It’s always awesome to see a brand-new dirt bike running around town or ripping down a trail. They have the newest tech and the shiniest paint, but that usually comes with a huge price tag and a steep learning curve. A used beginner dirt bike offers the same fun and performance for a lot less, leaving you more cash to blow on animal suits or glow in the dark toilet paper.
Trust me, it’s a thing.
From road racing to motocross, people win trophies on bikes that are 10 and 20 years old every weekend. That’s because motorcycle technology hasn’t changed much in over a decade. Sure, fuel injection and ABS are more common now and electronics and suspension have improved, but on a fundamental level – and especially to a non-professional – it’s all pretty much the same.
Dirt bikes are more accessible than ever before, and it’s fun and easy to make them street legal. So let’s talk about the best beginner dirt bikes, right after I talk you out of that shiny new Husqvarna 501 you’ve been dreaming of.
Used Dirt Bikes Are Getting Cheaper
We recently talked about how if you’ve ridden something else you’re pretty much ready to ride a dirt bike, but it’s still a whole different world from what you may know. Some are better on trails, where street legal dirt bikes are great on the road. Some are docile and easy to learn on, others are beasts even to a seasoned rider.
Not to mention, 100 hp on a dirt bike feels way different from 100 hp on a street bike. Either way you cut it, you don’t want to spend huge money on a showroom-fresh bike as your first dirt bike. It’s just a bad idea all around.
What’s great is you can get a competitive dirt bike for $2000 to $5000. At that price you won’t lose much – if anything – when you sell it. All the dirt bikes on this list can fall into that price range, so trade, barter, and sell your way to a few G’s and get yourself a beginner dirt bike sooner than later.
So let’s get right to it: these are the best and worst beginner dirt bikes on sale today.
The Big Guns: 450cc Dirt Bikes
One thing’s for sure: you don’t want to start on one of these beasts. Anything bigger than 300 is ridiculous for a beginner. But this is ‘Murica, land of the free, so go ahead and get yourself a 450. Or hell, get a 500. Buy one the day you get your motorcycle license, or even before – nobody’s gonna stop you.
Is that freedom or natural selection? You decide.
If you need to ride something this big, get a CRF500. In that video a Honda CR500 from the early 1990s keeps pace with a 2018 KTM 450 shot for shot. Though it’s older than millions of people, even a professional racer would be hard-pressed to find its limits today. A good beginner dirt bike? Hell no. An affordable dream bike, an absolute unit? You bet.
This Honda is every bit as fast, nimble, and fun as the KTM – for well under half the price.
Honorable mention: Kawasaki KX500, a legendary racer with delightfully 90s styling.
Simplify and Add Lightness: 125cc & 150cc Dirt Bikes
These are some of the most versatile choices for a beginner dirt bike. They’re a great platform for a street legal dirt bike or supermoto conversion since they’re equally capable on trails and roads. Seasoned pros swear by them: you’ll build good clutch and throttle control, and there’s more than enough power to keep you entertained.
125s and 150s are some of the best beginner dirt bikes money can buy, and we’ve narrowed it down to our favorite two.
KTM 150 XCW / Husqvarna TE 150
As it says on their website, “KTM stands for winning.” The saviors of the two-stroke have been on top of their game for decades, and this trail-oriented machine has a wide-ratio transmission that’s easy to learn on, backed by gobs of low-end torque for blasting out of corners like a hotshot.
Get yours in KTM Orange or Husky White. Either way, this is a beginner dirt bike best suited for those with prior riding experience – if you wad it up or lay it down, it won’t be a cheap fix.
If that KTM / Husky is a big American V-Twin, then the Yamaha YZ125 is a Japanese inline four. It’s a full-size two-stroke with suspension and gearing that’s optimized for racing. It excels in wide-open spaces, making it a perfect supermoto or street legal dirt bike. And since it’s been built in one form or another since 1974, parts are cheap and easy to come by.
The Yamaha YZ125 is a perfect beginner dirt bike to buy used. Find them all over Craigslist for next to nothing; buy one with some scratches and you’re almost guaranteed to not lose money.
Honorable mention: Husaberg TE150, Honda Grom on Knobbies
The Best of the Best: 250cc Dirt Bikes
This is where the party’s at. 250s are killer rides that can walk Corvettes by day and rip through the woods by night. Beginner dirt bikes don’t get much better than this: 250s strike a perfect balance of power and flickability without sacrificing anything in the process. And don’t let that number fool you – these are still properly fast machines.
KTM 250 EXC
One of the bikes that saved the two-stroke, KTM refers to this mid-2000s legend as “small bore domination.” Great suspension and brakes complement a torquey powerplant to keep this bike a competitive supermoto candidate nearly 20 years down the road. As a beginner dirt bike, it’s sure to feel modern and fresh.
Part of why Honda is so well-known for reliability today is because they built bikes like this in the ‘90s and ‘00s. It’s telling that Honda now makes a street legal dirt bike version of the long-lived CRF250, a dynamic bike that’s nice to grow into. This recipe works, plain and simple.
The CRF250X offers an alternative to the torquey punch of the KTM: a wide top-end power band that screams like a sport bike. It’s a lightweight affair with quality parts and unsurpassed longevity, making it a fantastic beginner dirt bike that you won’t grow out of anytime soon.
Honorable mention: Yamaha YZ250F
There’s a bike out there which offers even more… but you’ll have to switch to blue riding gear.
Yamaha WR250 – BEST BEGINNER DIRT BIKE
For our money, the Yamaha WR250 is the best beginner dirt bike you can buy used today.
For starters it’s dependable and maintenance-free, with a 25,000-mile service interval that’s unrivaled by any other bike. That engine delivers a great mix of power and torque – and a lot of both – making it dynamic enough for experienced and beginner dirt bike riders alike. It has better suspension, better brakes, electric start and kick start, and it has something else those other bikes don’t: the look. It makes a damn sexy supermoto, and that’s a fact.
Combine it all and the WR250 is a prime balance of power and performance that impresses new and experienced riders alike.
Remind me why I shouldn’t buy a brand-new dirt bike as my first ride?
The recipe is still the same as it has been for 20 years. Upgrade the fork internals and shocks, find some lighter wheels, and do comprehensive tune-up and you’ll have a cheap beginner dirt bike which performs like a brand-new bike. Throw on some modern plastics and it’ll look the part, too, saving you time, money, and heartache in the long run.
Check out our store for some awesome dirt bike parts:
And when you’re ready to get a license plate, Dirt Legal can do it for under $300. Order a conversion today and have a street legal dirt bike next month!