Nov 8, 2013

PRODUCT REVIEW: Dirt Skins Fork Protectors

All Rights Reserved © 2007 Thomas W. Day

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Dirt Skins installed on my Suzuki DL-650 V-Strom.

Adventure touring is tough on motorcycle parts; chains and sprockets, wheels, and suspension parts wear quickly when exposed to dirt, grit, and clay. One of the most exposed pieces of your suspension are the fork seals. The usual way to protect the seals are expandable rubber fork boots. But installing fork boots requires removing the forks and supporting the motorcycle without the assistance of the front wheel. Many motorcyclists don't have the equipment to prop up the front end of a large touring bike.

The first time I tried a pair of Dirt Skins was way back in 1993, on my Yamaha TDM 850. They were a gift from a friend who decided he wanted to go the more traditional route with expandable rubber fork boots and sort of tossed the Dirt Skins my way as an afterthought. Initially, I couldn't get them to stay on the forks, so I tossed them into a corner of my garage and told my friend that I wouldn't be using them. A couple of days later, I tried to install them, again, and figured out the precise tension balance between the inner fork tubes and the outer fork tubes. It's a little bit of a trick, but when you get it right the Dirt Skins stay in place for thousands of miles, hassle-free.

A few weeks later, my friend called to say that he decided fork boots were too much trouble to install and wanted to know if he could have the Dirt Skins back. "No way," I replied, unsympathetically. "I've been using them and they're all dirty. You wouldn't want them now, anyway." He went away without a lot of complaint and I haven't heard from him for about 15 years. I'm pretty sure we're still friends, though.

After surviving for ten years and more than 60,000 miles on my Yamaha TDMs, I moved the Dirt Skins to my new 650 V-Strom before a trip to Alaska. They made it to AK and back, but were pretty worn out looking at the end of that trip. So I ripped them off and replaced them with a new pair. A more artistically inclined guy would have been tempted by the three flashy colors available, but I have a black motorcycle and black fork covers go nicely with that. In fact, they are mostly invisible under the fairing and behind the front fender shield.

Dirt Skins are a sheet of neoprene foam with hook-and-eye fasteners along one edge. For extra security, the manufacturer includes a pair of zipties to secure the Skins to the lower fork tube. If you get the tension right, the upper section slides freely while the lower section is stationary. Dirt Skins seal out most of the dust, mud, and road junk that would ruin your fork seals and provide some protection from flying objects (rocks, sand, etc.), extending the life of your forks and seals considerably. The 850 TDM was fairly well known for going through fork seals quickly, but my bikes never leaked a drop. When I got back home, every inch of my V-Strom was coated in Alaska and British Columbia clay, but when I pulled off my old Dirt Skins the forks were absolutely clean underneath.

The big advantage of Dirt Skins is that they are easy to install (and don't require front end disassembly or the removal of the forks from the triple-clamp). Another advantage is that they remove and reinstall easily for fork servicing and inspection. I've used both styles of fork protection and while I think the expandable boots provide better protection for serious off-road bikes, the Dirt Skins are good protection for a moderate-travel adventure touring street bike.

You can find them at www.dirtskins.com or call at 877-440-6458. They come in three lengths (short, medium, and long) and four colors (black, purple, red, and lime green).

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