Blasting through the forest on narrow single tracks, riding through rock gardens, and jumping over giant ledges and logs is what single track and enduro riding is all about.
And it’s the best feeling you can have right up to the moment you hit your hands against those tree branches and limbs, rocks, and roots. In the worst case scenario, you also break your brake or clutch lever in the process or your fingers. Luckily, there is a simple solution to prevent this from happening by installing dirt bike handguards.
Dirt bike handguards are designed to shield rider’s fingers and hands from hits and direct impact damage and to protect against brake and clutch lever damage. They also affect how the dirt bike reacts to hitting trees or obstacles.
Next, we will explain what dirt bike handguards are, why you need them and what kind of handguards there are available. In addition, we will help you to find the handguards that best suit your riding style.
What Are Dirt Bike Handguards?
Dirt bike handguards are shields that are installed on both ends of the handlebar on the front side of the grips. Dirt bike handguards protect your fingers and hands against hits from tree branches, flying gravel, and during crashes. They can also keep you hands warmer during colder riding days as they provide protection from rain, wind, and cold. In addition, handguards protect the brake and clutch levers as well as the handlebar from any damage when you fall or in direct hits.
Dirt bike handguards are a great way to protect both your knuckles and the levers and other forward controls on your dirt bike. After all, levers are very easily bent or snapped off when you drop your dirt bike or hit your handlebar to a tree.
Do I Need Dirt Bike Handguards?
Dirt bike handguards are essential protective parts when riding on the trails. They can save you time and money, plus prevent injury. We personally believe every rider should have some form of handguards installed on their dirt bike.
You have several options to choose from when it comes to dirt bike handguards. Even the lightest level of protection can help in many conditions. For example, the deflector style flaps are excellent minimum-level handguards as they also offer protection against rain, mud, debris, sand, and other flying material on single track riding.
Not convinced yet? Here are some advantages that the dirt bike handguards bring to the table.
Handguards Protect from Flying Debris and Tree Branches
One of the main functions of dirt bike handguards is the protection against flying debris such as dirt, gravel, sand, sticks, and tree branches. This applies both to protecting the rider’s hands and the levers and grips on the handlebar.
As we all know very well, riding on trails involves flying dirt, mud, rocks, and gravel—especially when riding on muddy trails after a rainy day or riding close to the rider in front of you. Handguards protect your hands pretty effectively from all of that.
Well designed and properly installed dirt bike handguards also save your hands from hitting against tree branches and limbs on narrow single track or trails. Most riders have propaply experienced how much a tree branch hitting your fingers at high speeds can hurt. By no means it is fun.
In addition, dirt bike handguards protect your grips and brake and clutch levers from dirt buildup. If you ride in muddy conditions, you know how the mud in your grips and levers affect riding. Clean and dry gloves and grips help you control the dirt bike better. For this reason, handguards can greatly improve your riding experience, especially in poor weather conditions.
Dirt Bike Handguards Increase Protection From Weather Elements
In addition to physically protecting your hands from dirt, gravel and tree branches, dirt bike handguards also provide protection against nature’s elements.
The handguards form an air pocket that diverts most of the rain, wind, and cold you face while riding. They also help keep your forward controls and gloves clean and dry, thus improving your riding performance.
Handguards Add Extra Protection for Brake and Clutch Levers
Every time the bike falls on the ground or hits against a tree or a rock, there is a big chance that also the levers take a hit. And if you are out of luck, your brake and clutch levers get snapped off. This is where the handguards—especially wrap-around handguards—can save the day and your money.
Basically, there are two scenarios that typically result into lever breakages. You either hit a tree, tree branch, rock, or a similar obstacle that pushes the brake or clutch lever against the handlebar and potentially pinches one of your fingers in the process and then snaps or bends the lever. Or you drop the dirt bike causing the levers to bend or snap when hitting the ground. Both scenarios happen very frequently in trail riding.
The best dirt bike handguards offer protection in both above mentioned scenarios.
Dirt Bike Handguards Offer Increased Protection in Crashes
In addition to protecting your hands and fingers from smaller hits, such as those from tree branches, handguards will protect them also in crashes. In the case of a serious accident, metal handguards are the ones you will want to have.
Dirt bike handguards are designed to divert the force of impact away from your hands and wrists. This can save fingers from getting pinched or broken. The deflection also protects the levers from damage in crashes.
Dirt Bike Handguards Deflect Off Obstacles
When your dirt bike handlebar hits an obstacle, in many cases it can cause a crash. Additionally, without handguards, the end of the handlebar usually grabs the obstacle causing the handlebar to quickly turn which in turn results into a crash.
One of the functions of a good dirt bike handguard is to help deflect the handlebar off obstacles. Even the lightweight deflector style flaps can help deflect and slide the end of the handlebar off the obstacle.
The wrap-around style handguards effectively help the handlebar end slide off an obstacle. In most cases, when a handguard hits a tree, it pushes the handlebar directly off the tree without grabbing and keeping the bar straight, while the rider feels a hard hit upon contact.
To improve the handguard sliding off the obstacles, some wrap-around handguards use a plastics slide piece to lower friction and offer a replaceable part to keep handguards working after crashes.
How To Choose the Right Dirt Bike Handguards
Choosing the right dirt bike handguards is actually quite easy. Above all, the type of the handguards you need to get depends on what you want out of your handguards.
When choosing dirt bike handguards, you need to consider your riding style, handguard design, handlebar size, and handguard positioning options.
1. Consider Your Riding Style
Firstly, consider the type of riding you are mostly going to do. This sets you on the right track with finding the handguard solution that fits your riding style.
In a nutshell, deflector style dirt bike handguards are great for motocross, track riding, and easy single trail riding, whereas the wrap-around dirt bike handguards offer a better protection in hard enduro, enduro, single track riding, and woods trails.
2. Select the Dirt Bike Handguard Design
Secondly, consider the main purpose of your handguards.
Are you trying to protect your hands from direct impact or from weather elements? Do you want the highest level of protection? Do you want some specific features from the handguards? Are you looking for a permanent solution or something temporary that doesn’t break the bank to test how dirt bike handguards operate?
The answer to these and other questions can be found in the design of the handguards. In the next section, we will cover in detail the different types of handguards available for dirt bikes.
3. Check the Handlebar Size on Your Dirt Bike
Next, find out the size of your handlebars as the handguard mounting brackets are handlebar size specific. Most dirt bike handlebars are either 7/8″, 1″ or 1 1/8″ in diameter. The 1 1/8″ bars are also known as fat bars and the modern dirt bikes usually use the tapered fat bars.
If you don’t know the size of your handlebars, it is fairly easy to figure out. Measure the thickness of your handlebars in the spot where the mounting bracket will install. This will be just inside of where your grips and levers are.
4. Check the Handguard Positioning Options
Positioning the dirt bike handguards properly is key to protection. Therefore, if you install the guards too high, you risk direct impact from the low side of the grip, typically directly to the tips of your fingers. Additionally, installing the guards too low, you risk hits directly to your wrist area.
Interestingly, some designs do not allow positioning the handlebar or the levers correctly. So it is important to check fitment and clearance so that you can keep the ideal handlebar ergonomics and lever positioning.
Read our guide to setting up dirt bike handlebars for trail riding and the brake and clutch lever positioning guide and make sure to adjust handlebar and levers first and then check proper fitment and clearance for the handguards.
Different Types of Dirt Bike Handguards
There are basically two types of handguard designs to choose from: the wrap-around handguards and deflector style handguards.
Next, let’s take a closer look at both of these dirt bike handguards.
Wrap-Around Dirt Bike Handguards
The full wrap-around handguards protect the levers and hands very well. In addition, they provide the best protection to your hands in many types of riding styles. Especially on most single tracks, you will continuously get hit by branches, trees and riders roosting in front of you so you need the maximum protection. Therefore, many consider these as the best enduro handguards.
These type of handguards are often called as dirt bike bark busters. They get their name from eating up the bark on trees next to the trails as riders often hit the exact same spot resulting into visible marks on the trees.
Above all, full wrap-around style handguards offer great protection and are very robust. They can also be adjusted separately from the lever height and width positions giving more precise control on how to set them up.
These type of dirt bike handguards have some great benefits. They typically protect your handlebar controls the best possible way. So when you drop the bike or hit any obstacles, they tend to last the best. When full wrap-around handguards are properly installed and in the correct position, it’s very hard to break levers or damage the controls.
Another benefit is that they last very long. Most wrap-around handguards are made of aluminum or metal and can easily be bent back in place in a vise with some heating. While the initial cost is higher, they do last very long.
The downside with wrap-arounds are injuries and the way they deflect off of trees or obstacles. Typical injuries that may happen with these type of dirt bike handguards are hand injuries when your hand slides inside the handguard. This may cause wrist injuries or twisted fingers. Some riders say that when slightly hitting a tree, the wrap-around handguards do not give away and can cause a more abrupt deflection causing a crash. However, we have found that with correct alignment this can be minimized.
Deflector Style Dirt Bike Handguards
The deflector style dirt bike handguards are a more lightweight solution for protecting your levers and other controls. They also deflect roosting and offer a good sliding off of trees. However, they can jam your fingers on impact.
These type of dirt bike handguards come with different mounting points and offer various levels of protection. For example, many trail dirt bikes come with flexible flap style handguards out of the factory that work well in many conditions. They offer a good protection and are easily replaced.
However, depending on the mounting style, deflector style handguards might break off easily. The standard factory flaps can break when dropping the bike and they only offer medium protection for levers. The plastic housing that usually connects to the clutch and front brake mounting perch can break off, but replacing them is cheap and easy.
Some manufacturers are offering metal mounting points and some with separate brackets that install directly on the handlebar. These models usually offer a compromise between the lightweight design of open design deflectors and full wrap-around handguards.
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Our Dirt Bike Handguard Recommendations
The best dirt bike handguards to get are the ones that protect your hands against dirt, mud, rocks, and other flying debris, along with whips and tree branches and limbs, plus the rain, wind, and cold.
For full wrap-arounds, we recommend you to get a complete dirt bike handguard kit from Cycra for many reasons, but mainly for safety and durability. The Cycra Pro Bend Ultra Hand Guard Kit is our favorite because you can order individual replacement parts and they seem to be basically indestructible. If you manage to bend the aluminum bars, you can bend them back and realign fairly easily.
For deflectors, we recommend the Enduro Engineering deflector dirt bike handguards. These composite deflector handguards fit most dirt bikes and are lightweight, easy to install and affordable even in case of breakages, so they are a great choice for many riders out there. They offer a good protection for most conditions and do well in tight single track and enduro riding.
The ideal type of the dirt bike handguards is often related to your skill level and the conditions and trails you ride in.
Consequently, as you improve, the hand protection requirements change. For instance, more advanced riders seem to prefer deflector style protection for their lightweight design and more controllable lighter deflection off obstacles.
So you should choose the level of protection that best fits your riding style and the level of hand protection you are after. A good set of dirt bike handguards will help you keep focused and safe out on the trails.
Keep them fingers intact!
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Last updated: November 9, 2022