The Honda XR100/CRF100 and Yamaha TTR125 are among the most popular beginner bikes. Why? Because they are easy to ride, have a clutch, and require very little maintenance compared to a motocross bike. Change the oil and filter regularly, as well as lubing the chain, and these will last virtually forever. So the question is, which one is the better bike?…
There’s No Replacement For Displacement
As you would imagine, the TTR125 has a little more power than the XR100. It has quite a bit of torque for being an air-cooled engine, but nothing that will scare you. The Honda is very smooth and has a linear power-curve, so no surprises there. The flywheels are heavy on both engines, so they are slow to rev and harder to stall, making it great for someone learning how to use the clutch.
Both bikes have a five-speed transmission with about the same ratios, so not much to dispute there. First gears are very low, so you may want to change the gearing (sprockets) once you’re used to riding the dirt bike.
Some people may say the TTR is a bit finicky when it comes to tuning the carburetor. We’ve had a couple of these bikes and the only problem we’ve had is when they sit for months at a time (this happens on any bike when gas is left in it). Just pull the carb off (which is very easy), clean out the jets and passages with compressed air and/or carb cleaner, and we were up and running again!
Suspension – It Is What It Is
Not much to see here, as both dirt bikes are using suspension components that are decades old in technology. This isn’t necessarily bad, especially if you are just a casual trail rider, as it makes these cost very little to buy and maintain. Comparing the two, there’s not a lot of differences in fork and shock set-up. If you weigh over 140 lbs, you’ll want to get heavier springs no matter the kind of riding you’re doing. Jumping is not recommended unless you make some modifications to the frames to strengthen them, but that’s not what these bikes are for. For a younger kid that just wants a dirt bike to ride around and have fun, either is a great choice, as they will teach you all of the controls and skills needed on a motorcycle.
If you’re brand new to dirt bikes, handling on a dirt bike won’t be as big of a factor as ride-ability and reliability. However, there are some differences between the XR/CRF 100 and TTR 125 as far as handling goes. The Yamaha weighs a little more; particularly if you get the LE model with the larger wheels and Electric start. After riding both bikes, the 2001 and newer Honda feels a little slimmer handles a little better in the tight stuff. The 2000 and older XR100R’s have a wider seat and tank, but are more comfortable on your butt. The TTR front-end isn’t the greatest, as it wants to slide out a little more, but that’s probably because we were pushing it too hard (that’s what happens when you put an adult on a bike like this!).
So Which Bike Would I Buy?
Honestly, I would buy either dirt bike if I found a good deal on a clean one, which is the most important thing when looking for a used bike. If I could choose one over the other, it would probably be the Honda. Not because it’s red, but because Honda just knew what they were doing when the built the XR/CRF-F lineup. They’re easier to find, the engine is simple, and aftermarket parts are widely available.
If you’re looking at getting an older 250f, and possibly a Kawasaki or Suzuki, then you should probably consider some of this info. When these companies made their 250f, it was more like a Kawazuki 250f, because Kawasaki and Suzuki had partnered up. So most of the parts on these bikes are interchangeable. This was their first year making the 250f, so just by that you should be a little worried.
As some might expect, these bikes were not the greatest reliability-wise in 2004. Although they were fast bikes, they had an overheating problem caused by a bad/weak water-pump. Another defect these bikes had was in the valve-train that caused the valves to burn-up more quickly. These problems can get bad and scared me away from buying one of these bikes. This is not to say that these bikes do not perform. They have plenty of power, and if you really want to get one then I suggest you get a newer style complete cylinder head and get and aftermarket water-pump and impeller to fix the overheating problem. If you do that then the bike should be fine, but by the time you spend all that money on parts you could have bought a newer bike more than likely. Good luck, and remember that no matter what you ride, have fun and stay safe! Thanks
What do you get with a bin full of dirt bike parts and an eager mechanic looking for excitement and satisfaction? A great project rebuild! If you are a dirt bike grease monkey like me who not only likes riding their bikes but sometimes working on them too then this is for you. I enjoy project rebuilds and love the oh-so greatly anticipated finished product even more. Ever since I got into dirt biking I have gained more knowledge about how they work and how they are put together. So after doing many rebuilds myself I thought that I would share the experience with you fellow riders.
I bought this 2003 Yamaha YZ250F in pieces as a project bike thinking that I would have some fun and get some more experience putting another bike together over the next month after I bought it. It came needing a complete new top-end at the least. I managed to get one and put the engine together in a reasonable amount of time. I then slapped the engine in the frame and started the process of puzzling the rest of the bike back together; this is where the fun started. It only took a few short minutes of bolting parts on to find that there was stuff missing. The more I put together the more parts I found that were missing or broken, and they were not all at the same time. So one-by-one I had to buy parts that I needed to piece this thing back to its somewhat original form. These parts consisted of, including engine parts, clutch plates, radiator shrouds, timing chain, timing chain slider, a different piston, head pipe, a couple crank bearings, engine/frame mounts, air filter, cylinder head breather hose, chain, gas tank, clutch perch assembly, a shift lever, and maybe a couple other miscellaneous things. Figuring out that we had to find and buy these parts got a little frustrating because we were told that the bike was complete and that it just needed a new top end.
Well, after weeks of picking at my wallet this bike has finally been put together and is running. It just needs a couple things put on to be ride able. So once I get those together I’ll take it out for a spin. The process was long and somewhat miserable, but I think I learned a lesson and gained more experience and knowledge about these modern four strokes that basically took over the world. In the spring, if not sooner, I will be putting on some new bling to make this baby look new, but as of right now it’s a clean bike that runs. Thanks for checking out this rebuild process, and make sure to check back in the near future for another bike rebuild! (If you liked this article make sure to check out my other rebuild, “I Rebuilt My YZ125 In A Closet!?”
P.S. I might update this article with some pictures and/or video once I get this bike looking good. Questions and comments are welcome.
When I got the bike (as you can see, I had my work cut out for me):
Pic of the damaged cylinder head:
After I cleaned it up and the engine was together in the bike:
Put the wheel and handlebars on:
The bike put together (added sub frame, carb, electronics, old plastics, seat, exhaust, cables, etc.):
Are you thinking about buying a dirt bike for your kid but don’t know which bike to choose or look for? I will give you some background on name brand bikes for kids to help you make a decision. Choosing the right bike for your young rider is very important, especially if they’ve never ridden before. Kids start riding as young as three years old, so once they are able to ride a bicycle without training wheels they should be capable of riding a dirt bike. And please don’t put training wheels on a little dirt bike, that just defeats the purpose.
There are a few factors that come in to play when finding the right dirt bike for a kid. Age, experience, size, and where you are going to ride all come in to play when looking for a bike. There are 50, 70, 80, 90, 100, 110, 125, and 150cc four-stroke dirt bikes that are mostly meant for off-road and trail riding. For the smaller two-stroke dirt bikes, there are a couple different 50s, 65s, and 85cc bikes. These are used for motocross racing.
There are a few different 50cc dirt bikes, but the most common is the Honda CRF50F/XR50R. This is where dirt biking starts for every little kid that has never ridden before. These things are almost bullet proof if you maintain it properly. If you are looking for a first bike for a kid that is under 7 then this is probably the best choice, unless they are bigger/taller than the norm. There is also the Suzuki JR50, Kawasaki KDX50 and Yamaha PW50; all of which are oil-injected 2-strokes that are very light and perfect for the smallest of riders, and the Yamaha TTR-50 which is about the same as the CRF, so it just depends what color you like best.
70 & 80cc
Honda made the CRF/XR70 and 80cc bikes for kids that are just starting, but a little too big for a 50cc. The 70 has a taller seat height with a little more power than the 50, but the 80 has a clutch which is perfect for training the little ones without letting them ride on a fast bike.
Honda has been known for their XR/CRF100 which reaches to a variety of riders. It has a clutch and is just right for the older kids to learn on if they are too big for the CRF80F. The 100 is a great trail bike because it has just enough power, and it’s also big enough for an adult, so this bike should be easy to find used, and cheap I might add. Kawasaki and Suzuki decided to make the ultimate pit bike for kids and adults. The KLX110/DRZ110 (Parts are interchangeable) has become popular because of how much power it has, or is able to put out, for its size. The 110 is an automatic, so it’s great for smaller riders that want more power than a 70 without going to a clutch yet. Yamaha also has a bigger off-road bike for kids, the TTR-125. The TTR-125 is a popular model for bigger kids just starting out. It has a clutch with enough power to haul riders around, young or old. Honda also has the CRF150F for riders that want more power and a taller ride height than the 100. Although the set-back for the 150 is that it weighs about as much as a full-size motocross bike. These mid-sized off-road bikes are popular for a reason, and this means that they have usually been ridden a lot and probably abused. So if you’re looking at buying a used one then make sure it is clean, it has somewhat low hours, and has been well maintained.
There are a couple different name-brand 50cc motocross bikes for kids, and they are both KTM two-strokes. KTM has the 50 SX Mini, which is for the smallest beginning racers. There is also the 50 SX which is bigger and suits a little taller beginning racer. These bikes both have a one-speed automatic transmission and are liquid-cooled. KTM 50s are expensive, but they are perfect race bikes for your little kids that are ready to tear up the tracks. There are also Chinese companies with 50cc motocross bikes, which aren’t made with as much quality.
KTM and Kawasaki are the only name brand companies that still make a 65cc two-stroke motocross bike. KTM has the 65 SX which is more expensive and usually the racers that are serious buy them. Right from the factory KTM puts aftermarket parts on their bikes, such as VForce reeds on the two-strokes, handlebars, and Brembo brakes. The Kawasaki KX65 is what riders that just want to race buy because they are so cheap. That does not mean that they aren’t fast, they just aren’t always as reliable and don’t have a very high re-sale value. Both are great race bikes for intermediate younger riders in around the age 7-10 that have been riding for some time. These bikes are usually not used for trail riding because they are not as easy to ride and lug around as a four-stroke is.
85cc motocross bikes are the start for a young teen aged racer. They have more power than most any kid could use, which makes these bikes a blast for adults or adrenaline-junkies as well. KTM, Suzuki, Kawasaki, and Yamaha all make an 85cc two-stroke mx bike. Honda put a stop to their two-stroke inventory after 2007, but people still buy their late model bikes. Instead, Honda wanted to start a revolution for mini-bikes with their all new 150cc four-stroke motocross bike. It was well talked about, but once it came out it died slowly. They are powerful bikes and are easier to ride than an 85, but the weight and cost lost it for them. Usually these CRF150R’s (Big and small wheel) were bought by racers with money because they also needed quite a bit of maintenance. If you have money and your kid loves the easy ride-ability of a four-stroke then this would be a good race bike to buy.
If you don’t have a deep pocket, then an 85 or 100/105cc two-stroke stroke is a great choice. Your kid will love you for getting them one of these bikes; before they flip it at least once, that is. If you find someone selling a used 85 that hasn’t been flipped, then you’re either lucky or they’re lying. 85s are pretty much race-only bikes. I’ve trail-ridden with one, and it was not very fun because of the lack of power down low. The Honda CR85R and Yamaha YZ85 hit harder and are more snappy than the others because they don’t have a power valve. KTM’s 85 SX comes with aftermarket goodies from the factory like all of their other bikes, so it’s probably the fastest out of the lot. Kawasaki’s KX85 and Suzuki’s RM85 are very similar and are used by many riders that are on a budget because of how cheap they can be. Honda and Suzuki both have a larger wheel 85, which helps those taller kids that quite aren’t ready for a 125 or 250f.
Kawasaki and KTM have a big-bore 85 to compete in the supermini class (86-112cc). Kawasaki’s KX100 is a big wheel and has plenty of power for any young racer. KTM has a 105 SX which is one of the best power-to-weight ratio bikes you can buy, and also has larger wheels. When it comes down to choosing an 85,100/105, or a 150cc four-stroke motocross bike for your kid, it depends how big your pocketbook is, what fits your kid, and what color you like best.
If you know what bike you want to get, check out my article “How To Buy A Dirt Bike“. Thanks for viewing, and good luck buying the right bike for your kid.
This past decade saw much change and technological advances compared to the 1990’s. The Pro National scene went from 99.9% of the bikes being two-stroke (Yamaha’s YZ400 was about the only thumper out there in the late 90’s). 2001 was the beginning of the end for the 125 2-stroke because of the YZ250F, and soon after, the other companies followed suite. By 2006 the scenario had done a complete 180. Within the past 10 years, there have been some atrociously made bikes, as well as the best bikes ever made. This list may not include the entire globe, but should cover the United States, along with many other countries that have similar inventory of bikes. My list is objective and unbiased; I am going by which bikes are being sought after and bought the most, both new and used.
5. Yamaha YZ250
Yamaha is the only Japanese manufacturer that still imports their two-stroke motocross bikes to the U.S.. They have had it together the entire time, but the YZ250’s best years are 2005 and newer. The lightweight aluminum frame and updated suspension (2006) makes the bike nimble, quick, and easier to ride. Power right out the box is excellent for almost any amateur, so there really isn’t much you need to do for it to be competitive, other than a suspension re-valve for your weight and riding style. The YZ250 has quite a bit of bottom-end power for a 2-stroke, and has plenty up top. You can move the power-band around with an aftermarket pipe if you don’t like the stock curve. Probably the best modification for engine performance is porting. It’s relatively cheap, and if you get it done by the right person this bike will absolutely rip.
4: Yamaha YZ125
I know I said that four-strokes have dominated the pro motocross and supercross scene the past several years, but that doesn’t mean people don’t buy two-strokes anymore. In fact, riders are realizing how expensive four-stroke motocross bikes can be if there is a major failure, so they’re moving back (or to) two-strokes. Don’t fool yourself, the 125 two-stroke is a very fast bike, even stock, when properly tuned. When James Stewart entered the pro-scene on a 125, his lap-times were often as fast or faster than a lot of the 250cc riders because he knew how to ride his KX125 so well. He continued to beat four-strokes in 2004 when 250F’s started becoming “the bike” to race, so you know the bikes wasn’t lacking, that much.
The Yamaha YZ125 has reigned has “the bike” to get in the 125cc-class for many years now. It may not have the best of everything, but as an overall package it’s arguably one of the best motocross bikes ever because it is versatile. Although, the motor hasn’t changed much since 2001, and the chassis/suspension since 2006, there really isn’t a whole you need to do to this bike to race it.
Unlike most other 125’s, the YZ125 has some bottom-end power. So if you’re not afraid to finger the clutch a little, you can turn it into a woods weapon because it is so light. The center of gravity is lower than four-strokes, adding to its maneuverability. I like riding both two- and four-stroke dirt bikes, but getting on the pipe and ripping it up on a YZ125 is just too much fun!
This bike also makes my top 5 list because of how easy maintenance is, as well how cheap it is to repair if something major happens because of less moving parts. A four-stroke engine costs 3-4 times as much if something catastrophic happens, especially if you have a shop do the work. On a two-stroke, as long as you change the oil regularly, a top-end kit (usually just a piston, rings, gaskets, etc.) costs around $100-150. Even if your cylinder gets scored you can re-plate it to new condition for about $200.
3. Yamaha YZ450F
You guessed it, another Yamaha. Not only are its two-strokes good, but so are the four-strokes. The first year of the YZ450F was 2003 (superseding the YZ426F). This is when the bike was titled “Impossible To Ride.” It did have a lot of torque just because it’s a 450, but the top-end power was unbelievable. It was hard to hang on to the bars for less-experienced riders (Here I’m thinking, “supermoto, supermoto….”). Well, it is a little harder to ride than most others in its class, but any 450cc motocross bike is going to have a lot of power if it’s fresh. Don’t let all the “internet hype” get to you, it was still a great bike. In fact, some say it had the best 450cc from 2003-2005.
The second generation YZ450F got even better (for the most part) in 2006 with the all-new aluminum frame. This reduced weight and helped with handling (more on that in a little bit). The power curve was changed considerably, changing from a top-end monster to a more mellow beast. Some complained, others loved it. Don’t worry, the engine is probably the easiest to change, it just takes a little dough.
Moving on to other things, the YZ450F’s suspension is good in stock form. Just make sure it has the correct spring rates for your weight and riding style. The handing on this bike is said to be an issue. Supposedly the steel frame was to blame and made it feel heavy and turn slower. I mentioned that 2006 is when Yamaha switched to aluminum frames for its four-stroke motocross bikes, and doing this resulted in better turning and handling for this bike. 2010 is really when handling was a positive for the YZ450F with the new bilateral-beam frame and centralized weight. It made it feel more like a two-stroke, but not quite because of its weight.
2. Honda CRF450R
Red has always been a popular color, and there’s a reason why; they make high-performance bikes. Honda’s CRF-R line is near the top in almost every performance category, but the thing that has held them back from others is the reliability. Granted these are full-on race-bikes we’re talking about, but some of Honda’s early model four-stroke motocross bikes have had some problems causing failure much sooner than others in its class. The valve-train malfunctions were primarily on the CRF250R its first few years, which is why I chose the CRF450R to be on this list.
The first year of Honda’s 450cc four-stroke motocross bike was 2002, when Yamaha was still making the YZ426F, so it had a little edge. The CRF450R helped bring down the two-stroke legacy in pro racing. You know something is wrong when Kevin Windham on Honda’s 450R is passing Ricky Carmichael (aka the GOAT) on an RM250 two-stroke. No disrespect to Windham because he is one of the smoothest riders in the history of motocross. It’s just that “RC” is clearly a faster rider when he is healthy.
Honda has been known to make dirt bikes that handle well. The bilateral-beam aluminum frame on the CRF450R is just the same as far as four-strokes go. Point it and it goes there. The ergonomics are great for most riders as well. Suspension has always been on par or better than other bikes in its class. Over the past few years Honda has been making their 450 easier to ride for more riders right out of the box, bringing out the fuel-injection (second company to do that behind Suzuki’s RMZ450). There have been some glitches, but then again, what bike doesn’t when it introduces something completely new? Overall this is a very powerful, easy to ride fast, and great handling bike for riders of all experiences, which is why it’s so popular.
1. Yamaha YZ250F
Yep, that’s right. The YZ250F is The Top Motocross Bike of The Decade. Surprised? You shouldn’t be. It’s the most popular 250cc four-stroke motocross bike, and for many good reasons. It was the first one made, and by a few years two. The first year of Yamaha’s 250F was 2001, and it was an instant success. People saw how powerful it was and how much torque it had compared to a 125 two-stroke.
Yamaha knows how to make a four-stroke motocross bike, plain and simple. Their 250F has always been known as the most reliable out of its entire class, even in its early years. It was a bit porky and hard to start at times in ’01 and ’02 with its manual decompression, but once they figured that out in 2003 this bike was a force to be reckoned with. No more clutching out of every corner, bogging out and casing jumps, or having to perfect your shift points. Once the pros started riding them, everyone wanted one. The thumping and thundering sound of a four-stroke ripping up the track is loved by many, but hated by many as well.
The YZ250F’s engine characteristics weren’t number one once all the other companies figured their 250F’s out, but it was mainly lacking some down-low. It was a pretty easy fix with an aftermarket exhaust or cams, but that’s only if you wanted it easier to ride with a smoother power-band. Yamaha has always had great suspension, and the YZ250F is no different. Ready to race out of the crate as long as the spring rates fit your weight and riding style. Ergonomics have been a positive for the most part. The early models were a little chunky, so the newer you get the better.
Handling is something that people always complained about, but I think that most of the propaganda came from people reading magazine reviews. Statements like “It can’t turn right,” or “It stands you up in corners” are usually from people that have never ridden the bike. It’s not as dramatic unless you are a Pro or fast A rider. You can also re-valve the suspension, change bars, triple clamps, springs, ride height, and many more things to get it to corner. Other than that, the YZ250F is a great bike and is very reliable. There are riders that get 200+ hours on stock and with everything still in-spec if they aren’t racing it hard. That’s saying something for a high-performance, high-revving machine.
Now remember, this list is the top motocross dirt bike of this past “Decade”. If it was within the last few years this list would more than likely be completely different. These bikes have been the most popular for the most amount of time in the past ten years. The reason why I did that instead of the last few years is because not everyone has the budget to buy that new of a bike. Some riders that are looking to start out in this extreme sport want cheaper, yet competitive and reliable bikes. I want to give those riders (YOU) the benefit of knowing these things so that you can stay with the competition.