While we have stated that there are a wide variety of bikes than can be ridden on the trail here is some more specific guidance for beginner or experienced road riders thinking of trail riding.
Almost any bike can be ridden on the trails and many people ride a specific bike because that bike appeals to them. It might be an old classic, a bike you have restored, a bike you inherited, a bike you always wanted and now can afford or just the bike that you happen to own. It really is true people have ridden trails on 50cc scooters, honda C90, Harley Davidson (army bike) and Yamaha R1, but you have to really want to do that.
The three factors you want to consider for a trail bike are Weight, Size and Reliability, because those three factor will be the most significant in determining if you enjoy yourself when learning.
The worst bike you could have is one which stays in the garage for whatever reason. So if it’s unreliable, too precious or doesn’t motivate you to ride it then it’s not going to work out well.
Lighter bikes are easier to handle and manoeuvre as well as easier to pick up . A lighter bike will always be easier to learn on.
Bikes come in all sizes and so do their riders. Trail bikes and especially enduro bikes can be quite tall so if you are averagely tall or above that is ok. If you’re slightly shorter then consider a lower bike. Being able to easily put a foot on the ground will help save you falling off when you are learning.
Surely power is important? Well not really. While trail riding all but the smallest bikes will have adequate power for trail riding. Low powered bike are however more likely to struggle on steep hills or the tarmac roads in-between and in reality this is the reason most people go slightly larger on their bikes than they need, because of all the tarmac work necessary for trail riding in this country. 250cc is probably an ideal basic trail bike capacity.
Four stroke tends to be more popular than two stroke as they are less noisy and have more progressive power.
So that is what a good first trail bike looks like. The current Honda CRF250L and Kawasaki KLX250 are about the only two new trail bikes available currently and both are fine first bikes. Many older bikes are suitable such as Yamaha TTR250 or Serow225, Honda XR250 or CRF230, Suzuki DR125, DR350 or DRZ400 for example.
One further point an electric starter really helps.
Once you have learned of course you’ll probably want to move on to a different bike, but you won’t know what until you have a few thousand miles under your belt. Enduro bikes are the most obvious choice because they are light, powerful, fun and designed for purpose but they are quite high maintenance. If you cover a lot of road miles then a dual sport or adventure might suit. If you really like the slow technical stuff then trials bikes might interest you (but note that trials bikes are not suitable for trail riding on UK roads).
Trail riders often have lots of gear and again its personal what works for you and your circumstances.
One word of advice, ‘boots’. Buy a decent pair of enduro boots with a grip pattern on the sole (not smooth soles like motocross boots).
Other kit is obviously a peaked helmet with visor or goggles, thin gloves and jeans / jacket with padding or protection in them. You can work this stuff out during the first few rides. Most people, especially those coming from road bikes, tend to wear too much and overheat.
Try to put together a simple toolkit you can take with you to do some simple running repairs like change a plug, spare levers, spare inner tube (although tyre changing is a whole skill in its own right), cable ties, tape, basic screwdrivers, allen keys, spanners.
Go and ride…