Opinion: Should I Get A Smaller Bike? - Why 500's Are Best

Savvy Dirt Biker's Opinion

May. 01, 2004 By ORC STAFF
Why 500's Are Best

The following is my opinion. One that has developed from many years of riding big bores, in all different types of terrain. This message will help any large bore rider who is thinking of trading his 500cc bike for a smaller, more nimble one.

There are many reasons that a rider might find himself in a predicament such as this; Outside influence from small bike riding peers, running out of fuel, arm pump, exhaustion, broken kick start levers, a hole in the bottom of one's boot, and not all-inclusive, brainwashing.

A big bike rider may find himself confused as a result of the thoughts evoked by that question. Evil thoughts...that deprive the victim of sleep, inhibit ones ability to work and function as a normal human being, and are detrimental to your attitude and well-being in general. The intermediate result of this situation, prior to a rider trading in his 500, is manic confusion.

Most (if not all) riders can be helped at this point. I have found myself in this situation in the past and have pondered this many times.

The following segment is part of a post that I took from the ATK site. At the time, they were talking about the possibility of a 500 to 685cc, Maico-engined bike, for future production. I don't know the writer, but he did make a few good points:

"Few people buy big bore two strokes to be practical - it's about power. Sure, you could ride that trail easier on a wimpy bike - but riding motorcycles is not about easy - it's about fun. Some people may choose to ride small bikes - just remember the world is saturated with everything from XR 250's to KTM 520's - But who has a 600cc two stroke?"

The writer definitely made some good points and I wholeheartedly agree!

99.9 % of the riders/peers that one talks to, will say the same thing: "Get a 250."
And, if you think about the reasons behind this statement, mostly they're right.

250's/300's are easier to ride, weigh slightly less, require less effort/strength to go fast, are faster in most situations, are easier to start, and usually get better fuel mileage. And rightly so, they are good bikes.

Attempting to rationalize with the persons who are preaching the smaller bike idea, and concentrating on the good qualities of such bikes, will make you feel that uncomfortable pressure and feeling weaker, thus eventually coming to the realization that you are totally confused!

Here's what "they" say you should be riding: This is a shiny, new KTM 300 MXC. Easy to ride, nice and quick ... but it will not provide the thrill factor of a big inch two stroke.

If one has reached this confused state, all is not lost, and the point-of-no-return has not been reached yet.

It is when a 500cc rider does not seek help during this confused state, that the pressure can become too great, the mind takes over, the rationalization becomes complete, the 500 is traded in for a mini, and life returns back to normal for the patient. This is called the point-of-no-return. Face to face counseling is needed at this point!

Surely, we could find many reasons to ride a smaller bike, but for the benefit of anyone who has reached the confusion stage, lets concentrate on the reasons we are riding and love the 500's...And will continue to do so.

Here are my thoughts, and reasoning behind my support of the mighty 500's. I have many valid reasons for their continued existence:

It started when I was about 16. I worked my butt off and saved enough money to get a brand new `82 CR 480. It was my first new bike and first big bore. I wanted a Maico, but they were entirely too expensive for my paltry income. I lived in South Jersey. We rode in Chattsworth, Wharton State Forrest, and the Pine Barons. The trees there are 18.5 inches apart.

EVERYONE said that my CR was no good and unridable in the tight...But I didn't care what they said. I rode, and rode lots. I never had any serious problems, but I did work my butt off riding the bike in that area (it was a four speed with a light (stock) flywheel ... but I didn't care. It was fun! And I learned valuable lessons about throttle control.

My love for big bores was cemented, from that period - up to this day, because of one minor incident. I was riding with a friend, who was riding an RM 250. He wanted to switch bikes so we did. We were on our normal trails, when we came upon a large hill that we rode up daily. But this time, I was on the 250.

I started up the hill, riding like I normally did, but halfway up, the 250 fell off the pipe and I had to struggle to stay on two wheels and clear the hill. I had "forgotten" that I wasn't on my bike and did not change my riding style for the 250. I was used to riding at 1/8 - 1/4 throttle up the hill, in comfort, torque-ing my way up at a bit above idle.

Obviously, the 250 required lots more throttle to get around (and up.) It was then, at that very moment, that I realized that 500's were really for me and that I hadn't made a mistake spending my life's savings on a 500.

At some point during the confusion stage, most riders say: "I like my 500 because the grin factor can't be beat." This statement is true and is a very valid point.

But as the sleepless nights wear on, fatigue sets in, and a rider might contemplate: "But now I'm starting to think that a smaller lighter bike might be a more reasonable choice for the terrain that I ride."

This statement is probably also true. But, MOSTLY because the rider has tried to rationalize with his peers, has been concentrating on the good qualities of the smaller bikes, needs some sleep real bad, and/or has not read this message.

For a rider to be successful in the self-treatment of this progressively worsening situation, one must focus on the good qualities of his big bore and the reasons that brought him into this elite class of motorcycling in the first place.

How about this; Compared to a smaller bike, your 500 is:

  • Faster
  • Properly tuned, has buckets of smooth power
  • Has lots more torque
  • Is more versatile,
  • Is close to or is the same weight
  • Is MUCH more durable
  • Has more longevity (won't get thrashed as fast)
  • Requires a less maintenance
  • Initial purchase cost is less
  • Cost less to operate on a yearly basis (less parts replacement - more rear tires though)
  • Top ends last WAY LONGER
  • Holds it's resale value better
  • Requires very little clutch use
  • Requires very little shifting
  • And can "cover up" your sloppy riding mistakes
  • And, if ridden correctly, it could be more efficient and might cause you to expend less energy riding in the tight than a smaller bike!

It could be said that more power is detrimental to fast riding in the tight. This is true, but that's why we concentrate on a skill called throttle control. Practice makes perfect.

500's also:

  • Wheelie at will
  • Are intimidating to others
  • Can blast riders on the trail that you don't like
  • Sound cooler

Unfair advantage? Your ORC Editorial Director (aka Rick Sieman) pulled many holeshots on the mighty 490 Maico, in spite of having less than moderate riding skills.

Ain't that REALLY what it's all about? It damn sure is! It might be a different story if my family's survival was dependent on my winning every race. But it doesn't...I ride for the fun of it! For me, that's bottom line. Fun.

Let's face it. Dirt bikes are not practical. So what if your buddies think that a smaller bike would be more "reasonable."....Roost`em!

You were not concerned with reason when you joined this elite class...and you are not concerned with it now!


  • It ain't in production any more!
  • That makes it a rarity!
  • If you cross over, you'll miss it.
  • Not only that, used 500 two strokes are gonna' get expensive.

If I had the ability, I'd purchase every used 500 that I found for sale.
A large percentage of the sellers will regret the sale of their trusty bikes and want them back!

Lastly, a big bore rider recently said, "If it's paid for and you don't have any serious problems riding it in the woods, slap yourself for letting the situation get this far out of hand."

During a recent treatment session of the "should I get a smaller bike question" at Extremedirtbike.com, fellow open class rider Matt Willard from Pennsylvania said:

"Ironically, I find myself with just the opposite opinion. I've been riding a YZ250 in the woods for about 4 years, but recently I picked up a KTM 500. The Eastern woods are tight, rocky, and downright ignorant. I absolutely love the power characteristics of the 500 in the woods. Ride it a gear high and go anywhere you want. I've not yet had any overheating problems with the 500. The 250 just didn't have the power to ride a gear high and the lower gears hit real hard and quick in the tight stuff. Maybe a wide ratio bike like a WR or KTM EXC are smoother, but the extra power and fun factor of the 500 seals the deal for me !!!

Nicely said! I do agree!

No doubt, the new four strokes are the best they've ever been. And those four strokes are as practical as a dirt bike can be. But, as far as I'm concerned, in a nutshell, they are too technically complicated, too expensive, and everyone has one. In a short while, how many will have a 500cc two stroke? Only a select few.

Surely the opinions expressed here can help bring a rider back from the dark side or stop him from crossing over in the first place.

If you are a big bore rider, sooner or later THE question will arise and you'll need help. Your survival will depend upon your preparedness and the help available at the moment. So, copy, paste, and file this message for later use. It will be the difference between permanent satisfaction and sleepless nights. Sanity or insanity.

Keep the faith.
You'll be glad you did.
Dave Gagnon /aka Dyno Dave

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