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What is a Dirt Bike?

Dan Cavallari
By Dan Cavallari
Updated May 17, 2024
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A dirt bike is an off-road motorcycle that is built to be lightweight, powerful, fast, and nimble. Several variations of the dirt bike exist for different purposes, from racing to touring and beyond, and the size and function of the dirt bike depends not only on the type of riding being done, but also the person riding the particular dirt bike. Just about all dirt bikes feature knobby or semi-knobby tires, which have a tread aggressive enough to handle varied terrain — from mud to rocks, from smooth dirt roads to inclining and declining trails.

Perhaps the most common type of dirt bike is the motocross bike. A motocross bike is designed primarily for off-road racing; these dirt bikes are built to be fast and strong without adding too much to the overall weight of the bike. Motocross bikes, like all other variety of dirt bike, are measured in cc's, which refers to the size of the engine. Generally speaking, the more cc's an engine has, the stronger the bike will be. These bikes are built with suspension forks and rear shocks to absorb impact from both terrain obstructions and from large jumps, which are common in motocross racing, and they have high ground clearance to avoid trail obstructions.

Another type of dirt bike is the dual sport bike. These bikes are designed for both off-road and road use, and unlike motocross bikes, the dual sport bike is street legal. The adventure-touring version of a dual sport bike is designed for longer trips and often have panniers — or cargo spaces — that can be filled with camping gear for overnight trips. Because they are meant to go longer distances, an adventure-touring bike will have a larger gas tank than other types of dirt bikes.

Enduro motorcycles are also dual sport dirt bikes. They are fitted with turn signals and head and tail lights to make them legal for use on highways and streets. They are similar in design to motocross bikes, and their off-road capabilities are similar: they feature long-travel suspension forks and rear shocks, and they have high ground clearance. These bikes are, however, fitted with silencing features to make the motors quieter, and they have other features that make them suitable for the road. An Enduro motorcycle is not a good choice for long trips on the road since they are primarily designed for off-road use and do away with comfort frills such as padded seats. They are a great choice for a rider looking for a bike that can get them to the trail legally, and then continue up the trail with the same capabilities as a motocross bike.

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