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MX: Choosing the Best Motocross Bikes

We're talking about pure MX today! Motocross (MX) is a very niche segment of riding, where riders compete on a natural dirt outfitted with jumps, and various obstacles. The course is very technical, designed so you have to constantly shift gears, make quick turns, clutch and brake, etc.

Motorcycle manufactures make bikes specifically for motocross. So what exactly is the difference between a MX bike and a dirt or off-road bike? They're all basically riding in the dirt, right??

Not exactly. All "dirt bikes" may look about the same, but there are subtle differences. In a nutshell, MX bikes tend to be lighter for nimble handing on the course. MX bikes also have more suspension because of all the jumps and pounding required of motocross. The gearing is also different; MX bikes have close ratio gearing that is great in tight, technical terrain.

In this article, we'll go over some factors to consider, and our favorite recommendations for some tried and true MX bikes. 

Things to Consider:

The right bike for you depends several factors. Here are some things to consider when making a choice:

Your experience level:

If you're a noob, you'll want a smaller bike to start, which means staying in the 250cc, 4-stroke range. Remember, it's much easier to handle and learn on a smaller bike, so you'll be able to improve a lot faster than if you try to learn on a bike that may be more than you need.

2-stroke or 4-stroke?

This is a hot debate in the dirt bike world. Without going into the science of it, as that can be an entirely new post of its own, 2-strokes are an older technology as far as dirt bikes go, but they have specific advantages that will likely benefit a more experienced rider. 4-strokes took over the MX scene as larger displacement 450cc models made the platform even more desirable compared with 250cc 2-strokes. 4-strokes have a much more advanced design that allow for smoother power delivery and a more stable ride.

2-stroke engines are more powerful than their 4-stroke counterpart. They deliver up to what can feel like twice the power. Another major advantage is because of the simplicity of the engine, they're much lighter, which translates into nimble, faster, and more powerful bikes. They are also much cheaper to repair, but you have to deal with mixing your oil and fuel. 2-stokes typically make a lot more noise, but if you're a 2-stroke person, you wouldn't have it any other way.

There's really no superior option, so it just depends on what you want. If you're a beginner, you may want a 4-stroke as it's easier to control and you won't have to deal with shifting as much.

Your size:

Yes, your size matters too - not just the size of the bike. It especially matters on a MX bike because it affects the suspension and therefore, the performance and your comfort.

If you are on the smaller side (let's say under 150 pounds), go for a smaller bike. If you're a bigger guy, you'll probably be putting too much weight on the suspension. Most riders will benefit from springs and valving specific to their weight anyways but this will be for another article. Many modern bikes are fully adjustable, and ride decently if you dial them in for a mid-sized rider.

As for height, MX bikes generally are pretty tall so you're likely not going to be able to flat foot it while sitting on the bike but you should be able to easily use one leg on the peg and one leg off while you're stopped to hold the bike up right.

We're going to split up this article into smaller and larger dirt bikes and include our recommendations!

Smaller MX Bikes (250 - 300cc)


A 4-stroke in the 250 class isn't quite enough power for most guys, but if you're a completely novice rider (or perhaps if you're going to let your child ride), you may find that the smooth power delivery of the 4-stroke is much more ideal.

We like the KTM 250SX-F.
KTM 250SX-F 250cc 4-stroke

The KTM 250SX-F has some of the best sets of features in its class. It comes with an electric starter, 6 speed gearbox, a hydraulic clutch, and boasts incredibly high horsepower that can reach 14,000 rpms. And KTM has made vast improvements to their machines' stability, power delivery, and braking.

The 250 4-stroke isn't quite enough for most guys, so conveniently enough, more and more 300cc
bikes have made their way to market. Husky, KTM and Beta are all in the game. And Husky made the TE310 pretty popular as a "middleweight" bike for quite some time. 


Or maybe you want to feel the explosive power of the 2-stroke. The classic, tried-and-true 250 2-stroke has been a popular choice for a lot of technical mx riders, including classics such as the Yamaha YZ250. 

Yamaha YZ250 (MSRP starting at $7,399) is a classic go-to for the older MX crowd. At only about 227 lbs wet, it has an unbeatable power-to-weight ratio. The YZ250 underwent some major upgrades in recent years, including the new advanced KYB front fork that has a Speed-Sensitive feature that controls the damping force for smooth handling. 

Bigger MX Bikes (450 - 500cc)

Light is right when you ride in the dirt; bigger is definitely not better when terrain and weather decide to put your skills to the test. That being said, the 450 class has some of the most awesomely versatile MX machines the planet has ever seen. Motocross keeps the 450's relevant in the overall off-road motorcycle segment and they're not slowing down any time soon.

Here are our favorites:

Yamaha YZF450F

The Yamaha YZF450F (MSRP starting at $8,590) features a 449cc 4-stroke engine with advanced fuel injection, and a rearward-slanted cylinder design for mass centralization. This innovative design allows the bike to deliver some serious power in a small, lightweight chassis (with the wet weight coming in at just under 250 lbs).

Honda CRF450R

The Honda CRF450R received some fine-tuning in the past year to make it even better on the track, namely in the suspension department. The front fork got about 5mm longer the rear got a new shock link, as well as new chain roller. This slight change made a noticeable improvement on the comfort and handling of the bike.

The CRF450R also has 3 engine modes: standard, smooth, and aggressive. And you can change between them by pushing a button on the handlebar. This allows for adjustment of power delivery based on the track's conditions. At MSRP of $8,699, this bike is now a better value than ever.

KTM 450 SX-F

The KTM 450 SX-F, a championship winning bike, got a major overhaul. The new design is emphasized on reducing weight, while increasing performance and comfort. Changes include a new compact lithium-ion battery, new airbox design, a newly designed lighter, more flexible frame, and a more comfortable ergonomic seat without adding weight. At 224 lbs (without fuel), this bike is the lightest in its class.

Which of these bikes do you have your eye on? Or do you have another bike that should be on this list?

*All photos courtesy of manufacturers
By Daniel Relich

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