Updated October 2019
The short answer is, yes. Of course you can! You can ride a dirtbike nearly anywhere, that’s the great thing about them. Can you ride a dirt bike on the road legally? Well, that’s where things get a bit more complex. For this article, we’ll focus on the pros and cons of using a dirt bike for street duty and the legality of riding your off-road motorcycle on the street.
Can you ride a dirt bike on the road? Let’s take a look.
First let’s consider the pros and cons of using a dirt bike for street riding.
Maybe you’ve grown up on dirtbikes, already had one in the garage when you turned 16, and are ready to enjoy the freedoms only the open road can offer now that you’re (almost) an adult, or maybe you just happen to pick up a cheap used dirt bike that you’re hoping to throw some lights on and get registered.
Whatever the reason might be, creating a street-legal thumper out of an off-road motorcycle can be just the ticket to allow you access to a great expanse of riding opportunities not available to your typical street-biased motorcycle. Dirt bikes also typically get pretty good gas mileage for bouncing around town when compared to multi-cylindered gas-guzzlers. Careful though, if you’re planning to convert a motocrosser, you’ll still have short service intervals to keep in mind. The mileage stacks up quicker on-road.
If you’re commuting through a city, the long-travel suspension, nimble handling characteristics and slender physique of a dirt bike can make for the ultimate urban assault vehicle, not to mention a fantastic bug-out bike for the impending zombie apocalypse. Sounds fun, right!? Let’s be sure to consider the full picture.
If you’re planning to undergo the transformation from dirt to dual-purpose, you’ll want to give some thought to the intended use of your whip. If you’re looking for a commuter on which you’ll regularly be forced to ride at freeway speed, your 250cc motocrosser probably isn’t the best tool for the job, or even a 450cc for that matter. Those motorcycles are designed to be raced around a motocross track which means they use high-performance materials and require more frequent maintenance to keep them running at top condition. Winding these guys out on the freeway day after day probably isn’t a good idea in the long run.
Depending on where you’re trying to make your ascension to street-legalness, the amount of money you might have to spend transitioning from off-road only may have you looking toward the used market for an already plated dual-sport motorcycle. There are a few great offerings from manufacturers currently which are basically dirt bikes with turn signals and they hardly give up any off-road prowess for being street-legal. You can look at the used market or maybe that shiny new Honda CRF450L caught your eye when it hit the scene.
Be sure to consider all of your options and thoroughly research your state’s requirements.
Being a law-abiding citizen: What does a dirtbike need to be street legal?
Having the chance of turning your off-road motorcycle into a legal road-going mode of transportation really depends on your geographic location. Oh, you live in sunny, ride-every-day-of-the-year southern California? Not going to happen. Forget about it. Almost anywhere else in the country, you have a better chance as long as you are able to follow some minimum requirements. We’ll outline a few of those basics here, but keep in mind, you’ll need to do some research of your own in regard to your state’s specific requirements to license an off-road motorcycle in order to be sure you’re not wasting your time.
For most states that are going to allow you to make the conversion from off-road only to dual-purpose you are going to need the following:
- A headlight with low and high beam (as well as an indication of when the high beam is on)
- A taillight that is actuated by the front brake lever and the rear brake pedal
- DOT-approved turn signals front and rear
- A rearview mirror (or two)
- A horn
Some of these parts can be easily bolted on to your off-road bike, but if you’re trying to convert a competition dirtbike into a street-legal motorcycle, you’ll have more groundwork to do as these motorcycles are not well-equipped to power much more than a starter button. For these types of dirt bikes, you’ll likely need to add a stator and a battery.
There are plenty of companies that sell “full-conversion kits”, but again, you’ll want to check with your state’s requirements to be sure you’re buying all of what is necessary without spending money on parts you may not need.
So, what have we learned? Can you ride a dirt bike on the road? Yep. Where you live will likely be the deciding factor as to whether or not it’s worth investing into the conversion or if you should just go find yourself a pre-plated dual-sport on the new or used market. Whichever option you end up with, dual-sport riding is the way to go if you want to literally broaden your horizons.