What Bike

What Trail Bike Should I buy?

(Ed’s note:-  If anyone would like to put the case for different categories of bike suitable for trail riding i.e. Adventure, please let me know as I am keeping out of this!)

One of the most common questions I hear when people start getting interested in trail riding is, “What bike should I buy?”

This is a good question that should be given a great deal of thought, taking a range of factors into consideration, if you want to get it right from the start.

  • Two or Four Stroke?
  • Have you any previous off road experience?
  • What size bike should I buy?
  • Your Height /Weight.
  • Budget / Brand

If you’re a complete novice on the trails then a four stroke is probably the way to go. Although a little heavier than two stroke machines they are considered to be easier to get to grips with initially, allowing the rider to concentrate on the trail, building confidence and necessary skills required.

The majority of modern four strokes are water cooled; however AJP produce a simpler air cooled 240cc bike, following in the footsteps of older tried and tested models such as Suzuki’s DR350 or Honda’s XR250 / 450.

There are a number of European manufacturers who also offer a range of two stroke bikes in addition to their four strokes models such as: KTM (pictured), Gasgas, Sherco and Beta.

Two stroke engine capacity’s usually are 125, 200, 250 and 300cc, although you will find other variations.

Whilst very rewarding to ride on the trails and given their weight advantage, two strokes do require a little more rider input to get the best out of them. Keeping them in their power band is where they really come alive and excel. As a result you will find yourself working the gearbox further as gear selection is more crucial. A smaller capacity two stroke will be busier still compared to a 300, which will have more torque allowing you to hang on to the gears for longer.

Four Stroke:


  • Easy to ride both on surfaced and unsurfaced roads.
  • Bags of torque.
  • Engine braking.
  • Reasonable service intervals.
  • Popular.Cons:
  • Heavy.
  • Complicated Engines – High rebuild / servicing costs.

Two Stroke:


  • Light weight
  • Very manoeuvrable
  • Low servicing / rebuild costs
  • Home mechanic friendlyCons:
  • Thirsty.
  • Pre mixing of fuel.
  • Lack of engine breaking.
  • Not ideally suited to prolonged road riding

Have you any previous off road experience?If this is your first foray in to the dirty world of trail riding, it may be worth considering an off road school introduction day. Here you can hire a bike and all necessary kit and equipment and receive guidance and tuition.

This could be money well spent as it will give you a taste of things to come and confirm one way or the other if trail riding is for you, before you go out and spend your hard earned. If however you do have some degree of experience then you may have an idea of what you’re looking for. Speak to fellow trail riders or view forums for further advice. Things may have moved on considerably since you last rode an old fire breathing 500cc two stroke!

What Size Bike Should I Buy?

Don’t be fooled into thinking bigger is better as with road riding. A 250cc four stroke is more than capable on both surfaced and unsurfaced roads and is widely used by experienced trail riders.

It’s a simple fact, bigger capacity bikes are a handful in the dirt unless you’re experienced, physically fit and have bags of stamina. You’ll be hard pushed to exploit the power of a 450 given its aggressive power delivery, you may well be left feeling battered and beaten up over the course of a day’s green laning.  This can often result in you feeling like a passenger rather than a pilot.

Most riders would be quicker on a smaller capacity bike whereby the power and weight won’t be as overwhelming, thus making it easier to ride for longer. So with this in mind it may be down to your choice of brand or budget.

There is a considerable choice, as per the Honda CRF250L, CRF250X, Yamaha’s WR250f, Kawasaki KLX250, KTM EXC’s range which includes several derivatives such as the 350exc, to name but a few.

Your Height / Weight

Ideally you want to be able to have both feet touching the ground when mounted. This is a good indication that the bike is the right size for you. The majority of enduro / trail bikes are very tall in the saddle so finding one that’s right may require further research or some tweaking, whereas the road orientated models such as the CRF250L have a lower seat height.

There are a number of bikes which are made with lower seat heights such as the Yamaha XT225 or 250cc Serrow, Beta Alp or Gasgas Pampera. However they may not be to everyone’s taste. This being the case, there are ways in which you can modify a taller bike. Dropping the forks through the yolks will lower the front end, but it will quicken the steering and possibly make the bike less stable at high speed. Softening off the rear spring will lower the back end but again will affect the handling and may bottom out. Lowering links are available for some models but will obviously reduce ground clearance or you may consider reducing the seat height by removing some of the excess foam if an aftermarket item isn’t available. If in doubt seek professional advice!

With regard to your weight, if you are weighing in at a cool 120kg plus, you will need something with a bit more grunt than a 125cc two-stroke or a 250 four-stroke – otherwise you’re going to kill that poor thing!

Budget / Brand

It goes without saying that you should buy the best that you can afford. Make sure that any potential purchase has been well maintained by the previous owner. A set of new plastics and graphics can make a rough neglected bike look appealing. If you don’t want to spend a fortune getting your steed back in shape, make sure you see past any bling and give it a thorough going over.

It’s better to gain your experience riding a bike that doesn’t intimidate and isn’t a handful. Once you’re riding skills develop and your confidence builds it may be time to look for something bigger or newer. You rarely lose money selling on a second hand dirt bike providing it’s been looked after. So what have you to lose?