One of the most common ways to personalize a dirt bike is by applying decals and graphics. Typically, dirt bike graphics are made by printed on vinyl with an adhesive backing, then are laminated to protect the colors from wear. Depending on the thickness and grade of materials used, some suppliers’ products vary in difficulty of application. The bike also has a lot to do with the challenge – bikes with intricate shapes in the plastics can be really tough to lay graphics. We apply a lot of graphics at the shop because customers are afraid to mess them up. While we don’t mind putting them on for you, here are a 10 simple steps that can make that task easier and extend the life of the decal.
Tip 1: Start with a clean surface. Oil, spray polish, and dust don’t do well for the adhesion process. Thoroughly wash the bike then wipe down the surfaces you’ll be applying decals with contact cleaner or rubbing alcohol. Even new bikes and fresh plastics have an oily coating, so always wipe them down. If the plastics are in bad shape or have deep scratches, you may consider replacing them before applying graphics.
1.1 Clean your hands! Then clean them again. Even skin oils can prevent good adhesion.
Tip 2: Applying some heat via heat gun or hair dryer can help soften old adhesives if removing old decals. If they leave adhesive you’ll need to ensure it is all removed. This can be a chore. Rubbing alcohol and a rag or Goo-Gone can help. (If you use a product like Goo-Gone be sure to wipe the residue away).
Tip 3: Plan the process out. Examine the graphic and figure out how it will lay before removing the backing. A little forethought goes a long way!
Tip 4: Graphics work best applied dry. If you must use applicator fluid, if you don’t have commercially available spray, you can use a small spray bottle with a few drops of Dawn dish soap. Windex also works. Whichever you use, use as little as possible. If you apply too much, it can take a while to dry and the graphic will be hard to stick in place. If we use any spray, we hold the graphic in the air at a distance and mist into the air just enough to moisten the decal. Another problem with sprays is that they can break down the adhesives and inhibit them from sticking as well as possible.
Tip 5: Use holes and edges in key places to lineup the decal. Then tack it down in the center and work the graphic on by pushing outwards from the center as to not trap air pockets.
Tip 6: Don’t push too hard until you’re sure it’s where you want it. It’s okay to gently peel it off and try again but be careful not to stretch it. If you apply heat and pressure too soon, it can be too late to undo if the graphic doesn’t line up right.
Tip 7: Squeegees work but leave scratches. If this doesn’t bother you then go ahead. If you like using a squeegee but don’t want scratches, get some sticky Velcro and stick the soft portion around the tip of the squeegee. We like to use a combination of a micro fiber rag and just our thumbs. Find what works for you.
Tip 8: Sometimes wrinkles happen. If it’s a big one, something isn’t lined up right and you should consider trying again. If the wrinkle is small and near an edge, a lot of times this can be fixed with some heat and forcing it down until it stays. The vinyl can sort of stretch or absorb excess material in small amounts. Sometimes graphics have a hard time sticking in sharp interior angles. Use heat and the edge of a squeegee to form and push the graphic into place.
Tip 9: Use heat to activate the adhesive once you’re happy with where they lay. This softens the adhesives and helps them to bond to the surface of the plastics. Put some extra focus on the edges and press them down while they are warm. This helps to prevent them from peeling at the edges. Keep an eye out for the decal starting to lift around areas where there may have been a wrinkle and use additional heat and pressure to push it back down.
Note: Never melt the graphic and too much heat can leave burn marks in the material.
Tip 10: An area that wears really badly is around front lower portion of the air box where the boots rub. You may consider using a razor blade and cutting the front several inches off the graphic if you think it may peel easily. Cutting a little off to start with can save you from having to replace the entire piece later.
If you like the graphics shown in the video, stop by AJAX to order a set for $170.