From Dirt to Snow Bike – How To Maximize the Performance of Your Build
In growing numbers, moto riders are making the decision to extend their riding into the cold season by converting their dirt bikes into snow bikes.
While the basic conversion is fairly straightforward, a common question being asked is: How do I maximize the performance of my dirt bike for winter conditions?
Snow bikes are endlessly customizable, and many riders have their own ideas on how to build one for the best performance. What is the ‘right way’ or the ‘best way’ is often a matter of personal opinion.
At Innerspace Watersports (a snow bike dealership in BC’s Okanagan Valley) we see many different setups come through our doors. We’ve also built a fleet of our own snow bikes each season for many years, so we’ve had a lot of opportunity to learn what works well and what doesn’t.
This is ‘our way’ of building a snow bike.
The Basic Snow Bike Build
First of all, to build a snow bike a rider will need three things:
- A dirt bike
- A snow bike conversion kit such as one from Timbersled, YETI SnowMX, Mtn.Top Snowbikes, MotoTrax or CMX
- A fit kit to attach the conversion kit to your specific dirt bike model
It’s pretty safe to say we can all agree on these basics, so let’s go beyond!
How To Maximize the Performance of Dirt to Snow Bike Build
Temperature Monitoring and Air Management
For the most part, dirt bikes are not designed to be run in below 0˚C temperatures. Here is what we use to manage cold temperatures:
- Temperature gauge
- Engine jacket/pipe guard combo
- Belly guard/snow shield
- Cold air intake system
We want to see the coolant that circulates and manages the engine temperature of the bike running hot (but not too hot). A thermostat will regulate the engine temps to ensure that fuel-injected bikes don’t over-fuel.
Typically, the opening temperature of the thermostat is where the average temperature of the bike will be. A temperature gauge is a must so the rider can monitor the engine temperature and know if they need to do some quick pow turns to spray snow on a bike that’s running too hot, or make some adjustments to warm it up if it’s running cold.
The purpose of an engine jacket/skid plate combo is to prevent that fresh pow you’ll be riding from splashing up on the engine and cooling it down too much. Enclosing as much of the engine as possible will help the bike run at optimal temperatures.
Factory air box systems can absorb excess moisture and eventually freeze. If this happens, it can limit or stop air flow, which could be detrimental to the performance or health of the bike. Snow bike intakes that are specifically designed for use in snow are recommended to prevent snow or moisture from entering the engine.
Rider Ergonomics and Comfort
Dirt bikers stand. Snow bikers sit. That’s just the start of it. Here’s what we use to adapt the bike for performance and comfort on snow:
- Handlebar risers
- Coolant heated bars
- Aftermarket seat
- Handguards or gauntlets
- Extended shifter tip
- Snow bike specific pegs
Handlebar risers offset the handlebars to ensure rider posture is comfortable while seated for long periods. Handlebars that are plumbed into the engine coolant system will help keep your hands warm and happy.
A company called Seat Concepts produces snow-specific seats that are designed for use in the cold. These are more comfortable than your stock dirt bike seat, and they will not freeze while you’re out there shredding the pow.
Aside from the obvious bark bustin’ protection in tight trees, handguards also provide some wind shelter for your hands when it’s cold.
On a snow bike, riders wear snow boots, not moto boots—although snow bike specific crossover boots are becoming more readily available. But for riders in traditional snow boots, it can sometimes be a challenge to find the shifter tip quickly. The answer to this problem is an extended shifter tip, which is easier to manipulate with bulky boots.
Our big boots also need to fit on the pegs, so we run bigger foot pegs. These are specifically designed so that snow and ice can fall through the middle instead of collecting and causing a slippery mess under the feet.
Accessories That Make a Big Difference
Fuel can, booster pack, cargo solutions, lights—all these things serve a purpose that is obvious to the seasoned snow bike rider, but should be mentioned for aspiring snow bike builders and riders.
Here are some key accessories that will really improve your experience:
- Fuel can
- Booster pack
- Expandable tunnel bag
- Subframe bag/tool roll combo
- Wheel kit
- Double wide ramp
- Tie Downs or Bike Binderz
Snow bikes burn fuel faster than dirt bikes because they are under more load. If you want to enjoy a full day in the mountains, extra fuel is a must.
Non-kickstart bike owners should consider carrying a portable booster pack with them. Batteries do not like the cold, and if your bike has been sitting for a period of time it may be stubborn to start again.
On stormy days, an accessory headlight is a great addition to help you see better and be seen. For dirt bikes that don’t feature a headlight, it is a necessity after dark.
Riders who are experienced sledders will quickly discover that snow bikes have less storage space than sleds, so optimizing the tunnel space with a storage bag of choice is highly recommended.
Ramps and wheel kits make loading/unloading and transporting these bikes a breeze! And of course you’ll need tie downs to secure your snow bike in transit to and from the trailhead. Bike Binderz is a company that makes an innovative tie down system that works particularly well for snow bikes.
From Dirt to Snow Bike Performance, Your Way
What’s mentioned above is a great starting point for optimizing the performance of your dirt bike on snow. Some dedicated builders take it even further with more involved engine modifications like big bores, forced induction and nitrous kits.
Another way to customize your ride is by choosing a different suspension package for the snow bike kit or between the bike and the kit. A third shock can be added to the front fork as well. And, of course, custom colours are available as part of snowcheck programs.
Much like the terrain made accessible by these machines, the options available to customize and maximize the performance of your snow bike build are limitless!