I've taught both my sons how to ride and started them when they were young. Having purchased several little dirt bikes for them, I learned a few things and if I were to do it over, I'd do things a little differently. So here is my recommendation for what to get your little beginner rider for their first dirt bike. Hopefully it helps. Let's get to it!
IF YOUR KID IS 4-7 YEARS OLD AND THIS IS THEIR FIRST DIRT BIKE.
If your kid is over 8 years old, this may not be too helpful. The reason is, because most 8 year old kids are right around that transition time where the may be moving on from a 50cc dirt bike. However, If your child is between the ages of 4-7, they're not extremely tall or big for their age, and this is their first EVER dirt bike, then I recommend the Honda XR/CRF 50. This is a four stroke dirt bike made by one of the big four reputable Japanese brands. The overall design of the bike has pretty much stayed the same over the years and they've made very little, if any, changes to the engine. It's a bulletproof engine design that will last a VERY long time, even if you neglect it (but, try not to do that). It has an auto style centrifugal clutch that doesn't need maintenance, and an easy to use 3 speed transmission. This will allow your child to learn to use the gear shifter without having to worry about the added action of a clutch lever. These bikes also have a throttle stop governor screw that allows you to limit the throttle the child can use. This is a great tool for parents! They have training wheels available for these bikes too. Use them if you must, but kids adapt quickly and most will gain the ability to balance the bike in no time at all.
The draw backs to these bikes is they're heavy and the suspension is not that great. The suspension is pretty much non existent. They have a spring suspension system with very little travel at all. While these are GREAT starter bikes for beginners, once your kid starts jumping it, you'll want to begin your search for your next bike purchase.
There are suspension upgrade kits for these, but they're not cheap. Realistically, you might be able to pick up a whole other dirt bike for the price you would pay to upgrade the suspension on these. However, it is an option, and if you don't mind the price tag, it's a good option.
What about starting them out in motocross racing? Don't worry, they can race these. Some promoters have entire classes for these little bikes. It's a great way to get your little one behind the starting gate and introduce them to motocross racing. Don't create the expectation that your kid is going to go our there and just tear up the competition on this little bike though. Remember, they're learning, and they need to have fun! Too much too soon in motocross can get any rider hurt and that's the last thing you want for your kid.
On another note, all 50cc races allow parents to be out around the track during the race to help the little peeps if they fall. My boys were introduced to motocross racing this way and the experience was very positive and boosted their confidence.
WHAT ABOUT A YAMAHA TTR 50?
Yamaha's TTR 50 is another good option. However, the thing I didn't like about the TTR 50 was the battery life. If the battery goes out on you, your push starting that little bike until you can get a new one. The electric start on the bike is very convenient when it worked. Also, when my son would tip it over, which happens a lot when they're learning, oil would spill into the air box and choke out the engine. Lastly, the bike is manufactured in China under the "Supervision" of Yamaha. Now, I understand practically everything is made in China these days, but when it comes to my dirt bikes, I'd rather they be made elsewhere. Just my preference.
*NOTE: The Yamaha PW50 is another option for little beginner riders, but I have no personal experience with this bike. I'm not about to recommend something I know nothing about.
WHY NOT A KTM 50 SX?
The little KTM 50's are great bikes! They have a great engine and superior suspension to Honda's XR/CRF 50. However, the KTM 50's are a two stroke machine and they are nothing like Yamaha's PW 50 two stroke, which is an air cooled, very tame two stroke dirt bike. The KTM machine's have a quick little motor in them, and while they are great performing motors, they are made for racing and designed to be ran at high RPM's in order to perform well. With the throttle on these, it's kind of an all or nothing situation in order to get these little bikes moving and keep them moving. There are no gears to shift and the transmission is just one long gear. So the more they twist the throttle, the faster it goes. While this may sound like a perk, it can sometimes scare little beginner riders. A lot of kids want to go faster without feeling like they're riding a rocket.
Keep in mind, if your kid gets scared of the dirt bike, whether its because it's too fast, the bike is too loud, they crash, or they just don't feel like they can control it, they may not want to throw a leg over the bike again. Especially if they get hurt on it. So my recommendation is to keep it as simple and as easy as possible for the little beginner rider. If later you decide to switch it up, not a problem. Little dirt bikes have a great resale value and you will most likely make your money back when you sell it.
I switched my older son from a CRF 50 to a KTM 50 and he was never fully comfortable on it. He didn't like having to be on the throttle so much just to get the bike to go and it scared him enough to never fully get used to the bike. When I moved him up to a KX 65, he did much better because he could lug the bike in a higher gear and get used to the power delivery without having to be in the power band all the time.
Going from a 4-stroke 50 to a 2-stroke 50 or 65.
The KTM SX Mini, Adventure or like models, are a little different. The Mini sits lower than the standard SX model and the Mini and the Adventure have a spring clutch system that allows the child to roll onto the throttle and it will gradually grab and get the bike going. The standard SX model has a shim stack clutch system that just grabs at a certain RPM (between 8k-9k rpm). Again, something you have to set if you want it changed from factory settings. You can put the spring clutch system in the SX if you want your child to be able to roll onto the throttle and have the clutch grab gradually. Just be sure to stay up on your clutch adjustments.
The KTM's can be a bit labor intensive for the head mechanic, AKA "Dad". The newer models (2009 & up) had a change in the engine and clutch design for the better. These little bikes still require a good deal of maintenance. Water pump seals, impeller shafts and clutch components were considerable points of frustration for us, as these little parts needed constant attention and/or replacement.
Not only can the KTM machines be more labor intensive, but they are ultimately more expensive than their Japanese counterpart (Honda). We spent a considerable amount of money maintaining our KTM 50 SX and replacing worn parts. During that same time our Honda XR 50 only required regular oil changes. No joke.
Now, we're not hating on KTM products. They are GREAT BIKES, but for little beginners, we recommend starting them off slow. Don't go out and buy a bike because you think the bike is awesome. Buy it because it fits the riding needs of your kid at that time. Even if those needs don't align with my recommendation, that's ok. Once they improve their skill and show some interest in the sport, they can always be moved up to another bike.
There are other 50cc dirt bikes on the market, including Cobra, Husqvarna & Polini. Whatever you choose just make sure you do your research before picking one up.
Always remember, this is supposed to be fun for the kid. If they don't have fun riding, there's no chance they're going to stick with it. Do your best to give them the best chance possible to enjoy the sport and build their skills and confidence. There will be plenty of time for them to progress and move up in bike. Most often you'll find that once you teach them the basics, they'll progress naturally on their own. Hope this helps.
If you have questions, please leave it in the comments below or contact us directly.
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