These Are the Top-Ranked Dirt Bike Brands of 2018

There are many different dirt bike brands, and if you’re just getting started into dirt biking, it can be difficult to know what the best brands are, and which ones should be avoided.

The following are my favorite brands of dirt bikes, ranked from #1 to #7.  The ranking below tracks with my personal impression of the dirt bike lineups in the industry and the popularity of the brands, but obviously every single bike is different and every rider is different, so check them all out, because you may see things differently from me.

Take this post with a grain of salt.  All of these manufacturers make excellent bikes, which is why I mention them.  #6 may very well make a better bike FOR YOU than #1.

#1  KTM (Orange)

As soon as you get into dirt biking and you start talking with other dirt bikers, you’ll find that when they talk about KTM–it’s different.  KTM has really made a name for itself in the industry and I’d unquestionably say that they are probably the most admired brand right now.

KTM bikes stand out for their innovative features (thank you for making the seat easy to remove, by the way) and the expansive lineup of bikes that allows you to find one that perfectly fits your preferences.

  • KTM bikes are consistently the lightest or among the lightest in their class.  The 250 is the lightest out of the competition, as well as the 450SX-F.
  • KTM was among the first to debut easy-access air filters and easily removable seats.
  • KTM bikes are consistently the lightest in their class.

KTM has focused a lot of their energy on 2-stroke bikes, and the future of the 2-stroke is in question with the European environmental protection laws putting a choke-hold on this style of bike.

Husqvarna (Yellow and Blue)

Husqvarna is owned by KTM.  They are by no means the number 2 most popular manufacturer, but I had to list them here as #2 because they are so similar to the KTM bikes.  In fact, sometimes the company has to bend over backwards and make strange decisions to differentiate the Husqvarna bikes from the KTM bikes with much of the same build.

#2  Yamaha (Blue)

Yamaha has probably the longest-standing reputation in dirt biking and has been recognized for many years for their incredible bikes.  I personally don’t believe Yamaha is innovating as fast as KTM, but they are still producing some of the best bikes on the market.

  • The Yamaha 250F has especially been an especially popular bike which has been crowned the top 250F for 4 years running by Dirt Bike Magazine.

I personally own a Yamaha TTR-230 for my wife as well as a TTR50 for my son and they have both proven to be exceptional bikes.

#3  Beta (Red)

Beta is an Italian brand that is starting to catch on more and more in the United States.  They have a long history with dirt bikes and produced a lot of trials bikes in the 70’s and 80’s.  Now, Beta has focused more on the off-road race and trail bikes.

Beta used to use KTM engines in their dirt bikes up until 2004, but now they make their own engines.

#4  Kawasaki (Green)

Kawasaki has a tremendous cult following in dirt biking.  It seems like once someone goes to the green side, they aren’t easily swayed to another brand.

  • The 2018 Kawasaki KX450F doesn’t include electric start standard.  That’s a huge miss in that category.

One area where Kawasaki often sticks out is with pricing.  Often they are among the cheapest dirt bikes in their classes.  That’s a very important thing to me–especially when many dirt bike models are so close to each other that they are difficult to differentiate.

Kawasaki has been creating four-stroke bikes since 2004, but in 2007 they really committed to the four-stroke by killing off some of their successful 2-stroke models.

#5  Honda (Red)

Honda cars and outboard motors are some of the best out there.  Honda has a very strong reputation for its small engines.  In dirt biking, however, some of the Honda bikes lag behind the competition from other brands.  However, Honda makes some very good dirt bikes in many categories.

This is not, at all, to say that Honda is a sub-par brand.  I actually own a Honda CRF110 for my son which has been a PERFECT bike for him.  I also think Honda makes the best 50cc dirt bike at a reasonable cost.  But if you were to ask me whether I want a Honda 250 or a KTM 250 for my personal bike?  I’d take the KTM.

Honda snatched up just about every title in the industry for many years.  The two-stroke Honda “CR” dominated motocross and supercross from 1972 to 2007–winning more championships than any other manufacturer.   2007 was the last year the mighty CR models were produced and Honda has now shifted its focus toward four-stroke CRF engines.  This may prove to have been a wise choice as the future of the 2-stroke is in question.

#6  Suzuki (Yellow)

Suzuki dirt bikes have started to lag behind in their technology over the last few years.  Year after year, they are coming up dead last in the 450 and 250 shootouts by the big dirt biking magazines.  They have been slow to roll out innovation and many of their bikes are overweight on size and light on new features.

Examples of Suzuki falling behind: 

  • The new 2018 Suzuki RM-Z450 still doesn’t come standard with electric start despite all the other brands having it.
  • The Suzuki bikes in general just look really old.  They look like a bike from 1995.  The 250 especially looks old.  Just putting black rims on it for 2017 was not even close to enough to make it look like a modern bike that someone would want to pay $8,500 for.
  • The 2018 Suzuki RM-Z450 is the heaviest 450 on the market at 239 pounds dry weight.  The comparable KTM is 16 pounds lighter, which is very significant.
  • The 2016 RM-Z250 is the heaviest in its class by over 3 pounds.
  • In the last 2 years, I haven’t seen any dirt bike shootouts looking at multiple bikes in a class that didn’t have Suzuki in last place.  That’s saying something.

Suzuki is a strong company and still has a lot to add to the market, but the signs we’re seeing right now are not promising for its future.

How to Choose the Right Brand FOR YOU

The rankings above are just a general idea of what many dirt bikers see as the lay of the land in terms of the best brands; however, on many of these bikes, most riders couldn’t even tell a difference between a KTM 250 and a Yamaha 250.  Similarly, if KTM makes a great 110cc dirt bike, don’t be so brand loyal that you automatically shell out $4,000 to buy it when Honda makes a fantastic 110 for like 1/2 the price.  So don’t be blinded by brand.

  • Accept the fact that just because your favorite brand makes a bike in the category that you’re looking for, it doesn’t mean it’s the best.  Look at all of the bikes in that category and give them all an equal shake.
  • Before you commit to buying a bike, write down a pros and cons list of SPECIFICALLY what you like and don’t like about each of the bikes.  This forces you to buy for a reason other than just brand fanboyism.
  • Read reviews of the bike from multiple sources.
  • Set your budget and determine what you want your bike to do for you before you go to the showroom.  This way you won’t get talked into something you don’t even want/need.

Conclusion

All of the major dirt bike brands are producing great dirt bikes, and newer riders won’t really be able to tell the difference between most similar models.  So don’t go crazy about a favorite brand.  Having said that, it’s nice to know where the industry is headed and who the leaders are as you begin your search for your perfect dirt bike.

I own dirt bikes from different brands for my family.  I believe Honda makes the best 50cc dirt bike for the price, so that’s what I’d get in that category.  My son rides a Yamaha.  My wife also has a Yamaha.  We pick the best specific bikes and not the brands.

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