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Dirt Biking Beginner Guide: (All You Need To Know)

Ok….You’re a dirt biking beginner and you need some help.

You’ve come to the right place.

I’ll teach you all the basics.

After this article you will learn;

  • What a dirt bike is
  • Different types of dirt bikes
  • Learn what all the parts do
  • Purchase considerations

Ok let’s jump straight in.

What is a dirt Bike?

You don’t have to be Einstein to understand that dirt bikes are about riding off-road. 

However, what a lot of people don’t understand is that dirt bikes come in a number of different formats.

So working out what kind of bike you want can be confusing when there are so many bikes available.

Fortunately, this guide is here to help you work through this and find the right bike so you quickly shift from a dirt bike beginner to a dirt bike pro!

Basically, the definition of a dirt bike is any bike that is capable of riding off the main sealed roads.  

Ok, so technically any bike that you could ride on a dirt road but really I am talking about two categories of bikes. 

Dirt bikes that you can ride on the street and dirt bikes that are purely for off-road riding.  

This can range from trails and dirt roads to obstacle courses and motor cross circuits that are in or outdoors.

Dirt Biking Categories

Motocross

Dirt Biking Beginner guide motocross

A high-performance machine that is designed for racing typically around a circuit with all sorts of jumps, ruts and banked corners.

These bikes are designed for short bursts of power so they accelerate quickly and can stop on a dime.

They are generally light and their suspension is set up for the jumps associated with motocross tracks.

The suspension set up typically makes these bikes quite tall, so factoring in this is important when looking at this type of bike.

The reduced weight comes from minimal equipment built onto the bike, and they usually run a small fuel tank which also contributes to weight reduction.

The high-performance nature of these bikes also makes for a lot of maintenance with a high frequency of service.  This may also mean more visits to the bike shop for specialized servicing.

My personal recommendation for a beginner is that unless you are absolutely into motocross, start with a trail bike first.  They are easier to ride, they provide a good starting point to explore, and their costs can be less.

Off Road (Trail Riding)

dirt biking for beginners 2019 Honda CRF230F

When comparing a trail to a motocross dirt bike, first impressions can be confusing as both machines look very similar, especially to a dirt bike beginner.

Often the differences are subtle.  For example, gearing for trail bikes is different to motocross as the latter needs to accelerate quickly and trail bikes tend to have better top-end gearing.

Trail bikes also have more safety features like hand protectors and radiator guards.  Front and rear lights are also tell-tale signs of a trail bike.

The suspension is one of the biggest differences. Trail riding means long hours in the saddle so the suspension is softer, whereas a motocross bike needs a stiff suspension to handle the big jumps and landings.

Allowing for distance riding is another feature of a trail bike.  Trail bikes tend to have larger fuel tanks to accommodate greater distances.  Motocross bikes require smaller tanks as the distances of riding are much smaller.

Trials Bike

Dirt Bike Beginner Trials Bike

A trials bike, unlike a motocross or trail bike, is easy to distinguish from any other style of bike (see photo). This is due to the style of riding that these bikes are used for.

The main characteristics of a trials bike is a low centre of gravity chassis design, little or no seat, and reduced travel in the suspension. They use a different range of tyres that are suitable for the type of obstacles they encounter in competition.

These bikes are used to compete in low-speed specialised obstacle courses (sometimes indoors). In simple terms, the idea of the event is to make it around the course without your feet touching the ground. Points are awarded to you if your feet touch the ground. click here for more detailed information.

As you could imagine this type of riding requires a lot of skill and many of the techniques used in this type of riding are utilised in the other dirt bike riding categories.

For example, the throttle and clutch control for getting over obstacles is also invaluable when needing to get over a log in trail riding.

The clutch and throttle control for doing wheelies is also the same process used for trials riding.

Enduro

Dirt Biking beginner enduro

Enduro dirt bikes are very similar to trail bikes with only subtle differences.

Enduro bikes need excellent suspension that can take a range of different terrains.

Because the nature of enduro riding is “endurance”, the bikes are built to withstand punishment.

Fuel tanks tend to be larger for long rides.

Braking is crucial as the bike is constantly stopping and starting.

Engine performance is also important for managing different terrains and riding styles.

Suspension is also important to adjust to incredible terrain changes.

The main difference between a trail bike and an enduro is that the enduro bikes are usually higher “spec’d”.

Dual Sports

Dirt Bike Beginner suzuki dual sport DRZ400

Yep… thats one of my old bikes, a trusty and reliable Suzuki DRZ400.

The easiest way to distinguish a dual sports dirt bike is that they can be ridden on or off-road.

Primarily their main area of riding is off-road but the ratio of off-road to on-road can vary with each manufacturer.

These bikes are something that I am quite familiar with having owned many of these bikes over the years. They have the advantage of being able to be ridden to where you want to ride if you have a trail nearby.

They are also handy when you have been riding all day and there is a hotel close by with cold beer!

The negative aspect of a dual sports bike is that they are often heavier than a trail/motocross equivalent. This is due to licensing requirements and also allowing for the necessary components for road riding such as indicators, front and rear lights etc.

Off-road performance specs are often reduced compared to an off-road only product.

Getting the tires right on a dual sports can also be problematic as you have to allow for the on-road aspect of riding. If you only do a small amount of on-road riding then a knobby tire might be OK.

A knobby tire will quickly get chewed up if ridden regularly on a hard surfaced road.

 

Adventure Touring

Dirt Bike Beginner- Adventure touring

I like to think of adventure touring bikes as a road bike that can be ridden on dirt roads.

These bikes are generally quite large with big engines designed for high-speed cruising.

Adventure touring bikes have a comfortable riding position well suited to long hours in the saddle.

A number of manufacturers now make these bikes as it is becoming a popular category of riding. 

BMW and KTM both have bikes that are popular in this group.

Once again, the ratio of dirt vs road varies between manufactures or the intent of the rider.

By intent, I mean some riders will convert big off-road or dual-sports bikes into adventure tourers that perform better in the dirt.

How A Dirt Bike Works

Dirt Bike Beginner Guide
Dirt Bike Side Profile

As you can see from my info graphics, how a dirt bike works is really the same as any other motorcycle.

You start the engine with either a key or push button.

A clutch  mounted on the right handlebar allows engagement of a gear selection and releasing the clutch slowly engages the gearbox with the engine and away you go.

Gearbox configurations vary by bike but often there will be a first gear that you engage by pressing down on a foot leaver on the right-hand side. Subsequent gears (IE 2nd, 3rd) are found by raising the lever up each time.

Braking is managed via a front lever for the front brake and a foot lever for the rear brake.

These combinations can vary on electric dirt bikes because the electric engine allows for a variation of the configuration normally associated with a gas dirt bike.

The main variation between dirt bikes and other motorcycles is their set up for off-road riding. This can mean plastic fuel tanks, high travel suspension, hand guards, seat layout and engine performance.

FAQ

How Dangerous is dirt bike riding ?

Dirt bike riding is dangerous but there is a lot you can do to minimize accidents.

  1. Don’t buy a bike more powerful than what you can handle. This guide might help, click here.
  2. Ensure you get the appropriate safety gear, particularly, helmets, goggles, gloves and boots.
  3. Take your time to learn the bike before you ride on challenging terrain
  4. Always ride with at least one other rider when out in the woods.

Can you ride dirt bikes in the street ?

Lots of dirt bikes can be ridden on the street.

Dual sports, some trail bikes, adventure tourers and a few enduro dirt bikes can be ridden on the street. Manufacturers generally have a range of bikes that can be road registered. Yamaha dual sports range for example can be road registered and ridden on the street.

how do you get into dirt biking?

The most important aspect is to decide what type of dirt biking you would like to do.

Trail riding is very popular and you might like to ask a friend who has a bike for a ride or buy a second hand bike to start.

Hopefully by the time you have read this guide you will be able to work out what style you like.

Do all dirt bikes have a clutch ?

The majority of dirt bikes do have a clutch. Most of the dirt bikes for really young kids (4+) dont have a clutch so this makes it easier for kids.

The rest of the bikes have clutches but this is not necessarily a bad thing.

A clutch allows for more control of the bike particularly when you look at a trials rider. The use of the clutch in this sport is  paramount to how the bikes work and perform.

Dirt Biking: Purchase Considerations

Now that we have covered all the main types of off-road bikes, how do you choose one?

Decide what type of riding you want to do

If you love getting out into the hills then a trail or dual sport is the go. If you love jumps and the thrill of tight racing then motocross might be your thing.

 

Four-stroke or two-stroke engine?

For a basic understanding of this consider a four-stroke to have smooth power delivery and a two-stroke to be more explosive in their power delivery. Traditionally two strokes were the best for motocross as the power delivery suited that style of riding but over the past 10 years, this has changed a lot. Four strokes now have heaps of power and can be ridden both on race tracks or out in the trails. In the end, it comes down to preference, take a few bikes for a ride with each type of engine and see what you prefer.

 

What size engine? 

If buying from a motorcycle shop then getting the engine size right should be OK. If buying second hand then make sure your bike is neither under powered nor overpowered. A 250cc four-stroke can be a good starting point for a beginner as they are not too under powered and still have enough get up and go to be enjoyable.  For a physically large rider then something like a Suzuki DRZ-400 could be a good option as they have plenty of manageable power and are suitable for a big body.

 

Get the bike size right. 

It’s really important to get the size of the bike right. You need to take into consideration your own height and body weight when making this purchase.

For me, I am tall so the height of the bike needs to be able to accommodate my size. If your bike is too big and heavy in relation to your body size than the riding experience may be reduced. Will you be able to pick the bike up if you drop it? Practice this by laying a bike down, if you can’t pick it up on your own then consider another option.

Where To From Here?

So now you have a good understanding of the different types of dirt bikes and are aware that there are a number of factors to consider when looking at a purchase.

  • Where you ride
  • What style of riding you like
  • Your body size and weight
  • A four or two-stroke
  • Making sure the physical size of the bike is suitable

The next step is to find the right bike and if you click here I will explain some options available for dirt bike beginners.

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