You dig the local motocross track and often brag to your pal who lives a few states over about the triple you landed. Conversely, your friend counters with exciting trips through back trails where every turn offers something new.
Your love of dirt bikes is how you got to know each other and you vow to reunite one of these days on the track or trail. So, if you're the one who ends up traveling across state lines to check out those awesome trails, can you bring your motocross bike? Or how about that trail bike on the track?
What exactly is the difference between a motocross bike and a trail bike?
The short answer is nothing! Well, almost nothing.
Assuming it's the same make and model, both bikes probably looked the same on the showroom floor. Out of the box, both bikes function reasonably well on the track or trail. But if you're blasting through whoops or ripping along back trails eventually the upgrades needed to ride effectively gradually change the look and feel of the bikes.
Motocross is all about racing and finishing strong ahead of your competitors. A motocross bike is much lighter than a trail bike. To accomplish this aftermarket upgrades are a must. Changing the suspension is the first step. You'll need a finely tuned suspension to handle the pounding and grinding a motocross track gives.
Conversely, trail bikes give a much smoother ride and added upgrades help you navigate the more technical difficulty of trails. Think enduro when it comes to riding trails. The bikes are heavier and you might even add a headlight and kickstand - two pieces of equipment a moto bike would never have.
To grab the holeshot in motocross, you'll need to change the sprockets. Reduce the number of teeth to give you better punch at the start of a race. You won't need it as much for those long trail runs.
Once you dig a little bit the differences between the two bikes becomes increasingly evident. Primarily, you'll ride a softer suspension and more engine torque with less top end power in a trail bike.
Honda CRF250R - Courtesy Honda Powersports
Thanks to the growing popularity in recent years of dirt bike riding, some manufacturers do indeed offer specific motocross or trail specific dirt bikes. Take for example, the Honda CRF250r and CRF250X - a motocross and trail bike respectively. You might initially find it difficult to differentiate between the two. However, the trail version comes with a wide-ratio gearing transmission, an electric starter and different sized tires among other subtleties.
Honda CRF250X - Courtesy Honda Powersports
Overall, it's much easier to turn a motocross bike into a trail weapon as opposed to transforming a trail bike into a machine that rips on the track. A true trail bike is underpowered, geared too short and equipped with really soft suspension.
If you have a motocross bike and want to try your skills on a trail consider changing the following to your dirt bike:
Motocross bikes are set up to take the abuse of big jumps, whoop sections and cornering at high speeds. Before hitting the trails, adjust the compression and rebound for a softer ride. However you might be better off getting your suspension re-sprung and re-valved by a professional. If you are using the bike to do both track and trail, you'll have to settle with adjusting the compression and rebound and sacrifice some comfort on the trails.
A trail bike's suspension won't take this kind of jump!
Motocross bikes focus on a variety of speeds and track conditions. Since trail riding varies from wide open desert to tight corners in the forest, you'll want to change the bike's gearing depending on the day's ride. Gearing up a couple teeth on the rear sprocket helps with tight, low speed technical conditions and gearing down helps if your trails consist more of long distance high speed situations.
Motocross bikes come with very little protection. Protection equals weight and the heavier your bike the less chance of winning the holeshot and taking the checkered flag. You'll need to beef up your ride for trails so look into full protection skid plates, radiator guards and full wrap around hand guards to protect your controls and hands.
Kailub Russell won't win motos with those elephant ears but he'll win offroad races
Since weight is not an issue in trail riding think about adding a larger fuel tank to extend your ride time (most moto bikes are at two gallons and under) and additional bike protection.
In addition, riding public trails usually requires a spark arrestor but if you want to compete in a motocross race a spark arrestor will do just that - arrest your forward progress. Overall, a trail bike is more quiet and the spark arrestor is a must have to avoid fines in most parks.
If you're riding tracks over trails and vice versa, you likely can get away with the same sized engine as long as you add the necessary upgrades to fit the style of riding. If you prefer to get a specific bike designed for the track or trail then check out what the various manufacturers offer and see if the different specifications fit your riding style.