There's a growing craze in the Motocross world in the arena of pit bikes. These smaller cousins to full-sized dirt bikes are not new, but their popularity is increasing as more people discover just how fun riding these miniature dirt bikes can be.
Originally manufactured to get around in the pits, hence the name pit bikes, these little guys offer versatility, convenience and just all around fun. Don't expect gnarly speed. Though the largest pit bike engine is 250 the torque just isn't there. Most pit bike engine sizes range between 50 and 110cc, some are 150cc and are 2-valve, 4-stroke motors. The original pit bikes were also stripped down but today's growing market continues to trick them out much like regular sized bikes.
For the money, pit bikes don't even compare to dirt bikes and a beginner wanting to experience the thrill of riding on gas-powered two wheels will find pit bikes affordable, easier to ride and crashing more manageable.
So, what exactly are pit bikes, how do they compare to dirt bikes and why would you buy one? Who better to interview than a pit bike master - Willy Browning. He's a staple in Arenacross and is also a pretty successful pit bike rider. In fact, he says, racing pit bikes probably paid him more in winnings than riding his regular KTM 250SXF and 350SXF. He is the only winner of all three pro classes at the now-defunct Mini Moto SX races held in Las Vegas a feat he accomplished in 2011.
Browning bought his first ZR50 pit bike when he was 15 and blasted around on BMX trails which he said were some of his best memories of riding a motorcycle. He then got involved with a friend's magazine taking photos and writing stories about pit bikes which opened the door to pit bike racing. For more information on Browning's success check out our profile of him. He was gracious enough to take time out for an interview on pit bikes.
Willy Browning catches some air on a pit bike
1. What's the difference between a pit bike and a dirt bike?
In terms of riding where dirt bikers usually ride, you're little bit limited on a pit bike. However, you can take it out to places that are big and wide open but some of the best times on a pit bike are in your backyard or places you really shouldn't be like a skate park or go-cart course.
Overall, it's a lot smaller size-wise both in engine size and actual size. Pit bikes can also be pretty noisy. Generally, almost everyone starts out riding on a pit bike often practicing in their backyard. To me that's what pit bikes are all about.
Back when there were still Mini Moto races the biggest thing I ran was a 178 with a 4-valve head. I think there are bigger ones out there but my bike was a Classic Honda. It was not stroked, it was all pistons.
The little bikes push 20 horses and the power to weight ratio is really out of this world with what how you can take and make it feel like a regular dirt bike. I've jumped stuff I've jumped on my big bike. I rode one of Blake Wharton's practice tracks in Texas and I did everything pretty much except the catapult and triple and I probably could have done if I wanted to.
2. Why would someone buy a pit bike?
Until you have one I don't think you understand the level of fun. Anyone can have a great time plus it can get super competitive in your back yard on Z50s battling it out. The whole time in my amateur career I begged my parents for a Z50 for so long. I just think there's something about pit bikes that are the greatest thing - there is tons of fun to be had. It's timeless. I used to collect them having half a dozen or so at one time and if I ever ran across a good deal I'd just buy it. Currently, I have a KLX110, Z50, and I'm working on a Trail 70 build.
3. Why buy a pit bike instead of a dirt bike?
It's a great beginner bike. I'd throw my wife on a CRF100. I do believe it's a good entry motorcycle for anyone to get their feet wet. Another thing, say you don't have time to load up and get out to your closest Motocross track or your home track doesn't offer convenient riding hours for you. On a pit bike, you can literally come out your front door and ride around in your yard. They are so versatile of where you can ride it. If you have the time for a big bike but you don't have time to make it to the track, with a pit bike you'll have just as much fun.
Pit Bike racing - Photo: VurbMoto
4. What can a pit bike do that a dirt bike can't?
One good thing about a pit bike like the KXL110 or CRF150, they are like lawnmowers. You hardly have to do any maintenance. Just make sure you change the oil and filter, the air filter and that thing starts up every time. They are pretty much bullet proof. I remember one time at Loretta Lynn's, I saw pit bikes landing in the water there and all had to do was take them back to camp and fire them up again.
5. What can't a pit bike do that a dirt bike can?
On a pit bike you don't get fully-geared up and you don't experience the aggressiveness of being out on an actual track and competing with people. I don't think hopping on a pit bike you're going to get the sense of what a Motocross or Supercross rider experiences. Pit bikes are more leisurely fun and give you a whole different type of freedom and experience. Even in full pit bike racing, I'm wearing tennis shoes so you're just not going to get that real-life Moto feeling.
6. Can riding/learning to ride a pit bike help your skills on a dirt bike?
Absolutely. I think you can learn from a pit bike and take it to the big bike. I've personally experienced that. One example is it is way easier to carry your speed through a turn and you can grasp the fundamentals of doing it. Additionally, I think turning on a pit bike is something you can pick your game up and take to the big bike. It's kind of like training wheels. If you're on your big bike coming to a turn you may lay off on the gas but on a pit bike you can hold it on through the turn. You'll be building bike skills and when you get out on the big bike those skills transfer over and you increase your speed that way.
7. Are pit bike parts similar to dirt bike parts?
A pit bike is a dirt bike at the end of the day. The parts won't exchange over but it's the same general idea. Big dirt bike companies make pit bike parts and they cover the board as far as top of the line motorcycle parts and accessories.
Pit Bikes - Photo: VitalMX
8. You race pit bikes - is pit bike racing similar to Motocross?
It's probably more like racing Arenacross than Motocross. The racing is super tight with a lot of bumping and rubbing.
9. What advice would you give someone interested in buying a pit bike?
My advice is stay away from that Chinese stuff. You don't want anything to do with it. It's all disposable product. Sure it's a few hundred bucks cheaper but you'll be throwing it away. When shopping, you don't need a big motor. Really, you can get by with a set of foot pegs, handlebars, shocks and springs. It's nice to have a pipe but you can get away with the minimum on a pit bike and have a good time on it.
10. We all know the reputable dirt bike manufacturers, who makes the best pit bikes?In my opinion there are really three companies that offer something in the pit bike industry and that's Honda, Kawasaki and Yamaha. Honda and Kawi have the best, that's what I'd go out and buy, but Yamaha brings some nice product to the table. The Honda CRF50 and the Kawasaki KLX110 those are by far the best pit bikes on the market if you're looking for a smaller compact pit bike.