motocross

Dirt Bike Setup Guide

When buying a brand new or used dirt bike it is always a good idea to make bike adjustments to better suit your size and riding style.  Having a well tuned bike can make a big difference to both the comfort and handling of the bike helping you to get the best performance possible. This guide will help walk you through the different types of dirt bike adjustments available.

Hand Control Adjustments

Handlebars

Handlebars can be adjust further forward or further back depending on how they are mounted to the bike. Depending on the model of bike, the options may vary but there is typically two main adjustments to be made.

Forward/Backward movement

  • On some brands like Kawasaki, there are multiple holes on the triple clamps which the bar mounts can be fastened to. 
  • On some other brands, there may only be a single hole to fasten the bar mounts to however the bar mounts themselves have an offset on them which allows them to be flipped forward or backward to slightly adjust the bar position.

Bar Tilt Adjustment

  • With the handlebar mounts fastened in position, the handlebars themselves can be rotated forward or backwards within the mounts.
  •  The radius this creates can bring the bars higher, lower, closer or farther from the rider depending on their preferences.

Between these two adjustments they can completely change the feel of the bike.  It is usually best to start in a fairly neutral position and then experiment with moving them in either direction.  Some people prefer riding with the bars slightly further ahead which may help to put a bit more weight on the front end of the bike, while others may prefer the bars closer and tighter to their body while cornering.

Lever position

Adjusting the clutch and front brake levers can make things much more ergonomic and save your hand strength during long days of riding. Many people tend to leave their levers hanging well outside of the bars (away from the rider). For most people, this means that to use the levers they need to tilt their hands out slightly in order to use the levers.  This may not seem like a lot of extra work, but after doing hundreds of times while riding it can really add up.  It also makes it more difficult to securely hang onto the handlebars during bumpy braking sections.

A good way to setup these controls is by putting yourself in a riding position where you are standing slightly while on the bike with your elbows up.  From there, adjust the levers so that you can comfortably reach them with your index and middle fingers without putting your wrist or arms at any strange angles.  As for the up and down position of the levers, it may take some fine tuning but it is best to search for a position that will be comfortable enough to use for both standing and sitting positions.

Suspension

Adjusting dirt bike suspension can feel like a bit of black magic.  Some riders will tell you to adjust things one way, while others tell you to to do opposite for the exact same problem.  There are many videos online which can help with suspension setup however there are also simple techniques to help you figure things out on your own.

One of the easiest ways to find a good basic suspension setting is:

  •  Start by setting the bike suspension to the factory default settings recommended in your user manual.  These settings have had a lot of manufacturer test time on them and are usually a good starting point. 
  • Pick a familiar track or trail which you can ride multiple times.  Begin by doing a lap of the track and trail to get a feel for the bike at the default settings.
  • From there change 1 setting slightly (1-2 clicker settings) and then ride the same trail again.
  • Pay attention to the way the bike handles after changes to get a better understanding of how it changes the feel of the bike.
This can be a bit tedious, but after a few hours of tweaking things one at a time you will begin to get a better idea of how the different setting changes feel for your specific bike.  From there, you should have a better idea of how to modify settings depending on the different riding conditions.
One suspension setting that is very important but sometimes overlooked is the rear suspension sag setting.  Here is a video which helps to show how to make the sag setting adjustment.  This setting is usually a static setting which depends on your weight.  The sag setting has  a major impact on how the bike handles and should be the first suspension setting you look at when setting up your bike.
 For those interested in a bit more of the science behind motorcycle suspension there is a very popular book which does a great job of breaking down the different elements in a motorcycle suspension system.
dirt bike setup

Other Adjustments

Shift Lever Position

The shift lever needs to be in a position where you can reliably reach it in both standing and sitting positions.  The position is mainly rider preference but for most people this position usually puts the center of the shift lever just above level with the top of the of foot peg.

Rear Brake Lever Position

Especially on older bikes, rear brake levers can sometimes require a lot of travel before they begin to engage and actually stop the bike.  Luckily, there is a nut on the back of the brake lever which help to tighten up the slack in this system and keep it feeling very responsive.

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