Top Off-Road bikes of 2008

For all you dirt-eaters out there, here is the top 10 off-road bikes from last year, as tested by Motorcycle Trader journos...

Dirt bike riders are a breed apart. And as such, each will have his or her favorite dirt bike. Now, I’m the first to admit my knowledge of off-road bikes is probably on par with my knowledge of the inner workings of the US Government, so I’m not about to go and spout off on what MX-er you should have or what trail bike is best for you. Nope, what I’m going to do is give you a run-down on some of the off-roadies we’ve had the recent pleasure of.

Our dirt guru Deno, along with Bazz and Daimen Ashenhurst, have been busy beavers this past year riding all the latest offerings so you can decide which one is best for your type of riding. Hopefully this time next year I’ll be able to tell you more from a newbie-rider’s perspective as I intend to spend at least a few months of 2009 exploring the trails and tracks around Aotearoa on various off-road bikes. But until then, here’s a goodly selection for you to drool over…


Honda-CRF450Honda CRF450

Tested just before Xmas, the new fuel injected CRF450 looks smaller and feels noticeably more nimble than its ‘08 sister, with a much smoother power delivery. The ‘09 model is definitely targeted toward taking the top spot on the podium, and both Blue Wing Honda boss Phil Haynes and Honda Red Racer team chief Shayne King reckon the new bike is well up to the challenge. For those mortals who just want a great handling MX racer, you can’t go past this bullet.

Read our full review here…



Husqvarna TE310Husqvarna TE310

Don’t want an arm-tearing grunter 450 but need more power than most 250s can deliver? Then this bike could be just what you’re looking for. Like the rest of the TE enduro range, the 310’s fuel injected so the power delivery is measured and deliberate. Light handling and great manners, along with the upsized capacity, make the TE more versatile that the average 450. The brakes are excellent, both front and back, while the clutch feel is not too heavy but not exactly light. The TE310 is pretty close to perfect for most trail riders.



Kawasaki-KLX140Kawasaki KLX140

The ideal machines for those tweenies out there. And with spacious ergos and tough, torquey power plus beefy brakes and suspension, adult beginners or those of a lesser stature may slot straight into the KLX140 and be as happy as a knitting nanna for many years of riding fun. With modern sharp KX-inspired looks, a stylish yet suitably hushed pipe and dependable and low maintenance air-cooled four-stroke practicalities, this is a great mid-sized bike for the up and coming trial/euro rider.

Read our full review here…


Yamaha YZ250Yamaha YZ250

Two-strokes used to have a powerband an inch wide and 50 horses strong that took an educated clutch hand and a brave man to hang on to. If you showed fear it would eat you 10 foul a plug. Suddenly, easy-to-use four-strokes came along and the engineers started to focus on 2T usability. The two-stroke YZ250 is the pinnacle of that focus. It delivers broad, torquey power that is easy as pie to lay down. It will run forever, the handling exhibits many of the good traits of its 4T stable mates and it’s so much lighter, it’s laughable.

Read our full review here…


Suzuki-RMZ450Suzuki RMZ450

EFi finally came to MX at the start of last year with the Suzuki RMZ450. At first glance Suzuki has produced a completely new bike that works perfectly first time. The ‘08 RMZ450 EFi offers leading technology, amazing handling, good suspension and it looks trick. While the top-end power delivery might be better for the pros, it works well for the rest of the world.

Read our full review here…



Gas Gas EC300Gas Gas EC300

The EC300 is the biggest of the Gas Gas two-stoke range. The ‘08 model differs only lightly from the previous year’s model, with stronger handguards and a more comfortable seat. A new LCD speedo is a nice touch as well. Damien tested this bike in the early months of 2008 and reckoned it was one of the most complete packages he’s ridden; excellent power delivery, nice brakes, featherlight clutch and and superb front shocks. On most points it’s as least as good as the KTM 300 EXC-E and, in his opinion, the front end alone edges it ahead of the KTM in stock trim. If you’re gonna get a dinger, give the Gasser a go.



Suzuki DR-Z250

To some, the DR-Z250 is an old friend, while to others it’s their entry to a new sport. While we tend to get carried away by the newest big-bore beanie-splitter from Japan, Austria, Spain or wherever else, we’ve always had time for the good old trailie and here’s where the DR-X fits in perfectly. The mellow engine is friendly low down but you can still leg it if you push hard enough. The adjustable suspension and wide seat are soft enough in combination to allow you to ride all day without the dreaded numb bum. Electric start, whisper quiet exhaust, brilliant brakes and reasonable aesthetics are all part of the package with the DR-Z250, the ideal beginner’s bike.






Winner of the 2008 Off-Road Bike of the Year at the recent NZ Motorcycle Awards, the 300 EXC presents probably the ideal combination of light weight and incredible torque, along with that must-have accessory if you suffer from gammy-knee syndrome, the electric starter. A powerpack of a bike that can stand up to the most brutal hardcore enduro events like as Erzberg or Hell’s Gate. It convinces with many unbeatable assets both in racing and in the hardest of cross-country touring. You’d be hard pressed to find a better two-stroke than this!


Yamaha-WR250RYamaha WR250R Supertrail

Came close to taking out the BOTY title this year, the WR lives up to its ‘Super Trail’ claim and successfully straddles the road/trail gap. If you’re a commuting trail rider, an outright beginner on a learner license, a trail rider who’s finding gas for the car expensive, into adventure touring, just want a bike to get around on or any sort of rider, get yourself to a Yamaha dealer and try out this bike. The WR250R proves road/trail doesn’t have to be a compromise.

Read our full review here…




BMW entered what many regard as an overcrowded section of the market with its new GX450. BMW has a reputation for quirky design. Sometimes this works, other times it doesn’t. This time it did. The GX450 looks cool, goes like the preverbal and does everything else very well. With useful, not showy, innovations like the ‘co-axial pivot point’ and a relatively inexpensive price, this bike really has made the big boys of the 450 scene sit up and take notice.


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