Do Dirt Bikes Have Keys?

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Unless you’ve already ridden a dirt bike, something you may not have thought about is whether or not dirt bikes have keys.

Dirt bikes don’t have keys, instead, they have kick starts. Some newer models have both kick and electric starts, and a few only have electric. A kick start is a lever that the rider pushes down on with their foot to start the engine, while an electric start uses a battery to do the same thing.

When I first started learning about dirt bikes, I thought it was odd that they don’t have keys – after all, I’ve never operated any kind of vehicle that doesn’t use a key to start the engine.

Why Dirt Bikes Don’t Have Keys

You’re probably used to having a key to start your car, or maybe you have a motorboat or tractor. Why do we use keys to start the engines in these kinds of vehicles?

The main point of keys is security. Every key ignition switch is unique, which is supposed to prevent the engine from being started without the proper key; in modern vehicles, especially, it’s extremely difficult to bypass the key ignition. It’s also easier to use a key to start bigger engines, like those of cars, but in the case of smaller engines, like those of dirt bikes, that doesn’t apply. Security is a big deal, though, so why don’t dirt bikes use them?

Unlike your regular bike, dirt bikes aren’t meant to be ridden in town or around your neighborhood. When you’re not riding your dirt bike, it’s usually going to be stored in your garage or somewhere similar.

Basically, dirt bikes aren’t meant to be stored where they’re likely to be stolen, so keys aren’t the best way to secure them. It’s simply more practical to use a kick or electrical start on a dirt bike instead of a key ignition.

Ways of Securing Your Dirt Bike

So what should you do if you’re concerned about your dirt bike being stolen? Not everyone has a locked and alarmed garage that they can use to store their bike, and there’s always a risk that a bike could be stolen at a race or even out of the back of a truck.

The simplest way to keep your bike safe is to use some kind of lock. Cable locks are a good option, especially if you don’t want to shell out a lot of money. These are the standard locks you might already use for your street bike; they use a cable that runs through the frame of your wheel and secures it. Disc and rim locks are other readily available options, and though they can be more expensive, they have a little bit of an advantage over cable locks in that they are slightly more difficult to force off of a bike.

It’s also a good idea to try to store your dirt bike in as secure a place as possible. The best place, of course, would be a locked garage with an alarm system, but it isn’t necessary to have such a complicated and expensive storage system.

If you don’t have a garage at all, you can always try storing your bike somewhere inside your house. However, dirt bikes can get pretty – well, dirty, so this might not work if you have a smaller house or apartment. The next best option is probably some kind of shed, though in that case, you will definitely want to keep your bike locked at all times.

If you’re like me and don’t have a garage, shed, or big enough apartment to store a dirt bike, you might be thinking that you’re simply out of luck. Not necessarily! Depending on where you live, you can always try storing a bike in an out-of-the-way place in your yard or parking lot – just be extra careful to always keep it locked, and consider getting a more expensive lock, as well.

Bear in mind, though, that keeping your bike in the open will always be risky, so if possible, it’s better to wait until you have a secure storage place before you purchase a dirt bike. And no matter how secure that place is, you’ll want to get your bike insured.

Kick Start Versus Electric Start

Traditionally, all dirt bikes had kick starts, but nowadays electric starts are becoming more standardized. Most, though not all, dirt bikes with an electric start will have a kick start as well, so no matter what kind of bike you get, it’s helpful to understand how both work.

Kick starts use a lever to manually spark the engine. This works a little differently based on whether a bike is a 2 or 4-stroke. A 2-stroke bike will usually require only one firm kick on the lever, while a 4-stroke bike is more complicated. Instead of kicking the lever, the rider has to crank the engine by gently pushing the kick starter up and down until the engine is warmed up enough to start. The rider can then kick the lever like on a 2-stroke bike.

Electric starts use a battery to start the engine, which means the rider just has to push a button instead of kicking a lever. Sometimes, however, a rider might try to use their electric start only to have the battery fail. If this happens, they then have to revert to manually start the engine using their kick start.

Is It Possible to Install A Key Ignition On a Dirt Bike?

Even though dirt bikes aren’t designed to use keys, it is possible to install a key ignition switch on one yourself.

The advantage of installing a key ignition is that it gives you a little extra security, but before you buy a kit, you’ll want to consider whether it’s really worth your time and money. Anyone who knows how to hotwire a vehicle would have no problem bypassing a key ignition, so it would only be useful in deterring inexperienced thieves. Something like a heavy-duty cable lock can actually be more effective simply because it takes more noise, effort, and equipment to take it off of a bike.

However, if you feel that the added security is substantial enough in your situation that installing a key ignition switch would be useful, you can find relatively inexpensive kits like this Universal Pin Key Ignition Switch on Amazon. Or you also may be able to find them at your local motorcycle or auto parts store.

You’ll also want to make sure that you have the necessary tools to install a key ignition switch, and that you feel comfortable about modifying your bike, as well. Before you buy a kit, check to see what tools are required, and read through the instructions if possible. You can also look for tutorials online.

Basically, just make sure that you understand the risks and skills involved beforehand. Even though it’s not terribly difficult to install a key ignition, you will have to mess around with the wiring, which can be a delicate process. If you’ve never done any kind of modifications on a bike before, or simply don’t have a lot of experience working with electrical wiring, it would be best to ask someone with more expertise to help you out.

Also, keep in mind that having a key for your dirt bike doesn’t make it impossible to steal, so consider keeping a sturdy lock on it anyways.

Jim Harmer

I'm the co-owner of Dirt Bike Planet. I live in Star, Idaho and enjoy dirt biking with my wife and two boys throughout the Idaho mountains.

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