This is a complete guide for trail bike riding for total beginners who want to learn more about getting off the beaten track.
Let’s jump straight on.
Getting started with trail bike riding
Many riders cruise the nice smooth bitumen for years before waking up one morning and discover this entirely different world of trail riding with dirt bikes.
After all, road bikes have become too locked with technology. From traction control to variable speed trims, brake controllers to cruise control and heated handlebars and mirrors. Essentially we’ve lost the bare-bones approach to riding on two-wheels.
Let’s not forget of course the police who simply hate seeing road bikes even creep a few miles over the speed limit. Where all that power on tap goes unused.
Welcome to the world of trail riding with dirt bikes. Where your wildest adventures can become reality once again.
That thrill you once had when you first got your licence all those years ago. You can start living those feelings again, today.
But where do you start? How do you learn about everything? Well – with our complete beginner’s guide for trail riding.
1. Downgrade your bike
While that 600cc or 1000c superbike got you up to the speed limit in under 5 seconds, you can totally forget that offroad. It’s very much unnecessary.
For most novices, they simply buy the wrong bike. That 600cc KTM on the dealership floor looks nice and pretty until you realize just how heavy it is.
Sadly, most dealerships simply recommend a trail bike which is too heavy for the rider to manage on tight single track and riding uphills and downhills.
The lighter your bike is, the better it is. From handling to control, to straight forward rider confidence – avoid the heavy enduro bikes.
Essentially, we propose that you downgrade your bike to something more manageable. Let’s look at our basic trail bike rider sizing chart:
Frontaer Beginner Trail Bike Sizing Chart
|Rider Weight||Engine Size||Recommended?|
|60kgs /132lbs||250cc and below||Yes – well suited|
|70kgs / 154lbs||250cc and below||Yes – well suited|
|80kgs / 176lbs||250cc and below||Yes – but will lack power|
|90kgs / 198lbs||250cc and below||No – limited power for rider|
|60kg /132lbs||250cc to 450cc||No – too much power|
|70kgs / 154lbs||250cc to 450cc||Depends on fitness and experience|
|80kgs / 176lbs||250cc to 450cc||Yes – well suited|
|90kgs / 198lbs||250cc to 450cc||Yes – well suited|
|60kg /132lbs||450cc to 650cc||No – too much power|
|70kgs / 154lbs||450cc to 650cc||No – too much power|
|80kgs / 176lbs||450cc to 650cc||Depends on fitness and experience|
|90kgs / 198lbs||450cc to 650cc||Depends on fitness and experience|
|60kg /132lbs||650cc and above||No – way too heavy unless adventure riding|
|70kgs / 154lbs||650cc and above||No – way too heavy unless adventure riding|
|80kgs / 176lbs||650cc and above||No – way too heavy unless adventure riding|
|90kgs / 198lbs||650cc and above||No – way too heavy unless adventure riding|
As you can see, the smaller bikes are almost always the better choice. If it doubts, you can go for a slightly bigger size than a 250cc.
The only instance where you’ll want more power is sand riding, though, for many riders, they won’t be doing too much riding in the Sahara desert.
2. Wear the right gear
Perhaps the most important thing is to actually get the right trail bike riding gear.
While we’re quick to protect the kids with riding gear, most adults try to go with the basics. That is until they crash and realize what a world of pain they are in.
There are many options out there with many brands providing excellent value. It’s often a case of getting what you pay for and you’ll find bargains on Craiglist/Gumtree often.
For the basics, we recommend:
- A very high-quality helmet that is breathable. Go into the dealership and try a few on. Don’t buy these online as sizing is difficult.
- Paring the helmet with the perfect set of goggles. You’ll need several different lenses: day, night and jungle riding.
- High-quality dirt bike riding gloves. Even gloves from the adventure or MX aisles work very well and cost very little.
- A set of either dirt bike or adventure riding boots. These are different and the type you choose depends on your style of riding.
- The right clothing. Leave the jeans at home and invest in riding trousers and a quality jersey paired with elbow and knee pads
- If you value your spinal health and want to reduce the risk of quadriplegia then we recommend a neck brace.
You might also want to pack a quality backpack with a hydration bladder where you can also fit a puncture repair kit and some healthy snacks. Also, don’t forget the first-aid kit as you’re likely to crash and still injure yourself, despite your best intentions.
3. Join group trail bike rides
There is no reason for you to go on this new journey alone. There are many trial bike riding clubs where you can join an organized ride with experienced folk.
Many of them have what we call ‘sweep riders’ – essentially riders who stay at the back of the pack and ensure the slower riders aren’t left behind.
Not only will you make new friends, but you’ll also discover new riding spots and feel more confident knowing that there is the backup right then and there.
Our recommendation is that you choose the back of the pack. Let the group leader know that you’re new to offroad riding and you need to build confidence.
Everyone has been a beginner at some stage in their journey. They will respect your honesty and let other riders know to keep an eye out for you.
4. Own the apprentice title
Let’s face it – you’re going to crash. And you’re going to crash more than once too. You’re an apprentice and you’re learning to ride offroad which is different.
Instead of being frustrated, choose to own the title. From this place, you’re able to open your mind to the potential of getting better as a rider.
The best way to learn how to be a better rider experiences on the trails. The 2nd best way is YouTube and the many videos dedicated to skills development.
You could easily spend hours watching all the content here. But don’t get too far stuck down this rabbit hole as you also need to get on the bike and start practising.
5. Remember where you’re riding
Riding on the road is simple. You follow the signs and the road markings. As long as you stay within the speed limit then you won’t get into much trouble at all.
However, trail bike riding is different. You’re now offroad and sometimes on other people’s land. Look out for signs and leave livestock gates exactly as you found them.
Keep in mind that dirt bikes are loud and often cause track damage. Do your best to reduce this and slow down when passing houses and other offroad vehicles.
Every month key riding places are being shut down. This is unfortunate but it does happen, often due to irresponsible dirt bike rider behaviour. Respect these areas.
6. Get used to the sore body
When riding on the road, you almost go into a meditative state on long sections of the highway. This won’t happen on the dirt due to the rough road conditions.
Your body is going to get sore, so get used to it. Pack some muscle relief cream in your backpack if you’re doing a multi-day trail ride so you can get some relief.
A great recommendation is to stretch before and after each ride. Yes – you will look quite silly, but it saves your body from a world of pain and soreness.
7. Hydration is key
One of the key reasons that your body gets sore is a lack of hydration. It’s very popular for dirt bike and enduro riders to pack hydration tablets and CamelBaks.
You’ll want to focus on staying hydrated. While you will need to go to the toilet more often (typically behind the closest tree, even for women), you need to stay hydrated.
A lack of hydration leads to mental fogginess which impairs your riding ability. That same hydration can lead to sore bones and sickness after your ride.
Many trail riders like to have a beer or two after a hard day of riding. If you’re doing a multi-day ride, then keep this in mind and drink more water accordingly.
8. Pay for some lessons
While you do have your motorcycle licence, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you know how to ride properly offroad on fire trails and dirt bike tracks.
Our advice: Seek out motorbike schools that offer extra dirt bike skill development lessons. There are dozens out there that help you refine skills on the trail.
A 2-day course is likely going to cost $500 but will save you from damage to your new trail bike. Plus it will make you a better rider within organized group rides.
9. This ain’t MX so don’t start racing
Many newcomers make the mistake that motocross = trail riding. They are very different types of riding. Let’s explain…
|MX (Dirt Bike) Riding||Trail Bike Riding|
|Is done on a set circuit|
Focuses on lap times
Riders are very competitive
Dirt bikes are often 2-stroke
Jumps and wheelies are common
Bikes are almost always unregistered
The focus is on winning
|Can be done anywhere where it’s legally permitted (forest tracks etc)|
Focuses on having fun with a group of like-minded friends
Riders focus on skill development and simply finishing
Trail bikes are almost always quieter 4-stroke nowadays
Jumps and wheelies are only done by the most experienced riders
Most commonly they are registered for road use with mirrors and number plates
The focus is on getting home uninjured with no damage to the trail bike
For that reason, don’t go ballistic on a group ride to show off your skills. No one will really respect it and you may not be welcome back next time.
Instead, just focus on having fun and staying with the riding ability of the group. You can leave the racer-boy tactics at home for another time.
Starting today with trail bike riding
It’s pretty simple – get a small dirt bike to learn trail bike riding on initially. For many people, a 250cc 4-stroke road-registered trail bike is enough. Our recommendations are the Yamaha WR250R, Honda CRF250L and the KTM 250EXC.
From there, find some easy trails. Learn the basics then join a club for some group rides.
Most importantly – never stop learning and exploring the backcountry and many great trails!