While winter may put a chill and a dampener on road and track motorcycling it remains a great time of year for those who enjoy riding in the dirt. After all, colder temperatures and slippery surfaces hold no qualms when your working up a sweat on an off-roader fitted with knobblies.
What sort of off-road bike should I go for?
Best of all, there’s a huge variety of off-roaders to suit all riders, budgets and ages, from automatic kids bikes through novice-friendly trail and enduro machines up to full-blown motocrossers.
As long as you’ve an appropriate place to ride, either private land, off-road park or, on a road-legal bike, a designated green lane there’s little to stop you having a great time off-road. But which should you go for?
Here’s our pick of the best, both new and used, around right now…
Best off-road bikes in 2019
2019 Kawasaki KX450
- Spec: 449cc / 55bhp / 110kg / 955mm seat height
- Price: £6000 (used) - £7399 (new)
The latest open class motocrossers are the superbikes of off-road and really only for experienced, dedicated racers but as we’re trying to show the breadth of machines available they still justify inclusion.
It’s a hard-fought category with all the leading contenders – the Japanese ‘Big Four’, Austrian world-leaders KTM, Husqvarna etc – all offering tech-laden machines where lightness, power, chassis competence and today even features like electric start are prized.
Kawasaki has long been there or thereabouts and its new-for-2019 KX raises the bar yet again with a new, powerful, DOHC engine including electric start and improved Showa suspension. Not for novices or the feint-hearted but among the very best.
So new that used examples are rare but the pre-DOHC model with air not spring forks is still up there with the best. Maintenance, a lack of crash damage and cosmetics is everything with dirt racers so be sure you (or a friend) know what you’re looking at.
2017-on KTM Freeride E-XC
- Spec: Electric / 24.5bhp / 95kg / 910mm seat height
- Price: £5750 (used) - £9999 (new)
Austrian off-road experts KTM were the first mainstream manufacturer to offer a credible electric off-roader when it debuted the Freeride E in 2011, becoming the E-XC in 2017, and, although as with most electric bikes, it’s not without concerns and compromises, it remains an interesting and valid dirt option.
Essentially the Freeride 250, KTM’s ‘soft-enduro’ leisure off-roader, but with its two-stroke engine replaced by an electric motor and swappable battery, it avoids the usual electric bike weight problem by having a small 2.6kWh battery, so charge life is short – but can be quickly swapped.
With a proper brakes/suspension, 26bhp and lots of torque it’s a decent off-roader but at £10K remains something of a rich man’s novelty toy.
The used electric bike market remains in its infancy and there are still questions about battery durability and so on. That said, the KTM’s been around longer than most, is a premium product that tends to get looked after and residual values of the few used examples out there remain healthy so, as long as external condition is good, you should have little to fear.
2003-2018 Beta Alp 4.0 350
- Spec: 349cc / 27bhp / 133kg / 863mm seat height
- Price: £1700 (used) - £4895 (new)
Italian off-road specialists Beta effectively invented the part trail/part trial ‘leisure bike’, ones with the manoeuvrability and agility of a trials bike but with the comfort, range and durability for day-long excursions, when it came out with the first Alp in 2003.
The latest version, available in 200cc and 350cc forms, using Suzuki’s old air-cooled DR350 engine, is now obsolete but still available. It’s rugged, easy to ride and good value.
Being light and with an extremely low seat it’s one of the least intimidating off-roaders out there, too.
Despite its long life the Alp was always a niche bike so used examples are relatively rare. The Suzuki engine is simple and tough and the rest of the bike unfussy and rugged but older examples especially will be expected to have some scars and possible signs of neglect.
2002-on Yamaha PW50
- Spec: 49cc / 39kg / 485mm seat height
- Price: £500 (used) - £1599 (new)
Nearly 40 years old (although updated repeatedly and in its current guise since 2002) yet still pretty much the definitive ‘first-time’ mini-bike for under-5s – and it’s not hard to see why.
Light, low and with ‘twist 'n' go’ operation, there’s a simple 50cc air-cooled two-stroke automatic engine, small wheels, enclosed shaft drive for safety and an adjustable throttle to limit speed as appropriate. For a first time off-road bike there’s little better.
Popularity and sheer life span means there’s loads to choose from – which is just as well as, by their very nature, although rugged, simple and easy to maintain, the can get abused and neglected as well. Inspect carefully and be prepared to haggle and/or walk away.
2016-on Montesa 4Ride
- Spec: 258.9cc / n/a / 81kg / 885mm seat height
- Price: £3750 (used) - £5699 (new)
Honda-owned Montesa would have you believe they invented an all-new off-road category when the Spanish trials legends introduced the 4Ride in 2016 but effectively it’s similar to Beta’s Alp in being a trials bike with a seat and bigger tank.
That said, with a liquid-cooled engine and a more sophisticated chassis including a ProLink rear shock it is far more modern – which is just as well considering its fairly hefty price. But if you fancy the agility and off road fun of a trials bike but in a more comfortable, day-long package, not much comes close.
Although never a big seller compared to more conventional trail or endure bikes, there are plenty out there. Durability and reliability is good but with bikes like these condition and the absence of crash damage is paramount so inspect carefully.
2019 KTM 690 Enduro R
- Spec: 693cc / 72bhp / 146kg / 910mm seat height
- Price: £8500 (used) - £9599 (new)
On face value a 70+ bhp 700cc enduro bike sounds terrifying, but the reality is a machine that, because of its extra size, makes an adequate road bike that then, when you reach your favoured trail, acquits itself well, too. Think of the Austrian marvel that way and you’ve truly one of the best dual-purpose bikes around.
Although in the Austrian off-road specialist’s line-up since 2007, 2019 saw a major update so that now, along with its 690cc single, fancy trellis frame, Brembo brakes and WP suspension, it also has the latest electronics including lean-sensitive ABS and two riding modes.
Although heavy-ish, it’s nowhere near as fearsome as it sounds. All except, that is, for the £9K+ price. And 910mm seat.
Although the 690 R has been around in various forms since 2007 it remains a fairly rare beast on the used market and its weight, potency and sophistication means you need to check carefully for damage, neglect and faults – this is a premium-priced machine, after all.
2016-on Oset 12.5 R Racing
- Spec: 600w 24v / 26.4kg / 390mm seat height
- Price: £870 (used) - £1149 (new)
UK firm Oset have made a name for themselves with their range of junior and, increasingly, adult electric off-roaders with the 12.5R a best seller. Aimed at 3-5 year-olds it’s very much a ‘first motorcycle’ before perhaps moving onto a PW50 or similar.
There’s a conventional throttle and simple twist ‘n’ go operation. Power and throttle response are both easily adjustable and there’s bicycle-style front and rear brakes.
Quality is good, too, with alloy wheels, hubs, bars and pegs, plus high-grade adjustable suspension. Battery life is good for two to three hours, there are no ‘hot’ parts and there’s a full coverage chain guard.
The 12.5R was updated in 2019 but tt’s been out a couple of years now so there’s quite a few available. Quality is good, they tend to be looked after and there’s not much to go wrong so as long as cosmetics are good you should have few concerns.
2019 Honda CRF450L
- Spec: 449cc / 24.6bhp / 130.8kg / 940mm seat height
- Price: £7900 (used) - £9469 (new)
In many ways the ‘proper’ full sized, road-legal dual-sport/trail bike amateur dirt fans have been waiting for since the demise of Honda’s brilliant XR series. Basically, the L is a softer, road legal version of Honda’s full-bore CRF450X motocrosser.
A retune for emissions/servicing/durability means power’s down to a disappointing-sounding 25bhp but there is still bags of torque. There’s also quality adjustable suspension, road-legal lights/indicators etc and it exudes quality.
Regular oil and filter changes apart, servicing is wide, too. Yes, it’s pricey, but this is a friendly, pedigree, class act among hobby dirt bikes.
Again, quality is good and Hondas are durable. As long as oil and filter changes have been done there should be no maintenance concerns. High residuals confirm its quality and appeal.
2001-2008 Suzuki DRZ400S
- Spec: 398cc / 39bhp / 133kg / 935mm seat height
- Price: £2600-4300 (used)
Suzuki set the benchmark for the simple, effective dual-purpose, road legal off-roader with its air-cooled DR350 from 1992-1999 and the liquid-cooled DRZ400S proved an able successor.
Although deleted after 2008, plenty of decent used examples are still around and in demand for their easy manners, rugged and reliable mechanicals and all-round versatility.
Power is ample without being intimidating; the chassis is light, manageable and sufficient for most and it’s durable without requiring pampering. A great all-rounder and a worry-free used buy.
Although now aging and likely to be showing its years, the DR-Z is tough, durable, simple to service and spares are cheap and plentiful – there’s plenty still out there, too.
2018-on Honda CRF250L Rally
- Spec: 250cc / 23bhp / 157kg / 895mm seat height
- Price: £3995 (used) - £5599 (new)
The Rally is a longer-legged, ‘adventure’ style version of the likeable CRF250L trail bike Honda introduced in 2012. As such it has a larger, more protective full fairing, bigger 10.7 litre fuel tank (from 7.8 litres) and is slightly bigger and taller all round, all of which makes it a better road bike over distance.
Underneath, though, is the same willing DOHC single and lightweight, capable dirt chassis that makes it a friendly and capable off-roader as well. A great introduction to off-road riding.
Although only a little over a year old there are plenty of used examples available offering a significant saving over new. Quality and durability is excellent and servicing is simple. They tend to get looked after, too. As long as cosmetics are good it’s a brilliant used buy.
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