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Thread: Riding in Snow

  1. #1
    ->Live2Ryd2Live<- m0t0-ryder's Avatar
    Join Date
    Mar 2005
    South Bay
    '88 R100 GS + more

    Riding in Snow

    The "Chillin at Stonyford" post has raised a few questions about riding in snow.

    In order to keep my thoughts visible (in it's own thread and not "buried" in the Chillin one) I am posting up this new thread.

    If you have other good experiences or suggestions on riding in snow please do reply back and share them!

    Without further adieu...

    My thoughts when Riding on snow...

    I think riding in snow can most closely be associated with riding in sand.
    Maybe to some degree mud too… but really sand feels closest to the bike feedback you get when in snow.
    Probably the real difference with riding in sand versus riding in snow is that in sand you want to (need to) go faster to ride better. In snow that is usually not the case.

    The real limiting factors when riding on snow (from my limited and years old experience) are as follows...

    - Surface under the snow

    A hard sub-surface, such as pavement, concrete or even hard packed (& frozen) dirt will be much "slippery" than a loose dirt or gravel sub-surface.
    Frozen areas (think melt off) will be more difficult to deal with on a hard surface as well.

    The more “slippery” it gets/feels the more you have to pay attention to your lean angle, and the bikes tendency to move around laterally.

    - Depth of snow

    0 - 8" will result in "about" the same handling characteristics.
    8” to 18” will also have their specific additional characteristics.
    18” plus get into the “you can only go so” far range.

    I used to love blasting into a level field with about 18-24” of fresh powder… then toss it into a turn.
    At first the bike would just slide, until enough snow started “packing up” under/along my wheels… then the turn would take affect and a power slide feeling corner was performed. Power on/up and enjoy!

    - Consistency of the snow

    Is it really soft and light snow. You can go much deeper.
    But… soft & light usually mean really cold… so watch for areas that have melted, then re-frozen.

    If it’s heavy & wet you will get better traction… but you will also “pack it up” quicker and will require increased steering input to keep tracking the direction you want to go. The bike will also tend to drop into (or follow) previous tracks and want to move you around some as it moves around in this previous track.

    - Levelness of riding area

    You can ride in much deeper snow on a level surface than you can on a hill.
    This, of course, depends on the other factors above.
    You can go up a surprisingly steep off road hill with 8” of snow if it’s on soft loamy sub-surface.
    You’ll just break right thru the snow to the good traction dirt below.
    Try the same on a paved surface and you may just find yourself spinning and sliding all over the place all the way up.

    The above conditions are, of course, all inter-related.
    Example… even a slight uphill can be a momentum stopper if it is asphalt and covered with frozen water.
    (I am assuming we are not running studded tires here)

    I remember as a youth (my twenties) riding down from the foothills of Silverton OR to get to work on my Z1... occasionally in the snow.
    Sometimes I did this with a roommate on back with me. (He was the crazy one!)
    This was about a 6 or 7 mile ride and my only transportation (then) was the bike.
    What I did was to stay next to the shoulder of the road so if I did start sliding I would aim it for the dirt part. That way I would "break thru" the snow/ice and (at least) have some dirt for traction.
    Of course I kept my speed much lower than when the road was just wet, or dry. Probably didn't get much above 45 mph when commuting in the snow.

    Other considerations…

    Feet up or feet down

    I try to ride feet up (standing when possible) when riding off road in the snow.
    I switch to sitting down and feet down if I feel the sub-surface will be hard and possibly frozen… causing the bike to tend to drift around. (which can happen surprisingly quickly).
    The re-assurance of having your feet down to stabilize the bike goes a long way in keeping the rider comfortable in their control. It can also help prevent a drop if the bike does spin out or get to far sideways to continue.


    Try to keep wheelspin to a minimum.
    What you are looking for is traction. Fast spinning wheels seldom offer the traction as ones that are turning slower.
    If you’re revving it to the hilt and the wheel is spinning really fast you’re less likely to get traction and more likely to bring the rear end around (when moving)… or just dig a hole (when sitting still).
    Keep the RPM down a little and slip the clutch (as needed) to maintain momentum.

    Previous vehicle tracks

    Riding in fresh, untracked snow is (usually) much easier than riding in snow that has other riders (or vehicle) tracks in it. This is because these tracks tend to make the bike want to move around as the front wheel contacts the “lips” at the edges of these previous tracks.
    The deeper the track, the heavier the snow, the colder (more frozen) these tracks are the more the bike will tend to move around in them.
    The exceptions would be in very very deep snow where it is easier to ride in the already plowed path. It is also (usually) easier to follow an already broken path on singletrack thru the woods than to break your own path. Plus the added benefit of knowing that somebody else already made it thru there and there are (probably) no “surprises” on that path. Surprises here would include snow hidden rocks, logs, stumps, ditches, holes… you get the idea.


    The weather forecast should have a strong influence on whether you go out into it or not.
    If a storm is moving in, or it’s changing from snow to rain (or vice versa) you should probably stay off the road/trail. The changing weather can make it real difficult to “read” the road/trail conditions as described above.

    There may be (should be) more on this subject that I haven't remembered (at this time) so again, please... if you have more tips reply and share.

    Sometimes it takes a whole tankful of fuel before you can think straight!

    Ride as if your life depended on it!

  2. #2
    Gone away GXXRDRVR's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jun 2005
    Pinole CA
    is dangerous!

    Re: Riding in Snow

    Thanks for the tips!
    Andy C

  3. #3
    Gone away dakariste's Avatar
    Join Date
    Dec 2005
    chico calif
    KTM 990

    Re: Riding in Snow

    This is pretty impressive! Thanks for taking the time to put that out there.

  4. #4
    Gone away motorrad's Avatar
    Join Date
    Nov 2004
    Carmel Valley

    Re: Riding in Snow

    Quote Originally Posted by dakariste
    This is pretty impressive! Thanks for taking the time to put that out there.
    +1. Thank you John for documenting and passing on some really good info. Now the fun part. Finding some tame snowy trails to test on with my current Metzler Tourances. I think some new dual purpose knobbies are required for this type of riding
    You can't always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you get what you need - The Rolling Stones

  5. #5
    Gone away Beemer bum's Avatar
    Join Date
    Aug 2005
    Hong Kong
    98' BMW r1100r (Ol'

    Re: Riding in Snow

    I wonder if I can get dual-sport tires on my ol' Gurt?
    Do they make dual sports in a 120-70-17 & 160-60-18?
    Yeah, I know wierd BMW tire sizes...

  6. #6
    Gone away TedShred's Avatar
    Join Date
    Oct 2004
    R1200GS, M900Sei, K1200LT, DRZ400E

    Re: Riding in Snow

    I tried it once on my DRZ and it wasn't much fun. Now we were in some pretty deap snow on a dirt trail but I won't go looking for snow again...

    Ted Shred
    2006 DRZ400E
    2005 R1200GS
    2007 G650X Challenge
    2003 K1200LT

  7. #7
    Flyin Low Bandit12's Avatar
    Join Date
    May 2006
    Quincy, CA
    97 Suzuki Bandit 12S

    Re: Riding in Snow

    Thanks for the info John! Until I get a DS bike, anybody know where I can get a studded snow tire for the back of the Bandit?

    A Veteran is someone who once wrote a blank check to "The USA” for an amount of "up to and including my life." That is Honor, and there are way too many people in this country who don't understand it.

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