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Discussion Starter #1
Hey all! I'm doing research over the internet so I figured Id ask around here, see what people here think.

So my roommate recently picked up a late 90s rm250 2 stroke dirt bike and I've gotten to play with it a bunch on some of our wheeling trips. The thing is an absolute blast, tons of power, super light, seems very robust (I've dropped it more than once oops!) and Im pretty much convinced I want to buy a dirt bike at some point.

Here's where I'd like some opinions from folks who ride: I'm not sure what to get. Ive ridden my friends DRZ400 (dual sport set up for dirt) the rm250 and a YZ250F. Of them I think the 400cc 4 stroke is a pig, his is bulkier because of all the street legal stuff going on but even still i think I can eliminate 400+ 4 stroke bikes because its more than I need in terms of power and weight. So my options are 250 4 stroke, 250 2 stroke and 125 2 stroke. The YZ250F I rode was honestly perfect, great weight, manageable power but plenty of kick for me to tap into as I get better at riding. All over the internet folks say not to buy 250Fs used because of reliability and cost to repair. What do you think? Hunt for a pristine 250F? Brand to stick with or avoid? What about a 250 2 smoke with a heavy flywheel to smooth out power?
 

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What kind of riding do you see yourself doing? Are you going to be riding in a field, the desert, single track in the woods, quad trails...

Are you going to need a licence plate?

Does it need to have a magic button (starter) or can you kick it over?

Lots of options out there, need to know what your needs are since no one bike can do it all.
 

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^ This!
What is your body type? IE: are you a big guy? tall? heavy? or are you skinny like me?
Reason I ask is that a bike I may love, someone with a little more heft to move around may not agree.

I've been riding for over 10 years now and owned and ridden quite a few bikes (nearly all 450 variants, some 250fs, cr250, yz250, cr500, etc). If you get something that is mid 2000s or newer they are all very good.

Since you are new to dirt bikes a 250f is great starting point as they are mellow enough to not kill you if you make a mistake yet still have enough power to go anywhere (and get you in trouble). Just know that a 250f is going to be one of the highest maintenance bikes you can buy and eventually you'll want more power.

If you can handle the 250 smokers that will be a bike you can keep pretty much forever and it won't break the bank. Keep the air filter VERY clean and use quality pre-mix and a bottom end will go 3-5 seasons (if not more), change the the piston and rings every other season. Top ends on two strokes are cheap ($300), bottom ends are more at about $1000 but you can do it yourself with some know-how and about $500.

I'd avoid Honda 250f s, I owned one for about 6 years and while a great bike it was costly to keep running well. Even with a high level on maintenance and valve care it would need new valves, piston, rings about every two seasons. This is not a cheap service even if you do it yourself (about $1500 to have done and about $500-700 diy). If you like the 250fs I've heard that the Yamaha 250f is the most reliable.

I currently have a KTM 300XC (two stroke) and it is honestly the best bike I have ever ridden. It has more power than I'll ever use but can also be ridden lazily. Has tons of low end grunt and revs to the moon. Power of a 450f with the weight of a 250. For someone my size (140lbs with gear) this means it hauls yet is easy to manage and does not wear me out. Its a smoker so that means cheap maintenance and since its a KTM most adjustments can be done externally without special tools. Only downside is initial cost as KTMs demand a higher asking price than the Jap bikes. Also don't let anyone tell you parts cost more because its German, that is a straight up lie. Part costs are on par with the Jap bikes. Not sure I'd recommend this as a first bike though...
 

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Power wise it sounds like 250cc range is what your already wanting. The bigger bikes are insanely fun though. Also keep in mind the DRZ400s are quite heavy and cumbersome, even by big bike standards, so I wouldn't rule out all bigger bikes from riding one of these. That said they are probably one of the most reliable and cheapest bikes to own. They have been around for ever , have proven their durability and parts are cheap. The 125's are awesome but one thing to consider with the smaller bikes is you are more likely to keep them pinned and wound out when riding. This means more engine wear and more frequent rebuilds.

One key detail often overlooked is the difference between MX bikes and XC bikes. While they look very simliar, they have considerable suspension, engine and geometry differences. If your buddies jump bikes and ride tracks, you'll end up doing the same so you should lean towards MX. They jump better and are tuned better for track conditions. If your buddies ride trails and OHV parks and smash around the woods, you will enjoy an XC bike more. They tend to be more nimble in tight terrain and will handle and ride better. They also tend to have a little more protective equipment on them so you may avoid some trail side breakdowns.

You could start a forum war the with 2 stroke vs. 4 stroke question and are likely to get a wide variety of answers to this. They both have their perks so pick what will best match your terrain and use. If looking at older 4 strokes you can expect higher maintenance costs. The newer modern 4 strokes (think late 2000's and newer) are much more reliable and go much longer between major rebuilds. Since 2 strokes require rebuilds more often but are cheaper, comparative costs will likely balance out for the average user. There are always outliers and some models are notorious for problems so once you start finding bikes you may want to buy, research them specifically.

Also, if you end up really getting into riding. Chances are you will upgrade to something different before too long, once you gain experience and figure out what you like. So best condition within your price range is probably your best bet.
 

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I agree with what everyone else says, even a big guy on a 250 4 stroke can have plenty of fun. I would find a nice looking older bike (something with an aluminum frame is always nice for weight savings) and plan to ride it for a few years while you learn and that way when you crash, you will, it won't be insane to fix or a huge loss if it gets that beat up. This is probably the best for off-road only they just don't have the power to be a real dual sport and not be pinned on the highway. I've got a 450x, ridden my dads rmz450, older KTM 550 mxc 2stroke and countless others. I like the smoother power delivery of the 4 stroke but it is more a personal preference. Invest in some bark busters if the bike does not have them because they'll save your hands and clutch/brake levers during a fall.
 

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Here's some advice from left field...

Start small and hone your riding skill. Be humble for a while. Small displacement does not make you any less of a man.

"Well that sounds pretty stupid", I imagine just about everybody would say. Ok, how old are you? How many bones have you broken so far in your life? In my young/stupid days I would get the most thrill from pushing the limits. I expect many people enjoy it for the adrenaline. The KLX would take a pipeline trail next to the interstate far faster than the cars could keep up with. The DRZ400 will happily eat up doubles on the track. A new rider trying those things will probably fail in a painful way.

Point is, an inexperienced beginner rider getting a thrill on a bigger bike is far more likely to die. Ok, maybe just seriously hurt. Get good bark busters, unless you want to get home with broken fingers. (Yup) get good boots, unless you want broken toes. (Yup) helmets? (I've retired more spent helmets than I can remember) how about good old fashioned bad luck? (10mph tricky spot, fell just wrong on some roots, broken ribs)

I ask how old because it makes a big difference in how fast you heal up. I also say focus on your skill rather than the equipment because it's the bigger factor in you staying alive and well, and that's how you get the most fun out of it all.

Old man out, carry on.
 

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Discussion Starter #8 (Edited)
Cool, great thoughts so far! More about me: Im 5'10ish and weight about 170. No need for street legal and kick start is totally fine. Im mostly interested in MX bikes because I want to have fun take it to a track some time. There are also some decent single track trails near me and an off road park, so I'd ride some of that as well. I've ridden street motorcycles and quads for the past 5 years or so and I downhill mountain bike so I feel comfortable on two wheels. I know that dirt bikes are a different game but from riding friends bikes I felt that the 250F was the perfect size and had manageable power. Right now I'm leaning towards 2 smoke though because Id much rather spend time riding than wrenching, especially while Im new to the sport.
 

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A 250F can be great in the woods and obviously on the track too. I've got a buddy with a YZ250F that does great on single track. The bike pulls strong from the bottom and doesn't have the hit a lot of 2 strokes have as they get into the power band. My buddy buys new every year instead of rebuilding.

I run a 250 2 stroke Gas Gas enduro. It's very mellow compared to a MX 2 stroke and saves me a lot of energy since I don't have to fight the power in the woods. The track isn't my game so I don't have to compromise.

I've got another buddy with a YZ 250 2 stroke that he's tried to calm down with flywheel weight, pipe, G2 throttle, timing, etc. That bike is still a beast in the woods. I find it very hard to get just a little more power. Turn the throttle and it still wants to go, go, go! Now that bike puts a big smile on my face in the open, front up in the air through the gears, but it's no fun on single track, for me anyhow.

If you're just doing one bike for the track and the woods a 250F would be a good choice. If you want less upkeep expense and you like the woods better than the track a 2 stroke enduro is a good choice. If you're just going to have one bike you need to figure out where the compromise makes sense for you.

Edit to add: the YZ250F runs an autoclutch which makes it more woods friendly.

Also, check wheel size availability. The 19" wheels on MX bikes don't have as many choices for tires and a 21" wheel up front is going to roll over obstacles better.
 

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Absolutely look at the kind of riding you plan on doing the most. And, yes sometimes there is a thing called too much power, especially for someone new to it.

Ive had a number of bikes since i was kid (mostly yamaha), and most recently had a KTM 520SX. At 175 pounds this bike hauled my ass like I wasnt there...which for me was exactly what I wanted...until I realized I was doing way more trail riding that I anticipated. I planned on using it for some out door enduros and things like that. But in really tight technical terrain, the 520 was a sledge hammer, when I needed something much less. I never really regretted it and grew used to it quickly, but I had a number of friends ride the bike and said it was was too much for anyone.

Some people say the KTMs were over priced and too pricey to fix, but I never found that was case. It took less time and money to maintain and repair than my two close friends who were riding newer YZ250Fs.

Also even though my bike had electric start, i never used it. It was the easiest large 4 stroke bike I have ever kick started-hot or cold. Once the Yamahas we hot and shut of, they were PITA the re-start.

Long winded...in short, look at the riding you plan on doing the most, and find the bike to match that, and you.
 

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I'm in agreement with 29erclan.
I'm an old guy too and at 55 the thing I don't want anymore is too much power. I don't ride as much as I used to and my throttle control ain't what it used to be. A mistake on the throttle at the wrong time can destroy you on some of these newer more powerful bikes. One friend who was new to riding bought a Kawi 125 2stroke race bike as his first. Very first time out we were riding single track trails (yep, wrong bike for that especially for a beginner) and he went right up the side of the trail almost vertical. Came down and the bike busted his spleen. Almost died, helicopter ride out and he was done. Sold the bike and never looked back.
I still have and ride the last new bike I ever bought - 2001 XR250. I've had a few other bikes since then but the only one I still have is the XR. I plated it and the gawdamm thing just goes and goes and goes. Reliable as a hammer which is what I want above all else. I have never done ANYTHING to it other than some upgrades (handguards, Scotts shark fin, steering damper) and maintenance. I'm thinking about finally buying a newer, fuel-injected bike cuz I'm sick of the carburetor flood thing when I drop it. XR's are a bitch to start once you drop them but a breeze to ride. I won't buy anything bigger than a 350 (maybe the Husky FE350 or KTM EXC-F350), even those might be too much for me. The XR will stay around as a buddy bike.
 

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Discussion Starter #13
OK so update!

I bought a 1999 RM125 that runs, bangs through gears, smooth clutch but has a bog in the mid range. I picked it up for $200 which I think is a steal so I'm going to clean the carbs and give it a new top end and plug to see if that helps things out. How did I do? Ill post pics later!
 

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For $200 you did great man!
Break that carb down and clean it really well with some carb cleaner. Your mid-rage bog might just go away.
2 strokes hate to sit for long periods, they gummed up with pre-mix oil as the gas evaporates.

I shut the petcock on the tank off and drain the carb on my KTM 2 stroke after I'm done riding for the day. Fires right up next time I take it out.

Ultimate MX Hauler works great on the Xterra for dirt bike transport. No trailer or tabs required.
 
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