Street Legal Conversion
Unfortunately, not all bikes are street legal out of the box and sometimes the off-road models make better dual sports. Factory dual sports are often choked down by horse power robbing- emission equipment, and extra weight.
(I’ve been riding a factory street legal DRZ400 S model and I recently picked up an off-road only E model with a dual sport kit and the two are night and day different. The E is noticeably lighter and snappier. )
Installing a dual sport conversion kit itself is not too difficult if you’re comfortable working on your own bike. Most shops will offer installation service as well. The more difficult part will be finding out your own state requirements. Every state is different and the rules can change over time. Back when I owned a legally plated KTM300EXC, Washington State sent me a letter informing me they were revoking my street legal status due to a rule change. I later decided to replace the bike with something that could be licensed only to find out that the rules changed again and became more lenient toward conversions. Brilliant!
Currently, the rules in Washington State are fairly simple. The bike has to meet these federal requirements
DOT Federal Requirements for street motorcycles
- DOT approved headlight with high and low beam function
- Headlight indicator light visible to the operator to show when the high beam is operating
- Battery-powered, DOT approved tail light and brake light (with a switch for both front and rear controls) which must operate for a minimum of 20 minutes with only battery power
- DOT approved turn signals for motorcycles manufactured after January 1, 1973 (most states mandate this, but some do not)
- Rearview mirror (usually one, but some states require two)
- Horn (some states mandate an electric horn)
- DOT approved tires installed
- Fuel tank should be DOT approved (The FMVSS specifies steel, but almost all states do not enforce this, so it will not be covered)
Once that’s completed you can take your paper work to the DMV and get your plate.
The same process in other states isn’t quite as easy and may even be impossible. California is possibly one of the most restrictive states in the US and if your machine wasn’t street legal from the factory, you can forget about it.
First, do your homework before buying any parts. There will be some bureaucratic red tape involved. Talk to people in your area you see on dual sports, check with your local bike shops, visit your states department of motor vehicles web site, and call your local state patrol office. Usually there will be more than one government office involved and they don’t always agree or are sometime unaware of the rules. If all else fails and the answer is NO, there’s always the possibility of registering in another state (South Dakota). This is a somewhat grey area so I’ll let you do your own research on that option.
Ok, you’ve done your research and you’re ready to proceed. You have a couple of options. You can simply buy a complete kit that will include all the items needed like the ones offered by Baja Designs, or you can purchase individual items that better suit your tastes. Let’s look at a few items you’ll need to get on the road.
Factory electrical systems on off-road bikes don’t offer enough power to run all the equipment needed on a street legal machine. To fix this you’ll need to upgrade to a high output stator. Ricky Stator is a popular unit. You can also send your stock unit in to Baja Designs and they will rewind the coils to get more juice out of it.
A battery or capacitor will also be necessary to manage the changing power demands from the electrical system. Fortunately newer lithium batteries are easier to mount because they require less space and weigh less than lead acid batteries of the past. Check out the DRZRider post on lithium batteries
You might be able to get away with hand signals but if you want to get licensed and be safe you’re going to need some turn signals. LED lights are the best choice for all of your lighting. LEDs use less power, are more durable, and last longer than conventional style bulbs. Turn signal kits are also available and include a flasher unit and switch. Be sure to check your states rules on location and positioning of the signals on the bike.
Lots of universal headlight kits are available but not all are considered street legal. Make sure the one you choose is DOT approved. Again LED or HID lights are the way to go. They offer better durability, and exceptionally better lighting than standard units. Sometimes it feels like you’re invisible to other drivers on the road. Having a bright light may save your ass out on the streets!
Personally I dig having mirrors on my bike, even off-road. It helps me check on my buddies when we’re trail mobbing and makes me feel safer on the road. That’s why I use mirrors that are actually functional instead of just being there to keep things legal. The Double Take dual sport mirror is one of the best I’ve seen. It uses the RAM mount system that offers full range of movement and stays in place, as it should. I’ve also heard good things about stock KTM mirrors.
Discussing tires is like asking someone “who makes the best beer?” You’re going to get 10 different answers from 10 people. But let’s try to narrow it down somewhat. First you’ll need a set of DOT approved tires (look for DOT marked on the sidewall). After that, your choice of tire will be dependent on what type of riding you do. What percentage of riding will you be doing? 50% road 50% dirt (50/50) or 70/30 road /dirt? Just like the bikes we ride, the more you lean toward a specific use, the less performance you’ll get from the opposite end of the spectrum. Last season I ran a Kenda 270 which is a middle of the road tire. Because of its’ tight tread pattern (which makes it better for road use and long wear) it’s off road traction sucked. It quickly loaded with dirt in loose conditions, so this year I’ll be using a Dunlop 606 which has a more aggressive tread pattern (better traction but more road noise).
For simplicity there’s nothing better than a tail kit that incorporates tail and brake light, rear turn signals, and license plate holder all in one unit (unless of course you like to practice wheelies and loop out on occasion!). Again, you’ll want to check your local laws regarding light placement to make sure one of these kits meets requirements. If you’re on the streets you want to be seen out there so make sure you get a bright and reliable light system. You may even want to add a flasher unit that will cause the brake light to flash a few times before coming on.
Don’t forget the kickstand!
For some crazy reason, people hate it when you prop your bike up against a building or even their car. I’ve only owned a couple bikes without kickstands and it’s really a pain in the ass when you have to find something to prop your bike against when you stop. Fortunately there’s some pretty decent aftermarket kickstands available.
I hope this information helps you get your bike licensed. Getting out on your bike more should be the goal and what better way to do that, than by making it street legal!