How are dirt bikes and road bikes made to handle different riding types? Riding both off-road and on-road, you’d note the difference between them. Of course, there are the obvious things, like suspension height and ground clearance, but also subtle things, like rider position and the difference between “turning” and “leaning” to steer. On pavement, putting your foot down for a turn could result in disaster, while attempting to lean into a turn off-road could easily send you off the trail. Here are a few differences between motorcycles for the road and dirt bikes, and how they make or break your ride.
On-road, you are bound to run across any number of road surfaces, from relatively-smooth gravel and smooth pavement to potholes and road debris. Road bike suspensions are tuned to deliver a smooth ride, much like a car, and can to absorb an impact, but suspension travel can be as little as a few inches. Off-roading is a challenge all its own, and dirt bikes must absorb a lot of road surface irregularities, not to mention jumps and landings, so suspension travel could be twelve inches or more.
On pavement, the primary turning force is provided by leaning the bike. The further you lean the bike, the tighter the turn will be. Lean to the left, and the bike goes to the left, and vice-versa. On the dirt, though, most turning is done by turning the handlebars, and you might even put your foot down on the inside of the turn to stabilize in case of a loss of traction. Steering stabilizers are made different, in this aspect. On-road stabilizers dampen all steering movement, while off-road stabilizers usually make centering easier than turning.
Logically, how far you can go is directly related to how big the fuel tank is, though it’s good to note that fuel tank size varies across the lineup. Most dirt bikes have small fuel tanks, because they don’t need to go far. Bigger tanks add weight and bulkiness that would make off-roading difficult. Enduro and rally bikes break this rule, as they’re designed for long-distance off-roading. Most road bikes have bigger fuel tanks for long-distance riding, especially touring bikes. Choppers and scooters break this rule, since they’re meant for short-distance riding.
Like the bikes they are fitted to, the stock tires on a bike give you a good idea what they’re meant for. Knobby off-road tires are fitted to dirt bikes to provide traction on loose surfaces, like dirt and gravel. Smooth street tires are fitted to road bikes to provide superior traction on pavement and feature wide contact patches for cornering performance. Of course, as there are crossover bikes, a wide variety of tires fit various road and trail types.
Like great-grandma’s impressive silver spoon collection, motorcycles come in all shapes and sizes, each suited for the intended ride. She wouldn’t use a demitasse spoon to serve her famous cream of broccoli soup, and you probably wouldn’t ride a dirt bike cross-country – both would be uncomfortable and require excessive refilling. When deciding on what kind of bike you want, ask yourself what kind of riding you plan on doing, then find the bike to match.