Installing the front wheel on a dirt bike seems easy enough and it is but without employing a few steps you might find the handling a bit off.
Similar to a pedal bike, the front wheel installs by squeezing past the brake pads, slipping onto the forks then tightened. However, a dirt bike has a removable axle that fits inside the hub and connects both sides to the forks via axle lugs at the end of the forks. You need to align this axle before fully installing the wheel.
The axle slides through the axle lugs which connects both sides to the forks
The most common reasons for removing the front wheel include working on the front brakes, installing a new tire or replacing/cleaning the bearings. So you won't deal with removal and install after every ride though consider it routine. Once ready to install the front wheel follow these steps:
First, have the proper tools or expect to just spin your wheels, pun intended. A full T-handle or wrench set should suffice along with a mallet and an appropriate-sized socket to help with installing axle.
1. Thread the axle through the left lug (brake rotor side) into the wheel hub and right lug.
2. Tighten fork lug bolts (or pinch bolts) of hub opposite side of axle nut (right side as you ride) once axle installed.
3. Tighten axle.
4. Remove bike from stand, squeeze front brake lever and compress (bounce) front suspension several times.
This up and down compression centers the axle which helps align the forks. You won't feel a click or anything different for that matter, the process of bouncing the suspension up and down five or six times is enough to center the axle.
5. Place bike on stand.
6. Tighten fork lug bolts on left side (brake rotor side).
7. Tighten everything else down to torque specs.
It's quite possible you have never properly installed the front wheel as outlined above and experienced little no to issue since not aligning the axle prior to fully tightening the lug bolts likely won't cause anything detrimental. Overall the worst that can happen is rough handling and poor suspension which obviously affects riding performance. But then you might end up spending hours deconstructing your bike's suspension, blaming the handlebars or going down some other rabbit hole looking for a reason when the easy solution was to simply center the axle.
Written By: AndrewT