Dirt bike controls setup

To get the best possible performance on a dirt bike, properly set up controls is one key requirement. In concert with good setup is proper riding technique. Achieving proper riding technique may take time if a rider is new to the sport or has never indulged in the aspect of performance. As a rider learns proper technique, adjustment of the controls may evolve. First though, each of the controls needs set to some starting point and this is my perspective on how to do it.

Handlebars

Handle bars are all about ergonomics. They are a control for steering so having them optimally adjusted is beneficial to a rider's ability to turn the bike and to having natural access to the throttle, brake and clutch.

To adjust the handlebars initially, do the following:

  • Set the bike level on a secure bike stand.
  • Loosen the bar clamps just enough that you can rotate them, but also so they will stay in position if you are not holding them.
  • Sit on the bike in a neutral riding position and grasp the bars as if you were riding.
  • Rotate the bars back and forth until you find the most comfortable position. You can do this standing also so you can find a happy medium between sitting and standing.
  • Lock them in place.

Again sitting in a neutral riding position, keep your arms at your sides. Now, close your eyes and imagine yourself riding. Keeping your eyes closed, reach for the bars as you naturally imagine them. Your judgment here will help you to determine whether the bars are too far forward, too far backward or whether the width is too wide or too narrow. At this point, just make some notes on what you think is the case. You could move the bars again, but you may lose the comfort setup you just made.

Depending on your bike model, you may be able to adjust the bars forward or backward by moving or flipping the bar clamps themselves. Many bikes come with offset bar clamps that can be flipped around. This gives you two reach options, close or far. Other bikes may come with an extra set of bar clamp holes in the upper triple clamp. This gives you even more adjustability because you can flip the clamps and move them to different holes.

By this time you may have observed the width of the bars is too wide or too narrow. Another thing you may find is the hand grips do not align naturally with your palm. If this misalignment is significant enough, you could experience arm pump, sore wrists or sore palms. You may even notice whether the bars are too high or too low. For each of these observations, make some notes.

Positioning the brake and clutch levers

You can think of your levers similarly to your handlebars. How your hands and fingers fall on the bar naturally while in a neutral riding position should dictate the angle of the levers. Positioning of the levers side to side is also adjustable. As a general rule, you should always position a lever so the end does not extend past the end of the handlebar.

Realize you can maximize leverage by favoring a more inward position. Keep in mind, from a racing perspective, the goal is to keep one finger on a lever at all times and your elbows up.

How to adjust your levers:

  • Loosen the clamps just enough that you can move them and so they will stay put if you let go.
  • Locate the levers on the bars length wise. Rotate the lever back and forth on the bar while moving it across to where you want.
  • Adjust the angle of the levers to a position most usable from a neutral riding position.
  • Tighten the clamps. Keep the clamp body even with the clamp cap.
Note: Be attentive to the possibility of interference between the brake lever and throttle. You may have to adjust the throttle rotation to prevent lever binding.

Lever reach:

Adjusting the reach on most cable style clutch levers is limited to the free play adjustment. Unfortunately, this can have negative consequences to the clutch operation so it is best to stay within the guide lines specified in your owner's manual. However, some levers are available that utilize a reach adjustment in addition to the normal free play adjustment, such as the Pro Taper Profile Pro clutch lever. Reach adjustment is almost always present on stock hydraulic style brake levers and models with hydraulic clutches.

Pro Taper has a good short video on adjusting the Profile Pro. See it here if you are interested:

At this point you have adjusted your bars and levers to your best perceived adjustment and have some notes on your other thoughts. Now, spend some time riding the bike and make notes about the actual feel of the bars. You can compare your notes from riding with your initial imagined setup. This will help you determine whether or not you need further changes. Your opinions on what you need to do may also be influenced by your ability to use the hand controls (throttle, clutch, brake). Your other adjustment options are as follows:

Handlebar height:

Bar height can be changed in several ways.

  • If you have removable bar clamps, you can raise them a small amount by using washers below the bar clamp. The maximum possible height gain you could get depends on the bar clamps. For stud mount clamps, the threaded ends of the studs must always protrude past the fastening nuts. Never go further.
  • Whether you need to go lower or higher, many aftermarket handlebars have an array of configurations allowing you to customize height for your specific needs.
  • Buy a clamp kit. Clamp kits are available that allow you to customize the height of the handlebars.

Handlebar width:

Changing bars is your only option if you hope to gain any width. To reduce width, the bars can be trimmed if you cannot find a narrower replacement option. Keep the amount you remove to a minimum. You still need leverage to turn and you still need the appropriate room to mount the controls. Think this through carefully. Once you cut the bars you can't go back without a new set. Should you decide to proceed with cutting, you can get a nice clean cut using a quality pipe cutter.

Grip angle:

In handlebar terminology, this refers to sweep and rise. How you rotate the bars in the clamps affects the rise and sweep. If you cannot find a comfortable position, bar replacement is your only other option. There are many different bends available and manufacturers such as Renthal publish their bend geometries on their website to help you make a logical decision.

Bar reach:

This refers to how far away the bars are. Rotating the handlebars in the bar clamps changes this but also affects grip angle (rise and sweep) and height. If you think you have a good feel for grip angle but have no means of reach adjustment, there are aftermarket clamp combinations that allow for a range of adjustment possibilities.

Shifter

The stock position of the shift lever is typically a good starting point. This position is where the center of the shifter tip is in a straight line with the top of the foot peg. Adjustment for most applications requires that the lever be removed, rotated slightly and put back on. This is because the shifter shaft is fluted. Test shifting adjustments in both seated and standing positions and set the lever to the best possible adjustment for all riding positions.

How to adjust the shifter position:

  • Put a reference mark on the shifter shaft at the lever notch using a white paint stick.
  • Remove the clamping bolt .
  • While pulling outward on the lever at the shifter shaft, wiggle the shifter end in and out until the lever comes free from the shifter shaft.
    • If it does not want to move, you can pry behind the lever at the back but do so gently and with caution so you do not damage the engine case or the shaft seal. You still need to wiggle back and forth on the shifter end at the same time.
    • Another option is to heat the lever around the shifter shaft with a heat gun to loosen the grip. Caution with heat to avoid seal damage.
  • Install the lever at a new angle in the desired direction. Try in one flute increments. The paint mark helps you know where you are.
  • Insert bolt and tighten.

Rear brake pedal

A generally accepted starting position for the rear brake pedal is where the top of the pedal surface is in alignment with the top of the foot peg. As with the shift lever, find a position that works best for all riding positions. An adjuster is used at the master cylinder connection. Shortening the adjuster length brings the pedal upward, while lengthening the adjuster lowers the pedal.

How to adjust the brake pedal:

  • Loosen the lock nut.
  • Turn the adjuster clockwise (looking up at bottom of bike) to bring the pedal tip up.
  • Turn the adjuster counter clockwise to lower the pedal tip.
  • Tighten the lock nut

Conclusion

Riders have varying opinions as to the proper adjustment of the controls. However, the advice of expert level riders tends to be the most correct. Everyone is a little different though. Arm length, rider height, rider build, range of motion limitations, foot size or whatever the case may be, differ from person to person. The important thing to realize is you should adjust your controls so they are as easy and comfortable to use as possible. Compromise is necessary because your riding position varies in different riding conditions. Sometimes you are sitting and sometimes you are standing. Find the middle ground between these riding positions. As your riding improves, you may find it necessary to make changes. What you do as a beginner might not be the same is a pro level rider. As you master your riding skills, your setup will evolve as well.

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