What’s the situation with snow tires and motorcycles? They made a huge difference when I put a set on my car, so I’m wondering if I can do the same with my bike. Is it possible?
Thanks for writing in and asking, Alex. Just like car tires, motorcycle tire rubber compounds are optimized to give the best grip in various riding situations. As any track day aficionado and/or racer can tell you, that’s why race tires differ significantly from anything you’d want on your bike for regular street use. Your suspicions are correct: Motorcycle snow tires should, therefore, make a difference if you choose to take your bike out in snowy conditions.
Whether you opt to do so is, of course, another matter. I was a hardcore motorcycle commuter in Chicago for several years. While I had no trouble riding in the cold, I hung it up every year when snow and ice were on the ground. You may, of course, feel differently. That said, no one usually wants to crash in any weather if they can help it, so you’ll probably want to choose the best tires for your riding situation if they’re available to you.
Do motorcycle snow tires exist?
While there aren’t as many choices of snow tires for motorcycles as there are for cars, as of January 2022, there are some options. It’s worth noting that the concept of “winter” looks different in different places, so while there may be a lot of snow in some areas, others simply get colder temperatures, slush, and rainy gloom without a ton of snow and ice. Tire manufacturers including Heidenau and Mitas offer all-season motorcycle tires aimed at riders who are more concerned with frigid temps, wet roads, and muddy, slushy conditions. These do mention snow capabilities as well, although they’re not specifically “snow tires.”
Since 2017, Turkish tire manufacturer Anlas has been marketing its Winter Grip Plus tires, which it specifically claims are made to function well in the snow. They’ll do cold temperatures, slush, and slippery conditions as well, but their standout quality is supposedly their prowess on snow-packed terrain.
What makes snow tires different than regular tires?
The specifics of each tire manufacturer’s individual rubber compounds are closely-guarded trade secrets, and that’s one thing that all tire makers have in common. Generally speaking, though, rubber compounds are made to perform differently in different temperatures. You’ve probably heard by now that you need to warm most tires up before you can expect their performance and grip to be at its peak.
Tires made for winter riding must have compounds that function well in colder temperatures. Therefore, winter tires generally have optimal operating temperature windows that are lower than those of summer tires. However, there’s a bit more to it than that.
According to the tire experts at the Tire Rack, “The original definition of M+S (Mud and Snow) tires is based on the geometry of the tread design and requires no actual performance standard to achieve. The M+S designation was first used to differentiate the knobby, bias ply tires intended for use on muddy and/or snow-covered roads from the straight rib tires used on early cars or trucks. Tires with tread designs that meet the definition may be branded with the letters "M" and "S" in several different ways (e.g., M&S, M+S, M/S, MS, etc.) at the discretion of the tire manufacturer.”
Their explanation continues, “When early radial ply tires were also found to deliver more snow traction than the straight rib, bias ply tires, the tire companies introduced all-season tires. Supported by advertising, all-season tires have presented an unspoken promise that they, throughout their life, can provide traction for all seasons...through spring's rain, summer's heat, fall's cooling and winter's snow. While this combined offering has made all-season tires popular, many drivers have learned that a geometric definition doesn't guarantee winter snow and ice traction.”
That’s why you’ll find a three-peak mountain snowflake symbol (3PMSF) on both car and motorbike tires that are specifically made to function well in snow. Tires bearing this symbol meet or exceed packed snow traction standards agreed upon by the U.S. Tire Manufacturers Association and the Rubber Association of Canada.
In fact, according to a Quebec, Canada highway safety code regulation that went into effect on December 15, 2014, only tires that meet the 3PMSF standard are considered to be acceptable snow tires for use in Quebec. The law specifies the winter months there as ranging between December 15 and March 15 each year. Winter vehicle requirements may differ by region, so it’s worth familiarizing yourself with what’s legal in your area before you go tire shopping.
While you’ll find many motorcycle tires that bear M+S designation, the Anlas Winter Grip Plus is one of the only (if not the only) motorcycle tires with a 3PMSF rating as of January 2022.
When should I use them?
Winter means different conditions in different geographic areas. If riding in the snow is something you want to do, you’re probably best off reserving your snow tires for use in the winter months in your area, and then switching to all-season or summer tires in the warmer months. Rubber compounds are meant to operate at their best within specific temperature ranges, so the same tires that are made for cold weather won’t necessarily fare well when you’re sweating in the hot sun.
How much do they cost?
Pricing and availability vary by region, as not all tires are sold in all places. Additionally, tires for smaller bikes and scooters often cost less than tires for larger bikes—whether we’re talking about snow tires or other kinds. Prices for individual front and rear tires can vary from as low as the £39 range (about $53) up through the £113 (about $154) range, depending on your preferences and requirements. In some cases, purchasing your front and rear tires in a set can save you money over purchasing each individually.