Is it Legal to Drive Dirt Bike on Public Roads?

Street stunting has become a nuisance in several states where people use dirt bikes to perform stunts on public roads. Riding a dirt bike on the street is a direct violation of several laws including operating a vehicle without safety requirements, operating an unregistered vehicle, and riding a motorcycle without insurance.

Dirt bikes are intended for recreation use in designated trails, off-highway vehicle areas, and competition. Operating the bike on a highway puts the rider and other users at risk as the bike lacks the necessary safety requirements. Although back roads have less traffic, it is still illegal to ride a dirt bike. You’d be as guilty on a back road as you would be on a highway, but you get can away with a warning especially if you are a local.

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Do You Need a License to Ride Dirt Bikes on Public Road?

An operator license is needed to ride motorcycles on public roads. If you make your bike street legal or you use a dual-sport bike, the vehicle will be treated as a motorcycle, and you, therefore, need a license and insurance.

How to Make a Dirt Bike Street Legal?

There is a lot of unfounded information, especially on the internet, when it comes to making dirt bikes legal for the streets. You can title any dirt bike, although the process is more extensive than just fitting several lights. In addition to the federal laws, states and local authorities also institute their own regulations governing what is acceptable on their boundaries. On-road motorcycles in the US must include the components spelled out in “The Federal Minimum Requirement.” The requirements further vary from state to state which is why you need to do some research before adjusting anything on your bike. The items you will require include:

  • Headlight – Most states demand that a motorcycle have a DOT-compliant headlight. Is should be adjustable from low to high beam, and it should be lit at night and during the day to maximize visibility from other drivers. A headlight however constantly draws energy from the bike’s electrical system. You can install an LED headlight to minimize the amount of power drawn as it requires lower power than halogen lights. LED lights can also utilize a battery. Some states are also specific about the position of the switch although the DOT requires it to be visible to the rider.
  • Tail Light – The tail light should have a functional brake light capability as it enables the drivers at the rear end to see when you are slowing down. The light must connect to the battery in some localities, and it must be able to remain lit for at least 20 minutes. A taillight should also be on at all times. You can reduce the power requirements of the light by opting for an LED one. The light’s switch must be placed such that the front brake lever and the rear brake level both power the taillight when it is engaged.
  • Tires – A bike must have DOT-certified tires to be legal on the streets. The rims of dirt-bikes are typically compatible with DOT-approved tires which have added layers of rubber and are also highway-speed rated. The tires will have a DOT mark on the sidewall. Even if you avoid this law, off-road tires will likely come apart at the seams if you take a dirt bike to the highway. If you ride mostly on pavements, you can purchase DOT-approved skins. A popular practice is to transform a dirt bike into a supermoto by fitting 17-inch rims and installing street tires mostly found on sport bikes. Sport tires provide more durability than knobbies and are able to maneuver better on roads in addition to being stylish.
  • Mirrors – Some jurisdictions demand two mirrors while others need just one. A working mirror offers you a clear view of your environment so opting for a cheap and shaky one might not be the safest choice. Some riders prefer to forego the mirror for aesthetic purposes and will opt for a single low-profile look. Purchase a wide-angle mirror when making this decision to avoid having many blind spots. Bar-end mirrors have a fairly lower profile and offer good views for the rider.
  • Turn Signals – Many states have no turn signal requirement but demand that hand signals be used. Lights are however better at getting attention than hands, particularly at night. A rider will also maintain control over the handlebars when making a corner. If your only hurdle is fitting blinkers, however, using hand signals may let you skip this step in most states. Where the turn signals are a must, they are additional regulations about their position relative to the tail and headlights. The signals should also be DOT-certified.
  • License Plate Bracket – Motorcycles generally need license plate to be legal-compliant. Some states are more specific about the mode of display. It is best to consult your local DMV for guidance. There are aftermarket brackets that display plates in a fashion that is legal in most states. You can explore alternative methods like installing it beneath the fender or mounting it vertically. Light is also required although a cheap LED strip fixed above the plate will do. Some states need the plate to be positioned past the rear tire for readability.
  • Horn – All states need a working horn, and while some clearly demand an electric horn, others are okay with a non-electric model. It is simpler just to get one as they can be as cheap as $8.
  • Charging System – The standard charging system for a motorcycle includes a battery, stator, and regulator. Some motorcycles make use of alternators like cars do, although they are rarely used on dirt bikes. A battery is not a must-have for dirt bikes if you have adequate energy from the stator. To power the different lights of a street legal bike, you will have to transform the AC power your stator is generating to fire the spark plug to DC so that it can power the lights. It is not a good move to power lights off of alternating current. There are lights that can be energized by AC voltage although they are not very durable.
  • Battery – The market has small batteries manufactured to purposefully convert dirt bikes to street legal ones. Some are designed to connect to a charging system while others work as singular power sources. Both methods are discreet and channel all the DC power a motorcycle would need. Making use of a battery as the only power source will however drain it quickly, and you will need to charge it frequently. It will, however, sustain your power needs until you invest in proper conversion. There are bike-specific kits with the three primary electrical components in addition to wiring harnesses. A bike is not a necessity for most dirt bikes although your lights may dim when you are riding.
  • Stator – A stator produces electricity in a motorcycle although they do not all produce similar amounts of power. A stator produces minimal wattage for a bike without a starter or lights. The total power draw of all the electrical parts to be installed in a street legal bike should leave sufficient leftover energy to charge the battery. Many kickstart-only off-road bikes will need an upgraded stator to energize the additional components.
  • Regulator – The regulator converts the alternating current directed from the stator to the direct current used by the electrical components. It also regulates the high voltage leaving the stator down to 13 to 15 volts which are enough to charge the battery. Some companies promote kits inclusive of upgraded stators and regulators meant to work together.
  • Gearing – A gearing adjustment can make a substantial difference in acceleration and speed. A rear sprocket with extra teeth will offer better pickup at the price of top speed. Dropping teeth on the front sprocket will also provide greater acceleration.
  • Odometer – An odometer may be a luxury of off-road driving, but it is necessary for street riding. It reflects engine temperature, speed, and mileage. It is only legally required in Indiana, so it is pretty much optional. A trip meter will ensure that you do not run low on gas. Dirt bikes only carry about 2 gallons of fuel so running out of gas is very likely.
  • Kickstand – Off-road bikes have no kickstands for safety purposes, but most riders realize it is a necessity in urban areas.

Do you Need to Register a Dirt Bike for Public Road?

There are states that demand registration for off-road vehicles even if they are operated on off-road trails. If you make your dirt bike street legal, it will need to be registered as a motorcycle.

Is it Legal to Drive a Dirt Bike on the Highway?

Dirt bikes are designed for recreational activities and you should only use them in designated trails. Riding a bike on highways may attract fines, tickets, and your vehicle may even be impounded.

Conclusion

Dirt bikes are designed for high-performance on off roads, which is why they are not suitable for public roads. In addition to being illegal in the streets, dirt bikes are dangerous for riders and other road-users. Thankfully, you can turn your dirt bike into a street legal one by adding different components such as tail lights, headlights, horns, mirrors, and turn signals. Before reconfiguring your bike, seek the advice of the local DMV.

Josh Berry - MotoShark Editor
Josh Berry
I'm a off-road enthusiast, extreme sport fan and the editor of MotoShark. If you have any questions or suggestions regarding this article, please leave a comment or contact me.

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