Top 10 Best Motocross Bikes of all time


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Before we go back through time to look at history’s most iconic (and arguably best) off-road machines, we must first mention some of the modern rides that have thoroughly impressed test riders around the world.

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There’s no arguing that motocross bikes have never been better than they are today: Dirt Bike shootouts are no longer the thrilling read they once were, nowadays every brand is near enough equal and they all produce more than adequate machines that far surpass the skills of the average weekend warrior. The god-awful bikes that made the magazine tests of the 80’s and 90’s so entertaining really are a thing of the past.

KTM 250 SX-F jumping in mid air

10. KTM 250 SX-F

Because of that it has become harder to separate the good from the great, but when it comes to the MX2 class (or the 250 four stroke category) there’s only one machine that we can honestly consider as the best of the best.

The KTM 250 SX-F is regarded by many as the most competitive 250 four stroke on the market. The thing truly is race ready, and KTM have proved that pedigree by claiming 13 of the last 15 MX2 world championship titles using this machine. You just can’t argue with those numbers!

For years the SX-F 250 has been known as the most potent bike in the class. It’s hard to pick a specific Model Year as the best of the bunch – it’s easier to rule out some of the bad years (such as the 2011 edition which was the first of the Fuel Injected era) – but anything post 2012 has been pretty great.

Honda CRF450R jumping in mid air

9. Honda CRF450R

Honda are famed for their build quality and reliability, and without doubt the CRF450 lives up to those standards. Tim Gajser has piloted his CRF450 to three world championships in the past five years, proving the might of this machine. I think it’s safe to say that the latest generation Honda CRF450 is the closest the Japanese brand has come to their world dominating form that made them legends in the 1980’s.

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KTM 350 SX-F motocross bike studio image

8. KTM 350 SX-F

So far we’ve talked about two modern bikes that have excelled at the top level of dirt bike racing. The KTM 350 SX-F on the other hand might not boast those same credentials – although Tony Cairoli did win world championships on this bike – but in our opinion this bike really was ground-breaking. The 350 is the middle brother of the KTM range, and we think it’s the perfect open class weapon for the every day racer. Currently KTM are the only brand that produce a 350cc four stroke machine, and that’s probably because the pro level athlete prefers raw power over anything else. But in reality, most riders around the world could never hope to tame a 450cc monster. In the hands of an amateur a 450 can quickly become an unwieldy beast. The SX-F 350 on the other hand gives the open class racer a lighter, more manageable option, whilst still packing more than enough punch. This bike was a bold move upon its release, and it’s this free thinking from KTM that makes this bike one of the best of all time.

 Yamaha YZ250 kicking up dirt on a motocross track

7. Yamaha YZ250

So that’s enough talk about modern four-strokes. I think most would agree that the best dirt bikes of all time have all been powered by pre-mix. So let's talk two-strokes!
There have been a lot of great 250 two strokes over the years. In the 90’s the 250 class became the premier category at the Grand Prix level, gaining favour over the 500 class from both riders and manufacturers. So that’s when the bikes started to get the most love and attention from the Japanese giants. All four of the big players (Yamaha, Suzuki, Kawasaki and Honda) claimed 250 gold during the 90’s.
Like we said there've been a lot of great bikes in the class. The Honda CR250 is arguably the most iconic, partly thanks to the efforts of one Ricky Carmichael and his two ‘perfect seasons’ on board the bike.
But for our money – and some may disagree with this – the YZ250 might well be the best 250 two stroke around. Yamaha created a timeless machine here, the YZ250 has remained pretty much unchanged since 2005, and she’s still as competitive as she’s ever been. Not many bikes can stand up to the test of time quite like that. The YZ is also renowned for having some of the best stock suspension in the game. In a world where Honda, Kawasaki and Suzuki all abandoned their two stroke efforts, Yamaha have stuck to their guns and decided to keep the pre-mix dreams alive. And that’s why we love the YZ250.

1989 Honda CR125 in red

6. 1989 Honda CR125

In the motocross world the period between 1983 and 1989 is known as the Evo era, thanks to the exponential evolution of the dirt bike during this time. During the 80’s bikes rapidly evolved year on year as new technology was consistently developed and put to the test. This time period is still celebrated to this day, with Evo Motocross meetings becoming some of the biggest off-road events in the nation.
At these Evo MX races the 125 class is often the most popular and oversubscribed, and there’s only one machine that you’re likely to see lining up at the gates.

The 1989 Honda CR125 dominates the EVO 125 scene today, it’s become a sea of red and that’s simply because there’s no other machine from the era that could possibly compete – both in terms of on track performance and overall reliability.

Go ahead and check out any Evo Motocross meeting, you’ll quickly realise why we think the 1989 CR125 is one of the greatest of all time.

Yamaha YZ400f on track

5. Yamaha YZ400f

This is a controversial pick right here. On track the 1998 Yamaha YZ400f might not have actually been that great to ride. It was big, heavy and hard to start – although the way it put power to the ground was remarkable at the time. But it’s the wave of change that this bike represents that lands the YZ400f on this list.

This bike was the first serious four-stroke motocross machine manufactured by one of the big four manufacturers, it was a grand experiment from Yamaha – with some help from the AMA and their new regulations. They rolled the dice on this costly project and took a massive risk, but when Doug Henry won the 1997 Las Vegas Supercross Finale on board his pre-production YZ400f the motocross world was changed forever. The four-stroke era had arrived.
Love them or hate them, four-strokes are here to stay, and this is the bike that started it all. She might not be the best of the bunch on track, but the YZ400f is certainly one of the most influential dirt bikes of all time, and that’s why it lands on this list.

Suzuki RM125 in yellow

4. Suzuki RM125

Back in the day Suzuki were once the absolute undisputed Kings of the 125 class. The category was introduced at the GP level in 1975, and Suzuki would go on to win the first ten 125cc World Championships. Which to this day is still the best run by any manufacturer in any category. Suzuki were dethroned in 1985 by the Italian rebels Cagiva, which kicked the Japanese in the butt and got them back to work and back to the drawing board.

Suzuki spent the next five years fighting back to the top of the class, eventually claiming gold again in 1990 with American Donny Schmit and the fantastic RM125. That success was immediately followed by two more 125cc world championships in 1991 and 1993, earned by Stefan Everts and Pedro Tragter respectively. This string of success in the early 90’s proved that the RM125 was a world beater no matter who was at the controls. This combined with the fact that the RM125 of this era is simply one of the most stunningly beautiful bikes of all time earns the Suzuki its spot on this list.

Maico 490 Mega 2 on track

3. Maico 490 Mega 2

No conversation about the greatest dirt bikes of all time would be complete without mentioning the legendary 1981 Maico 490 Mega 2. Celebrating its 40th birthday last year this German machine really does look like an antique these days, with its drum brakes and twin shocks. But back in its day the Maico 490 truly was a remarkable machine, it’s been said that twin shock dirt bikes never got better than this. The Mega 2 was the pinnacle of twin shock technology.
Sadly, trouble at the corporate level and the ever-evolving landscape of the Evo motocross era meant that Maico got left behind as the decade progressed. But in 1981 the 490 really was a sensation, Maico sold more of these machines alone than Honda did across every MX category.

Due to a lack of budget to hire to worlds top riders, Maico never did win a world championship with this machine, but don’t let that fool you; the Mega 2 was a fantastic bike to ride. Using a primary chain drive, Maico were able to produce a motor that became known as the most usable, torquey and tractable open class engine of the era.

Technology quickly left the Maico 490 behind, but for a short time there the Mega 2 might well have been the greatest dirt bike ever made.

Honda CR500 mid air

2. Honda CR500

The Honda CR500 is without doubt the most iconic dirt bike of all time. The 500 class has been dead and buried for 20 years now, but that hasn’t stopped the mysticism of the CR500 from growing year on year. Arguably these machines are in more demand now than they have ever been.

The 1980’s were owned by Honda and dominated by the CR500. It was this run of success – nine championships in a row (1984-1992) that earned the CR500 its legendary status. But as the 500 class was phased out during the 90’s, Honda stopped developing Big Red and production was eventually halted in 2001.

The early years of the CR500 (1984-88) were somewhat experimental - the 1985 model featured what has become known as the ‘suicide engine’ – but post 1989 Honda had worked out a solid platform for their killer CR500 motor. As we mentioned development of the bike pretty much stopped after 1991, but nevertheless for the next 10 years the CR500 would continue to impress.

There’s no denying the pedigree or longevity of this icon. She might not be the friendliest, most usable machine for the average rider, but it’s that arm-ripping power that made the CR500 a legend in the first place.

Yamaha PW50 in blue

1. Yamaha PW50

You probably weren’t expecting this bike to top our list, but for us the Yamaha PW50 is without doubt the greatest dirt bike of all time.
The ‘Pee Wee’ has served as the introduction to off-road motorsport for generations upon generations of petrol heads. It’d be easy to argue that most motorcycle racers across the world more than likely got their start on a PW. This bike is single handedly responsible for kickstarting a lifelong love of dirt bikes for millions of riders around the globe.
Time’s might be changing now with the rise of electric balance bikes, Osets and Kubergs, but there’s no arguing that the PW50 is a timeless classic that will have a place in the hearts of legions of dirt bike lovers…and for that reason we crown the PW50 as the greatest dirt bike of all time.

Megalodon 700cc two stroke

Bonus Bike - The Megalodon 700

Now this machine probably belongs on a list of the ‘most stupid dirt bikes of all time’ rather than the ‘greatest’ but the fact that a 700cc two-stroke dirt bike even exists is cool enough to land the Megalodon 700 an honourable mention here.

Maico do actually produce a 700cc motocross machine, but this thing is a custom built monster using a ‘Mega’ sidecar motor, and for our money the Megalodon looks a hell of a lot sexier than the Maico version. She’s an arm-stretching riot to ride and can only really be tamed by the most experienced of big bore riders, but sometimes the cool factor trumps anything else, and I think it’s safe to say that the Megalodon is pretty cool…

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