Riding Dirt Bikes on Snow: How well does it work? (Plus some tips!)

Here where I live in Idaho, snow falls and covers the ground from October to April (sometimes even longer than that). And as much as I love snow sports like skiing and snowboarding, nothing replaces the joy and adrenaline rush that I experience while I’m riding my dirt bike. So, I took it upon myself this past winter to learn what it took to ride a dirt bike in the snow.

Dirt bikes handle well in the snow as long as the rider makes modifications to the motor and tires that will make it “winterized”. How well a dirt bike works in the snow also depends on the conditions of the snow; however, modifications for each possible condition of the snow can make the dirt bike work better in winter months.

If you want to know more about what modifications are necessary for riding your dirt bike in the snow as well as all the little things I learned about making it the best experience possible, keep on reading! I’m here to tell you every single thing you need to know before hitting those snowy terrains.

Necessary Modifications

Tires

When I first took to learning about dirt biking in the snow, the thing I heard from friends and read on the internet the most was that it is absolutely essential to either change or modify your tires so that they can handle the snow.

I’ll be totally honest with you; I didn’t take this piece of advice at first. I thought, “My dirt bike’s tires are sturdy enough as they are.” And they were, but only on that first ride just after the first snow of the winter season.

My regular tires worked just fine in the snow when the ground was still warm and the snow was just a thin dusting on the earth. It was almost like there was nothing different from the summer months because the ground was just barely softer and more slippery than usual.

Here in Idaho, though, when the cold comes, it comes fast. Just two weeks after the first snow, I took my dirt bike out in the snow again. By then, there were a few inches of snow on the ground and the ground was definitely frozen (or at least, closer to being frozen than it was before). Idaho was well on its way to its infamous cold and snowy winter.

Let’s just say it did not go well. The snow was getting packed into my tires. I was slipping and sliding all over the place. The whole thing was pretty embarrassing. Let’s also say that I learned my lesson. Needless to say, I bought tires that work for the snow later that week.

Dirt bike snow tires are basically just regular dirt bike tires but they have studs in them to keep traction. The studs stick out from the tires, on average, about 7 or 8 millimetres. What the studs do is grip the frozen ground so that scary and embarrassing things like slipping and sliding will not happen.

Once I had some studded tires on my dirt bike, riding in the snow was a breeze. I could get started and slow down on my dirt bike without my tires spinning. There was no more slipping. No more sliding. Snow didn’t pack into my tires anymore, either.

You can get studded snow tires for your dirt bike at just about any motorcycle shop or store that sells other dirt biking gear. While prices will vary, I found that average studded tires cost between $500 and $600.

Because snow tires can get pretty pricey, many dirt bikers choose to make their own studded tires for their dirt bikes to ride on the snow. The best way to do this is to stick screws into your tires.

I found in my research that the best screws for making studded tires are between 3/8″ and 1-1/2″ inches long. Going any longer than that can potentially puncture the tubes of the tires. How many screws you need to make your studded tires will depend on how big your tires are (and that depends on how big your dirt bike is), but on average, I found that most people usually need about 3 bags of screws for the back tire and 1-2 bags for the front tire. Kold Kutter is a great brand to buy these screws from! You can buy a pack on Amazon for about $20.

If you do it right, DIY snow tires for your dirt bike can work really well. However, I’ve heard complaints from people who did it this way saying that their screws fell out while they were riding their dirt bike and that they got the job done on the snow, but they weren’t super sturdy. People have also complained that the screws puncture the tube of their tire, even if they didn’t think the screws were that long.

Whether you choose to buy your studded tires or make them yourself, they are absolutely essential for riding dirt bikes in the snow. Without them, you’ll undoubtedly be slipping and sliding all over the place. Not only is it embarrassing, but you could get really hurt.

Motor

The motor on your dirt bike is also really important to modify when you’re planning on riding your dirt bike in the snow. You don’t have to buy anything new to swap what you already have out with, but you’re definitely going to need some extra pieces to keep the motor safe from the wet snow you’ll be tearing through.

Bear in mind that I’m lumping a few different things into this section for the sake of efficiency, even if it isn’t all “the motor”.

The first thing I’ll talk about is the carburettor. If you’re riding your dirt bike in the snow, you’ll definitely want to cover the sides of your carburettor. Covering your carburettor will prevent freezing when the snow gets thrown around it. If your carburettor freezes, you might deal with fuel starvation or your throttle getting stuck. Neither one of those things would make a good day. A good way to cover the carburettor is zip tying a set of plastic covers onto it.

If you have a two stroke engine on your dirt bike, you’ll also want to make sure that your air fuel mixture is rich. This will help it work better in the cold temperature.

This isn’t a modification, but make sure to watch for snow buildup in your air box, especially if you’re riding in deep snow. If snow builds up too much and covers your air box, the filter will freeze. This is especially problematic for two stroke engines.

How Common Is It?

As I researched about and experimented with dirt bikes in the snow, I found that it’s not a super common activity, not even among some of the most avid dirt bikers I’m friends with.

However, dirt biking in the snow is common enough that I was able to find a decent sized group of buddies to go dirting biking with during the winter.

I found that people who like dirt biking in the snow are those who like snow or cold weather in general, enjoy other winter sports like skiing or snowboarding, or simply don’t have the patience for winter to be over to get back out to do the things they love.

In my experiementing with dirt biking in the snow, I even found a small number of people who dirt bike in the winter exclusively because they like the cold better than heat and the trails are less busy. I think they have fair points.

Basically, riding a dirt bike in the snow is really hit or miss for people. If you’re looking to get into it and you’re able to drop the extra money required to make your dirt bike work in the snow, do it! Ask around and see if there’s anyone willing to go with you and once you’re out there, I’m sure you’ll find a few other people that you can form a community with.

Safety Concerns

Y’all know me. I am always here to let you know if a certain dirt biking activity is safe or not because I genuinely care about my dirt biking community.

Honestly, if you take the necessary steps to make your dirt bike functional in the snow, it’s as safe as riding your dirt bike any other time of the year or in any other condition.

What I would be more worried about is the risks associated with the cold, not the dirt bike. Being out in the cold for an extended period of time can lead to health issues and even death if you’re not careful. Hypothermia and frostbite are two of the most common cold-related risks that you can experience if you’re dirt biking in the snow.

Hypothermia happens with extensive exposure to the cold and your body can no longer produce sufficient heat. Basically, your body starts pulling blood away from the surface level and towards vital organs. When someone has hypothermia, moving and thinking are harder. Without their usual ability to think, people will not take action to get out of the cold and warm up. If it gets bad enough, hypothermia can lead to death.

To prevent hypothermia while dirt biking in the snow, do not keep yourself out in the cold for too long, even if you’re having a blast on your dirt bike. Set a time limit for yourself and stick to it. Extra warm clothing may also help.

Frostbite is another concern that occurs when bare skin is exposed to cold temperatures for an extended period of time. In some temperatures, frostbite can occur in less than 10 minutes. It happens progressively and doesn’t seem like an issue at first. Frostbite begins with the body just feeling cold and looking red and eventually turns the skin hard and pale. You’ll know frostbite is developing if your skin is red, swollen, and stinging. In extreme cases, the skin will turn black, the tissue will die, and amputation will be necessary.

You can prevent frostbite while dirt biking in the snow by making sure you are completely covered with weather-appropriate clothing. You should also set a time limit for yourself so that you are not out for too long.

I know this all sounds pretty scary, but as I’ve begun to say, there are ways to prevent these and you shouldn’t shy away from an awesome experience just because there’s risk involved. As long as you’re taking preventative steps and being smart, you’ll be fine. In the next section, I’ll give you some tips for staying warm and having a good time.

Tips to Make it Better!

Recommended Modifications and Gear

There are some things that you don’t need, but that you definitely want in order to stay safe and warm while dirt biking in the snow. Here are some things you should consider doing when you’re planning on taking your dirt bike for a ride in the snow:

  1. Install Grip Heaters. These are at the top of my list of non-essential recommendations because I found that while the bike didn’t need them to operate, I did. My hands got so cold while I was out in the snow, making operating the throttle, clutch lever, and front brake lever really hard. When I installed grip heaters, my life got so much easier during those cold, snowy days on my dirt bike. The extra warmth really helped me have a better time.
  2. Apply Athletic or Electrical Tape on the Clutch and Brake Levers. Adding some tape on some areas of your dirt bike can also help keep your hands from freezing because the metal won’t be so cold.
  3. Wear gloves intended for cold weather. Your regular dirt biking gloves are not enough. You want to wear riding gloves with a thick exterior but thin-ish palm to stay comfortable.
  4. Wear a balaclava. Do not let any skin go uncovered. Balaclavas are specifically designed to cover the areas of your face that are not covered by your goggles or helmet.
  5. Wear thermal underwear. This gets skipped over too often, leading to hypothermia or frostbite, but they make a world of a difference in keeping your body warm and protected while dirt biking in the snow. Make sure your thermal underwear are specifically for sports use so that they wick away your sweat for ultimate comfort.
  6. Wear wool socks. To keep your feet warm and prevent hypothermia or frostbite, wear amazing wool socks. Having cold feet will ruin your day on your dirt bike, and you don’t want that!
  7. Wear goggles with good ventilation. Your body will get hot but the outside is cold. This leads to fog, and that is never fun! If your goggles keep fogging anyways, carry some tissue in your dry bag to wipe away any fog or snow debris.
  8. Treat your boots with water repellant. Nothing ruins a day more than wet feet. Use a water repellant before heading out on your dirt bike in the snow to keep warm and dry.
  9. Wear a jacket and pants intended for winter riding. Just like your gloves, what you’d wear in August is not going to be enough when you’re dirt biking in the snow. Your gear should be thicker, more insulated, and a little heavier.
  10. Wear layers, but don’t overdo it. This sounds weird, but it’s really important for staying a safe temperature in the winter. A lot of people will overdo their layers when they are preparing to participate in a winter sport, leading them to overheat once they get moving. Try to wear 3 layers: thermal underwear, a warm, thin-ish middle layer, and then your outer gear. A general rule of thumb is that you want to be chilly (not cold) before you get moving. If you’re warm before you start dirt biking, you’ll be dying later.

General Tips

When you’re dirt biking in the snow, you’ll want to be sure you’re taking extra steps to have a great time and stay safe. Here are some that I found are super helpful when dirt biking in the snow:

  1. Start your dirt bike in advance. I found that starting my dirt bike up and letting it run for a few minutes before I left to go dirt biking in the snow would help everything run smoothly during those winter months. I noticed that when I let my bike run idly before actually taking it out helped my dirt bike run more smoothly in the snow. It’s kind of like letting your car warm up before taking your morning commute when it’s cold outside.
  2. Keep your dirt bike covered. Do you know how your car battery can drain in the cold if you don’t start it up frequently enough? Your dirt bike can do something similar with the engine. If you’re planning on riding your dirt bike in the snowy winter months, you might also be careful not to leave your dirt bike outside for a long period of time. The engine can freeze, especially if you let snow build upon it. Try to make use of a garage, basement, or even a tarp would do. I drove my car every day this winter, but my dirt bike only left once a week at most, so it got the garage. Shelter, in general, will help your dirt bike stay in good shape in the winter.
  3. Bring extra socks and gloves in a dry bag. Don’t rely on what you’ve got on you already. Snow is wet and cold, and if you are too, you’ll be miserable and be at higher risk for hypothermia and frostbite.
  4. STAY HYDRATED. Riding your dirt bike in the snow is no easy task, so it’s easy to get dehydrated. People tend to forget to drink water on a cold day, but you shouldn’t! Remember to keep taking drinks as you go throughout your day.
  5. Set a time limit for yourself and stick to it. I know I said this earlier, but it is so important. Hypothermia and frostbite happen when your body is exposed to the cold for too long. Wear a watch under your jacket or check your phone every time you take a drink of water. You should try to limit your time dirt biking in the snow to less than 3 hours at the very most.

Dirt biking in the snow can be an awesome experience and lead to some of the most fun you’ve ever had on a dirt bike. Just make sure your tires are studded, your motor is protected, and your body is covered. You’ll have the time of your life! Have fun out there, y’all!

Jim Harmer

I'm the co-owner of DBP. I live in Star, Idaho and enjoy dirt biking with my wife and two boys throughout the Idaho mountains.

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