You enjoy getting away from it all by firing up your dirt bike and exploring out-of-the-way trails or blazing new ones. Less enjoyable is having to load the bike onto a trailer or pickup truck to transport it to the trailhead, unload it, and find a place to park before you start riding.
It would be easier to just ride your dirt bike to the off-road site, but you would be breaking the law unless you have a street-legal bike. If you are thinking about converting your off-road motorbike into a dual-use machine that can be ridden off- and on-road, this guide gives you the information you’ll need, including equipment modifications and registration requirements before you attempt to ride your dirt bike on the streets.
How Do You Know if You Have a Dirt Bike?
Manufacturers and state motor vehicle departments use two general categories of motorcycles. There are the street-legal or on-road machines you see cruising around town or along the highways. Dirt bikes or off-road bikes make up the second category of motorcycles. They are designed and equipped to take on and conquer the roughest terrain.
Both categories of motorcycles come equipped with two wheels, a seat, handlebars, brakes, and an engine, so it may be difficult to determine just from looking at it whether that machine sitting in the middle of your garage can be legally ridden on the street. Here are a few ways to determine what are dirt bikes as opposed to their road-ready counterparts:
Size and frame
Dirt bikes need to be highly maneuverable to navigate across rough terrain and around trees, rocks, and other obstacles. They have smaller and lighter frames that make them more agile than heavier road bikes built for stability. The frame design also results in dirt bikes having a much higher ground clearance than street bikes to prevent them from hitting or getting stuck on uneven terrain, rocks, and other obstacles in their path.
Position of the rider
When you see a dirt bike in action, perhaps the first thing you notice about it is the position of the rider. Seats on dirt bikes are designed to let a rider lean forward to easily transition into a standing position to navigate hills and bumps and to maneuver over obstacles. Road bikes position their riders further back to maintain what may appear to be an almost lounging posture as opposed to the more upright position of dirt bike riders.
Low handlebars on dirt bikes increase a rider’s ability to react to changes in the terrain by quickly adjusting the direction of the bike. Handlebars on street bikes can be higher because steering adjustments can be accomplished by leaning rather than by relying as much on the use of the handlebars as riders of dirt bikes must do.
Traction is the key when riding off-road, so dirt bike tires are designed to provide maximum traction with a knobby tread rather than a tread used for street bikes. They are narrower than tires used on street bikes, which makes them better suited for riding through loose dirt and rocks and other riding surfaces not encountered on paved roadways.
The suspension system of an off-road bike must be loose enough to absorb the impact of dips and climbing over fallen trees and other obstacles. The same loose suspension system on a road bike would make for an uncomfortable ride, so manufacturers use a tighter suspension system.
One piece of equipment that should be used by riders of all motorcycles whether on the road or off-road is a properly fitting, DOT certified helmet. You can find helmets designed to meet the specific needs of off-road riders that maximize protection while reducing weight and increasing ventilation and airflow.
Why Do Riders Decide To Convert Their Dirt Bikes?
One reason to convert a dirt bike into one that is street legal is convenience. Maybe you’re tired of trailering the bike or loading it into the bed of a pickup truck each time you want to take it for a ride. Converting it to a bike that is street legal lets you ride it to your favorite off-road riding area.
Or maybe, riding a dirt bike convinced you to make riding a motorcycle your go-to mode of transportation.
Buying a road bike to share garage space with your trail bike gives you the ability to take to the open road, but the financial commitment required to acquire a second motorcycle may not be one that you are prepared to make.
Besides, you may like the feel and performance of the dirt bike and not want to give it up for a dual-use motorcycle that is street legal as well as being suited for off-road use.
Something else to keep in mind when deciding whether to convert the dirt bike you now own to the one you can legally ride on the street is the commitment of time and money needed to take on such a project. You may discover that selling your current ride and buying one you can legally ride on-road and off-road makes more sense for you. The following sections about dirt bike laws throughout the country and what it takes to make a dirt bike legal to ride on the street may be of help to you in deciding whether to take on the project of converting your dirt bike.
Dirt-Bike Laws for Each State
Before jumping into a project to make your dirt bike legal to ride on the street, you need to research the dirt bike laws. This is no easy task particularly if your riding takes you across state lines. Each state has its own laws pertaining to licensing and equipment required for different types of motorcycles. Sometimes, there may be local laws enacted by county, city or town governments that supplement those enacted at the state level.
To help you get started with your conversion project is a map to locate the laws in each state. Just keep in mind that laws change, so check with your state’s department of motor vehicles for updated information.
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State-by-State Dirt Bike Laws
According to Arkansas dirt bike laws, an operator’s license is not required as long as you limit riding your dirt bike to private property and certain designated trails. Dirt bikes may be modified to meet equipment requirements for street bikes.
According to Alaska dirt bike laws, dirt bikes ridden on public land must be registered with the state DMV. To operate a dirt bike on public streets in Alaska, brakes, lights, mufflers, and other equipment must conform to specific state law requirements.
According to Arizona dirt bike laws, a state off-highway vehicle sticker must be purchased and affixed to your dirt bike to operate it in Arizona. Motorcycles manufactured for off-road that meet state weight restrictions may be operated on the road provided they are registered, insured, property equipped for highway use, and pass vehicle emissions tests.
Riding a dirt bike anywhere other than trails and off-road is illegal, according to Alabama dirt bike laws, unless you go through the process of registering the vehicle and complying with state requirements as far as equipment needed for street operation.
Dirt bike laws in California restrict where you can operate a dirt bike. You need a green sticker showing that your dirt bike meets CARB emissions standards, which most bikes manufactured after 2003 meet. A green sticker is needed to ride your dirt bike off-road. A red sticker, which indicates the bike does not meet state emissions standards, limits you to only riding in competitions on designated tracks or on privately owned land. Bikes that meet emission and equipment requirements may apply for registration for on-road use.
According to dirt bike laws in Colorado, the process for converting a dirt bike for on-road use in Colorado requires several documents, including one certifying that the bike is properly equipped for road use. The process includes an inspection of the bike by the state police.
Dirt bikes cannot be operated on public roads, according to Connecticut laws, unless they are equipped with brakes, tires, headlights, and meet other state standards for street bikes.
According to Delaware dirt bike laws, only motorcycles with headlights and other state-mandated equipment may operate on public roads.
According to dirt bike laws in Florida, equipment modifications are required before a dirt bike may be used on the street. For example, headlights must have high- and low-beam functions.
Dirt bike laws in Georgia permit the registration of a dirt bike for road use if it is equipped with a headlight, brake lights, muffler, and other equipment required by the state.
Dirt bikes can be registered in Hawaii for use on highways provided they have the same equipment required of other motorcycles by state law.
Dirt bike laws in Indiana forbid the use of dirt bikes on the streets unless they are titled and registered. The process to make a dirt bike street legal includes a police inspection to determine if it meets all equipment requirements.
If equipped with DOT-approved headlights, taillights, brakes, and other equipment, laws in Iowa allow the registration of dirt bikes for road use.
If properly registered and titled, dirt bikes may be ridden on the street as long as they have the same equipment as required for street motorcycles, according to Idaho dirt bike state laws.
According to dirt bike laws in Illinois, a title and registration are required for a motorcycle to be operated on public roadways. They must pass inspection, which means a dirt bike must be retrofitted with tires, turn and brake signals, headlights with high and low beams, mirrors and other equipment the state requires for street bikes.
Kansas classifies cities based on population. According to state laws, dirt bikes may be operated on the street in cities with populations of less than 15,000 residents.
According to Kentucky dirt bike laws, you can only ride a dirt bike on private land provided you have the permission of the owner. They cannot be ridden on streets unless you modify their equipment to meet legal requirements that apply to street bikes.
Dirt bike laws in Louisiana prohibit the use of dirt bikes on the street unless you modify its brakes, headlights, and other equipment to make it street legal. Motorcycles ridden on the street must have insurance, title, and registration, and the operator needs a license
According to Maine state laws, a dirt bike is classified as an all-terrain vehicle and must be registered with the state. They cannot generally operate on public roadways except during a declared weather emergency and other limited situations unless they meet the equipment requirements for street-legal motorcycles.
According to dirt bike laws in Maryland, riding is limited to private land with the permission of the property owner unless you modify the dirt bike to satisfy state requirements for street motorcycles.
Dirt bike laws in Massachusetts restrict where you can ride a dirt bike unless you modify its equipment to meet the requirements set for road bikes.
According to Michigan dirt bike laws, you need an off-road title, operator’s license, and a trail permit to ride a dirt bike. Taking it on the streets is illegal unless you modify the vehicle to meet the specifications of a street bike.
State laws in Minnesota allow dirt bikes to ride off-road if operators are licensed, and their dirt bikes are registered. On-road operation is prohibited unless the bike meets all specifications to qualify as a street bike.
According to Mississippi laws, the use of dirt bikes is strictly limited to privately owned property. Unless the motorcycle was manufactured to meet state specifications for on-road use, dirt bikes cannot be used on the street.
According to dirt bike laws in Missouri, without being modified to meet state specifications, dirt bike usage is limited to off-road.
Montana dirt bike laws require horns, brakes, and other equipment modifications to operate a dirt bike on public roads.
According to Nebraska dirt bike laws, registered dirt bikes may be operated on public roads, but the process to register them requires equipment modifications conforming to specifications for road bikes.
Nevada state law permits registered dirt bikes to operate on the road, but they must pass an inspection to determine if they meet safety standards.
If you own a dirt bike in New York, you are subject to some of the strictest laws in the country. Dirt bikes can only be ridden on private property with the owner’s permission. Specifications for a street-legal motorcycle must be met to register a bike and ride it on the street.
According to dirt bike laws in New Mexico, you need a title to make a dirt bike street legal provided you also make the necessary equipment modifications to comply with specifications that road bikes must meet.
According to dirt bike laws in New Jersey, dirt bikes must be registered to operate off-road. On-road operation is limited to those motorcycles that meet state specifications.
North Carolina dirt bike laws treat dirt bikes the same as it does other motorcycles except that the operator does not require a license if riding off-road.
If properly registered and equipped to meet specifications for road bikes, a dirt bike may be operated on streets and roads, according to North Dakota dirt bike laws.
Riding a dirt bike is limited to privately owned land and only with the written permission of the owner unless it is modified to meet state standards for road bikes, according to dirt bike laws in New Hampshire.
According to dirt bike laws in Oregon, only motorcycles recognized legal for street use may venture onto public roads; otherwise, riders of dirt bikes must remain off streets and roads.
In Ohio, riding a dirt bike is limited to private land unless the dirt bike is modified to meet state specifications for road motorcycles.
Unless modified and equipped for street use, dirt bikes are limited to off-road use, according to Oklahoma dirt bike laws. However, you may use roads within state parks where off-road riding is permitted, but you cannot go outside the park.
According to dirtbike laws in Pennsylvania, dirt bike owners must have title to them, but registration is only mandatory for street bikes. Unless modified for street use, dirt bikes are limited to off-road use only.
Dirt bikes cannot be used on public land or streets without being modified to state specifications for road bikes, according to dirt bike laws in Rhode Island.
According to dirt bike laws in South Carolina, dirt bikes cannot be operated on the road unless they meet state specifications applicable to street motorcycles.
South Dakota dirt bike laws allow dirt bikes to be operated on public roads only if they are properly titled and registered, provided you have insurance and an operator’s license.
Unless modified to meet specifications as street bikes, the only roadways on which dirt bikes may operate are limited to two-lane roads, according to Tennessee dirt bike laws.
According to Texas dirt bike laws, to operate on the road, dirt bikes must be modified to meet road-bike specifications, be insured and registered, and pass a state inspection.
According to dirt bike laws in Texas, all dirt bikes must be registered, but they require equipment modifications to ride on the street.
An equipment modification is required to take your dirt bike onto the streets, according to dirt bike laws in Vermont.
Dirt bike laws in Virginia prohibit riding dirt bikes on public land and roadways unless they are modified to meet specifications for street motorcycles.
According to Washington dirt bike laws, you cannot ride a dirt bike on public roads unless it meets state equipment specifications for roadway use.
Dirt bikes modified to meet specifications for street use may be registered and used on roadways; otherwise, they are limited to off-road use only, according to dirt bike laws in West Virginia.
According to dirt bike laws in Wisconsin, dirt bikes cannot be used on public roads unless modified and registered for street use.
Dirt bikes are limited to off-road use unless modified, registered, and insured, according to Wyoming dirt bike laws.
After researching the dirt bike laws in your state, you should come away with a better understanding of what it takes to make your motorcycle street legal.
How To Make a Dirt Bike Street Legal
Depending on the law in your state, your dirt bike needs to meet documentation and equipment specifications. Documents you need may include the following:
- Manufacturer’s certificate of origin or MCO.
The documents vary from state to state, so contact the motor vehicle department where you live to find out exactly what paperwork you need. Most states focus their attention on the following equipment in setting the legal specifications to register and operate a motorcycle for use on public roads:
- Headlight with high- and low-bead capability.
- Turn signals.
- Replacement of off-road tires with road tires.
- Electronic horn.
- Clearly visible license-plate bracket.
- Modified charging system.
- Sideview mirrors.
The gas tank on your dirt bike may need to be replaced with one capable of holding a larger amount of fuel. Some dirt bikes have smaller gas tanks because they do not travel long distances.
“Are dirt bikes street legal?” should be the first question you need to ask before leaving the trails and taking to the roads in your state. Making the necessary mechanical modifications to turn your dirt bike into one that is legal to ride on public roads and filing the proper paperwork to register may not be all you have to do to avoid getting a ticket while riding.
A helmet is an essential piece of safety equipment regardless of where you ride. Do some research to select a helmet that prevents injuries and complies with the helmet laws in your state.