It happens to the best of us – the further you get into a relationship, the more you notice the other’s flaws. Little things that weren’t such a big deal in the beginning are now your biggest stumbling blocks. Were they always that loud? Why do they get bent out of shape so easily? And how did you not notice how dirty they get? It doesn’t take long for you to start thinking about hiding your current relationship under a tarp in a vacant corner of the garage and start envisioning a better relationship with someone new.

And no, I’m not talking about your spouse, I’m talking about your dirt bike.

An Old CR250R

But before you throw in the towel and call it quits with your current ride, there are still a few things you can do to rekindle the fire. Now, everyone will say that their bike feels amazing after adding a new exhaust or clutch and hey, for the big bucks, it should. But you don’t need to get the most expensive upgrades to reinvigorate your relationship. In fact, a few simple changes can freshen your ride and get you feeling more confident and excited the next time you get on your machine.

Check out the 5 upgrades we recommend to help you fall back in love with your old bike.

1. Replace Wear Parts

For any bike that’s been ridden hard or not ridden for a few seasons, the common wear parts are going to need a little TLC, especially the chain, sprockets, and brake pads. This is an important task for a few reasons. Firstly, if these parts are left unchecked, they can cause more damage to your bike than what you likely want to repair. Chains get loose, sprockets get pared down, and brake pads wear. Unless you want to throw a chain or hear that nails-on-a-chalkboard sound every time you try to brake, it’s best to swap out the old for the new. Plus, replacing this trio of parts can do wonders for your bike’s handling, freshening everything up and making it feel like-new again. Getting creative with the chain and sprockets colors, too, can breathe some life into your tired bike. If it looks good, it rides good, right?

Racing Through the Hills on a CR250R

What it Takes

Here are a few things to consider when it comes to replacing the wear parts.

Chain: There are really only two chains that most riders choose from: o-ring and x-ring. The difference between the two comes down to the type of seals used in each link. All chains have small seals between the plates to keep grease in and dirt out, but not all seals have the same shape. O-ring chains, for example, have an o-shaped seal. X-ring chains then, have an x-shaped seal. Technically, the x-ring seal is a type of o-ring seal, just with an x-shaped cross section rather than the circular o. Those extra contact points on the x-ring chain are what makes the chain so popular – instead of the seals getting flattened and deformed like their o-ring counterpart, the x-ring seal twists and lessens the friction and wear. X-ring chains can typically last up to twice as long as o-ring chains.

A Quick Fix to the Swing Arm

Regardless of the chain you choose, just stay on top of maintenance. It’s best to find a time that works best for you, whether it’s right before riding or right after, and set a routine for your maintenance – that’s what’s going to keep the components preserved, lasting, and like-new for as long as possible.

Sprockets: Not only can you use this opportunity to get a flashy rear sprocket like the Dirt Tricks Zirconium Sprocket or a color-coordinated one like the Primary Drive Aluminum Sprocket, you can also look into switching up your bike’s gearing. This is the result of adding teeth to or removing teeth from the front and rear sprocket, and there are two ways to do it:

  • Gear your bike down. By adding teeth to the rear sprocket or removing teeth from the front, you can give your bike better acceleration, with the tradeoff of less top end speed. This gearing is optimal for tight, technical, sandy tracks with long straightaways.
  • Gear your bike up. This is just the opposite – add teeth to the front sprocket or remove them from the rear. Your bike will have more top end speed, but will be slower to accelerate. Most desert racers or riders who like to go really fast will opt to gear their bike up.

Worn Out Sprockets

Changing your bike’s gearing can be a great way to fine-tune its handling or just give it some extra pep. Don’t get too gung-ho with it, though – stock gearing is usually fairly good all-around to begin with and changing too many teeth can have an adverse effect, especially in the front. One tooth in the front sprocket is equivalent to 3-4 in the rear, so you never want to change out more than one or two teeth in the front. It’s also worth mentioning that a new gearing ratio means a new chain length, which always means a new chain. Check out our gearing guide video for even more information and tips.

Brake Pads: New brake pads may not add any flash to your bike, but they’re still a great way improve its overall feel. You can go one of two ways with your brake pads: organic (also known as carbon) or sintered metal. Most riders who run the former only ride in dry conditions – the organic compound makes carbon brake pads especially susceptible to water, and they breakdown quickly when they get wet. That’s a predicament for a lot of people, especially since even the driest tracks get watered, and that water affects the organic brake pads. Sintered metal brake pads do not have the same problem. Made from a variety of metallic compounds pressed together, the metal brake pads can withstand the elements, giving them the ideal blend of durability and performance. That said, there is a significant con to the sintered metal compound: because they’re so hard, they wear out the rotors faster. So, choosing brake pads really comes down to if you want to frequently replace carbon brake pads, or routinely replace your brake rotor. The choice is yours, but most riders go with sintered metal.

2. Install New Tires and Wheels

One of the reasons you don’t like your bike is that it’s either clapped-out from some seriously hard riding, or it’s just been sitting so long that it became clapped-out. Some of the parts that show that wear best are your tires and wheels. When ridden hard without being properly maintained, tires can chunk and develop leaks, and wheels can lose their true shape, lose their structural integrity, and become warped, scratched, and dented. It’s that mix of poor performance and bad looks that turns a lot of riders off of their bikes. So to rekindle that fire, get all new tires and wheels. New wheels are sleek, can match the color of or create an aesthetic for your bike, and can even help your bike shed a little weight. The right tires can give you more traction, bite, and performance in your preferred terrain. New tires and wheels are a slick, quick upgrade that can enhance your bike’s performance and give it a factory look.

Worn Tires and Wheels

What it Takes

Here are a few things to consider when it comes to replacing your tires and wheels.

Wheels: Your shiny new wheels aren’t going to stay that way for long without a little TLC. The wheel has to stay trued, bearings should stay lubricated, and seals must be installed correctly. Those tasks are all important, but usually the one that takes the most time and frequent care are tightening your spokes. Don’t fall into the trap of over-tightening your spokes, though. Think of spokes as guitar strings – you only work the tuning pegs when the strings are out of tune, so you only tighten spokes when they’re loose. Checking your spokes does not mean tightening them every time, rather checking their tightness first and then making adjustments as needed. The more consistently your spokes are over-tightened, the easier it will be for them to poke through the nipple and into the inner tube. Don’t worry, though – you don’t have to be a pro and this isn’t all guesswork. There are plenty of tools like the Tusk Spoke Torque Wrench that can help you find that sweet spot for your spokes.

Some Fresh Rubber

Tires: No matter how expensive they are, new rims cannot make bad tires feel or look like good tires. Generally, getting new wheels should always mean getting new tires, especially if you want to start liking your bike again. A fresh set of knobbies, especially ones picked for your specific type of riding whether it be trails, dunes, or tracks, is the only complement to your new set of wheels. The right combination of the two can turn your bike into a high-performing (not to mention slick-looking) machine.

3. Replace the Top End

It’s true that replacing your top end is more preventative maintenance than an upgrade, but it can still make a noticeable difference. If your bike has been ridden hard, takes a few hundred kicks to start, feels gutless, or any combination of these, then it’s probably time for a new top end. The process varies from 2-stroke to 4-stroke, but the end result is always a motor operating at 100% again – compression goes back up and that translates to more power, giving your bike the kick it needs. Plus, when faced with the alternative of a seized bike and ruined crankshaft and bottom end, a new top end looks even more appealing.

An Old Top End

Another route some riders take when replacing their top end is to install a big bore kit. These kits switch out the stock piston and cylinder bore for something a little bigger. With the extra surface area on top of the piston and the extra size of the combusted explosion, big bore kits noticeably enhance your bike’s performance. A lot of that performance comes from increased throttle response and torque, but you can also add a few extra horsepower to your engine.

If you’re thinking about boring out your bike, it’s important to do your homework. Depending on what stroke or size you’re working with, there are a host of other aftermarket accessories you may need to install just to make the bigger bore work. This may be worth it for some of you out there, but if your current top end is fried and has been for a while, or it’s been a few seasons since you’ve taken out your bike, a standard top end rebuild will likely leave you satisfied.

What it Takes

Here are a few things to consider when it comes to replacing your top end.

4-Strokes: Rebuilding a 4-stroke top end can get tricky, but it’s doable at home. Here’s what you’ll need:

  • Piston kit. This typically includes the piston, rings, wristpin, and circlips.
  • Top end gasket kit.
  • Valves. You don’t always have to get new valves, but it’s a good idea to replace them if they look worn. If they don’t, you can get away with adjusting them. Keep in mind, though, that adjusting valves will require a feeler gauge and shims.
  • Spark plug.

A Desert Race on a CR250R

2-Strokes: A 2-stroke top end is easier to rebuild than a 4-stroke, but it will still require some skill and know-how. Here’s what you’ll need:

  • Piston kit. This typically includes the piston, rings, wristpin, and circlips.
  • Wristpin bearing. This isn’t included in most piston kits, so check your preferred kit’s listing to see if you need to purchase this crucial part separately or not.
  • Top end gasket kit.
  • Spark plug.

To make these top end rebuilds easier, we have several machine specific how-to videos on our YouTube channel. Check out those videos and our Dirt Bike Engine parts page for the information and parts you need.

4. Set Up Your Rider Triangle

It’s a fancy term for something stupid simple: the “rider triangle” refers to the triangle you make with your butt on the seat, hands on the bars, and feet on the pegs. The way you position yourself affects your style and success on your bike and setting up your rider triangle is a great way to optimize that. It’s easy to do but can revolutionize your riding style and how you feel on your bike. Confidence comes with comfortability, and, had you been comfortable or confident on your bike, you likely wouldn’t have fallen away from riding. That’s why it’s important to re-asses the way you ride and address the minimal parts within the rider triangle that can make such a monumental difference. Trust us – an optimized rider triangle can make you feel like you’re riding an all-new bike.

Popping a Wheelie on a CR250R

What it Takes

Here are a few things to consider when it comes to setting up your rider triangle.

Seat: Your seat is the nexus of the whole rider triangle – it affects your steering, comfort, and capabilities. One way to switch things up is with a different seat type. High, low, flat, or curved, some new seat foam adds some welcome cushion and possibly some favorable repositioning. Even a new, grippier seat cover can make a world of difference – it’ll be easier on your butt and easier on the eyes than your likely ratty, worn seat cover.

An Attack Graphics Seat Cover

Take your newfound comfort on your seat a few steps further by setting your sag and adjusting your suspension. Both settings are usually pretty comfortable stock, but even small adjustments can make a huge difference. Setting your sag adjusts your ride height and alters the softness of the suspension. Doing this correctly will just make your bike feel right – with the seat and suspension fine-tuned to your weight, you’ll feel a thousand times more comfortable and confident on your bike. Adjusting your suspension is just as effective, and messing with your clickers is actually pretty low-risk – if you go too far and don’t like the way your shock feels, simply go back to the stock settings and try again.

Use our video on setting up dirt bike suspension compression and rebound and our video on setting sag to get you started.

Handlebars: Arm pump and fatigue are mostly the result of your handlebar choice. If you’re running bars that aren’t a fit for you, you probably feel uncomfortable and tire out quickly. If that’s the case, it’s time to get a new set.

Handlebar choice is all about your size and bend – we’ll start with the former. You’ve got two sizes to choose from: standard, 7/8”, or oversized, 1 1/8”. Standard bars are 7/8” all the way around while the oversized bars are 1 1/8” at the center and 7/8” at the ends to accommodate for the standard grips and controls. Naturally, there are pros and cons to each size. 7/8” bars typically give better flex and are more lightweight, all at a lower price point. That said, they’re not as strong and aren’t ideal for hard riding. 1 1/8” bars are the inverse – a stronger, sturdier platform that’s a little heavier, a little more rigid, and a little more expensive.

New ODI Handlebars

Your bar’s bend is less clear cut. With three measurements – width, height, and pull back – to consider, it’s best to go into it with an idea of what you like or dislike. Don’t pick a bend off its name, either – there’s a pretty good chance ProTaper’s Carmichael bend won’t make you any more of a GOAT on the track. Think about the feel of your bars and what you want to change, and then find a new bar that best corresponds with those changes. It’s a big decision, but we have guides and resources to help you out.

Foot pegs: When it comes to your foot pegs, you need something with grip and a decent footbed. Nothing’s worse than trying to stand on a skinny, barely-there peg – there’s not much more to it than that.

Worn Out Foot Pegs

5. Install New Plastics, Graphics, and Bling

Arguably the fastest way to fall back into it with your bike is to change up its look. In some cases, preferences change, like that pink and green graphics kit you thought was a good idea is now an eyesore. In others, styles change, and suddenly your mid-2000s bike is now the dinosaur at the track with outdated plastics. And sometimes there isn’t anything wrong with your current setup other than faded graphics, broken and loose plastics, or outdated numbers and colors. When it comes down to it, if you don’t like the way it looks, you’re not going to want to ride it. You may have preexisting insecurities about your riding skills or style, but they’re inarguably amplified if you’re on an ugly bike that you don’t want to defend.

This is easily remedied with some new plastics, graphics, and even bolt-on billet parts. It’s about giving your bike some personality and making it fit you again, and it’s a dang easy way to do it. Even if the new plastics are just a gild, you’ll be surprised with how much it makes you want to ride your bike again.

What it Takes

Here are a few things to consider when it comes to choosing and installing new plastics, graphics, and bling.

Plastics: You can choose plastics in most manufacturer colors, and even some limited edition, more rare colors. There are full plastic kits that come with varied colors, or you can buy individual fenders and plates separately. If color isn’t as important as style, you can check if there is a restyle kit for your bike that will give it the look of a newer model.

Taking a Bike Down to its Frame and Building it Back Up

Graphics: What’s more personalized than custom graphics? We make our popular Attack Graphics graphics in-house, so we feel pretty qualified to say that nothing freshens up a bike like a new set of customized graphics. Get your number and number plate background up to date, try some new colors, or give your bike a clean, stock look – it’s worth it and will make you more confident on your next ride.

A Built CR250R

Bling: Bolt-on billet aluminum parts are an inexpensive way to trick out your ride like a factory bike. Tie in the colors to your new wheels, sprockets, or chain and you’ll be well on your way to having one of the most lit kits at the track. The Tusk Billet Bling Kit is a great start.

Tusk Bling Around the Bike

So Should You Do It?

Are you kidding? Your relationship with your dirt bike is worth saving, not to mention a lot cheaper than going out and buying a new model. If you try out these five upgrades, your bike will look better, you’ll feel better, and you’ll both be riding better in no time.

Popping Wheelies Around the Track


Tell Us What You Think

What are your top 5 upgrades for a used or totally clapped-out dirt bike? Are we missing any on our list?