The adventure touring motorcycle segment has had its hand on the throttle as of late with more and more people realizing the fun they can have by splitting their riding time between on and off-road riding. While bikes like the KTM 1190 Adventure, Yamaha Super Tenere, and Suzuki V-Strom 1000 are pretty awesome, they are also quite a bit heavier and bulkier than a dirt bike. Sure you may not want to take a 600 mile on/-off-road trip on your YZ 450, but wouldn’t it be great to make it street legal so you could bop around town? If your state will allow it, it'd probably be cheaper to add a few components to your dirt bike than purchasing a dual sport motorcycle like a Honda XR650.
There are plenty of thrill seekers who have taken their dirt bike on a long journeys, but for the most part, when it comes to making a dirt bike street legal, most people want to do so they can simply cruise around town or poke out onto the highway every once in a while.
Physically turning your dirt bike into a street legal machine isn’t that difficult, it often only requires a few bolt-on parts and accessories. It’s actually getting the paper work or the go ahead from your local motor vehicle office that can be a challenge if not impossible.
Every state has its own laws and regulations when it comes to registering a dirt bike as a dual sport or street-legal motorcycle. Some states only require you to meet Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS) in regards to items such as lighting equipment (turn signals, brake lights, reflectors, head light with high/low beam), speedometer, rear view mirror, rims, tires, exhaust. Some states and even local governments may require additional equipment or even testing/inspection in order to register your dirt bike as a street legal vehicle.
The important thing to keep in mind before you start purchasing any parts or doing any sort of modifications to your motorcycle is you need to do some research and find out if your state will allow you to register your dirt bike as a dual sport or street legal bike. The first place you can start looking for this information is on your state’s motor vehicle website. Another place that may provide the information is your state’s parks and recreation page or off-highway motor vehicle recreation page (here’s a tip: look for websites with .gov in the web address).
If you do find that your state allows for conversion to street or dual use, its best to print out all the information and create a list of the required components. Then just for good measure, place a call to the motor vehicle department and confirm your findings. If the person on the phone tells you something other than what you have found, provide them with the detailed information you have collected and tell them where on their website you found it—this can also be an indicator as to how easy or hard the process of plating your motorcycle will be.
We understand the sorting through all these rules and regulations and jumping through all the bureaucratic hoops can be a real headache. Something that can be of use and to help you get a better understanding of all this is, that vehicles are grouped into two general categories based on emissions regulations as per the Environmental Protection Agency: 1) for street use and 2) for off road use. All motorcycles manufacturers are required to affix a permanent sticker to the motorcycle identifying its intended use. Some states like Oregon spell it out plainly in black and white stating that your motorcycle has to meet street use emissions standards before it can be registered to legally ride on the street. You may find that other states aren’t as clear or it may be more of a grey area, that’s why it’s important to do diligent research before getting too deep into the project.
Colorado is one state that will allow you to plate a dirt bike and the process involves you completing several forms that must be filled out/signed. The first is a State of Colorado Certificate of Equipment Compliance for Motorcycles which includes a list checklist of equipment that must be installed to be considered road worthy. This form and accompanying checklist must also be signed off by a Certified VIN Inspector. You’ll also need a completed Colorado Certified VIN Inspection form. You must also provide some proof of ownership such as: Manufacturers Statement of Origin (MSO), notarized Bill of Sale, or a Dealer’s Invoice. Whichever of these forms you use must show the vehicle for off road use. Once you have all these forms filled out/signed then you can go to a Colorado motor vehicle office and provide them with all your paperwork as well as proof of insurance.
There seemed to be some confusion or miscommunication amongst the California DMV and the California Air Resources Boards (ARB), as there was a period where the DMV was allowing dirt bikes that didn’t have certification identifying them as having met ARB’s on-highway emissions standards to be registered as dual sport/street legal motorcycles. All that changed on December 31, 2003 when the ARB and the DMV closed the loophole. The change was announced in an advisory posted by ARB which stated “Any off-highway motorcycle purchased after December 31, 2003 is not eligible for on-highway or dual use registration unless the manufacturer originally certified the vehicle to meet the California on-highway emission standards. We’ve heard of people plating their dirt bikes in states that allow it, like Arizona, and then bringing them into California. Now this may work, but if you get pulled over or spotted by a savvy LEO who is familiar with dirt bikes he/she may give you a hard time and start peeling back the layers of your onion, potentially causing you quite a bit of headaches.
Ok, so let’s say you are fortunate enough to live in a state where you can register an off road dirt bike as a street legal machine, let’s take a look at some of the basic parts, accessories, or components you’re most like going to need.
Headlight: You’re going to need a way to light your path when riding at night so you can see and so others can see you, so you’re going to need a dirt bike headlight. Chances are however, you dirt bike didn’t come with a headlight and probably doesn’t put out enough juice to power one. Depending on the year, make, and model of your bike you may need to upgrade your stator to help power a headlight and other essential lighting components. Outfitted with more copper wire wound around its poles to help produce a stronger electrical current, a new stator can produce enough juice to power your headlight, turn signals, brake lights, and tail lights. Companies [mageProductLink sku="386-2322" title=""]like Rick’s Motorsport[/mageProductLink] and Baja Designs offer replacement stators that can produce more wattage to power lighting components. For example Baja Designs offers a [mageProductLink sku="305-9122" title=""]replacement stator[/mageProductLink] that’s been pre-wound with an 110w lighting coil, offering plenty of juice to light your ride. In some cases you can even send in your stock stator to Baja Designs and they can do a rewind for you.
When it comes to a headlight you can choose from traditional halogen style, LED, or HID. LED and HID require less power/draw less power on your electrical system. LEDs and HIDs are often brighter and LEDs are praised for their longevity and durability against vibration. Whatever you choose for a motorcycle headlight it will need to be D.O.T legal (look for the marking on the headlight). The [mageProductLink sku="305-9081" title=""]Baja Designs Dual Sport EZ Mount Kit[/mageProductLink] comes with just about everything you’ll need to be road legal all in one easy setup. The kit includes: a halogen headlight with high/low, LED taillights, turn signals, horn, wiring harness and more to make installation easy.
Taillights or running lights as some people call them are lights mounted at the rear of the bike that will stay lit as your bike is running. They allow those behind you to see you at night. Most states only require a single motorcycle taillight.
Again most states only require a single motorcycle brake light and many taillights offer brake light illumination as well. If you don’t purchase a dual sport kit or choose to piece your lighting components together, you’ll probably have to pick up a [mageProductLink sku="305-9070" title=""]brake light switch which[/mageProductLink] has a threaded banjo bolt that mounts in your caliper and then has a wire lead coming off the other end that ties into your brake light wiring. When hydraulic pressure is applied through the banjo bolt it triggers the brake light(s) to come on.
Most states require you to have turn signals at the front and rear of your bike. There are also rules as to where the turn signals need to be mounted in regards to how high off the ground and how far apart the turn signals need to be mounted, so be sure to find out what your state specifies. Some states may specify that you can only have red turn signals at the rear. You may also have to have some kind of self-canceling feature that will automatically turn the signal off once the turn has been made. There are plenty of options to choose from when shopping for turn signals, but once again LED dirt bike turn signals are a smart choice because they draw little power, are very durable, and are available in compact sizes.
Believe it or not, some states require that a street legal motorcycle have reflectors at the front, rear or both ends—most just the rear though. While it might seem silly, reflectors are smart safety features to add as they can help you be seen by other drivers in low light or dark situations by reflecting their headlights. The nice thing about reflectors is that they can be easily installed, as most simply have an adhesive backing that can be stuck to any flat, clean surface. There’s also reflective tape which can be cut into strips and applied to your motorcycle. Just make sure your find out where the reflectors have to be mounted and if they have to be a certain size.
Installing a horn onto a dirt bike isn’t a big deal, however, just like with a headlight, you’re going to need enough juice to power the horn. So if you get your stator re-wound or upgrade your stator you should be able to provide power for the horn as well. Another option would be to install a small motorcycle battery; however, you would have to maintain/keep the battery properly charged. You don’t need a whole lot of room to install a horn either, especially if you use something like the [mageProductLink sku="320-0251" title=""]PIAA Slim Line Sports Horn[/mageProductLink], it’s compact and produces 112DB/500Hz sound, plenty loud for most people. If you’re thinking you can just get away with mounting one of those squeeze horns onto your handlebars like you had on your bicycle when you were a kid, it’s not gonna fly. You need to be aware of the sound requirements (i.e. horn must be audible from at least 200ft away). If your state requires a horn they should call out the sound requirements as well.
In order to be street legal your dirt bike exhaust is going to have to be fitted with a muffler to help reduce/meet sound restrictions. You might even have to get your dirt bike to pass smog or emissions testing before you can get street legal tags for your bike.
DOT tires are a must in most states. The great thing is that there are a lot of DOT approved tires that also work great for off road use such as the [mageProductLink sku="331-8170" title=""]Dunlop 606[/mageProductLink] and Pirelli MT21. You can quickly tell if a tie is DOT approved by checking the sidewall for the letters DOT. Many dirt bike tire manufacturers offer tires that are specifically meant for double duty between off road and street use and the tires are typically broken down by percentage of use such as 70/30, 90/10, or 50/50 (off road/on road and vice-a-versa). For example, the Dunlop D606 tires are DOT approved tires designed for 90 percent off road use and 10 percent on road meaning they feature pretty aggressive tread for off roading but can handle themselves fairly well on the street. Obviously, if you’re intended use is to spend more commuting to and from work and then hitting the trails on the weekend then you’ll want some dirt bike tires with shorter/less aggressive knobs for a quieter and smoother ride.
If your state requires a motorcycle mirror you’ll most likely only have to run just one, usually on the left side, providing a view of at least 200 feet to the rear.
You’re going to need a place to mount your license plate and there are plenty of fender kits available. Once again the Baja Designs Dual Sport EZ Mount Kit comes with everything you need to make your dirt bike street legal in most states and that includes a replacement fender with license plate holder and license plate light. Yes, to go along with the license mount you’ll have to have your license plate illuminated so that LEOs can see it at night. [mageProductLink sku="257-8321-00" title=""]Acerbis Dual Sport Taillight[/mageProductLink] is another great way to mount and light up a license plate. It can be secured to most dirt bike rear fenders and comes with a 12-volt 21.5 watt light.
Once you have met the requirements to make your dirt bike physically street legal, there are a few other things you may need before you can ride on the street. Since you will be riding on the highway your state may require that you be of legal age to get a driver’s or motorcycle operator’s license—if you already have a driver’s license you might have to get a motorcycle endorsement. The other piece of paper work that you will probably have to present to your motor vehicle office is proper insurance (i.e. liability).
We covered a lot of information here, and you should now have a better understanding as to how to make a dirt bike street legal. Hopefully you live in a state that will allow this to happen so that you can join the growing group of riders who are enjoying dual sport/ adventure motorcycling.