Off-Road Motorcycle Protection: How to Keep Your Bike (Mostly) In One Piece

What Is The Most Essential Motorcycle Protection?

GS in water crossingRiding a motorcycle off the beaten path offers many rewards: beautiful scenery, a sense of accomplishment, and the excitement of exploration, to name a few. Like all things motorcycle, riding off pavement has its own degree of calculated risk. We build our skills, adjust our judgment, understand our environment, and learn the limitations of our equipment — sometimes finding that we are far less limited than we expected. It is for these moments that we should look at a few weak points on our motorcycles as well as ways that we can protect them. After all, part of accessing remote areas is also returning from them.

Handguards are a Must-Have

Barkbusters VPS handguardsSome of the most vulnerable points on your bike are the clutch and front brake controls. Their position and fragility make these parts susceptible to damage in falls at speed as well as during a simple tip-over. Combine this with their function as primary controls, and these levers are the first components that I would recommend protecting on any motorcycle that will see dirt or gravel. Motorcycle handguards with a solid backbone and multiple mounting points are the best at deflecting impact that would otherwise make a lever inoperable. I would also recommend handguards with large, sturdy deflectors to protect your hands from brush and briers.

GS-on-one-cylinder-in-dirt

Armor Up with Crash Bars & Skid Plates

Next, for water-cooled machines, I would recommend protecting the radiator from side or frontal impacts with sturdy crash bars. Damaging or rupturing your radiator will reduce or eliminate the cooling ability of your motorcycle and could spell mechanical disaster, especially off-road, when you are already asking a lot from a perfectly running cooling system.

My other priority would be protecting the underside of the engine. Large rocks have a habit of shifting into interesting positions when disturbed by the front tire of a five-hundred-pound motorcycle. In addition, miscalculations of clearance can cause your engine to smack against rocks, hard ground, or roots. Skid plates are designed to take and spread the energy from a single point across a larger area, keeping that sharp edge from damaging or cracking your engine case or lubrication system. Look for skid plates that are strong but lightweight, have solid mounting points, do not interfere with lean angles when you are on the pavement, and allow access for maintenance.

Nice-to-Have Guards & Sliders

Once these key components are covered, you may want to consider a few other items, such as headlight guards to protect your lenses against roosted rocks, rear brake reservoir guards and rear brake master cylinder guards to keep these components intact, front axle sliders to protect the bottoms of your fork tubes, and rear axle sliders and swingarm sliders to limit damage in those areas.To find the products that will fit your specific make and model, check out our Dual-Sport Bike Protection Page.

Keep It Fun to Ride!

When setting out to protect your ride, please remember it’s a motorcycle and not an Abrams tank. You can still take some measures to ensure your adventures are fun tales without getting stranded or incurring costly disasters — just aim to keep your bike fun to ride, and able to be picked up by less than two people.

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