Best & Worst 4 Stroke Trail Bikes

There’s a lot of bad information on the internet when it comes to choosing which dirt bike to buy. This is especially true about the best 4 stroke trail bikes.

That’s why I put together this simple guide to help you on what I’ve learned over my 20+ years of dirt bike riding and owning dozens of different bikes.

What’s The Difference Between A Dirt Bike And A Trail Bike?

A trail bike is a type of dirt bike that is built specifically for riding on trails. It generally has softer suspension and a smooth engine that’s easy to ride. 

Single track trail riding on Honda CRF230F 4 stroke trail bike

A trail bike also can differ in that it has an 18″ rear wheel (allows for bigger knobbies/sidewall), a larger gas tank, armor (hand guards/skid plate/etc.), A wider ratio transmission to make each gear more usable, a different exhaust that’s quieter with a spark arrestor, a kickstand, as well as a head and tail light on some models. 

What Kind of Trail Riding Are You Doing?

There’s more than one kind of trail riding. I’ve ridden my dirt bikes on trails that are in the woods, over mountains, in desert-like terrain, or just in my backyard and state trails.

Certain models of dirt bikes will work better or worse on different types of trails. If you want to be aggressive and race through the open woods at high speeds, then you’ll want a high-performance enduro bike that is built for racing.

Just want a comfortable trail bike for putting up the mountain hills? A simple, low-performance air-cooled 4 stroke will meet your needs at less than half the cost of the race-ready model.

What Is Your Skill Level?

Just because you want to ride fast in the trails does not mean you should start out on a 450 race bike. If you’re a beginner, start out on a dirt bike that is easy to ride with smooth and predictable power. 

A slower bike is easier to ride fast than riding a fast bike at slow speeds. Skipping ahead to the top level 4 stroke will only slow down your pace of learning. Learn and master the basic skills of clutch and throttle control, as well as balance. Once you’ve completely outgrown your first dirt bike, then it’s time to look at a more serious enduro trail bike.

What Is Your Size?

Dirt bike size is more important for beginners than it is if you’re an expert level rider. Being able to touch the ground with one foot builds confidence because it can prevent simple tip overs. Confidence is key to growing your riding skill and technique.

There are a number of mid-size and smaller full-size dirt bikes if you are shorter than average. Even if you buy a 4 stroke that’s a little too tall, there’s several ways to lower the seat height.

Is A 2 Stroke or 4 Stroke Better For Trail Riding?

There will always be an argument going for 2 strokes or 4 stroke dirt bikes. If you’ve read this far, then you probably know these advantages that a 4 stroke trail bike has:

  • Broad power curve
  • No mixing oil
  • Latest R&D technology
  • Easier to ride longer
  • Generally longer rebuild intervals

If you haven’t done any research on 2 stroke trail bikes, check out this article to see why they’re so popular.

Getting To The Best 4 Stroke Trail Bikes

Now that you have a good idea on what to look for in a bike, here’s the best 4 stroke dirt bikes for trail riding:

  • Honda CRF250F
  • Kawasaki KLX300R
  • Yamaha WR250F
  • Honda CRF250RX
  • Yamaha YZ250FX
  • KTM 250XCF
  • Yamaha WR450F
  • KTM 500 EXC

Before I go into why each model deserves this title, I just want to briefly mention some models that are NOT good trail bikes, especially if you are a beginner. Other sources may throw these or similar bikes out there as being the best bikes for trail riding, but they are all motocross bikes. MX bikes are designed for one thing: racing on a motocross track. They have so many traits that make them poor trail bikes and are difficult to ride in the woods.

Examples of bad 4 stroke dirt bikes for trail riding:

  • Yamaha YZ250F
  • Honda CRF250R
  • Suzuki RMZ250
  • KTM 250SXF
  • Kawasaki KX250F

What’s The Best 4 Stroke Trail Bike For Beginners?

The overall best 4 stroke for a beginner that’s riding trails is the Honda CRF250F. This is not the same bike as the CRF250R or 250X. It’s the successor of the CRF230F, which is also a great woods bike, but Honda discontinued it in 2019. 

Honda crf250f beginner dirt bike Best & Worst 4 Stroke Trail Bikes
Honda CRF250F

The CRF250F is an all new air-cooled 4 stroke with a dual-camshaft design. It has electric start, but the biggest upgrade is the electronic fuel injection system. No more pesky carburetor to deal with, as the EFI auto compensates whether you’re starting the bike hot or cold. 

The low seat height of 34.8″ helps build confidence, being a few inches shorter than a standard full size 4 stroke. 

Other reasons why the Honda CRF250F is a great trail bike:

  • Smooth power-curve with good torque
  • Low seat height; Low center of gravity
  • Very reliable
  • Plenty of mods will be available
  • Shorter wheelbase; makes turning easier

Honorable mentions in case you don’t want a Honda include: Kawasaki KLX230R, Yamaha TTR230. 

If you’re a new rider, then you’re on the right track to becoming a skilled rider by researching this article for the best dirt bike to start out on! A 4 stroke trail bike is a great option for learning how to ride, but it’s even more important to learn proper riding technique. To get Free riding tips sent right to your email, tap here to learn more.

What’s The Most Reliable 4 Stroke Trail Bike?

The most reliable dirt bikes for trail riding are going to be the ones that are maintained the best. 

All kidding aside, the air cooled 4 strokes are generally the most reliable because they’re the lowest performance engines. The CRF250F, KLX230R and TTR230 are super durable and among the most reliable dirt bikes if you just keep the oil clean and full, and have a clean air filter. 

Kawasaki klx230r beginner dirt bike Best & Worst 4 Stroke Trail Bikes
Kawasaki KLX230R

What’s The Best 250cc 4 Stroke Trail Bike?

There’s many different 250 models that are designed for trail riding. Honda has the CRF250F for beginner trail riders, the CRF250X for intermediate and experienced trail riders, and the CRF250RX for enduro riders that want a race bike that can still handle technical terrain in the woods.

The best 250 4 stroke dirt bikes for trail riding are:

  • Honda CRF250F
  • Honda CRF250X
  • Yamaha WR250F
  • KTM 250 EXC-F

250 or 450 Dirt Bike For Trails?

A 250 four stroke is better for riding slower, tighter trails because it’s lighter and easier to handle. A 450 is better for faster, more open trails because it has plenty of power.

Best 4 Stroke For Fast Trails/Racing

The CRF250RX, YZ250FX and 250 XC-F are among the best enduro 4 strokes for high speed and aggressive trail riding. They are lightweight and based off of the 250 motocross bikes but are set up for off-road riding.

The motocross bikes listed above in the “worst 4 strokes for trail riding” can be used for riding in the woods, but they do not have the key traits that make it much more enjoyable.

For example, compared to the YZ250F mx bike, the YZ250FX has a wide-ratio 6-speed transmission, a larger gas tank, an 18” rear wheel (better for off-road), a kickstand, suspension that’s tuned for off-road racing, and an engine tuned for broader power.

All of these differences add up to a much better riding 250 4 stroke on the trails.

Best 4 Stroke For Desert Trail Riding

Desert riding usually requires a bigger and more powerful bike. Sand and high-speed riding need more torque and horsepower or else you’re going to be doing a lot of shifting to keep moving at a fast pace.

Yamaha’s WR450F has always been a solid bike, but it’s improved yet again. The engine has plenty of horsepower, based off of the YZ450F engine. You can also tune the ECU from your phone to get the exact feel that you want.

The Honda CRF450X is another great option for high speed desert or Baja-like riding.

KTM’s 500 XCF-W is another step in the direction of high performance. If you’re looking for more than 450cc of power, the KTM 500 is the ultimate do-all bike. Tuning the ECU may be required to get the most out of it if you get a “smogged” bike with all the EPA-restrictive parts.

Best 4 Stroke For Tight Single Track

Are you looking to get the ultimate woods weapon? Your best bet is the lightest bike with a shorter wheelbase. 

Unfortunately, there’s no high performance option available unless you modify your own bike, such as a modded CRF230F. 

The Honda CRF250F and Kawasaki KLX230R are great for tight single track riding, but they fall short in suspension and overall performance in stock form if you want to ride aggressively. 

Yamaha’s WR250F has come a long way in the past 10 years, using the YZ250F powerplant but tuned for smoother power. However, it’s still a tall bike with a full size seat height and wheelbase, so it doesn’t have much of an advantage over another 250 4 stroke trail bike. 

Kelley Fager

I help new riders learn how to safely ride and understand how to tune and fix their dirt bike in their garage.

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6 Responses

  1. Paul says:

    I am interested in a trail bike to ride on dirt roads in the midwest. I’m 6’3″, currently have an old Harley, that I don’t ride much. Here’s the issue: I want to use the bike to lead gravel road bicycle rides. So I don’t need a ton of power and torque, also needs to be light, BUT some of the rides are over 100 miles (there is one that is 200 miles). There are some degraded roads, some pavement too, some short sandy sections, but mostly graded gravel. Appreciate your comments.

    • Kelley Fager says:

      Hey Paul, thanks for the comment! What’s your budget? Sounds like you’re in the market for a modern street legal dual sport.
      To be honest, just about any dual sport is going to feel lightweight compared to your Harley. If you want a cheaper used dual sport, a Honda CRF250L or Yamaha WR250R are good options. They aren’t as light as a trail bike, but it’s not as big of a deal if you aren’t doing any technical trail riding.
      Otherwise, if you have a bigger budget and want more power, the newer CRF450L has plenty, as well as a KTM 350EXC-F, but they’re upwards of $10k+.
      The 250s are solid choices, but you’ll probably want to stiffen the suspension judging by your height. The WR250R has a slightly taller seat height, so that would probably be my recommendation out of those 2 bikes. Both are reliable and have plenty of aftermarket upgrades available.

  2. Sabrina says:

    We are looking to buy our 15 y/o son a new dirt bike. He’s been riding since he was 5 and is currently on a used Honda crf 450 that we purchased from a seller on FB marketplace. We were told it had a fresh rebuild and was in great condition. Turns out it was a lie. We were told by our mechanic that we bought a “polished turd.” Long story short, we are cutting our loses and buying a new one, but we’re trying to do our homework this time around.
    He mainly rides trails in the woods of E Tn where there is mud, rocks, etc. He does like to go to a mx track now and again, but it is primarily for trail riding. We are looking for quality that will have the least amount of issues and lowest cost to maintain. What would you suggest? He is open to going back to a 250, we just don’t know which one would be best. Thank you for your help!

    • Kelley Fager says:

      Hey Sabrina, sorry to hear about your misfortune. I can relate to buying a polished turd…
      Anyway, I think it will come down to what your budget is.
      If you have at least 5k to spend, a lightly YZ250FX is a great competition enduro bike that can handle some track riding.
      Otherwise the WR250F is similar but a little softer suspension and geared mostly for trail riding.
      An older WR250F can be had for considerably less.
      Both Yamaha’s are reliable with simple maintenance.
      So it comes down to what your budget is and how much/little mx riding he’ll be doing.

  3. ALEX says:

    which one do you recommend: Kawasaki KX 250X or Yamaha YZ250FX ? Both are cross country models, please share your opinion with pros/cons. I am 6″ and 190 lb, intermediate level rider……250cc is enough or do you recommend a 450cc bike? Thanks

    • Kelley Fager says:

      Hey Alex, thanks for reading!
      Both are going to be great bikes. I don’t have personal experience with them, but have done research on them over the years. The YZ250FX has better bottom end power, so I’d go with that if you want easier to ride or tight and technical trails. It’s also been around longer, so it should have more info/parts available.
      I wouldn’t go with a 450 unless I needed the extra power, such as high speed desert riding or big hills. That’s just my personal opinion.

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