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When most people think of dirt biking, they probably imagine tearing down trails and plowing through dirt and mud. This is certainly an accurate picture, but what happens once winter rolls around? Many fans of this sport will realize they are missing out on a lot of ride time whenever there’s snow on the ground. So now the search is on for the best dirt bike for snow riding. We’re here to help!
A good snow-ready dirt bike should be fairly light, powerful, and easy to control. Many people have found that lightweight bikes with 450-550cc engines are some of the best models to choose from. Luckily lots of brands are up to the challenge and have created dirt bikes that can tackle snow just as well as they tackle dirt or mud. Our top five picks are listed below:
|Model Name||MSRP||Engine Size||Power||Dry Weight||Snow Convertible|
|KTM 450 XC-F||$10,999||449.9cc||52 hp||222.6 lbs||Yes|
|Husqvarna FC 450||$10,399||450cc||63 hp||222.7 lbs||Yes|
|Yamaha YZ450FX||$9,899||450cc||53 hp||236 lbs||Yes|
|Kawasaki KX450f||$9,599||449cc||52.4 hp||232.7 lbs||Yes|
|Honda CRF450R||$9,599||449cc||55.2 hp||230 lbs||Yes|
Many dirt bikes will need to be converted to snow bikes for the full winter experience, but the models listed above will give a good start to anyone who wants to take on the challenge of snow riding, converted or not. We’ll explore more details of these bikes below, as well as other important information that prospective snow bikers should know.
KTM 450 XC-F
- MSRP: $10,999
- Engine Size: 449.9cc
- Engine Type: Four-Stroke
- Power: 52hp
- Weight: 222.6lbs
If speed is your top priority, the KTM 450 XC-F should definitely be on your list! These models have been known to reach top speeds of 110 mph and their frames are exceptionally lightweight as well (source).
This combination is perfect for those who want to use their bikes in snowy conditions. The engine is powerful enough to propel the bike through tough trails and the frame is light enough to be maneuverable.
The 450 XC-F also provides a comfortable and adjustable riding experience. The handlebars can be raised or lowered into four different positions, which makes it easier for a wide range of people to enjoy this bike. It also has a bright orange frame, which will make it easy to spot in a snowy landscape!
For more information, visit the KTM website.
Husqvarna FC 450
- MSRP: $10,399
- Engine Size: 450cc
- Engine Type: Four-stroke
- Power: 63hp
- Weight: 222.7lbs
The FC 450 is a sleek and powerful model that honors the Husqvarna legacy. This bike is designed to maximize power while simultaneously improving agility. The newer models can be paired with the myHusqvarna app via Bluetooth, which makes riding a more immersive experience.
In terms of terrain adaptability, the Husqvarna is also extremely capable. This bike’s engine includes a variety of settings that can be used to tackle sand, hardpack, gravel, or even wet road conditions. Rain, snow, or shine, the FC 450 can deliver a great performance.
For more information, visit the Husqvarna website.
- MSRP: $9,899
- Engine Size: 450cc
- Engine Type: Four-stroke
- Power: 53hp
- Weight: 236lbs
Yamaha is another popular brand that makes high-quality dirt bikes. The YZ450FX is a fantastic bike to ride across all terrains and seasons of the year. When it’s converted into a snow bike, it’s hard to match this model’s performance.
The YZ450FX has superior suspension that helps to smooth the ride and overcome any tough bumps and dips in the road. Riders can choose to convert their bikes into snow bikes, but the base unit comes with fantastic tires that provide durability and traction without weighing down the whole frame.
For more information, visit the Yamaha website.
- MSRP: $9,599
- Engine Size: 450cc
- Engine Type: Four-stroke
- Power: 52.4hp
- Weight: 232.7lbs
Many riders consider the KX 450 to be one of the best and most powerful bikes on the market today. The combination of the compact build and strong engine has made this one of the most popular models to use for snow riding.
Kawasaki bikes have always been built with speed and power in mind. Users who have converted these bikes into snow bikes have reported that they get amazing traction and have had a great experience (see more about this bike as a converted snow bike here). This fan-favorite is guaranteed to be a great dirt bike whether you’re riding on trails or snowy fields.
For more information, visit the Kawasaki website.
- MSRP: $9,599
- Engine Size: 449cc
- Engine Type: Four-stroke
- Power: 55.2hp
- Weight: 230lbs
Honda is another big name in the world of dirt bikes. The newer models of the CRF450R have been recommended as a good candidate for a snow bike. It can be used by adults and kids alike and the engine provides plenty of power for a good ride.
This model also comes with a sealed airbox, which is a huge benefit for a snow bike. Sometimes snow and ice can clog the airbox when the snow is deep enough. This will slow down your bike’s response and can stall your engine.
In addition, the slim and light frame of the CRF450R makes it easy to turn and maneuver even when you’re driving at high speeds.
For more information, visit the Honda website.
TIP: Make sure you aren’t missing the basics! For a great broad overview on how to go about riding a dirt bike in the snow, see the article Riding Dirt Bikes on Snow: How well does it work? (Plus some tips!).
Other Features to Look For
Of course, we’ve only scratched the surface with the 5 bike models above. Each brand offers different trims, styles, and years for their bikes so the options are pretty much endless. So if you’re not interested in the bikes listed above and are searching for the right dirt/snow bike criteria, here are the basics of what you should be watching for.
Engine power is a very important factor to consider when you’re looking for a dirt bike to ride in the snow. Your bike needs the extra power to be able to travel through the more stubborn terrain.
The best snow bikes usually have engines that are between 450-550cc. If kids are riding them, the engines can afford to be less powerful (usually down to 350-250cc depending on their weight). These weaker engines should mainly be used for flat trails because they can’t handle steep, snowy inclines.
We mentioned airboxes briefly before, but this is an important component to consider for a snow bike. Especially if you drive through deep powder, there’s a good chance that your bike’s airbox will fill up with snow and become clogged. If your bike doesn’t come with a protected airbox, you can add an outerwear air filter to provide an extra layer of safety.
However, if you only plan to ride your bike through a couple of inches of snow, this shouldn’t be a big problem. Most people won’t really need a protected/sealed airbox unless they plan to plow through deep powder.
Weight is another factor to consider when you’re shopping for a snow-capable dirt bike. You want something that will be able to stay on the top layer without sinking too quickly.
The models we discussed above will weigh about 220-250 lbs but many dirt bikes weigh much more than that. Some are in the 320-270 lbs range, which isn’t ideal for snow riding.
However, if you convert your bike to a snow configuration and remove/replace the tires, you can sometimes shave some of that weight off. Lighter is better when it comes to snow biking. You’ll also be able to enjoy more maneuverability if you have a lightweight model, and that is a huge plus.
Snow Convertible or Not
We’ve mentioned converting dirt bikes into snow bikes a couple of times and this is a significant factor to keep in mind. Traditional dirt bikes can handle a lot of different types of terrain, but snow is a tricky problem to overcome.
Sometimes it’s best to change the design to fit the terrain. There are now lots of snow bike conversion kits on the market. These usually replace the front tire with a front ski and the rear tire with a treaded track system. Luckily these conversion kits are largely universal and can fit with most major bike brands.
The important thing to know is whether or not your chosen conversion kit has a bike-specific install kit that can fit your particular dirt bike. While the equipment is usually universal, some of the connecting pieces will be specific.
It’s best to confirm the availability of a snow bike conversion kit for the bike you’re considering before making a buying decision on a specific bike. Older bikes might not be able to work with new conversion technology, so keep that in mind when you’re searching for a kit.
Finally, the weight and age of the rider should be taken into consideration. Younger kids are smaller and lighter than adults, so they have different needs when it comes to choosing a snow-capable dirt bike.
When you’re trying to find a snow bike for a child/preteen you can usually pick something that’s lighter and has a less powerful engine. Smaller riders won’t need as much engine power and staying lightweight is great for speed and agility.
Heavier/older riders will need a more powerful engine to compensate for their larger size. They should also try to find the most lightweight model that they can when it comes to snow riding.
2-Strokes vs 4-Strokes in the Snow
Every time there’s a question of the best dirt bikes for (blank), the two-stroke vs four-stroke debate comes up again. These engines are both quite powerful nowadays and can provide similar levels of performance in most settings.
Four-strokes are becoming increasingly more common in the modern market, but two-strokes still have loyal fans as well. When it comes to driving in the snow, some people consider bikes with fuel-injected two-stroke engines to be the best choice. This is because these bikes have powerful engines and are pretty lightweight.
The main problem with this criteria is that these bikes can be harder to find nowadays and they aren’t significantly better than their four-stroke counterparts.
All the bikes discussed above are four-stroke models that are perfectly capable of handling snowy conditions. They might be a bit heavier than two-strokes, but they are still reliable and powerful bikes.
So in the end, it comes down to personal preference. As long as your bike meets the criteria for a good dirt bike (weight, engine power, etc) it doesn’t matter too much if it has a two-stroke or four-stroke engine.
When You Need Studded Tires/Snow Tires
Once the winter chill sets in, you might be wondering when is the right time to bring out the snow tires for your dirt bike. Traditional tires are designed to provide great grip and traction on a variety of surfaces, so a thin layer of powder won’t affect your ride much.
However, once the snow starts building up, it will become harder and harder to maintain balance and control without a set of proper tires. If ice is a frequent problem, studded tires are a good solution. They can dig into smooth surfaces to provide better traction and maneuverability. They reduce the likelihood of spinning out as well.
Generally, if there are between 2-8 inches of snow on the ground, it’s a good idea to switch out your standard tires for studded/snow tires. Anything more than 8 inches gets hard for any dirt bike to deal with, especially if the snow is heavy (according to many snow-versed dirt bike owners).
Lots of bikers love to tear down trails with studded tires. The extra resistance is all part of the fun, so sometimes it’s worth it to delay a full conversion. Check out the video below to see how effective studded tires can be on snowy trails!
When You Need to Do a Snow Bike Conversion
If your snow tires just aren’t getting the job done or you want to enjoy a snowmobiling experience, it might be time to consider a snow bike conversion. As mentioned above, most dirt bike tires become ineffective once the snow gets deeper than 8 inches.
You no longer have to choose between a dirt bike and a snowmobile because you can equip your bike with the same basic design elements. One of the most popular conversion kits is the Polaris Timbersled. These kits come in different shapes and sizes, but the base design is the same. Riders just need to replace their front tire with the ski and replace the back tire with the rear track system.
This track system uses rotating treats to propel the bike forward (almost like the wheel of a tank). Once it has been installed, you can drive these bikes through almost any snowy condition. Deep powder (12 inches or more) should only be tackled if you have a converted snow bike. A traditional bike will just sink and get stuck.
If you’re interested in performing a snow bike conversion, visit actionmotor.com to explore their lineup of Polaris Timbersled products.
Enjoy Your Hobby All Year!
Snowy winters don’t mean that the fun has to stop! Dirt bikes are hardy vehicles that can handle hot and cold conditions. They just need the proper tires or snow equipment to deal with the snow and ice.
Just remember that there are some mechanical limits your dirt bike has and some physical limits you likely have as well. You can learn about all these in my article about how cold is too cold to ride a dirt bike here. You can enjoy your hobby year-round as long as you have the right base bike and the proper seasonal equipment.