£100 upgrades – Six quick ways to improve your dirt bike

In Motorcycle Gear, Motorcycle Product Reviews by Julian0 Comments

OK so your bike’s looking and feeling a bit tired. You want to show it a bit of love but funds are tight. So what’s the best way you could throw just £100 on your bike and make a significant difference? We’ve chosen half a dozen upgrades for you, each of which come in at around the magic hundred.

SHOW YOUR DIRTBIKE A BIT OF CHEAP LOVING
Time for an upgrade

#1 RAISING THE BAR

So the quickest way to make a change to how your bike feels is to swap the handle bars. The equipment the factories supply has come a long way from the nasty steel bars they used to fit, so names like Pro – Taper, Neken and Renthal are commonplace straight from the factory.

But just because there’s a name on them don’t assume they are necessarily going to be the best for you and your riding. There are a multitude of bar companies out there making all manner of different designs of handlebars. You can have unbraced bars, braced bars, fat bars,  twin walls  – the list is impressive. Moving on from that you can have different bends, with variations in width, height, rise, sweep, clamp area and control area.

There are also different bars for different disciplines, so there’ll be a woods style, an enduro style and loads of motocross styles – you just have to chose.

Renthal bars - a great start to dirt bike upgrades
RENTHAL 996 TWINWALLS ,WINDHAM BEND – OUR FAVOURITE

And in terms of changing your riding experience, little can compete with a bar swap. As the main control point on the bike the bars make a huge difference – for tall riders, going for a higher bar will make standing so much easier – for woods work then going just an inch or so narrower will transform the experience.

If further persuading is needed, then changing bars is an easy task for even the most nervous mechanic – half an hour should do it if you include swapping over or replacing grips too. Perfect.

#2 A CERTAIN RATIO

Just like the handlebar swap, altering the gearing of your bike is a cheap, simple and effective way to change the performance across the whole spectrum. Now before you worry that we’re heading down a complicated route of splitting the gearbox and messing with internal ratios, then just relax – nothing so complicated here.

No the gearing we are talking about is just changing the final drive ratios via the chainwheels – or sprockets if you are a bit old skool. A simple change in the size of the front or rear will instantly and substantially alter the way your bike performs.

Front sprocket - upgrades can alter performance
CHANGING THE FRONT IS THE CHEAPEST AND EASIEST

OK so as the cheapest option, changing the front sprocket will hit your wallet the least. First off, find out what the standard size is by reaching for your handbook, or looking online. Once you know that, you can count the teeth on your existing sprocket to see what you are already running. While you are there – check the size of the rear sprocket, and if you divide the bigger figure by the smaller one, then youi have your drive ratio. A 14 front and a 50 rear gives a ratio of 3.57.

That established, the next stage to establish whether you want more initial acceleration – which in turn will give you a reduced top speed, or less which will give you an increased top speed. Once decided, you go down a tooth for the former, up a tooth for the latter – but only one tooth as the difference with a front sprocket will be quite considerable. Dropping to a 13 tooth on the example above will ‘gear down’ you ratio to 3.84.

Of course this option may not be as easy as described – notably when increasing the size – due to the space confines around the front sprocket. Luckily manufacturer will tend to supply only sizes that will fit – but don’t assume before checking clearances once the chain is back on when increasing the size, and check the angles on the swingarm pivot when decreasing the size.

Rear sprocket upgrades are more expensive
CHANGING THE REAR GIVES MORE OPTIONS

If you are looking for more subtle changes, then altering the rear sprocket will give you more options and gentler changes. Unlike the situation with the front, going larger will increase acceleration and reduce top speed, whereas going smaller will reduce acceleration and increase top speed.

But because of the way the drive ratios work, then changing one tooth at the front equates to a change of nearly four teeth on the back.

Current set up  14 front / 48 rear – ratio is 3.42

Changing to 13 front / 50 rear – ratio is now 3.69

But if you were to change the rear sprocket, then to achieve the same ratio as the 13 / 48 combination with the 14 tooth front would need a 52 tooth rear. You can see that with the rear you would have an additional three options of 49, 50 and 51 tooth rear sprockets before getting to the same effect of dropping one tooth at the front.

One word of caution here – fitting new sprockets with an old chain is not really that smart, so you may need to consider replacing the chain before starting to experiment with altering your gear ratios. Oh and be aware that if moving up four teeth on the back, then your are most likely to need a longer chain.

But don’t let that put you off – your bike can be transformed with just an few minutes in the garage.

#3 HYBRID THEORY

Now this one is going to take a leap of faith – especially for you dyed-in-the-wool enduro boys or ageing trail riders. We’re guessing that all of you are using full on enduro tyres or even motocross rubber when you are out on the trails. And if the going is soft and muddy, then it’s a sound decision for grip, even if new motocross tyres are fairly lethal, not to mention illegal, when you are on the road.

Maxxis TraialMaxx tyre upgrades your grip
MAXXIS TRIAL MAXX ARE SUPER SOFT AND GRIPPY

But what if you are riding stony terrain? Are those big aggresive knobbies going to be any good on the hard stuff? The answer is no and you know it.

So maybe you should go to the dark side and embrace a bit of trials technology? If you look at how the lycra boys can generate drive from nowhere, then there has to be something in those tyres. Heading for a full trials tyre is perhaps going to far, but a hybrid will give all that grip of beautifully soft and grippy rubber with good performance in the wetter stuff. The next time you go up a rocky climb, you and the machine will shoot up like you were attached to a winch with none of that pointless wheel spin and rubber burning smell.

We favour the Maxxis Trial Maxx, retailing at about £60, but there are other similar options out there from Golden Tyre GT 257 or Motoz Extreme Hybrid.

Try it – you’ll be astounded just how good they are, and unlike an enduro tyre, they maintain grip on rocky terrain until almost worn out.

WE RUN MOTORCYCLE TOURS - THAT'S WHAT WE DO!

and we take it very seriously

We run the best motorcycle adventures across Asia – from traversing the winding mountain roads on a Royal Enfield in the Himalayas to bashing through the jungle on a dirt bike in  Vietnam. It’s what we do, and we do it very well.

#4 I GOT HOSE

It’s a familiar scenario. Every time you and you bike get into tricky terrain the temperature starts rocketing and your machine starts to boil over like an over-enthusiastic kettle. But you don’t have to put up with this – a set of replacement hoses will help the coolant to flow far quicker and smoother and keep that motor far cooler all for under a ton.

Stock hoses need upgrades
STOCK HOSES ARE BUILT TO A BUDGET

The problem is those black, cheap and built to a budget stock hoses. The manufacturers buy miles of the stuff, slice it into appropriate lengths and fit them to all their bikes. There are precious few shaped pieces, joints are made with easy to use but flow restricting junctions and the internal surface isn’t exactly that smooth.

But for not much cash you can upgrade to beautifully made, custom-built silicone hoses that are specific to your machine. There will be no ugly and awkward junctions , the curves and bends will be pre-formed and hug your motor like a baby koala – and best of all,  the smooth internal surface will see the coolant rushing round like an over-active toddler on Monster.

Samco hoses are among out favourite upgrades
SAMCO HOSES ARE OUR HOSE OF CHOICE

We favour Samco hoses – flawless quality and excellent fit straight from the bag. They also do kits that work with your existing thermostat or kits that allow you to ditch the unit and run a constant circulation – ideal in hot terrain but less advisable in cold climes.

We’ve also used GMX hoses and heard good reports on the CV4 kits by Cycra and those from MSR. KTM and Husqvarna also offer upgrade kits in their Power Parts and Husky Sport catalogues.

#5 SADDLE UP

It’s easy to throw large amounts of money at your bike in order to perfect the ride height. At the rear there are harder and softer, shorter and longer springs as options, along with internal changes to the shim stacks. You can alter the linkage length too as just a few mm difference will translate to several cm change in height. At the front you can alter the springs too, change the forks or just drop the units through the triple clamps to reduce the height.

The problem with all these suspension changes is that they will inevitably alter the way your bike handles – you can’t alter the geometry of the machine and expect everything to stay the same!

It's easy to throw money at suspension upgrades
CHANGING THE SUSPENSION WILL ALTER HOW THE BIKE HANDLES

Yet one change that will be swift, cheap an immediate and leave your bike’s geometry unaffected will be to change the seat, If you own a KTM or Husky, there are about half a dozen options in the Powerparts of Husky Sport catalogue, from lower of higher options, stepped options to handle the power hit of the big strokers, factory seats and gripper models. Fitting any of these is literally a 30 second job and will make an instant change.

But even if you don;t have these options, them it’s relatively easy to get your saddle altered by a decent auto upholsterer, so going higher of lower, harder or softer or fitting a different cover will be cheap and effective. If you go lower, it makes sense to ask them to add some higher density foam to counter the lack of padding – you don’t want to be hitting the frame rails.

THERE ARE PLENTY OF OPTIONS – RIBBED, GRIPPER, TALL OR STEPPED 
Ribbed seat
Gripper seat
Seating upgrades make sense
Stepped seats are great upgrades

#6 L.E.D. ZEPELLIN

Poor light needs lighting upgrades
FRONT MUDGUARD OR SKY  – LIGHTING OPTIONS AS STANDARD

Let’s face it – you dirt bike has terrible lights. If the pathetic output from the old school bulb is not bad enough, on low beam all it lights up is the front mudguard, on high beam it gives a great view of passing owls. As a way of seeing where you are going. it fails on just about every level.

But technology has moved on and there are plenty of upgrade options that will turn your darkness into stunning brightness.

LED lights make great bike upgrades
THE BAJA DESIGNS HEADLIGHT IS BRIGHT BUT EXPENSIVE

Now sadly the above unit does not fit into the ‘under £100’ category as the Baja Designs unit is close on four times that and will light up Saturn. It’s great but a tad pricey for a budget upgrade

But a brief search on popular auction site eBay will reveal all manner of aftermarket add-ons that are far more pocket friendly.

LED Light
LED Light 2
THERE ARE PLENTY OF SERIOUSLY CHEAP OPTIONS ON EBAY

For a mere fifth of our target price, you can get a set of fantastically bright yet current-sipping spotlights, shipped all the way from the Orient to your door.

Mounted onto the underside of your bars, these little units will deliver light as bright as a magnesium flare to illuminate your progress. Suddenly it’s actually possible to see the ruts at the end of the day and the ride home on the blacktop becomes an enjoyable experience rather than a semi-blind lottery.

OK so you are going to have to identify an appropriate circuit to splice into and then wire in a switch, but this is not complicated electronics – a semi-trained monkey could manage this upgrade! And if you lack the skills of that monkey, you could always find lights with internal batteries …

OK so there’s six quick and easy ways to change and improve your bike without breaking the bank or taxing the grey matter. Which you chose will depend on the most pressing deficiency – are you struggling to stand on your low bars, looking for more snap or are you tired of poor lighting. Fix what needs fixing.

And then get out there and ride …

Upgrades done, it's time to ride

Do you have any more quick fixes that we should know about? Let us know and we’ll share it with the world …

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Digiprove sealCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2017 Toby Jacobs
Acknowledgements: KTM, Husqvarna, Baja Designs

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