Pit Bike 101: Everything You Need To Know Before Buying A Pit Bike
Do Good Things Come In Small Packages? Here’s Some Pit Bike Advice To Help You Answer That Question
What is a pit bike? Do you need one? And which ones should you consider buying? These are all fairly tricky questions but luckily we’ve got the answers, and hopefully this article will help point you in the right direction – because when it comes to quality information about pit bikes, the internet isn’t particularly useful. Why? Firstly, because people are divided over what a pit bike truly is. Secondly, because the web is filled with unscrupulous sellers looking to make a quick buck selling sub-standard machinery. And lastly, the pit bike segment isn’t nearly as popular as regular dirt bikes, street bikes, or the rest…which means that reliable information is hard to come by. And that’s why we’ve done your homework for you. But before we get too carried away, let’s take a look at some pit bike history and try and pin down exactly what a pit bike truly is.
A Little Pit Bike History
Depending on what sources you prefer to believe, the term “pit bike” was first used to describe the old-school Honda Z50 Monkey bike, a motorcycle that was frequently employed by race event staff to get around the pit areas of race tracks, thanks to its small, practical, and most importantly, inexpensive, nature. While they were great little bikes for ferrying riders, photographers, and event staff around the staging areas, these machines also capable of so much more, with riders showing off their skills by taking them over decent sized jumps and pulling stunts for fun. It wasn’t long until the public caught on, and began to see the potential of these little pit bikes. There are other rumors about how the humble pit bike emerged, but this story seems the most logical, and credible.
After seeing how much fun could be had on these little small capacity machines and how much people were enjoying riding them, Honda decided to upgrade their little pit bike into something more capable. Based around the original Z50’s engine, Honda redesigned their pit bike from the ground up to make it even more appealing to the new market. The frame was completely redesigned, the tank was swapped for a plastic unit, it was upgraded to accommodate a monoshock, and much, much more. Aftermarket options became available, with tougher suspension, big bore kits, and more, and a new wave of interest swept across the small-capacity market. By the early 2000s, the pit bike had truly arrived. And with all things with an engine, it wasn’t long until like-minded folks wanted to get together and race them.
Kawasaki joined the fight by introducing their own pit bike: the Kawasaki KLX110. While the Honda Z50/XR50 was aimed more for smaller riders, the KLX110 was a more appealing alternative for adult riders looking to have small-capacity fun: the KLX was physically bigger and packed a few more cubic centimeters, making a wiser choice for adults who wanted to get in on the pit bike action. Naturally, as the success of these small machines grew, more manufacturers began paying attention. These days, the pit bike scene is mainly dominated by brands you probably haven’t heard of, but most of the big brands have a pit bike or two on offer. But what makes a pit bike different from a regular dirt bike?
Pit Bike Vs. Dirt Bike – What’s The Difference?
This one is another controversial topic that doesn’t really have a set right or wrong answer. While it’s quite clear that a pit bike is smaller than your average dirt bike, often with smaller diameter wheels, a slightly different riding stance, with engines that generally range between 50cc and 150cc which offer less speed, and less torque, than you’d expect from a full-size dirt bike, the line between the two is still quite blurry. You see, we’ve seen pit bikes that come equipped with 250cc motors…and while they’ve got bigger engines, they’re still classed as pit bikes rather than dirt bikes. Similarly, we’ve seen small capacity dirt bikes, with small diameter wheels, but they’re still dirt bikes rather than pit bikes. In our opinion, if you’re riding your bike in a pit race, or riding it in a similar way, then it’s a pit bike. If you’re riding it like it’s a dirt bike…then it’s a dirt bike. Not everyone will agree with that logic, but…if anyone wants to take the time to re-write a more convincing answer, feel free to drop it in the comments.
Regardless of how you define the difference between a pit bike and a dirt bike, there’s a clear difference between what should expect from each. You’re not going to get wild performance out of a pit bike, and you’re not going to get the same level of usability either. However, you’re going to get a lot of fun out riding one. But what brand should you buy, and how much should you invest?
What Pit Bike To Buy?
In all honesty, it depends on a wide range of factors – the most important ones being: your budget, your riding experience, and your expectations. Unless you have plans to ride in professional competitions, you don’t want to splash out on something over the top, but you don’t want to buy the cheapest pit bike you find either…because “cheap” and “good” are rarely one and the same. However, cheap and cheerful is a fine route to take if you just want some easy, cheap, short-term, two-wheeled fun…just don’t go thinking that it’s going to last a lifetime.
Essentially, your choices are going to be limited to expensive Japanese machines, mid-range European and American assembled (but Chinese manufactured) models, or the cheap completely made in China option. If you have big plans, go Japanese. If you know how to ride and want to ride hard, but don’t want to break the bank completely, try the European and American assembled models. If you just want something to put-put around on and don’t mind an oil leak here and there, then the Chinese option isn’t a terrible idea. In fact, the quality of Chinese engineering is getting better and better, and I will say that I own a Lifan engine and it’s is absolutely indestructible – but whether that’s one in a million or the norm is a matter of huge debate. Even so, don’t discount the cheap option completely, because you may be surprised.
So, here are 10 of our favorite pit bike options. They’re in no particular order, but we think any of these choices will put you in good stead. We’ve cast a wide net and tried to include a broad selection – so hopefully one of these is exactly what you’re looking for. To make things easier, we’ve divided it into two sections: brands you may not have heard of, and brands you definitely will already know! Even so, searching for any of these models should point you in the right direction. Happy hunting!
5 Smaller Pit Bike Brands And Models Worth Taking A Look At
#10. The Slam MXR125 – $1,125.00
Slam Motorcycles might not be a brand that you’ve heard of, but the UK-based company has worked wonders with imported Chinese engines to produce their own “MXR” line. Powered by a small, 125cc, four-stroke, air-cooled Lifan engine, the Slam MXR125 can produce a fairly modest 9.5 horsepower – which is more than enough to put a smile on your face. Partnered with a manual, four speed gearbox, the MXR125 is a great choice for new riders who want to make a start on two wheels in a fun and hassle free (and relatively inexpensive) way.
To make things even better, Slam have equipped their MXR 125 with a few unexpected features such as USD style front forks, an adjustable rear shock, and disc brakes at the front and rear. While it’s only a Chinese motorcycle at its heart, the addition of these extra pieces makes it worth the money when compared with some other brands with models at half the price. It’s a good option for beginner riders who want a decent product but don’t want to invest thousands of dollars. Generally, we like it.
#09. The Braaap MX 17 – $3,299.00
On paper, Braaap MX 17 looks like an expensive option, but when you consider that the Australian firm has got a few Pit Bike Racing Championships to its name and also offers a rather interesting Lifetime Guarantee for all of its motorcycles, then you’ll get a rough idea of the amazing value for money you’re getting. Yep, a lifetime guarantee – and that covers all moving parts, from the engine to the wheels, and pretty much every part, for the entire lifetime of the original owner. No other brand offers such a unique service, and that’s what makes the Braaap MX 17 such a wise choice for serious pit bike enthusiasts.
The MX 17 comes with a larger engine than you’d usually find on a pit bike, but experienced riders will appreciate the extra cc’s from the 160cc single cylinder power plant. Armed with upside down front forks and an adjustable rear monoshock, with disc brakes at the front and back, attached to a lightweight Chromoly frame and rolling on steel rims with cast alloy hubs, the MX 17 is the full package. It’s pricey, but you get what you pay for and more. Definitely worth considering for those who want something a cut above the rest.
#08. The Stomp Juicebox 110 – $850.00
The Juicebox 110 from Stomp might seem cheap, but it’s a quality pit bike worth investigating. Stomp’s products aren’t actually as cheap as a lot of other pit bike models out there, so you can rest assured knowing that $800 and over is still considered premium territory. That being said, we think that the Stomp Juicebox 110 is best aimed at a younger or learner rider. It has some amazing features, but it also has some limitations which some riders might not be happy about.
It’s powered by a Lifan 110cc single cylinder engine with four gears to play with…but it’s a semi-automatic arrangement. That means it doesn’t have a clutch, but comes with a gear lever that you select your gears with, but without fear of stalling. That’s not for everyone, but it’s a great way to get introduced to two-wheeled riding. Apart from the engine, the Juicebox comes equipped with conventional telescopic forks, an adjustable rear monoshock, hydraulic disc brakes, and plenty other cool features. Stomp do suggest that riders weighing over 130 lbs might have trouble enjoying themselves on one of these though – so be warned!
#07. The Thumpstar TSB 110 – $1,299.00
Built and designed for beginners and young riders in mind, the Thumpstar TSB 110 is a great option for those looking to get started in the world of motorcycling. Thumpstar are another Australian firm that have made big waves in the pit bike segment, having launched in 2004 and expanded all over the world in the years between then and now. They’ve made a name for themselves for making quality products with a reasonable price tag, and for their general overall knowledge of the mini bike industry. They’re a name to trust, and they’ve got a lot of interesting products on offer. Our pit bike of choice from them is the TSB 110.
The TSB 110 is a great choice for new riders thanks to the fact that it looks like a bigger motocross style bike but actually has beginners in mind. Like Stomp model listed above, the TSB 110 comes equipped with a 110cc engine mated to a semi-automatic gearbox which makes it easier to control for inexperienced riders…but that doesn’t mean that old hands won’t be able to have fun on one of these. It’s a kick-start only machine, but don’t let that put you up…since it’s such a small engine, kick-starting is absolutely no hassle at all.
#06. The SSR Motorsport SR110 – $855.00
SSR Motorsports are quite a big player in the pit bike industry, and the motorcycle industry as a whole. While they made a name for themselves specializing in small capacity pit bikes and ATVs, in recent years the company has expanded and is now a distributor of Benelli motorcycles for North America, taking care of the TnT300 and TnT600 sport bikes and a couple of cool scooters too. They’re a known quantity and have a dedicated following. In fact, if you’re after a particular pit bike model from SSR, you should head over to YouTube – you can find countless videos of SSR bikes going head to head with other machines…and you can read the comment battles that ensue underneath if you’ve got the stomach for it.
The SR110 is a great pit bike that can hold its own against motorcycles from more prestigious manufacturers, though it comes at a fraction of the price. Powered by an air cooled, four-stroke, single cylinder 107cc engine that can produce around 6.2 horses, the SR110 is easy to ride thanks to its fully manual four speed gearbox, springy suspension, powerful disc brakes, and lightweight steel chassis. It’s a kick-start only machine, and it’s a little rough and ready in places, but for the money it’s an absolute bargain of a pit bike.
And 5 More From The Beginner Manufacturers!
#05. The Beta Minicross R150 – $2,199.00
Beta Motorcycles have become a recent mainstay on our dirt bike lists, so it’s no wonder that they’re making an appearance on our pit bike list too. Now, if you’re already familiar with Beta, you’ll know that they’re a smaller brand that focuses mainly on small capacity dirt bikes and supermoto style machines – and they’ve managed to combine what they know and condense it into quite a formidable pit bike package: the Minicross R150. Described by Beta a being the “perfect ‘toy’ for all off-road enthusiasts, old and young,” the Minicross R150 is exactly that. And more.
Powered by a compact and capable air cooled, 150cc four-stroke engine and mated to a four speed gearbox, the Minicross R150 offers plenty of power and pull for new and experienced riders to have fun on. To make things smoother, Beta have given the R150 a hydraulic front fork and an adjustable rear shock, with disc brakes, and…a rather convenient electric starter. It’s a great little package with the spirit of something much bigger. If you’re not familiar with Beta, it’s about time you got acquainted since they offer some incredible models on their roster – and for very attractive prices, too.
#04. The Suzuki RM85 – $4,149.00
Is it a pit bike? Is it a small dirt bike? Now, the next four entries are probably going to cause debate among pit bike enthusiasts. Still, we think the Suzuki RM85 is a pit bike because it’s small, fun to ride, and totally suited to pit bike racing. Is it a great choice for beginners? Well, the $4,149 MSRP price should make it prohibitively expensive for the novice rider, but if they’ve got the Benjamins laying around, we think you can do a lot worse than this small Suzuki pit bike. Essentially, it’s a scaled down version of the rest of Suzuki’s bigger RM-Z range…and that should pique your interest.
Powered by a mighty liquid-cooled, single cylinder, 85cc two-stroke engine, fed by a Keihin PE28 carb, and mated to a bolt-action 6-speed gearbox, you can see why the Suzuki RM85 is such a formidable pit bike. But there’s more! Your money also buys you top of the range, fully adjustable, inverted, cartridge equipped, Showa front suspension with an adjustable rear monoshock, disc brakes for the front and back, an electric starter, and of course, classic Suzuki styling that bring the RM85 into line with the rest of Suzuki’s off-road range. We don’t think this is the best choice for beginners, but if you want a powerful pocket sized pit bike, then it’s a worthy option.
#03. The Yamaha TTR110 – $2,299.00
While the Suzuki offers a fully manual two-stroke experience, Yamaha’s pit bike offering, the TTR110 comes in the form of a semi-automatic four-stroke iteration that’s aimed squarely at young and developing riders – but also delivers on the fun factor for those who are a little older and already know their way around motorcycles too. It’s made for smaller riders but thanks to the decent suspension and ground clearance, it can handle itself over rough terrain with relative ease.
The engine is an air-cooled, four-stroke, 110cc single cylinder unit that has been tuned for optimum off-road performance, and promises to deliver ample power to match a wide range of challenging terrains. Apart from the addition of an electric starter, the TTR110 is actually quite a basic package, with no fancy disc brakes or anything like that – but that’s not a bad thing. It makes for easy servicing, and hassle free riding. Also, one of the nicest features about many of Yamaha’s small bikes is the fact that they often come equipped with forest-friendly exhausts, meaning that their noise and emissions levels have been approved by the United States Forestry Service – which means you can enjoy some guilt-free trail riding in the woods! All in all, it’s a very appropriately priced package that anyone can enjoy.
#02. The Honda CRF110F – $2,249.00
On paper, there’s not a hell of a lot of difference between the Honda CRF110F and the Yamaha TTR110. They’re both powered by 110cc four-stroke motors, and come mated to easy-to-ride semi-automatic four speed transmissions, they both favor drum brakes over discs, they both have non-adjustable suspension, they both weigh roughly the same amount (although the Honda is slightly heavier by 4 pounds, if you’re a stickler for the details), and they both cost roughly the same amount of money. In reality, however, they’re two very different little pit bikes that suit very different riders. What the specs say on paper is one thing, how they actually handle in reality is quite another.
You see, while they’re very similar, after a quick ride around in the dirt with them, you’ll quickly feel that one is geared towards absolute beginners and provides easy, confidence building riding, while the other excels when under the control of a more experienced hand and can perform more aggressive moves and deliver a more exciting riding experience. The former is the Honda, while the latter is the Yamaha. The Honda is more approachable and will be a better introductory bike for new riders, and that’s the only reason we rate it higher than the Yamaha. The Yamaha is a great choice for riders who may have already earned their stripes on a 50cc machine. Either one is great option. But there’s one more we think is a cut above the others…
#01. The Kawasaki KLX110 – $2,299
Again, the prices may be the same, the specification may appear to be the same, and on paper, yes, the Kawasaki KLX110 is very similar to the likes of the Honda CRF110F and Yamaha TTR110, but there’s something about the Kawasaki KLX110 that makes it a superior pit bike to the others. While it is learner friendly and great for new and younger riders, the KLX110 is actually designed more for the serious off-road enthusiast in mind rather than casual beginners – although it can accommodate them if needs be. The KLX110 is a pit bike that you could effectively take from the showroom, transport to a rugged off-road location, and ride in any conditions.
Powered by an awesome 112cc air-cooled, four-stroke engine that delivers smooth power through its four-speed, anti-stall, semi-automatic transmission, the KLX110 is our favorite pit bike not only because of its aggressive and highly maneuverable nature, but due to its ultimate versatility. Thanks to its low seat height of 26.8 inches and overall wet weight of a mere 168 lbs, the Kawasaki KLX110 is actually a fantastic ride for riders of any shape or size, and skill level too. Although, we still maintain that the KLX110 is far better suited to riders who have already cut their teeth on smaller machinery. It’s light, it’s fun, it’s confidence inspiring, a blast to ride, and of course, it comes in Kawasaki Green. It’s our favorite pit bike the brands you’ve already heard of.