So your kid wants to start riding motorcycles? Well, there are only two ways you can be feeling right about now, either:
a) completely confident due to your wealth of experience with motorcycles
b) a mixture of anxious, confused, and downright terrified on account of the fact that this is completely new territory.
As once scared and anxious parents ourselves, we are here to tell you that buying a dirt bike for your kid and helping them to learn how to ride needn’t fill you with terror. While riding a motorcycle does carry with it a degree of risk, there are plenty of ways that you can greatly reduce the chances of your kid getting hurt.
The first step is understanding which type of bike is best for their age and level of development. Then it’s about ensuring that they have the right protective gear and that they follow the correct safety procedures while riding.
If that sounds like more than a handful, you’ve come to the right place. In our ultimate guide to kids dirt bikes, we’ll help you on your way to choosing the best dirt bike for the keen motorcyclist in your family. We’ll talk you through the necessary protective gear, and even offer some tips on how to coach them while they master the basics of riding.
How to choose the best dirt bike for your kid
We’re going to break down the steps of choosing a kid's dirt bike, helping you understand the features and functions that set youth bikes apart. We’ll help you choose a bike based on:
Engine size (displacement)
Finding the right size dirt bike for your child
The first question that often comes to mind when looking at the range of kids dirt bikes online is, 'what size dirt bike is right for my kid'?
We’re not talking about engine size just yet; we're referring to the height of the dirt bike your child needs.
One of the first things you need to take into consideration is your child’s height, and therefore, the height of the seat on their new bike. A lot of parents try to find a bike based on their child’s age; and while this can work pretty well if your child is of an average height for their age, there can be a big difference in development between two four-year-olds.
The best indication of the right size dirt bike is whether your child is able to touch the ground with both feet when sitting on the bike. When kids are learning to control a dirt bike, they need to be able to put a foot down on the ground to balance themselves. The best way to find the right size bike is by getting your child to sit on a few different models at the shop.
Remember, riding boots have a much higher heel than regular sneakers, so it’s a good idea to get them to wear a pair of boots while trying different bikes. If you haven't got motorcycle boots yet, ask the guys at the shop if they can try a pair on while trying out bikes for size.
Ideally, you want them to be able to touch the ground with their tippy toes if wearing sneakers: if they are wearing riding boots, they should be able to support the weight of the bike with the balls of their feet.
You do not want their feet to be flat on the ground. If that is the case, there is likely too much load on the suspension which is only going to make them feel the bumps more, not to mention they will only grow out of the bike faster.
They will be ripping around the track in no time!
What if my kid doesn’t fit a particular bike?
If your kid is short for their age, or you are hoping to start them out really early (four years and under), there are a couple of ways that you can make the bike fit them.
Some bikes can be adjusted by lowering the suspension, which in turn lowers the handlebars so that they can reach comfortably until they grow big enough, at which point the suspension can be raised. Alternatively, a motorcycle shop might be able to cut the seat out, lowering it, so that your kid can reach the floor with their feet.
Starter bike training wheels are a great way to help very young riders (3-5-year-olds) build confidence without having to put their feet down, thus eliminating the fear of crashing while they work out the basics of steering and controlling the throttle.
Often with small capacity dirt bikes (typically below 125cc), they will either come in ‘big wheel’ or ‘small wheel’.
Big wheel dirt bikes typically feature a 19-inch front wheel and 16-inch rear wheel or above, while small wheel dirt bikes feature a 17-inch front wheel and 14-inch back wheel or below.
The differences between the two types extend beyond the size of the wheel. Often the gearing, swingarm and suspension are different between the same model with the two different wheel sizes.
Bigger wheels offer greater stability, are softer and soak up small bumps easier. However, they are often a fair bit heavier than their small wheel counterparts.
Smaller wheels are more nimble and lighter, allowing you to do quick turns easier. On the other hand, the rims can be bent more easily when going over rough corrugations and you have a smaller variety of tyres to choose from.
When choosing between a small or big wheel dirt bike, you will need to consider your child’s age and height. Many parents opt for a small wheel bike when their child is just starting, and move onto a big wheel bike when they start growing more rapidly and have developed their skills.
Height will also be a deciding factor, as some big wheel bikes may be slightly too high for your child. The best way to find out is to get them to sit on both types with their boots on to see if they can reach the ground safely.
If this is their first bike, they'll find it much easier to learn on a bike that is lightweight and that has less power. 50cc is the smallest engine size that you can get, and the best first bike for kids under the age of seven. Four-stroke 50cc dirt bikes make great starter bikes because of their fairly linear power delivery, making throttle control much easier for young riders. The Braaap Pro 88cc is a good example of a starter bike, as it gives them slightly more power than a 50cc for them to develop into.
Typically, engine sizes for youth dirt bikes start at 50cc and go right up to 125cc models suitable for older kids competing in motocross races. 250cc models and above are typically suited for adolescents and adults, as these bikes will be ‘full size’ and have increased power.
When to move up in power?
As your child gets older and more confident as a rider, they might need to move to a more powerful dirt bike. There are a number of reasons why it might be a good idea to move to a more powerful bike:
Maybe they would like to try motocross racing?
Perhaps they are growing rapidly and their legs are starting to come up around their ears when they sit on their bike?
They might be ready to learn how to operate a clutch. Manual transmissions are usually only available on bigger bikes.
Perhaps they need a bike with improved suspension, larger wheels, and better brakes? These usually become available on more powerful bikes.
If they like mud, then they are definitely going to love dirt bikes!
Moving to a more powerful bike doesn't necessarily mean they should jump straight on a bike with a higher engine displacement. Even the smallest increase in power makes a difference to young riders, and it might be the addition of other features (clutch, more gears etc.) that they really need.
Engine type - two-strokes vs four-strokes
Kids dirt bikes are either two-stroke or four-stroke, and it’s important that you understand the difference between engine types before you lay down any cash.
As we mentioned before, four-stroke engines are usually the way to go if this is your kid’s first bike. A four-stroke engine only delivers power for every two rotations of the crankshaft. This makes for smooth acceleration and a wide power band, reducing the amount of scary stop-starts that your child might experience while sussing out the throttle.
Two-strokes, on the other hand, deliver power for every rotation of the crankshaft giving them a higher power to weight ratio. Less moving parts mean less weight so a 65cc two-stroke will often keep up with larger capacity (80cc - 100cc) four-stroke engines.
However, two-strokes usually require you to pre-mix petrol and oil before filling the tank on account of the fact that most two-stroke engines are lubricated by the fuel mix itself.
Two-stroke engines have much more kick in their step higher in the rev range, but are sometimes more difficult to control at low speeds than four-strokes.
This is why they are often the preferred engine type for kid's motocross bikes. Motocross racing favours a bike with more acceleration than top speed, so if your child is considering racing in the peewees, they might simply need to switch to a two-stroke of the same engine displacement as their current four-stroke model.
When stepping up to a more powerful bike, consider whether a four-stroke or a two-stroke is the best option. If you child is confident and improving their skills rapidly, a two-stroke with lower engine displacement (50cc - 80cc) might be the way to go. If they are growing and prefer to trail riding and recreational riding, a four-stroke might just be a more enjoyable, easier bike to control.
Motocross races are often categorised by engine displacement and wheel size.
The smallest kid’s dirt bikes usually feature an automatic clutch. Taking the clutch out of the equation allows your child time to learn how to steer and balance the bike before having to think about changing gears manually.
Some bike models are designed specifically as ‘stepping stones’ to bigger, faster bikes. The Suzuki JR80, for example, is a two-stroke kids dirt bike featuring a manual clutch. The oil injection system lubricates the engine on the fly meaning you don't have to worry about pre-mixing fuel. This is a great bike for learning the, being more forgiving than most kids motocross bikes.
Alternatively, the Braaap MX-110F is a four-stroke with wider power band and an and adjustable suspension, making it a great choice for smaller riders wanting to upgrade.
When your young rider has mastered the basic controls of their automatic bike, you might want to consider some of these options for moving to a manual transmission bike. Along with a clutch, they'll get more gears to play with as well. Learning how to operate a clutch is a great skill, and not only applicable to riding motorcycles. They will also need to learn how to use a clutch if they want to ride a more powerful dirt bike when they are older (250cc and up).
Starter system – electric vs. kick start
The most basic starter bikes feature electric start engines meaning they are as easy to start as the push of a button. As bikes get more powerful, you'll see kick starters becoming the norm. You might need to give you little one some help when starting their bike for the first time if that’s the case with their first dirt bike.
The age of the bike will sometime determine the starter system too. Older bikes commonly used a kickstarter, while more modern bike typically use an electric start instead.
Other things to consider
EFI or carbureted engine? Carburetted engines use less electrical components but require occasional adjustment for them to operate at peak efficiency. Electronic fuel injected engines are more modern but use more electrical components.
How will you transport the bike? Smaller starter dirt bikes could be put on the back seat of a sedan, while anything larger than they will require a trailer or ute to transport?
Where will it be stored? Do you have a secure place to store the dirt bike like a shed or garage? If you plan on leaving it outside, you may want to consider keeping it under a bike cover to protect it from the elements.
What is the required maintenance? two-stroke engines motocross engines require constant attention and more frequent rebuilding compared to an enduro four-stroke bike. Are you a confident mechanic or will you need a professional to maintain the bike?
Will the bike require recreational registration? If you plan on letting your child ride their dirt bike on public land (eg. a national park), you may require to pay registration for the bike. Check with your state’s transport website for more information.
Can you afford the ongoing costs of owning one? Between maintenance, gear, registration, insurance (if needed) and other little expenses along the way, can you afford the dirt bike for your child?
Dirt bike riding teaches valuable skills such as balance and hand-to-eye co-ordination.
Buying a new kids dirt bike vs. buying used
If your child is only four or five and starting out riding dirt bikes, you’re probably now realising that they're going to go through at least a couple of bikes before they even get to their teenage years.
Kids have to change to bigger bikes as they get bigger themselves. Yep, you guessed it, motorcycling isn't the cheapest sport they could have chosen. But it is possible to get set up without breaking the bank. For example, you might like to consider whether buying new or buying second hand is the best option.
Buying new has its obvious benefits: the bike will be covered by warranty, and should have some level of servicing included within the first six months of ownership. The bike will be in the best condition possible, and because all the other kids are changing bikes, you can usually sell the bike with very few ks and get a reasonable chunk of your money back.
Buying a used bike is the obvious choice for the budget-conscious parent. Perhaps you think this is just a fad for your child that they might grow out of and don’t want to outlay a large chunk of money on a new bike. Shop around and compare used models to their new counterparts and you might find a really good deal.
Of course, if you have more than one kid, you might like to hang on to the 50cc starter bike so your littlest can have a go when they are old enough!
Choosing kids riding gear
It’s a hard truth for some parents to accept, but your child is going to fall off their dirt bike at some point. The best thing you can do is make sure that they're all geared up to minimise the impact.
Along with the bike, you’re going to need to equip your young rider with the right protective gear, especially if they have any intention of getting into motocross racing. Even if they are only planning on riding around the house, the safety requirements set in place by racing organisations are a good guide for what they should be wearing every time they throw a leg over.
It’s important that protective riding gear fits well, so the best thing you can do is to get your kid to try everything on in-store and compare with other products to find a set that is snug enough that it won’t come off during a fall.
Helmet: not just any old bicycle helmet, your child needs to wear a full-face motorcycle helmet at all times on the bike. A full-face helmet protects their chin and sides of their head much more effectively than a bike helmet. Make sure you find a helmet that fits well; this is not something you want your kid to ‘grow into’.
Boots: one of the first things you should buy is a good set of riding boots for your little one. If they are small for their age, a pair of boots might just be the difference between reaching the ground and being too short to ride. Motocross boots protect their feet and shins when they bang against the bike and if they happen to fall off.
Gloves: in the early days, a good pair of mountain bike or even workers gloves will do, but just remember that the first thing that will hit the ground when they fall is their hands. A good pair of riding gloves will reduce the number of boo-boos from reaching out to break their fall.
Chest & back protection: body armour is essential for anyone riding a motorcycle, especially young riders. Look for a chest protector with an integrated core, shoulder, and back protection to ensure they stand up smiling after a tumble.
Neck brace: this one goes hand in hand with body armour. Make sure their head is supported in the event of a fall with a good quality neck brace.
Kidney belt: dirt bike body armour has advanced a lot over the years and now it is common for even kids to wear kidney belts adding protection to their lower back and core.
Jersey and pants: to be worn over or under their body armour. Some jerseys and riding pants even come with integrated knee guards saving you from buying them separately. While you certainly can dress them in sturdy long sleeve clothing when they are learning, purpose-made motocross apparel is designed to stay cool when they get hot, and won’t fall apart when they tip over.
Goggles: great for riders of all ages, riding goggles will keep the dirt out of their eyes helping them to focus on controlling the bike. Goggles are a great, relatively cheap crash prevention tool that you can employ from day one.
Wearing the right gear may be the difference between walking away injury free or with a broken limb...
Tips on teaching your child to ride a motorcycle
You’ve got them all the gear, where to from here? The next step – is of course – to get them to practice the basics of riding a dirt bike. Here are some tips on coaching your kid in the early stages of learning to ride their first motorcycle.
1. Brakes: even if your child has been on a motorcycle with someone older and has had the opportunity to steer and control the throttle, they’ve probably never operated the brakes on a dirt bike. Before even starting the engine on their new bike, get them to roll down a gentle slope and practice front and rear braking so that they know how to slow down and come to a smooth, complete stop letting them touch the throttle.
2. Turning: if you are teaching a four or five-year-old, training wheels can really help smooth the learning curve during the first few weeks of riding. Get them to focus on controlling the throttle, riding back and forth in straight lines initially, and then encourage them to make big slow circles. The training wheels will restrict the amount of turning they can achieve. Pretty soon this will become frustrating as they become confident and want to balance the bike. This is a fair indication that it’s time to ditch the trainers and practice balancing the bike on their own.
3. Clutch: if your child is older (around the 10-12 age group) they might need to learn how to operate a clutch from day one. This can be a lot to take in straight away. Get them to practice slowly releasing the clutch as they gently open the throttle so that they learn the relationship between the two before you let them power away. Finding that ‘sweet spot’ is the key to confidence while taking off. Once clutch and throttle control becomes second nature, they'll find it a lot easier to change gears while riding.
4. Speed: the smallest kids dirt bikes often feature adjustable speed limiters that allow you to set a top speed limit on the throttle, preventing them from getting away on themselves. If your child is older, you’re going to have to set a precedent that speed can be dangerous. Make sure you supervise them and control their speed until you are confident that they can control the bike going fast, while also being mature enough to realise the dangers.
5. Ride: perhaps the best way to help you child learn how to ride a bike is by riding one yourself! Kids love practising steering a motorcycle while sitting in front of Mum or Dad and it’s an excellent way to help them understand how the throttle works. Riding your own bike is also the best way to keep up with them and make sure they are okay. Going on trail rides is an awesome family experience, one that is sure to bring you closer and create some truly great memories.
Dirt bikes are a family affair...
Where to from here?
Choosing the right dirt bike for your kid is an involved process – there’s a lot to take in! But once you understand the types of bikes that are available, and know what size bike and engine type is right for the keen young rider in your family, it’s really a lot of fun teaching them and watching them grow on their bike. Riding a motorcycle is a great skill to learn at an early age, too. The coordination required to ride a motorcycle develops fine motor skills that they will apply later in life when learning to drive a car.
Best of all, it offers a unique opportunity to get out there in the great outdoors and explore the world on two wheels.
So now you have an idea of what to look for, check out the full range of kids dirt bikes available at Outdoria, from retailers located Australia-wide.
A big thank you to Jennifer Corbin for providing the awesome photos of her little rippers for this guide.
Got any tips for others looking to buy a dirt bike for their little ones? Leave them in the comments below!