Bike me!

How one of the biggest critics completely changed his tune after ONE season on a snow bike
I first threw a leg over a snow bike in 2016 and quickly realized that this was not going to be a one hit wonder like many had said. Fast forward a couple of years and I had ridden a Timbersled enough to realize that I needed to have one. I have to clarify here that people over the age of 40 tend to be the ones that enjoy snow bikes the most. I really think it is because they have “been there done that” and now want something that is easy on the body and allows them to explore and go places you can’t get on a sled.

What snow bikes lack in speed and arm-tug they make up in taking you places you would never dare think of going on a sled, and they do it with ease and minimal input.

I feel bad for anyone who has not ridden a snow bike long enough to get used to how they ride. Most people struggle because they ride too rigidly and fight the bike. The key with a snow bike is to simply relax and ride. Once you learn that, a whole new world opens up to you.

I committed the cardinal sin in the snowmobile world and sold my sled to buy a 2018 Yamaha YZ450F. My last two-wheel motorized ride was a Honda 185 XL that I had in the early ‘90s, so this was a serious step up from what I was used to.

I wanted something that was going to have the torque and power to turn the 120-inch track of a Timbersled in deep snow; it’s just a little (insert sarcasm) different than a bike wheel that at any given moment only has about five to seven inches of rubber on the dirt. I found out this past summer the hard way just how much more power it has when it only has to turn a wheel with very little resistance. My Klim F5 helmet literally saved my life. Wear your buckets, people! But I digress ...

The point is: I needed a lot of power so the 4- stroke was the obvious choice. Another reason I had decided to go with a Yamaha was that they had just developed an app (Power Tuner) for the bike.

The Yamaha YZ450F has a built-in ad-hoc wi-fi (it is password protected). It remembers your device so every time you turn the bike and app on, they are paired. Not only does the app allow you to see the bike’s running temp, outside air-intake temp, engine codes and faults but it also allows you to change the fuel mapping on the bike so that you can compensate for elevation gain, or make the peak performance of the bike come on hard and fast at any given RPM. The Power Tuner app allows for a myriad of options. I think it is one of the best possible features you could pair with a snow bike. I certainly used it a lot! You could even share and download maps. Needless to say, it was a very big selling point for me on this particular bike.
■ The Hookup
A good friend (Brett Jensen) hooked me up with NorthStar’s Ultimate Outdoors for the bike I was looking for. NorthStar’s employees went above and beyond by setting up the Timbersled kit on the bike, as well as other components that we made a part of what was quickly becoming our AmSnow bike build. Owner Andy Checketts and General Manager Bill Chambers take customer service to a whole new level, including taking care of many customers after hours and on days off.

I now know why my dad used to frequent their business for so many years before he passed away. Even though there were businesses much closer that he could have solicited, he chose these guys. It speaks volumes that they earned his loyalty; not many companies were able to do that with him. So if you are looking for a company with commitment and loyalty to its customers, these are your guys.

■ The components

We decided to go with the Timbersled ARO 120 LE kit running the FOX QS3 front and rear track shock. The kit had a 2.5-inch Traverse Track that was 11.5-inches wide. The great thing about the 2018 kit was that it has a 1:1 ski-to-track ratio, meaning that the ski width and track are identical. This meant that the track was not fighting the walls left in the snow by a narrower ski. In short, it tracked through the snow much better without any unwanted darting.

One disadvantage of a motorbike in the snow is that the engine is much harder to keep warm on really cold and deep snow days, so you need all the help you can get. This is where an engine jacket comes into play. We had seen and heard about a product that was being used that was a simple fix but worked really well. Drifter Products in Richmond, Utah was the solution. They make custom engine jackets for all motorbikes. We installed the jacket in less than 15 minutes.

We noticed a significant difference on our first ride. The engine ran warmer and the bike pulled harder. If you are going to run a snow bike get an engine jacket! You will prolong the life of the battery and engine but mostly you will notice a significant difference in how the bike runs. These guys know what they are doing and work closely with Brock Buttars, a legend in the snow bike world, to bring you the products that matter the most. You’ll hear more about Brock shortly.
We wanted to do a wrap that was patriotic and of course went with an American Snowmobiler motif, so we discussed it with Jesse Maguire from Moto Assassin Graphics and came up with a custom rustic flag wrap called the “Patriot.” Jesse took it from there and knocked it out of the park with the wrap. It turned out much better than I could have ever imagined. It was easy to install and held up incredibly well.

Snow bikes take a beating in the tight timber, but despite times where I was sure we had ripped half the wrap off, I was impressed to find that the wrap was still there and looking fly as ever after putting it through constant punishment. Jesse also does clothing and custom sled wraps, by the way, so if you are in the market for a custom design and someone to take your idea print hit Jesse up at Moto Assassin Graphics!

Now that the snow bike looked fantastic, we needed it to perform its best. Brock Buttars’ company, Brockstar Performance, makes a suspension feel and respond perfectly with the kit. It makes the bike that much more stable in all snow conditions. If you send your forks to Brockstar, the pro rider himself is the one tuning your snow bike forks. This makes a big difference since you are getting the best possible setup. Brock has spent the last five years perfecting the internal settings to come up with an affordable, top level performing fork for a very fair price. Forks get wet throughout the year and need to be serviced to avoid rust and corrosion building up on the internals of the fork.

We cannot emphasize enough how important having your shocks properly set up for a snow bike is. It makes a significant difference in the overall performance and ride of the bike. Send your forks in to Brock Buttars at Brockstar Performance for a custom do. Your body and bike will thank you many times over for it!

We reached out to Western Power Sports (WPS) and Fly Racing about their Gator Extended Foot-Pegs because unlike a conventional dirt bike boot, winter boots tend to make it hard to keep your feet on the stock foot-pegs. Especially in deep powder, the snow has a tendency to build up and want to push your feet off the pegs. The Gator Extended Foot-Pegs make it easier to keep your feet from being pulled off in deep snow and they offer a unique arch that allows your foot to roll forward and backwards for easy shifting. You only have to ride once in deep snow on stock foot-pegs to realize why you need extended ones. We are huge fans of the arched design of these pegs; they really make foot placement and movement much easier.

If you like being able to feel your fingers, you need to make sure you are using the Zeta CW Hand Warmers. Designed for the ZETA armor hand guard, they consist of durable 300 D Oxford fabric with a water repellent coating on the outside and PVC coating on the inside for a layer of water resistance and protection from the cold. We were impressed with how well they protected both your hands against impacts and the elements. If you add these to a set of RAZE heated handlebars, you can ride with no gloves in any conditions. I know because I tried it on a snowy cold day and never once did my hands get cold while riding.
The RAZE heated handlebars are an absolute must! This is such an efficient way to heat the handlebars with zero electricity. RAZE takes the coolant that the engine heats up and runs it through the handlebars. The supplied thermostat targets to maintain a constant 180-degree temperature.

The bike’s handlebars heat up within 30 seconds of the bike starting up. When you shut the bike down it creates a thermal syphon and since the handlebars are the highest point on the cooling system the bars stay warm for up to 15 minutes after shutting the bike down. The setup is easy to install and also comes with an adjustable temperature control valve. Unlike just the grips heating up using an electrical heating element, the entire handlebar assembly heats up keeping everything attached to them warm. Genius! A seriously cool concept. We are hoping to try out a RAZE Nitrous system this season, so stay tuned!

■ The future
With the investment the industry is making into these machines, both in resources and research and development, it is not likely that snow bikes will be leaving any time soon -- in fact, just the opposite. Perhaps more telling, however, is after spending some serious time (a full season) on one, I now understand its appeal and I used to be one of its biggest critics.

Snow bikes are here to stay folks, whether you like it or not. Like the aftermarket companies that sprung up in the early days of sledding to bring new concepts and products to market for snowmobilers, we are seeing those same companies adapt to include snow bike aftermarket products, not to mention a whole new set of aftermarket companies springing up to cater specifically to the snow bike community. Snow bikes are evolving quickly and so are the brands producing them. So if you have an opportunity to hop on one, do it! And remember, relax.
Into the light
With the snowmobile industry innovating at a faster pace than ever before and trying to cater to a specific segment of sports enthusiasts, it is no wonder they are looking for unique avenues to explore, and cutting-edge ideas and concepts that will appeal to a wider audience.

The emergence of the snow bike is reminiscent of the ‘80s and ‘90s during the mod sled era. It was a time when average riders tweaked their sleds and experienced mechanics did entire overhauls or builds. There was a frenzy in the industry to see what the individual could construct or alter to improve their machine. However, during this period, the OEMs were a bit slow to contribute.

The manufacturers will not make that mistake again, and there have been company purchases and designs in play to ensure they lead the way in the snow bike movement. Additionally, after-market snowmobile companies are racing to add snow bike products to their lineup, stepping up their game with widgets and components that will continue to improve the bike riding experience.

Brock Buttars, one of the leading riders in the world – basically the Chris Burandt of snow bikes – relishes this momentum. “There is an excitement within the industry that hasn’t been seen for the last 10 years,” he says.

Growing up on a farm in southeast Idaho, Buttars was raised with snowmobiling in his DNA. He started riding a 1977 Snow Jet 440 as a six-year-old and soon took over the 1986 Honda Big Red 250.

Before long, he pulled the airbox lid off because he liked how it sounded, then he realized that 1/4 choke got rid of the bog and it could wheelie in third gear!
When his mom would go grocery shopping in Preston, he would go hang out at Bret Rasmussen’s race shop, Mountain Magic.

In 2005 he started desert racing motorcycles and won a few class championships.

In 2009 he got the chance to ride the 2Moto snow bike kit. The concept was great, but in the Western back-country, the kit was insufficient.
Over the next few years, he continued to race and build very high-end KTM race bikes, as well as a few Boondocker turbo-equipped mountain sleds.

The first Timbersled he rode was a 2015 LT 137 on a KTM 500exc. After just an hour on the bike, Buttars had taken it places where his turbo snowmobile would have been stymied.

After the excitement of the first few rides wore off, the reality of the many issues of taking a dirt bike into waist-deep powder began to surface.
This is when companies like Fastway, Seat Concepts, and Raze Motorsports started to build snow bike specific products.

Year by year, the popularity of the Timbersled has continued to penetrate the snowmobile market.

When he takes experienced snowmobilers out on snow bikes and has them follow his lines through the trees, their minds are blown. Their local riding area of 20 years has doubled in accessible terrain. Jumping back on a snowmobile feels like riding a four-wheeler on a single-track trail after being on a dirt bike, he says.

The race is on within the industry to come up with engine and performance enhancements. Big-bore kits, aftermarket ECUs and RAZE electronically controlled nitrous oxide kits have become key pieces to the puzzle for a snow bike that will pull up and out of those deep bowls at 10,000 feet.
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