Dirt bikes are a great way for younger riders to get some biking experience, but what are the laws and regulations surrounding them in the UK?
So, Are Dirt Bikes Road Legal?
Dirt bikes are not road legal and should not be driven on public roads or in public places, this includes places like footpaths, forests, parks, car parks, beaches etc.
However, dirt bikes can be made into road legal motorcycles with a bit of physical adaptation and paperwork; so if you want to ride your dirt bike to the destination instead of loading it in a truck or towing it, this is the article for you.
Why aren’t dirt bikes road legal?
“Scramblers and quads are motorised leisure vehicles designed for off-road use. You mustn’t drive one on a public road unless you’re at least 16 years old and have a driving licence. You can only drive one on private land if the landowner allows you to drive there.”Nidirect
Dirt bikes are built for off-road use; they serve a different purpose than regular road-going motorcycles and are considered to be ‘leisure’ vehicles.
Dirt bikes are used in the sport of Motocross and are produced to be most suited for off-road tracks.
This means things like headlights, number plates and a horn are all unnecessary additions that add weight and serve no purpose to the rider.
Manufacturers, therefore, produce dirt bikes without all these road features and focus more on giving the bike the right knobbly tyres, suspension systems and gearing, this can make the bikes highly unsuitable for everyday road use.
Some dirt bikes also still use two-stroke engines as they are still allowed to be used off-road and for racing. Emissions regulations, however, have meant that road legal two-stroke motorcycles are nearly extinct with only older models seen today on the street.
Two-stroke engines allow for a lot of power to be produced from smaller capacity engines, and this is super useful for off-road bikes where plenty of torque balanced with low weight is needed for riding over muddy tracks and doing jumps.
You also do not need to have a licence to ride a dirt bike off-road, so children and young people can get into motorcycles very early on, provided they are riding in the right environment.
Whereas for a road-legal motorcycle you need to have a provisional licence and be at least 16 to be able to ride a 50cc moped then 17 for a 125cc.
*There are other necessary factors that play into being able to ride a dirt bike on a public road or in a public place, which we will look at next.
Can you make a dirt bike road legal?
All is not lost, it is possible to convert your dirt bike into a road-legal motorcycle, there are some legal requirements that you need to meet and this will mean your bike will need to be adapted.
In order to ride a dirt bike on public roads you must first be at least 16 and have the following:
- Driving licence (or provisional) and you must have completed your CBT, read about licensing laws
- Insurance for the bike
- Motorcycle tax
- Number plates
- Lights (headlights, tail lights, brake lights)
- The bike must meet legal noise and gas emissions restrictions
What you need to do
- Make the physical changes and additions add lights, horn, etc.
- Obtain a Certificate of Newness from the manufacturer. This will have all the specs of your bike to inform the DVLA which will include the engine capacity and year of manufacturer. Check out this link on Yamaha’s website which takes you through the process. This can be called a Certificate of Conformity or Year of Manufacture Letter.
- Take the bike for an MOT, if you meet all the legal requirements and have made the relevant adaptations to the bike then it should be a straightforward exercise. If you put the bike through and it fails, you will at least know what else needs doing, else you could speak to the MOT tester prior and check the requirements for a bike to pass.
- Apply for a NOVA declaration. You first do this through the HMRC and then it is used to apply for UK registration with the DVLA.
- Once you have your NOVA you can apply for a V55/5 log book with the DVLA, you can do that here.
- Your logbook will give you the bike’s registration number, so you can go and get a number plate.
- Lastly, get some insurance and tax, and you are good to go.
Some are easier to convert than others so consider your needs
While converting a dirt bike for road use isn’t impossible, it can be tricky and you may find yourself pouring your money into the project.
It is worth noting that some dirt bikes are really built for the sport of motocross and therefore fixing things like headlights may be trickier than you first thought and you might not have many points on the bike to fix things to.
The gearing on a dirt bike can also be different to a road-going bike, where you want lots of down-low punch for quick blasts up hills and jumps off-road, you are going to need taller gears on the road to keep up with traffic and do higher speeds for longer amounts of time.
You may also need to change your suspension system so you can get an adequate feel of the road, as on-road is a very different experience to riding on off-road surfaces.
While the idea of converting your beloved dirt bike for road use might sound like a good idea, it might be worth looking into something more purpose-built for the best of both worlds, a dual-sport motorcycle.
Dirt Bike or Dual Sport
Today there are many dual sport options on the market that are both excellent off-road and make good road going bikes too.
It all comes down to your intention with converting your dirt bike for road use, if you plan on just riding it to the track or private off-road field then going hard in the dirt, it makes sense that you would want a more off-road inclined bike.
However, if you plan on using your dirt bike as a vehicle to commute on and put down some serious road miles then you might be better off considering purchasing a dual sport as it is more suited and practical for this purpose.
There are even distinctions between the types of dual-sport motorcycles so you can narrow down your choices even more.
For example, the Honda CRF300 Rally is a dual-sport motorcycle that is ready to go the distance and compete in the Dakar rally, however, the CRF300L is still a dual-sport but more focused on hitting the trails.
So, while we can’t ride our dirt bikes legally on the road, we don’t have to give it all up as we can convert them to make them road-legal.
I love dirt bikes and I love when someone wrenches on their own bike to come up with something completely one-off and suited to them.
However, if you don’t have the time, patience or inclination then you might be better off keeping your off-roader as it is and looking into a dual-sport which can fulfil your riding needs on the tarmac and dirt.
Also see our roundup of electric motocross bikes.