230TTR, but it was way too heavy and I would lose it on the downhill when trying to put my foot down. I’m trying a CRF230 tomorrow, but already had trouble turning it around, which means on the steep rocky hill climbs I will have a lot of trouble. Wishing KTM would make a 4 stroke with a lower seat height than 39 inches. They are lightweight bikes.

  10. Megan, I am in the same boat as you. I am an intermediate-ish rider but am only 5 feet 2 inches. I ride a CRF 230 with lowered suspension so I can touch. I like it because of the bottom end helping with climbs. But it is a tank! Whenever I get stuck I have to have help turning it around (in some situations, not all). My husband and I recently bought a CRF 150 — big tires, which we are taking out this weekend. I took it on the road and it seems to have plenty of power, but we’ll see how it handles the climbs. I weigh around 120 pounds so I think that’ll also factor in. I’ll keep you posted!

  11. To Megan (question posted April 12, 2014), I think a KTM 150xc would be ideal for you and for conquering the obstacles you described. However it is a two-stroke so it will be snappier, but after the years you spent on the DRZ you will warm up to it in no time. If you’re not wanting a two-stroke then the CRF230 would be your next step but as you said it’s heavy. Good luck and happy trails!

  12. I have ridden a Suzuki DR-Z125 for about two to three years now and I am an intermediate/expert teen rider, but being a teen I am only about 5-feet-6 to 5-feet-7 so I do need a smaller bike. My dad has raced in the AMA and knows a lot of bikes. Honestly, from the Kawasakis I have ridden I don’t get them! They either have no top end or no bottom end. Just my experience. They are great for beginners. I now need something that will get me up steep hills, rivers, over big rocks, and any other things on the trails. My dad wants to get me a Honda CRF230 but seems to be too heavy at 249 pounds. I am still looking but this website kinda helped. Hope you find what you need.

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