Condensed Answer: A dirt jumper is a highly specialized bike best used for jumping on a dirt track and freestyle street riding. The machine is inferior when it comes to mountain biking and commuting.
The Pros of Buying a Dirt Jumper
- Supreme Jumping Experience
As the name suggests, those bicycles are designed for preforming jumps at a dirt track.
The properties of a dirt jumper facilitating that task are:
- Compact and light frames (most dirt jumpers come in a single size)
- Strength (dirt jump frames are made of strong aluminum or Chromoly steel)
- Jump-oriented geometry (short chainstays, short reach…etc.)
- Strong wheels (dirt jumpers use 26″ wheels which are stronger than 27.5″ and 29″)
- Larger than BMX and thus more friendly towards taller riders
- Robust, low maintenance, single-speed drivetrains
- Street Riding
Dirt jumpers can also be used for basic street riding. Of course, they can’t replace the BMX for everything, but still allow the rider to perform a great variety of tricks that would be difficult or even impossible with a standard MTB, for example.
- Reduced Stress On Other Bicycles
If a rider is using one bike such as an MTB for everything including dirt jumps, then that bike and its components will have a shorter lifespan. For example, it’s quite easy to bend the rear derailleur or its hanger after a non-successful jump. Fixing similar problems makes dirt jumping expensive.
If you get a dedicated dirt jumper, you will be able to save the MTB for actual mountain biking and reduce the likelihood of technical problems thanks to the simplicity of the dirt jumper.
- Trick Development
It’s easier to learn how to perform certain tricks (e.g., bunny hops, manuals…etc.) on a dirt jumper thanks to the compact frame and the overall geometry of the bike. Once a trick is mastered on a dirt jumper, performing it on an MTB becomes easier too, although additional practice will be undoubtedly required because MTBs have larger tires and frames.
The Downsides of Purchasing a Dirt Jumper
Dirt jumpers are part of a highly-specialized small niche. The low demand, especially in the high-end segment, reduces competition and raises the prices tremendously. A quality dirt jumper may end up costing as much as a full-suspension MTB even though the tech is much simpler.
If the dirt jumper is purchased as an addition/support to an MTB rather than as the main unit, the high cost could be a problem. It makes little sense to purchase a bike that costs 1-2k or more if you aren’t going to use it a lot.
One way to circumvent this problem would be to buy a cheaper unit (sales hunting) or go to the second-hand market.
- Good at dirt jumping but bad at everything else
A dirt jumper looks like a hardtail and is technically one, but it’s far less versatile. The frame is small and has an aggressive geometry. Even if the rider puts an extra-long seat post on the bike, comfortable pedaling is rarely achieved due to the center of gravity. Or in other words, dirt jumpers are bad commuters unless your commute constitutes of 1-2km and you have healthy knees.
It’s also worth mentioning that many dirt jump models have only a rear brake (learn why here). The absence of a front brake greatly reduces the braking power of the bicycle and makes riding more dangerous. Of course, it’s possible to add a front brake since most dirt jump forks have disc brake mounts.
Dirt jumpers underperform on trails too and are not a substitute for an actual mountain bike. You can learn why here.
If you already have a BMX and an MTB, then a dirt jumper could end up being a redundant and rarely used purchase.
How To Choose Whether To Buy a Dirt Jumper Or Not?
1. Test the waters
If you already have a somewhat capable bike like an MTB or a BMX model, you can try to do light jumps at a local track as a way to test the waters.
There you will meet many people who already have dirt jumpers. You can ask them for a spin to feel the difference between an MTB/BMX when performing jumps. Of course, a complete evaluation will require a longer period of time, but a few test rides would still make the assessment more accurate.
If you like the experience, you can consider purchasing your own dirt jumper.
2. Ask yourself whether the money can be used for something of a greater priority
If you’re already a serious MTB or BMX rider and those disciplines are your priority, then a dirt jumper may be taking you further away from your goals as the money could be invested in your main bike.
If the dirt jumper is going to be used only for 10-30% of your riding, then you probably don’t really need one unless of course you’re financially healthy and do not care about the extra expense.
3. How versatile do you expect the bike to be?
If you plan on using the dirt jumper as an everything bike (commuter, jumps, trails…etc.), it’s recommended to look away. The only bike that can satisfy the above requirements to a large extent would be a fairly aggressive hardtail MTB.