Do You Need a Dirt Bike Skid Plate?

Have you ever wondered why most dirt bike riders use a skid plate?

Dirt bike riding is an extreme sport where the riders take their bikes from rocky mountains to slippery tracks and tight woods and everything in between. In the process, the dirt bikes get exposed to hits from sand, mud, rocks, ledges, logs, and roots.

Even though dirt bikes are built well and can take a beating, some parts of the bike still need protection. One of the things you definitely want to protect is the engine and the frame. And you can do that by installing a skid plate for your dirt bike.

In this guide, we will tell you all about the different types of skid plates. We will also help you to find the dirt bike skid plate that best suits your riding style and the conditions you ride in.

We will cover the following topics:

A dirt biker going over a boulder while a dirt bike skid plate is protecting the engine and frame on a KTM XCW300
A dirt bike skid plate protects the lower frame and engine from direct impact damage like in this failed attempt.

What Exactly Is a Dirt Bike Skid Plate?

What is a dirt bike skid plate and what is the point of it? How much does a skid plate cost? These might be some of the questions going through your mind. Well, it’s your lucky day because we will be answering these questions right now!

A dirt bike skid plate is a cover that is mounted under the frame at the bottom of the dirt bike. It protects the engine and frame from flying gravel, mud, sand, and other debris as well as any direct impact from boulders and rocks that would otherwise damage these parts. The cost of skid plates ranges around $50 to $250.

Side view of a dirt bike with an aluminum dirt bike skid plate installed to the frame
A dirt bike skid plate covers the lower frame and engine. They come in different sizes and shapes and materials.

Installing a skid plate for a dirt bike is a great way to protect the dirt bike frame, engine, and sometimes even the clutch case. Especially if you plan to ride a single track, enduro, or on rocky terrain.

Dirt bike skid plates are designed to protect the dirt bike frame and engine from direct impact damage. They also affect how the dirt bike frame flexes and change how well the dirt bike slides over obstacles.

Are Dirt Bike Skid Plates Necessary? 

You may also be wondering if skid plates are necessary and do you need a skid plate on your dirt bike.

The short answer is yes. Most riders and riding conditions can benefit from adding a skid plate designed specifically for the riding style.

You do need a dirt bike skid plate when riding in the woods or around rocks. That’s because a skid plate protects your dirt bike efficiently from rocks, logs, and other flying debris.

It is relatively easy to hit your engine case to a log or a rock and crack the engine beyond repair. So riding without a skid plate is just not worth the risk. The cost of a skid plate is small compared to what you would have to pay for replacing and repairing the damaged parts, such as cases, shifters, and brake pedals.

You may be thinking that your dirt bike is going to be just fine even though you ride on the trails without a skid plate. That might be the case for now but you will run out of luck one day. And you don’t want to get stranded with a cracked engine in the middle of nowhere.

So, you should definitely get a dirt bike skid plate if you ride on trails and don’t already have one. If you are on a tight budget, look for a cheaper solution available but definitely buy one.

Different Types of Skid Plates

Dirt bike skid plates come in many shapes, designs, and materials.

The most common materials used in skid plates are plastic, composite materials (such as carbon fiber), aluminum, and steel. These materials allow the skid plate to withstand stronger impacts and thus offer a better protection for the parts.

A skid plate is an important protective item but it also affects the riding performance. When choosing the skid plate, the main factors to consider are durability as well as the performance of the skid plate in different riding conditions.

It’s also good to note that some skid plates can provide cover for the rear shock linkage and the expansion chamber in 2 stroke dirt bikes. That means extra protection for your bike.

Dirt Bike Skid Plate Designs

If your dirt bike is using the linkage style rear shock, you should choose a skid plate that extends rearwards to cover the linkage. You should also add a separate linkage protection to prevent damage to the shock system in direct hits.

Additionally, some dirt bike skid plate designs include protection for the sides, including the clutch cover and stator area. These covers break easily and a good skid plate can protect these areas much better from typical damage scenarios.

Some designs also extend the skid plate upper section to provide protection for the 2 stroke exhaust expansion chamber or head pipe and can work well for some riders. In this case, you don’t need a separate 2 stroke pipe guard.

A large skid plate covering the frame, engine and expansion chamber on a dirt bike
Some skid plate models cover the 2 stroke expansion chamber.

Plastic and Composite Skid Plates for Dirt Bikes

Plastic dirt bike skid plates are commonly made of polyethylene or polypropylene plastic, whereas carbon fiber is the most popular composite materials used in skid plates. They are durable, lightweight, and flexible.

Plastic and composite skid plates are usually less durable and do not hold up to the rough stuff as well as the aluminum and steel ones. But they are much lighter in weight and quieter.

In addition, they slide over obstacles much better compared to aluminum and steel ones creating less friction. Many riders often use the skid plate to get over obstacles and slide over logs in tight spaces.

And if you do hit a rock, dents in plastic and composite skid plates can spring back into shape, unlike in aluminum and steel ones. Plastic skid plates also have enough inherent flex so they do not affect the frame rigidity, which is a common issue with the aluminum and steel skid plates.

When it comes to the price, plastic skid plates are the most less expensive options with the price that is half that of carbon fiber skid plates. Dirt bike skid plates made of carbon fiber are the most expensive ones from the batch.

Aluminum and Steel Skid Plates for Dirt Bikes

Aluminum and steel skid plates are heavier but they can take harder hits. But the trade-off comes with added weight and higher friction.

You can easily feel the friction with the metal or aluminum skid plates when crossing a log and when the skid plate slides off the log. Plastic skid plates seem to glide over easily, whereas aluminum or steel ones may even stop you aggressively on top of a log.

Bottom view of an aluminum skid plate on a dirt bike
Aluminum skid plates can take a beating but generally they have a higher friction over obstacles, especially rocks.

Aluminum or steel skid plates can also increase frame rigidity, which is not a good thing. To prevent this and to maintain the frame flexing characteristics, some aluminum skid plates now offer bolts with rubber grommets.

In addition, aluminum and steel skid plates are louder. They may also rattle in the dirt bike driving some riders crazy when they try to find the source of the noise. You can try to fix this by placing some padding, such as high density foam, between the plate and the frame to make it quiet. However, most riders get accustomed to the sound quickly.

Aluminum and steel skid plates definitely cost more than the plastic ones but you can bash away with it.

If you’re wondering whether you should choose an aluminum dirt bike skid plate over a steel one or vice versa, there actually are no big differences between them. Typically the aluminum skid plates are smaller and slightly thicker, while the steel skid plates are larger and can cover other parts like the side covers and the exhaust as well.

That being said, we recommend choosing the aluminum skid plate over a steel one. Everything else being equal, the heavier steel skid plate is outpaced by the lighter and usually thicker and stronger aluminum skid plate. The aluminum skid plate is also more durable and will last longer without corrosion or staining your dirt bike frame.

Choosing Dirt Bike Skid Plates for Different Riding Styles

When it comes to choosing the dirt bike skid plate, there are pros and cons in both plastic and composite ones as well as in aluminum and steel ones.

Selecting a skid plate with the correct design and material that matches your riding style is important for several reasons. Let’s take a closer look at what materials suit the best for certain riding styles and why.

Plastic and Composite Skid Plates for Track and Trail Riding

As a general rule the plastic dirt bike skid plates are good for track, motocross, and easy trail riding.

Composite dirt bike skid plates are a great choice for more technical trail riding where higher level of protection is required. These lightweight skid plates work well for most trail riding while still maintaining a good frame flex and offering a medium level of protection.

PROSCONS
Plastic and composite skid plates allow the frame to flex in the way it was designed to flex.Plastic and composite skid plates are less durable.
They are lighter in weight.They are more difficult to fix.
Non-metallic skid plates are quieter as they do not resonate or rattle as much with engine vibrations.
They snap back to their original shape if dented.
They cost less (plastic ones).
Pros and cons of plastic and composite dirt bike skid plates.

Aluminum and Steel Skid Plates for Enduro and Hard Enduro

Aluminum and steel skid plates offer the maximum level of protection designed for enduro and hard enduro riders. If your ride on trails that take you over rocks, boulders, and logs, you should consider the heavy duty thicker composite skid plates at the minimum or the aluminum and steel skid plates.

While they are heavier and slide poorly over rocks and some other obstacles, they protect the dirt bike extremely well. We have run the aluminum skid plate for years now and only needed to reshape it few times. They are very durable and can be easily fixed.

The main drawback of the aluminum, steel, titanium, and other types of metal dirt bike skid plates is the higher friction. This means that when you hit a log or a rock with the skid plate, they do not want to slide over as easily as other materials.

An aluminum skid plate is notoriously prone to slow you on sharp rocks and can feel like it grabs rather than slides over the rocks. This is not as noticeable with logs, but can surprise you every now and then. You can add plastic strips to the bottom of the skid plate to make it slide better over obstacles and it does work well.

PROSCONS
Metallic skid plates can take harder hits.Metallic skid plates are heavier.
They are extremely durable: they wont move, cut or gouge.They are also louder in most cases.
Aluminum, titanium, and steel skid plates are long-lasting as they do not wear out.Aluminum and steel skid plates have a higher friction and do not glide over obstacles well.
They can be fixed easily by bending or welding.They increase frame rigidity.
Pros and cons of aluminum and steel dirt bike skid plates.

Is a Plastic or Composite Skid Plate Better Than an Aluminum or Steel One?

At first glance, it looks like the plastic and composite skid plates have way more pros and less cons compared to the aluminum and steel skid plates. Still, it is not as easy decision as you’d think.

The superior durability of aluminum and steel skid plates is often valued more than the other features. For that reason, aluminum and steel skid plates are a very popular option for dirt bikes.

In short, both dirt bike skid plate types are equally good for the use they were designed for and both have their pros and cons. First and foremost, you need to be considering the type of riding you are going to do and base your decision on it.

Our Dirt Bike Skid Plate Recommendations

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Dirt bike skid plates need to fit perfectly on the frame. Otherwise, they will not be able to protect all the parts of the engine. The best dirt bike skid plates cover well the lower frame and lower engine parts. At the same time, they are quiet, durable and strong to withstand impacts.

If you choose to go with a plastic skid plate, our recommendation for you is the Acerbis off-road skid plate. Acerbis Skid Plate (click to check the current price on MotoSport.com) provides protection for the engine cases and frame rails. It is made of lightweight polypropylene and it is easy to install. The skid plate is shaped to fit snugly against the engine, reducing space for mud collection. It is machine-specific and available for most dirt bikes.

Our recommendation for a carbon fiber skid plate is the P3 Carbon Skid Plate. P3 Skid Plate (click to check the current price on MotoSport.com) provides your motor and frame with the most protection possible. It is made by hand from kevlar, carbon fiber, and biaxial fiberglass. This dirt bike skid plate has a quick-release mechanism that allows a quick and easy installation. It is machine-specific providing a perfect fit.

If your choice is an aluminum skid plate, we recommend you get the KTM or Husqvarna PowerParts aluminum skid plate (click to check the current price on MotoSport.com). They provide an excellent fitment to your specific model and offer high level of protection for the engine, frame, and cases. The long-lasting dirt bike skid plate connects to the frame with steel clamps that do not get loose easily. You can find similar designs for other brand dirt bikes, just search for your dirt bike model.

In Conclusion

A dirt bike skid plate can add an extra layer of protection to your dirt bike frame and lower engine. If you plan to ride enduro, hard enduro, single track, or technical trail riding, a skid plate is a must. It can protect your dirt bike frame and lower engine from catastrophic failure and save a ton of time and money.

Additionally, a good skid plate will help you practice log crossings, rock gardens, boulder hops, and much more by protecting the dirt bike engine case and frame from falling over and in direct hits. Once you learn how to use the dirt bike skid plate to your advantage, such as in log crossings, you start appreciating it more. This is when the correct material selection and protection levels start making sense.

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Last updated: October 5th, 2022