The hottest ride on the snow this winter may be the snowbike. Fast, light and very cool looking, they are the ultimate cottage toy for anyone looking for an alternative to a traditional snowmobile.
The idea of having a motorcycle that runs on snow has been tinkered with since at least the 1930s, but it’s only in the past decade or so that motorized snowbiking has really begun to take off.
The sport really got its big boost last year, when snowbike racing made its debut in the 2017 X Games. Millions of viewers saw these fast, lightweight bikes ripping through powder, and the demand began to heat up.
Even so, getting a snowbike isn’t quite as easy as buying a snowmobile. This is still very much a sport in development, rather like snowmobiling was in the 1960s, or snowboarding in the 1990s. People are still developing techniques, and there are dozens of companies building bikes conversion kits — ranging from backyard tinkerers to a couple of mainstream companies.
It’s nearly impossible to find a snowbike that isn’t still based on a motorcycle conversion kit. The biggest player in the business is Timberland, a subsidiary of snowmobile maker Polaris, and even they only sell conversion kits.
But that’s fine. If you already have a motocross bike in the garage, you can probably find a conversion kit specifically made for it, and your local snowmobile repair shop should be able to mount the kit for you fairly quickly and easily.
If you don’t have a motorcycle already, talk to the folks at a dealership: they should be able to bring in the bike and the conversion kit, and set it up for you. And if you really want to be cutting edge, put a snowbike kit on one of the new electric motocross bikes that are showing up on the market, and enjoy nearly silent riding through the backwoods.
While a snowbike may look a bit like a snowmobile, the riding experience is very different. Snowbikes are very light and much more maneuverable than sleds. Biking requires a high level of physical involvement, particularly when riding in powder: you need to lean into the curve to get the lightweight bike to turn properly.
However, the bikes can go places that sleds can’t, or at least can’t go as easily. And because they are so lightweight, even young riders can free themselves if they get bogged down in powder.
Snowmobiles can go somewhere that snowbikes can’t, though: on the trails. Snowbikes aren’t recognized as legitimate vehicles for trail riding, meaning you will get a ticket if you try to take one on an official snowmobile trail.
But for ripping around in the woods, or blasting across a frozen lake, snowbikes are perfect. And you can expect to see a lot more of them showing up at cottages around Muskoka.