Everyone has great advice for beginners. Of course not everyone agrees. Well, we at
All-OffRoad are no exception. We all have different riding abilities and preferences. If
you read most of our articles, you'll begin to learn what they are. With this in mind, for
our For Beginners column, we are going to try to present a cross
section of ideas and opinions and let you decide what'll work for you.
This month we all basically agree, but each one of us has our own twist on things. So,
What type of dirt bike would you recommend for a beginner?
It depends greatly on the size and age of the rider and what type of riding he or she is
interested in. Generally speaking, I recommend a small dual-sport style bike to beginners
(this includes enduro bikes converted to street-legal). I think four-strokes are great to
learn on because, generally, while they are a bit heavy, they are easy to ride. However,
I'm sure some of my companions will argue this fact. One advantage of this type of bike is
that they can be ridden on the street (assuming the rider is old enough) which could give
the rider more seat time. In my opinion, four-strokes, generally, are lower maintenance
and are easier to maintain.
They are also much more reliable than two-strokes. I will add the disclaimer that if
the intention were to race motocross, a two-stroke would be a better choice. For many
people the transition from four-stroke to two-stroke is tough.
I recommend that beginners buy an older used bike. I do this for several reasons.
Beginners will usually crash. Doing this on an older bike is much less traumatic mentally.
Usually, older bikes require more maintenance and are slightly less reliable the newer
bikes. This gives the rider the added benefit of becoming much more familiar with their
hardware (a good thing for all dirt bikers). I realize this contradicts my argument
against two-strokes, but I think it's a much different scale in comparison.
Also, unfortunately, several people invest tons of money in new hardware only to decide
later that dirt biking isn't really their idea of a good time. While this is fortunate for
those of us that love to get those killer deals on a never-ridden used bike, it's
unfortunate for the poor sap that dished out all of those bucks.
Get the heaviest, largest, most powerful dual-purpose bike you can afford and then tough
it out. You may crash a lot, but the experience you will gain will be well worth it.
Seriously, get a bike that fits you that you can afford. A beginner's bike should be
light and small. It may not be good form to sit on the seat and paddle your way with both
feet over obstacles, but it is much more fulfilling to make it through some gnarly terrain
by paddling than it is to show good style and then crash your brains out. Take it from the
expert. Make sure you can reach the ground flat footed while astride any bike you are
The best affordable dirt bike is one that someone else buys for you. Start whining now
to your dad (or spouse) that you really need a new bike and that you will pick up your
room and do all your chores for the next year. (If it's your spouse, you may have to
promise them a new kid, like Jay did, as well.) If you do have to pay for your own bike, I
agree with Jay, get a used bike. I also recommend buying a Japanese-brand bike. KTMs,
Husabergs, and such may be cool, but parts are typically not as cheap and readily
available. (Actually, Husabergs suck because their seat heights are up at my arm pit.)
A used (yet in good shape), mid-size 2-stroke. I started (and am still on) an '82 KDX-200,
and I think it has been an ideal intro machine. I have since taken up riding an XR-500 as
well, but I am glad I was able to learn on the KDX. A bike such as this is good for a
variety of reasons. The first and foremost thing to expect when learning is that you WILL
crash, and most likely crash often. You will be picking this bike up over and over and
over, so you want it to be as light as possible. If your fondest memory of your virgin
bike trip is that you did 10 reps of dead-lifting 500 pounds and then threw up, you may
become disenchanted with the whole concept. Another weight advantage is that the bike will
be more maneuverable. It will be easier to learn the fine art of finesse if the bike isn't
telling YOU where to go.
I also say a 2-stroke over a 4-stroke for simplicity's sake. The 2-stroke offers a more
basic design which makes repairs and adjustments that much easier. And on a used bike, you
WILL become familiar with the parts in hurry. On my first outing, my clutch cable snapped.
After repairing that, I discovered that some grit had entered my carb and was fouling
things up. So, I then got to disassemble the carb. This was all before I even got to ride
AT ALL...but I digress.
Something else to consider is what your friends (or instructor or whatever) will be
riding. If they are riding 2-strokes, then they will have the experience to pass along to
you. Also, you will most likely fit into their type of riding and hence have more
opportunities to ride. If they are all on street-legal 4-strokes and are doing
dual-purpose rides, then you will be left behind on many a trip. This may be the most
important point to remember. Individuality is great, but as a beginner, you want to tap
the resources available to you...and onto the next question...
Dual sport vehicles offer the greatest potential for most riders
interested in dirt and street yet with a limit on cost. I recommend the
- Always begin riding predominantly in the dirt. Dirt offers a challenge that is
unavailable without excessive speed on the street. Dirt also offers a second chance when
mistakes happen, and they do. Often street riding does not.
- When buying a dual sport, watch out for lame designs so common of factory "dual
sport" bikes. The last thing a beginner needs is a 350 lb vehicle that is slung on
tooth-pick forks. It took the entire 1980's to convince most manufacturers that dual sport
bikes weren't going to be used the way most pansy's use SUVs. When buying a dual sport
focus on the suspension and frame design. Rigid forks (large diameter) forks and a real
suspension (cartridge designs really help) will help you feel whether the front end is in
the air or on the ground during hill climbs and will help you survive the hard landings
while maintaining control.
- Ignore Bryce's advice entirely. The average American has no desire to take the abuse
I've personally witnessed that man take time and time again. It has permanently disfigured
his body in multiple places. Ultimately, we all must eventually admit that we are warm,
soft, and squishy on the inside. It's really just a matter of how much abuse it takes for
one to arrive at such a conclusion. Few of us have the impact strength and moldability of
a sliver of bailing wire (see any picture of Bryce.) Successive poundings have reshaped
it, yet it still manages to remain in one semi-functioning piece. So, take it from the old
guy, just don't forget to invert the polarity when required.
What other resources should they take advantage of when deciding on a bike?
Talk to friends or locate a local club and ask questions. Once a model is targeted find
out as much as possible about it. Don't pay too much attention to magazine reviews. It
seems that most of the reviewers are hard-core maniacs and can't be happy with anything
unless they spend an additional $10,000 to make it better, or it comes from an advertiser
- Sorry, just being a little snide. On a more serious note, one issue will claim it the
"Bike of the Year" and two months later the same people say that the bike is
junk and isn't worth looking at.
I think you SHOULD check out mag reviews because they often show important statistics on a
prospective bike. Make sure to check out the dry and wet weights. Anything above 260
pounds dry is too heavy for a beginner. A heavy bike will tire you quickly. Take
reviewers' opinions with a grain of salt, though.
Friends who ride are your best bet for info. I've never been able to keep one mag review
straight from another. I can ALWAYS count on my friends to have an opinion. Plus, a friend
may have a spare old bike he'd let go cheap just for the chance to see you try and learn
to ride it.
One's that appear to work and be accurate. Magazines sometimes give sensible advice but
then contradict themselves within the same year. Be discriminating and selective. Evaluate
the accuracy of information and survey better sources when it's time for an important
What are your recommendations for riding gear for beginners?
I always recommend full protection. I don't have any particular brand that I would push. I
will say, don't spend tons of money. I know of people that wear gloves from the hardware
store and hockey kneepads and are perfectly happy.
Full protection is important. The most important, of course, is a good helmet and goggles.
Get a white, Snell approved helmet. Solid white helmets are the best choice because they
are cheaper than a helmet with graphics and white is the coolest for temperature. Bieffi
helmets are the cheapest Snell helmets. They do not fit everyone's head, though. Shoei
helmets fit the best and have always been my favorite. (Some people say I have a fat head,
though.) Buy Scott goggles, because practically everyone has replacement lenses for them.
Gloves, boots, knee and elbow pads are also a must. Get all of these as cheap as you can.
The more gear, the better. Remember, you WILL crash. Helmet, goggles, boots, gloves, knee
and elbow pads are a MUST. They don't have to be expensive, either. Cheap will work, it
just may not be the best fit, have the best finish, or last as long. Get better at riding
before you consider getting better gear. You may find you don't have a taste for riding
after a few trips, and you don't want to be stuck with a bunch of slightly used high-end
equipment. And if you do keep riding, your cheaper gear will enable you to keep riding
while you shop for upgrades. Once you've ridden a bit, you will have a little more insight
into what kind of gear YOU feel would be best, rather than what the mags and advertisers
tell you is best.
Oh, I almost forgot. GET A KIDNEY BELT! You will find that there are some muscles in
your lower back that you never knew you had. Your first trip of any distance will give
these muscles a voice, and they will be screaming "GET A KIDNEY BELT!"
Helmet and gloves are mandatory. Serious riding with beginners also requires
fore-arm guards, boots, knee and shin guards, and the grass hopper shell in that order.
How about maintenance tips?
Buy the service manual and read it several times. If you don't understand something, ask,
don't guess. Most importantly, don't change your oil at midnight when you're drunk (a
story for another time).
Go ahead Jay, tell the story...
Do purchase and read the service manual. Perform whatever maintenance it says. Just as
important, maintain your body. Buy a camelback, fill it, and wear it whenever you ride.
You can live for days without food. You can't without water.
Get a REAL manual. The one that came with my KDX-200 was about 5 pages long, including the
index. And if you looked up something like "carb adjustments", it referred you
to a blurry black and white photo of a carb with the caption "here is the carb if you
want to adjust it". Get a manual that explains with words and photos how to do
EVERYTHING to your bike, because if you ride long enough you will end up doing EVERYTHING
to it, plus a little more. Unless you are very familiar with the seller (a good friend),
assume a newly-purchased used bike will require the minimum of a fluid change, a filter
cleaning, and a new spark plug. In general, keep the fluids full, the filter clean, and a
spare sparkplug handy and rock-n-roll.
Again, choose your sources carefully. If you're a lame mechanic, don't try to
make technical decisions without basis. Most of all, don't forget the results you get from
the different approaches you do try. Moto-mechanics just isn't a one-paragraph course.
OK, so I have a bike and riding gear, what's next?
Find some other riders and go riding! Ok, so maybe a class from MSF (Motorcycle Safety
Foundation) or someplace similar would be in order first.
Set up your new/used bike so it fits you. You should be able to stand on the pegs, knees
slightly bent, and comfortably drop your arms so your hands are on the controls. If it
feels like a long reach down to the controls, the handle bars are too low. Rotate them
forward a bit until they are comfortable. Rotate the brake and clutch perches so they are
also in a comfortable position for you. Next, check that the rear brake pedal and shift
levers can be operated while standing. Adjust them accordingly. Finally, set your shock
and fork preload to get at least 100 mm of sag. Up to 150 mm does not hurt for a beginner
(or an old twit like myself). You should not be jumping large obstacles as a beginner, so
G-outs and bottoming (things they write about in the mags) are not a concern.
Get hungry. Go riding as often as you can. Push yourself a little more each time. Watch
and learn from your buddies and your own successes and failures. Perfect your style. Have
Well, how should I find places to ride and people to ride with?
There are a lot of resources. There are a ton of Web sites with "Places to Ride"
listings. Several motorcycle dealers have literature. You can check with the BLM and the
USFS in you're area. Many counties have county parks.
To find riding buddies, look for local clubs or checkout the rec.motorcycles.dirt
Hopefully you know somebody who has a truck, van, or trailer who is willing to take you
with them when they go riding. If not, check with local dealers to get hooked up with a
local club. If you live in the South SF Bay Area, are female, cute, and single, send me an
e-mail and we will take you along.
Talk about your new found love of riding. You may be surprised to find that someone in
your office, your neighbor, even a friend you thought you knew is into riding as well. If
YOU don't bring it up, it may never come up. You may even convince someone to get into it
with you. My only other thought is a self-serving plug...go to www.All-Offroad.com.
Do you have any last advice for new riders?
Have fun and keep checking All-OffRoad for more tips for beginners!
Do not ride with Brad. He laughs when you are in pain. Seriously, start out slow and try
to find someone to ride with who has lots of patience. Most importantly, do not ride by
yourself. If you must ride by yourself, make sure someone who cares knows exactly where
you are going and when you plan to be back.
Better safe than sorry. Push yourself to get better, but do it gradually. You won't be the
greatest overnight, or even over a weekend. What if you break your back on a black diamond
trail that is completely out of your league and can never ride again? After some practice,
maybe you COULD have ridden that black diamond successfully, but now you've blown it
completely and will never know. Use your head, obey the laws of physics, and have fun.
Ride on mother!