Motocross Bike vs Trail Bike: Which Dirt Bike Is Best?

Are you trying to decide between a motocross bike vs trail bike? Each bike has its own advantages, but you don’t want to spend all that money on the wrong bike. 

I’m here to tell you that I’ve tried many different motocross and trail bikes, so I can tell you what each bike is good and bad at, as well as which type of dirt bike is best for you

Colorado Trip 2016 3 Motocross Bike vs Trail Bike: Which Dirt Bike Is Best?
“Why are you taking a picture of me??”

What’s The Difference Between A Trail Dirt Bike & A Motocross Dirt Bike?

Buying a motocross bike seems like a great option at first. There’s a big supply, they can be had for reasonably cheap, and they already have all the power and suspension you would ever need for trail riding

What you might not realize is, a motocross bike is purpose built for one thing; motocross racing on a track. 

Is Motocross & Dirt Biking The Same Thing?

Yes and no. Motocross is simply a type or form of dirt biking. Dirt biking is riding a motorcycle, generally with knobby tires, off-road in the dirt. Motocross is racing or riding laps around a track or circuit with jumps, bermed corners, and other dirt obstacles.

What’s Wrong With A Motocross Bike?

A motocross bike, whether 2 or 4 stroke, has an engine that is tuned for high RPM horsepower because that’s where it’s supposed to be ridden. 

The transmission has close-ratio gears, so you will be shifting more often to keep the RPM up in the meat of the power. First gear is also pretty tall, which means that you’ll have to abuse and slip the clutch a lot if you do any tight and technical trail riding. 

KTM 144SX Motocross Bike Motocross Bike vs Trail Bike: Which Dirt Bike Is Best?
KTM motocross bike setup for some woods riding

The suspension is a story in itself. Motocross suspension is engineered to absorb big impacts at high speeds, so what does that mean for trail riding? Ultra stiff. 

Why is stiff suspension bad for trail riding? It makes for a harsh ride that doesn’t corner well. Any small bumps, rocks or roots will feel a lot bigger and kick the bike around because the stiff suspension won’t absorb them. 

Lasty, if you want any kind of lights or electronics, you’re extremely limited. Even with an upgraded stator that puts out more watts, most motocross bikes can only handle a low wattage head and tail light. 

Can You Use My Motocross Bike For Trail Riding?

A motocross bike can most certainly be modified to be a better trail riding bike. But how much work and money are you willing to put into it?

Suspension is the first thing that you’ll want to get set-up for a more comfortable ride. There’s not much you can do to the close ratio transmission (aside from a major overhaul swap), but a simple gearing change with the sprockets can make a big impact. 

In the end, you might have to put several hundred dollars or more into your race bike to make it comparable to an enduro or trail bike for trail riding. 

What Is The Best Dirt Bike For Trail Riding?

Don’t care for motocross or track riding? There’s plenty of models that are great for trail riding only. Whether you’re a beginner or an expert, one of these full size dirt bikes will be able to meet your needs. So, where do you start?

First, you should figure out whether you want a 2 stroke or 4 stroke. There’s more 4 stroke models that are beginner-friendly for new trail riders, but there’s still some 2 stroke bikes that are easy to ride with smoother power.

The best 4 stroke trail bikes are:

  • Honda CRF250F
  • Yamaha WR250F
  • Honda CRF250X
  • KTM 250XCFW
  • Yamaha WR450F

The best 2 stroke trail bikes are:

  • KTM 150XCW
  • Beta 200RR
  • Yamaha YZ250X
  • KTM 250XCW
  • Husqvarna TE300

Can You Jump A Trail Bike?

A trail bike generally has lower performance suspension components. This means that the suspension travel is less or they have very little to no tuning ability. 

With that said, you can jump a trail bike, but it will bottom (or max out) the suspension more easily because it’s softer. Bottoming out the suspension is hard on the dirt bike as well as your body. 

More vs Less Suspension Travel

Having more suspension is great because it can absorb more of every impact. This makes for a more plush and comfortable ride. 

The problem?

The more travel you have, the taller the dirt bike will be. 

So, it’s simply a compromise. If you want a shorter bike, you’ll have to deal with a little less suspension to work with. 

What Is The Most Reliable 4 Stroke Dirt Bike?

If you’re just starting out and want a beginner bike, you’ll want something that’s reliable. Almost any air-cooled 4 stroke dirt bike is going to be as reliable as it gets.

This would include:

  • Honda CRF250F
  • Kawasaki KLX230R
  • Yamaha TTR230

Other trail bikes and enduro bikes with higher performance can be reliable, but they still won’t compete in the long-term engine durability department. Going with an air-cooled bike means there’s no radiators to worry about bending and leaking, which is more likely when you’re new to riding.

Best Dirt Bike For Trails & Track

So, maybe you want a bike that can do both track and trails. There’s no perfect do-it-all bike, so you’re going to have to compromise someone. This will either be in the suspension, power characteristics, or options that make trail riding more enjoyable (wider gearing, kick-stand, lights, etc.).

With that said, a competition enduro bike is going to be the best compromise. The stiffer suspension and a “racier” engine of the enduro vs a trail dirt bike means it can handle some jumps better on a motocross track.

Some of the best dirt bikes for track and trail include:

  • Yamaha YZ250FX
  • Honda CRF250RX
  • Kawasaki KX250XC
  • KTM 350XCF
  • Yamaha YZ450FX
  • Husqvarna FX450

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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