Street Bikes Versus Dirt Bikes: Which One Is For You?

Jake Robison - September 13, 2022

Motorcycles seem to be gaining popularity over the last few years. While they’ve been drawing attention for nearly a century and a half, people are increasingly showing interest in these two-wheeled alternatives to passenger vehicles. Of course, there are good reasons for that. They’re generally less expensive to buy and maintain than four-wheelers, and they offer far more freedom and versatility. Those are only a couple of benefits motorcycles bring to the table.


Having said all that, not all motorcycles are the same. They’re divided into several categories at this point with the selection constantly growing. Two of the broadest categories for people to consider are street bikes and dirt bikes. If you’re reading this, chances are you’re trying to decide which of these types of motorcycles to invest in. We’re here to help you choose. Though street bikes and dirt bikes may appear similar at a distance, the two are actually quite different.


Exploring the World of Dirt Bikes


Dirt bikes, as the name indicates, are built for off-road riding. They can be maneuvered through the woods, over trails, and around dirt tracks. Some are for purely recreational riding whereas others are souped up for racing and showing off riders’ skills and steel-reinforced nerves. Dirt bikes have a range of features you won’t find on street bikes.


Less Size and Weight


Dirt bikes are smaller and lighter than street bikes. Those are a couple of the features that make them easier to maneuver around trees and across rough terrain. Those smaller frames and reduced bulk also make them easier to launch off of ramps. When you’re off-roading, you need as much agility as you can get.


Knobby Tires


Thinner, knobbier tires are another trait that separates dirt bikes from street bikes. Knobbies dig into the dirt and grip slippery leaves and mud far more effectively than smooth ones. Without those knobby tires, a dirt bike would slip and slide around rather than flawlessly navigating obstacles. That definitely makes for a more enjoyable off-road ride.


Beefier Suspension


Many people might think that dirt bikes would need less suspension than street bikes since they’re lighter. Actually, the opposite is true. They have beefier suspension than their street-legal cousins. Extra springiness and sturdiness are vital for bouncing around on rough terrain without rattling riders’ teeth quite so much. Their specially designed suspensions also hold up much better against all the abuse of off-roading.




Traditionally, dirt bikes have kick-starters though some of the newer models are equipped with push-button versions. In the past, even many street bikes had kick-starters, but the transition to electric starters has happened more quickly with street bikes. On dirt bikes, the kick-starters fold neatly away, so they won’t be in the rider’s way or get damaged during the ride.


More Responsive Steering


Dirt bikes have more responsive steering than street bikes as well. On the trails and tracks, dirt bike riders often need to make quick turns and hastily respond to obstacles. Shorter handlebars and other features give dirt bikes the added steering and responsiveness riders need to avoid dangerous hurdles.


Less Stability


Since dirt bikes are smaller and lighter and have narrower tires than street bikes, they’re not quite as stable. That may seem like a negative point, but it’s really a necessary trait. On dirt bikes, riders use momentum and their own bodies and balance to keep their bikes upright. Keep in mind, when you’re riding on rough and varied terrain, adding extra stability to the bike itself won’t necessarily counteract the problem.


Different Braking


Additionally, the brakes on dirt bikes kick in faster than those on street bikes. They’re stronger as well. That means when you hit the brakes, you can expect quick, jarring results. That could cause quite a few problems with other types of motorcycles on paved roads, but it’s essential for dirt bike riders when they encounter hurdles and need the fastest possible reaction times from their bikes.


Those are some of the main features you’ll find on dirt bikes. Each one plays a role in improving the safety and functionality of the bike. It’s important to point out that the skill and experience of the rider are crucial as well. Without them, all the other features mean very little.


Venturing into the Realm of Street Bikes


Now, let’s shift gears and take a closer look at street bikes. In contrast to dirt bikes, street bikes are made for riding on paved roads. As such, they feature a range of traits that make them more suitable for asphalt. For one, they’re more comfort-oriented than dirt bikes, but that barely scratches the surface.


Smoother Tires


We’ve already mentioned that dirt bikes have knobby tires, so they can dig into mud and other off-road elements. Street bikes, on the other hand, have wider, smoother tires. That gives them more traction on asphalt and makes them less vulnerable to water on the roads when it’s raining.


Different Setup


Because street bikes are designed for longer trips, they have a completely different setup than dirt bikes. Street bikes’ seats are positioned further back than those on dirt bikes, and their handlebars are wider. Riders are also able to stretch out their legs a bit more on street bikes. None of those features would do a dirt bike rider any good. In fact, they might hamper a dirt bike rider’s abilities.


Larger Fuel Tanks


Street bikes have larger fuel tanks as well. As noted, street bikes are built for longer rides. That means they need more fuel to draw from at any given time. Larger fuel tanks would be too bulky and heavy for dirt bikes. The weight of extra fuel could be a problem too. They’re perfect for street bikes, though.


Simpler Operation


As many riders who are experienced with both types of bikes might tell you, street bikes are less complicated to operate than dirt bikes. On the road, riders typically hit the clutch, switch gears, and release as needed. That’s not usually the case with dirt bikes. Off-road riders use their clutches a bit differently. They often try to hold a specific gear while using the throttle more for speed control. That wouldn’t be practical on the road, and it would detract from the enjoyment of the ride.


Greater Stability


Whereas dirt bikes aren’t the most stable vehicles on the market, street bikes offer a great deal more stability. They’re heavier, wider, and a bit more centered, so you don’t have to work quite as hard to keep them upright while riding. Street riders still have to have skill, balance, and steadiness, but the bike works with them to achieve stability. That comes in handy when you’re battling passenger vehicles, 18-wheelers, wind, and other factors on the road.


More Relaxed Steering


Steering is also much different on street bikes than on dirt bikes. Street riders turn the handlebars and lean with the bike to head in the intended direction. In turn, the bike gracefully responds. Dirt bikes are significantly choppier with their steering, which could certainly make for some trickier, more dangerous, and less relaxing experiences on asphalt.


Sturdier Build


One of the most noticeable differences between street bikes and dirt bikes is the way they’re built. Street bikes are mainly composed of metal, and they’re built wider and bulkier. On the other hand, dirt bikes achieve their lighter weight by substituting metal body parts with plastic ones. Though plastic parts are simpler and less expensive to replace, they just wouldn’t hold up well on the road.


Street Legal


On top of all those other traits, we can’t overlook the legal factors. Street bikes are street legal because they’re made for the road. Dirt bikes aren’t street legal. You can’t ride them to competitions; they have to be towed on trailers or hauled in the backs of trucks to get them where you need to go.


All those traits come together to make street bikes what they are. As is the case with dirt bikes, there are dozens of models on the market. Each one has its own unique set of strong suits, but not all models are right for all riders.


Which Type of Bike Is Right for You?


All that brings us to the heart of the matter. Which type of bike is right for you? For the most part, that depends on which type of riding you want to do and what you hope to gain from the experience.


Are you looking to hone your agility skills and experience the thrills of competing? Does the excitement of making your way around a range of obstacles appeal to you? Do you seek adrenaline rushes that last long after the ride is over? Do you have nerves of steel? If so, a dirt bike is probably your best bet.


On the other end of the spectrum, many would-be riders are hoping for a freer, more relaxed experience. They’re looking to get away from chaos and commotion. They’re interested in a level of stress relief that can only come from heading down the open road on two wheels. If you fall into that category, a street bike would be the choice for you.


It’s also fair to mention that you don’t necessarily have to sacrifice one for the other. Adventure and dual-sport bikes can allow you to experience both worlds. Still, neither offers the same level of functionality as a bike that’s strictly meant for either on- or off-road riding. Of course, that’s a topic for a different day.



Jake Robison


Jake Robison has operated powersports dealerships since 2003.  With an extensive background in the motorcycle industry including sales, service, parts, finance, management and powersports training, he covers all things motorcycles and enjoys sharing valuable information to newcomers on two-wheels

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