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Five best dirt bikes

Across kids bikes, enduro, motocross, trials and green laning there are dirt machines to suit all tastes and needs – here are the five best!

Phil West

Words by: Phil West

Published on 15 February 2024 | 0 min read

The term ‘dirt bikes’ may define motorcycles that are designed primarily for off rather than on-road riding but still covers a multitude of options. After all, there are dirt bikes aimed at giving kids their first experience of riding. There are trail bikes, or dual-purpose machines – motorcycles which are road legal but also more than happy riding gentle trails or bridleways.
Then there are competition or racing enduro bikes, which are also loosely road legal and are variants of motocrossers but usually fitted with lights and other road necessities. Finally there are dedicated motocrossers and trials bikes, each built to operate up to the very highest levels of their respective competitive disciplines and stripped back to the bare minimum. So, which are the five best dirt bikes currently available? Read on!

1 – Honda CRF300L & Rally: the road legal ‘trail’ bike’

Traditional trail bikes, which is to say genuinely dual-purpose 250-500cc singles, are fairly few and far between today, at least in comparison to their 1970s and 80s heyday. But one stands out. Honda launched its CRF250L in 2012 and, with its plucky liquid-cooled 250cc single, quality off-road chassis, all-round manageability and unintimidating persona proved a great trail bike. That was later joined by a ‘Rally’ version, with a touring fairing for long motorway distances while in 2021 both were updated to 300cc 27 horsepower form with improved performance and off-road ability. They remain the best trad trail bikes around, as we discovered on a recent day of training on CRF300Ls at the Dave Thorpe Honda Off-Road Centre.

2 – KTM EXC range: the world-beating enduro

If you’re after something with more focused, dedicated off-road ability, are less bothered about road manners but still require it to be street legal your best bet is a purpose designed ‘enduro’ bike. And the best of all are from KTM. The Austrian dirt specialists have long been kings of enduro (and, often, motocross, too) and its current EXC enduro range is a full 14 models strong, with eight different four-strokes, ranging from 250 to 500cc plus six two-strokes from 150 to 300cc. Which is best depends on your experience and requirements, the 150 being the lightest and most novice-friendly and the 500 for experts only. All share class-leading performance, the best brakes and suspension and a heritage second to none.

3 – Yamaha YZF range: the definitive motocrosser

Yamaha may not be quite as dominant in world motocross as KTM is in enduro but its range is as broad and impressive as any, and its current line-up among the best. That range currently includes 250 and 450 four-strokes and 125 and 250 two-strokes, with the four-stroke 250 pictured here among the best anywhere. Yamaha also offers enduro versions of its four-stroke ‘crossers, kid-sized 65 and 85cc MXers and TT-R50, 110 and 150cc leisure bikes, so there very much is something for everyone.

4 – Yamaha PW50: the best first-time kids’ dirt bike

As mentioned above, =Yamaha’s dirt bike offering is probably the best of all the Japanese ‘Big Four’ and it doesn’t end with the bikes already mentioned. One of its stand-out dirt bikes over the years has been the long-lived PW (or PeeWee) 50, a mini 50cc off-roader with an adjustable throttle and shaft drive (for safety) that’s long been considered the best first-time kids off-roader and accessible for children as young as three or four. The design is so good it has changed little over the years, its quality construction is durable and used examples remain in great demand.

5 – Oset: the market leading electric dirt bikes

Electric machines have been making great inroads into the dirt bike world and, although yet to be competitive in racing, they can be a very tempting proposition when as kids’ bikes and leisure machines. One of the leading manufacturers is British specialists Oset, the 12.5 aimed at riders aged three to five with the 16.0 aimed at those from five to seven years old. It also offers its new adjustable TXP range, the TXP-24 a full-size trials machine very much at the forefront of its class.

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