All dirt bike riders, whether you’re a seasoned vet, or a brand new rider, have felt that itch. You need to buy a dirt bike, and you need to do it NOW. Now that you’ve identified the source of the “itch”, there are some questions you need to answer before you can realistically and safely buy a dirt bike without breaking your budget or your sanity.
What expenses are you going to have as a part of the “purchase package”? Where do you start? Where do I even find a dirt bike that fits within my budget, and while I’m thinking about it, what is my budget?
Figuring out the answers to those questions and establishing these principles, while being great for buying a new (or used) dirt bike, are also incredibly useful for any kind of purchase where you’re planning on spending a significant amount of money, or buying something mechanical that may need some “proofing”, to make sure you are actually going to be getting what you’re paying for.
What to Buy
Knowing your brands is a great way to get closer to an assurance that the purchase you are about to make is a semi-reliable one. Different bikes and brands have different “specialties” and reputations for reliability, and knowing what those are can save you from buying a used cheap knockoff that’s going to burn out the second you try to climb a hill with it.
While the brands I’m going to list most certainly aren’t the only brands available, they are well-known quality brands that should serve you well as long as you do your part when searching for a new bike.
|KTM||Lots of customization options, lightest in their class.|
|Husqvarna||Owned by KTM, very similar.|
|Yamaha||Made the first dirt bike in 1968, reliable and experienced.|
|Kawasaki||Reliable and cheap, don’t make many new 2 stroke bikes.|
|Honda||Strong, reliable engines, shifted focus to 4 stroke engines.|
- KTM – KTM has built a name for itself for good reasons.
With a seat that’s easy to remove and a VERY wide variety of bikes to choose from, it’s extremely easy to find a bike that fits YOU, if you’re willing to spend the time looking.
KTM bikes are very consistently the lightest bikes in their class and were the first bikes to have very easily removable air filters and seats.
- Husqvarna. This brand of bikes is actually owned by KTM, and they are different from one another, but they have enough similarities that I felt like they should be placed right next to KTM.
- Yamaha has been producing bikes for a VERY long time, and they most certainly know what they’re doing. With a VERY long-standing reputation when it comes to motorcycles and dirt bikes, they’re a safe bet. As the makers of the world’s first true “off-road motorcycle” in 1968, they have years upon years of experience and craftsmanship that goes into each of their products.
- Kawasaki has built itself up as the brand with the most reliable cheap bikes, while not compromising when it comes to quality. A downside to Kawasaki bikes? If you are looking for a newer model, you may not be able to find a two stroke Kawasaki that you like. They cut down on their two stroke production to focus more on four strokes.
Still make sure you check them out, as their bikes are more likely going to be in your two thousand dollar budget that you’re trying to keep, but be aware that if you’re looking for a newer two stroke, you may not be able to find one from this manufacturer.
- Honda. When it comes to small engines, Honda is the brand with the reputation you’re looking for. While their bikes may not be the most innovative out there, they are reliable, and they have a history of snatching up dirt bike racing titles to back them up. Honda is another manufacturer that has shifted it focuses more towards four stroke engines, so if that’s what you’re looking for, Honda may have produced just the bike for you!
When it all boils down to a final, solid answer, you are really just not going to find a good, solid bike for five hundred dollars or less, unless
1. You’re buying from a family member or friend who is going to give you an absolute steal of a deal, or
2. You’re buying a children’s dirt bike, possibly electric, in which case you still have a good chance of getting a decent bike for five hundred dollars or less.
Let’s just get this out of the way, if you think you’re going to be finding a good, NEW dirt bike for an adult in the ballpark of five hundred dollars or less, you should probably sit back, reevaluate, realize it isn’t going to happen, and decide to keep saving until you can afford to get a better dirt bike, which, unfortunately, is going to cost you more than five hundred dollars.
If you’re determined to try your hardest to find a dirt bike that you can purchase for five hundred dollars or less, here are, however, a few websites you can look at where you can look at used dirt bikes, and sort them by their listed price. For example, this website, Cycle Trader, allows you to look at bikes sorted by their price. It also lists information like whether or not you can make monthly payments, and other extremely useful answers to questions you may have.
For some unknowable, inexplicable reason, a number of websites that sell vehicles, like boats, cars, and you guessed it, dirt bikes(!), don’t actually list the prices of the product for sale, instead leaving a phone number for you to call in order for you to inquire about the product. In my introverted mind’s opinion is one of the worst possible things you could do if you are actually trying to sell something.
Here is a list of examples of the kind of adult bikes that you can get for $500.
|Bike||Price||Where to Buy|
|1. 2000 Baja||$500||Kijiji.ca|
|2. 1979 HONDA XLS 250||$500||Kijiji.ca|
|3. KTM 50 SX Senior||$500||Kijiji.ca|
|4. 1980 KAWASAKI KE 100||$500||Cycle Trader|
|5. 78 YAHAMA Two Stroke 90cc||$500||Craigslist|
Even though there are bikes out there for this price, let’s talk about the quality you will be purchasing.
These dirt bikes may or not be available by the time that you see them, because someone might snatch one up. But, the 1979 Honda XLS is 40 years old and has no picture, suggesting it is not in the best condition.
The Kawasaki has not been run for a year, but is listed on having had work done. The body has scratches and is in rough shape.
To say the least, these bikes are pretty old, run into the ground, and/or have problems running. Some of the other models for sale out there are going project bikes that require a lot of work. If you buy a bike for $500 or less, you are signing yourself up for A LOT.
This is where you may actually have some luck shopping for a new bike in your five hundred dollar range. Finding a decent children’s bike is as easy as a quick search on Amazon, or a couple calls to your local motorcycle or dirt bike dealers.
|Bike||Price||Where to Buy|
|1. 2019 Yuluan 50cc||$399||Cycle Trader|
|2. SSR SX50A 50cc||$439||Cycle Trader|
|3. 2019 SSR MOTORSPORTS SX50-A||$495||Cycle Trader|
|4. Razor MX350 Dirt Rocket Electric Motocross||$245.99||Amazon (here)|
|5. XtremepowerUS 49CC 2-Stroke Dirt Bike||$314.95||Amazon (here)|
Know Your Budget
With a title like “Best Dirt Bikes Under $500”, you’re probably wondering why I would bother including something like this in the article. Unfortunately, you have more expenses to consider than just the initial purchase price of the bike, and you need to figure out where that money is coming from.
For example, you are going to need to take the bike to a mechanic to have it checked out first, BEFORE you buy it, specifically if you are buying used. You’re going to need money to purchase parts and make repairs it’s probably going to need because if you’re buying a dirt bike for less than $500, there are going to be some things wrong with it.
You will need money for registration, licensing, and any other legal fees and purchases that exist in your specific area, which, by the way, is your responsibility to know, since they can change from county to county, state to state, etc.
This is more than likely the place you imagined that two five hundred dollars going when you were first planning on making this exciting purchase. Since the purchase of the bike itself is easily the main focus of the purchase, it’s completely understandable why you might have considered this to be the only part of the purchase you needed to think about when you were saving. But regardless of whether you’re buying new, or buying a used bike, there are those several other expenses you’re going to be making when you purchase a new (or new to you) dirt bike.
You need to have decided beforehand whether or not that money is going to be coming from your current two thousand dollar budget, or if that allotment is specifically for the purchase of the bike, and the other expenses will be coming from somewhere else. If you don’t make that distinction now, you may be hurting later on when things don’t go as planned, and you realize you’re short some cash.
Because of this, you are going to need to have decided before you make the purchase if the money to take care of those other expenses is going to be coming from the aforementioned five hundred dollar budget, or if that money is JUST for the purchase of the bike, and the money for everything else is coming from…. well, somewhere else.
As obnoxious as that sounds, you need to make that distinction now, and figure that out before you do anything else. If you don’t, you may end up either spending more than you have, or buying a bike that needs repairs in order to function. But, unfortunately, you can’t afford them, so it ends up sitting, just propped up next to your garage, an expensive monument to your incompetence and lack of foresight.
Getting The Bike Checked
SPECIFICALLY and especially if you are buying your dirt bike used, you really, really should have it checked out. Take it to a professional or certified mechanic, or even a knowledgeable family member or friend, but certainly by someone with a skill set and a current working knowledge of dirt bikes that can be trusted. If you trust yourself enough, I suppose you could do this on your own.
Buying a used dirt bike is generally either an amazing experience or a horrible one, depending on whether or not you go through with this step.
As unfortunate as it is, there are people out there who are going to try to take advantage of you and your possible lack of knowledge by selling you an inferior or damaged product that isn’t worth the price they’re trying to get you to pay. This isn’t the only reason you should have it checked out, however.
Not everyone is going to be out to get you, in fact, many people selling a used dirt bike may just be trying to make room in their garage and are willing to take a fair price. But you don’t know how long the bike may have been sitting in a secluded corner, or against the side of someone’s shed, and there may be problems with the bike that the owner just isn’t aware of, regardless of good or bad intentions.
Once you have a chance to look over the bike yourself and you decide you’d like to move forward, get permission from the owner to take the bike to that mechanic that you’ve picked and know you can trust. Or, if they don’t want you taking the bike, ask them to bring it to your mechanic. If they still refuse, thank them for their time, and walk away. Not wanting you to get their product checked out is never a good sign, and they’re probably hiding something (Hint: If the $500 dirt bike looks too good to be true, it probably is).
Depending on your relationship with the mechanic, the price of this “checkup” will vary, but it is most certainly an expense that should be made, so you have a better idea of what condition the bike is in BEFORE you buy it.
If you’re buying a new, children’s dirt bike, this section obviously won’t apply. But if you’re buying ANY kind of used dirt bike for anywhere near the realm of five hundred dollars, you REALLY should get it checked out BEFORE you buy it.
Like I mentioned before unless you’re getting a crazy deal from someone you know and trust, there are only a few reasons why anyone would be selling a dirt bike for around five hundred dollars, and they all probably have something to do with the condition of the bike.
The easiest way to avoid getting ripped off is to get the bike in question checked by a mechanic you trust before you purchase it. Don’t worry about offending the owner by asking if you can get the bike checked out. If they’re honest, they won’t be worried about it.
Know Your Mechanics
One of the absolutely KEY parts of this process is to have a mechanic you know and trust. YOU also need to know a little bit about dirt bike mechanics, in order to save yourself time and money.
I honestly can’t describe to you, or emphasize enough, how important it is to have a mechanic that you have a good relationship with. This could be a business or a family member or friend who knows what they’re doing.
This person or business needs to have a history of quality repairs, reliable repairmen, and an honest reputation or honest personal history between the two of you.
You need to know that the report you’re going to be given is honest and accurate, without the worry that you’re being lied to or taken advantage of. This is why it’s important to take the bike you’re interested into YOUR mechanic, instead of the mechanic that the owner of the bike goes to.
It also goes without saying that this is the first of many areas where you’re going to be putting money when it comes to the purchase of the dirt bike, that isn’t the direct purchase of the bike itself. This is a great example of the importance of mapping out your spending, making a budget for this purchase, and figuring out if the money for these other expenditures is going to come from your original five hundred dollars, or if it’s coming from somewhere else.
That’s right, YOU! You need to have some basic mechanical knowledge in order to save yourself money. Why, you ask? If you take EVERY bike you’re interested in to a mechanic, you’re going to be spending a lot of money on mechanic visits, money that you wouldn’t need to be spending if you had some beginner knowledge that you could use to “proof” the bike, and check some basic things to make sure it fits some important criteria before you take it to a mechanic.
Make sense? You’re essentially checking some surface things to make sure you aren’t wasting money getting the bike checked by someone you have to pay. If you can rule the bike out yourself, you won’t have to pay to get it ruled out. If it passes your test, you can take it to your trusted mechanic for the more in-depth “checkup”.
This isn’t a mechanical check, but it’s just as important!
Once you get to the owner’s house or garage where they’re selling the bike, take a look around.
Now please don’t misunderstand me or misinterpret what I’m saying, I’m definitely not telling you to snoop around and trespass, don’t do that. Just take a look around while you’re walking to the person’s front door or to their garage where their bike is.
While it most certainly isn’t a guarantee, sometimes you can get a general idea of how a person treated their bike based on the condition of things like their car, their yard, and their garage.
Is their garage clean, or at least organized? Is their yard fairly well taken care of? If you can see their car, does it look like they take decent care of it?
Again, this isn’t a foolproof system, but if someone is good at taking care of some things, chances are they’re going to be decent at taking care of other things.
This is the inspection that YOU are going to be giving the bike before you either decline the offer or decide to take it to your mechanic.
Let’s go over some of the things you should check!
Quick disclaimer, these are things that I personally think are important to check. They’ll give you a good idea as to the state of the integrity of the basic structure, frame, and a few clues as to the “health” of the engine, but if you have other things that you want to check, or know how to proof, by ALL means, check them. The more informed you are about your purchase, the better!
Start the Bike
First and foremost, check to see if the bike starts. If there’s no gas in the tank, don’t feel bad asking the owner to put some in so you can verify that the bike starts if he says it does. If the bike doesn’t start, and that’s something you want in a five hundred dollar purchase, you know right away that this probably isn’t the bike for you.
This, in my mind, is one of the most important things you can check on a used bike, ESPECIALLY if it’s under five hundred dollars, or anywhere near it.
Get permission from the owner, then go up to the bike and start giving it a very up-close inspection, specifically checking the welding on the frame.
Welding will generally only ever be cracked or otherwise ruined if the bike has gone under some extreme physical trauma or duress, like a bad crash, possibly getting run over by a car.
If the frame welding is cracked ANYWHERE, I would highly suggest thanking the owner for their time and leaving without the bike. Cracks in the frame indicate that the basic structural integrity of the bike has been compromised, and I would never buy a bike that I knew may just fall apart at any given moment, ESPECIALLY if it’s a bike that kids would be riding. Never buy a vehicle you can’t trust.
Could you buy it for parts? Absolutely. But I wouldn’t trust the frame of that bike as far as I could throw it.
Wheels are expensive. If you have to replace the wheels, that’s going to be a decent chunk out of your five hundred dollars.
Again, assuming you have permission from the owner of the bike, take a nice, close and personal look at the wheels. You can get a good idea of the kind of shape the bike is in by looking at the condition of the wheels. The first thing you should do is give the wheels a good manual spin, looking to see if they wobble, and have a smooth rotation.
Make sure to spin both the front and the back wheels. You’re going to be looking to see if the frames of the wheels are bent and if the wheels themselves are loose. You’ll be able to see if they’re loose if they wobble around when you spin them.
If the frames of the wheels are bent, you’re probably going to have to replace them, which is another expense you are going to have to consider, and it’s not a cheap one.
If the wheels are loose, that’s a good indicator of the kind of care that the original owner gave to it. If they didn’t bother tightening things up before you got there, they probably didn’t care about a lot of other things when it comes to the maintenance of the specific bike. Check the hubs as well. If the hubs are cracked, the bike has probably been in a crash, or has sustained some severe wear.
Check to make sure each wheel has all its spokes. If the wheels are missing spokes, you’re going to have to replace the tires, which, as I mentioned before, is not a cheap purchase, and almost always over $100.
Once you’ve verified that the spokes are there, see if they are bent, and grab and wiggle them. Bent and lose tire spokes are other great indicators of some kind of bike trauma, and lack of regular maintenance being performed on the bike, which can give you an idea of what kind of shape the engine and mechanical aspects of the bike are in.
Make sure that you don’t let yourself feel bad having such “small” things be deal-breakers when it comes to the purchase of the bike. Even if the five hundred dollars you’re spending does include the price of any repairs you’re going to be making to a run-down bike once you purchase it, that’s still a lot of money to be spending, and that’s not the kind of money you should drop because “you feel bad”, or “you’re worried about hurting someone’s feelings”.
Another good tell of whether or not regular maintenance has been performed on the bike (yes, there are a lot, and you should know them all), is the air filter. ALWAYS check the air filter. If the airbox and air filter are dirty, that tells you several things. Specifically, the owner didn’t bother to clean up the bike before he tried to sell it, which says a lot about how well he probably cared for the bike beforehand.
Check the Oil
Most bikes will either have a dipstick or a clear area where you can just see the oil levels without removing anything. Bare minimum, it should be at the marking for the least amount of oil allowable. Check to see how dark the oil is. If the oil is too dark, even if the levels are good, there’s a good chance the bike has been sitting for a while, and the oil has just been sitting, which is yet another sign of poor maintenance.
Now, this is one of those things that will work in some circumstances, and not in others. For example, two stroke vs four stroke bikes. If the bike is a two stroke, the oil gets mixed in with the fuel, in which case there won’t be oil levels to check.
However, if the bike has a four stroke engine, this is something you should most certainly check. If the bike has been recently or even semi-recently used, the oil levels should be a good indicator of the kind of care the owner gives to oil checks and refills. If the oil is low, there’s a chance that this could be a regular occurrence, in which case there are engine components that may need replacing, another repair you’re going to have to pay for (though this will obviously vary based on how long the bike has been sitting without being used).
Make SURE you check the chain, and the sprockets while you’re at it. Look for rust, loose links, and pins, anything that indicates less than optimal quality, or the likelihood of a new chain in the very near future.
Again, if you’re only wanting to spend around five hundred dollars on the bike, you’re not going to want to have to replace a whole lot, and it’s generally fairly easy to see if there has been any damage or bad wear to the chain.
Why NOT to Buy a Bike
Look, let’s be honest, there are a number of reasons you shouldn’t buy a $500 bike. Like I’ve mentioned before, you CAN find children’s bikes for under five hundred dollars and be safe. But if you’re looking for an adult’s bike, you’re REALLY going to need to be careful. While it is possible for you to find an adult’s dirt bike for five hundred dollars or less, it’s not probable that it will be a good purchase.
In addition to that, if talking about all the other places you were going to have to be putting your money was stressful, or made you realize that you weren’t going to have enough, don’t feel bad putting off your purchase. It’s much smarter to be financially stable and secure than it is to make an impulse purchase and lose money.
Regardless of what you decide, make sure you are responsible with your money, and do everything in a financially sustainable way.
Make sure you’re buying a dirt bike, not a money pit, and you’ll be just fine.