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.
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.
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.
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 () 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.
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.
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.