Getting an early start in motorcycling.
For kids, riding dirt bikes is way more than just fun. They may not recognize it at first, but riding also helps establish key building blocks for life, including personal responsibility, critical thinking, work ethic, and more. But how to get kids started? There are two basic camps for small dirt bikes. One is casual trail bikes, also known as playbikes. These general-purpose mounts are affordably priced and often include family-friendly features such as keyed ignition systems, electric starting, and mildly tuned four-stroke engines. The second category is competition bikes, aka motocrossers. These most often feature highly tuned two-stroke engines, long-travel suspension for handling rough terrain at speed, and bigger price tags. An emerging third camp is electric motorcycles, which are a great way to get younger kids involved.
Altogether, youth motorcycles cover a lot of terrain nowadays, and it would take an entire buyers guide to include them all. But this list of 10 of our favorites gives an overview. Read, ride, and enjoy!
The Big Mac has been on McDonald’s menu since 1967, largely unchanged. Why? Because it works. Same goes for Honda’s CRF50F kids’ starter bike. Its roots go back almost as long as the burger, to the 1968 Mini Trail. Today, the pint-sized Honda trail bike still features a 50cc four-stroke engine with a three-speed manual gearbox and an automatic clutch for easy operation. Adding safety, the 111-pound mini features keyed ignition and an adjustable throttle limiter. For 2023, the $1,699 CRF50F is available in classic Honda red or white color schemes.
Kids grow faster than the proverbial magic beanstalk, which means keeping them outfitted with the right-size jeans, shoes…and dirt bikes can be a challenge. Enter the Honda CRF125F—and other similar machines from major manufacturers. Priced at $3,399, this midsize “regular wheel” trail bike has 17-inch front, 14-inch rear wheels, which help keep the seat height to a teenager-friendly 29.1 inches. (Honda’s next model up is the CRF125F Big Wheel, with 19-inch front, 16-inch rear wheels and a 30.9-inch seat height.) Power comes from an electric-start 125cc four-stroke single, now modernized with fuel injection to meet emissions regs.
With its 20-volt electric motor and balance-bike construction, the Husqvarna 16eDrive is quite literally a “motor cycle.” Its mission is providing kids from 4–8 years of age with easy, controlled first steps in their riding careers. Built by Stacyc and weighing just 20 pounds, this little Husky features a twistgrip throttle and three selectable power modes: Low (5 mph); Med (7 mph); and High (13 mph). Both the run time and recharging time are listed as 60 minutes. But if you need to keep the ride going all day long, the battery can be quickly swapped out for a fresh one.
Kawasaki KLX110R L
Here’s an unusual proposition—a kid-friendly “mini” with uprated suspension and a taller seat to suit growing riders. Retailing for $2,849, the KLX110R L uses the same 112cc air-cooled four-stroke engine and 14-inch front, 12-inch rear wheels as the company’s entry-level KLX110R trail bike. Then the “L” model adds about an inch more suspension travel (5.5 inches front, 5.2 inches rear versus 4.3 inches front and rear for the base KLX110R) plus a 1.9-inch higher seat (28.7 inches versus 26.8 inches, respectively). Whew! Matching kids and bikes is all about the details. But if the physical fit is right, we really like the electric-start mini with a manual gearbox theme here.
When kids are ready to kick their riding up a notch (or three) the KX65 is ready. A perennial offering from Kawasaki, the KX65′s unique difference to other minis is its track-ready performance. Words like audacious, frenetic, and demonic are appropriate here. Instead of the mellow four-stroke power of learner trail bikes, the KX65 has a race-spec two-stroke 64cc engine with liquid-cooling, a tuned expansion chamber, and a six-speed transmission. Translation: It’s fast for its size. The adjustable suspension has 8.3-inch front and 9.4-inch rear travel, and big-bike-style hydraulic disc brakes help scrub off speed. For 2023, the MSRP is $3,599.
Adhering to KTM’s “ready to race” mantra, the 50 SX Mini aims to make budding motocross riders competitive right out of the crate. Tipping in at just 88 pounds, it’s scarcely heavier than a big ebike. But with 49cc of two-stroke power, the 50 SX Mini can actually shred berms. To simplify racing, torque feeds through an automatic clutch and single-speed transmission—so basically, no shifting! Like larger KTMs, the frame is chrome-moly steel, while the suspension utilizes a beefy upside-down fork and a rear monoshock. Add front and rear disc brakes and KTM’s signature orange livery, and the $4,199 50 SX Mini is ready to rip.
Weighing little more than a friendly otterhound (119 pounds, to be exact), Suzuki’s entry-level dirt bike is designed to make learning to ride easy. It’s recommended for kids aged 7 years and up and weighing no more than 88 pounds, so if you have one of these animals in your family, read on. Carrying an MSRP of $2,499, the DR-Z50 fulfills its mission with small 10-inch wheels and a low 22-inch seat height for easy handling. Simplified operation is assured by electric starting for the 49cc four-stroke engine, an automatic clutch for the three-speed gearbox, and an adjustable throttle limiter.
A jump up in both performance and price for youth dirt bikes, Suzuki’s RM85 represents a popular class of “schoolboy” competition machines. Literally, the $4,499 machine distills much technology found in full-size 250cc two-stroke motocross bikes to an 85cc motorcycle that weighs just 161 pounds. Key examples include a power valve for the liquid-cooled racing engine, which contributes to a wider powerband, and fully adjustable long-travel suspension, which allows tuning the chassis to track (or trail) conditions. Other niceties include a large-capacity radiator, a gripper seat, and Suzuki trackside support and contingency at selected events.
When the Beatles sang “Twist and Shout” at Carnegie Hall in 1964, they sure weren’t thinking of Yamaha’s now 43-year-old PW50. But twist and shout is exactly what kids do once they step aboard. The 49cc two-stroke engine powers through a single-speed transmission (that means no shifting) with an automatic clutch (no clutch lever to master), a shaft drive (no chain to lube or adjust), and a dedicated oil-injection system (no premixing of gas and oil). That’s easy enough, and so is the $1,699 price tag, which makes this the smallest, least expensive Yamaha off-roader.
A staple in Yamaha’s lineup of five trail bikes, the TT-R125LE is the “big wheel,” electric-start version of the original TT-R125 that debuted over two decades ago. The 2023 TT-R125LE features a basic 124cc air-cooled engine with two easy-to-adjust valves per cylinder, a simple Mikuni carburetor, convenient push-button starting, and a five-speed gearbox. Importantly, the 19-inch front, 16-inch rear wheels are midway in size between those of a mini and a full-size dirt bike. This accurately frames the $3,399 TT-R125LE’s intended role as a solid, useful, no-frills midsize playbike.