Off-Highway Vehicle Questions and Answers
What You Need To Be Legal!
By Mike Hobbs and MXOffroad Staff
Bernardino National Forest, U.S. Forest Service, Southern
As an OFF-ROADER, you have responsibilities
to adhere to while riding on public land, even if you're unaware of
them. When you go out and buy an off-road motorcycle -- more than
likely -- the dealer you purchase it from won't tell you the laws
that must be followed. Most won't even tell you whether your bike
is awarded the red (stricter than death) sticker or green (hit the
lotto and ride year round) sticker.
"Stricter Than Death Sticker"
California, this "Stricter Than Death Sticker" creates a problem,
because red sticker bikes are supposedly (If This Is Fact, No Need
For "Supposedly") restricted to certain times of the year. Here
lies part of the predicament that a new rider faces, but
unfortunately, ignorance of the laws won't get you out of a ticket.
However, knowing about the laws in respect to off road motorcycling
in the National Forest just might.
mind, that to the non-riding public you are perceived as a
wide-eyed nut case. So, for the most part, they could care less
about your plight and what laws you need to follow. This in turn
means you're not going to see a public service announcement on the
television letting you know what it takes to be a legal dirt biker.
Although your friends here at ORC are about to open a can of
legislative slugs, which we'll probably regret and will probably
never be able to seal up again.
From my own
personal experiences and encounters with other riders, we just want
to ride, have a good time, and not be bothered by pesky rangers. On
the other side of the coin, the Forest Service has a job to
If you're like me, your stomach knots
up tighter than a rat's sphincter each time you deal with law
enforcement types on the trail. This is why; I make sure to be
legal. Even though, I still feel hassled at times. This feeling
might be due to environmental groups that want to put an end to
off-road motorcycling in it's entirety. This causes some of us to
view rangers as being on the other side and against us because one
of their tenets is to protect the environment. Not that destroying
the environment is something we want to do, but a red flag goes up
when we hear words like that. There's no telling for sure the
loyalties of a particular agency or agent you might have contact
with, but one thing is for sure, you'd better be legal or a day
before the judge may be in your crystal ball.
With that said, I called a truce with the U.S. Forest Service,
specifically in the San Bernardino National Forest to see if we
could come to some common ground regarding what is expected of us
as "off-roaders." Please don't take this as the "law of the land,"
think of it as a Pow-Wow gathering or a "trailside chat." We'll try
and clear up all of the issues that face dirt bikers wanting to
ride and enjoy the National Forest trails.
Before we dive into details, here's a minimum list of
things to know to legally ride in the National Forest.
1. Forest approved spark arrestor. U.S.F.S.
approved spark arrestor should be stamped somewhere on the muffler.
If you don't have any markings, the pipe probably isn't
2. California off road
registration-green or red sticker
If riding in the Los Padres, Angeles or San Bernardino National
Forests, you might be smacked with a fine if your tow vehicle is
not in possession of a parking permit. Look for signs as you enter
the riding area.
Now on to our
conversations with the San Bernardino Forest Service
Q: There's some controversy over the green
and red sticker. If a bike like
What You Need To Be
a 1999 KDX 200 with a "C" (designates red sticker) in the eighth
digit of the VIN number has been given a green sticker at time of
initial registration, will he receive a ticket? Assuming he would,
how is it the owner's responsibility to double check DMV?
A: I've gotten the general impression, from
several sources within several
agencies, that until the DMV can show a more consistent and
for properly and correctly issuing green and red stickers, the
management agencies are not going to place a high priority on
of the red sticker restrictions. That is not to say that an
"ranger" couldn't issue a citation if he chose to -- since the
are on the books. Reading the relevant statute, the law does
mention whether an OHV was issued and is displaying a green or
sticker, it speaks about specific models of OHV's that do not meet
current State emissions standards and therefore can only be
the appropriate seasons. In plain English, the law applies to the
vehicle (designated by the "3" or "C" in the eighth digit of the
VIN) not what type of registration sticker it is displaying. So, by
law, any non-complying OHV
could be cited for operation outside the appropriate season
the sticker it is issued by DMV. So ultimately it is not what
have, it is what model OHV you're operating. And that is
determined by the VIN. As for "double checking the DMV," I guess
that would be an example of the old adage, "Ignorance of the law is
OHV Volunteer Program Coordinator
San Bernardino National Forest Association
Q: I've heard that in Northern California
they are randomly checking bikes with a decibel meter. Again, how
is someone supposed to know if his or her bike is too loud or not?
Let's face it, someone buying a used bike has no idea about
modifications that the previous owner did.
A: As for the sound issue, you're right. There is no easy way
for a rider to
know whether his aftermarket exhaust system meets or exceeds noise
without either getting it tested or consulting with someone who
experience with the noise levels of various bike/exhaust
the best of my knowledge, all stock exhaust systems do meet CA's
limit for OHV's. Conversely, many if not most of the aftermarket
exhausts for the new breed of performance four strokes (YZ/WR
DRZ400, XR650, KTM RFS, etc.) exceed the limit and are in the range
to 107 dB. Noisy bikes are a personal pet peeve of mine and I have
and will continue to work to help educate the riders and promote
is better." Both of my bikes, a heavily modified DR350 and a 2001
520, are running with stock exhausts, and I have no plans to change
Here on the San Bernardino
National Forest, we've begun to offer educational
sound checks at OHV staging areas such as the RR tracks in Cajon
the Pinnacles Staging Area north of Lake Arrowhead. Hopefully,
more of these opportunities for riders to get their bikes checked
levels and maybe we could even make a better effort to preannounce
opportunities so the riders could make plans to go riding and get
bikes checked. I, myself, would also like to do more of this at the
organized dual sport rides that travel the San Bernardino. We also
check every single bike that competes in the Checkpoint Enduro,
recently held last September. My advice/opinion is simply, "Keep
stock." I'm glad to hear that FMF has come out with their "Q"
series and I
hope they perform as advertised. On the other hand, from my
experience, it seems the Big Gun "Quiet Core" units only make a
attempt at reducing noise output from "obnoxious" to "not quite
obnoxious." Trail riding is just that, recreational riding for FUN,
racing where every last HP counts.
So, in closing, I'd like to let you know that personally I'm a
advocate for OHV recreation, since I ride and race as often as I
I'm also a big proponent of following the rules and being
and that is only accomplished through knowledge of those rules. So
I don't come off as a "stick-in-the-mud" when it comes to OHV
I've just seen over the years how the OHV community has harmed
through disregard or manipulation of the law.
OHV Volunteer Program Coordinator
San Bernardino National Forest Association
Q: A few guys I rode with last weekend told
horror stories about harassment from one of the rangers in the San
Bernardino National Forest. The ranger told one of the guys that
his XR650R with a license plate wasn't street legal. (They weren't
on the street so he took the blinkers off for the dirt). The ranger
still demanded proof of insurance.
talked with my folks about the complaints regarding the conduct of
Forest Protection Officers on Baldy Mesa. I'm not too clear on just
what transpired, but I have a couple of comments. We are making
every effort to provide an OHV opportunity on Baldy Mesa while
protecting the natural resource. I think we can do both. We want
the riders to have a good time up there but we expect them to
follow the rules, confusing as they may be. Our main concerns are
beating up the land by riding off trails, and fire protection. We
also have an obligation to enforce the rules of the green sticker
program. We get kind of frustrated when riders show up with a
California license plate on their bike, no green sticker, but not
meeting all the street legal requirements. One set of rules or the
other need to be adhered to.
expect my officers to behave professionally and to keep in mind
that we are serving the public as well as protecting the land. I
believe they are all well motivated to do that, but if there was a
slip, then I am very concerned about that. For my part, I am
working on establishing a well-defined trail system on Baldy Mesa
that will be well marked and signed (including clear regulations),
and that will be a fun experience to use. We aren't there yet but I
expect to be by the end of next summer. I'm sorry that for the time
being we are providing an inadequate trail system while still
having to enforce all the regulations. Please bear with us for now.
Again, in addition to providing recreational opportunities, our
main concern is fixing damage to the land up there and preventing
additional damage, and preventing fires (spark arresters). We all
need to keep that in mind.
for all the work that you and your organization are doing. It
a tremendous help and we do appreciate it.
Bob Wood, Recreation Officer
Front Country Ranger District
San Bernardino National Forest
Question from Kevin Gorzny- ORC art
director: "I would like a good explanation of how the whole
"Green Sticker/Red Sticker" thing works. I have always known about
it, but being from the Midwest, I never had to worry about it. Who
needs what? Red? Green? Will I need one when I go to CA to ride
(legally)? How do I get one if necessary?"
A: When Ronald Regan was the Governor of California, he
worked with a group of legislators and created the California Green
Sticker program. In short, this program was organized as an effort
to manage while providing legal opportunities for the states OHV
enthusiasts. The Green Sticker is a form of license plate used for
off road vehicles. It is a requirement for vehicles that are not
legally able to obtain a street license plate.
People who have street legal vehicles can
acquire a green sticker if they so desire (i.e. they only operate
the vehicle off road or they want to contribute to the Green
Sticker fund by having dual registration, a plate and a green
sticker). The dollars generated from these Green Stickers are
combined with 1/10 of 1% of the California Gas Tax. The revenue
that is generated is available to public land management agencies
along with county, state and local entities in an effort to manage
OHV recreation. Use of this money can be used for construction,
maintenance, restoration, land acquisition, law enforcement,
information/education and facilities. These monies are divided up
through a competitive grant application process by the California
sticker was developed through the California Air Resource Board
(CARB). With an ever growing population, California is trying to
improve the air quality state wide. The restrictions become more
stringent every year. In 1997, CARB wanted all 'gross polluters' to
become ineligible for registration in California. This meant all
two strokes and some four strokes would be banned from using public
lands (having no registration).
group of stakeholders was formed including manufactures,
dealerships, enthusiasts and land management agencies. Working
together, this stakeholder group was able to come up with a
compromise with CARB. In areas that have very good air quality,
these 'gross polluters' would be able to ride year round. After
all, the air quality meets all standards set by CARB themselves.
However, in areas that have a history of bad air quality, the
riding would be limited to "riding seasons."
These riding seasons were established to limit
the amount of additional particulates these gross polluters would
produce. Now, the problem, our DMV has been issuing green and red
stickers to all OHV's regardless of type. This has taken the
integrity out of the green/red sticker ideology. According to the
State, if a vehicle has a red or green sticker, it is legal to ride
year round (due to the mix up). However, any law enforcement
officer has the right to cite a red sticker vehicle for riding out
of season (technically). The DMV has a "flag" for gross polluters.
These vehicles should only receive a red sticker. The eighth digit
of the VIN number is stamped as a "C" or a "3." I am sorry for
going on so long about this, I wanted to illustrate why our state
has such a complex registration system.
The out of state rider needs to have all of the required
their vehicle that the state the vehicle is stored in requires. If
they are staying less then two weeks they don't need any California
registration. California had a temporary green sticker system for
folks like this but it has since been abandoned. The riders do,
however, need to have current registration from the state they came
from (if the state registers their motorcycles and quads) and have
identification to prove their state of residency.
Forest Service Liaison
OHV Volunteer/Adopt-a-trail Programs
Here's a quick synopsis of what you need to
know to stay legal in California:
1. At the time this article was published, the red
sticker seasonal restrictions are not being enforced. Although, you
could still be cited for riding a red sticker motorcycle during the
time it's deemed unlawful to do so. If you're on a red sticker bike
during the off-season, be polite if asked by a ranger to see your
registration, it could save you from getting a ticket.
2. If you have an aftermarket exhaust
system on your motorcycle, it's probably too loud. As of right now,
the F.S. might check it to let you know how loud your exhaust
system is but won't issue a citation.
3. With a dual sport registered bike you need to follow the
same laws regarding equipment as if riding on the street. This
includes proof of insurance. If you have a green sticker and
license plate you need to follow the rules for one or the
4. Out of state riders are welcome to visit CA and ride in
our National Forests without getting any special permits. Although,
you'd better be able to prove you live outside of
See you on the
Mike "Baja" Hobbs
Air Resources Board
(800) 242-4450 (USA only) or (800) END-SMOG (California
To contact in writing:
P.O. Box 2815, Sacramento, CA 95812
What You Need To Be