You might wonder why you need a torque wrench to tighten all the nuts and bolts on your dirt bike or ATV when a regular old ratchet or closed wrench sets work perfectly fine on your car and likely offer appropriate attachments that fit the bolt and nut heads on your dirt bike.

Overtightening is probably common with DIY car owners but doing so creates much less problems than when dealing with the intricacies and more delicate nature of a dirt bike. Yes, you can use a run-of-the-mill ratchet set on your dirt bike for some things but if the manufacturer recommends specific torque measures it's not because they're trying to upsell the more expensive wrenches.

Simply put, a dirt bike is run through the ringer. Manufacturers finely tune their dirt bikes and ATVs to handle aggressive riding and all that comes with riding trails and Motocross tracks. Therefore, tightening a bolt on a dirt bike consists of a far more complex operation than screwing in a lock on your wood fence. However, that doesn't mean in a pinch you can't use what's available if you're without a torque wrench - depending on what needs tightening.

Before we begin, remember to always start threads by hand to ensure a clean alignment. Never use a power or air tool.

When to Use a Torque Wrench

In all engine related matters and anything with a mechanical function like axle nuts, brakes and sprockets use a torque wrench without fail and adhere to recommended torque specs. Using anything other than a torque wrench poses a safety hazard, leads to mechanical failure and voids any warranty.

Additionally, when tightening cylinder and head bolts/nuts you must use the correct torque spec and torque them in the proper pattern. If you own a Honda and a Kawasaki keep in mind the torque and torque patterns vary between manufacturers so don't think Honda when working on Green. Always check the owner's manual for specific torque specifications for the make, model and year of your dirt bike.

Example of a manufacturer's recommendation for cylinder head torquing

Mechanic's Note: Most manufacturers recommend replacing all head bolts, head nuts, head studs, cylinder nuts, cylinder bolts, and cylinder studs instead of reusing the old ones.

So, when is it OK to use something other than a torque wrench? Well, here's the thing. If you own a dirt bike or ATV you own a torque wrench. Just use the torque wrench on everything else!

However, occasions arise when you need a quick fix, you forgot the torque wrench or time is of the essence and you'll take what you can get. Using a run-of-the-mill socket wrench to tighten your plastic or the seat or anything that has nothing to do with the working mechanics of the dirt bike should suffice. Hand-tightening until it "feels right" is a lot faster than using a torque wrench and dialing in the right spec. Just remember not to use an SAE connection on a metric bolt and vice versa - that's a great way to strip the bolt head.

Finally, when working with the nuts and bolts of your dirt bike don't forget to use Loctite where specified - primarily anything that shouldn't come apart on its own or should never come apart - and anti-seize on everything else - anything you might take apart. We've found anti-seize is often underused but it's a great tool to prevent stuck bolts and it fights corrosion by protecting against the elements like heat, cold, water, mud and other debris.

What other tools should you own? Read on: