June 08, 2021 10 min read
Taking a dirt bike off-road is a fun and exciting activity and can work wonders to improve your riding skills. However, before one begins their off-roading adventure, it is important to pick the dirt bike that is suitable for the terrain you'll be riding on. Motocross tracks usually feature a large number of obstacles in a small space. Things can go wrong very quickly if you make a poor decision as to which dirt bike to bring. This is why I've written this blog post as a guide for anyone who is looking for the right off-road dirt bike.
The best off-road dirt bike is typically one that has a fuller range of speed as the gearing isn’t focused on just 2nd and 3rd gear like motocross. An off-road dirt bike has power through all its gear ratio and is designed for much longer rides in terms of comfortability.
But these aren’t the only factors that you need to consider when purchasing a bike for off-roading. Those who are new to off-road biking need to take into consideration other features of the dirt bike such as bike size, engine type, and even the type of tires before making their final decision.
One of the biggest mistakes off-roading beginners tend to make is watching a professional motocross race and then dropping a ton of cash on a dirt bike based on what they see the pros doing.
There are two reasons why this doesn't work:
Firstly, the machine you'll get is unlikely to match your skill level. Motocross dirt bikes are typically fine-tuned to the characteristics and preferences of the professional rider in question. Which means they're likely going to be incompatible with your riding style.
Secondly, the standard motocross dirt bike isn't going to fare well when trail biking or off-roading. Off-road trails come with their own set of unique challenges that the motocross bike just isn't equipped to deal with. Understanding these differences is key to getting the most out of your riding experience.
The biggest difference between motocross racing and off-road riding is the terrain. While professional motocross bikes are made to be lighter in weight and have better suspension, off-road bikes must be able to overcome the many different forms of terrains you are likely to see during your journey (such as rocks, downed trees, and muddy terrain).
The best off-road bike should offer a wider power range than your standard motocross dirt bike precisely due to the differences in terrain. Because professional motocross racing is done in a fixed number of laps and on a course where it is easy to measure distance and friction, the professional motocross racer is likely to know in advance just how hard he can push his machine and will likely modify his dirt bike for maximum speeds where the track will let him.
Off-roading, on the other hand, is all about going off the beaten path and experiencing all sorts of different terrains in a single journey. Off Road trails are unlikely to offer the same experience twice even if you're riding the same trail as before. Certain factors, like weather, can change the shape and layout of an off-road trail significantly.
So, when shopping for an off-road dirt bike, consider favoring endurance and control over speed.
Hare scramble is a form of off-road motorcycle racing that differs from traditional motocross racing in that riders are expected to complete laps around certain natural terrain (such as forests) instead of an artificial course.
A typical hare scramble (or cross-country) race may feature any type of natural terrain, from tight woods to large hills and even open fields in some sections. While these tend to be more rugged than the motocross track, hare scrambles are still more open than a typical enduro (yet another form of off-road racing that I won't go into in this blog post).
Most hair scrambles will feature a fixed amount of time instead of laps. In other words, you're tested on how many laps of the course you can make in a set amount of time (like 2 hours) as opposed to how quickly you can finish the course. Because of this, hair scrambles often offer greater tests of the skill and endurance of a rider which is what makes them more interesting to some riders than your speed-focused motocross race.
And as one might expect, the typical hair scramble requires dirt bikes that differ greatly from your typical motocross bike. Being an off-road competition, the best hair scramble bikes tend to follow the same specs as the best off-road dirt bikes. However, hare scramble bikes need to strike a balance between speed and endurance in order to get the best results.
Whilst a casual trail biking enthusiast may want to favor a dirt bike that lets them take it slow and easy, the competitive off-road racer needs to consider a bike that offers decent speeds without giving up too much in the way of control (especially when the terrains get rough).
In general, the size of the dirt bike should be balanced by the size of the person riding the bike. Because each dirt biker is likely to feature different weights, heights, and lengths of their body parts, there isn't a single bike that is perfectly compatible with all riders.
This is why testing is key. Finding the dirt bike that matches your measurements is all about physically sitting on the dirt bike and getting a feel for its controls. Do you find it easy to move your body around? Is there any discomfort?
Beginners should ensure that their back is comfortable whether standing up or leaning down. Also, make sure that the handlebars are not too far or close as either can be extremely uncomfortable when riding for long periods. A good way to make sure that this is the case is to grip the handle and take a look at your elbows. The optimal distance for comfort should be when your elbows are at a slight 90° angle when gripping the handle.
The same principle applies to your knees. When riding, you will regularly be shifting your feet from the ground to the pedals, especially when accelerating the bike. The dirt bike rider needs to be able to maneuver their legs effectively without experiencing too much discomfort. Common problems include cramped-up knees that can limit your ability to control the dirt bike.
Beginners may find it more comforting to have both their feet be able to touch the ground, but this isn't a necessity. With proper off-riding techniques, not being able to reach the ground should have little to no impact. And in fact, most experienced riders will usually find themselves unable to reach the ground when riding true dirt bikes.
But a newbie without proper riding experience can find it more daunting than usual to ride a tall bike. And this nervousness can lead to more frequent crashes. If being able to touch the ground makes you more confident, then go for a shorter bike as it is likely to offer you a more comfortable riding experience.
Another important consideration to make is getting a bike with a size that you can comfortably handle and pick up in emergencies. Accidents will inevitably happen on the trail regardless of how many safety precautions you take. And if your bike breaks down halfway through, being able to carry it alone means not having to leave it behind or call for help transporting the machine.
Wheel size is another important factor a dirt bike rider must think about. Dirt bikes typically feature a larger front wheel followed by a smaller wheel in the back. This design allows the dirt bike to more easily traverse rough terrain whilst accelerating. Depending on how rough the terrain you’re traveling in, you may want more treads in your rear tire than the front.
When off-roading in unpredictable environments, smaller tires with more rubber can help with traction, preventing you from slipping and sliding around too much. At the same time, some riders feel that larger tires can make the overall riding experience more comfortable for beginners.
As always, testing is key! What works for others may not work for you.
Here are some other questions you might want to ask yourself when choosing the right tire for your dirt bike:
One last thing. Always be prepared for wet weather. In other words, make sure that your tire has decent performance on wet terrain even if you don't plan to expect to be trail biking or racing during rain. Or buy an extra set for rainy days. Weather forecasts are usually right, but all it takes is one wrong forecast to catch you off your guard. And when this happens, not coming prepared might make for a very uncomfortable, and even dangerous, experience.
The two-stroke vs four-stroke debate is one of the oldest arguments in the dirt biking world. Even now, there are many passionate dirt bikers debating endlessly over which is the better engine for dirt bikes.
A stroke in dirt biking is defined as a motion of a piston. A two-stroke dirt bike has two different motions of the piston while a four-stroke has 4 different motions. Think of it as how many steps are needed to get a bike's engine going. In other words, to complete a full engine cycle, a two-stroke engine will use two steps while a four-stroke will take four steps.
How does that actually translate into the performance of the bike?
Two-stroke engines are generally cheaper than their four-stroke variants. I say generally because this isn't always the case, but two-stroke engines typically cost less because they require fewer parts and hence fewer materials.
Also, since they only use two-piston movements to finish an engine cycle, maintenance on two-stroke engines is not only cheaper but also easier to complete. You'll likely find it easier to clean two-stroke engines as opposed to their four-stroke counterparts which, again, is due to their low complexity.
Two-stroke engines are both smaller and lighter than four-stroke engines due to pretty much the same reasons as cost. And this is important regardless of where you choose to take your dirt bike.
In a hare scramble race, every pound matters as a bike that weighs more is going to slow you down as the race drags on. Being lightweight is one of the reasons why two-stroke bikes find it easier to accelerate and decelerate than four-stroke dirt bikes.
For the casual trail biker, weight is equally as important. As we discussed above, being able to easily handle and carry your bike in when it breaks down can be the difference between getting it home in one day or having to leave it overnight until you can get someone in to help you move it.
Four-stroke dirt bikes are easier to ride than two-stroke dirt bikes. The faster acceleration on two-stroke dirt bikes can make them harder to handle especially for a beginner. Four-stroke dirt bikes also have what is known as a "wider powerband", which is just another way of saying that they can run more efficiently at a wider range of speeds than their two-stroke counterparts.
This can be important for the off-road biker.
When off-roading, you will find that you have to shift speeds regularly as the terrain warps and changes. Having a four stroke-bike that can run and brake effectively at different speed levels gives you more time to focus on other aspects of riding which can make for a more comfortable journey overall.
Those who care about the environment need to be aware that two-stroke bikes tend to emit a lot of smoke while running and can also release a lot of burnt oil into the air which can have adverse effects on the surrounding plants. This matters more to off-road bikers as you will likely be riding primarily in green environments.
Two-stroke bikes also have higher fuel consumption which can be important to those who are conscious about how much they're spending on their oil.
If all this sounds too overwhelming, then just remember - it's all about testing. No two riders are ever the same. You'll need some time to work out your preferred riding style before getting the equipment that matches said style.
As a general rule, prioritize safety and control over speed if it is your first time off-roading. Once you've got a couple of trails under your belt, you can start shifting things around based on your riding preferences. The most important thing to consider is the terrain. Where are you most likely going to be using the bike? How high are the chances for rainfall where you live?
Do resist the temptation to drop a lot of money on a highly customized machine you are a beginner. The number of times I've seen newbies come in with highly specific requirements for their dirt bike (most likely inspired by whatever dirt biking magazine they've been reading) is mind-boggling.
What's likely to happen is that you take your brand-new expensive set of wheels out for a ride only to discover that it just doesn't suit your riding style. Then you either need to spend even more money modifying your initial purchase or worse yet, buy an entirely new dirt bike.
Keep it simple. Keep it safe. Get some experience and knowledge under your belt and then make the modifications you desire once you get a feel for what your riding preferences are.
Beginners to dirt biking must understand that the requirements for a dirt bike differ greatly when choosing to ride off-road as opposed to your typical motocross racing track. Off-road trails can change significantly while you ride and as such requires a dirt bike that is built to cope with all sorts of terrains from muddy ground to large rocks and hills.
With the correct dirt bike, off-roading can be just as exciting as motocross racing, providing a different set of challenges to overcome regardless of whether one is planning to ride casually or more competitively in hare scrambles. Understanding the differences between motocross and off-road biking is key to purchasing the right dirt bike.
So don't spend your money without knowing what they are!
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