Owning a dirt bike requires constant maintenance. Much of it is relatively easy however it should be performed pretty quick after a day on the track or trails. Sometimes you have to address immediate issues to save your day of riding.
For some, wrenching is simply part of ownership and fixing problems and tackling issues comes naturally. Others can do the minor stuff like oil changes but would rather not get their hands dirty, so to speak, with the more technical stuff. Then there are those maintenance needs and problems that might just be best left for a professional mechanic primarily so you don't incur additional damage or get stuck with a garage full of parts and tools and have no idea what to do next.
If you've been riding long enough you've certainly performed some routine maintenance on your dirt bike. Other problems you might have second-guessed about doing yourself. Maybe you did and wished someone had told you to see a mechanic.
Hopefully we can help. What dirt bike maintenance needs and issues can be tackled at home and when should you call a mechanic.
DIY Dirt Bike Maintenance
You'll save a lot of money and get a lot of satisfaction performing your own maintenance. In fact, for some routine needs like oil changes, you should really learn how to do it if you're new to riding or you've never felt confident in doing it. Save your money!
Now, the obvious like lubing your chain and checking tire pressure we'll skip - if you can't do that stay off the bike! - but the following routine maintenance needs should be done at home:
Oil Changes - likely if you're riding dirt bikes you don't mind getting, well, dirty. But, you don't really get all that dirty changing your bike's oil. Unscrew the plug and just let it drain. Then take off the oil filter, pop a new one on, fill the crankcase with the recommended amount of oil and you're ready to ride.
Coolant - this is another easy one. Topping off is easier then draining the oil but draining and replacing with new coolant takes a lot more time but is just as easy as an oil change. This video shows you how to change oil and perform the more routine fluid checks:
Tire Change - Sure it can be a pain but get it down and you'll start timing how fast you can get one done. Relying too much on others for tire changes eventually catches up to you since a flat tire will ground you one of these ride days. Don't get stuck being a spectator because you don't know how to change a tire or repair a flat.
Exhaust packing - Another very easy to do and after every ride type of maintenance.
Air filter - See Exhaust packing.
Check Valve Clearance - Now you're getting a bit more into the technical stuff since this requires opening the crankcase and you'll need a lot of tools. Probably the worst part about checking the valve clearance is the time it takes. Give it at least an hour.
Wheel Bearing Replacement - This one isn't so much technical but can require some patience depending on how easy it is to remove the existing bearings.
Suspension Compression and Rebound Adjustment - this is probably the easiest. In fact, DO NOT take your bike to a mechanic for this. It's a few "clicks" of a screwdriver. That's it. The video below is for rear suspension. See a video on Front Suspension Setup.
Setting Suspension Sag - A touch more difficult than compression and rebound adjustment.
Brake and Clutch Lever Replacement - Eventually you will crash. Eventually a crash will take out your brake or clutch levers. It's almost a rite of passage that happens far too often. Even the best levers on the market designed to withstand the harshest of crashes eventually bust up.
Brake and Clutch Cables - You'll probably have a harder time with a bottle opener.
All of the above, of course, require at the very least some first time instruction. If you're truly jumping into this new dirt bike hobby alone just ask around at the track. Someone is sure to help you. Otherwise we've included links to some videos that provide step-by-step instruction on completing most of the routine and general maintenance needs to your dirt bike.
Dirt Bike Maintenance for the Expert
Dirt bike owners love their bike almost as much as their first born and for some it is their first and only! Suffice it to say, we're a passionate bunch and really don't want anybody touching our bikes. Plus, the joy of winning a Moto is even more satisfying knowing your work in the garage directly contributed to grabbing the holeshot and taking the checkered flag.
Once you've been in the industry long enough you'll learn tricks of the trade and a thing or two on taking care of major maintenance needs. If you're still fairly new or a bit gun shy in taking stuff apart and putting it back together nobody would blame you for seeing a mechanic but over time the following should also be done at home.
Cylinder problems - how scored is too scored? What parts can you reuse? This comes with experience. If you're having cylinder problems and have no idea how to solve the issue - see a mechanic.
Replacing the Clutch - This sounds more complex than it actually is however it's not like draining the oil. You'll definitely need some know-how for this. If you want to DIY it, this video should help out a lot:
Wheel truing and lacing - This is not all that hard but it is quite tedious. If you've got the money and simply don't want to bother doing it then go ahead and pay someone. But a true privateer does it themselves.
Changing the brake fluid - Of the fluid changes this is the most complex. Because brakes are critical to stopping and keep you from crashing into, say a tree, some riders might want the assurance and backing of a professional mechanic who gets the job done well. But doing it yourself saves a lot of money and once learned is actually quite easy. Check out our How to Bleed Dirt Bike Brakes guide.
Changing the brake pads - see above.
Bent, chipped, broken pipes - Depending on the severity you might have to replace the entire pipe which could mean a trip to your mechanic, again depending on your familiarity of the exhaust system.
Graphics Installation - OK, this is not exactly maintenance but since you'll rarely if ever see a dirt bike without any graphics, we thought to include it. We also put it at the bottom and so close to "When to See a Mechanic" because putting graphics on your ride is a real pain. You need to be detailed, precise, have steady hands and lots of patience. It's very easy to flub putting graphics on. If you've got a buddy or know someone who does this in their sleep (yes, they do exist) we'd suggest finding that person and offer them a 12-pack for their expertise.
When to See a Mechanic
Indeed there are a handful of maintenance issues that are best left to a mechanic. Unless, of course, your experience practically qualifies you as a mechanic.
Spending a lot of time at the track might just acquaint you with the right people who can help you learn the more complex dirt bike issues. If you're happy to leave some fixes in the hands of a professional, the following require knowledge, skills and the right set of tools. Expensive tools. However, if you're the learning type...
Changing fork seals - This is a complex job that takes a lot of time, patience and ability. Extra help is often required which is why a trip to the mechanic is better than you doing it at home by yourself or with others less experienced.
Suspension - Most veteran riders don't bother with changing the suspension. This is truly complex and requires a lot of understanding. Most people who know how to do it have worked on bikes for years or even went to a mechanic school.
Cracked casing - Probably going to need a new casing. Probably going to need a mechanic to do it.
Valve Replacement - This is iffy. Replacing the valves is an afternoon if not all day job. You'll need special tools and really know what you're doing here. If you haven't done it before get a mechanic.
When tending to this list one thing becomes obvious - experience matters. Even adjusting the clickers requires first time instruction. The more time you spend with your bike, asking advice and getting instruction from others the quicker you'll be able to manage the easier and complex maintenance tasks and fix problems to get you back riding.
Sometimes though it's just best to call in an expert. You've paid thousands of dollars for your dirt bike so don't do any maintenance or troubleshooting you're not entirely comfortable performing and risk further damage to your bike.
As you can see, most dirt bike maintenance can be done at home. In fact, learning your way around a dirt bike is a great way to understand the ins and outs of engine mechanics which can cross over to addressing issues on your car or truck. If your 4-wheel ride is broken how are you going to get to the track?
The bottom line - get your hands dirty! But if you get 'em stuck, call a mechanic.