Do you and your dirt bike suffer from SAD – Seasonal Affective Disorder?
If you live in the Rocky Mountains, the Snowbelt or any other place where the white stuff comes down in buckets, then you might, because you’re probably used to either parking your off-road machine and hopping on your snowmobile (assuming that you have one) or taking up another hobby altogether – like knitting – until the spring thaw. That’s the SAD truth.
But what if that high-tech 450cc thumper or 250-300cc ringy-dingy could be your sled? You know, take the power of your dirtbike combined with its light weight and the kind of maneuverability that the typical 400-plus-lb sled could only dream of having? Well, if you are a dirtbiker who suffers from SAD, there is a prescription for you and your bike: You can turn it into a “snowbike,” and free up some cash and some garage space by selling your dedicated snowmobile to someone else who doesn’t mind parking it in the corner for 6-8 months out of the year.
Other Snowbike Kit Manufacturers
There are other snowbike manufacturers that give dirtbike riders other options. 2Moto made the first snowbike kit, its kits are distinct by using the existing (or similar) drive chain to spin the track. This chain spins the track’s drivers which lay at the suspension’s rear. For more information, migrate to the official 2Moto website. There you will learn about the 2Moto kit. But, you should know, 2Moto is not in business. It was reorganized into “Radix Powersports” and is offering (leftover) kits for sale.
Another newcomer, and one that is gaining in popularity, is the Yeti MX snowbike kit. This kit from C3 Powersports, Alberta, Canada, is also unique in that it uses carbon fiber as the base material for the tunnel and gear housing, it relies on a belt drive system – the SyncroDrive – and a rear suspension built by NexTech, also from Canada. A monoshock/monolink is used for the rear suspension. For added information, go to CarbonSled.com to learn more.
Major OEMs have thus far stayed out of the snowbike market, but Arctic Cat has plans to change that with its new SVX 450. “It’s Arctic Cat’s goal to provide a new riding experience to a category of snow lovers that want the lightest, most affordable vehicle for the mountain market,” said Cat’s GM at a brief reveal last fall. Our sister publication, Snowmobile.com, has more insight into the snowbike revolution here.
There are a few snowbike kit manufacturers in the marketplace today (see sidebar), but Timbersled has already earned a solid reputation for developing snowbike kits that allow hard-core dirtbike riders to extend their moto passion into all seasons. Timbersled wasn’t the first manufacturer in the game, but they’re one of the best when it comes to developing a durable kit that’s built for serious boonie bashing. We first wrote about the Timbersled Mountain Horse snowbike kit for Off-Road.com in October 2011, and Timbersled has been going strong ever since.
Timbersled Products, Inc., founder Allen Mangum began designing and testing the Mountain Horse kit about eight years ago. Originally, the rear suspension was a narrowed-up snowmobile rear suspension, which Timbersled designed and built for long-track snowmobiles. Called the “Mountain Tamer” back then, it was based on a proven aftermarket (non-OEM) rear snowmobile suspension that found popularity among mountain sled riders. The challenge Mangum and his design staff had to overcome in adapting the design for motorcycle use was how to drive the track from a front horizontal drive shaft rather than stretching the drive chain to a horizontal drive shaft located at the rear. Mangum and his trusty staff figured out the problem, and their new design began to compete with the 2Moto snowbike kit just as the snowbike movement began to blossom. The market potential was enough to catch the eye of powersports industry giant Polaris, which acquired Timbersled in April of 2015.
Now as then, Timbersled continues to devote considerable R&D time and resources into upgrading its Mountain Horse kits; the latest version is vastly improved over earlier generations. Over the past few years, Timbersled has dialed-in the Mountain Horse’s overall length, shocks, and switched to a more convex track. For 2016, there are three basic kit models offered with a number of options available within each kit.
Timbersled Short Track [ST] Conversion Kit ($5,300 USD)
The ST is Timbersled’s most versatile kit. It works with 250cc four-strokes, and 250cc or 300cc two-strokes as well as four-stroke models, and it is even claimed to be able to withstand power from anything up to and including high-horsepower turbocharged engines. The ST is also claimed to be capable in deep powder as well as hard-packed snow.
Timbersled Long Track [LT] Conversion Kit ($6,000 USD)
The LT’s forte is deep, powdery snow, such as is found in Western mountains. The LT is also recommended for riders weighing over 220 lbs. because its longer track delivers better floatation than the ST.
Timbersled Snow Cross SX120 ($5,800 USD) and SX137 ($6,500 USD) Conversion Kits
Originally developed for purpose-built race machines, the SX kit is designed to be more responsive than the LT or ST, and they also offer the most suspension travel. The SX’s 2-inch narrower (10.5-inch) track, chassis and suspension geometries deliver more maneuverability for snowcross tracks. As its model designations imply, the kit is available in either a 120-inch or 137-inch track length.
The Technical Stuff
The Timbersled Mountain Horse kit can be installed on most popular dirtbike models, including but not limited to Yamaha, Kawasaki, Suzuki, Honda, KTM, Husqvarna and Beta, and it’s actually surprising just how well-suited the typical 450cc four-stroke dirt burner is when it comes to making the conversion from dirtbike to snowbike. The rev-happy, electronically fuel-injected (EFI) Singles have more ample torque and horsepower to sling the Mountain Horse track with ease, even at high altitudes.
Two-stroke dirtbikes such as the KTM and Husqvarna 300s can also muster the power to work with the Mountain Horse kit, but, as the old saying goes, there’s no replacement for displacement. It should also be noted that electric-start models are also preferred due to the fact that solid footing isn’t always available if you should go down in deep snow and need to restart your stalled snowbike.
Timbersled’s Convex rear suspension design is a big reason for its success. Over the years, the design has evolved to the point that it mimics, as best as Timbersled can engineer it, the travel, feel, handling and control of a standard dirtbike rear suspension. New for 2016 is and optional Timbersled Suspension Strut (TSS) that Timbersled claims to add an even more nimble dirtbike feel, maximize power transfer to the snow more efficiently and is more sensitive to terrain and snow consistency changes. According to the company, the TSS is the single largest improvement that’s ever been made to the Mountain Horse Snowbike system. “It is a total game changer. It adds a second point of suspension to the stock motorcycle swingarm pivot point by adding a custom-built shock that is designed to work in conjunction and complement the new Convex 2.5 long-travel rear track suspension.”
Installing the kit is neither difficult nor permanent – it’s a true bolt-on operation. The rear suspension replaces the swingarm, and a “tunnel extension with snowflap” replaces the rear fender. A wide Simmons ski, designed exclusively for the Mountain Horse kit, replaces the front tire. The track, designed by Timbersled and built by Camoplast is specific to the Mountain Horse in terms of lug pattern, pitch and lug duometer (a ratio of lug stiffness at base and flexibility at tip) is unique to the snowbike. The lugs are 2.5 inches long.
When I first rode a Timbersled Mountain Horse, I found that learning to master the longer motorcycle with a track and ski, only took about an hour. My tutor was Mangum himself, and we swapped back and forth between a Honda CRF450R and Yamaha YZ450F. This past winter, I spent a day on two Yamaha WR450Fs at the exact location where Mangum introduced me to the sport three years ago. Riding a 450cc dirtbike in the backcountry is something that will be familiar to most of our readers, but replace the rear wheel with a 120- or 137-inch long, 12.50-inch wide track that places 1500 or 1712.50 square-inches of tread on the ground, and replace the front wheel with a ski that is almost as wide as a snowboard, and it’s an amazingly different and very cool experience.
However, riding a snowbike on a hardpacked trail is not fun at all because a snowbike is not nearly as responsive to standard motorcycle steering inputs when the snow is firm. With its long track and ski, the bike’s steering geometry is significantly altered. The track’s width resists the usual tendency for the bike to lean into corners, and its length causes the bike to understeer in concrete-like snow. Thus, the closer the backcountry is to the trailhead, the better. The ST kit works best with snow depths of 1 or 2 feet, but the LT kit can easily handle 3 feet of powder, especially if equipped with the optional TSS kit.
Once off the trail or out of the parking lot, the Timbersled Mountain Horse becomes what it is, a light and slim “snowmobile” with a single ski and narrow track. So, what’s it like? Twist the throttle, bang into first, then second and third and let it float. Don’t expect explosive four-stroke or two-stroke power like a dirtbike. Instead, you’ll feel gentle, even acceleration that feels more like it comes from an electric motor than an internal-combustion engine. You’ll also rarely need to row the gearbox. Most people ride their snowbikes using just second and third gear.
Handling is also different. In powder, a snowbike is a very fun and forgiving ride once a rider adapts to its balance and steering characteristics. For starters, he or she quickly learns to resist standing on the footpegs most of the time. There are times to stand, but it is easiest to learn to lean and jockey the snowbike when seated. You simply sit, relax, and give the bars gentle inputs to initiate a turn, with a dropped inside shoulder helping to point you where you want to go as you pick your cornering line. Do that, and the snowbike will obediently turn right or left, but you must remember not to turn too sharply or chop the throttle, or down you’ll go. There really is no such thing as freewheeling with a track. Remember that the throttle is your friend, as a snowbike will stick to powder-laden mountain terrain like a magnet on steel.
The long-travel front fork and long-travel rear skidframe prevents the bike from porpoising and does such a good job of taming what few bumps you’re likely to encounter that arm pump is virtually non-existent. Still, a snowbike handles whoops rather well. Instinctively, you’ll want to stand, but stay seated and let the two suspension systems manage the impact energy. There’s no teeth-rattling feedback through the bars or seat, but rather just a gentle rolling feel as the suspension does its job.
And sidehilling a snowbike is all but guaranteed to twist the senses. Have a 30-degree or greater slope in your way? No problem. First, scope out your line, and lean the bike into the hill as you hit the gears. With momentum to keep the snowbike upright, the ski and track quickly builds a shelf. Snowbikes don’t wash out the front or rear end.
Most people can expect to spend a couple hours learning the different riding style that the snowbike requires. Allow it to teach you, and you should be able to master it. Snowbikes want – no, beg – to be ridden.
One other thing, and this is critically important: If you are planning to ride a snowbike, become avalanche smart and make sure to carry the proper equipment to protect yourself, including a beacon, a probe, a small shovel and an avalanche air bag (a.k.a. an avy bag). Look to Klim and MotorFist to outfit your body.
There simply is no reason to let SAD takeover your life. A snowbike is an excellent prescription. Sure, it may be a little colder … okay, a lot colder riding climate than you’re used to, but dress for it and you’ll be having too much fun to care. And it’s a better and healthier feeling than anything you could get from big pharma.
Q&A with a Snowbiker
What better way to gain more insight into the fun that can be had snowbiking than to talk with a devoted off-road rider who also happens to be a deep-powder snowbike fan. Evan Myler of Rigby, Idaho, is just such an enthusiast. The 40-something hardcore outdoorsman works hard at his day job to acquire enough extra funds to take his family out to play on the weekends, and snowbiking is one of his favorite ways to spend his leisure time.
Q: Why did you take up snowbike riding?
A: My snowbiking experience started two years ago when I was asked to go for a ride in Afton Wyoming, with the MotorFist guys. (MotorFist is a company that makes high-end, high-tech inner and outer snowmobile clothing.) When we arrived at the parking lot there were four snowbikes. I had always wanted to see how they performed, and there was plenty of new snow for the test. Reaching the top of the canyon there was at least two to three feet of new snow, and the bikes broke trail all the way. I had a difficult time trying to follow their trail on my 2011 Ski-Doo Summit 800. After hours of playing, we stopped and had lunch. One of the snowbike guys said, “Take it for a ride.” Within minutes I was hooked and started making plans to get a snowbike by next season.
The reason I transitioned from a snowmobiles to snowbikes was because of the bike’s ability to boondock in sections of my riding areas that were previously inaccessible by snowmobiles. I grew up on dirt bikes, and I could see a huge cost savings in having a snowbike in the winter and removing the track and having a dirt bike for the [spring] summer [and fall].
Q: How similar and dissimilar is snowbike riding to snowmobiling?
A: The snowbike is so forgiving and feels so nimble. It is similar to a bike [with wheels] because of its maneuverability and light feeling. I really cannot compare it to a snowmobile because seat position and riding style are totally different. However, steering tends to be more of a lean and flow than a typical dirt bike and turning the handlebars.
Q: What are the benefits to snowbike riding, as well as the downside, if any?
A: I feel it’s a huge benefit to me. I love to ride the trees and boondock more than the point-and-shoot hill climb snowmobiling has become. I’m able to access untouched riding areas and do it much closer to the unloading area. Another benefit is in two hours I can go from a snowbike to dirt bike, easily transitioning from season-to-season. This makes the sport more economical.
Q: What are the top mistakes when riders take up snowbike riding, and how can they overcome them?
A: Do your homework when choosing and setting up your snowbike. Snowbike forums, just like snowmobile forums, are full of opinionated-know-it-all bloggers. Find a local group, and ride with them for a day and see what works.
Also, try to test ride a snowbike first. I see a lot of kits for sale with only a few hours on them. Snowbike riding can be physically demanding, and not everyone will like it. Also, ride other bikes. It is very comparable to taking a trials bike with a group of motocross bikes. There are places your trials bike will go they cannot, but if you are chasing them down a 20-mile-long road you could get a bit lonely.
Q: What are best methods, from your perspective, on how to ride a snowbike?
A: The best methods I have found are: knowing your bike and its abilities; practicing on your bike in an easy riding area to learn its abilities to maneuver and function; and realize your limitations on the bike. From my experience where a snowmobile can shoot a steep climb, a snowbike may have to side-hill to get to the top. When this happens, know your exit! Also, I’ve found I do not stand up on my snowbike as I did on my sled or like when I ride my bike during the summer. As a snowbike rider, I have more control sitting down and leaning.
Q: What is your dirtbike, a.k.a. snowbike?
A: I ride a Yamaha YZ450F with a 2014 137 LT Timbersled kit. I choose the YZ450 with the four-speed transmission because I found typically I only used second and third gear most of the time. Also, I searched and found a great deal on an almost new, but slightly used Mountain Horse kit. I did not want to sink a ton of money into and experiment. I love the 137. It maneuvers as well as the 121 ST.