Best Dirt Bikes for Trail Riding
When it comes to choosing the best off-road bike, trail bikes hit the sweet spot between enduro and motocross bikes, offering performance that is equal parts fun and efficient.
And that is what has made trail bikes incredibly popular in recent years. They offer a little bit of everything while opening up the widest range of trails and riding options compared to other dirt bikes.
A motocross bike, for example, is designed to race on closed circuits that have tighter turns. Therefore, the gear ratios are narrower compared to traditional dirt bikes, making it more difficult to ride on the trails. So, as a trail rider, you need a specialized bike that can handle the rough terrain.
In fact, dedicated trail bikes come with softer suspension and wider gear ratios to make the ride more enjoyable. Plus, their rugged built and compact geometry give them the toughness of a wrecking ball with the agility of a hummingbird.
The flip side however is that choosing the right trail bike can be pretty daunting – there are just so many options out there. To help you out, we have listed some of the best 2-stroke and 4-stroke trail bikes that are ideal for beginner, intermediate and advanced riders.
5 Best Dirt Bikes For Trail Riding
KTM 250 SX-F
The all-new KTM 250SX-F tops our ranking for the best trail bike of the year. Mainly because the latest version has been upgraded with a completely new frame, engine and suspension.
And as we all know, there used to be a lot of complaints earlier about the stiffness of the frame. This is why KTM has made improvements and modified the frame to better suit the rider’s needs.
In addition, the revised frame is now matched with the new body design to give the riders more comfort and a better ergonomic feel on the course.
KTM has also tilted the engine back to 2 degrees in an effort to centralize its mass without compromising performance in any way. And by combining the benefits of mass centralization with an overall lighter frame, the anti-squat behavior of the chassis has been significantly improved.
Featuring an all-new compression ratio, the 250SX-F not only revs higher like any classic KTM, but also delivers decent low-end power. Added to this are the upgraded WP XACT-USD forks and WP XACT Monoshock, both of which offer unmatched consistency on every lap. Plus, the SKF linkage seals ensure unsurpassed traction as well as impact absorption, no matter how fast you are going.
And that’s not all: these new forks are equipped with air and oil bypasses to prevent excessive pressure build-up during longer rides. These extra air & oil bypasses really make the forks plusher and work more like a spring fork. Besides, from a consumer standpoint this is the best air fork that you can get in the market currently.
Another new feature added this year is the map select switch that features a simple design allowing for easier functionality in order to switch between 2 engine maps. So, with Map 1 you get a more linear curve, whereas, with Map 2 you get more aggressive throttle response and enormous amount of torque to blast through the corners.
Surprisingly, 250SX-F also has a Quickshifter that lets you upshift without using the clutch. So, you can shift from 2nd to 5th gear without losing your focus!
And as far as beginner or intermediate riders are concerned, they will also find it extremely comfortable and easy to ride right from the start.
Coming to the ground clearance, which is equally important for trail riding, you have about 13.5 inches of clearance thanks to the geometry of the frame and the shock absorbers. This is complemented by optimized footpegs that are less susceptible to ruts. In short, nothing can stop you!
All in all, the KTM 250SX-F offers a truly rider-friendly package that is up for any challenge.
Base price: $9,999
- Engine: 249.9cc 1-cylinder, 4-stroke engine
- Transmission: 5-speed
- Fuel system: Keihin EMS
- Front suspension: WP XACT-USD, Ø 48 mm
- Rear suspension: WP XACT Monoshock with linkage
- Dry weight: 222 lb.
- Fuel tank capacity: 1.9 gal.
- Ground clearance: 13.5 inches
The second trail bike we chose in this list is Honda’s CRF450R.
Although the CRF450R has been in the market for quite a while now, it was in 2021 that Honda decided to launch its revamped version. The upgraded model came equipped with a completely new frame, engine, a larger clutch with hydraulic clutch actuation instead of the normal cable clutch and a single muffler as opposed to the dual mufflers found on the previous version.
Because of these improvements, the overall weight of the motorcycle was reduced and to our amazement, the performance of the motorcycle increased to several folds.
However, as you may already know, the 2021 version of this bike had some issues related to its mapping and suspension. Much to our delight, this year both the mapping as well as the suspension were improved. So, now you get an updated ECU and much more beefier valving to make the suspension a little stiffer.
And in case you are an advanced rider, Honda provides an option to step up your game with the new CRF450RWE, where “WE” stands for “Works Edition” or you can also opt for limited edition 50th Anniversary 450R trim.
Coming back to the new features of this latest release: Aside from the ECU settings, the CRF450R now offers better responsiveness, especially down low.
In addition, you now get a 49mm Showa upside-down fork with 13-position rebound damping and 15-position compression damping up front and a Pro-Link Showa rear shock with adjustable spring preload offering 11-way rebound and 6-way compression damping for high and low speed compression-damping settings.
As for the engine, it is powered by a liquid-cooled 450cc single-cylinder four-stroke powerplant with Honda’s Unicam setup coupled to a five-speed transmission that produces around 62 horses of power.
As for riding comfort, it features a gear position sensor that enables the use of three specific ignition maps; the first one can be utilized for first and second gear, the second one for third and fourth gear, and the third one for fifth gear. All of which can be selected via the handlebar-mounted switch, called the engine mode select button (EMSB).
In addition to that you also have the HSTC (Honda Selectable Torque Control) system that offers three levels of intervention. This HSTC system monitors rev peaks and temporarily limits torque to improve rear wheel traction.
As for the chassis, Honda has deliberately made the frame’s main spars narrow in order to shed some weight, but more importantly this was done to make the chassis more responsive by fine-tuning the lateral rigidity.
Speaking of stopping power, up front there is a two-piston caliper measuring 20mm and 27mm in diameter coupled to a 260mm disc, while at the rear there is a single-piston caliper on a 240mm disc. These brakes work in conjunction with the black D.I.D rims wrapped in Dunlop’s Geomax MX33 tries to give the rider breath-taking control.
All in all, a truly incredible trail bike for both intermediate as well as experienced riders.
Base price: $9,599
- Engine: 450cc 1-cylinder, 4-stroke engine
- Transmission: 5-speed, Close-ratio
- Fuel system: Programmed Fuel Injection (PGM-FI)
- Front suspension: 49mm inverted Showa fork
- Rear suspension: Pro-Link Showa single shock
- Curb weight: 245 lb.
- Fuel tank capacity: 1.7 gal.
- Ground clearance: 13.2 inches
Can you recall the delight of getting your first dirt bike as a teenager? With YZ250X, you will experience the exact same feeling. As a matter of fact, Yamaha made sure that riders are left with a sense of awe the moment they get their hands on this amazing trail bike.
And the great thing about this YZ250X is that it instils an air of confidence as well as a sense of joy as soon as you pull the throttle. It is really light, playful and nimble, allowing you to ride faster without giving any second thought.
Indeed, words cannot possibly describe how amazing this two-stroke dirt bike is. And to achieve that, Yamaha redesigned their race-proven and popular YZ250 two-stroke motocross into an off-roader that boasts exceptionally smooth and powerful engine. Also, the engineers at Yamaha successfully reduced the compression ratio and increased the displacement by 2.1cc to make it even more performance centric.
In addition, the height of the exhaust port has been raised and the shape of the power valve has been aligned with the exhaust port. Moreover, the Yamaha power valve system (YPVS) now goes from fully closed to fully open in accordance with the RPM range and is now much wider, allowing for a more linear power delivery.
Meanwhile, the exhaust pipe has the same volume as on the YZ250, but is now much narrower to prevent any damage while riding in the trail. As for the transmission, the YZ250X boasts a five-speed gearbox, just like the YZ250, but with a wider ratio.
Speaking of the suspension, the YZ250X is equipped with a fully adjustable KYB® Speed-Sensitive System upside-down fork that offers 11.8 inches of travel up front. While at the rear, it is equipped with a fully adjustable KYB® single shock that offers 12.4 inches of travel. And while the KYB® suspension is identical to YZ250, retaining even the spring rates, the compression has been softened a bit for a more comfortable ride on the trail.
Some of the other off-road attributes you might find useful while trail riding includes an 18-inch rear and 21-inch front wheel wrapped around in Dunlop® Geomax AT81F tires, a side stand, a ring chain final drive and a fuel petcock. These features make for a much more comfortable ride and give the rider plenty of authority.
It also revs incredibly wide, and this makes steep climbs on straight stretches a pure pleasure. And when you need a boost of power, all it takes is a quick press of the clutch and the responsive engine comes to life.
Even lifting the front wheel is pretty easy on this bike, which, to be honest, is often required on the trails.
But keep in mind that compared to a big 450cc 4-stroke, YZ250X is not a full-fledged off-road bike. It is a slightly modified trail bike derived from YZ250 motocross that works well in almost all off-road situations owing to its powerful 2-stroke engine.
Base price: $7,799
- Engine: 249cc liquid-cooled 2-stroke
- Transmission: Constant-mesh 5-speed
- Fuel system: Hitachi Astemo® Keihin PWK38S
- Front suspension: KYB® Speed-Sensitive System inverted fork
- Rear suspension: KYB® single shock
- Wet weight: 229 lb.
- Fuel tank capacity: 2.1 gal.
- Ground clearance: 14.2 inches
When it comes to KX series of Kawasaki motorcycles, there is no denying that victory runs in their blood. And if you are familiar with Kawasaki’s KX450 motocross model, then the KX450X is actually not that far off. However, Kawasaki went an extra mile to make this model off-road ready.
In fact, the KX450X has a very basic objective: to ace in cross-country racing. As a matter of fact, this KX450X has proven to be a leader in cross-country championships and has been a big asset for Kawasaki so far.
In addition, it is a lot more forgiving bike when it comes to tackling different obstacles on the trails, thus making it ideal not only for serious trail riders, but for recreational riders as well.
So, what comes with bike is an 18-inch rear and a 21-inch front wheel wrapped around Dunlop Geomax AT81 tires. As for the suspension; upfront you get a 49mm inverted telescopic coil-spring fork with 16-way compression damping and 16-way rebound damping, while at the rear you get a Uni-Trak® gas charged shock.
However, the suspension settings are deliberately made softer and they have dropped the spring rate both at the front and rear to complement the rider in off-road conditions.
Another distinctive feature is that the engine of this motorcycle, which is powered by a liquid-cooled 449cc DOHC single-stroke powerplant, is pretty much identical to that of the motocross version. The only difference being a slightly smoother power characteristic, use of an O-ring chain, and a slightly different gearbox (instead of 50 in the rear sprocket, it now features 51 tooth).
However, the transmission ratio in this bike is the same as the motocross model with standard five-speed wet multi-disc manual clutch and hydraulic clutch actuation. So overall, it definitely feels like the KX450, yet you will be able to discern as soon as you hit the trails.
Performance-wise, the bike is equipped with the same couplers as the motocross model and even has the same internal mapping, however, this bike comes with a black clutch, while the motocross model comes with a slightly more aggressive green clutch. That said, there is an option for white coupler as well in case you prefer a different color.
In addition, the rear rotor size is similar to the 250cc motocross and 250cc off-road models. Furthermore, the adjustable triple clamps, handlebar settings and adjustable peg positions are similar to the ones observed in 450cc motocross models.
One of the things we really love about this bike is that it is really easy to ride off-road. And while there is nothing out of the ordinary about this particular motorcycle, it is still perfectly stable and comfortable, no matter what kind of terrain you are riding on.
On top of that, with so many adjustment options available, any rider between 5’3″ to 6’4″ can easily ride this bike.
Base price: $9,799
- Engine: 449cc 4-stroke single, DOHC, liquid-cooled
- Transmission: 5-speed with wet multi-disc manual clutch
- Fuel system: DFI® with 44mm Keihin throttle body
- Front suspension: 49mm inverted telescopic coil-spring fork
- Rear suspension: Uni-Trak® gas charged shock
- Wet weight: 246 lb.
- Fuel tank capacity: 1.64 gal.
- Ground clearance: 13.2 inches
Last but not the least, we have included KTM’s 125SX in our list to make sure that our beginner or novice riders are not left behind.
Whilst KTM has dominated the 125cc class for quite some time now, their new model has received tremendous upgrades and modifications to make it even more competitive. Among them are WP XACT-USD forks and WP XACT Monoshock with updated valve settings, low-friction SKF seals, new inner clutch hub sleeves, new throttle body and new Dunlop MX33 tires.
Essentially, KTM has attempted to make the air forks look less like air forks since these suspensions are known for building air pressure and giving a rough feel at the front. Both Yamaha and Kawasaki struggled with them before returning back to spring forks. KTM, on the other hand, continued working on a solution and capitalized on the strengths of air fork technology.
So just like KTM’s 250SX-F, the 125SX features extended oil and air bypasses to reduce pressure build-up and they have an updated mid valve system that works in conjunction with the air forks to instill more confidence to the rider while riding on uneven terrain.
Compared to some of the other 125cc trail bikes from different manufacturers, for instance Yamaha, you will experience sheer pleasure and thrill while riding this 125SX from KTM. And while we do agree that each of the bikes presented by other brands offer unique advantages in terms of riding performance, KTM boasts a really high mid-range stroke. This was in fact the deciding factor for the inclusion of this bike in our list.
Another thing that we liked about the 125SX is its light-weight body, weighing only 203 pounds without fuel. This light weight characteristic is responsible for quicker acceleration, quicker stopping and reduced stress on the bike.
Speaking of ergonomics, 125SX features an all-new and improved rider triangle with improved knee contact. Additionally, the polyamide-reinforced aluminum subframe improves rider feedback and overall feel.
As for the engine, which incidentally weighs just under 18 kilograms, this 125SX is powered by a 124.8cc 2-stroke single-cylinder engine complemented by a Keihin electronic fuel injection system that guarantees optimal performance regardless of the track conditions.
So, not only does the 125SX benefit from a reinvigorated fuel injection system, but the entire bike reaps the benefits of class-leading developments from all corners.
When it comes to chassis, the frame geometry of the previous model has been retained, with some alterations to modify the bending characteristics. For example, torsional stiffness is increased by 10% and longitudinal stiffness by 2%. This was achieved by increasing the outer diameter of the frame’s cross brace and by reworking around the head tube gussets.
All in all, KTM 125SX is a super lightweight dirt bike that brings a lot of fun on the trails and is just about right for a beginner rider. And yes, it does come with an electric start! So, no more sweating either in case you stall the bike.
Base price: $9,569
- Engine: 124.8cc 1-cylinder, 2-stroke engine
- Transmission: 6-speed
- Fuel system: Keihin Electronic Fuel Injection System
- Front suspension: WP XACT-USD, Ø 48 mm
- Rear suspension: WP XACT Monoshock with linkage
- Dry weight: 203 lb.
- Fuel tank capacity: 1.9 gal.
- Ground clearance: 14.1 inches
So, these were some of the best dirt bikes you can consider for trail riding or off-road riding. And depending upon your requirements, you can shortlist from any of our aforesaid recommendations. However, do note that a novice rider should restrict himself to a maximum of 250cc displacement bike since higher displacement engines are not as forgiving as the smaller ones.
With this, we have come to an end of our article. Hope you were able to make your decision today. In case you need more information, feel free to reach out to us. Ride safe!