Dirt Bike Vs Motorcycle | Which One Should You Get?

Dirt Bike Vs Motorcycle | Which One Should You Get?

Are you new to two-wheel vehicles? If you are, then you’re probably wondering what should be your first choice between a dirt bike and a motorcycle.

When comparing these two, people tend to think they’re just the same. They somehow look alike, but besides having two wheels, there are many differences. If you want to have your first riding experience on the street, then you should consider a motorcycle. But if you want the thrill of riding a two-wheeler off-road, a dirt bike is the option for you.

Let’s go through the differences between these two to help you choose for your preferred riding style and experience.

Keep on reading to find the winner of this dirt bike vs motorcycle design and performance warfare. 

Main Differences Between a Dirt Bike Vs Motorcycle

Here are the main differences between a motorcycle and a dirt bike:

  • Dirt bikes are designed with knobby tires for off-road trails, whereas motorcycles are made with smoother tires for street riding.
  • A dirt bike has more suspension, whereas a motorcycle has less suspension.
  • A dirt bike is lighter and less stable, whereas a motorcycle is heavier and more stable.
  • When riding a dirt bike you have to sit in an upright position, whereas when riding a motorcycle you have to sit in a leaning position.
  • Dirt bikes have wider handlebars and more steering, whereas motorcycles have shorter handlebars and less steering.
  • A dirt bike needs you to use the clutch more frequently when shifting gears, whereas a motorcycle doesn’t require you to use the clutch more often.
  • Dirt bikes have more riding pegs, whereas motorcycles have fewer riding pegs.
  • Brakes are sharper on trails when riding a dirt bike, whereas brakes lock up o tires or trails when riding a motorcycle.

Motorcycle Vs Dirt Bike: Introduction

To better understand the differences between a motorcycle and a dirt bike, you first need to know what each two-wheeler is all about.

What Is a Dirt Bike?

motocross dirt bike riders in the air

A dirt bike is a two-wheel vehicle that is designed to be used on off-road terrains, including unsurfaced tracks and roads.

Dirt bikes are built from a frame and in that frame lies the engine, which is either a two-stroke or four-stroke. 

Two-stroke models have a large exhaust pipe sticking (expansion chamber), while four-stroke models have a smaller exhaust pipe. 

There is a kickstart on the right side of the engine that swings out to start the engine. The kickstart also folds away easily and neatly when riding. There’s a choke on the left side of the engine for starting the engine when the bike is cold, which you can push back in when the engine is running.

The tail of a dirt bike and the rider’s seat all connect to the subframe, which sticks out off the back of the frame. You will find the airbox and air filter underneath the seat. At the front of the engine, stems the exhaust, which winds through the bike and connects to a silencer.

What gives a dirt bike its unique look and aggressive appearance are the body panels, side panels, radiator scoops, front and rear fenders. The plastic panels are usually covered with stickers.

Directly in front of the seat is the fuel cap with a breather pipe that screws off when you want to refuel. To keep the engine cool, there is a radiator mounted to each side of the frame behind the side panels. They have water running through them when moving. 

What Is a Motorcycle?

parked harley davidson motorcycle

A motorcycle or a motorbike is a two-wheel vehicle that is uniquely designed for street or tarmac riding. The term motorcycle, however, is normally used to refer to all types of two-wheel vehicles, including dirt bikes in the motorcycle riding community.

A motorcycle also features two wheels and an engine among other things. A typical motorcycle is designed from a frame, which wraps around the engine. But you don’t sit on the frame when riding. There’s a subframe that extends off the back of the frame, providing a place for the front seat, passenger seat, as well as passenger footpegs.

All the beautiful bodywork of the Ducati Panigale V4, for example, that catches your eyes is called the fairing. Apart from its great looks, a motorcycle usually features an aerodynamic design, which makes it easier for you to slice through the air more efficiently.

At the front of the bike, you’ve got headlights for illumination in the dark, a windscreen for deflecting air, air intakes beside each headlight for channeling air into the engine, as well as rearview mirrors.

Just behind the windscreen, you’ve got the cockpit, which allows you full control of the bike on the road. The first important part of the cockpit is the ignition switch keyhole for you to insert a key to start the engine. 

The next important part is the gauge cluster which is made up of a tachometer (displaying how fast the engine revs), a speedometer, engine temperature, along with other important metrics for keeping you well-informed about your bike when riding.

The handlebars, on the other hand, are made up of a few pieces to help you control the maneuverability of your machine. Your hands usually grip the clip-ons, which provide some suspension as well as a connection to the front wheel of your bike.

Feature Comparisons

Here are our key feature comparisons between dirt bike vs motorcycle:

Size and Weight

red dirt bike parked on top of the mountain

Dirt bikes are generally lighter weight and smaller in size. You can expect the average weight of an off-road bike to be approximately 215 pounds. A motorcycle, on the other hand, is typically heavier and bigger. You can expect the average weight of a motorcycle to be around 400 pounds.

There are a variety of effects caused by size and weight. The first given fact is that with more weight you need more energy to move. This means you cannot effectively ride a street bike on hilly off-road trails. A dirt bike, on the other hand, is purposefully designed to be lighter, nimble, and easier to maneuver off-road, both uphill and downhill. The design makes it perfect for outdoor adventures like dirt bike camping.

However, the added weight of motorcycles is a good attribute considering the surface they are designed to ride on. With more weight comes superior high-speed stability on paved surfaces. 

Tires and Terrain

The tires you’ve got on your two-wheeler will decide the type of terrain your bike will ride on. Are they classic MX knobby or performance tires?

Dirt bikes come equipped with knobby tires, which are specifically made for amplifying traction on off-road surfaces like dirt and gravel. They provide maximum grip on the mud and other loose surfaces. They’re narrower with a superior flexible carcass.

parked motorcycle on the road side

Motorcycles come with performance tires that are uniquely designed to offer superior traction on paved surfaces. The tires can be sport, touring, or classic. They are usually smooth-shaped, rounded, and have small tread patterns for channeling water. Most of the tire is exposed to the paved surface for maximum grip.

Seating Position

When it comes to choosing between a dirt bike vs motorcycle, the seat position matters a lot. It determines how easy or hard it is to ride the bike.

Have you ever watched a dirt bike competition? The riders on dirt bikes are regularly seen standing up when going over objects and sticking a leg out when cornering. They can do these things because the seat is positioned forward to allow fast and efficient adjustments. This seat position, however, can be very uncomfortable on open paved roads with all the wind hitting your body.

The seat position on a motorcycle is further back to provide more control of the big bike and relaxation. This position moves you conveniently forward into the wind while keeping your feet rearward and upward for superior lean inclinations when negotiating corners. This ensures your spine is always in a natural position and also minimizes strain on the joints during long rides.


Suspension determines the shock absorption ability of the bike.

Dirt bikes have more suspension because they’ve got many obstacles to deal with on the off-road trails. They’ve got an impressive suspension travel of about 12 inches or more, which improves handling and braking on bumpy terrains.

Motorcycles, on the other hand, have only a few inches of suspension travel. This is so because there aren’t many obstacles to ride over or valleys to jump in and out from on paved surfaces. You only have to worry about minor potholes and road bumps. Too much suspension and you will bottom out, making the ride very uncomfortable.

The excess suspension travel on a dirt bike is suitable for overcoming obstacles, while a motorcycle only requires a few inches of suspension travel for managing road imperfections like potholes.


The power of a two-wheeler is usually directly correlated to the weight as well as the speed of the bike.

Motorcycles are heavier, more stable, and move at very high speeds. So, they need a powerful braking system to bring them to a stop. The superior traction of a motorcycle allows it to channel more braking force to the road.

Dirt bikes, however, come with a less powerful braking system. They usually have smaller brake rotors. Some models may even have one brake disc up front. With dirt bikes, the rear brake is the one used the more.

Motorcycles win this category because the braking system allows you to stop the bike more decisively.


With a motorcycle, you don’t need too much steering capability to effectively control the machine on the road. You will only have to put too much into the steering when maneuvering traffic or negotiating corners. That’s why street or road bikes have short handlebars.

With dirt bikes, however, steering is everything and that’s why they have wide handlebars to give you more leverage. You need to use the steering when sliding, braking, cornering, and jumping over obstacles among other things.

Dirt bikes win in terms of steering simply because they’ve got exceptional steering capabilities for sliding, jumping over obstacles, cornering, and braking.

Tank Size

We all know that the bigger the fuel tank of your bike, the more fuel it will hold and the longer your tours will be. With a motorcycle, you can tour a faraway location before refueling. But the same cannot be said of a dirt bike.

Dirt bikes typically have a small tank for a number of reasons. First, a small tank allows a dirt bike to be lighter weight. Second, off-road trails aren’t usually long and will not need frequent refueling.

Motorcycles are better when it comes to tank size. With their large fuel tanks, it makes them ideal for riding long distances.

The Price Factor

When you finally decide to choose between a dirt bike and a motorcycle, the next important consideration is price. Do you have enough budget for your preferred type of two-wheel vehicle?

How much does a dirt bike cost? A dirt bike will cost you roughly $8,000 to $12,000. A motorcycle, on the other hand, will cost you approximately $8,000 to $40,000, depending on the type and brand of the street bike.

When it comes to price, the dirt bike is the clear winner as it fits most budgets. 

The Bottom Line

Dirt bike vs motorcycle, which one should I get?

It depends on what type of riding experience you want, whether you are a beginner or not.

A dirt bike is designed to conquer trail riding and has all the features you need off-road. A motorcycle, on the other hand, is engineered for high-speed performance on the paved surface. You will certainly don’t get the performance you desire when you take a dirt bike to a paved surface and a motorcycle to an off-road surface. 

So, the better option for you depends on the terrain, riding style, and of course the budget (because some motorcycles can be really expensive).

joshua mattie

Joshua D. Mattie

My motorbike addiction began with 50cc at 5 years old. I rode motocross as a teenager & into my 20's when I worked as a mechanic. This helped me to see the light—sportbikes & cruisers became a passion. Now I'm building BikersRights to be the #1 resource for everything on 2 wheels!