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In order for a dirt bike to be street legal in California, it has to adhere to the state's emissions guidelines. Street legal dirt bikes must also have functional mirrors, lights and a windshield — along with other equipment conventional vehicles possess.
If your dirt bike isn't street legal, you might be able to convert it to a street-legal model, but only if it already meets the state's emissions requirements. It's likely easier to buy a street legal dirt bike than to retrofit an older model. California publishes a list of compliant bikes on its DMV website.
Are dirt bikes street legal in California?
Dirt bikes aren't typically street legal in California. Classified by the state government as off-highway vehicles (OHV), dirt bikes are subject to the state's stringent emissions regulations. Before you can legally ride on the state's OHV trails, your dirt bike has to be certified compliant by California's Air Resource Board (CARB).
CARB awards a red or green sticker to all OHVs, including dirt bikes. Owners of vehicles produced in 2003 and later can ride their bikes on OHV roads year-round. These bikes can carry the CARB's green emissions sticker. Older models or newer dirt bikes with poor emissions, which have red stickers, can only be operated seasonally.
Your bike must have a green sticker from CARB for it to be street legal. If it isn't a green model, you'll be unable to convert it to a street legal dirt bike, regardless of any alterations you make to its emissions systems.
Even green-stickered OHVs aren't necessarily street legal. While you can buy green-stickered dirt bikes in California, they may not have the necessary equipment that would enable you to drive them safely on the state's roads.
If you're visiting from another part of the country and driving a dirt bike that's registered out of the state, you aren't subject to the same laws as Californians. You don't need to display a green or red sticker to use the state's OHV tracks. Your dirt bike still isn't street legal, though. And it's illegal not to re-register your bike with California plates if you move to the state.
How to make a dirt bike street legal in California
The easiest way to make dirt bike street legal in California is to buy a model that already meets the state's emissions and highway-safety standards. This way, you can avoid the high costs normally associated with converting an older noncompliant dirt bike into a street legal one.
To be able to ride your dirt bike on an OHV track any time, you have to have a green-stickered model. The emissions system of any modified dirt bike will have to be inspected as a specially constructed or kit vehicle (SPCNS) to ensure it complies with California's emissions requirements.
If you bought a green-stickered model that's not street legal, you'll have to customize it. Street legal dirt bikes have to have the safety features found on conventional motorcycles and automobiles, such as windshields, horns, adequate brakes and so on. Finally, a vehicle that's operable both on and off the highway requires two fees and two forms of registration.
Bikes with red stickers: These bikes have low-quality emissions systems and can't be converted for highway use even with modifications. They are only operational on OHV tracks seasonally.
Bikes with green stickers: These types of bikes meet the emissions standards dictated by California, either as the result of customization or by the manufacturer's design.
Street legal dirt bikes: These bikes have always met the state's emissions laws and are equipped with windshields, blinkers, horns and other safety features.
Is dirt bike insurance required?
If your dirt bike is street legal, you must carry insurance. As in other states, California treats most vehicles equally for insurance purposes: A dirt bike rider has to carry the same insurance as motorcyclists or car drivers. California requires three forms of liability insurance: for bodily and property damage.
California's dirt bike riders must purchase coverage that is equal to or exceeds the following limits:
- $15,000 bodily injury liability coverage for injuries to one person in an accident.
- $30,000 bodily injury liability coverage for total injuries in an accident.
- $5,000 property damage liability coverage.
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Do you need a license to ride a dirt bike in California?
Just as with a regular motorcycle, you need a Class M license to ride a street legal dirt bike in California. Applying for a license is easy if you’re over 18: It involves passing a written and vision test and passing a driving test.