Dirt Bike vs Street Bike: Transition To Off-road Expectations

New to dirt biking? Even if you’ve been riding on the street for 40 years, there’s some surprisingly big differences you must know before going head deep into riding off-road. 

This article will cover the biggest changes you’ll notice when it comes to street bikes and dirt bikes, as well as what skills will translate over from street riding to dirt riding a motorcycle. 

There’s endless terrain to cover…

Is Riding A Dirt Bike The Same As A Motorcycle?

A dirt bike is a type of motorcycle, so it’s one in the same. With that said, when comparing a street motorcycle to a dirt bike, riding them is similar but there’s some distinct differences. 

The biggest differences between a dirt bike and street bike are:

  • Tires
  • Suspension
  • Weight
  • Size
  • Power characteristics
  • Ergonomics (cockpit & controls)

Tires

A street bike has DOT certified tires that have a low profile tread pattern that rides smooth on pavement. 

A dirt bike has a large knobby tire pattern that is designed to dig into and grip the dirt or off-road soil to get better traction. A dirt knobby will vibrate and have much less traction on the road because there’s inconsistent tire contact with the pavement. 

Suspension

While the suspension generally works about the same, there’s some large differences between the suspension on each type of motorcycle. 

A full size dirt bike (21″ & 18/19″ wheel size) has about twice as much suspension travel as a typical street bike. This is to absorb the bigger impacts you’ll take off-road, as well as a higher ground clearance to prevent getting hung up on logs or rocks. 

Weight

While a street bike can feel lightweight on the road, they’re generally much heavier than a dirt bike, especially if you’re used to riding a low performance cruiser that weighs over 600lbs. 

An average dirt bike weighs around 250lbs, and will feel like a mountain bike in the woods compared to even a dual sport bike that weighs 350lbs. 

Size

Motorcycles greatly vary in size, but a dirt bike generall feels smaller because they’re more narrow. 

The gas tank and seat are the biggest differences when you compare each kind of motorcycle. A street bike has a bigger tank for a longer fuel range. The seat is wider for comfort on longer rides and because you’re sitting down almost 100% of the time. 

Engine characteristics

Most street bikes have a smooth power curve so that it’s predictable and easy to ride on the street. Some dirt bikes have a similar power curve, but they’re often more abrupt and snappy. 

The low-end torque just off of idle is usually better and smoother on a street bike. 

Ergonomics

As I mentioned before, the seat and tank are wider on a street bike, making it feel considerably larger than a dirt bike. 

A dirtbike also has more aggressive ergonomics. This is from the flat seat, wide and straighter handlebars, as well as a footpeg location for a more upright rider position. 

Will Any of My Street Riding Translate To Dirt Riding?

There’s a lot of similarities to street and dirt riding, as you might expect. Both are motorcycles with 2 wheels, a clutch, suspension, and a manual transmission. 

However, going from the street to dirt is a surprisingly big transition. Sure, you already know how to use the clutch, throttle, brakes, and shift, but riding in the dirt requires a lot of different techniques. 

Your clutch and braking skills will require some fine tuning. Your cornering and balance techniques will likely not translate because proper body position is almost completely different. 

Since motorcycle riding in the street is at higher speeds on average, you won’t be used to the balance skills needed at low speed riding off-road. 

Should I Learn To Ride A Dirt Bike Before A Motorcycle?

I always recommend people to learn how to ride a dirt bike before riding a motorcycle on the road.

Why?

Because it’s easier to transition from dirt to the street than to start on the street and transition to off-road.  

Dirt vs Street Safety

There’s so many things to learn and keep in mind to stay safe on a dirt bike or motorcycle. However, there’s many different things you need to look for and be aware of for each type of riding. 

For example, riding on the street can be dangerous because of: 

  • Gravel on the road
  • Other drivers in cars that aren’t paying attention
  • Possible animals crossing the road. 

Dirt bikes can be dangerous because of: 

  • Riding rough or technical terrain
  • Jumping and landing harshly
  • Slippery terrain
  • Narrow trails with steep ledges

How to easily transition to the dirt from street

So, what’s the easiest way to transition to riding off-road without getting your butt whipped? Getting the proper training, of course. You don’t know what you don’t know. 

Once you learn the basic techniques of riding a dirt bike you’ll build your confidence much quicker. Then you’ll be able to ride more challenging trails, ride faster, all while staying safer so that you don’t get hurt and miss out on life’s other activities. 

Like this article? All of this can be learned, step by step in my Virtual Dirt Biker School for beginners. Click/Tap here to learn more.

Kelley Fager

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

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *