Snow Bikes: Manufacturers Try to Meet Rising Consumer Demand

We all beg OEMs for something new every year ... ready or not, here it is!
Timbersled bolt-on track conversion kit snow bike
Bolt-on track conversion kits, like the Timbersled unit, mount on a dirt bike to create a vehicle capable of year-round fun. Tires in summer, track-kit in winter!
Stephen W Clark
Snow bikes have a long history. No, seriously! They do! Over several decades, there has been no shortage of manufacturers that have tried to make a viable one-skied vehicle, or a “motorcycle on the snow.”

In one way or another, these bikes have always fallen short of being a viable alternative or a true competitor to the traditional snowmobile. However, modern single-ski snow bikes have gained ground in popularity and usability over the last few years.

The main reason for this skyrocketing demand is the advent of better track conversion kits for dirt bikes.

You may have glimpsed them at snow shows, but if you haven’t heard, Polaris recently acquired Timbersled, and Arctic Cat teased a new “snow vehicle” known as the SVX 450 at Hay Days. Both moves by major manufacturers should be proof that snow bikes are a big thing and are clearly here to stay.

The sport of snow biking is evolving at an alarming rate with a ton of different options. We thought it important to spend a few days tracking down the right people to talk to, pour over specs and info online and in dealerships, and finally compile this overview of what’s new in the exciting sport of snow biking, and where it might be headed.
Reagan Sieg snow bike Canadian freestyle motocross
Reagan Sieg has quickly made a name for himself as one of the top riders in the emerging sport of snow biking. Coming from a freestyle motocross background, this Canadian rider is hitting huge jumps and drops on his single-skied machine. Should we be considering these bikes truly snowmobiles?
Stephen W Clark
What’s the big deal?
If you have never been around a snow bike, then you might be wondering what the attraction is. Why would someone want to give up their 120-hp snowmobile for a 50-hp dirt bike that requires a lot of balance? The riding experience is so completely different between a snowmobile and snow bike that it’s hard to even compare the two.

Off-trail snow bikes easily carve through the snow and thrive in tight, technical terrain. They can cut a sidehill with very little rider effort, and they can fit through really narrow tree gaps. Trail performance also seems like it is improving with new ski designs, but it’s not likely that a snow bike will give a Ski-Doo MXZ a run for its money on the trail anytime soon. From our experience, it’s difficult to mix snowmobiles and snow bikes on the same ride, as they both have strengths and weaknesses in different terrain. One obvious big benefit to the snow bike conversion kits is having a vehicle that you can convert back and forth between dirt and snow for year-round use. Plus, a snow bike is different and fun, and it can push you out of your comfort zone, which is a great experience!

Who are the players?
Timbersled has made quite the impact on the snow bike market in the five or so years they have been producing snow bike conversion kits. Their founder, Allen Mangum, patented the Mountain Horse snow bike conversion system in 2011, quickly growing the business and attracting attention enough so that Polaris bought the business in the spring of 2015.

The Timbersled kit is compatible with most modern dirt bikes. It employs a snowmobile-style rear suspension mounted in a tunnel-style chassis that attaches in place of the bike’s swingarm with a single ski up front. A chain and sprocket transfer power from the bike’s engine to a chaincase that turns drivers and a jackshaft. A disc brake provides the braking.

The overall concept of the Timbersled kit has remained the same over the years, but the details of the kit have been constantly evolving. For 2016, there are a bunch of improvements, with the most significant being the Timbersled Suspension Strut (TSS). This system uses a FOX air shock between the bike frame and the track kit as opposed to the solid strut that was used in the past. With TSS, the snow bike has two separate rear suspension systems, creating 20 inches of total travel and providing a pivot that gives the snow bike more of a dirt bike feel. Other updates include a Convex pivoting rear suspension, where the front suspension arm articulates left to right. This allows the track to conform to terrain, and the amount of articulation is adjustable to rider preference. Also new is a Convex 2.5-inch lugged track with a profile shape more like a tire. This improves trail and hard pack handling.
Crazy Mountain Xtreme CMXBK snow bike track conversion kit dual skis
Dual Skis are used by CMX on their snow bikes. This kit from Raptor offers an innovative dual-ski setup that is compatible with any of the track conversion kits mentioned in this article.
Stephen W Clark
There is a lot of buzz about Timbersled at the moment, much of it fueled by the Polaris acquisition, but it isn’t the only company building track conversion kits. Once we started digging into this industry, we began finding more and more manufacturers of conversion kits. Some were simple wheel replacement kits using the bike swingarm, from the SnoXcycle and the AD Boivin Explorer all the way up to the very exotic carbon fiber Yeti kit.

The Canadian Yeti kit is possibly the Ferrari of the conversion kits out there. Judging by the Yeti website, product video, the kit itself, and talking to them, these guys seem to know what they’re doing. Their kit uses a lightweight molded carbon fiber tunnel with innovative use of aluminum in key places. They use a twin-shock snowmobile-style rear suspension with FOX shocks, and the track is driven using a belt drive that is visible through a clear plastic cover on the outside of the tunnel.

High-end mountain sled manufacturer Crazy Mountain Xtreme is also in the snow bike business with its CMXBK conversion kit. This kit is similar in design to the Timbersled, but it has a belt drive and is made from billet aluminum. The most notable feature is that CMX exclusively uses a dual front ski kit from Raptor. This kit mounts a ski to each fork leg and, with a unique pivot brace, allows the front skis to move independently of each other.

It’s not just the adults that are having all the fun, either. There are even conversion kits for kids’ bikes; Holeshot Inc. offers a SnoRipper kit for 110cc bikes.

While there are a lot of aftermarket track and ski kits that bolt on a dirt bike, Arctic Cat is poised to be the first OEM since Snowhawk to sell a complete single-ski snow vehicle from the factory. Cat first showed its version at Hay Days, and it would appear that it is a Sherco 450 with a track kit from Camso (formerly Camoplast). I’m sure we will be hearing more on this and possibly riding it soon (we assume when the 2017 machines are launched in March 2016), but at press time mum was still the word.

You may be wondering who the heck Sherco is. It’s a European manufacturer best known for building trials bikes. Sherco builds a line of enduro bikes, including the fuel-injected 450 SEF-R, which the Cat SVX looks to be based on.
Yeti snow bike track conversion kit
If you are looking for possibly the most exotic, uber-refined and expensive track kit, check out the billet incredible Yeti!
Stephen W Clark
It’s too early to tell how this will all pan out, but from Cat’s perspective, it seems like a smart move. The OEM saves itself from spendy R&D and tooling costs incurred by building a totally new machine, but it reaps the benefits of offering a new snow vehicle that should be popular with its customers and dealers.

How it works

Transforming a dirt bike into a snow bike is easier than you might think. According to top snow bike athlete Reagan Sieg, it takes around three hours to take a bike from dirt to snow with a basic setup. It’s debatable which dirt bike offers the best setup. The enduro bikes are good because you get headlights, big stators for accessories and electric start, but the motocross 450’s generally rev higher and are lighter. Sieg is partial to the KTM 500, as it has lots of power, electric start, lights, etc.

According to Sieg, you can simply bolt a kit on a bike and go out and have a good time. However, there are a few mods that you might want to consider to make the bike work better in the snow. Airbox modifications are recommended so snow doesn’t clog the filter. At a minimum, this includes adding a waterproof pre-filter over the stock filter. If you still experience problems with snow clogging the airbox, you can go as far as completely removing the stock airbox and installing pod filters onto the throttle bodies.

It’s also recommended to stiffen up the front forks to balance out the bike and compensate for the different geometry of the track kit. This can be done by increasing pressure on bikes with air forks, or adding springs and valving to conventional forks. Installing some neoprene fork covers to protect the shock seals from ice damage is also a good idea.

Wider, longer footpegs are nice, as wider snow boots and snow buildup make it easy to slip off the narrow stock pegs. Handguards, hand warmers and handlebar risers also add some comfort and protection. Some bikes work better with a thermostat installed to build more heat in the engine, allowing it to run at a temperature closer to what it was designed to run at. For riders looking to increase power, there are a lot of options with pipes, programmers, big bore kits and even turbo kits.
2016 Timbersled conversion kit molded intake TSS shock pivoting rear skid suspension
Timbersled's updates for its newest 2016 conversion kit include a molded intake kit designed for snow, a TSS shock that adds suspension travel and a pivoting rear skid. Innovation is not stopping for these folks!
Stephen W Clark
What’s next?
It’s been cool to see snow bikes capturing the attention of the moto guys who are typically pretty un-interested in snowmobiles. Nitro Circus crazy-man Travis Pastrana and Red-Bull’s Ronnie Renner have both spent some time on Timbersleds and publically speak positively of them. Red Bull recently launched a cool web edit about snow biking that features Ronnie Renner, Reagen Sieg and Brock Hoyer, and that blew up online. We highly recommend it! Snow bikes seem to be attracting new riders to the snow, and this growth can only be good for the sport in general.

However, as with anything new, there are some growing pains. With the recent spike in popularity, we have heard of some legal issues with riding bikes on trails in certain states, notably Minnesota. It seems that certain states are tightening snowmobile trail permits even more to specifically exclude snow bikes using the trails. Since a snow bike has the VIN of a dirt bike, it technically isn’t a snowmobile and therefore snubbed from the trails. We assume that Timbersled/Polaris and Arctic Cat are actively working to resolve these issues with their legal departments, but it’s worth checking with your local authorities before putting down bucks on a snow bike. Then there’s the matter of patents. Who knows how long until lawyers begin battling over patent infringements.

Things are moving fast in the world of snow bikes. We know for a fact that Yamaha has been looking at this market seriously for the better part of a decade. Imagine if it brought its motorcycle resources to the snow bike market! However, much of the feedback we hear is that as good as snow bikes are, there are still limitations because the base machine is designed for dirt. Power is a major challenge with the average 450 dirt bike too. The 50 hp it produces is plenty in the dirt, but it pales in comparison to snowmobile horsepower.

Think about a 100-hp bike with all the amenities for the snow (e.g., heated grips, electric start, non-icing throttle bodies, etc.). Manufacturer development is an interesting game, to be sure! Are they really pushing to offer the absolute best product they can, or simply staying one step ahead of their competition? With Cat and Polaris both with real skin in the snow bike game now, we may not be too far off from a true factory-designed and built snow bike, and dare we say possibly dedicated lines from all four snowmobile OEMs!
• Timbersled:
• Yeti Snow MX:
• Holeshot Inc:
• CMX:
Crazy Mountain Xtreme CMXBK snow bike track conversion kit
Crazy Mountain Xtreme is building a conversion kit called the CMXBK complete with a belt drive and dual-ski front end. Pretty wild and certainly fun!
Stephen W Clark
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