Is A Dirt Bike Harder To Ride Than A Motorcycle?

Are you new to dirt biking? Whether you’ve been riding on the street or you’re completely new to bikes, I want to help answer your questions. For one, is a dirt bike harder to ride than a motorcycle? Isn’t a dirt bike a type of motorcycle? 

To learn more about the differences and how you can become a better dirt bike rider, keep reading.

Difference between dirt bike and motorcycle

While a dirt bike is technically a motorcycle, there’s some pretty big differences between an off-road bike and a street bike. 

Supermoto dirt bike vs street bike motorcycle
A supermoto dirt bike rides a lot different than a street bike

A dirt bike has aggressive knobby tires that have much better traction in dirt and on rocky terrain. A street motorcycle has smooth, rounded tires with shallow tread that is designed to grip the pavement and get better traction if it rains. 

The suspension is another comparison, because most dirt bikes have considerably more fork and shock travel as a street bike. That’s because riding off-road has more bumps and obstacles, so having more suspension travel soaks up the rough terrain to give you a smoother ride. 

Dirt bike vs street bike safety

Having ridden on the dirt and street for many years, I can say that there’s some pretty big differences in how I approach safety on each type of bike. 

Both kinds of motorcycles can be dangerous, but the most important safety factors are how well trained you are in riding technique, what your mindset is, and how you react in certain situations. 

Learning proper riding technique is easier on a dirt bike than a street bike
Off-road skills translate better to the street than vise-versa

Wearing proper riding gear is obviously important, but my goal is to prevent the catastrophic crashes from happening. 

So, which is safer?

It depends on where you’re riding as well your experience and mindset. 

Let’s compare 2 scenarios:

  1. You’re riding a street bike on an open country road that’s dry, and you’re an experienced rider that follows the laws.
  2. You’re a new dirt bike rider that’s just getting into motocross and you don’t understand all of the rules or etiquette of riding on an mx track.

Scenario #1 is almost always going to be safer because there’s inherently much less risk. There’s little traffic to worry about, you know how the bike handles on an open road, and you’re not doing anything stupid.

Now take scenario #2. Riding a dirt bike for the first few times is intimidating enough, but going to a motocross track when you’re still a beginner is a recipe for disaster. Not only for you, but potentially for other riders (maybe even bystanders too!) as well for two reasons.

ERX 7 11 09 Is A Dirt Bike Harder To Ride Than A Motorcycle?
It’s not hard to tell who’s the beginner here (It’s me, unfortunately, years ago when I raced mx)

1 – You don’t have confidence in your riding ability, and controlling the bike on a race track is exponentially harder than in your backyard or on most dirt bike trails.

2 – If you don’t have experience riding on a track, you’re probably going to get in the way of the faster riders, which is more than likely everyone else there. They’re going to be frustrated with you, and you’re not going to enjoy getting roosted or bumped by them.

In the end, it really comes down to you, your knowledge and experience, and then how much wisdom you have in putting that experience to use, or holding back what you know you’re not yet capable of doing.

What do I mean?

If there’s an expert trail that you know you can’t ride due to your skill level, the wise choice would be to grow your riding skill on easier trails before you go and hurt yourself on the technical trail.

Street legal dirt bike vs Street bike

Just to quickly compare the two bikes, a street legal dirt bike is simply a dual sport bike that can be legally ridden on the road because it’s registered and plated.

A street legal dirt bike is easier to ride than a street bike motorcycle at lower speeds because the steering geometry makes it easier to turn. A dual sport also has a more relaxed riding position than most street bikes (especially a crotch rocket/sport bike).

However, once you start riding at higher speeds or want to take corners more aggressively, the full street bike is easier to ride because it has tires that are made for riding 100% on the pavement, giving you better traction. The steering geometry of a street motorcycle also makes it more stable (less twitchy) at higher speeds.

Where the street legal dirt bike or dual sport shines is the days that you want to ride on the street and dirt on the same ride. Whether it be gravel fire roads or an easier single track trail, you can jump from the asphalt to off-road without changing anything and still feel comfortable.

Can you ride a dirtbike on the road?

According to most state or city laws, dirt bikes cannot be legally ridden on the road if they are not registered and plated. That’s where the dual sport bike comes into play.

If you need to ride city roads to get to your local riding trail, then you either need to register your dirt bike or haul it with a different vehicle.

Should I get a dirt bike or motorcycle?

What’s your goal? The answer will dictate which type of bike you should get.

However, if you’re new to riding any motorcycle, I will always highly recommend you start on a dirt bike so that you can safely understand and learn how the bike works before riding on the street.

There’s so many techniques and habits you will learn from riding a dirt bike before a street bike (motorcycle), making the transition easier. Riding on the dirt will build your muscle memory and you’ll be able to relax more on a motorcycle because you already know what it feels like to lose traction for a split second in the dirt.

Going from dirt bike to street bike

Maybe you’ve already been riding on the street with a motorcycle for years or decades and you recently bought a dirt bike, but it’s harder than you thought. The dirt is a completely different animal and it’s hard to control the bike because there’s a lot less traction. You feel like you haven’t even ridden a bike before!

Or you’re just now considering getting into the off-road scene and you want to start on the right path. 

No one really tells you the actual differences between riding a dirt bike and street bike, so you eventually find out for yourself. The best steps to take are starting out slow and take some time to learn proper riding technique.

The different skills needed for street vs dirt bike riding

For example, cornering on the road: modern riding technique would be to hang off the inside of the seat.

On the flip side, you want your butt and weight on the outside of the seat (as a general rule) while riding a dirt bike off-road.

These techniques are simple, but it can be difficult to go from one to another if you’ve been riding one type of motorcycle for so many years. You have that muscle memory so ingrained in your body, so it’s tough to break that habit.

So, what’s the quickest way to learn how to safely and confidently ride a dirt bike so that you don’t crash hard and get hurt? If you’re asking this question, then you’re exactly the kind of rider that I help!

I’ve built my Virtual Dirt Biker School to help new riders learn the basics of riding a dirt bike in a simple and straight-to-the-point training course. No scheduling a day and waiting for a group riding class. This can be viewed anywhere and anytime online. Click here to learn more.


Kelley Fager

I help newer riders learn to safely ride with confidence by teaching basic techniques in a way that's easy to understand. Learn To Ride With Control Here

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