The growth of snow biking and Timbersled are closely tied. The success of the Sandpoint, Idaho born company has been nothing short of amazing. They have now been acquired by Polaris and the industry segment continues to grow.
2018 Timbersled ARO Snow Bike
But Timbersled was far from being the first to promote the snow bike. In fact I suspect the idea of riding a motorcycle on snow goes back to just about the beginning of motorized two wheel travels. My grandfather rode his Harley year round in Washington State. In the wintertime he would just chain up.
In one of my old magazines I found an advertisement for the “Snow Job”. It featured, of all things, the use of a Kawasaki triple! When there is no such thing as too much, then you need a Mach 3 Kawasaki. Here is another graphic I found of various vintage snow bike designs.
Vintage Snow Bikes
There have been a few other more recent creations, such as the Snow Hawk. But the real credit for bringing snow bikes to a wide modern audience really has to go to 2 Moto. An Idaho company too, they laid the ground work for the modern motorcycle track and ski conversion.
While very inventive, the 2 Moto had some engineering limitations also. The company started with a clean slate design and came up with a very good product. But they overlooked some of the basic concepts that already existed in snowmobile track design. In simple terms, the track was a flat design and did not rise in the front. The result was a machine that worked extremely well in moderate conditions. But in deep powder the front of the track would tend to dig down into the snow instead of climbing on top of it.
David Kamo Testing 2 Moto Radix
This design flaw could have been addressed, but 2 Moto was very entrenched in their engineering philosophy and the superiority of their own ideas. Had they acknowledged the flaws and worked to improve the track layout, we would likely be here talking of them as the powerhouse of the industry.
No doubt that 2 Moto’s huge efforts at promoting the sport led to the growth we see today. They were able to get a number of major magazine reviews, targeting both dirt bike and snow mobile readers. That is how I became acquainted with them, while testing for Motorcycle USA. They also helped promote the first snow bike races. Snow bike racing is now part of the X Games, so I guess we can say it has made the big time.
Ironically, the biggest benefactor of 2 Moto’s marketing efforts would be Timbersled. They were able to recognize the design issues and use conventional snowmobile track technology to create the first Mountain Horse model. The name could not be more appropriate. Mountains are where the Timbersled excels.
As a first time rider I was absolutely amazed at the abilities of the Timbersled. It would readily climb things that looked impossible to me. And that was just as a beginner rider! In the hands of an experienced rider, nearly any terrain is rideable.
Testing In McCall Idaho
What the first Timbersled lacked was the ability to ride on packed terrain or go in a straight line. By far the most terrifying thing I ever attempted was to ride down a packed road. It was mainly due to the ski skeg design which has since been modified.
I had the opportunity to test snow bike kits on a number of different motorcycles. Honestly, the most fun of all was probably the Gas Gas 300. For those who have never ridden a snow bike, the best analogy I can think of is this; it is like riding a Jet Ski on sand dunes. There is a freedom unlike anything else I have ever done. Point me toward some wide open mountain ranges and let the fun begin.
Flash Point Snow Bike Race
The two stroke Gas Gas retained all of the fun power and handling characteristics of the dirt bike. But alas, it wasn’t really a great long term choice as a snow bike. The jetting was tricky in the cold and high altitude conditions. It also gobbled up gas. I actually ran out and had to fetch help.
It is the fuel injected four stroke motocrossers that really shine. The track and deep snow suck horsepower, so a strong bike is best. Electric start is a huge benefit too. Kick starting a snow bike requires some balancing technique. The rider is an extra foot or so in the air, so no touching the ground.
Backcountry Riding KX450 Timbersled
There was a third brand that I got to test that showed lots of potential, the Savage Snow-X. This was a different approach, simpler and closer to a real dirt bike feel. The Snow-X was not designed for deep powder or extreme mountain conditions. Its specialty was flat terrain and packed or mild snow conditions. In such, the narrow track and maneuverability easily outperformed the other brands. It was also a very simple, inexpensive design.
KTM Snow-X Snow Bike
Rust never sleeps and so the snow bike industry continues to develop and grow. There are a number of new conversion kits on the market. Most appear to follow the basic Timbersled concept with slight tweaks to meet different demands or price points. Some of these newer entries are;Yeti, MotoTrax, Camso, and CMX Man, someone needs to organize another snow bike shoot out and invite me!
It is a dry, sunny winter day here in California. It certainly does not feel much like winter. It is the kind of day that makes me long for a real Idaho snowstorm. If I lived in snow country, there is no doubt a snow bike would be part of my garage ensemble.