Asking to compare dirt bikes to motorcycles is like trying to look up the differences between desserts and cakes. A motorcycle is a two-wheeler automobile. Both dirt bikes and street bikes are motorcycles. But there are more than meets the eye when comparing street bikes to dirt bikes. Even now, with hybrid bikes out in the market, you might be more confused as hybrid bikes take on the same characteristics of both.

So my teammates and I at Gadnets borrowed a neighbor’s scooter and we rode on many terrains including hayfields, mud puddles, and hill areas. After you have read and understood this article though, you would be able to tell my old grandpa which is which if you find dirt bikes and street bikes in the same room.

So what makes dirt bikes different from street bikes when it comes to handling the different riding styles (stunts) and terrain types? Of course, between dirt bikes and street bikes, there are obvious differences that you may have seen on other blogs, like bike suspension, height, and ground clearance. There are yet subtle differences that no one will notice unless they test-ride both bikes simultaneously, like rider position and steering ability or speed.

This table shows us the difference we found out from our testing:

 Dirts BikesStreet Bikes
Suspension:MoreLess
Tires:KnobbySmoother
Brakes:Sharper On TrailsLocks Up On Tires Or Trails
Sitting Position:UprightLeaning
Steering:Wider Handlebars & More SteeringShorter Handle & Less Steering
Overall Speed:LessMore
Weight:LessMore
Riding Pegs:MoreLess
Clutch Use:More Clutch UseLess Clutch Use
Check Prices Check Prices

As you have seen in the table, they are both very different bikes. Now, how do those differences hold up while riding? Let’s see the explanation.

We will go into these deeper differences in this article because we have the first-hand experience with them both. Speaking of bikes, blurring the lines are the popular hybrid bikes. These bikes come with a big dramatic entrance. They can work like both dirt bike and street bike. You might have come across adventure touring bikes. Yes, that one!

Street Bikes VS Dirt Bikes

Street-bike-vs-dirt-bike
Image Credit: Dirt Bike Newbie

The long debate about whether street bikes are worth buying over dirt bikes is not new. If you are facing that controversy, you might want to sit down for this. This post is not going to tell you which one is better for you, because other than the fact that you are an internet user and you love Gadnets, I don’t know so much about you. So you should take the responsibility to read through and understand the differences so that you will find out what each motorcycle has to offer before you drop your cash to the bike store owner. Here you go, courtesy of Gadnets.

Street Bikes VS Dirt Bikes| SUSPENSION

Roads are not of the same topography everywhere. I mean that road surfaces vary foot by foot. Even walking on the streets, you will find that roads are not the same. So while riding, you would come across different types of road surfaces, from rough roads to smoother ones. On most streets, (or highways) we find paved roads. All motorcycles are designed with what is called a suspension. Also known as a shock absorber. This design is what makes the bikes stand erect as they soak up the bumps and holes on the roads.

Street bikes are designed to absorb the shock of the minor imperfections of the paved roads. Minor imperfections. By that, I mean the little impact caused by potholes, or a raised pavement or a short curb. The suspension travel can be very short.

On the other hand, dirt bikes are built for off-road riding. When we went off the road, that powerful power bike got his work cut out for him. Even Eric, who was riding it, know that it was not convenient both for him and the bike. Lol. The suspension system on the street bike is not made for such deep gullies, mud puddles, and the hills. Dirt bikes on this part absorb all the shocks and could easily bounce even on the worst road bumps, talkless of the landings, jumps, and so on. The suspension travel in dirt bikes is often higher than twelve inches.

Street Bikes VS Dirt Bikes| TIRES

You might have known this already but there are different tire types for different bikes. Each tire type has a special purpose. Because you would be riding on loose and uneven surfaces on off-road trails, dirt bikes usually come with knobby tires. 

These tires do well to give the best traction while riding fast on those kinds of irregular trails. Because off-road tires have large and deep points between the several knobs on the surface, it is easier for them to go over small gravel, tiny sand, small snow, and so on. The knobs also help claw while riding in mud, or sand and the dirt.

However, the tires on street bikes are smoother and rounder with a more even surface. The spaces are not as deep or as wide as those on dirt bike tires. Although some street bike tires are big, they cannot give the required traction as would a dirt bike. When we studied the patterns on the tires of the power bike we borrowed, we found out that as opposed to that of our dirt bikes, the tires of a street bike is made specifically for a smooth paved road. 

First, the outer layer has more of rubber. The effect of this is positive on a paved road because it gives a required amount of grip on the road. But off-road, rubber is useless on top of sand, gravel, mud, or dirt as it slides over them. 

Another difference is in the thread pattern on the street bike tires. The tread patterns are straight and they are made to help strain water as the street biker rides over the wet paved floor. However, they tend to hold sand and hay in the thread spaces when we rode. This affected the handling because it made the street bike slide more often. So badly, Eric thought he was going to crash at any moment. But his crashing wasn’t here.

Street Bikes VS Dirt Bikes| BRAKES

This part is an important difference between dirt bikes and street bikes. Brakes. Well, you may think that every automobile has brakes and so what makes this topic special? I’ll answer that with this: We have seen how the suspension and tires work in both types of bikes. Now, both the suspension and tires on any bike have to take on the force of the brakes when they are applied. This is what I mean. If you are conversant with street bike riding, you will understand how braking makes the front suspension compress. 

Because street bikes (on paved roads) run at higher speeds and have higher weight than dirt bikes, they need more powerful brakes than dirt bikes do. This is how that works on the paved road or the highway. A street bike, as we have seen, get more traction from the tires as the ribber interacts well with the pavement. The traction or friction ensures that the brakes will work more efficiently. They can transmit more force if you apply the brakes. The tires stop and the pavement obeys immediately.

That is when braking on a paved road. Sadly, it wasn’t a good day for Eric. Well, as we entered the trail, we planned to make a sharp bend and so we needed to tap on the brakes. Eric wanted to do that, but the brakes were too quick to lock up the tires because the tires hadn’t been able to get a grip on the surface. So, the next thing we knew, Eric had landed straight on his helmet! Fortunately, no injuries were recorded while we tested for the sake of this article.

The moral of that is that bikes need to have a stronger suspension, lighter brake force, and sturdier tires to be on an off-road trail. Those are what dirt bikes have.

A dirt bike has three brakes. But you may only need to know about the front brakes and the rear brakes. Little about the shift down engine brakes. The front brakes supply most of the braking force to the dirt bike, but we use the rear brakes even more than the front brakes. The effect of this is that while the front wheels are focused on changing direction and moving about, applying brakes at the same time will cause it to dig in (not lock up). However, the rear brakes hold the rear tire in check for the bike to stop while the tire already had a good grip on the irregular surface.

Street Bikes VS Dirt Bikes| SITTING POSITION

One significant way to differentiate dirt bikes from other bike types is how you sit comfortably on the bike. Let’s talk about some common street bikes you have observed well and set the sitting position of a dirt bike apart.

On a dirt bike, the correct way to sit is to sit uprightly. Your feet will be on the rear pedals and rear brake pads so it will be directly under your torso. This position is perfect for when the riding gets extremely rough. You will be able to quickly lift your butt off the seat a little.

Street bikes have a different sitting position. Even though some bikes like adventure bikes and standards have the same sitting posture to a certain degree, street bikers usually lean forward on their bikes. 

On sport bikes, for instance, you sit leaning forward into the wind, and moving your feet upward and towards the rear to facilitate larger lean angles when you are making corner turns.

When riding cruisers, riders often put their feet in front of them and up, as if they were sitting back in a comfortable chair. While some people enjoy this sitting position, it can turn out to be a big pain in the butt (or ass) if your seat is not set right or if your rear shock absorbers don’t work well on the bumps. 

Street Bikes VS Dirt Bikes| STEERING

Riding on the highways (or on a paved road), you don’t need much steering before moving your street bikes everywhere you want. You can turn into street corners simply by leaning in your bikes into them. Since there are regulations to road use, you can turn to any length with the traffic in your favor. 

Conversely, while on the trail, Eric complained that he could not steer well and freely as he would on a dirt bike. You may want to make a sharp turn on the trail, but there is a limit to how far you can go before your hands hit the gas tank. So you need a wide steering space.

Although we lean to turn on dirt bikes too, steering is way easier on a dirt bike (while on the trails) than on a street bike. On trails, you will have more of slides and maneuvering of ruts and dirt. So unlike street bikes, dirt bikes have longer handlebars. This wider length provides you the opportunity to turn the wheels much wider from side to side. 

Street Bikes VS Dirt Bikes| OVERALL SPEED

When talking about speed, I don’t think we need to stress much as the street bike humbles our dirt bikes when it comes to overall speeding. Street bikes are designed to cruise conveniently at normal freeway speed and they can hit really high speeds when the rider steps on the gas generously. Even then, in smaller displacements, a street bike may struggle to hold up a 75 mph speed.

Dirt bikes, on the other hand, are designed to provide the maximum torque application even in lower gears. This means higher speed in lower displacements. it is this high torque application that makes it easier for the dirt bikes to pull out of sand, mud or dirt quickly and to leap when in sight of steep hills. 

It is the gearing and weight of both motorcycles that gives the reason why a 250cc dirt bike can run over these irregular off-road trails even better than a 1000cc street bike. Aside that dirt bikes are more lightweight and are made for maximum torque application, dirt bikes are at an advantage because the traction you get on a paved road is a lot more than what you need on a dirt trail. That explains why the dirt bikes come with lesser speed than street bikes.

The first thing you must unlearn for a new skill if you are an expert street biker is how different speeds are. Your overall speeds would be much less on a dirt trail. Trying to match your track speeds on a dirt trail would be abortive or even dangerous. Unlearn that, and learn this: only accelerate hard in short bursts a lot more than you would on the street or a racetrack. You also have to be more thoughtful while applying the throttle. Dirt tracks have a lot more irregularities than a paved street or a race track, and so riding on a dirt trail calls for a lot more caution owing to this fact. 

Street Bikes VS Dirt Bikes| WEIGHT

The weight of dirt bikes is significantly lower than that of street bikes. That is unarguable because you don’t want a heavy cruiser on an off-road trail. That is why dirt bikes with smaller displacements and singular cylinders cut it better.

In the intro, I mentioned adventure bikes and hybrids, which may look like dirt bikes, but in reality, when the going gets tough, the weight of an adventure bike will pull you down rather than pull you out. A big cruiser or a touring bike may give similar trouble while trying to tread through a muddy patch or sandy dirt trail. Even though sport bikes are lighter than these, we cannot use sportbikes on trails because of some other reasons we have discussed, remember?

As regards weight and what we need on trails, high top speed is not a requirement on trails. A good off-road bike must have low-end torque and rev well. You would not argue that dirt bikes have these interesting attributes and even more that commends them as the only viable candidate for off-road racing.

Additionally, we at Gadnets have found (and have explained) that dirt bikes have good chassis and suspension that are meant to absorb impacts which would break down a street bike in no time. Dirt bikes also have a higher ground clearance and reinforced footpegs than street bikes (we will talk about the pegs next) to allow riders to stand on the ride, thus avoiding many accidents.

Street Bikes VS Dirt Bikes| PEGS

Unlike street riding where the biker sticks to his seat or slides across it, dirt bike riding requires the rider to stand up oftentimes and ride the pegs for a large amount of time. This action helps to reduce the shock that comes when the bike is going over rough surfaces. It will also give the dirt biker more balance and control of the bike.  

When doing some flying stunts on your dirt bike, you must stand and ride the pegs. You cannot easily do this on a street bike. Trust me, Eric tried and the furthest he could do was lift his front tires and rev on with only the rear. In addition to going airborne, when taking corners, you also have to stand up from the seats on a dirt trail. 

Street Bikes VS Dirt Bikes| USE OF CLUTCH

Clutch use on street bikes is very minimal when compared with dirt bikes. When riding a street bike, you are most likely not required to slip the clutch. When you are shifting up gears, you disengage the clutch momentarily for a fraction of a second, and you may only have to blip the throttle along with the clutch as you downshift.

However, on dirt bikes, you must use the clutch more extensively. Many dirt bike riders prefer to stay in the same gear and thus, they need to use the clutch to increase the revs, to make the rear tire roll with more vigor, and to get out of a corner in the same gear. 

Dirt bike riding involves low speed on the trails as we have discussed, and so instead of moving through gears and controlling the speed with the throttle, they find it easier to keep the throttle down while using the clutch to modulate the power going to the wheels. 

Each Bike Is Good For What It’s Worth

Motorcycles, like desserts, are in different shapes and sizes. Each type or kind is suited for the intended purpose and rider. As you wouldn’t use a vacuum cleaner to clean your dishes, even when it is a cleaning tool, you must get the motorcycle that is best suited for the purpose you want as well as your lifestyle.

Now, motorcycles are evolving over the years, you have a bike for whatever you want. Different bikes for motocross racing, which can’t be suitable to race in a pit where you use pit bikes. Whereas, ATVs and UTVs and SUVs are all off-road vehicles, but they are all different in their own way. (Click here to read a more extensive way to distinguish ATVs, UTVs, SUVs from dirt bikes.)

From all of us at Gadnets. We really hope that you find this article helpful. As I promised earlier, you are now equipped to teach even your dumbest friend (if you have any) the differences between dirt bikes and street bikes as they are both motorcycles. As you have found this article informative, do well to share it with your friends. If you don’t mind, we would love to know your thoughts. Tell us about what you think in the comments section below, or mention us on one of the social networks while also including a link to this article. Safe ride, fella!