Dirt Bike Maintenance: Beginners Guide To Make Your Bike Last Longer
Just bought your first dirt bike or want to know what’s all involved when it comes to dirt bike maintenance? Unfortunately, you can’t treat an off road motorcycle like your car, so there you’ll need to spend a little more time maintaining it.
With that said, I got started working on my own dirt bikes when I was a kid and have learned that almost all maintenance is easy once you know what you’re doing.
For a complete guide on what dirt bike maintenance is, and what to expect as far as how much time and costs keep reading, this article covers everything you need so that your bike will be more reliable and help prevent you from breaking down in the middle of nowhere.
What Is Dirt Bike Maintenance?
Dirt bike maintenance is either adjusting or replacing certain parts on a dirt bike before damage is done or a repair is needed. This is also called preventative maintenance.
Parts that were out faster require more maintenance.
The most common parts or areas of a dirt bike that need to be maintained are:
- Engine oil/oil filter
- Air filter
- Chain tension
- Fluids (coolant/brake/clutch)
- Clean fuel system (cleaning it or keeping it clean)
- Brake pads
- Clutch/throttle cable adjustment/lubing
- Wheel spoke adjustment
- Muffler packing
- 4 stroke valve clearance
- 2 Stroke top end rebuild
Are Dirt Bikes High Maintenance?
Dirt bikes are very high maintenance if you race or ride at a high level and work the bike really hard. On the flip side, if you ride very conservatively, a dirt bike can be very low maintenance.
What Actually Is “High Maintenance”?
The Phrase “High Maintenance” may not mean the same to you as it does to another rider. Having to change the oil every 20 hours of ride time may sound like a high maintenance schedule to a person that is used to changing oil every 3000+ miles on their car.
On the flip side, high maintenance might be having to rebuild the top-end of the engine every 5 hours of ride time due to extreme race conditions.
What Makes A Dirt Bike High Maintenance?
Certain types of dirt bike models can be categorized into a “High Maintenance” or “Low Maintenance” bike.
This is only partially true.
The fact of the matter is this:
Your dirt bike is only as reliable or “high maintenance” as you make it. In other words, the harder you ride and the worse you treat it, the more time and money you’ll be spending on maintenance or repairs.
Riding hard is when you’re constantly in the upper RPM, riding aggressively. Hitting the rev limiter is the hardest on the valve train and engine for a 4 stroke.
The more revolutions the engine spins, the quicker it will wear out, as a general rule.
Other Factors That Turn Your Bike Into A High Maintenance Bike
- Lack of maintenance
- Riding in sandy/muddy conditions
How Much Does It Cost To Maintain A Dirt Bike?
On the low end for a reliable trail bike, you can expect to spend at least $50 a year on basic maintenance.
For a high performance race bike that is used for such, you might spend up to $5000 or more on maintenance, depending on how many hours you race and if anything breaks.
So as you can see, the cost of maintaining your dirt bike can greatly vary.
We’ll look at a breakdown of the actual costs in a minute.
How Often Should You Service Your Dirt Bike?
You should at least inspect several things before each ride. Doing this can increase the service intervals, meaning less time working and more time riding.
Checking the oil level and color is one of the most important things. If it’s low or black/dirty, it’s time to change the oil.
Other service items to inspect before each ride include:
- Air filter
- Coolant (unless your bike is air-cooled)
- Tire pressure
- Chain tension
- A “once over”
You should service your dirt bike before it starts showing symptoms. This could be every 5 hours or 20 hours.
If the chain derails and pops off the sprocket then you waited too long to adjust the chain tension.
How Often Should You Change Your Oil On A Dirt Bike?
The oil change interval can vary a lot from rider to rider.
I’m not racing my bike at 100%, so I usually wait until it needs to be changed based on how dirty the oil is.
I can usually get anywhere from 10-20 hours of riding on an oil change. However, it depends on where I ride and how I ride. The more dust you ride through, the sooner you should change the oil.
Keeping the air filter clean is just as important to keep dust and debris out of the engine. Anything besides air and fuel going through the engine will cause it to wear down much quicker.
2 Stroke vs 4 Stroke Oil Change
2 strokes and 4 strokes don’t use engine oil in the same way.
2 strokes only need transmission oil to lube the clutch and transmission. The top-end of the engine is getting lubricated by the 2 stroke oil premix or oil-injected into the fuel.
A 4 stroke uses the engine oil not only for the clutch and transmission, but also to lubricate the top-end. 4 stroke dirt bike engines have a lot more moving parts, so it’s critical that they all stay properly cooled and lubed from the oil.
For this reason, you probably want to change the oil on a 4 stroke more often than a 2 stroke dirt bike.
Dirt Bike Maintenance Log
I’ll be honest. I don’t think I’ve ever had a maintenance log book for any of my dirt bikes.
It’s not because I don’t think they can’t work. I think they can be really useful if you easily forget what’s been done to your bike.
I simply don’t have time, and I’ve just had too many bikes over the years to keep track.
With that said, a simple maintenance log will give you a definite track record and history of your bike.
What Would I Include On The Log sheet?
I would use a simple spreadsheet. How it’s formatted is up to you, but I would include: bike, date, maintenance/repair done, and the cost.
For an even more helpful piece of information I would add the number of hours on the bike each time.
A simple hour meter is needed for this. It’s fairly easy to wire in and counts the time your bike runs when there’s power to it.
Dirt Bike Maintenance Cost
Let’s just do a quick estimate of how much it costs to maintain a trail bike for an average rider. Say you put on 100 hours of ride time during the course of the season. That’s 2 hours of riding per week, or maybe 4 hours if you live in a colder climate like me and can’t ride year-round.
Oil/filter (10/change x 5 = $50)
Air filter (10/clean x 10 = $100)
Tires (120/pair x 2 = $240)
Sprockets/Chain (150 set x 1 = $150)
Suspension service ($150 year)
Re-grease bearings ($5+time)
Total (roughly estimated cost) – $695/per hundred hours ride time
Dirt Bike Maintenance Tools
I’ve used a lot of tools over the years to maintain and fix my dirt bikes. Having the right tool for the job can really make a “headache job” into an “easy job”.
With that said, I’m just going to cover the most common tools that I use on a regular basis. Bike specific tools are not included here, such as axle nut wrenches, suspension part removers, etc…
My favorite tools for doing maintenance are:
- Portable toolbox
- T handle with ¼ sockets
- Ratchet and socket set
- ⅜” drive electric cordless impact
- Metric wrench set
- Metric hex bit socket set
- Screwdriver set
- Breaker bar
- Spring puller
- Razor blade
- Torque wrench for engine rebuilds
Dirt Bike Maintenance 2 Stroke
A 2 stroke dirt bike has a slightly different maintenance schedule than a 4 stroke, but that’s only because it doesn’t have all of the same parts.
A 2 stroke has a reed cage and a very simple top-end compared to a 4 stroke. A top-end rebuild is generally needed more often on a 2 stroke, therefore it could be considered maintenance if you’re just replacing the piston and/or rings.
A top end rebuild may need to be done as often as every 10-20 hours if you’re riding aggressively and constantly in the high RPM range. However, mild trail riding might only require a top-end rebuild every 100-200 hours.
4 Stroke Dirt Bike Maintenance Schedule
The most important things to keeping your 4 stroke dirt bike reliable and long lasting are:
- Regular oil and oil filter changes
- Keeping air filter cleaning
- Keeping valves in spec
- Not letting tuning chain stretch too far
Not doing these things will greatly increase the chances of your 4 stroke dirtbike being less reliable and more prone to failure long-term.
Low Maintenance 4 Stroke Dirt Bike
If you’re a beginner, you’ll want to start out on a low maintenance dirt bike. 4 stroke trail bikes are simple, reliable, quiet, and economical. They aren’t super high performance, but that would only hurt your riding progression at the beginning.
A Honda CRF250F is a good, low maintenance 4 stroke dirt bike, but for a full list of the best beginner bikes read this guide.
How To Make Your Engine Last Longer
Simply doing routine maintenance will certainly help make your engine last as long as possible. But sometimes it’s easy to forget or miss a maintenance interval.
So, how do you still make the best of it?
First things first, always make sure there’s enough oil in the engine before riding. If it’s low or empty, you’re going to blow the engine up sooner rather than later.
Next, keep the air filter clean. Besides the engine oil, the air filter is the only other thing keeping the internal engine parts clean. Once dirt gets in the engine, parts wear out much faster.
Last but not least, just pay attention to what your bike is telling you. Are there any new sounds or does it feel any different? This could be a new whiny sound or added vibration.
New signs could mean new problems. It’s best to check them out before riding further. It could be as simple as fixing a loose bolt, or a major part on the verge of breaking in half.
What Dirt Bikes Are The Cheapest To Maintain?
The cheapest dirt bikes to maintain are generally 4 stroke trail bikes. This is because they are simple, low performance, and built for durability.
With that said, using one of these trail bikes for a motocross or high speed desert race well greatly reduced their reliability because they cannot handle the abuse of big jumps and impacts.
Top Maintenance Hacks
Want to keep riding your dirt bike but don’t feel like doing maintenance? If you aren’t a hardcore dirt bike rider then it’s easy for life to get in the way and get behind on maintaining your dirt bike.
While there’s no getting around doing maintenance to make your dirt bike last longer, I want to show you how to efficiently choose what maintenance to do, how often, why to do it, and how to know when something on your bike needs attention.
- Wash and dry bike
- Check for leaks
- Inspect and clean chain
- Inspect nuts/bolts
- Check controls and cables
- Inspect/clean air filter
- Check tire pressure
- Check/change oil/filter
- Check other fluids
Dirt Bike Tool Kit List For Trail Riding
Spend more time Inspecting and preparing before long rides or trips. Bring spares and tools to work on the bike. Nothing is worse than having a simple problem but no tools or parts to fix it, causing your ride or trip to prematurely end.
Whenever I go on a long riding trip I make a list of what I need to bring. This way I am prepared without having just a van full of random tools and parts.
For my cheat sheet on what to bring for a dirt bike trip read this guide.