Axl. Axel. Or axle?
Take the revival of an 80s band and a long forgotten buddy cop film of the same era out of the equation and you have just an axle. And when that gets out of alignment expect to find riding your dirt bike a bit difficult at best or borderline dangerous at worst.
A misaligned axle happens either during improper installation of the front or rear wheel or most often from a crash. The front wheel axle gets banged around the most but also offers the easiest fix of the two when the axle moves out of alignment.
If the axle gets offset the affected wheel won't center and when riding the bike pulls to one side. Similar to driving a car with a bad alignment where the steering wheel bears right or left to keep the car straight, the handlebars of your dirt bike won't align with the front wheel. If the handlebars sit straight but the front wheel turns left or right you probably have a misaligned axle.
When the rear wheel axle gets out of alignment you might feel some binding (also possible with front wheel) while riding or the chain might come off since the repositioning of the wheel affects the chain slack.
Aligning the Front Axle on a Dirt Bike
If you have endured a crash and the wheel feels out of alignment first check for any damage since a bent hub can affect the integrity and direction of the wheel. Also check the handlebar position since you might have knocked that out of position. Once you have determined a misaligned axle you need to realign it with the forks.
- Loosen the axle nut and pinch bolts
- Spin the wheel and grab the brakes
The sudden stop usually centers the wheel and aligns the axle. You might have to do this a couple of times. If this doesn't work:
- Tighten the axle nut and pinch bolts
- Squeeze front brake lever
- Compress front suspension several times
This suspension compression method works just like how you align the axle after removing the front wheel. You can read more about that in How To Properly Install the Front Wheel on a Dirt Bike. If you still have trouble aligning axle than remove the entire wheel and check for additional damage preventing the axle from aligning.
Aligning the Rear Axle on a Dirt Bike
First, check the axle block marks. If the marks line up equally on both sides you probably don't have a misaligned axle issue. But usually you can tell simply by standing behind the dirt bike and eyeballing how the wheel sits.
Aligning the rear axle on a dirt bike doesn't require removing the wheel but calls for specific tools you probably did not bring with you especially when riding trails like the large socket wrench for the axle nut and 10 mm and 12 mm wrench for the chain adjuster bolts. Don't punch/kick/hammer the wheel into place! Try this:
- Loosen chain adjusters
- Loosen axle blocks
- Adjust the chain so the tension is equal on both sides by matching the marks on the axle blocks
- Tighten everything - start with chain adjuster then the axle nut
If you don't have the tools, riding even a short distance on the front or rear tire with the axle out of alignment can cause damage to the chain (rear), brake parts (front and rear) and wheel hub. Proceed with caution especially if you have a long ride back to camp.