Small Dirt Bikes

(This is based on a posting I made a few years ago to, in response to a woman who was trying to decide which bike to buy, and a 5'8" XR80 rider who responded to her.)

I'm 5'2", 125 lbs. My first dirt bike was an '82 XR200R, which I bought because absolutely everybody told me it was the perfect first dirt bike for someone my size. I didn't like it much, partly because it was too tall for me. It would be fine for street or light dirt riding, but it was tough to do anything technical, because I couldn't put my foot down in a slide, I couldn't easily kick-start it on a hill or on a rutted surface, I couldn't shift my weight enough to make much difference in traction on up/downhills, etc.

So despite the fact that absolutely everyone has been telling me that 80cc motocrossers make lousy trail bikes, I bought a '91 RM80. For me, this bike is the right solution. It solves all the problems I had with the XR200, it has better steering, better brakes, it's nearly 100 lbs lighter, and I have no problem putting a foot down. It has, if anything, more power than the XR200, though it's more difficult to ride since, being a 2-stroke, it's more picky about throttle application.

I considered an XR100, but I consider them a little too small and soft and way underpowered as far as keeping up with friends on trails. I had a chance to ride one recently, back to back with my RM80, thanks to Honda of Milpitas's loaner dirt bikes at the last DocWong dirt clinic at Clear Creek; it was a fun, stable, easy to ride bike, but it didn't have the power I want for trail riding, or the suspension (with my weight -- it may work fine for a lighter rider) for rough trails. I do understand now why people have such fun flat-track-racing XR100's, though.

There's a huge gap in size between the XR100/80cc motocross bikes and the XR200/IT175 mini enduro/125cc motocross bikes. There's very little available in that in-between size range, though there are a few DP bikes that fit there (the Yamaha XT 225, previously known as the Serow, the Suzuki DR125 and DR200, and the Honda NX250). These DP bikes are quite a bit more expensive than dirt bikes, alas.

I should stress that just because I am not particularly comfortable on my XR200 does not mean that a short person can not ride a much bigger bike. I know plenty of people shorter than I am who happily rides bikes much taller and more unweildy than an XR. Likewise, tall people can be happy on an XR80. People's tastes, flexibility, and balance differ. So go to some dealers, and sit on their dirt bikes, and see what feels right to you. If you swing a leg over the XR250 and immediately feel panic, like "Oh, no, I'm going to tip this thing over as soon as I push it off the sidestand", or perhaps a distasteful feeling more like "Ew, this bike is just WAY bigger and heavier than it needs to be," then, well, that feeling is probably going to take a long time to go away, if it ever does, so consider a smaller bike. If you feel totally comfortable on the XR250, and then you straddle a CR80 or XR100 and think "Sheesh, what a toy -- why would anyone want to ride something this tiny?", then stick with the bigger bike.

Either way, if you feel comfortable with one bike and uncomfortable with another, don't let other people make you feel like you *should* be riding something bigger or smaller because of your height. You *should* be riding the bike that feels best to you.

6/18/99: Yamaha has some interesting new bikes out, the TT-R125 (and bigger brother TT-R225) which are made for smaller riders. Sounds interesting, but I haven't seen one in person yet.

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