As I'm researching dirtbiking, and am a relative noob to it, I found this article from 1998 and thought I'd share.
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, let's begin...
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 considering.
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 decision.
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!"