Essential Dirt Bike Upgrades
MX Bikes Mods make your bike faster and easier to handle. If you are racing, then you will be more competitive. By carrying out the right modifications to your dirt bike, you can get more out of it. Here at Motocross Advice, we are fans of upgrading our dirt bikes and know that this doesn’t necessarily need to cost the earth but can make a huge difference.
Aftermarket parts needn’t cost the earth. There are apparent advantages to learning the mechanics of your bike. Upgrading parts and learning how to modify your dirt bike can help you understand your dirt bike at a much deeper level. The skills you learn when carrying out dirt bike mods are invaluable trackside. Breakdowns, set up issues and race prep become easy. The relatively simple single-cylinder engine of a dirt bike is far easier to work on than a multi-cylinder engine.
If you are looking at upgrading a second-hand bike, It is natural to dive right into making your dirt bikes faster; especially when competing. TeamMA always tries to improve handling and braking before carrying out performance upgrades. Making sure your bike can stop well and handle terrain at higher speeds is an essential step. Once you are happy brakes and suspension are up to standard, then you can seek out that extra horsepower.
Riders of new bikes can upgrade to competition parts in tandem, but we would still recommend a balanced upgrade path. Steel braided brake hoses, higher quality components and better suspension will help you to ride faster. It’s not all about power.
This article aims to explain how you can upgrade and modify your dirt bike effectively, highlighting some of the benefits and providing links to examples of products available.
Dirt bike mods – Handling
When you’re regularly riding hard you’ll know instinctively when your suspension is failing. If it feels terrible, it probably is. If you begin to feel new vibrations or hear new noises, investigate. Always have a post-ride routine of cleaning and inspection. Things develop over time, and we may not notice degradation without regular review.
If you’re a newbie be on the lookout for signs of wear. Forks may show pitting or the front end may start to feel sloppy. In addition to a harsh ride, you may begin to notice a lack of feel and that you’re not in control of the front end. Steering will feel sluggish due to the front end riding higher.
When a rear shock fails, you may go wide in the corners because of the increased rear squat. There may also
be visible signs your suspension is failing. Look for oil leakage around the rubber seals. Because dirt bike suspension is adjustable, it is always important to know your settings. A good bike set up when you first purchase a dirt bike will give you a frame of reference. TeamMA suggests developing a good relationship with your local MX dealer or specialists. Once you have learned your settings, tracking issues becomes second nature.
If your dirt bike suspension is failing or you’re unhappy with the performance, then upgrading is a no brainer. For a start, you’ll have more confidence in your bike and be able to go faster on the flat, through the corners and over obstacles, whoops and jumps. Refurbishment or replacement upgrades can improve your lap times as better handling, and overall performance is bound to make you go faster. At TeamMA we feel there are two main options for upgrading your dirt bike suspension.
1. Option one: Refurbishment
To refurb, your existing dirt bike suspension, consider adding new springs, seals and oil. Carry out suspension upgrades in part, or all at once. We recommend regular oil changes for suspension. You can also upgrade to stiffer springs, or softer springs, depending on the riding terrain and style. Refurbishing old oil, and tired springs will make a significant difference to the way your dirt bike handles and allow you to ride faster.
Here is a handy video on how to dismantle and reassemble your forks.
For your rear shocks, check out this video.
2. Option two: Replacement
You may wish to upgrade and fully replace your dirt bike suspension. Retrofit suspension is maybe a less fiddly option compared to a full refurb. A replacement could be more suitable for a novice who wants a straight swap for something new and more robust. You will even be able to pull into your local authorised service centre or dirt bike mechanic to help with this to save time and hassle. There are many aftermarket product options available for both front and rear suspension.
MX bikes Mods – Suspension
With decades of experience, Austrian WP Suspension boasts innovations such as their XACT Pro Forks, XACT Pro SUPERTRAX shocks, Cone Valve technology and more. WP is renowned for its collaboration with KTM, across all motorcycle sports including MX. Many big names in MX and over 300 FIM Endurance champions have won with WP springs and shocks, which has to be a good thing.
Japan-based Showa has a long history in suspension, starting with Honda in the mid-1900s. The firm is also known for supplying OEM parts to Harley Davidson. With MX, Showa’s name is still mainly aligned with Honda. Their A-Kits are available as aftermarket products for other manufacturers: Showa forks and springs suit aggressive or professional riders and are considered premium products.
Formed in 1976, Swedish firm Öhlins are a significant player in suspension. Yamaha saw potential in 1986, buying half of the company. Today, Öhlins (now owned by Tenneco) remains a strong reputation in MX suspension. Öhlins boasts a few MX world champions and over 300 world victories in motosport. Öhlins aftermarket suspension products are great for newcomers to MX. Competitive cost and ease of use suit all skill levels. Pro riders love them too.
Fox has been around since the 1970s and began by distributing suspension parts for motocross. Most MX fans will be familiar with the Fox Racing brand. Of course, there are many specialised shock companies, and these few are some of our favourites. You can find a more comprehensive range below:
Dirt Bike mods – Brakes upgrades
Your dirt bike brakes should always be in tip-top condition. Whenever we go faster; we’ll need to to stop more quickly, or at least more efficiently. Brakes should be part of your regular servicing routine.
Better brakes will make you faster!
How? When you get your technique right, your dirt bike will either be accelerating or braking. We are always looking to avoid freewheeling. On a dream lap, you accelerate for longer and brake for shorter distances. The faster you accelerate, then the shorter your braking time. To maintain consistently good lap times, That’s why good brakes help you ride faster.
When considering dirt bike upgrades, brakes should be on the list for phase one. Stainless steel and braided hoses are great value mod. The idea behind these hoses is that they can handle more pressure than the factory fitted OEM parts. Braided hoses will reduce the chance of leaks caused by perishing rubber, increased pressure or hard impacts.
You can find examples of stainless steel and braided hoses from Galfer, here:
- Honda Front Brake Lines
- Honda Rear Brake Lines
- Husqvarna Front Brake Lines
- Husqvarna Rear Brake Lines
- Kawasaki Front Brake Lines
- Kawasaki Rear Brake Lines
- More Kawasaki Braided Front Brake Lines
- KTM Front Brake Lines
- KTM Rear Brake Lines
- Suzuki Front Brake Lines
- Suzuki Rear Brake Lines
- Yamaha Front Brake Lines
- More Yamaha Braided Front Brake Lines
- Yamaha Rear Brake Lines
Now that your dirt bike is handling and braking better, it is vitally important that you spend some time getting used to the new ride. Here at TeamMA, we always suggest our readers get used to their bikes improved handling before adding performance dirt bike mods. Upgrading too many things at once can confuse. Track each upgrade, and note the improvements. You may be surprised how much-increased performance you achieve from upgrading your suspension and brakes. Now, you are ready for the exciting bit-increasing the engine performance.
MX bikes mods – Performance
When upgrading your dirt bike engine, it’s important not to rush in headlong. Engine upgrades should happen in a logical order. If there are apparent wear and tear, then start with the top-end. Knocking noises, oil leaks, excessive consumption of lubricant or fuel, and falling power output are engine wear indicators. Engine maintenance gives increased compression, optimal performance, as well as overall longevity.
If upgrading your exhaust system, it will almost always be best to do so in conjunction with jetting your carburettor with older bikes and with engine mapping on more modern bikes. Tuning of the airflow needs to be right for maximum horses. Don’t assume any pipe will work with any bike. Research is required. Requirements vary according to the manufacturer and your riding style. Always consult your manual or authorised service centre before making significant changes.
Find our more about two-stroke and four-stroke engines and how they work here.
Motocross Engine Top – End Upgrades
Two-stroke engines have less moving parts and are therefore far more straightforward to rebuild than four-stroke machines. However, when raced hard, two-stroke engines are known to fail more often as fewer parts mean the engine has to work harder. Expect to be carrying out preventative maintenance and rebuilds at reasonably regular intervals.
On two and four-stroke engines, there can sometimes be no visible signs of wear and tear. Regular servicing and maintenance are always cheaper than waiting for significant faults leading to a full top end rebuild. Periodic maintenance also allows you to maintain your dirt bike’s performance.
For signs that your top-end requires repair, take the engine apart and look for tiny scratches on the pistons. Your bikes manual will have a guide as to how often to service in terms of riding hours. You should also consider how hard you ride. As a rule, smaller cc engines will need more regular servicing; two-stroke engines require more frequent services than four-stroke.
Things to listen out for when riding include a rattling sound at low rpm, which will worsen then go away at higher rpm. Loose components on the piston can fail suddenly. Tests for two-stroke engines include a compression test and visual inspection of parts.
There’s a leak down test on a four-stroke engine, which allows you to isolate air escaping, work out where from, and sort the issue. You can also remove the coolant cap and watch for bubbles or oil in the fluid, indicating a blown head gasket. It is far cheaper, in the long run, to learn and do these top-end services yourself, while making your dirt bike feel tighter, more efficient, plus that all-important increased performance.
Motocross Dirt Bike Jetting Upgrades (Carburetor Dirt Bikes Only)
The benefits of understanding and upgrading the jetting on carburettor bikes are many. The main jet controls the amount of fuel that is let into the carburettor when on the throttle is open. The pilot jet allows fuel in when idling or ticking over. Once the fuel mixes with the air, combustion occurs, and this propels us forwards.
There are considerations for choosing the size and quality of main jets when upgrading your dirt bike for performance. Check your manual for the correct jetting settings for the temperature or relative air pressure you regularly ride. Incorrect jetting can lead to expensive damage.
Dirt bike mods – Identifying jetting issues
Lean jetting is when the ratio of fuel to air is wrong, and the piston is hitting out of time which will sound like a rattle. The incorrect jetting will also be noticeable in the responsiveness of the bike at the top end. To rectify lean jetting, go up in jet sizes until you hear the right sound and feel the throttle’s proper responsiveness.
A rich jet is the opposite to lean jetting, where too much fuel is getting into the carburettor. The primary indicator is a rough running engine which will not idle or pull cleanly. A rich mixture doesn’t always lead to engine failure, but a “misfiring” engine will not perform at its best. You can change the jets with simple tools; it does not take long once you know the process.
This video explains how to change the jets efficiently.
MX Exhaust Upgrades
There are two parts to your dirt bike exhausts, the downpipe and the end pipe. Upgrading the exhaust has many benefits to the overall performance of your bike. Upgraded end pipes will often be lighter than the factory fitted OEM parts, and less weight means increased performance. Materials used are also a consideration, more rigid carbon steel and carbon fibre end caps protect the pipes from chips and dinks.
The exhaust system provides a significant part of the tuning and performance mods available to you. The bulbous downpipe on a two-stroke dirt bike serves a purpose, acting like a turbocharger. A mod to something meatier could be a handy step in finding more power.
Extra horses plus a weight reduction will mean enhanced performance and increased efficiency, plus you’ll look and sound the part. As a reminder, remember to see your exhaust as part of the fuel mixture and tuning system. Adding a random exhaust for looks or noise will likely lead to issues – so keep this in mind before mx bikes mods.
If you’re wondering what exhaust would be right for your dirt bike, we already have an article on which exhausts to put on your shopping list, with some extra reading around the importance of all this here. Check out the best performance dirt bike exhausts.
MX bikes mods – Plastics and graphics
We all appreciate that plastics and graphics won’t increase performance and make you go faster, but you will look faster. All riders know that there is an unspoken mystery that when we wash and look after our dirt bikes, they just seem to perform better.
If you need to repair or replace your plastic, we check out this article we published on restoring your plastics.
There are many ways to go about upgrading, but we have touched on the best way to be thorough and consider the knock-on effect that each new upgrade or additional performance part will have. Start with handling and brakes, then look for the extra horses.
We will be back with more Motocross Advice soon, in the meantime have fun out there!
Martin & The Team @motocrossadvice