Just because the weather turns cold doesn’t mean we have to stop riding. It’s a blast to slide through the snow and there is always work to be done hauling wood or pushing snow out of the drive. We might even get a little late season hunting, but just like your hunting gear has to be ready for winter, so does your ATV or Side x Side. Here are the tricks we use to make the most of any winter riding.
PREPARE YOUR MACHINE
Winter riding presents a whole new set of challenges for your machine. Check the following and you should be good to go!
FUEL PRIMER – The PROBLEM WITH ETHANOL
We’re not fond of ethanol in the summer but its problems are compounded in winter when many stations switch to a winter fuel blend. Here’s the problem: Ethanol absorbs any and all moisture and that makes your engine run lean. (Think burnt piston and rings) 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. If you’re tempted to use dry gas, 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. A few gas stations still offer 100% unblended gasoline, and if you can find one stick with it. We’ve used is a Mr. Funnel to strain fuel before it enters our tank with great success as well.
Your engine is designed for year round use, but switching to 5W, fully synthetic oil 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.
It’s a good idea to make sure your radiator and fluid reservoir are up the correct level at all times, but in winter you also need to think about the fluid freezing. Check your fluid protection with a floating ball anti-freeze tester.
SNOW and ICE IS THE ENEMY!
Snow and ice can buildup in the chassis and this often causes boots to rip or pull away from parts they are supposed to protect. This lets dirt and moisture get inside and that will eventually mean a nasty repair bill. If possible, let your ATV or Side x Side warm up in the garage overnight and check to make sure there is no ice built up around the CV joints or suspension in the morning.
DIFFERENTIAL and DRIVE SHAFTS
Your differential and some drive shafts operate in oil and it’s a great idea to change that oil as well. This insures any contaminants like dirt or water are removed. A blown up differential is a big problem!
TIRE & ICE
Some stock tires work great in snow and 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.
WINCH & LIGHTS
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. If you don’t have a tractor, or possibly another UTV, a winch is your best option. Be sure to get one rated for the weight of your machine and pay attention to the cable or rope as well. We’ve had a steel cable fail, but a synthetic rope can take the load just as easily, it retracts better, and they can handle mud, snow, and dirt. When winching be sure to leave the engine running to save the battery, and use a strap around your anchor point.
Winter means lots of extra darkness and you’ll quickly come to love accessory lights. Even the small ones can work wonders but go for LEDS which draw less power and produce excellent light.
DON’T STORE FUEL
Ethanol blended fuel has a very short lifespan. Even when stored in a sealed container it becomes questionable at 30 days. If it's in your fuel tank or another vented container, that lifespan decreases even more. It’s far better not to use old, questionable fuel in your small engine. You can probably dump it into your car or truck as those engines have much more complex fuel management systems as well as knock sensors to keep them from self-destructing from detonation but DO NOT burn pre-mix in your automobile. Two stroke oil + oxygen sensors + catalytic converters = big repair bill!
Lubricate all cables, suspension joints, and pivots with a water displacement/corrosion resistant lubricant like Spectro SX101 or WD-40. A high quality or marine grade Lithium grease is our choice for all grease zerks on suspension pivots as well.
HOT HANDS – RUBBER GLOVES, GUARDS & HEATED GRIPS
Your hands are often the first to feel cold and one trick we’ve learned is 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. A set of hand guards works well also as do heated gloves but the ultimate solution for extreme weather is heated grips.
There are a couple different styles of heated grips and 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
WIND BLOCKING 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. When the temperature drops you’ll need to take it one step further. The name of the game is DRY, BREATHABLE, WIND BLOCKING FABRICS. Snowmobile jackets are the answer and most 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. 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.
FOOT SOLDIER – BETTER BOOTS
Once your feet get cold it can be painful to move anywhere and you can really be in trouble. Snowmobile boots are an excellent 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. Check the temperature rating and don’t skimp on footwear.
FULL COVERAGE - HELMETS
Now that we’ve got our extremities and torso warm, the only part left is our head, and we like to either wear a snowmobile helmet with a full shield, or a motocross helmet with the vents either taped shut or closed off. Underneath we’ll wear a convenience store, holdup-style ski mask. For goggles we’ll USE TINTED LENSES WITH ANTI-FOG COATING. Tinted lenses make it easier to see differences in the snow.
WINTER RIDING ENVY
We actually feel a little sorry for other power sports enthusiasts but there is no reason for ATV and Side x Side riders to fear the cold. Like so many things in life, you just need to be prepared. Go out and enjoy winter like only ATV and Side x Side riders can!