While many people put their motorcycles away during the winter, there are still a select few who want to ride as much as they possibly can. Maybe it’s for commuting, maybe it’s for fun, or maybe it’s a little of both. In any case, it can be doable—but you’re probably going to have to work at it.
Depending on what winter weather looks like in your area, you’re also going to have to decide whether the additional preparation is worth the hassle or not. As with most things motorbike, that’s entirely up to you. No matter what bike you choose to ride during the winter, you’ll also need to make sure you have appropriate gear to keep you warm and dry. After all, nobody likes to be cold and wet, whether you’re riding or not.
The most important things to consider if you’re thinking about winter riding are a) keeping yourself warm and dry, and b) maintaining decent traction through whatever winter riding conditions look like in your area. Now, “decent traction” is tricky, because if you’re super good at riding in slippery conditions, your idea of what constitutes “decent” will look a lot different than some other rider’s. It’s important to remember that it’s all relative!
All that said, here are our current top five bikes for winter riding. Your list may look completely different—and it probably should.
What’s not to love about a lightweight dirt bike with knobby tires? For 2021, Honda both upped the displacement on its beloved CRF250L and also simultaneously shaved about 11 pounds off the total weight. This should make it pretty easy to manage for winter riding, as well as traversing your favorite dirt rides during the rest of the year.
The thing about winter riding is that it’s all a compromise. The CRF300L (or any lightweight dirt bike with knobby tires that you like, really) will be easy to maneuver, but what it won’t offer you is wind protection. You could make up for that fact by bundling yourself up really well with insulated and possibly heated motorcycle gear, or you could choose something with a windscreen, leg shields, hand guards, heated grips, and/or a heated seat (you get the idea).
Could you tip a sidecar rig over? I mean, you’ve probably seen people purposely tip their sidecars up into the air for fun, right? Still, once you acclimate yourself to the low-end torque and throttle response particulars of a modern Ural, what you’ll find is an eminently solid machine that can tackle most terrain, including in the winter. The sidecar is also perfect for all those hearty winter soup and/or stew ingredients you’ll surely be stocking up on to keep yourself fed—or, you know, also for a passenger.
The whole point of a Ural, after all, is to be a hardcore workhorse that just keeps going, even when conditions aren’t ideal. If that doesn’t describe most of the vagaries of winter weather, I’m not sure what does.
We know that situations don’t always work out the way you want, but if you’re serious about riding this winter, we highly recommend a bike you’re already comfortable with. One where you know its quirks and almost instinctively adjust to any strangeness it might throw your way.
Be sure all your maintenance is up-to-date, and that you have appropriate winter tires that suit your local winter weather. There’s truly no good time to find out your brakes are mushy, but winter’s probably at the top of the list of bad times to deal with that problem. While you may not be an expert at riding in the snow, like most things, you’ll get better with practice.
If you want to get really good, we also recommend a bike you won’t be upset if you drop. Having that kind of confidence while you ride will help you show yourself what you (and your bike) are capable of, in any weather. A bike that already has a few scars here and there is a bit of a boost. It’s one less thing to worry about, you know?
The thing about any top five list is this: Words like “top” or “best” are extremely subjective. This vehicle, we reckon, is probably some of the most ridiculous fun you could have in the snow. We thought that back in 2020, when we first saw racer Francesco Guerrini take it out in this video.
I mean, who wouldn’t want to try a Triumph 675 Street Triple-engined Piaggio Ape in the snow? I’m guessing probably no one who’s reading RideApart, at any rate. I’ll also tell you right now that lately, I’ve been riding a Street Triple R and absolutely adoring that power plant. Just imagining what it’d be like to flick this Ape around in the heart of a Chicago winter has me grinning ear to ear.
As I previously mentioned, “top” is such a nebulous word. Are we saying that Chrysler Sno-Runners are good? Objectively, they are not. However, if you’ve never collapsed in a heap of unmitigated giggles after doing some stupid but insanely fun nonsense with your friends, I’m truly sorry. That is where a vehicle like the Chrysler Sno-Runner would absolutely excel.
Obviously, this isn’t the winter bike situation for you if you want to actually, um, go anywhere at speed. However, we look at it as being something like a motorized sled, tube, or toboggan, though. Those are all things that a lot of people like to do for fun in the winter, just for the sake of the experience.
None of those things are necessarily meant to transport you anywhere. You’re simply going to have a lot of fun in a group, laugh, fall down, and hopefully drink hot cocoa or cider and eat some pleasantly gooey s’mores later. Couldn’t you use some fun right about now?