What to Look for When Choosing Starter Dirt Bikes
How do you know which make or model of dirt bike will best suit your child when he or she has never ridden one before?
Choosing a starter dirt bike for your kid is never easy. Ultimately, the final decision will be heavily influenced by price and what's available at the time of purchase. This guide will help you find the perfect starter dirt bike for your child.
Focus on Your Kid, Not the Dirt Bike
One big mistake parents make when choosing a starter dirt bike for their child is focusing all their attention on the bike itself, rather than on the child who would be riding it. For example, deliberating whether to go with a 2-stroke or a 4-stroke engine is a waste of time if it turns out your kid can't even ride the bike because it's too big or small.
Consider your child before the bike. How tall is your kid? How much does your child weigh and what, if any, is their experience or skill level at riding a bike? The answers to those questions will help you find a dirt bike that will inspire confidence within your kid, and allow him or her to develop as a rider.
First and foremost, your kid must be comfortable on the dirt bike. This means he or she must be able to touch the ground with both feet, and get on and off the bike with ease. If the bike is too tall and your child is falling over every time they come to a halt, it might put them off riding for life. Conversely, if they are hunched up on a bike that's too small, they won't be able to develop proper riding skills and techniques.
Look for dirt bikes with a seat height that's suitable for your child that factors in their growth. Go easy on the engine size so your kid can be comfortable with the bike's power. As a beginner, they're learning to manage the throttle, not to break any speed records. While 50cc may not sound like much to you, it may be more than enough power for a beginner learning how to ride. Also take into account your child's weight. If the kid weighs over 100 pounds, a more powerful engine might be best.
Managing Throttle and Speed
A bike with some form of engine or throttle limiter is a good idea for a starter dirt bike. This enables the rider to control the power and speed of the bike. Your kid can learn how to master using the throttle and maneuver the bike at higher speeds as you gradually increase its performance.
It's worth noting that 4-stroke engines provide more progressive power delivery, whereas 2-stroke engines lean toward abrupt throttle response and power delivery. New riders may feel more comfortable learning on a 4-stroke dirt bike with its more predictable power. However, the differences in engine types on 50cc to 70cc dirt bikes is less pronounced than in full-size 250cc machines, so don't be put off by 2-stroke kids' dirt bikes.
Learning how to shift gears on a dirt bike can be tricky for novices of any age, but especially for younger riders. Developing the skills required just to stay upright while riding on dirt may be more than enough for young rookie riders. However, learning how to change gears can also be overwhelming, so a dirt bike with an automatic transmission is probably the best choice for any pre-teen rider.
If you want an automatic transmission dirt bike for your kid, consider whether it should have a single-gear or multiple gears. A single-gear dirt bike is a good choice for very young riders, but is limited on speed and performance, and your kid may outgrow it quickly. However, an automatic transmission with three or four gears is ideal for teaching kids how to handle the power of a dirt bike without having to constantly shift gears.
Another feature you might want to look for in a starter dirt bike is a kick-start. Since the mid-2000s, electronic starters have become commonplace on dirt bikes, but it's good for your kid to learn how to use an old-fashioned kick start in case the electronic start malfunctions.
New vs Used Dirt Bikes
If you have money to burn, then buying your kid a brand new dirt bike is a no-brainer. However, if you're on a budget, it's best to stick with a used bike. Kids outgrow their starter bikes like they do their clothes, and that brand-new two-wheeler you spend a ton of cash on will be no exception. Because of this, there's a steady flow of used starter bikes on the market at reasonable prices, which means you can probably get a great deal on one with ease.
Why take the financial hit of buying a new dirt bike that will quickly depreciate in value when you can get a used model for half the price? That way if you find out your kid doesn't like riding at all, you won't be stuck trying to sell a barely used machine for a fraction of what you paid.
When your kid eventually outgrows his or her starter dirt bike, good luck selling it to the next parent. Obviously, you want to get the best return on your investment. A major brand dirt bike (Yamaha, Suzuki, KTM, etc.) is a lot easier to sell than one of a lesser-known manufacturer (Pitster, TaoTao, etc.). When you buy your kid's dirt bike, bear in mind you'll probably be reselling it in a couple of years, so think about its age, condition, mileage, and whether it'll be easy to get rid of.
Tried and trusted dirt bike brands are popular because they're durable and reliable. Face it, your kid is going to crash that thing eventually, and a quality bike needs to be able to bump like a champ to retain its value. Honda, Yamaha, Kawasaki, Suzuki and KTM all build quality, hard-wearing dirt bikes, with KTM standing out as the best but most expensive of the bunch.
Starter Dirt Bikes by Age
Here's a breakdown of starter dirt bike recommendations by age:
Ages 5-7: Nothing bigger than a 50cc dirt bike, preferably with engine and/or throttle limiters.
Popular makes/models: Honda CRF50, Yamaha PW50, Yamaha TTR50, Suzuki DRZ-50 and KTM 50 SX.
Ages 7-11: By this stage of their development, kids are much more capable of managing more complex dirt bikes with increased power and manual transmissions.
Popular makes/models: Honda CRF60 and CRF70; Yamaha YX65 and YX85; KTM KX 65 and 85 SX.
Ages 11 to 16: Starter dirt bikes for early-to-mid-teens will be in the 110cc to 150cc range. These dirt bikes are every bit as good as their 250cc big brothers, with the only real difference being the smaller engines to keep power and overall speed in check.
Popular 110cc makes/models: Yamaha TTR110E and Kawasaki KLX110.
Popular larger makes/models: Yamaha YX125, Honda CRF150 and KTM 150 SX.
After your kid gets comfortable with their dirt bike, they may take an interest in working on it as well. Watch the video below to lean about some kid-friendly motorcycle maintenance jobs.