Snow bikes, also known as snow bicycles or fat tire bikes, are a relatively new winter sport vehicle that is gaining popularity across snowy regions. As the name suggests, snow bikes have extra wide, oversized tires that allow them to float on top of snow rather than sink in. This makes them an exciting way to explore winter landscapes without the need for groomed trails.
An Introduction to Snow Bikes
A snow bike is essentially a modified bicycle designed specifically for riding on snow. While a traditional mountain bike has tires approximately 2-3 inches wide, snow bike tires are extra wide at 4 inches or greater. The large, voluminous tires provide flotation on loose snow and also supply required grip and traction.
Snow bikes come in a variety of styles and configurations. Most commonly they resemble fat tire bikes, with 4-5 inch wide tires and a lightweight frame. Some models look more like small motorcycles, with the larger tires and an upright seated position. There are even snow bikes that fold for easy transport and storage.
Key Features of Snow Bikes
- Oversized tires – Extra wide, 4 inches or greater to float on snow. Made with specialized rubber compounds. Often have aggressive tread patterns.
- Lightweight frames – Aluminum or carbon fiber frames to keep overall weight manageable. Important for maneuvering in deep snow.
- Single speed or geared drivetrains – Single speeds are simpler with less maintenance. Geared bikes provide extra versatility.
- Rear suspension – Helps smooth out the ride over uneven snow surfaces. Not all models include rear suspension.
- Disc brakes – Reliable braking power in all conditions is crucial. Hydraulic disc brakes are the norm.
- Fat bike components – Designed to handle the big tires. Rims, hubs, cranks and more sized specifically for snow bikes.
History and Origins
Snow bikes grew out of the fat bike scene that began taking off in the early 2000s. As fat tire bikes on 4-5 inch tires gained traction as fun, all-terrain vehicles, riders began modifying them for winter use. Surly released a dedicated snow bike called the Pugsley in 2005, touting its ability to “ride where others cannot”.
This began the snow bike trend of using extra wide tires with aggressive tread to float on top of the snow. Originally popular with enthusiast early-adopters, snow biking went mainstream throughout the 2010s as major bike brands brought models to market.
There are now entire snow biking races and festivals held across snowy regions in the US and internationally. While once a novelty, snow biking is now an established cold weather sport enjoyed by thrill-seekers and outdoor lovers.
Snow Biking vs Fat Biking
Snow bikes are essentially a type of fat bike optimized for riding in the snow. However, there are some key differences between general fat biking and snow biking to understand:
Tires – Snow bikes use extra wide tires (at least 4-5 inches) with tread patterns designed specifically to penetrate and grip on snow, rather than dirt or sand.
Gearing – Snow bikes tend to use simpler single speeds since multiple gears are not necessary. Some do have low gears for climbing.
Components – Snow bike parts like rims, bottom brackets, and cranks are sized to fit the massive tires. Made to handle winter conditions.
Frames – While fat bikes come in many frame styles, snow bikes tend to use more compact, manageable frames for maneuvering in deep snow.
Riding styles – Snow bikes are focused on trailing riding and deep snow exploration, whereas fat bikes can be ridden year-round on various surfaces.
While certainly similar in many regards, snow bikes have evolved specific design tweaks to make them ideal for floating and riding across snow-covered landscapes.
Types of Snow Bikes
There are a few main styles of snow bikes available from major manufacturers and custom builders:
- Resemble classic wide-tire cruisers
- Include large, voluminous tires, an upright riding position, and minimal components
- Provide basic flotation and traction to ride across packed snow
- Example: Surly Pugsley
- Made for more aggressive trail riding
- Lightweight aluminum or carbon frames
- Front suspension offered on some models
- Excellent traction and bite to tackle steep slopes
- Example: Salsa Mukluk
- Extremely lightweight frames and components
- Optimized for competitive snow biking racing
- Excellent tire grip and precise handling
- Models from Fatback, 9:Zero:7, and other specialty brands
- Folding frames collapse down for packing and transport
- Appeal lies in their convenience and portability
- Smaller 2-3 inch tires limit deep snow abilities
- Example: Montague Paratrooper Fat Tire Folding Bike
- Rechargeable battery-powered electric motors
- Help conquer challenging terrain and extend range
- Added weight limits deep snow riding
- Example: Surly Wednesday Electric
How to Ride a Snow Bike
Snow biking requires some specialized techniques compared to regular mountain biking. Here is an overview of how to ride a snow bike:
- Find an open, untouched snow area to practice without obstacles
- Start pedaling gently and get a feel for the wide tires
- Let your momentum carry you through deeper snow
- Shift your weight back to keep the front tire afloat
- Pedal smoothly without stomping to maintain momentum
Turning and Handling
- Smooth, balanced movements are key for handling
- Shift body weight and steer gently to initiate turns
- Brake gradually before turns to control speed
- Use wider turn angles than a normal bike
- Lean into turns and keep pedaling to maintain speed
Hills and Inclines
- Use lower gears to provide extra torque on climbs
- Shift weight over rear and keep steady pedal cadence
- Avoid sudden pedal strokes that can cause rear spin-outs
- Similarly, go easy on front brakes which could cause slides
- Uphill riding requires practice, so start small
- Shift into a lower gear for engine braking assistance
- Feather brakes for controlled speed rather than locked wheels
- Lean back with straight arms and allow tires to roll over dips
- Look ahead and choose a controlled, smooth line
- Practice small downhills to build technical skills
Deep Snow and Powder
- Use momentum and steady pedaling to keep from bogging down
- Standing pedaling can help drive through deep snow patches
- Avoid making sharp turns in deep snow to prevent getting stuck
- If stuck, shift forward for front wheel traction then pedal out
- Alternatively, step off and push out if very stuck
Some trials and errors are normal when learning to snow bike. Take it slowly to build skill and understanding of how your tires interact with the snow. Proper technique will have you floating through powder in no time!
Where to Ride Snow Bikes
One of the best aspects of snow biking is the ability to explore areas you couldn’t otherwise reach on foot or normal bikes. Here are some ideal places to ride snow bikes:
- Groomed snowmobile and cross-country ski trails – Offer flat, packed snow base to get started.
- Open snowfields and powder basins– Untouched deep snow is a playground for experienced snow bikers.
- Snow parks and backcountry – Natural features like slopes, dips and berms add more advanced challenges.
- Frozen lakes and riverbeds – Large open areas to build skills and cruise across deep snow.
- Mountain terrain – Heading uphill and downhill on trails allows terrain variation.
- Dirt or sand – Many snow bikes with less aggressive tread can be ridden on looser surfaces in warmer months.
Any snow-covered region is prime territory to break out a snow bike and start exploring. Always assess conditions and terrain to match your skill level before heading out. Snow bikes shine best in deep powder.
Snow Biking Tips and Techniques
Succeeding on a snow bike comes down to mastering a few key techniques:
- Keeping your momentum is crucial. Avoid pedaling in fits and starts in deep snow which will bog you down. Spin an easy gear and let the bike roll.
- Standing pedaling can help drive through choppy snow by putting your body weight over the pedals. It also allows the bike to pitch back and forth beneath you.
- When riding across sidehills or off-camber slopes, keep your weight pressed over the downhill/outside tire. This keeps the snow bike from sliding downhill.
- Similarly, stay centered when riding downhill and let the tires absorb bumps. Avoid shifting your weight dramatically.
- Look ahead to pick smooth lines instead of plowing straight through mixed conditions. Outside ruts from other vehicles can help a snow bike track straight.
- Brake early before turns and obstacles to scrub speed, then let momentum carry you once pointed down the exit line.
- If getting stuck in deep snow, shift forward to put weight on the front tire, then pedal out steadily. Don’t just spin the rear wheel.
Snow Bike Gear and Clothing
To stay comfortable and protected while snow biking, utilize winter cycling clothing and gear:
Snow bike-specific clothing
- Breathable base layers to wick sweat
- Insulated jackets and bibs
- Waterproof, wind-resistant outer shells
- Lobster gloves for warmth and dexterity
- Full face masks for frigid conditions
- Winter cycling shoes or winter boots
- DOT-certified snow biking helmet
- Impact shorts with tailbone padding
- Eye protection like goggles or glasses
- Flashing lights for visibility
- Pepper spray for wildlife encounters
- Tire pressure gauge for managing tire PSI
- Studded tires for extra traction
- Water bottle and hydration pack to stay hydrated
- First aid and emergency repair kits
- Carbide studs for boots when pushing through deep snow
Dressing in regulated layers and carrying the essential gear will allow you to ride and explore in comfort.
How to Choose a Snow Bike
When shopping for a snow bike, consider these key factors:
- Wheel and Tire Size – Look for 4-5 inch wide tires at minimum. Larger volume tires float better in deep snow.
- Tire Tread – Seek large, widely spaced tread lugs designed to penetrate snow rather than dirt. Ample spacing sheds snow and avoids packing in.
- Frame Material – Aluminum or carbon fiber frames are best for a reasonable weight. Steel can be very heavy.
- Suspension – Front suspension helps smooth out bumpy snow terrain. Full suspension models provide more comfort but are less common.
- Gearing – Single speeds are simpler and lower maintenance. Geared drivetrains allow climbing ability.
- Brakes – Hydraulic disc brakes deliver reliable stopping power in all conditions.
Prioritize wide floatation tires and proven snow bike geometry. Narrow fat bike tires may struggle in deep snow. Seek reputable snow bike brands for best results.
Custom Building Your Own Snow Bike
While complete snow bikes from major brands provide a turn-key experience, some riders enjoy fully custom building their own:
- Frameset – Select a lightweight rigid fat bike frame with geometry suited for snow like Surly Ice Cream Truck.
- Wheels – Lace together 100mm wide fat bike rims to quality hubs using stainless spokes for durability.
- Tires – Mount voluminous 4.8-5 inch tires like 45NRTH Vanhelgas for maximum float.
- Drivetrain – Choose a 1x setup with 30-42t chainring and 11-42t 10-speed rear cassette for gearing range.
- Brakes – Use Shimano hydraulic disc brakes for all-condition reliability.
- Components – Complete build with compatible fat bike stem, bars, seatpost, saddle, and pedals.
- Extras – Add racks, bags or other accessories to suit your riding style.
It’s best to consult experienced wheel builders on properly constructing the wheels. Otherwise, the process is similar to building up any mountain bike, just with fatter components.
Snow Bike Maintenance and Care
To keep your snow bike rolling through harsh winter conditions, be sure to:
- Frequently clean the bike to prevent corrosion and remove packed snow.
- Re-lube the chain and components after wet, slushy rides.
- Check tire pressure before each ride. Deflate slightly in loose snow for more traction.
- Inspect tires for cuts and use tire plugs or a boot as a temporary fix for sidewall tears.
- Apply anti-seize grease to seatpost, handlebars and pedals so ice buildup won’t freeze components in place.
- Replace brake pads once they become worn. Carry spare pads on long rides.
- Check bolts and connections regularly as vibrations can loosen parts over time.
- Consider applying frame protection film to prevent paint chips from rocks and ice strikes.
- Store inside away from elements if possible. Avoid leaving the snow bike outside for extended periods.
With some basic maintenance and smart storage, you’ll keep your snow bike performing optimally for endless winter adventures.
Snow Biking Safety Tips
Like any extreme winter sport, snow biking comes with certain risks. Follow these tips to stay safe out on the snow trails:
- Always wear a helmet and appropriate warm, waterproof clothing.
- Carry a pack with spare layers, food, water, lights and emergency gear.
- Check weather and avalanche forecasts if riding in mountain terrain.
- Scout trail conditions and start on easier, familiar routes before progressing.
- Buddy up and ride with a group when exploring new zones.
- Tell someone your plans including timing and location before heading out.
- Know how to handle winter bike repairs and recovery if stuck. Carry a pump, basic tools, spare tube and plug kit.
- Slow down and ride conservatively, especially at first learning the unique handling.
- Brake earlier for corners and obstacles since traction is reduced.
- Walk any sections you feel uncomfortable attempting to ride. Don’t take unnecessary risks.
Snow Biking vs Snowmobiling and Fat Biking
How does snow biking compare to similar snow sports?
- Snow bikes are human-powered and far quieter vs loud motorized snowmobiles. No gas or oil needed either.
- Snowmobiles can cover more ground and terrain much faster than a snow bike.
- Snow bikes provide more exercise and closeness with nature. More physically demanding.
- Snow bikes are allowed in some areas where snowmobiles are banned. Much lower environmental impact.
Vs Fat Biking
- Snow bikes excel in deep snow where fat bikes can struggle and bog down. Tires optimized for flotation.
- Fat bikes are more versatile year-round bikes that can be ridden on dirt, sand and rock.
- Snow biking focuses on more extreme snow-covered trail riding vs casual cruising on a fat bike.
- Fat bikes come in a huge range of styles from beach cruisers to mountain bikes. Snow bike designs are more specific.
Both snowmobiling and fat biking are fun winter activities, but snow biking provides a unique human-powered way to access snow-covered terrain.
Are Snow Bikes Allowed on Ski Trails?
Many snow bikers are eager to take advantage of groomed ski and snowmobile trails at resorts. But are snow bikes allowed alongside skiers and boarders?
In general, snow bikes fall into a grey area at ski resorts. Some resort policies:
- Allowed – Designated fat bike trails are open to snow bikes. Must follow specified routes.
- Not allowed – Snow bikes banned from all resort trails due to liability concerns.
- Unofficially tolerated – Resorts look the other way but snow bikes ride at their own risk if caught.
- Only allowed during specific times – Snow bikes permitted during certain hours like at night or in the offseason.
The best approach is to call ahead and ask the ski area directly about their specific snow bike policy. Assume they are prohibited unless a trail is explicitly designated for snow bike use. Ride with caution and yield to all other trail users.
Snow Bike Competitions and Events
Part of the rising popularity of snow biking is a burgeoning event scene complete with races, festivals, group rides and more:
- Slopestyle – Riders perform tricks and stunts off built features in a ski/snowboard style course.
- Cross-country – Mass start races with varied terrain over 10-100 miles. Tests endurance and bike handling skills.
- Downhill – Timed races to the bottom of steep, technical downhill trails and slopes. All about speed.
- Snow bike rallies – Multi-day festivals mixing races, group rides, demos, parties and industry vendors.
- Backcountry races – Point to point or loop formats raced through remote snowy mountains. Navigation and survival skills tested.
- Group rides – Casual non-competitive snow bike group rides often held by local shops and clubs. Good way to explore new zones and meet other riders.
If interested in trying your hand at competition, visit the National Ultra Endurance Series website where most major snow bike events are listed across the US, Canada and beyond.
Notable Professional Snow Bikers
A talented crop of pro athletes are pushing the sport of snow biking forward by competing, filming video parts, and advancing designs:
- Cody Kelley – Red Bull sponsored rider known for hitting huge cliffs and backcountry lines. Founding partner of Borealis Fat Bikes.
- Carson Storch – Legendary freerider. His stunts helped boost early interest in slopestyle snow biking events.
- Cam McCaul – Freeride pioneer now dedicated to big mountain snow biking. Star of TGR’s film Accomplice.
- Jay Petervary – Multi-time snow bike racer having set records at events like the Iditarod Trail Invitational 350 and 1000 mile races.
- Remy Metailler – Originally a World Cup downhill mountain biker. Now a top snow bike competitor on the NUEndurance race series.
- Wendy Fischer – Professional snow biker since 2003. Won first women’s Iditasport Impossible hill climb race up a 2,700 foot mountain.
- Lacey Donan – Rising slopestyle competitor earning podiums at events like X Games. One of few women competing.
The common trait of these riders is a willingness to go where no one else has gone before on a snow bike. Their boundary-pushing riding continues to inspire new generations.
Snow Biking with Kids
Want to get your kids into snow biking? Here are some tips:
- Start them on a quality 20” or 24” children’s fat bike with wide 3-4” tires. Adult small size bikes can also work.
- Outfit them with proper winter clothing, gloves, eyewear, and a certified helmet. Falling happens.
- Pick flat, groomed trails or open snowfields without steep hills or technical terrain.
- Let them find their balance and get used to steering and stopping gently before hitting trails.
- Keep initial rides under 30 minutes until they build stamina. Make it fun, not a chore.
- Bring snacks, water, a first aid kit and cell phone in case they get tired, cold or have any issues.
- Ride together at first, then let them gain independence once skilled. But always supervise.
- Consider an electric assist model to help them along if needed so they don’t get discouraged.
- Get them excited about winter riding and they’ll look forward to every snow day! It builds great outdoor skills.
Starting kids on snow bikes young helps instill vital bike handling skills and confidence that will benefit them for life, while creating wonderful memories together.
Top Snow Biking Destinations in the US
Boasting deep winter snows, powder-filled mountains, and a passionate fat biking community, the western US offers exceptional zones to go snow biking:
Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming
Miles of iconic trails with stunning Teton views. Lightly used in winter, offering an untouched playground.
Crested Butte, Colorado
Home to the renowned Fat Bike World Championships. Hundreds of miles of high alpine riding around town.
Sun Valley, Idaho
A mecca for winter activities of all kinds, including extensive groomed fat bike networks.
Quick access to pristine backcountry riding and multi-day expeditions like the Iditarod Trail.
Lake Tahoe, California/Nevada
Scenic snow biking routes circumnavigating the expansive alpine lake.
The Midwest’s prime snow biking destination, with the annual Noquemanon World Championships.
Wherever you travel, reach out to local shops and groups to discover the best snow biking each area offers.
Snow biking opens up endless opportunities to explore snow-covered terrain under your own power. These uniquely capable bikes let you float across deep powder far from groomed trails.
With voluminous tires, quality components, smart technique, and proper clothing, the snow bike unlocks a meditative adventure of grinding climbs, thrilling downhills, and carving fresh lines through pristine winter landscapes alongside friends.
Snow biking provides exercise, excitement, and a connection with nature during a season that keeps many indoors. Don’t hibernate this winter – get out and embrace the cold on a snow bike!
What size tires do you need for a snow bike?
Look for tires 4 inches or wider. Standard widths are 4.5-5 inches for excellent floatation through deeper snow. Some models go up to 6 inches.
How much does a snow bike cost?
Entry-level hardtail snow bikes run $1,500-$2,000. High-end models with premium components and full suspension can cost up to $5,000-$6,000.
Where can I rent snow bikes?
Many mountain towns with extensive trail networks offer snow bike rentals through local shops. Resorts like Big Sky, Aspen Snowmass, and Grand Targhee also rent snow bikes.
Can you ride snow bikes on pavement?
It is possible but not ideal. The wide tires and tread patterns create high rolling resistance on pavement. Riding long distances on roads can damage snow bike tires.
Are snow bikes allowed at ski/snowboard resorts?
It depends on the specific resort. Some allow snow bikes, but usually only during certain times or in designated zones. Check with the resort before riding there.