Get Into Off-Road on a $1500 Budget

Get into Off-Road for $1500
Story by Benjamin Segal – Photos by Brian Bunn
Special thanks to Mikes MX for the use of his track for the photos


So you are thinking about getting a dirt bike, maybe you have a friend who rides or you met someone who does and you’re thinking you would like to try this dirt bike thing… It’s easy enough, just go down to the local motorcycle shop and buy one. While you’re there, might as well pick up some gear right. Seems easy enough, until you see how much all of this is going to cost you. At this point you aren’t even certain you are going to like this dirt bike riding thing. All you have done is heard people talk about what a great time they had riding last weekend.

We at EDM want you to try and like this dirt bike thing. So does everyone else in the motorcycle industry. You and many others like you are the people who keep the motorcycle industries wheels rolling. So we decided to go out and get into dirt bike riding with you. We gave ourselves a budget of $1500.00 to buy a bike and all the gear to go with it. This amount is excluding the fact that you need to have some way to transport the bike to a riding area, either a truck or a trailer. You could rent a van if you don’t own a vehicle that will allow you to transport a bike.

Before we get all excited about buying a bike, let’s first think about your safety gear. It is really easy to spend all of your money on a bike and have nothing left over for a helmet and boots and all the other things you will need to be able to go riding. This is not a good move because the first time out you will very likely fall off and need the protection. You have some options when buying gear. You can buy it used on Ebay or Craigslist, buy it new from a shop or online dealer. Or you can look for a bike where the seller is including the gear with the sale.

We chose to buy it from an online store. Here’s what we bought:

Helmet AXO- Chute
Boots AXO – Boxer
Jersey AXO – Sr Jersey
Pants AXO – Sr Pant
Gloves AXO – Ride Glove
Goggles SCOTT 83 Goggles
You will also need:
Tie downs $9.95
Chain Lube $ 7.64
Gas can $27.95
Premix $ 6.54
Ratio-Rite for measuring premix oil $ 8.99
Ramp for loading the bike into vehicle $79.95
Total $141.02
Combined totals $653.52
Amount left for bike purchase $846.48

So with our gear bag full, (you might want to use a large duffel or check out the gear bag we review here) our wallet substantially lighter and roughly $850 we were ready to go shopping for a bike. We chose to look for a Honda, Yamaha, Suzuki or Kawasaki thinking it would be easier to find any parts we needed to make repairs. We spent a few weeks watching and bidding on bikes on Ebay but didn’t win anything. We should take a minute here to say you want to be very careful if buying a bike on Ebay. When buying a dirt bike you want to be able to listen to the motor to find any funny rattles, engage the transmission, shift through the gears and engage the clutch to check for slipping. You don’t want to purchase a bike that will need serious service before you even ride it.

For our purposes Ebay was a dud, we really couldn’t find anything that fit our budget. So we turned to Craigslist. Searching through the Charlotte listing showed lot’s of bikes between $1,500 and $3,000 and a few in the range we were looking $500-$1,000. We looked at a few for $500 but they were all really beat. Then we saw it, the light at the end of the tunnel. It was a 1996 KX 125 with a Pro Circuit pipe, Pro Taper handlebar and a recent top end rebuild. The bad thing was the seller wanted $900 for it. The bike appeared to be just what we were looking for, albeit $55 more than we had to spend.

Upon inspection the bike had some short comings, it had some serious flat spots in the rims, the rear brake lever was loose/ floppy and it would need a clutch rebuild sooner than later. We pointed out these issues, offered the seller $700 and with some reluctance he took it. The good news is the tires were OK and the chain and sprockets had life left in them. The bike could be ridden as is and will be a great platform for some mechanical experience. We now had riding gear and a bike for just under $1,500. With our spare $146.00 we purchased a service manual for $20.00 off Ebay.

With our owners manual in hand we went out to the EDM shop to go through our new KX to look for any major issues that would get in our way on first day out and to lube/ tighten all the fasteners. We made some shims for the loose gear shifter and rear brake lever using a soda can and with all bolts tight it was time for the test ride. For our inaugural ride we chose a riding area that would allow us to have fun without having to worry about clearing any massive jumps that would require the power of a bigger bike.


We also wanted to ride some fun tight trails so we chose TNT in South Carolina. The lower track was the perfect choice, it is tight with good sized jumps that have enough room after the turns to allow a 125 to build enough speed to clear them. TNT also has a fantastic trail system that would enable us to appreciate the light weight of our project KX. Riding through whoops and leaping small rhythm sections was a blast on the 125 that could! Riding 450 four strokes is fantastic for power but the 125 was so nimble. It felt as if I was riding a BMX bike with a motor. Needless to say the fun factor was very high! After several laps on the MX track it was time to hit the trails. Tight single-track has always been one of my favorite things to ride and the rutted switchbacks really brought out the little KX’s strengths, super light weight and smooth, moderate power delivery.

A 125 really is an excellent way to fine tune your skills as a rider. It forces you to rely on your technique and finesse rather than relying on brute power. Riding on the track also brought out the little KX’s weak point, the suspension. We set all of the adjusters at the middle and worked from there. The spring rates are very soft for my 180 lbs. and the rear shock, being over ten years old, could use a service. We settled on the mid for compression/ rebound on the fork and mid for compression at the rear with 8 clicks out on rebound.

For a new rider, one just getting into the sport of dirt riding, the KX is an excellent choice. While the technology may not be state-of-the-art, it was very competent 10 years ago and I doubt a new rider to the sport would be able to notice the difference between a brand new bike and this one. He/she would surely feel the difference to their bank account though. Plus they have the added benefit that they can learn to ride this bike closer to its capabilities far more easily than they would be able to a newer, faster, more powerful current bike. Now that you have all this stuff to go riding, you probably want to find out where to ride.

If you have a pal who rides off-road ask him to take you along next time he goes riding or look into the MotorcycleSafety Foundation Dirt School. This is a great place to start your dirt riding experience as they will provide you with the fundamental skills required and get you going safely (you can even take the course without having a bike or gear). They will teach you things like clutching and throttle control. As you progress you can go to one of the many MX schools available throughout the US and get private lessons from a pro, click here for a Google search. You probably want to stay away from tracks for a while until you build your riding skills. Taking lessons from a professional is a smart move and will prevent you from developing bad technique right from the start.


You will very likely have a million questions. Don’t worry about it, even seasoned vets still have questions. A great source of answers can be found at thumper talk or one of the many other dirt bike forums out there.

A word to the wise

Please don’t just jump on the bike and go to some abandoned lot at the end of your street. Or worse the alley behind your house, or the street in front of your house and start riding around. It may seem like a fine idea to you, what can a couple minutes of riding hurt, no hassle with loading the bike. Trouble is, to those people who have no interest in dirt bikes or even have a distaste for motorcycles in general. It is a perfect excuse to join the team of people who are trying to eradicate off-road riding in all forms. All you need to do is look at the current laws in California to see the direction things are going. Please don’t add fuel to their fire! Act responsibly, use your brain and be considerate of your neighbors. Open your garage, invite them over to see your new baby and turn someone else on to the joy of dirt bike riding!