If you own and maintain your own dirt bike, you really should get a torque wrench. When I first started taking care of my own bike, I did not have a torque wrench and I just did things by feel. I thought this would be just fine until I made the mistake that changed my mind. I was changing the oil on my dirt bike and tightening up the bolts that cover up the oil filter cover. As I started to turn, SNAP! The bolt broke off. One piece of the bolt was stuck in my bike and the other was on the ground.
Instead of me saving money by changing the oil on my dirt bike myself, I ended up spending $20 at Home Depot to try to get a tool that could remove the bolt. That failed, so I had to take it to a dirt bike shop which then charged me $65 to take it out. Altogether, I spent $85 on that oil change--all because I was too cheap to purchase a torque wrench.
The torque wrench that I recommend for dirt bikes is the Bikemaster 1/4" digital torque wrench (click to see it on Amazon.com). It's PERFECT for dirt bike maintenance! This wrench reads down to 2.2 ft/lbs, which covers every bolt on a dirt bike. I find that a 1/4" torque wrench is best for dirt bikes because it will work on most of the bolts you have. However, do keep in mind that some of the larger bolts will require a different torque wrench if you want to be perfect. You may consider buying a 3/4" drive torque wrench as well at some point down the line, but start with that Bikemaster 1/4" digital torque wrench as it'll work for most of the bolts you'll need to tighten accurately on your dirt bike.
There are other good options available at Sears and ACDelco also has a good option, but I hear too many complaints about those wrenches, so I recommend sticking with the Bikemaster.
What to Look for In A Dirt Bike Torque Wrench
In my opinion, these are the most important things to look for:
- Covers from 3 to to 15 foot-pounds of torque, which is the most common range for bolts on a dirt bike. Don't get a torque wrench that starts at 20 foot-pounds like an average torque wrench or it won't be much good on a dirt bike. You need one that can measure the low torque settings required for a dirt bike. While no bolt on a dirt bike needs to be tightened only to 2 foot pounds, it's nice to have one that starts low, because most torque wrenches are most accurate in the middle of their range.
- Digital readout (my preference)
- 1/4, 3/8, or 1/2" drive choice is difficult. If you can only buy one, get a 1/4" as it'll work for the most important bolts on a dirt bike. If you can buy two wrenches, add the 3/4".
- Backlit readout so you can easily see the measurement even when working in a dim garage environment
- Measurement to the tenth of a pound or better. Your manual likely says things like "tighten the bolt to 5.1 ft/lbs." You need a torque wrench that can do that.
- Something that will stay calibrated for a long time, and continue to be accurate. The cheap "beam and pointer" style torque wrenches can easily get bent and broken.
Not all torque wrenches are created equal. For example, I have heard a number of complaints about the Harbor Freight torque wrenches. I even heard from someone whose job is certifying tools for work in on aircraft and he said that in his testing the Harbor Freight store branches were all over the map. They were not accurate at all. So it is we're getting a good quality torque wrench that you know is correct.
One choice you'll need to make is between a digital torque wrench and an analog torque wrench. I personally lean toward the digital torque wrench if you can afford one, but often they can be very expensive (often over $200!). The benefit of the digital torque wrench is a nice, clear, very precise readout. Also, the scale is more accurate from light to heavy. On some analog torque wrenches, they are accurate at the middle of the scale, but they are not accurate at the start or the end of the scale.
Another thing to look for is to make sure that torque wrench will show you the poundage that you need on the lighter weight bolts. Many torque wrenches are made for heavy truck tires and other heavy machinery, and they won't show you an accurate measurement for between 10 and 15 pounds.
The last thing you'll need to know in choosing a torque wrench is to make sure it is the correct size. You need to make sure it will work with the bolts that you will commonly need on a dirt bike. Many of those bolts are much smaller than the bolts that you would find on a truck engine.
Types of Torque Wrenches to Consider
There are a number of different torque wrench styles on the market. Each of them have different pros and cons.
- Click Wrench - This style allows the user to set the torque setting and then the wrench will start to slip once that torque is reached to prevent over-tightening.
- Beam and Pointer Torque Wrenches - These are the cheapest torque wrenches out there. They have a little scale and a pointer like an old-school bathroom scale. The problem with these is that they can easily get bent and show inaccurate readings. They are also less accurate for lighter torque settings.
- Plumber's Wrench - Slips when the right torque is reached, but has a T-shaped handle.
- Hydraulic Torque Wrench - This is a motorized wrench used mostly for automotive. It's what you see on the side of an Indy Car Race in the pits.
- Deflecting Beam Wrench - The torque is applied to a deflecting beam instead of to a coil spring. Very accurate.
for info on types of torque wrenches.
Tips for Maintaining Your Torque Wrench
- Every torque wrench needs to be calibrated periodically to be perfectly accurate. That's why I like the BikeMaster as it provides an easy way for this to be done.
- Be careful not to drop or bang a torque wrench on things or else it can become inaccurate.
- Store the torque wrench in its box so as to protect it.
- Never use a torque wrench to untighten a bolt. Use it only for tightening and only when you need an accurate torque setting. Otherwise, use a regular wrench.
What If I Want Something Cheap?
I definitely recommend getting the Bikemaster torque wrench that I recommended at the start of this article. If you'll be maintaining a dirt bike for years to come, it's worth it to have a quality tool that will last you for years. However, it is expensive. If you can't spend that much money, then there's another cool option also made by Bikemaster that is the same technology, but it's an adapter instead of the wrench itself. You put this between your normal wrench and the socket and it gives you the readout. Check it out here on Amazon.com
. It essentially gives you the same results as the dedicated torque wrench, but you pay much less. It's just not as convenient is all.
What Is a Torque Wrench Anyway?
The purpose of the torque wrench is to help you to know the exact pressure you're using to turn the bolt. You may be surprised how light some
of the bolts on a dirt bike should actually be turned. Many people, like me, use too much force on the bolts which can cause strict parts and broken off bolts. The manual in of your dirt bike will tell you the exact poundage you should use when tightening each specific bolt on the bike. On my Yamaha PTR 230 dirt bike, there should be 4 foot-pounds of pressure on one bolt covering the oil filter 6 pounds on another and 8 pounds on the other. You won't know just by guessing, so you have to look it up. Your dirt bike manual is the only place you can find these numbers. If you don't have your manuals still you can easily look up the manual online.
Whatever torque wrench you choose, be sure you do get one. It really is worth the investment. Like I mentioned in the introduction, I spent $85 in fixing the bolt that I broke when I could have easily purchased a torque wrench for half that cost and not messed up my bike. My bike was out of commission for three weeks while I was getting it fixed right during the perfect part of the summer to be riding dirt bikes.
Once you get your torque wrench, don't be lazy and fail to use it. Every time you need to tighten a bolt on your bike, look it up in the manual to make sure you're tightening it to the correct amount. Eventually you'll memorize the most common numbers. You'll be glad to do a job well done.