Thinking of getting into trail riding but you’ve never done it or maybe you’re no spring chicken anymore? Well screw both spring and chickens, you definitely should get amongst it and if you’re starting from scratch here’s a few simple tips to help you on your way while not ripping the guts out of your wallet.
BUY A BIKE
It’s impossible to go riding without a bike. If you didn’t know that already you might want to assess your critical reasoning. Buying a bike without prior knowledge of the market is not all that simple a task though, with so many choices and so many opinions assaulting you at the dealers’ and on the internet.
The first rule of buying a bike is set a budget. This is important because this sport is not cheap and you can blow your whole wad on a bike and then have nothing left to get the rest of your gear with. New bikes start from about $8000 and head north of $14,000 while second-hand can be at least half both those figures.
If you have someone you can trust to look over a second hand bike then a used machine is a good option to get started with. There’s no reason to go find the flashiest, fastest bike in the land. If you haven’t done this before a powerful, modern bike will put you on your arse time and time again or worse. A 250 four-stroke is a great option and it’s a class that offers up bikes that can be used as commuters such as the Kawasaki KLX250, Honda CRF250L, Suzuki DR-Z250 or Yamaha WR250R which each have key starts so they’re safer to leave parked, or more dedicated bush models like Yamaha’s WR250F or KTM’s 250 EXC-F which are more aggressive and toughened-up for offroad, but offer less comfort overall and aren’t good commuters.
We’d recommend having a close look at the KLX, CRF-L, DR-Z and WR-R first. They’re cheaper than the race-bread bikes and more versatile for everyday use as well as putting out a milder power that’s easier to handle. They also have lower seat heights which makes it easier to touch the ground, somethings that’s invaluable when learning to ride.
If you’re a bigger unit and a 250F is just too small, have a look at the Suzuki DR-Z400 and Kawasaki KLX450 for excellent value bikes that aren’t too expensive but offer that extra grunt needed. KTM has a great 250 two-stroke that can be ridden by beginners and advanced riders alike. New 250 EXCs are getting expensive but you can still pick-up older Katos at good prices. We’ll go into the two-stroke vs four-stroke thing in soon.
Another good thing about the bikes mentioned is that they’re all reliable and you can pick-up top quality second-hand deals pretty cheaply and expect years of service. I just did a quick search and there are clean KLX450s going for around $4500 and less but if you budget for up to $5000 – $6000 you’ll be able to find a solid used bike. Keep in mind though that the DR-Z250 is $7,990 ride away so if you prefer new then there are options that don’t set your wallet on fire.
Another good point on the 250’s side is that they’re cheaper to register and maintain.
Check manufacturer’s websites for what are fairly regular sales and different schemes that bring the new bike prices down or should it take your fancy enquire at your locals dealer about financing, which most manufactures now handle in-house at pretty impressive rates.
Don’t buy a shit helmet. If you’re not fully aware of how this sport works, let me assure you that you will crash and you will hit your head. If you’ve never done anything like this it might come as a shock but we all hurt ourselves, some more than others, some worse than others but you don’t need to be going fast to end-up pretty munted. My dad’s been riding for 1000 years and his worst injury came when he was doing about 15 kilometres-an-hour and fell on a pointed rock that went into his ribs. The ground does mean things to you when you hit it – it has exactly zero empathy for you.
Arms get better, ribs mend but brains and skulls should not be messed with. We do not recommend buying a second-hand helmet and in fact the second largest purchase after the bike should be a brand new helmet. A good dealer can point you in the right direction but brands like M2R, Fox, FLY and even Airoh have great helmets at around the $200 price point.
Boots – you need them – 100 per cent you need them. In general cheap boots from major brands will probably protect you just fine at the more sedate beginner’s pace but they may feel stiff and not all that comfortable. Expensive boots will protect you the most but with models like the Sidi Crossfire 2 they are also so comfortable you’d wear then to the pub for a schnitty with the misses.
For around $200 you can get a set of Fly or Thor boots that we’d trust but if you have some extra coin we’d look at the Fox Comp 5 at $300 or Alpinestars Tech 7 at about $469. Boots go right up to pass the $800 mark at which point the Sidis are our favourite but this being you’re first run in the bush we get that sort of budget might not be available.
Don’t ride with work boots on. Riding boots protect your shin and calf as well as support your ankle in ways a work boot does not. Laces are not a great thing to have flapping about and a shoe-mounted steel toe cap is a really bad idea. Riding boots are made through rigorous development and improvement while work boots are made for work sites and to provide comfort during a work day. We see this too often. Don’t wear work boots.
Get knee guards. As the old saying goes it’s all about dressing for the crash, not the ride. Often the first things to hit something hard are your hands and your knees and when you’re talking about $40 for a set of guards vs excruciating pain then we’ll give up the $40 every time.
A gear set, which includes a jersey, pants and gloves is preferable to riding with jeans and a flano because proper gear is made to withstand the rigours of offroad riding while offering a degree of safety and the design is heavy with comfort in mind in variable conditions. It’s better to slide five metres on the ground in riding pants than in jeans from Big W unless you’re not all that attached to your skin.
We went shopping again and found that at less than $200 you can get excellent quality gear sets from Thor, Shift and Fly Racing. We’ve worn all that stuff and can vouch for its worth and in particular we’ve spent a lot of time on Thor and Fly and love it. When it comes to gloves our favourite of the least expensive picks is the Thor Spectrum gloves at $40. Fly and Fox also do good gloves at lower price point but overall gloves aren’t that expensive and they aren’t a negotiable item – you have to have them. Keep in mind though if you are commuting on the bike during the week that offroad gloves are three-fifths of friggin’ useless on the road should you hit the deck at speed. Get proper road gloves or crossover adventure versions for the mid-week riding.
Goggles are another must-have item. Just don’t even argue with us on this one, just bust out at least $50 for a set of Thor, Dragons or Progrips. You can’t ride if you can’t see and dust is a part of riding. More dramatically, you can’t ride if you can’t see because a rock or tree branch gauges your eye. If you can stretch it a little further than the $70-$80 mark has some top notch goggles that will last longer, resist scratching and fogging more and often fit better with an improved frame and outrigger design. Safety goggles from Bunnings won’t cut it. They don’t keep out dust and a solid hit and they get knocked off or away from your eyes which kind of defeats the purpose. Look after your goggles between each ride and they’ll last for ages.
You’re going to want to carry all this stuff you’ve bought around in something so a gearbag is on the list too and believe us; your gearbag gets treated like shit so you want something with a decent build quality. Gearbags can be crazy expensive but a good starting point is the Acerbis Cargo for $99.95. From there on we really like the Thor and Fox gearbags and have put a zillion miles on them. One good tip is that if you’re planning a ride that involves a trip to the airport and a flight – but a gearbag with wheels. They cost more but it’s worth it.
WANTS OR NEEDS
OK so now you’ve got a bike and the gear you need to have are we done? Nope not quite, there are some things you can get but don’t necessarily need to have to go riding.
Let’s start with the neck brace. We like riding with a neck brace and we reckon kids should wear them always, but they’re expensive for adults and that alone may turn some people off. You can cut costs by buying a neck roll but we’re not sure how effective they really are. Our recommendation would be to look at the Atlas which is cheaper than some and one we trust through use. It’s comfortable and light and if it does the job it’s designed to do just once then it’s worth its weight in gold. Keep in mind some riders prefer not to wear a neck brace because it can restrict head movement and also because they can put pressure on its resting areas in an impact. A lot of these complaints come from older brace models, but they are still true to an extent.
Elbow guards are often overlooked but you won’t meet a rider that hasn’t smashed their elbow at some point. They can be a bit uncomfortable for some but they don’t costs too much so we’d recommend the Shift Enforcer guards for $30 or the Thor Static guards which are compression fitted rather than straps for $40.
Body armour is a good choice for either the beginner or the pro. A chest protector is a good option but for riding in the bush you want to protect more than just the chest and back so this is where things like the Alpinestars Bionic Action protection suit come into play. For $200 you’ll get a one piece top with chest, back, shoulder, elbow and forearm padding. Fox and Thor have similar products for just a little more but remember if you’re looking at buying an all-in-one suit like this as well as a neck brace, you need to know the neck brace will fit in so buy it all at the same time to be sure.
A riding jacket is a good piece of kit through the colder months they aren’t as expensive as they used to be so it’s not a killer purchase anymore. A good one will last for years anyway. As a starting point we like the Ballards Enduro jacket with removable sleeves (always choose removable sleeves), or the Fox Legion vest which you can get for less than $200. Or for a little more, Thor’s Range jacket for around $250.
We don’t ride without knee braces but we understand that they aren’t cheap for someone just getting into the sport. We recommend having a look at the brilliant, Australian designed POD brace range – you’ll never regret it.
Without going into a deep engineering dissertation on the differences between two-strokes and four-strokes, which will just cause deep fractures in the readership and call forth the anguished cries of those who take one side over another, let us begin by saying, we love both and we’d rather try and push wet spaghetti up a cat’s arse than take on this argument again.
This is a feature written for those looking to get into dirtbikes and at the beginner level it’s a somewhat clearer story nowadays so we’ll leave the endless bickering behind for a moment and present to you the fact that a 250 four-stroke is one of the easiest bikes for an adult to ride or to learn how to ride. The milder kind – the KLX, CRF-L, WR-R and DR-Z are very easy to ride and to live with. The more aggressive kind, the WR-F and EXC-F are more exciting but also still manageable at an entry level for an adult with any amount of muscle mass, but they aren’t as easy to learn on as the aforementioned Kawi and Suzuki.
If we are to then look at the two-stroke, then we recommend a good used KTM 200 EXC, which was a brilliant bike that was recently taken out of production. Gas Gas has a 200 coming and we can’t wait for that good thing. 125s are fun and Sherco has a one on offer but they aren’t actually easy to ride without knowing how to keep the power fed-on at all times. A 250 is a good option – it’ll be far more aggressive than say, a KLX, and the new bike prices are getting really high, but as a used bike a 250 two-stroke will get through the learning stage with a few more thrills and no doubt spills and be a good bike for a long time after that.
You gotta have some level of fitness to ride a dirtbike. It’s just a shitty, punishing and brutal exercise if you don’t. You don’t have to be Olympic fit but if you get out of breath pushing out a fart then a day on a dirtbike will be hell.
To the uninitiated, it apparently looks easy. The bike is doing everything and you’re just sitting there steering it. The uninitiated are idiots.
Riding is physical work that doesn’t really relent. You can have sections that are easier than others but once you venture off dirt roads in to actually tracks then the assault and battery never stops and the degree to which it reaches depends on the difficulty of the trail and the pace you attack it at. As a newby you’ll be mostly on smoother surfaces and the fitness will come into play with hanging on under acceleration and keeping composure under braking and constantly wrestling the front wheel into line, as well as dealing with regularly bracing for impact or picking up the bike after a fall – this is an inevitability. It gets tiring and if you aren’t up for it sucks the fun out of it. Even seasoned riders know it takes no time to lose ride fitness and the only way to get it back it to ride. Same with a novice – ride more and it gets easier and easier. It’s a great form of exercise for your body and your brain and if you can start with just the best level of fitness you can then that starting phase is made a lot easier.
You may have noticed Yamaha has two bikes that sound a lot alike. The WR250R and WR250F are in fact very different bikes but if you’re new to this it can be easy to get confused. The WR250R is the less aggressive of the two and was built more as a dual purpose bike than a straight race winner like the WR250F is.
DON’T GO TOO BIG
Don’t be sucked into buying a larger capacity bike straight away. There’s no need for a new rider to have anything to do with a 300cc two-stroke or a 450/500 four-stroke. These bikes are performance based and have less of a focus on comfort and versatility. They’re also a fair bit more expensive and as the theme of this piece is keeping the costs down to get started – we recommend keeping away from the bigger bikes till you’re more experienced.
SEE THE BEST
You know what’s super inspiring? Seeing the pros ride. No matter what level you are, watching the best do their thing just makes you want to go out and ride. Go to an AORC round and see how they do it and make the effort to speak to them while you’re there. One of the best things about this sport, as opposed to motocross, is that the riders are mostly approachable. You can walk up to some of the best offroad riders in the world in this country and have a chat, get some advice and walk away pumped to be a part of it all.
DON’T SWEAT THE SHITTER
If the only bike you can afford is a bit shit, who cares? The amount of money you have doesn’t mean a damn thing – getting amongst it is all it’s about. Avoid excessively loud exhausts and don’t ride illegally around suburban areas – that’s two good guidelines. But if you’re in the bush on a beat-up XR250 because that’s all you could afford then have at it! Have as much fun as you can possibly pack in and go home stoked.
YOU GOT A FRIEND
Don’t ride alone. Ride with mates because if the worst happens you want people around you that can help. You ride off somewhere that nobody knows about and break your leg, it’s going to be a long painful process dealing with that. If you absolutely can’t ride with someone then choose a place a mate knows about and tell him you’ll be there till a certain time. Check in every now and then and most importantly when you’re done. If there’s no word then at least he can come find you but this isn’t a great system. We strongly recommend always riding with someone else.