Which Motorcycle Should I Buy for My 3- to 7-Year-Old's First Dirt Bike
The Most Asked Question: " What Bike Should I Buy My Child?"
One of the most asked questions on the Internet, for parents whose kids want to ride a motorcycle, is "What type of bike should I buy for my child?" This is usually followed with information about the age of the rider and gender ... I guess the gender comment just helps the audience identify on a personal level with the future rider because other than that, it's not a consideration in answering the question.
The first question you must answer is: do you intend to ever let your child start racing? For help on this question, reference "How to get your kid started racing dirt bikes." I have talked with people who were certain they didn't want to let their child race, and then after purchasing the perfect trail riding bike, they decided to let their child race. Fortunately, if you bought the bike used, you'll probably recover most if not all of your original investment.
The second question is, how old is your rider? Two things a rider has to be able to do to learn to ride are handling the power of the bike, and being able to hold the bike up when it leans over. It's very important though not to underestimate the ability of a young rider to learn. It's real easy to buy a bike that your rider will outgrow in a matter of months. The time it will take your child to learn to ride is dependant on their coordination, and the amount of time they spend riding each week.
We will start with a young rider who isn't going to race and work our way through young riders who might want to race, and up to older youth riders who want to race.
3 to 7 Year Old Riders Racing or Not
Although I titled this section as "not racing", at this age and skill level many of the bikes are still excellent choices if your child and you decide to go have some fun on a track and race.
For the really young riders there are two types of bikes, 2-stroke oil injected and 4-stroke engine models. The oil-injected bikes have a canister that needs to be kept filled with 2-stroke oil. The oil injection system automatically injects the oil into the fuel before it enters the engine, at the proper ratio. The 4-stroke models run on just gasoline without mix oil.
It's important to remember that a 2-stroke engine is lubricated internally by the mix-oil that is injected into the fuel just prior to it entering the engine. If the oil canister runs dry the engine will seize up and need re-built. A 4-stroke motor also requires internal lubrication. The 4-stroke uses lubrication oil in the crankcase similar to how a car engine works. Again, the oil in the crankcase should be changed regularly, and have the level checked often to maintain proper lubrication.
Here is a list of the most common bike choices for the 3 to 7 year old beginner rider
- Yamaha PW 50 (2-stroke oil injected, single speed, 19.1" Seat Height, 82 lbs Dry Weight)
- Yamaha TTR 50E (4-stroke, 3 speed automatic clutch, 21.8" Seat Height, 119 lbs Dry Weight)
- Honda CRF 50 (4-stroke, 3 speed automatic clutch, 21.6" Seat Height, 104 lbs Dry Weight)
- Honda XR 50 (4-stroke, similar to the CRF 50)
- Cobra CX50 OI (2-stroke oil injected, single speed, 22" Seat Height, 79 lbs Dry Weight)
- Suzuki JR 50 (2-stroke oil injected, single speed, 18.9" Seat Height, 84 lbs Dry Weight)
- KTM Mini Adventure (2-stroke oil injected, single speed, 20.9 - 21.7" Adjustable Seat Height, 83 lbs Dry Weight)
Even though these are considered beginners dirt bikes, don't be deceived, these are all capable of giving the rider quite the thrill; however, these bikes have a lower seat height then the more advanced 50's and less suspension travel. All of these models can also be found on tracks competing in the younger age or beginner classes.
5 Year Old PW 50 Rider
Yamaha PW 50
Several of these models have unique features that set them apart. The Yamaha PW 50 uses a shaft drive, eliminating the chain and sprockets. The advantage of this is a reduced hazard for kids getting a hand or pant leg caught in the chain (a quite rare yet plausible accident). The disadvantage is the complexity in changing the gearing of the bike. To lower the gear ratio the ring and pinion gear have to be changed.
- PW50 Racing Gear Set
This is an aftermarket ring and pinion gear set for the Yamaha PW 50. It provides a lower gearing and increased bottom end power.
Look on Ebay for a used Yamaha QT50 moped rear-end, about a third the cost of a new race set. With the QT50 rear-end, the axle bolt has to be pressed out of the ring gear, and replaced with the original PW 50 axle.
The Yamaha PW50 has a considerably high top end speed for the wheel size, and beginner riders.
The Yamaha has two other features designed to assist the beginning rider by reducing the power of the bike. There is a restrictor placed in the exhaust between the pipe flange, and the head. As the skill of the young rider increases, the restrictor can easily be removed providing more power from the PW's 50cc engine. Additionally, there is a throttle limiting screw located on the throttle control. This makes it simple for a parent to adjust how much throttle the rider has available, hence, limiting the overall speed of the bike. In summary, the restrictor is used to limit the available power, while the throttle limiting screw is used to limit the overall speed.
Along with several other bikes available on the market, the Yamaha PW 50 uses a handbrake control for the rear brake. This can make learning easier for some young riders, although most beginners don't have much problem adapting to a standard foot brake. When the rider is ready to move up to a faster bike, they will most likely be transitioning to a foot brake model, as only a few bikes use a hand control for the rear break.
The PW 50 is fairly common at racetracks and often is the most prevalent. The PW 50 has been around for many years, and is fairly easy to find on the used market. As with all dirt bikes, if purchased used, the PW will retain their value well. For the smaller beginners, the PW 50 has one of the lowest seat heights and is very light at only 82 pounds.
The 4-stroke Yamaha TT-R50E takes quite a step away from its 2-stroke cousin the PW 50. The TT-R50E has a 3 speed automatic transmission that provides a versatile gearing range. Like many beginner models, the TTR-50E uses an automatic clutching system. To shift gears, the rider simply lets off on the throttle and shifts gears using the foot control. The 3 speed transmission allows young riders to learn how to use gears without burning up a clutch or getting frustrated because they spend all day kick starting their bike because of dumping the clutch and killing the engine.
Oh, speaking of starting the bike, the TT-R50E has an electric start, just like it's bigger brothers. The bike is started with the simple pushing of a button, rather than kick starting.
In contrast to the Yamaha PW 50's shaft drive, the TT-R50E uses a traditional chain and sprocket configuration. Yamaha did install a factory chain guard to prevent brush from getting caught while trail riding, and to protect young riders from getting fingers and pant legs caught up in the chain.
The TT-R50E uses an on/off electric heater on the carburetor to insure crisp starting and throttle response. This addition was convenient since the TT-R's have an electrical storage system for the electric starting feature. The PW 50 and the TTR-50E both have the choke lever conveniently located on the top triple clamp near the handlebar mount. This enables young riders to easily control the choke, and helps them remember to shut it off once the bike is warmed up.
You don't see many TT-R50E models on the dirt bike tracks yet; however, they are very common out on the trails. Note that along with being a little taller than some other models, the TT-R50E is the heaviest bikes in the group weighing 119 pounds.
XR 50 On The Trail
Honda CRF and XR 50
The Honda CRF and XR 50, similar to the Yamaha TT-R50E are 4-stroke 3 speed trail riding machines. In recent years, the CRF model has replaced the XR models (except for 650cc models) although there are still many XR's around on the used market. That is, if you can pry one away from the rider that had it forever and just doesn't want to see it go (picture Larry the Cable Guy on an XR 50).
Similar to the Yamaha TT-R50E the CRF and XR 50 models are both driven with a chain and sprocket. Additionally, they come stock with a chain guard installed to keep brush from getting caught in it while trail raiding, and for rider protection. The CRF and XR 50's have the choke lever located on the carburetor, which makes it less convenient than the TT-R50E. Although young riders can forget to turn the choke off when they start riding, this isn't the type of feature that should drive your purchasing directions one way or the other.
On the tracks, a few Honda CRF or XR 50 models are found. Although they don't accelerate as hard as the 2-stroke competition, they are smooth and work great getting through the mud. Additionally, the bike is an extremely reliable machine.
Cobra CX50 OI
When it comes to popular names in bikes, most people remember the companies that have been around since the late 60's; however, anyone that has been around a track in the last 5 years recognizes a cobra when they see one. Cobra was founded in 1993 and markets their product as "Made in the USA". With their headquarters located in Youngstown Ohio, they develop from the heart. The founder of Cobra Motorcycles, Bud Maimone, started the company to provide race ready bikes for the 50cc riders. This was developed out of a passion for supporting the young riders, as his son was racing 50's. Currently in the 50cc class they produce 3 models, the CX50 OI, the CX50 Jr., and the CX50 Sr. models.
For a beginner bike, the Cobra CX50 OI is a very strong bike. This is especially a good choice for riders who are a little taller for their age since the Cobra has one of the taller seat heights of the group. Although a taller bike, the CX50 is the lightest bike in the group only weighing 79 pounds.
The Cobra CX50 OI is equipped with a chain and sprocket drive system, and like most bikes intended to be raced, it is not equipped with a factory chain guard.
This is the only bike in the group that is water-cooled. A small radiator located in front of the fuel tank is used to provide cooling for the engine. The Cobra CX50 OI is a bike that is commonly found competing in the oil-injected classes at racetracks.
The Suzuki JR50 is a similar bike to the Yamaha PW50. The JR50 has the lowest seat height in the group at only 18.9", about ¼ " lower than the PW. Currently the JR50 is no longer in production, yet they can still be found on the used market.The JR50 uses a chain and sprocket drive like most the other bikes, which allows easy changing of the gearing if needed. The single gear transmission with centrifugal clutching is similar to the PW50, and the CX50 OI, and makes it easy for beginning riders to learn to ride without be concerned with gear choice.
Although not as prevalent as the Yamaha PW50 on the tracks, the Suzuki JR50 is a good beginning race bike, and performs comparably.
Ktm Mini First Day
KTM Mini Adventure
The KTM Mini Adventure is a high quality beginning bike, similar to the Cobra CX50 OI. Both of these bikes have an excellent suspension system. The KTM though is the only bike in this group with an adjustable seat height, 20.9" to 21.7". This is a good feature as it allows the bike to grow a little with the child. The seat height is adjusted by moving the rear shock upper mounting bolt to the alternate hole, and only takes minutes to do. This is a very easy job. To provide a little more height adjustment, the forks can be slid in the upper and lower triple clamps. This requires a little more effort than changing the rear shock mount point.
The KTM also uses a chain and sprocket drive system, which allows easy changing of the gearing if needed. The single gear transmission with centrifugal clutching is similar to the PW50, and the CX50 OI, and makes it easy for beginning riders to learn to ride without be concerned with gear choice.
The KTM mini adventures are found on just about every track out there. They are an excellent bike and handle very well.
KTM Boy with 2MV riding vest from 2nd Moto LLC
All the bikes discussed in this article are excellent choices for a 3 - 7 year old beginning rider. However, if you even think you might be interested in letting your child race, and they want to race, then I would recommend you visit the local track on race day and see what bikes they are riding out there in the 50cc oil-injected beginners class. Most likely you will find the KTM mini adventure, the Yamaha PW 50, and a Cobra CX50 OI. Remember, when your child has learned to ride comfortably and is ready to race, if they are on a PW 50, remove the exhaust restrictor, and open up the throttle limiting screw.
If you are only looking for a bike to ride around the house, or on local trails then the Honda CRF or XR 50 is an excellent bike choice. The 4-stroke engines are much quieter and you don't have to worry about the mix-oil. The Honda's are a very reliable bike and the 3-speed transmission can simply be left in 1st or 2nd gear until the rider is ready to learn how to shift gears. The Yamaha TT-R50E is another good choice for trail riding, although it is the heaviest bike in the group. One benefit of the TT-R50E is the electric start where for younger kids, a kick-start can be challenging; however, typically this is with the younger kids who could benefit from a lighter bike and shorter seat height. Neither of which does the TT-R50E provide.
Most importantly, fit your kid to the bike, and make sure there is room to grow. Again, this is a great benefit of the KTM with the adjustable seat height. For a child to learn, the parent or other responsible mentor needs to be closely involved. The kids need support and basic instruction. Start them off by pushing them without the engine running, and let them learn to manage the brake. Then have them practice short start stops to get used to the throttle, and again braking. And, remind them that no matter what happens don't forget to "drive the bike". This means that they need to keep their eyes on the trail and steer the bike clear of obstacles and hazards until they can stop. If they forget where the brake is, just let off the throttle and steer until the bike stops.
Now, go get them a bike and enjoy the time with them!