Differences Between Dirt Bikes vs Street Bikes
Are dirt bikes the same as motorcycles? We'll start off by saying that dirt bikes are motorcycles, and we’re not going the route others have taken of not calling dirt bikes motorcycles.
Instead, we’re going to touch on the differences between dirt bikes and street bikes, and “motorcycle” and “bike” will be used interchangeably here. Offroad and street motorcycles serve entirely different purposes. Even the helmets used to ride them are different. Here’s a basic breakdown of how street bikes and dirt bikes are different.
Dirt Bikes vs Street Bikes: Learning to Ride
Whether it’s for offroad or street riding, both motorcycle types can be dangerous, and they require different techniques to master them. Dirt bike riding skills translate better to street riding than vice-versa if you’re going to make the switch. That’s because on a dirt bike, you’d be learning how to ride one offroad, away from the hurdles of traffic. Learning how to ride a dirt bike also involves maneuvering over rough terrain at high speeds on a lighter bike, which makes the transition to smoother pavement on a heavier street bike easier.
If you start off with a street motorcycle and then switch to a dirt bike, you’re basically going to have to learn how to ride all over again. That’s not to say that dirt bikes are safer. Both require mastery of control, balance and focus, and of course the proper riding gear. But dirt bikes generally provide more freedom and flexibility for beginners without traffic and the laws that go with it as obstacles.
Dirt Bikes vs Street Motorcycles: Transportation
One advantage of a street bike vs a dirt bike is that the former is obviously street legal. Dirt bikes are not. The closest thing to a street legal dirt bike is what’s called a dual sport bike. Dual sports are essentially hybrid motorcycles for both offroad and street use.
If you’re undecided on whether you want to learn how to ride a dirt bike or a street motorcycle first, a dual sport is an ideal machine to start off with. Wherever you live, chances are the laws prohibit dirt bikes to be legally ridden on the street. So a major difference to consider when choosing a dirt bike over a street bike is how to transport it to the track or trail.
Dirt Bikes vs Street Bikes: Size & Weight
A notable difference between street bikes and dirt bikes is in both size and weight. Dirt bikes are generally smaller and more lightweight than street motorcycles, which makes them easier to control.The average weight for a dirt bike is about 200 pounds vs. 400 pounds for a street bike. Dirt bikes need to be nimble enough to make quick changes, and are therefore built with minimal parts to allow the rider more control.
A smaller displacement single cylinder engine makes offroad motorcycles more capable of handling uneven, obstacle-ridden terrain. Street bikes, on the other hand, share the road with passing vehicles that create drag, which requires them to be heavier and have more parts to make them sturdier. Because street motorcycles are heavier, they’re not suited for offroad riding. The added weight of extra parts and a larger engine does make them perfect for cruising on pavement and maneuvering through traffic at highway speeds.
Dirt Bikes vs Street Motorcycles: Tires
Knobby tires with better traction for aggressive riding also separate dirt bikes from street motorcycles, which have smooth, rounded tires with shallow tread designed to grip the pavement. Off-road tires are typically narrower than street bike tires, and are made with deeper gaps to tackle mud, gravel and dirt. The tread pattern on rounder street motorcycle tires can handle wet pavement, but are ill-equipped for offroad terrain.
Dirt Bikes vs Street Bikes: Suspension
When it comes to absorbing shock, dirt bikes are better equipped with a looser suspension to ride over countless obstacles. Street bikes can absorb the minor shocks that come with speed bumps and potholes, but suspension-wise, they’re not built with offroad riding in mind. As such, they only require minimal suspension travel, just enough to not bottom out.
Dirt Bike vs Street Motorcycles: Seats
Motocross bike seats are made for competition riders who stand up often to overcome hurdles. Their seats are forward-leaning, and much narrower than those found on street bikes. Handlebars are also lower on a dirt bike’s body to provide maximum control and visibility for the rider. Street bike seats are positioned further back on the frame for better posture and relaxation from seat to handlebar, allowing for more comfortable travel for longer ride durations.
Dirt Bikes vs Street Bikes: Brakes
Street bikes need a more powerful braking system than dirt bikes because they’re heavier, and of course need more stability to make frequent stops in traffic. Dirt bikes use a less powerful braking system with smaller brake rotors. Some models may even have one brake disc up front. The rear brake on a dirt bike tends to be used more often for maximum stopping power on offroad terrain.
Dirt Bikes vs Street Motorcycles: Fuel Tank and Frame
Because street motorcycles are made for longer journeys than dirt bikes, they come equipped with larger fuel tanks. The added weight of a larger fuel tank also contributes to the stability of a street bike. A bigger tank on a dirt bike would add unnecessary weight to a machine that doesn’t need to refuel as often. Street motorcycles also have a larger metal frame to support the bigger tank, while dirt bikes have smaller frames made of metal and hard plastics to keep them lightweight, flexible, and easier to maneuver.
Dirt Bike vs Street Bikes: Steering
Street motorcycles don’t require much in the way of steering capabilities to control the bike. Dirt bikes, on the other hand, are equipped with wide handlebars to enable making harder turns from one side to another.
Street bikes have shorter handlebars capable enough of steering through traffic and turning corners. For dirt bikes, the leverage provided by the wider handlebars allows for flexible sliding, cornering and jumping over obstacles, as well as for performing stunts. Offroad motorcycle riders need to be able to steer quickly to react to rough and unpredictable terrain.
Dirt Bikes vs Street Motorcycles: Which to Choose?
If you’ve read this far, by now you picked up that the differences between dirt bikes and street bikes are more than meets the eye. We’re talking two almost entirely different motorcycle types. When choosing one over the other, it comes down to what type of riding you’re going to use the bike for. But you can always dabble in both types of riding. If you’re new to motorcycle riding, a dirt bike is probably best to start with just to master how to handle a bike in an offroad setting, before transitioning to riding in traffic. Whichever way you go, know the differences, master the techniques and enjoy the ride!