Dirt Bike vs Motorcycle: 2021 Guide to the Similarities and Differences

Troy
| Last Updated: March 14, 2021

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Upon comparing a dirt bike vs. motorcycle, it’s evident that they’re strikingly similar in appearance. After all, they are both two-wheeled motorcycles.

Hybrid-style bikes also begin to blur the distinctions and lines between street motorcycles and dirt bikes.

With that being said, we’ll explore the ins and outs of various aspects that differentiate dirt bike vs. motorcycle, including the materials, construction, and design, to permit an informed decision. Read on!

What is a Dirt Bike and When Would I Use One?

If you find yourself staring out windows at the landscape, dreaming of the adrenaline rush of tackling the dirt patches and hills, then a dirt bike may be right up your alley. In a nutshell, it’s a type of motorcycle that is designed with off-road riding in mind.

The first dirt bike penetrated the market in 1914 courtesy of an inventor known as Siegfried Bettmann. He was the first man to take the motorcycles that were already in the market and customize them for off-road use. However, his invention didn’t gain traction until the 1950s when Honda began manufacturing and bringing them to the market.

Photo Credit: CycleWorld.com

While dirt bikes lack the mirrors, headlights, and brake lights that a dual-sport would have, the upside is that they don’t demand a unique license because of this. Moreover, they have small gas tanks, stiff suspension, shorter wheelbase, and small engines to help riders move through trails and soar over jumps with little to no impact on their bones or spine.

The average top speed for an adult dirt bike is 92.3 miles per hour, whereas that of a child’s bike is 37.3 miles per hour. While an adult dirt bike's average weight is about 215 pounds, this isn’t cast in stone. Newer models are usually lighter than their predecessors.

Types of Dirt Bikes

Here’s a breakdown of the various categories of dirt bikes.

Motocross

Built with racing in closed-course competition in mind, a motocross bike utilizes a single-cylinder engine that is meant for fast speeds. Its suspension system has the uncanny ability to handle rapid acceleration and jumps needed on a motocross track.

Enduro

While it closely resembles the motocross bikes, an Enduro is designed to serve a different purpose. It shines through in longer races with a lighter frame that are a combination of off-road and street racing through rough terrain.

Dual-Sport

Armed with speedometers, headlights, mirrors, and turn signals, dual-sport dirt bikes are street legal. They are designed to provide better performance on rough terrain compared to a street bike and be ridden over asphalt or dirt surfaces. Dual-sport bikes are also significantly quieter and smoother than dirt bikes on asphalt surfaces.

Trail Rider

These are built to handle long rides through the roughest terrain. However, it’s worth noting that trail riders are not built for high-speed racing, as is the case with the motocross counterparts, and don’t jump well.

While they closely resemble Enduro bikes, the foot-pegs are situated in a more natural position to permit more comfortable rides. The handlebars are also placed higher for easier maneuvering at slow speeds. 

What Is a Motorcycle and When Would I Use One?

Typically known as a cycle, motorbike, or bike, a motorcycle is simply a three or two-wheeled motor vehicle. It varies greatly to accommodate a vast assortment of purposes ranging from daily commutes, off-road rides, long-distance travels, leisure cruises, and sports racing.

Its history dates back to 1885, when the first petroleum-fueled, internal combustion motorcycle, known as the Daimler Reitwagen.

It was invented in Bad Cannstatt, Germany, courtesy of two German inventors, Wilhelm Maybach and Gottlieb Daimler. Motorcycles have an average speed of 300km per hour or 186 mph and usually weigh about 600 pounds (275 kg). 

Dirt Bike vs Motorcycle Similarities and Differences

In the next section, we will explore some of the similarities and differences there are between dirt bikes and motorcycles. We will break these similarities and differences down into sections to give you a complete picture.

Dirt Bike vs. Motorcycle: Similarities

While they differ in various aspects, below are the similarities between a dirt bike and motorcycle.

Suspension

Both are designed with a shock absorber, also known as a suspension. It’s what makes dirt bikes and motorcycles stand erect as they soak up the holes and bumps on the roads. Motorcycles and dirt bikes integrate hydraulic disc suspension systems that are geared for riding ambiances.

Engine

Both are armed with 2-stroke or 4-stroke engines with variations in the unit’s fuel injection, cooling, construction, and cylinders.

Geometry

Both have a frame and two-wheel geometry designs for enhanced rider balance, stability, and aerodynamic efficiency.

High Command

Riding motorcycles and dirt bikes call for a high command of the vehicle’s confidence, control, mechanics, judgment, and visibility.

Simultaneous Operations

Motorcycles and dirt bikes function on the concurrent applications of controls that range from the throttle, clutch, and shift lever to braking.

Honed Skills

Dirt bikes and motorcycles go a long way in sharpening a rider’s skills on the clutch's friction area, braking, tire sliding, lean angles, throttle control, and razor-sharp lifting for street racing. 

Dirt Bike vs. Motorcycle: Differences

Now that you know the similarities, let’s delve into the differences between motorcycles and dirt bikes.

Seat Position

It varies from one motorcycle to another. Low-rider positions with forward-facing seating positions coupled with high handlebars are relatively common. They are usually found on heavy bikes designed for cruising on highways, whereas the forward positions are built with speed riding in mind.

The dirt bike seating position has a low set of handlebars and is usually leaned forward. The position is perfect for optimum control and visibility.

Tires

For enhanced traction, you’ll notice the tires on dirt bikes are studded with extra tread. Moreover, they are narrow to permit quick and easy maneuvering.

Contrarily, motorcycle tires are slick and wide as the needs for traction become more minimal. The broad tires permit a smooth ride and aid the bike in firmly gripping the road for increased ride stability.

Size

Dirt bikes are conventionally smaller than motorcycles. They are more compact with narrower seats and smaller frames. Unlike motorcycles, dirt bikes lack accessories such as GPS systems and stereos that build up the bike's overall size.

While motorcycles are typically made of metal, dirt bikes are typically constructed from plastic to maintain their lightweight nature. Furthermore, motorcycles have not only wider seats but also a heavier engine. They are designed for better comfort during long rides as opposed to short jaunts over rugged terrain.

Frame

Motorcycles have heavier and larger frames than dirt bikes. The lighter and smaller frame of a dirt bike allows a rider to easily maneuver through valleys, hills, and other rough conditions and jump quickly.

It’s easy to control and manipulate the light frame, more so than the heavier frames of motorcycles designed to be aesthetically pleasing and to ride smoothly. Their metal construction isn’t as easy to manipulate. However, it ushers in smoother rides and steady control through different road conditions.

Price

When it comes to cost, dirt bikes are considerably cheaper than motorcycles. The best dirt bikes sold by reputable brands cost anywhere between $8000 and $9000 for new models. Used bikes depreciate by about $1000 for each year of their age.

For instance, a new 2015 dirt bike worth about $8000 then would set you back by $4000 or so if you purchased it now, depending on how well the previous owner took care of it.

The cost of a motorcycle can vary. However, if you’re in the market for a new one that’s ideal for beginners, then you may spend anywhere between $5000 and $10,000. 

Top Pick Between Dirt Bike and Motorcycle

Ultimately, the better option boils down to the purpose and your preference. For instance, when it comes to suspension, motorcycles are built to absorb the shock of the minor imperfections you’ll find on paved roads, ranging from potholes and short curbs to raised pavement.

On the other hand, dirt bikes, built for off-road rides, can easily absorb all the shock as their suspension travel is superior to motorcycles by more than 12 inches.

Regarding the tires, dirt bikes deliver the best traction when riding at high speed on irregular trails. Their tires have deep and large points between the various knobs on the surface, making it a breeze for them to maneuver through snow, sand, and gravel.

Furthermore, the knobs aid in clawing while riding in the dirt, mud, or sand. Motorcycle tires are rounder and smoother with a more even surface, and the spaces are not as wide or deep as those on a dirt bike. As a result, they cannot deliver the required traction as a dirt bike would.

Motorcycles humble dirt bikes as far as speed is concerned. Built to conveniently cruise at normal freeway speed, motorcycles can soar to high speeds when a rider generously steps on the gas. Contrarily, dirt bikes are designed to deliver optimum torque application even in lower gears, which ultimately means lower speed. 

Conclusion

The adventures of riding a motorcycle on dirt roads and highways are as different as day and night. Therefore, it's no surprise that the same laws of physics apply in the construction of a dirt bike vs. motorcycle, whereby they are optimized differently to suit the terrains on which they are used.

Remember, each bike is good for what it’s worth. Therefore, the ball is in your court to figure out where you’ll be riding to find the model that best suits your needs. 

People Also Ask

We’ve rounded up answers to a few of the most commonly asked questions when it comes to the question of dirt bike vs motorcycle.

Are Dirt Bikes Safer Than Motorcycles?

Yes! While you’re more likely to incur minor injuries on a dirt bike off-road, the chances of dying in a motorcycle accident are higher due to the accelerated speeds on smooth roads. 

Are Dirt Bikes High Maintenance?

Yes! A dirt bike demands more maintenance than a motorcycle as you’ll be sending the top end off for replacement and replacing the pistons after every few hundred hours. 

How Many Volts Is a Motorcycle Battery?

A healthy 12V motorcycle battery has the uncanny ability to maintain a range from 9.5V to 10.5V under the load, continuously, for up to 30 seconds. The voltage should never drop to zero. 

What Size Dirt Bike Should I Get? 

To determine the best dirt bike size for you, consider the engine displacement and seat height. Adult-sized bikes have taller seats ranging from 35 to 38 inches with an engine displacement of 230cc to 450cc. A kid-sized bike has a seat height of 18 to 34 inches and an engine displacement of 50cc to 150cc. 

Is a Dirt Bike a Motorcycle?

Yes! It’s a type of motorcycle that is designed for off-road rides. 

Can You Drive a Dirt Bike On The Road?

Yes, you can, as long as you don’t break the dirt bike state laws and requirements

What Does CC Mean In Dirt Bikes? 

It’s an acronym for cubic centimeters and indicates the capacity of the combustion cylinders found in dirt bikes. CC is an integral component of the engine whose main role is to provide power to the rider.

Troy

Hi, my name’s Troy. I started riding motorcycles with Clay mid-2020 and soaking up his vast knowledge of bikes. I have been writing for a few years and decided it was a good time to start writing about what I’m passionate about - motorcycles. No matter how bad your day is, a bike will always make you feel better, that’s my motto.