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Making A Dirt Bike Look Good

By Mike Savidge

One of the benefits of dirt bikes is you have all kinds of options for making your bike look cool. Dirt bikes use plastic body panels which get covered in vinyl graphics. These graphics are made of a thick durable material with a really strong adhesive. The graphics are usually available in all kinds of different styles and designs so you have plenty of options to choose from. When I buy a new bike, I usually go out and buy a replacement body kit and graphics right away. I save one of those kits, so when I decide to sell the bike, I can make it look like it just came off of the showroom floor. Initially this cost me a little money, but I have been able to get top dollar for the bikes when I sell them so it works out just fine.

The graphic kits usually run about 150 bucks for a full kit with all the trimmings. That seems like a lot of money, but when you consider the cost for a paint job on a street bike…it makes it a little easier to deal with. Full kits should consist of shrouds, rear, and front fenders, air box, front forks, swingarm, and number plates. You can find deals out there, but be careful. Those cheap eBay kits will not last very long and they usually don’t fit well. Try to go with a good brand name with 3M adhesive. Very important!

Over the years I have learned a few tricks for installing these graphic kits. Years ago I was tasked with designing these kits for KTM, so I got real familiar with applying them and determining what worked and what didn’t. You don’t want to rush the job. Take your time and things will go well. Try to rush it and your graphics are going to look like you rushed it.

First thing is to take the bodywork off the bike. Trying to apply them while the plastic is on the bike can be done, but it is a lot more difficult. I always take the plastic off the bike.

Next is to find a clean place to work. Dust or hair is your enemy. Getting anything under the adhesive will cause big ugly bubbles, so petting your dog while trying to put these on is not a good idea.

Clean all the plastic with a mild soap detergent and water. Using brake cleaner or even Windex will leave an oil residue on the plastic. You don’t want that. Even if the plastic is brand new, you have to clean it. It’s the only way to be sure the graphics will stick well. Once I clean the plastic with soapy water, I dry it off and wipe it down with rubbing alcohol. This will ensure the plastic is oil-free and clean.

Ok, now you are ready to start putting the graphics on. I suggest taking some of that soapy water and putting it in a spray bottle. Spray a slight mist on the plastic. While the plastic is still wet, peel off part of the graphics backing and position it on the plastic. Once you get it in place, peel off the rest of the backing and start smoothing it out. Use a credit card and work from one edge to the other applying even pressure. The goal is to lay the graphic without trapping air under it.

Once the graphic is on, then you can use a hairdryer to go over the entire piece. Be careful not to hold the hairdryer in one spot too long. You just want to activate the adhesive. This also will allow you to smooth out any issues where the graphic didn’t conform to the plastic shape. The heat makes it much more pliable. If you have any air bubbles you can use the heat with pressure from the credit card to work out the air bubble. If that doesn’t work, get a straight pin and pop the bubble. Then use the heat and push the air out of the pinhole.

If you take your time your bike will look awesome and your graphics will last a long time. Plenty of cool designs out there to choose from, so pick one out, and go ride!

(This article was originally published in Go For A Ride Magazine, February 2015.)