Shopping for trail bikes... the choices in the UK

I thought I'd make this a bit of a page about the bikes we've looked at in the last couple of years and the reasons why we bought what we're currently riding.

So when we got into trail riding, we were both looking at the bikes available in the UK and came across the following choices:

Older Bikes: Pre 2003...
Suzuki DR350, Yamaha Serow 225, Yamaha TTR 250, KTM 400 EXC, Honda 125, Kawazaki KLX 250.

Newer Bikes: Post 2003...
KTM 250 EXC-F, KTM 350 EXC-F, Husaberg 390FE, Beta 300, Sherco 300, Honda CRF 250, Honda CRX 250...

There are more but these are the ones we found and looked at... Our deciding factors were price, reliability, weight and running costs, plus the usual gotta like to look at it!

Older bikes: Pre 2003
Suzuki DR 350 - I settled on the DR for multiple reasons, the cost and the engine being the main ones, I'd also seen the films of this bike going around the world and read about their reputations and to date it's still on the the most reliable bikes we've got in our stable.

Pros: Bombproof, simple and easy to fix, steady power delivery, comfortable, lights you can actually see something with at night
Cons: Heavy, soft suspension, no kick start.

Suzuki DR350SEW
Yamaha Serow 225 - I've ridden the Yamaha Serow a few times as a friend has one and its too small for me, plus I wanted a little more power coming from road bikes where more power equals a smoother ride. this turned out to be a complete lack of understanding on my part about the needs of riding green lanes as actually its low weight and power delivery that is much more important.

Pros: Low seat height, soft power delivery, bombproof and go anywhere!
Cons: possibly lacking in power on steep uphills, depends upon your riding style though, expensive to buy.

Yamaha TTR 250 - I personally couldn't find a TTR that was in good enough condition or at a good price, although since then I've seen plenty on the trails, maybe that's why they hold their prices so well... They are the same as the DR and the Serow but at a 250 power range. Steel framed and heavy by modern standards but again bombproof.

Pros: Reliable, steady power delivery, bombproof
Cons: Hard to find good ones, expensive to buy and soft suspension

Yamaha TTR 250
Lucy looked at the Honda CRF and loved the bike, but was put off by the weight, so settled on the KTM 250 EXC-F 2007.

Honda CRF 250 - We know lots of people with the CRF and they make them into all kinds of variations of trail bike and touring bike. Nice power delivery, great fuel range and looks the part, but heavy and suspension not upto being pushed hard.

Pros: Cheap to buy, plenty of aftermarket bits, fuel range
Cons: Heavy, lacks some power, soft suspension

Honda CRF - A favourite for Lucy
KTM 400 EXC - I love this bike, its the best of the old and new I reckon, its lightweight, nimble and got good suspension. The brakes aren't a patch on the modern stuff, but they're OK. It's a little less fragile than the new models too. Power delivery is smooth once you get the carbs sorted. which isn't that straight forward, the lights are old school too, so you can see stuff in the dark.

Pros: Lightweight (ish), price, reliable, good suspension.
Cons: hard to find, old, brakes, spare parts not so easy to source now.


Newer Bikes: Post 2003...

KTM 250 EXC-F - Lucy fell in love with this bike, it scared her a bit and that was part of the reason she bought it, plus it was orange!

It is really lightweight, goes like stink and has good brakes, the carbs are jerky and it requires plenty of TLC as bits fall off it now and then. The headlights and electrics are from a 1970 Ducati designer I reckon, they're utterly useless but look the part! The airbox is on the side of the bike and sucks in water on river crossings, its the same on all KTM's I gather...

Pros: Fast, lightweight, good suspension, loads of them around
Cons: a bit fragile, jerky carbs, rubbish lights & electrics, airbox design


Husaberg 390FE - I've not ridden one or seen one in the flesh, I've heard mixed reports they're ace, they're crap... if I get to ride one I'll tell you!

Husaberg 390
KTM 350 EXC-F or the 450 EXC-F - These seem to be the bikes of the moment, they are tall, nimble, quick, have great suspension and brakes and are lightweight... early ones had jerky injection, latest ones are super smooth. The majority of the Northumbria boys I ride with have these and love them.

Like all KTM's, they're a little fragile, they rattle themselves a lot with vibration from the single cylinder but they go anywhere you can think of! The 450 is used as a rally bike in lots of cases and gets hammered because of that, they are well proven though.

Pros: Modern, light weight, quick, nimble and fast.
Cons: a bit fragile, £8k new and a bit too quick sometimes, lots of oil changes needed...

CCM GP450 - A variation of a bike for here, its a great bike, well set up and totally British, spoilt a bit by low down jerkiness on the injection. The brakes & suspension are excellent, it's nimble and very fuel efficient. We both like these bikes. Downside is they are £8k before you add the toys, so priced like the KTM but with less back up.

Pros: Light, quick, great suspension and brakes
Cons: Expensive, a tad over the top for just green lane use, limited dealerships.

The Husaberg & the KTM are basically the same bike as KTM bought out Husaberg & got rid of the designs, which is a shame as the airbox design & a couple of other things in the Husaberg setup was much better thought out than the current KTM crop. Still that's business for you & maybe KTM will use the design spec at some point. The 250 is great for the playing & possible enduro racing I fancy having a go at, the 350 is better for the green lanes & the odd overseas trip...

The CCM isn't a cheap option, it's £8k & wet weight is about 140kg, so it's not that light, in fact it's the same weight as the KTM 690 Enduro R! Still it's a British designed & built bike... that's a great thing to see on the road & it's a bit different...

I've just come across the following bike, which is totally new to me and there doesn't seem to be many in the UK either, so not sure how practical these would be for UK use...

Kawasaki  Super Sherpa,

This is a 250cc bike, along the lines of the XT Serow, the same reliable engine, it has a higher seat height and better ground clearance and comes in at a cheap price too.

The Honda NX 400 Falcon

This is a mad little bike, it looks very road orientated but a lad I rode with one weekend had one, he'd imported it from Portugal where they are two a penny, it handled everything the more dirt focussed bikes did and kept puttering on all day long. Solid Honda reliability, a little heavy but cheap to buy and all the road stuff is a doddle too...

In essence, there are lots of choices out there, but until you commit to one you never seem to find out what you're looking for is my experience. Your riding changes over time too, so what you buy as a first green lane bike won't be the same 2 years later. As with all things, bike purchases are an emotive thing at heart, so try them out and have a play... they are just toys after all!

Happy trails...