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Are you a first-time dirt bike racer or have you recently started racing and are still looking for the best dirt bike setup for racers?
No need to look further, you have come to the right place!
Racing dirt bikes is a very exciting form of dirt bike riding. And as a sport, it really has a lot to offer for your dirt bike riding experience. Racing adds a unique aspect not only to the riding itself but also to how to prepare your dirt bike for the upcoming race.
We are not pro racers ourselves. However, we have gone through enough enduro style races to give out tips and tricks and cover some great setups we have seen along the way. And we will share them with the dirt riding community right here and now.
In this guide, we will go through our experiences and explain how to best configure and set up your dirt bike for races. We will also cover what else is required for a successful race weekend when it comes to the best dirt bike setup for racers.
Get ready for a race with our dirt bike setup for racers.
Table of Contents
- The Best Dirt Bike Setup for Racers
- Setting Up Your Dirt Bike for Racers
- Step 1. Maintenance
- Inspect All Controls and Their Functions
- Check Your Main Bearings for Play
- Inspect and Tune Your Dirt Bike Suspension
- Inspect Engine and Power Delivery
- Choose Your Race Tire Setup
- BONUS: Check for Loose Bolts
- Step 2. Protection
- Check Engine Cooling and Install a Cooling Fan
- Choose the Level of Handguard Protection
- Install Lift and Pull Straps
- Step 3. Tuning and Testing
- Test Your Race Setup in Similar Conditions
- Tune Your Dirt Bike and Adjust the Race Gear Setup
- BONUS: Tape Snacks or Strap Tools to Your Dirt Bike
- In Conclusion
Setting Up Your Dirt Bike for Racers
In this guide, we focus on setting your dirt bike ready for a race weekend.
This guide is intended for riders who are preparing for their first race and for riders that already have some experience in racing and are looking to find out what other racers are doing to their dirt bikes.
We highly recommend that you perform all three setup steps we have listed on this guide: maintenance, protection as well as tuning and testing.
Make sure to also check out our advanced rider section. It explains how to setup your dirt bike for enduro and hard enduro. In addition, it covers a lot of the basics and has valuable information that also applies to racers.
In the dirt bike setup for racers below, we use our own dirt bikes as examples. When it comes to the recommended products, you should naturally select the matching make and model that fit your bike.
Our example dirt bike is 2018 KTM XC-W 300. It is a very common hard enduro second hand dirt bike and also our recommended dirt bike for advanced riders and racers.
Now let’s get started with the best dirt bike setup for racers and dive into the details.
Read also: Where to ride my dirt bike near me
Step 1. Maintenance
Your goal for the first race should be successfully finishing the race.
In most races, we see racers stopped on the side of the track because of a mechanical failure, which could’ve been avoided with basic maintenance and a visual inspection.
That being said, it is very obvious that the very first topic to concentrate on when preparing your dirt bike for the upcoming race is basic dirt bike maintenance.
You should start the maintenance about two weeks before the race weekend. This is because you will need to have time to order new parts and to properly install and test them out. Many of us only have time to ride during the weekends. So, the last week before the race weekend is usually great for last minute testing and prep time.
In this step 1, we will cover these most important maintenance items to focus on when it comes to dirt bike setup for racers:
- Engine and power delivery
- BONUS: Bolts
Inspect All Controls and Their Functions
In a race setting, it is important to be able to trust that your dirt bike will function properly and that brakes, suspension and power delivery is inspected and working flawlessly.
Start by washing the dirt bike well. Really carefully also in places hard to reach.
Next, continue with a visual inspection of all controls. Brake, clutch, gear shifter, rear brake, front brake, start and stop buttons (and lights). Look for leaks, worn out cables, tears, cuts and sorts.
Test the brakes properly. Check brake pads. If there is any sponginess in the front brake lever or rear brake pedal, you need to properly bleed the brakes. If you haven’t flushed the brake lines in a while, it’s a good idea to do it now with fresh brake fluid. Are rotors bent? You can usually feel sponginess in brakes and having to pump to get pressure on the brakes if the rotor is slightly bent.
Test clutch and make sure it is adjusted well for reach and play. Does it drag? If you notice any drag or the clutch is not fully disengaging, it’s time to fix the issue and check if you need new plates or if just flushing the clutch fluids and properly bleeding it will suffice. The last thing you want is to overheat the clutch forcing you to forfeit the race.
Set the brake and clutch lever angle correctly and even for both hands. Even the smallest things can start to become annoying in hours long race conditions. If you’re expecting muddy, snowy or rainy conditions, take a look at your grips and gloves and consider if you need to increase grip traction.
Once you’re satisfied with the initial test, you can focus on the next maintenance step of the dirt bike setup for racers: inspecting all bearings for play.
When it comes to bleeding the brakes, we recommend getting a brake bleeding kit that will make the bleeding process much easier. For a racer, perfectly working brakes and a clutch are also important safety factors.
We have tried few different brake bleeding methods and this tool makes our race prep much easier:
BikeMaster Vacuum Brake Fluid Bleeder (click to check the current price on MotoSport.com) – This vacuum bleeder hooks up to a compressed air hose and the vacuum created by it bleeds the brake lines very quickly. Usually, this gets the small air bubbles away from the lines easily and flushes the entire system.
Check Your Main Bearings for Play
Dirt bikes have a lot of bearings in places that directly affect the precision in steering and sharpness in rider response.
For racing conditions, it is important to check all the bearings in the chassis for any wear and play. Worn out bearings will cause noticeable lack in how the dirt bike controls and performs.
Start by setting the dirt bike to a stand and check the steering head play. You can check it by grabbing the front forks at knee level or lower, then pushing and pulling and moving the forks sideways. If you hear clicking, or notice any play, it is time to check if tightening the steering stem fixes it or if you need to replace the bearings.
Next on the list when considering the dirt bike setup for racers and maintenance is checking your wheel bearings for wear or play. Check the bearings while putting in the test race tires. Test tires are the last tires you will use before changing into the actual tires you are planning to use in the actual race. If you plan to race with the current tires, it is time to pull the wheels off.
Check each bearing for any stickiness or bumpy feeling when rotated and for any play. If you are unsure about their performance and it has been more than 50 hours, it is likely that they are close to being done. Replace worn out bearings.
While the wheels are off, check the swing arm bearings for play and wear. Worn out bearings will make the rear end of the dirt bike feel unstable.
Check the shock bearings for wear and play. Both linkage and PDS shock styles require the bearings to be greased often and neglecting to do that will cause wear on the bearings. Any wear or play will slow the rear shock response and lower its overall performance. This can also take away that plush new suspension feeling and is a good warning sign to check these bearings together with swing arm bearings.
We usually change bearings successfully with a socket set and a vice. The vice works well, but takes much more time so you have to be patient. Motion Pro makes excellent and good quality tools for extracting and pushing in new bearings and they are perfect also for completing the dirt bike setup for racers.
Here’s our tool tip for all dirt bike riders who want to make bearing replacement very easy:
Motion Pro Bearing Tools (click to check the current price on MotoSport.com) – This is a collection of handy tools that make bearing changes much easier and safer. Highly recommended!
Inspect and Tune Your Dirt Bike Suspension
Suspension is an important factor in race conditions for several reasons. Usually, you push harder in a race than during normal training days. The suspension runs hotter and longer without cooling and can wear out quickly if it hasn’t been recently serviced.
Check your service records and check how many hours you’ve added to the suspension after the last maintenance. Decide if it is time to service the suspension—and at least change the oils on the forks.
Check for any leaks or visible damage in seals. If you have a simple leak in the front forks, it can usually be easily fixed by pulling down the dust boots and using a fork seal doctor. It very effectively cleans out the dirt in the seals and fixes the issue.
You can find a link to our favorite fork seal doctor tool and instructions for in the post, cleaning leaking fork seals.
Measure the bike sag in your race gear and setup. Adjust if necessary. Check out our instructions on how to set dirt bike sag.
Next, it is time to choose what type of previous track, property or conditions can be applied to the upcoming race. Ideally, you have been to a similar property or know someone who has been and can explain you the style of terrain of the race and what to expect. If you keep track of your suspension setup per each property, you can easily check your notes and find a working starting point.
If possible, try to test your dirt bike properly before the race. And if you are able to do that, setting your suspension well during that day helps a lot. It is one less thing to worry about during the race day.
In most races, you are not allowed ride the race track before the race, however, you can walk it. Walking parts of the track is a great way to warm up and keep your mind busy in a good way and see how the race track looks like. It is a big help when the race day is at hand and you will be glad you did it.
A fork seal doctor is a great tool for cleaning out leaking fork seals without removing the front tire when you are working on your dirt bike setup for racers. This is our top pick for cleaning the front fork seals:
KTM PowerParts Fork Seal Doctor (click to check the current price on MotoSport.com) – This clever tool is a must for every dirt bike toolbox, trail side or garage.
Inspect Engine and Power Delivery
A reliable dirt bike is very important in a race. The way the engine idles, how well it starts and how well the motor works are all important factors for a good race weekend.
Start by visually inspecting the engine area of the dirt bike, including the exhaust system. Check for loose bolts and any leaks.
Next, check the chain and sprockets for wear. And check the chain master link or the clip. If you have a clip, install it on the inside of the sprocket for better durability.
Check and set the idle. If you have any issues with steady strong idle or with starting the dirt bike reliably, both with a starter and with a kickstart, it’s time to investigate and fix the issues. Some races start with a dead engine so naturally it’s important to be able to quickly and reliably start the dirt bike. Many hard enduro events are challenging enough to make you stall the dirt bike in the most awkward positions so an electric starter really becomes your friend.
Replace the spark plug with a new one. A fresh new plug will make the dirt bike run better and starting the dirt bike easier.
Next, prep and replace a new fresh filter for the race. When replacing the air filter, make sure the air box is clean and no dirt is inside the airbag or where the air filter seats into the air box.
If the race takes place in a different altitude than where you usually ride, make sure you are ready to re-jet once on site and reserve time to properly test the new setup. Newer fuel injected models work better without tuning for different altitudes but we suggest reserving few extra test sessions just in case before the race.
In summary, making sure the dirt bike runs and starts reliably is one of the most important factors in racing. When completing this maintenance step of the dirt bike setup for racers, we recommend using this handy kit for tuning a carbureted dirt bike:
JD Jetting Jet Kit (click to check the current price on MotoSport.com) – This kit has all the parts needed for tuning your carburetor and setting it for different altitudes.
Read also: Do you need a dirt bike skid plate?
Choose Your Race Tire Setup
Traction is important in all types of dirt bike riding and in races, the correct tire setup is essential.
When completing your dirt bike setup for racers, make sure to check out our advanced rider section where we explain in depth how to protect and choose correct tires for your dirt bike.
In most races, you won’t be able to ride the actual race track before the race. This is because it would give racers a huge advantage. So, the race track is usually closed a week or few weeks before the race weekend for prep and marking the race track.
But you are usually allowed to walk the track before the race and get familiar with the terrain. We usually walk some parts of the track, especially in hard enduro events, and focus on the type of terrain, main man-built obstacles, starting area and checkpoints. This gives out great tips on how to fine-tune and setup your suspension and choose your tires.
When you have a good idea what to expect from the track and conditions, go for a fresh pair of tires that work well for the conditions out there. Think about how the conditions might change during the race.
Most tracks wear out during the race and based on your starting row, things might look very different for the first row compared to when 200 bikes have gone through the track. Weather will also play a big role in races and sometimes things will change very quickly during the race.
We usually choose tires based on similar tracks and how well the tires perform on them. Usually softer rubber compounds work well for hard enduro’s rocky tracks and wear is usually not a huge issue in races. In rainy or very slippery conditions, it’s easy to notice how much better a fresh tire will work than a tire that has already started rounding the edges on the knobs.
Tire pressure or Mousse softness also affects the available traction and it’s important to find a good compromise in races on how soft you can go. Basically, the slower, more technical and rocky the track is, the softer your tire setup should be. If the track is faster, enduro style or has lots of 4th and 5th gear sections, you need to find a compromise that works for the faster sections also.
We recommend a good all-around race tire setup for technical, hard enduro race styles on a slippery rocky terrain. They work well in dry and rainy conditions when combined with the Tubliss or soft Mousse and are a great fit for the dirt bike setup for racers.
Read also: How to set dirt bike sag
BONUS: Check for Loose Bolts
A quick tip for the dirt bike setup for racers: check all bolts for tightness on your dirt bike.
This 10-minute process will make sure that you won’t lose a bolt during a race. And it is a good method for making sure the dirt bike is ready for the hours-long race.
Start the inspection with 8mm bolts. Go over every bolt that is accessible. If you find a loose bolt, it makes sense to put correct level of Loctite and torque back to spec.
Continue then with 10mm bolts and repeat the process.
Next, check air intake clamps for leaks and loose bolts. Air inside the air intake will ruin an engine quickly and result in a poor idle and starting.
Check sprocket bolts for tightness. They easily come loose.
Check spokes. Especially new bikes and new wheels are prone to lose spokes and it’s important to check them for correct torque and wheel trueness.
Check the rim lock. A loose rim lock can easily result in a spun tire and a flat or other issues with the Mousse or Tubliss.
Check the radiation hose clamps for tightness.
That should do it for a safe and reliable race weekend when it comes to basic maintenance.
T-handle sockets make checking bolts quick and easy when you are completing the dirt bike setup for racers. Here’s our favorite set:
Motion Pro 7-Piece T-Handle Socket Set (click to check the current price on MotoSport.com) – This versatile set is durable and great for quick use. It makes working on dirt bikes much more efficient.
Step 2. Protection
We generally set up our dirt bikes based on how technical the race track is going to be. Extreme or hard enduro events require different setups than fast sprint races or desert style racing.
If you are not familiar with the race track property from before, we always recommend trying to compare it to a similar location. That way you will roughly get an idea what to expect. Also, don’t forget to talk to your riding buddies for more detailed analogs of a place you know well.
In this step 2, we will discuss how racers can protect their dirt bike and prepare it for more advanced trail riding and hard enduro style races.
We will cover these most important things to focus on when it comes to dirt bike setup for racers and protection:
- Engine cooling
- Lift and pull straps
Read also: Why you need a 2 stroke pipe guard
Check Engine Cooling And Install a Cooling Fan
Properly cooling and protecting the engine from overheating is very important when it comes to the dirt bike setup for racers. Luckily there are several things you can do to make sure your dirt bike won’t boil over during a race.
In many difficult and more technical races, you will see people overheating their dirt bikes and the steaming engine and leaking fluid is definitely going to ruin your race.
There are few things to do before the race weekend that will ensure your dirt bike will stay operational.
Firstly, check the coolant. There are several different cooling fluid types available for dirt bikes. Some fluids are completely waterless and therefore increase the boiling point.
Secondly, your riding style and skills as well as conditions will define how easily the dirt bike will overheat. The radiator protection also affects the cooling. Also, it’s important to think about how well the shrouds protect in muddy conditions and clear the mud so that it doesn’t restrict the air flow.
The third element is an additional cooling with a radiator fan. It is a great tool to bring down the temperature when needed.
We run regular cooling fluids combined with a fan kit that comes on automatically when needed during the race. This combination is very effective and saves a lot of headaches along the way.
A great dirt bike setup for racers includes a radiator cooling fan kit. This is our top choice for all racers:
Trail Tech Fan Kit (click to check the current price on MotoSport.com) – Trail Tech makes effective and automatic fan kits for most dirt bikes. A cooling fan is an effective way to prevent your dirt bike from overheating. This one is a must for racers.
Choose the Level of Handguard Protection
Protecting your hands is important and it often gets neglected by many beginner racers.
Not only should you think about injuries but also about the fact how different styles of protection methods can assist you in different conditions. Ever seen riders wear handguards in Supercross? They wear them to protect the forward controls and hands in muddy conditions.
Again, first-hand experience of the race trail is important. Talk to locals, people who know the property or the area. Is there a possibility of rain, mud, snow or similar conditions? All these factors can help when choosing how to be comfortable on the bike and protect your hands in these conditions.
In tight woods and most hard enduro single track type of races, you can expect very tight bar banging corners. Wrap around style handguards are a must. They not only protect from mud or snow but also protect you and the controls when hitting trees, rocks and similar like other racers and their bikes (yes, it happens).
Faster enduro races often have wider tracks and open areas and you can get away with much lighter deflector style handguards that protect somewhat even when crashing.
Also, you will likely drop the bike few times during the race. You need to figure out a good way to protect your levers and other controls from bending or snapping off. The wrap around handguards again are a great solution. You can also choose levers that are designed to bend away without snapping off.
Cycra’s handguards are our all-time favorites for racers for added protection and lever safety and they work great for the dirt bike setup for racers:
Cycra Pro Bend Wrap Around Hand Guards (click to check the current price on MotoSport.com) – These handguards are an excellent choice for any racer. They protect your hands very effectively from the elements and obstacles as well as levers from snapping off.
Make sure to also check out post dirt bike handguards for hand and lever protection where introduce in detail the different types of handguards and what advantages handguards bring to the table.
Install Lift and Pull Straps
Racing differs from the casual ride days with your buddies.
In many events, some of the sections get very crowded and you can expect getting stuck behind others and occasionally getting stuck. The audience and other riders can be a great help when getting stuck.
We have noticed that if you install pull straps and make it easy for spectators and other racers to help you, they are more likely to do so. This is a great advantage so we recommend considering adding pull and lift straps to your dirt bike.
In many races, spectators and other races are allowed to help you. If your dirt bike has a good strap to lift the rear or a strap in the front to pull from, the spectators can easily give you a hand.
The straps also make it easy for you to maneuver the dirt bike when you are getting tired. They also work wonders in muddy and snowy conditions.
If you haven’t already read our advanced rider section, make sure to check it out because it contains a lot of useful information about the straps.
Here is a great and affordable strap that you can use when completing the dirt bike setup for racers:
Giant Loop Lift Strap (click to check the current price on MotoSport.com) – This is a must-have little helper for pulling or lifting the dirt bike in racing conditions.
Step 3. Tuning and Testing
Dirt bike race weekends set a different tone for riding dirt bikes.
The race day usually starts with plenty of last minute checks on the bike, rider and gear. But you can do a lot beforehand to make sure you can focus on yourself and not worry about the bike.
Tuning and testing the bike in advance is a great way to lower the pressure on the race day.
This step 3 is specifically designed for racers and focuses on prepping the bike for more advanced trail riding and hard enduro style races.
We will cover the following topics when it comes to dirt bike setup for racers and tuning and testing:
- Race setup
- Dirt bike and race gear setup
- BONUS: Snacks and strap tools
Read also: What does enduro dirt biking mean?
Test Your Race Setup in Similar Conditions
This is really a no brainer. If you are going to your first race, we recommend running a practice day with your race setup in a similar trail or track as a part of completing the dirt bike setup for racers.
It is a great way to get used to the racing format and test your dirt bike, setup and gear. If you have other beginner racers or a group of friends joining you in the race, you can set up a practice race day with them.
Prep the day with the same gear and dirt bike settings you plan to use during the race. This will help you notice any issues or missing items as well as get used to the race format.
For most races, you can find a detailed race day plan, rules and schedules. If you can’t find these details, look at the other races in the same series’ race schedule.
Typically, you can expect either a class wide start or a row style start format. Some races start with a dead engine so be sure to familiarize and practice the start format.
Selecting your gear and packing your snacks, drinks and tools or spare items is also important. You can’t haul too many items in your backpack so it’s important to find only the necessary items you plan to carry with you.
We carry only the essentials in our backpack, mainly water and a multitool with some zip ties. Whatever you pack, make sure they fit and function well and that the backpack is comfortable during a long race.
Most races also include a gas stop. This is a great opportunity to pack extra items ready for a short pause during the race.
You can strap or tape snacks, extra parts, drinks or anything you like to your gas can and have them ready for a quick swap if needed during a race. In some races, you are not allowed to leave the fueling site, in others it is allowed.
In muddy conditions, we pack extra goggles and gloves for a quick swap. And when it’s raining or cold, an extra jacket or shirt might be a good addition.
Practice the fuel stop and make sure your gas can is easy and simple to use when tired and in a hurry.
We like the simple and easy to use Tuff Jug gas can for race days for its small size (fills the tank if needed) and for its simple to use design. This is a great addition to the dirt bike setup for racers:
Tuff Jug Gas Can (click to check the current price on MotoSport.com) – This gas can is easy to use with gloves on and it holds 2.5 gallons to fill your dirt bike tank if needed.
Read also: How to adjust the front fork height and why
Tune Your Dirt Bike and Adjust the Race Gear Setup
After your practice session, you will have a better understanding of the race day and you will specifically find out any weaknesses in your dirt bike setup for racers.
Now it is your last chance to make changes and get things right for the actual race.
Start from the dirt bike. If you were able to practice in a similar trail or terrain, was something bothering you in the suspension or in the way the dirt bike performed? If so, it’s worth finding out what the issue is and fixing it to make the dirt bike perform better in the race.
Dialing in the suspension just right makes the race day much easier and will help you save a lot of valuable energy.
Next, focus on your gear and what you chose to carry with you. Was something missing or very uncomfortable to wear? Did you feel like needing more water during the day? Keep in mind that you really can’t get more water during the race if you don’t plan and prepare on it yourself.
Bring a race pit crew! Usually, it’s a great idea to bring friends and family to support you and cheer you on during the race. But you should also assign a pit crew.
Your crew can assist you in the gas stop area with filling up the gas as well as replace your water bladder, pour water or ice on you, change gloves and goggles and give you something to eat while you sit and take a break.
We highly recommend bringing one—it’s a great way to support and spread the word on the great sport of dirt bike riding and racing.
One extra must-have item we recommend for a race day is a pit mat for your last-minute maintenance, race day picture poses and for your pit crew for pit stops. Here’s our top pick for completing the dirt bike setup for racers:
KTM PowerParts Pit Mat (click to check the current price on MotoSport.com) – This pit mat has a cloth top and rubber bottom. It will catch any spilled gas and prevent pieces and parts from getting lost during maintenance.
BONUS: Tape Snacks or Strap Tools to Your Dirt Bike
In longer race events, staying hydrated and nourished can be a challenge.
The physical and mental toughness of the rider during a race is a big part of the enduro style dirt bike riding. To combat the dehydration and energy loss, you should consider your dirt bike as a way to carry extra tools or items so that you can save space for snacks and more water in your backpack or waist pack.
Keep in mind that you can also tape snack bars—or basically any items—to your dirt bike!
We have seen protein bars taped to the handle bars, extra water bottles in triple trees and on the front fender. You can also tape strap tools under the seat. Use your imagination when carrying out this part of the dirt bike setup for racers.
Some ideas work better, some worse, but the main thing is to be prepared. Through practice, you will find the perfect setup that works for you.
Read also: The best dirt bike setup for advanced riders
Phew! That covers the entire dirt bike setup for racers.
Your main take away from our racer section should be that dirt bike racing is a fun and safe way to enjoy dirt bike riding on a new level.
You may feel intimidated going to your first race with all experienced racers, but remember that they all had to start somewhere and that you will be greeted with happy smiles. It’s all about a bunch of excited race buddies sharing a great day together.
You can read more about our racing experiences from our race summaries, such as Sandwinder Enduro 2021 and Sandwinder Enduro 2022. You will discover a lot of useful tips for new racers and general information about the test sections and race trails.
We wish you good luck and great endeavors with dirt bikes and hope that you liked our dirt bike setup for racers. Hopefully, we will meet at the tracks some day and get to share experiences! We will share our racing stories also on our blog so make sure to add it to your reading list.
See you at the races!