The first major snow has just fell in Dayton, and I’m salty about it. Year-round riding is definitely in my repertoire, but at some point, the bike gets parked in the garage. But what if I didn’t have to? Is it safe to ride on public roads in the snow? What would it take to be safe riding on public roads? These are all questions I pose to the masses, because I’m pretty sure, someone has done it.
In the meantime I’ll entertain you with my harebrained schemes to accomplish this goal:
First, a few ground rules.
1. My current ride is out of the question; between the cruiser rake, forward controls, and the obvious personal connection to the bike, I just can’t stand the thought of watching it slide down the road with my arse firmly planted on the snowy pavement. So the first order of business would be to identify a suitable street worthy replacement, or better yet, additional ride to put in the stable.
2. More often than not, a snow covered road in the morning merely leads to only wet city roads in the evening. This isn’t always true of the side roads, but my general commute to and from the office is clear by the time I head home at the end of the day.
3. Bikes alone may not be suitable for combating old man winter’s deadliest weapons, additional equipment may need to be installed.
4. Safety is a major concern for me; I realize that entertaining this idea pretty much throws that out the window, so please keep in mind that I want to do this “as safe” as possible and I already understand this idea is generally accepted as a ridiculous notion. That said, people have ridden in the snow before, albeit typically by accident. I already know the general advice is: slow down, avoid cars and main roads; no need to remind me, I will avoid patronizing you as well. As an engineer, I can’t help myself, I know what a motorcycle was designed to do, but I also want to know what it CAN do. So, without further delay:
The Yamaha TW200 – $4,590
I’ve had my eyes on one of these from the moment I saw one. That back tire… oh… just gnarly man. This street legal dual sport (DS) apparently has a cult following on par with the Honda Ruckus. Unmodified I’m told this bike can do freeway speeds, but after a simple rear sprocket upgrade, the RPMs drop enough that Mr. Scott isn’t shouting “She’s gonna shake apart!” from the bowels of the engine room. At 280 lbs. wet, I feel prettying comfortable saying: “can I ride this up the back roads to the office? Sure”. I haven’t done all the homework on this yet, but after scouring a few message boards, odds are I can locate some crash bars to add another layer of security; then just pin it and go. The big sell here is light weight, simplicity, and affordability; the extra change in my pocket will help me buy bolt on items to make this dream a reality. The downside is that I can’t see myself taking this bike to work in the summer, nor is it designed to handle the highway stretches on long road trips.
The Suzuki DR-Z400S – $6,599
The next logical step in the evolution, a 400 cc dual sport; while not a 450 cc Dakar Rally bike, a modest street legal solution. The DR-Z400S would offer additional off-road options throughout the year, not just winter. This 400 cc monster is a whopping 317 lbs. and otherwise unremarkable to a street rider like myself who doesn’t know any better. Admittedly, I have a friend who has the DR-Z400SM and it’s apparently off the chain, but it’s a Super Moto, and I need knobbies for this job. This Suzuki is probably a very reasonable DS that is still light but has and engine I could reasonably commute around the city, load down with gear, armor & accessorize with out overtaxing the power plant like a 250.
The KTM 690 Enduro R – $10,299
If price were no object, dirt roads were more readily available, and I didn’t have pipe dreams of riding from Alaska to Key West, I would already own this motorcycle. Mind you, I’m judging by reviews and stats, but I consider KTM to be the pinnacle of dirt worthy motorcycles (sorry Honda). This 690 cc animal weighs 315 lbs… yes, that’s lighter than the Suzuki 400. At almost 700 cc I imagine I can load this bike down to the gills and ride virtually anywhere, considering it’s like a pint sized 1190 Adventure, I expect I can surf all over Adventure Rider and find accolades of this machine (to include accessory recommendations) .
I’m not sure if this list of bikes is just a “wish list” of toys, or a realistic choice of capable street legal rides that can carry me and my gear to the office in the most apocalyptic conditions. There are other reasonable used DS models available on the market, certainly those would be affordable and nearby. Winter reliability is a major concern, so relatively modern motorcycles may be required (I said may…). At the end of the day… this is probably all be academic anyway right? After a bike selection has finally made, there’s more to be considered.
Additional commercially available equipment:
While I believe it’s possible to navigate my way to the office on strictly knobbies, other provisions will almost certainly need to be made in order to do this safely.
- Studded Tires are an option for consideration. It would be time consuming to install them, but I assume I can back them out with wear. That being said, the amount of time snow is actually on the roads is usually quite limited in the city, thus tire studs are probably not an efficient solution considering the time consumed during installation and cost of maintenance to keep them serviceable; more research necessary.
- Tire Chains on the other hand, may be a feasible solution.
I looked up the Ohio Department of Transportation laws today, apparently I can roll with tire chains from November until April (on snow covered roads). Tire chains would offer additional grip, while permitting me to remove them at the end of the day when the roads are clear. I am immediately concerned about how the bike will handle at higher speeds, if the chains will damage the suspension, and any other unintended consequences of riding with chains on snow covered asphalt. At the same time, I can’t help but ask myself “Am I contributing to the pot hole problem by using tire chains?” and “does it really matter considering the freeway has been permanent construction since 2001?”
- Crash bars are pretty much a given. I have engine guards (AKA crash bars) on my wish list for my future adventure bike; so it goes without saying they make sense on a snow faring motorcycle. Depending upon the model chosen, some engineering and custom steel work may be needed to accomplish this goal.
- Heated grips, gloves, and or other electric gear is almost certainly REQUIRED gear for this type of endeavor; which means the bike needs to be able to handle the amperage load, and this is a cost I need to be mindful of.
- A Pinlock Anti-Fog Shield is also a highly sought after piece of kit for this idea. I already ride in some pretty sketchy conditions; fog is not my friend, and I’m already looking to get one of these; snowflakes on my face shield will only compound that need.
- Armored safety gear seems like a given, but I will reiterate that while I already wear this gear, proper fitment should be emphasized as falling off the bike is nearly guaranteed when undertaking this idea. In addition, fitment for winter clothing is another important consideration; yesterday it was snowing at 19 degrees outside, additional layers will be required.
- “Winterization” equipment for the motorcycle is another concern. Can a water cooled bike handle the low temperatures? Will anti-freeze work? Will any of these bikes start (electrically) under 20 degrees? All things to be considered and obstacles to overcome.
- Skis may seem like a silly gimmick or funny YouTube video, but I’ve also seen some pretty legit YouTube videos. This is going to require a lot more time and a lot more cash, but could mean the difference between staying in the saddle or not.
- Wind screens, wipers, or other “snow removal” tools that may be needed to be able to see during the journey. I have a miniature wiper on my waterproof gloves; while it’s been decent, I’m not about to spout off about its prowess.
- A winch might actually make sense for this application. I’ve seen a plug-in winch kit that some BMW 1200 GS riders have; if it makes sense for the deep mud and sand, it probably makes sense for the snow.
Tracks are probably the last ditch effort to make this happen. I would almost disqualify turning a bike into a tracked vehicle, but considering the frequency I’ve begun seeing “bolt-on” kits for cars and bikes, it might be remotely feasible. Albeit I will probably need a second and third job to afford them. On the same note… a tracked rear end might get me pulled over… I’ll have to look into this further.
How desperate am I to continue “riding” even through the winter and snow?
The Ural Gear Up – $15,999
If all else fails… add a third wheel right? Adding the third wheel tends to strike a nerve with quite a few riders (good and bad). I’ve put my foot in my mouth quite a bit in this lifetime, so when it comes to motorcycles I’m quick to avoid comments that begin with “I’ll never…”. It’s inevitable that there will be a time that I can no longer stand up on a motorcycle; it’s going to happen. If possible, I’m going to squeeze out every last bit of open air I can get. I’ve actually been keeping mental notes about this for some time, therefore my first thought for three wheels would have probably been the Can Am Spyder (OMG yes…. I just said that, gasp). Frankly, I just feel more secure having two wheels up front vs. one; but considering the Spyder is rear wheel drive… that’s a deal breaker in the snow. I imagine the Can Am can power through the snow just like any other bike with knobbies and a side car, but we’re talking about last line of defense here.
Enter the Ural. Is the Ural the most technologically advanced motorcycle… god no. For all intents & purposes it’s a Russian “knock-off” of a classic BMW, and I imagine, as far as BMW faithful are concerned, far from it. However, what the Ural has is two-wheel drive; something I have yet to find anywhere else. So here, at the bottom of the barrel, where I feel all other bikes will fail to deliver me safely from home to the office in snowy weather, I believe the Ural is up to the task. There are a myriad of reasons to NOT buy a Ural; frequent maintenance, limited aftermarket products, limited dealer support, questionable reliability, Russian manufacturing… the list goes on. However, until I find another (realistic) two-wheel drive motorcycle supplier the Ural is the last line of defense.
I’m currently helping a buddy repair a Yamaha YF450Z; if this goes well, I may discover this is the dumbest idea I’ve ever had, we’ll see. Until then, I’ll keep you posted on any winter breakthroughs.
*Edit 11/3/17: Someone has indeed done it.