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When first venturing into the world of bikes with motors, you may be surprised at the number of different types at categories exist. Between motorcycles, dirt bikes, pit bikes, and others, the options and styles to fit your preferences can seem overwhelming. Let’s dive into the differences and some comparisons between dirt bikes and pit bikes, and hopefully, by the end of this, you’ll have a better idea of the kind of bike you’re meant to have.
Pit bikes are the smaller, generally less capable siblings of dirt bikes. Dirt bikes can be operated off-road, and have a higher speed threshold, however, pit bikes require less upkeep, and cost less to purchase and maintain.
Pit bikes are awesome little devices, but are they really all they are cracked up to be? And how do they really compare to dirt bikes?
Dirt bike engines come in two types, the two stroke engine, and the four stroke engine.
“Stroke” refers to the number of movements the piston makes inside the cylinder of the engine to complete an engine cycle. A two stroke engine, like the name suggests, takes two strokes, or movements, to complete an engine cycle. Because power is delivered on every stroke, dirt bikes with two stroke engines have a quicker rate of acceleration, which can make them harder to control, but makes them perfect for trails or tracks with tight turns.
Four stroke engines (can you guess what I’m about to say) take four piston movements to complete an engine cycle. Because the four stroke engine delivers power with every other stroke, the power delivered to the movement of the bike is more steady and reliable, making it less jumpy, easier to control, and more manageable on average.
Due to the method of power delivery, the four stroke dirt bike has a wider powerband, meaning it can be effective in the same gear for a wider range of speeds than a two stroke bike does. It also, on average, has a higher “top speed” than the two stroke bike, making it perfect for street riding, racing on more open tracks, and other scenarios where top speed is more important than a quick initial acceleration.
Dirt bikes are build to be able to handle and withstand a variety of terrain, from your average streets, to desert, mountain, and other types of off-road activities. With knobbier tires, an engine kept higher off the ground, and higher speed capabilities, dirt bikes are literally made with rougher terrain in mind.
With differences in models including engine type, manufacured top speed, and all the modifications you can make to the weight, body, speed, and shape of the dirt bike, the available capabilties of dirt bikes, while not limitless, are wide, making them a great choice for a variety of people, from the newest beginner, to the most grizzled veteran.
The height of the dirt bike is one of the things that makes is perfect for off roading. WIth an engine or body too low, you’re not going to be able to clear a number of the obstacles that you’re going to encounter on your average off road escapade. Not only can you damage the body of your bike if the bike itself is too low, but you can damage the engine and other mechanics of the bike, which can be expensive and time consuming to replace and repair.
When purchasing a bike, make sure you consider the kind of terrain you’re going to be using it on. If you’re going to be riding on roads and cleared trails, height won’t make much of a difference. If you’re going to be off roading and you’re not sure what your bike is going to have to handle from day to day,
The different kinds of upkeep your dirt bike is going to need will obviously depend on the brand of bike you purchase, but there are going to be some similarities.
Dirt bikes with four stroke engines are going to require maintinence less often, becasue the “work” the engine is doing is spread out through more parts. That being said, when it does need repairs or maintinence, it will more than likely be more expensive than repairs on a two stroke, because there will be more repairs needed.
Dirt bikes with two stroke engines require more upkeep than a dirt bike with a four stroke engine, since it works twice as hard, and the work is spread throughout fewer parts. Thankfully though, this is balanced out. Repairs on a two stroke engine are generally less expensive, and to top it off, because the engine itself is simpler, the repairs are easier to do, and the engine is easier to clean.
Dirt bikes will run in a wide range of prices, due to the variety of manufacturers and engines. For example, many used 250cc dirt bikes are sold by their owners for over $1,000, and that’s the price for them when you get them used. New 250cc dirt bikes can be found online closer to $2000 or more, which makes either purchase quite the financial commitment.
Pit bikes, for the most part, only come with a four-stroke engine. Why? I couldn’t tell you. There are definitely pro’s and cons to this, so we’ll just go over some of them.
- This bike is tiny (see height), why does it need a four stroke engine. They generally come in the 50-140cc range, and definitely don’t go over 250cc. Again, why the four stroke engine, a two stroke seems like it would be perfect.
- A four stroke engine will deliver a more reliable power output. Since pit bikes are smaller, and probably most often used by children and teenagers (unless you’re a racer), there’s a chance that making the bike more manageable was the point of making the small bike with a four stroke engine, and not the two stroke, which is slightly more volatile.
Pit bikes are not built at ALL for anything other than smooth trails, roads, and cleared tracks. Everything that matters when it comes to being able to off road, like correct tires, good suspension, reasonable height, pit bikes don’t really come with any of that. Can you make some adjustments to your pit bike and make it slightly more capable in those areas? Absolutely. But if you’re going to be spending all that money on upgrades to make your pit bike more like a dirt bike……why not just buy a dirt bike?
Pit bikes are short. They are little, they are small. I don’t know how else to put it. The average sized adult may be able to ride on and not be at the ultimate level of discomfort, but realistically, the best riders for these bikes are children, adolecents, and small adults.
Because pit bikes are short, they are at a huge disadvantage when it comes to riding off road. Which they shouldn’t. They’ll probably break.
Pit bikes are smaller, which means shorter, placing the engine closer to the ground. This makes it easier not only to damage the body of the bike but the engine as well, which you really don’t want to do.
One of the HUGE upsides to pit bikes is the ease of their upkeep. It’s so easy. So easy. And very inexpensive. For the most part, as long as you keep the filters clean, and the oil topped off, you’re not going to have a problem with your pit bike.
As long as you don’t try to take it off road and high center it on a rock.
Pit bikes start at much lower prices than dirt bikes, which really, is fair, because they’re much lower in general. To the ground. If you’re looking used, you can sometimes find them for a couple of hundred dollars, all the way up to new, which can still cost you upwards of a thousand dollars and more.
Pros and Cons
Now that you understand the basics of what separates pit bikes from the dirt bikes, let us go over some pros and cons of each of the models.
Pro – Cost
The lower price tag on a pit bike is probably its most obvious advantage over a full-size dirt bike. This isn’t to say that pit bikes are cheap – the best models tend to range from $800 to $2,000 or more. However, this is still significantly lower than the $2,000 to $5,000< price range for a good-quality dirt bike.
Con – Power/Speed
Dirt bike engines are simply more powerful than pit bike engines. Though some pit bikes come in models that have an engine size of as much as 250cc, the average pit bike engine falls somewhere between 50 and 150cc. Comparatively, dirt bikes rarely have an engine smaller than 125cc and are able to support something as big as 500cc.
Because of their size and weight, a pit bike engine also inevitably has less torque than that of a dirt bike. This means that even if you have a pit bike with a 250cc engine, you won’t get the same results in terms of power that you would on a dirt bike with the same engine size.
Lower power and torque means lower speed, which can be a major turn-off to some people.
Pro – Low Maintenance
For a lot of riders, one of the fun parts about owning a dirt bike is getting to do maintenance. However, the amount of maintenance required for a dirt bike is pretty time-consuming and can end up being a major drag, especially for someone who doesn’t have a whole lot of time to dedicate to riding their bike in the first place. Replacing and maintaining dirt bike parts is also pretty darn expensive – a new set of radiators, alone, will put you back a couple of hundred bucks every time.
One of the greatest things about pit bikes is that they don’t require nearly the amount of time and money to maintain. A brief disclaimer – this might not hold quite as true for the more powerful, more expensive models that blur the line between pit and dirt bikes, but your average pit bike really only needs a change of oil and a good clean of the air filter every now and then.
Of course, there are a few other basic things you’ll need to keep up on the same as you would for a full-size dirt bike, like lubing your chains and adjusting your tire pressure. For the most part, though, maintaining a pit bike is far less expensive and easier than maintaining a dirt bike. And less time in the garage equals more time actually riding your bike, right? I’d say that’s a double win!
Con – Off-roading
One of the things about pit bikes that riders find frustrating is that they can’t be ridden under the same conditions as full-size dirt bikes. Sure, pit bikes are technically classified as off-road vehicles, but that doesn’t mean the same thing as it does for dirt bikes.
You can take a dirt bike on practically any trail, cleared or uncleared, and ride over rocks and branches without giving them a second thought. Pit bikes, on the other hand, will take a lot of damage when ridden through rougher terrain and probably won’t even get very far. Remember, pit bikes don’t have the same amount of power and speed as dirt bikes. They won’t make it over a big obstacle, and they’ll likely stall in the middle of a seriously muddy stretch.
Pit bikes also have less protection for their engines and sit lower to the ground than full-size dirt bikes. That means that the same rocks that just bounce off of a dirt bike will beat up a pit bike pretty badly. Seriously, the best way to ruin your pit bike is to try riding it on an even slightly intense trail.
You can still take your pit bike out on smoother trails or ride it around the pits of a racing track. But if you want to do serious off-roading, a pit bike isn’t for you.
Pro – Backyard
Even though pit bikes aren’t all that great for trail riding, they have an advantage over full-size dirt bikes in that they can be ridden in more easily accessed places. The main one is your backyard. Or front yard, or side yard, or driveway – basically, if you don’t have time to load up your pit bike and drive out to a trail, you can still have fun without having to go anywhere.
If you are the type that wants to build a track in your back yard, then pit bikes might be a better option. A smaller track is fine for a pit bike, whereas a small dirt bike track would just be lame.
Con – Noise
The one drawback to riding around in your yard is the noise. Motorcycles are noisy, period, and pit bikes are no exception.
Neither, of course, are dirt bikes – there’s a reason that riders often have to add silencers to their bikes if they want them to be street legal. But if you aren’t interested in riding your bike around town, then noise isn’t an issue. When you’re out riding a trail or racing at a Motocross event, no one cares how loud your dirt bike is.
However, your neighbors will almost certainly care if you’re riding a noisy pit bike around your yard. This is especially true if you live in a suburb and don’t have a couple of acres between your house and the next to buffer the sound. If you want to mess around in your yard, you might have to get a silencer for your pit bike, and even if you do, don’t be surprised if your neighbors complain or give you the cold shoulder.
Pro – Easy Handling
One of the reasons pit bikes are so popular amongst beginning riders is because they’re easier to handle than full-size dirt bikes. For example, when you’re turning on a dirt bike, you have to adjust or lay off the gas entirely in the middle of the turn. This is a tricky thing to get the hang of and takes a lot of practice. On a pit bike, however, you can just keep the gas steady throughout the turn.
Because they’re easier to handle, you can learn to ride a pit bike pretty quickly – which means you can start having fun faster!
Con – Limited Performance
In truth, there just isn’t as much that you can do on a pit bike. You are very limited in how fast you can go and the hills that you can climb.
Pro – Skills
The skills that you learn on a pit bike will transfer over if you ever get a full-size dirt bike. This is one of the reasons a pit bike is such a great choice for anyone who is new to riding motorcycles or doesn’t want to commit to a full-size dirt bike just yet.
On a pit bike, a rider learns how to balance, turn, and operate the different grips and levers. He or she can also learn how to do some fun tricks, like jumps. These are the same things a rider would do on a dirt bike, just on a smaller scale.
That’s why a lot of experienced riders tend to look at pit bikes as the more fun, more versatile training wheels of the dirt bike world. And as you probably know from learning to ride a regular bicycle, training wheels can be useful.
Con – Reputation
When it comes to pit bikes and the dirt bike community, the drawback to the whole “training wheels” idea is that – well, pit bikes are sometimes seen solely as only being training wheels.
Even though pit bike racing is a reputable, well-recognized sport, and regardless of the fact that there exists an increasing number of adult pit bike enthusiasts who champion both the sport and bike, the general attitude towards pit bikes isn’t necessarily supportive.
The fact remains that pit bike racing is most commonly a sport for teens and children, and the majority of pit bikes are designed for adolescents.
If you’re an adult who’s excited about becoming part of the dirt bike community, bear in mind that riding a pit bike won’t exactly get you a lot of “street cred”.
Don’t get me wrong, dirt bike owners are usually super cool and encouraging to new riders, no matter what kind of bike they have! Especially if you’re new to the world of motorcycles, other riders will probably be completely understanding.
However when all things are considered, if you plan on just owning a pit bike, you won’t be able to participate fully in the dirt bike lifestyle and community. Other, well-intentioned riders will likely encourage you to get a full-size dirt bike instead, which in reality, will open up more experiences and opportunities for you than the world of pit bikes has to offer.
Pro – Laid-back
One nice thing about pit bikes is that they make for a much more laid-back lifestyle. Dirt biking is pretty much a whole different word, and often, a very intense one. Even though the community is generally pretty fun and supportive, there’s sometimes a lot of pressure and competition within it. Plus, riding a dirt bike as a whole is just a generally intense experience.
Owning a pit bike is a bit of a different story, probably because there aren’t as many serious adult pit bike riders. Riding a pit bike is also a more relaxed, even leisurely, experience, especially if you’re just messing around in your driveway. For a lot of people, the laid-back aspect of pit bikes is a major plus.
Con – Not As Aggressive
All that being said, if you’re excited about the competition of dirt biking, or enjoy the general intensity of riding a dirt bike, a pit bike would be disappointing. Pit bike riders can’t participate in Motocross, of course, and that different, more relaxed feeling that comes with riding a pit bike just isn’t the same.
Riding a dirt bike gives you more of an adrenaline rush; it’s more exciting, more risky, and far more aggressive. You simply won’t get that from riding a pit bike, or at least not at nearly the same level, so it’s important to consider the kind of experience that you want before you make your decision, and make a purchase.
Pro – Less Of A Commitment
Getting into dirt biking is a huge commitment. The cost of the actual bike, plus the cost of all the add-ons and gear, the hours of constant maintenance, the events, the community – it can add up to a lot of time and expense.
Of course, if you have the cash and free time, it’s incredibly rewarding. But what if you don’t have several hours every weekend to commit to riding and maintaining a dirt bike? Or what if you’ve never ridden one before and don’t know if you’ll actually end up loving it as much as you think you will? If you’re anything like me, you probably don’t want to drop a few thousand dollars on a toy that’ll end up collecting dust in your garage.
That’s where a pit bike is such a great option. You can still have a ton of fun riding it, but it’s a much easier commitment as far as time and money go, especially if you want to get your feet wet before diving into dirt biking all the way.
Con – Size
Unfortunately, because pit bikes typically run pretty small, they’re just not a great choice for some people. In order for a rider to be safe and comfortable, he or she needs to get a bike that is the right size for his or her height and weight. Engine power and frame size are both important factors to consider, and sometimes, that means a pit bike just won’t work.
The small size of a pit bike’s frame and the engine is generally geared towards adolescents. That means that adults with smaller frames, especially women or people under five and a half feet, might find that a pit bike works beautifully for them. But someone with a bigger frame might need to either do a lot of upgrading on their pit bike or just skip it and buy a full-size dirt bike, instead.
Pro – Pit Bike Racing
The reason the pit bikes exist is because pit bike racing is so dang fun. There is something about racing in such close quarters with other riders that makes these little bikes so much fun, and you can’t do that safely with a full-sized dirt bike.
Con – Fewer Options
There are so many dirt bikes out there, and that is great for everybody that wants to buy one. The issue with pit bikes is that there really aren’t that many different pit bikes out there. There are a few popular bikes, but they don’t differ from each other very much.
Pro – Safety
Because pit bikes are slower and meant to be ridden on smoother terrains, they’re generally safer than full-size dirt bikes. That doesn’t mean that you’ll never crash or get hurt on one – you almost certainly will – but your chances of getting into a truly serious crash are pretty slim. You’ll also likely crash a lot less often. Plus, the kinds of injuries that result from pit bike crashes are usually not much more than minor scrapes and bruises.
Con – Durability
Pit bikes are small, and small parts tend to break easy. These bikes are super fun, but they may not last as long as you want them to.
Pro – Less Extra Gear
Dirt bike owners have to buy a lot of extra add-ons and gear – rad guards, gas cans, heavy-duty tubes and even more. Pit bikes riding is simpler and limited, meaning you need less gear to maintain and get going on a pit bike.
Con – Can Get Boring
After a while, riders often find that their pit bike just isn’t as fun as it used to be. Maybe this is because a rider wants more speed, or more intensity, or he or she decides they want to start riding serious trails. Whatever the reason, pit bikes can become boring after a while where dirt bikes don’t.
If you’re planning on a buying a pit bike, be aware that there’s a very good chance you’ll want to upgrade to a full-size dirt bike later on, even if you don’t want one right now. Because this means buying two different vehicles, you may want to consider whether it’s worth it to you to get a pit bike in the first place.
Pro – Fun For Everyone
The good thing, though, is that pit bikes really are fun for everyone. They’re a great beginner option for those who are novices to either all motorcycles or just dirt bikes, they’re super fun for kids and teens, and they’re even fun for experienced riders who can’t have a full-size dirt bike for whatever reason.