The Best Dirt Bikes for Trail Riding

best dirt bike

Dirt biking! A sport of fierce renown has grown to be a hobby for most people.

People no longer want to watch expert riders having all the fun in racing competitions. Instead, they want a first-hand experience with them on the bike. If you are one such person, then you need the best dirt bike for the ultimate off-road riding experience.

The choice of dirt bikes; however, is huge on today’s market, and not every new rider can make the best buying decision. So, in my top selections, I have considered all the features you would want your first motocross motorcycle to have.

Top Pick

KTM 250 SX-F is our top pick. This motocross is designed to exceed the expectations of every rider, whether experienced or new with its state-of-the-art design features and performance. It is made lightweight to hit the trails faster and more precisely.

Here are Our Best Dirt Bike Reviews:

1. KTM 250 SX-F — Overall Best Trail Motorcycle

KTM 250 SX-F

Revered for its strongest engine and compact structure, KTM 250 SX-F is the best 4 stroke dirt bike for trail riding. It is dynamic in every way.

Specs

  • 4 stroke engine
  • 5-speed transmission
  • Electric starter
  • Brembo hydraulics clutch
  • Approx.. 7 l tank capacity

This is the lightest bike in its class and it’s got incredible acceleration and power put down that will leave the competition in the dust. It has heavy-duty traction control, ride maps, and a whole bunch of details that I am about to dig deep into. 

The outstanding graphics of this model have a ready to race appearance. The bike has a WP exact front fork setting for improved damping. It also has a new front fork piston for improved performance. You’ve got a proven, stylish air spring construction with distinct damping functions. In the rear, you have WP XACT rear shock that has a new compression adjuster for improved tuning.

It features a four-stroke single-cylinder, DOHC, liquid-cooled, 4 valves/cyl engine with a displacement of 249.9cc and compression ratio of 14.4:1. The engine also has an electronic fuel injection system, which offers high fuel efficiency, excellent response, and more horsepower.

But the thing is, KTM 250 SX-F may not be the best overall package for the average or beginner rider.

Pros

  • It is the lightest design in its class
  • Delivers unrivaled engine power and transmission
  • The compact structure offers excellent mass centralization
  • Has superior damping and performance
  • The ergonomically designed seat is made for mobility

Cons

  • It may not be a great package for the average rider
  • Could be better with a slightly larger tank capacity

Verdict

We praise this model for its powerful engine, quick and stable handling, high-quality components, and low weight.

Overall Rating: 4.9

2. Yamaha YZ125 — Best Off-Road Motorcycle

Yamaha YZ125

With Yamaha YZ125, you will be cruising the off-road trails with a motorbike that has been featured multiple times in AMA championships. 

Specs

  • 2 stroke engine
  • KYB front and rear suspension
  • Hydraulic brakes
  • Close-ratio transmission
  • Digital ignition

With its high performing compact two-stroke engine, YZ125 from Yamaha delivers an awesome power to weight ratio for explosive performance.

The chassis features an aluminum frame, which is great because it is carefully engineered to deliver the finest handling performance in its class. It’s got an industry-leading fork that is speed-sensitive, superior damping, and allows for a more precise ride. The advanced KYB shock guarantees exceptional rear-wheel control for a sweet ride. There is a large two hundred and seventy-millimeter front disc brake that is fitted with advanced pad materials for unmatched controllability and stopping power.

The compact body of the YZ125 enables you to swiftly swing your body weight, allowing you to throw the bike around at will. The coordinated high performing wheels and razor-sharp styling show off the YZ125 racer DNA.

But the thing is, the two-stroke engine’s thermal efficiency is less compared to a four-stroke engine.

Pros

  • The lightweight frame gives a high power to weight ratio
  • Aluminum handlebar, gripper seat, and titanium footpegs are race-ready
  • Provides exceptional controllability and stopping power
  • Close-ratio transmission enhances gear ratio performance
  • Premium Dunlop tires offer race-ready traction and wear

Cons

  • Thermal efficiency is not comparable to that of a four-stroke engine
  • Tends to have a high lubricating oil consumption

Verdict

Discover the benefits of a lightweight two-stroke engine with the YZ125 from Yamaha. A model that guarantees explosive cruising and stances.

Overall Rating: 4.9

3. Honda CRF450R — Best Traction Tires

Yamaha YZ125

This revolutionary off-road motorbike from Honda is uniquely engineered to deliver the best cornering performance on the track.

Specs

  • Four-stroke engine
  • Programmed fuel injection
  • Close-ratio 5-speed transmission
  • Showa front and rear suspension
  • High performing Dunlop tires

To begin with, the motorcycle features the brand’s Unicam engine, which is great because it saves weight compared to a dual overhead camshaft motor. The unique configuration helps with ignition flame propagation for a high compression ratio.

It comes equipped with a third-generation twin-spar aluminum frame, which is an improvement of the previous versions. The battery is located about twenty-eight millimeters below the airbox. This helps to lower the center of gravity, making it lean over a little bit better, especially around corners. The low positioning of the battery gets more direct airflow into the airbox, revamping the mapping of the bike.

You’ve got three different maps on the 2020 CRF450R. A standard map that is pretty aggressive with plenty of pulling power, a softer hitting map that’s good for mid to top hitting, and an aggressive map that gives you all the hitting you can get out of the bike. 

But here is the thing guys, the bike is a little bit expensive compared to similar models.

Pros

  • The Unicam engine is loaded with power
  • The lighter, stiffer frame delivers more refined handling
  • Launch control delivers the strongest starts possible
  • Three maps deliver optimum power and traction
  • Advanced fuel injection settings produce more mid-range and over-rev power

Cons

  • The price tag is a little bit high compared to similar models
  • It may not be a practical bike for beginners

Verdict

This Honda model is built for the absolute holeshot with its Unicam engine, three maps, state-of-the-art chassis suspension brakes, and five-speed close-ratio transmission.

Overall Rating: 4.9

4. KTM 150 SX — Best Dynamic Lightweight Chassis

KTM 150 SX 2021

If you have been looking for the best dirt bike with a dynamic lightweight chassis, then you can consider KTM 150 SX.

Specs

  • 2 stroke engine
  • Brembo hydraulics
  • Central double-cradle frame
  • XACT WP front and rear suspension
  • Disc front and rear brake systems

It comes with a compact two-stroke engine that produces top-of-the-line power and torque. Everything about this engine screams high performance on the dirtiest tracks.

The front suspension sports a fully adjustable, forty-eight-millimeter fork with 12.2-inch travel. The rear suspension is fully adjustable, as well, with a travel of 11.8 inches. These two features combined support superior traction when braking and cornering. They allow for incredibly faster riding downhill. The six-gear transmission; on the other hand, enables the engine to stay on power better.

The innovatively designed clutch system sports a primary gear and a one-piece outer hub for unbeatable reliability. The clutch plates are extremely heat-resistant, allowing for reliable clutch disengagement.

What I don’t like about this model is the fact that it is geared too tall and the springs are somewhat soft for my weight.

Pros

  • Dynamic lightweight chassis improves controllability on the air
  • The adjustable suspension delivers superior traction and braking
  • The six-speed transmission enables reliable gear changing
  • Heat-resistant clutch plates are super easy to disengage
  • Comfort meets performance with the silicone stripped seat

Cons

  • It may be geared too high for average riders
  • The springs may be a little bit soft for heavier riders

Verdict

Overall this model ticks the correct boxes for rideability, cornering, above ground controllability, acceleration, and braking.

Overall Rating: 4.8

5. Husqvarna TC 250 — Best Advanced Ergonomics

Husqvarna TC 250

For advanced ergonomics and the latest in the two-stroke motocross engine, you should look no further than the TC 250 from Husqvarna.

Specs

  • 2 stroke engine
  • Magura hydraulic unit
  • Foot-operated launcher
  • Disc front and rear brakes
  • Pro taper handlebar

The forks have been updated with a new air seal, a rebound spring, and an air piston along with a new piston on the dampening side. The compression dampening has been firmed up in the mid-stroke and the valving on the WP XACT rear shock has been modified to better match the Rev out front.

Husqvarna has reengineered the radiator guards to effectively reduce the amount of trapped dirt on the bottom of the guard. The carburetor is positioned at an angle to help keep the fuel in a proper pickup position. This model has a remarkably low-to-mid blistering abrupt powerband to deliver amazing full horsepower at optimum RPM. It has the most tunable two-stroke engine ever made.

Another good feature worth mentioning is the Magura hydraulic clutch, which is nearly maintenance-free. It allows for superior modulation and even-wear in all conditions.

But the thing is, at higher RPM this model may fail to deliver more powerful horsepower.

Pros

  • Delivers the highest level of performance with reduced vibration
  • The two-stroke motor is simple and low maintenance
  • Redesigned radiator guards reduce the amount of trapped dirt
  • Creatively positioned carb improves fuel pickup
  • Advanced geometries provide accurate rider feedback

Cons

  • It may fail to deliver more powerful horsepower at higher RPMs
  • Could be better with an electric launcher

Verdict

With advanced ergonomics, modern bodywork, and premium parts, the TC 250 from Husqvarna guarantees superior comfort and controllability in all riding conditions.

Overall Rating: 4.8

6. Kawasaki KLX 300 — Best Dual-Sport Performance

Kawasaki KLX 300

Get out and play on your favorite off-road trails with the KLX 300 from Kawasaki. The possibilities are many on this very capable dual-sport.

Specs

  • 4 stroke engine
  • All digital instrumentation
  • Long travel dual-sport suspension
  • Convenient electric start
  • Comfortable ergonomics

At the heart of this high performing off-road motorcycle is an enduro-inspired liquid-cooled, fuel-injected, 292cc engine for steadfast performance in all conditions. This four-stroke, DOHC engine sports a powerful low and mid-range. Power delivering and throttle response are smooth and crisp throughout the RPM range. This accommodates different riding situations.

What truly takes my breath away is the dual-sport capability of this model. It displays agile maneuverability and controllability whether riding on or off-road. The frame has a high-rigidity structure that guarantees straight-line stability.

Kawasaki KLX 300; however, tends to deliver a stiff ride, which may not be practical for average or beginner riders.

Pros

  • Delivers powerful low-end as well as mid-range power
  • Quick launching with convenient electric start
  • Comfortable ergonomics allow for superior handling
  • Allows for agile maneuverability both on and off-road
  • All-digital instrumentation guarantees superior control

Cons

  • It tends to give a stiffer ride
  • It may fail to deliver pillion comfort

Verdict

Ride-in-style both on and off-road with Kawasaki KLX 300. But it may not be a very practical choice for an average rider.

Overall Rating: 4.8

7. Suzuki RM-Z450 — Best Cornering Performance

Suzuki RM-Z450

If you are looking for a dirt bike that is specifically designed for high cornering performance on those sharp off-road corners, then Suzuki RM-Z450 fits the description.

Specs

  • Liquid-cooled, DOHC engine
  • Showa front and rear suspension
  • 5-speed transmission
  • Nissin caliper front and rear brakes
  • Primary kick launcher

The RM-Z450 features a new generation liquid-cooled, DOHC engine that delivers a more low-end torque superior peak power, and an easy to control throttle response. The redefined cylinder head reduces surface roughness to enhance engine output. The innovatively designed throttle body features an under-mount injector for improved atomization.

It comes equipped with advanced Showa rear and front suspension components that guarantee superior traction and responsiveness. The enhanced suspension performance improves the bike’s ability to absorb shock for improved comfort and better chassis stability.

What I find slightly disappointing about this model is the stiffer rider it provides, which may not be ideal for a beginner.

Pros

  • Provides faster and more controllable throttle response
  • The increased lift improves fuel intake efficiency
  • High performing suspension delivers superior traction and responsiveness
  • Offers improved riding comfort and superior chassis stability
  • Innovative electronics allow for maximum acceleration

Cons

  • The ride, however, tends to be stiffer
  • Could be easier to launch with an electric starter

Verdict

For more experienced riders, the possibilities are many with the RM-Z450 from Suzuki.

Overall Rating: 4.8

8. Yamaha YZ250 — Best Power to Weight Ratio

Yamaha YZ250

Have you been looking for a modern two-stroke dirt bike that has exceptional power to weight ratio? Look no further than Yamaha YZ250.

Specs

  • 2 stroke engine
  • Constant 5-speed transmission
  • CDI ignition
  • KYB front and rear suspension
  • Hydraulic disc front and rear brakes

The YZ250 comes equipped with a 249cc two-stroke engine (reed-valve-inducted and liquid-cooled). This engine is compact, lightweight, and has a remarkably wide and hard-hitting powerband. The constant five-speed transmission; on the other hand, provides superior acceleration and it will hardly grind gears with improper riding.

I truly appreciate the KYB speed-sensitive forks, because they use piston speed to effectively control damping force. This gives you a smooth ride with superior precision handling. You’ve got an oversized front rotor that delivers outstanding stopping power by minimizing unsprung weight. Another good feature is the Dunlop tires, which are innovatively designed to offer bump absorption, slide control, and superior grip.

What I don’t like about the bike; however, is the fact that a two-stroke engine isn’t as efficient as a four-stroke engine.

Pros

  • Ultra-light chassis offers nimble handling and less fatigue
  • The engine delivers a wide and hard-hitting powerband
  • Close-ratio five-speed transmission offers smooth shifting
  • Speed-sensitive forks deliver superior damping and handling
  • Oversize front rotor provide great stopping power

Cons

  • Not as efficient as a four-stroke model
  • A steeper price tag in its class

Verdict

Full-throttle adrenaline and pure performance are what you should expect from this ultra-light, two-stroke dirt bike.

Overall Rating: 4.8

9. Honda CRF110F — Best Value Model

Honda CRF110F

Have you been looking for an off-road motorcycle that punches above its weight for your teenage daughter or son? Look no further than Honda CRF110F.

Specs

  • 4 stroke engine
  • Fuel injection
  • Electric starting
  • Telescopic front suspension
  • Drum front and rear brakes

This beginner model features electric starting for quick take-offs, a broader powerband, and big-bike styling inspired by the brand’s CRF racing machines. You’ve got a low seat height and modest size plus a four-speed transmission with an automatic clutch that caters to beginner riders.

The bike is powered by a 110cc four-stroke engine (single-cylinder and air-cooled) that’s rugged and reliable. It is tuned to deliver the kind of power that fits the needs of those new to off-road riding. The broad powerband helps beginners get rolling, while a throttle adjustment feature lets you limit power to suit the skill level of your son or daughter. A smooth-telescopic front fork offers superior suspension travel for confident control over rugged hills.

But the thing is, this motorcycle tends to be a little bit heavy for its size.

Pros

  • The engine is tuned to suit the needs of beginners
  • Convenient electric starter lets new riders get going with a push of a button
  • The automatic clutch is much easier to operate
  • Use the foot pedal to shift up or down
  • Superior suspension travel offers confident control over steep hills

Cons

  • The bike tends to be heavier considering its size
  • It may not be a practical choice for expert riders

Verdict

One look at Honda CRF110F and you can see a lineage that runs through the brand’s entire line of CRF performance machines.

Overall Rating: 4.8

How to Choose the Best Trail Bike

All dirt bikes are engineered to be high-jump heroes, but not all of them perform the same on the track. Here are the most important things I urge you to consider when looking for the best dirt bike on the market:

Types of Dirt Bikes

You can’t just jump into the market and buy the first dirt bike you will come across if you haven’t decided where and how you will use it. There are four main uses of off-road motorcycles, and they include:

Trail Dirt Bikes

These motocrosses are designed to dominate the off-road trails. They feature cutting-edge performance with responsive handling, a wide ratio gearbox, long-travel transmission, and lightweight chassis. They can cut through damp terrains, shrubs, muddy surfaces, and even narrow tracks. 

dirt bike

Competition Dirt Bikes

Riders may take part in short or long races. Short races are popular for riders of all skill levels, but long races are reserved for experts and more experienced riders. In competitions, riders can use motocross or supercross motorcycles.

Motocross and supercross are the most popular choices for racing. Competition off-road motorcycles are designed for performance. They are lighter, faster, and sharper, on the track and in the air. It doesn’t matter how many corners the track has, motocross/supercross is built to take them with ease. They feature some of the most advanced hydraulic systems that are free of adjustment problems or clutch fading.

Adventure Dirt Bikes

If you are looking for adventure on a budget or just a capacity off-road motorcycle to have fun, then look for this type of motocross bike. They usually feature well-thought-out styling and a bash plate to protect that vulnerable engine. These motorcycles feature the latest technologies and comforts. Some high-end models are fitted with a multi-information display with an integrated simulator. 

Dual-Sport Dirt Bikes

If you are planning to use your motorcycle on and off-road, then dual-sport motorcycles are what you should be looking for. They are usually street-legal, but with many features of off-road riding.

This makes them sportier than other motocross bikes on the dirt trails. They have tires with excellent traction, or the ability to grip uneven or dirt surfaces. Dual-sport machines have long-travel suspensions, which cushion riders from large bumps. Like other dirt bikes, dual-sports are also lightweight, and they are known for handling well on and off the track. They are great choices for average or beginner bikers.

Make sure you don the appropriate protective gear when you go for a spin — dirt bike helmet, gloves, suit, the works. 

Two-Stroke vs. Four-Stroke Engines

When it comes to dirt biking, the terms two-stroke and four-stroke are everywhere.

Experienced off-road bikers know what I am talking about, but new riders have much to learn before they can choose one between the two. The bigger the engine, the more likely the motorcycle is a four-stroke. So, this means the smaller engine bikes are by default two-stroke models, which are normally lightweight.

The main difference is that in a 2-stroke engine the cylinder fires every time the piston moves up and down once. In a four-stroke engine; on the other hand, the piston has to move up and down twice to create power. Based on this comparison, a two-stroke engine is capable of providing more power with the same sized cylinder. Concerns arise when it comes to maintenance. Two-stroke models require more maintenance because they tend to run hotter.

With 4-stroke engines, the oil is poured directly into the crankcase through an oil fill opening. But most 2-stroke engines need you to manually pre-mix the gas with two-stroke engine oil that lubricates the engine when it is operational. You can negatively impact the engine’s performance if you don’t get the mixing ratio right.

Four-stroke dirt bikes have cleaner emissions and superior fuel economy compared to two-stroke models, which often put out a smoky performance. The emissions are usually worse when the oil and gas ratio is incorrect.

Performance and Controllability

Several features define the performance of the best trail bikes like suspension and transmission.

Suspension

A dirt bike will not be able to uphold its name if it doesn’t have the best performing suspensions. A suspension is a system of springs and shock absorbers that softens the up and down movements. The ideal suspension would be defined by:

  • Maximum traction
  • Consistency
  • Controlled bottoming
  • Minimal harshness

The suspension of a dirt bike is usually associated with sprung and unsprung mass. In this case, sprung mass refers to the mass above the spring, including the rider, engine, seat, tank, and frame.

The unsprung mass, on the other hand, is the mass that goes up and down with the wheel, including parts of the swingarm, brake caliper, lower slider, axles, and the wheels. In a very ideal setting, the unsprung mass is supposed to move up and down, while the sprung mass moves along in a straight line.

The best trail bikes should have long-travel suspension. The velocity of the rebound stroke is directly related to the amount of travel used in the suspension. The more travel used, the more energy is stored in the spring, and the greater the force that extends the fork.

This simply means a low-speed rebound damping will be generated on smaller displacements and vice versa. The exact velocity will also depend on whether the tire is in contact with the track or the motocross is in the air.

Transmission

Transmission refers to the gears inside a dirt bike that determine how much of the engine’s energy it takes to turn the rear wheel. You shift through the gears using a small lever by your left foot. In lower gears, the motocross accelerates quickly but tends to have a low top speed.

In higher gears, the bike accelerates slowly but has a high top speed. You shift gears to maintain the best acceleration and speed for the trail. The best trail bikes usually come with either a five-speed or six-speed transmission. When you compare the two gear ratios, a six-speed increase in torque transfer capabilities. The torque capability is almost thirty percent higher than a five-speed transmission. This is due to wider diameter gears.

Chassis

The frame of a dirt bike has to be made of lightweight material like aluminum for superior controllability on air. Most motocross bikes weigh less than two hundred and fifty pounds. The lighter the bike, the faster it will go, and the easier it will take to the air when jumping off bumps and hills.

Final Thoughts

For this roundup, the winner is KTM 250 SX-F. This motocross has always been designed for global domination. It has always exceeded the expectations of many dirt trail riders. The lateral view of the bike displays heavy-duty parts that scream extreme performance. The bike itself is extremely light for superior controllability.

The four-stroke engine has taken this bike to ridiculously high extremes. Its well-balanced engineering provides class-leading power. The five-speed transmission ensures that the rear wheel gets all the power it needs. The gear position sensor gives you important information about the four-stroke engine phase. The aluminum chassis offers a great feeling on the ground and in the air.

Joshua D. Mattie

    Joshua D. Mattie

    My motorbike addiction began with 50cc at 5 years old. I rode motocross as a teenager & into my 20's when I worked as a mechanic. This helped me to see the light—sportbikes & cruisers became a passion. Now I'm building BikersRights to be the #1 resource for everything on 2 wheels!

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