While western desert and dune riders rejoice as cooler weather creates prime riding conditions, the rest of the country prepares for Mother Nature’s worst as winter bites down. That doesn’t mean riding season is over for everyone outside the southwest though. There are still jobs to be done, wood to be hauled, hunting season is still open, and a trail ride through a white, wintery landscape reveals a quiet beauty all its own. There are a few preparation tips for both you and your machine you’ll want to follow though, and here are the things we’ve learned to make winter riding much more enjoyable.
1: HOT HANDS – WEAR RUBBER GLOVES
Your hands are often the first to feel cold and one trick we’ve learned was to wear a set of thin rubber gloves under our riding gloves. The rubber blocks the wind and water, making a huge difference in keeping your hands warm. Another trick we’ve used was heated gloves which work well in most cases, but the ultimate solution for extreme weather is heated grips.
2: BLOCK THE WIND & WATER – BODY ARMOR
Off-Road jackets are great because they’re designed for body and arm movement, they don’t trap moisture, and dirt can usually be brushed off. They’re our pick for spring or fall riding but when the temperature drops you’ll need to take it one step further. Snowmobile riders have to fight the elements just to ride at all, and manufacturers have come so far with durable, effective winter riding gear even the military is using it. The name of the game is DRY, BREATHABLE, WIND BLOCKING FABRICS. Most sled jackets offer extendable necks that can be zipped up, and there are matching bibs to keep your lower extremities dry and warm as well. Another benefit of sled jackets is they typically have plenty of pockets for your phone, wallet, etc. and they’re well worth the investment. A good base layer is also important and as much as we like a comfy tee-shirt, new fabrics have made shirts like those from Under Armour a much better choice for keeping your torso warm.
Cold feet are the curse of many riders and once your feet get cold it can be painful to move anywhere. Your summer riding or work boots aren’t going to cut it in the winter. Snowmobile boots are a great choice but pick a set with an aggressive tread pattern for good grip on the foot pegs or floorboards which often get coated in snow and ice. You probably don’t need a set suitable for trekking to the South Pole or going into space, but you will want a pair with a good low temperature rating.
4: HEAD CASE – HELMETS
One trick we’ve used for years is to tape shut the vent holes on our helmet for winter riding. We also like to use a thin, full face ski mask under our helmet to seal areas around our goggles, but for colder temperatures a snowmobile helmet with a full shield is the way to go. Whether you are using goggles or a helmet with a shield though, use an anti-fog coating and tinted lenses. The tinted lenses make it much easier to see changes in snow.
5: KOLPIN GUARDS & GRIPS
Simply blocking the wind makes a huge difference in keeping your hands warm, and we’ve been using a set of highly durable hand guards from KOLPIN on our Suzuki. With their headquarters in Wisconsin, KOLPIN knows plenty about severe weather and they’ve developed a full line of gear for everything from a weekend riding adventure to a full week at deer camp. We really like the Kolpin hand guards and we leave them on year round. They’ve even got a mirror inside for a quick look behind.
Heated grips have been common on snowmobiles for years and there are couple different styles available. Once installed, heated grips do an excellent job of keeping your hands warm, but we prefer the dual range type without a ceramic resistor (which gets quite hot). If you do get the type with a large ceramic resistor, be sure to locate it away from anything that won’t tolerate heat such as the fuel tank or other wiring. As with any powered accessory neatly fasten all wires with zip ties. One tip is to dab a little silicone sealant on all the connectors and the back of the switch to keep out any moisture. We really like Kolpins heated grip system which fits great on the bars and features a nice, roller selector switch.
Besides reducing vehicle mileage thanks to 20% less available energy, ethanol has the unhappy side effect of absorbing water. That means every time you open the fuel tank and the slightest bit of snow or moisture drops in it will eventually end up in your engine. That can be a BIG PROBLEM as many riders have found the hard way. To meet emissions standards winter fuel blends are already very weak and adding any water only makes the engine run even leaner. Fuel injected ATV and UTV engines have some ability to compensate for this, but carbureted engines may need rejetting to insure they don’t run too lean. If you’re tempted to use dry gas in your tank, use it very sparingly, and NEVER use methanol which can damage materials used in your fuel system! If you have to use dry gas, ALWAYS USE ISOPROPYL types. In some areas a few gas stations still offer 100% unblended gasoline, and if you can find one stick with it, tell the station owner how happy you are, and send them a card for the holidays and their birthday. One tool we’ve used is a Mr. Funnel which effectively strains the fuel before it enters our tank.
7: ENGINE OIL –
The manufacturers do a good job of designing ATV and UTV engines for year round use, but one thing you can do for winter riding is switch to 5Wviscosity oil. It definitely helps the engine turn over a little easier during starts, and fully synthetic oil insures proper lubrication during startup. Pay a little extra for the fully synthetic oil recommended by the manufacturers and use it year round. Your engine will thank you with longer life. Also, let your engine warm up fully before heading out into the trails.
8: SUSPENSION, CV JOINTS, & TIRES
Snow quickly packs into a machines suspension and drive line but you don’t want it to freeze there. After every winter ride it is important to sweep snow and ice out of the suspension, paying special attention to the CV joints and drive shafts. If your CV boots freeze they’ll quickly tear allowing water and dirt to enter, and you’ll be replacing the joints and drive shafts sometime in the summer. Avoid the expensive problem by keeping the boots, drive shafts, and suspension free of snow and ice between rides.
Stock tires are a mixed bag; some work great in snow, some barely find traction on dirt. For winter riding we prefer a tire with deeper lugs and enough space between to get a good bite on the terrain or snow, but close enough together to still offer a smooth ride on frozen ground or ice. Remember that bigger tires and extremely aggressive tread patterns put a lot more stress on the drive train and CV joints so don’t go overboard on tire size or tread.
9: UTV CAB ENVY
Side x Sides have the same chassis and engine concerns, and require the same winter preparations as ATVs. The difference is Side x Side riders can have complete winter protection by adding a full cab enclosure like the one we installed last year from SEIZMIK, which worked great. Once installed, nothing beats a cab for ultimate winter comfort. The military is using ESSEX cab enclosures in Afghanistan, and even though they’re not bullet proof, they certainly do a great job of sealing out nasty winter weather. When installing any cab though it cannot be completely air tight as a few unfortunate souls have been overcome by exhaust fumes. If a full cab enclosure is not in your game plan however, simply adding a windshield is the easiest and most effective way to block the wind, and along with an accessory roof will make an immediate improvement you can feel. It’s what we’re using on our Honda Pioneer this winter.
10: A WINCH – The ROPE OF LAST HOPE
Finding out the drifts are a little too deep can be a small problem on an ATV but when you’ve got a stuck Side x Side it’s a much bigger issue. You’re going to need a lot more than muscles to pull it out and if you don’t have a tractor, or possibly another UTV, a winch is your best option.
Pick a winch rated for the load of your ATV or Side x Side but don’t forget the rope. BLITZKRUEG recommends two types of synthetic rope, Standard Amsteel and the Amsteel blue™. The difference is the ultimate strength, and for most winching they prefer the Amsteel Blue. Synthetic ropes also retract and coil better but you’ll want to be sure your winch fairleads and hooks work properly and don’t fray the synthetic rope. When using any winch leave the engine running since winch motors can quickly drain a battery.
ATV and Side x Side riders are lucky. While most power sports enthusiasts quickly roll to a stop when the weather turns nasty, we put on different gear, prep our machine for the worst Mother Nature can dish out, and head back out riding! Just as their name implies, ATVs and Side x Sides are excellent for crossing nearly any terrain, in any condition, so go out and enjoy winter as only we can!