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Dirt bikes are hardy vehicles that can withstand a wide range of temperatures. If they’re properly prepared for the season, some can even function at high temperatures of 180-220 degrees Fahrenheit and low temperatures of -25 to -34 degrees Fahrenheit. Just because they can operate in these temperatures doesn’t mean it’s safe to ride though.
Most dirt bikes can operate at temperatures as low as -25 degrees Fahrenheit (-32°C) with the proper antifreeze. A rider’s tolerance to cold is usually the determining factor as to whether or not it’s safe to ride. Anything below 30ºF can easily become dangerous for riders.
Although some riders believe there’s “no such thing as being too cold to ride” there are certainly limits where it becomes unsafe for the rider and the bike. Most people will never be around temperatures as low as -25ºF or below, so you won’t have to worry about going beyond your dirt bike’s limits. However, there are some steps you can take to properly prepare your bike (and yourself) for winter riding.
Temperature Quick-Reference Chart
|Temperature||Safe for Your Bike?||Safe for You?||Notes|
|More than 50ºF||Yes||Yes||Some riders don’t like riding in temps of 55 or below, but you’ll be safe. Just be sure to cover up any exposed skin.|
|49 – 40ºF||Yes||Yes||It’s still safe to ride in these temps, but it will get quite cold. Proper head, hand, and foot protection is essential.|
|39 – 30 ºF||Yes||Yes||Extended rides in this temperature range are a bad idea. Limit rides to 1 hour or less and bundle up. Mild risk of hypothermia and frostbite.|
|29 – 20 ºF||Yes||Yes||In this range, you’re likely to experience snow and ice. Snow tires will be necessary for safety and better traction. Mild risk of hypothermia and frostbite.|
|19 – 10 ºF||Yes||Maybe||Temperatures in this range start to become truly dangerous if riders stay out for long periods and don’t layer properly. Moderate risk of hypothermia and frostbite.|
|9 – 0 ºF||Yes||Maybe||Temps of 0 degrees or lower can often feel much colder due to windchill. Riding is inadvisable. High risk of hypothermia and frostbite.|
|(-1) – (-9)ºF||Yes||Maybe||A few riders like to ride at temperatures in the low negatives, but these rides should be short and lots of layers should be worn. Extremely high risk of hypothermia and frostbite.|
|(-10) – (-19)ºF||Maybe||No||Depending on the coolant/antifreeze you use, your bike might be able to withstand these temperatures. It’s getting close to the limit though. Rides of any length are quite unsafe at this point.|
|Less than -20ºF||No||No||At this temperature, dirt bike antifreeze will freeze, rendering the bike inoperable. It’s also unsafe for riders. Do not attempt to ride during these conditions.|
Preparing Your Bike
If you’re planning on riding your dirt bike during the colder months, there are some steps you should take to make the whole experience safer. Once again, bikes can withstand much lower temperatures than riders can, so it’s important to prepare the bike in a way that makes it more comfortable and tolerable for you.
- Use a Snow Bike Conversion – First of all, you should consider turning your dirt bike into a snow bike. This is a fairly easy conversion process that will make it easier for you to traverse snowy trails. To turn a bike into a snow bike, you basically just replace the wheels with a front ski and rotating tread system that gives you better traction and control.
You’ll be less likely to slip this setup! Plus you don’t have to buy a separate snowmobile if you go this route; you can use your dirt bike for winter activities. Timbersled provides fantastic conversion kits that are compatible with a variety of bikes. Check out their website here to see more information and find a kit that works for you.
- Use Studded Snow Tires – If a snow bike just isn’t your thing, consider switching out your usual tires for a set of studded snow tires instead. Driving on snow and ice is dangerous and a crash can damage your bike and put you in danger. Studded snow tires help your bike dig in and get better traction on winter roads.
If you have an extra set of dirt bike tires, you can convert them with a tire studding kit like this one (Amazon link).
- Install Heated Grips – Installing grip heaters is another step that can be a lifesaver when you’re dealing with cold-weather riding. Grip heaters basically keep your hands warm while you ride and make it easier for you to control the brake, throttle, clutch, etc.
If your hands are stiff and cold, it’s going to be much harder to control your bike. Numb hands and icy roads are a dangerous combination that should be avoided at all costs.
- Wrap Metal Parts You Touch With Athletic Tape – Next up, consider covering the bare metal parts of your bike with athletic tape. This should mainly include the parts that you’ll be touching such as the brake lever, clutch, etc. Adding an extra layer of protection between your body and the cold metal below helps a lot.
Plus, using athletic tape can give you a better grip as well. This is especially helpful if you’re wearing gloves because these tend to slip. If you need more fine control in cold weather, tape is going to be a great asset!
- Check Your Antifreeze – Be sure you top off your bike’s antifreeze/coolant levels as well once the cold weather rolls around. Your bike should always have a healthy amount of these products, but it’s especially important in extremely hot or cold conditions. A dirt bike engine can easily overheat or freeze up if it’s left unprotected.
Products like Maxima 82964 Coolanol 50/50 Blend Performance Coolant or Engine Ice TYDS008 High Performance Coolant are ideal products for cold-weather performance. Maxima can even provide protection for temperatures as low as -34 degrees Fahrenheit! If you want to dig more into coolant, see my article on the best coolant for dirt bikes here.
- Check the Lubrication – Finally, make sure your bike is well-lubricated and ready to withstand cold-weather conditions. Lubrication is especially important once the temperature drops and the air starts to lose moisture. Salt, gravel, ice, and other road debris can cause damage as well.
Many dirt bike lubricants are designed for 3-season use, so make sure you use a product that has the properties and viscosity that will be helpful during the winter. In order to keep everything in good condition, apply a generous amount of lubricant to your bike chain, wheels, and other moving parts.
A product like this Motorcycle All-Weather Chain Lube from Muc-Off is a great solution.
What are the best stock dirt bikes for the snow? See our list of the best dirt bikes for riding in the snow here!
Cold-Weather Hazards For Dirt Bikes
Although dirt bikes will technically function in temperatures down to -30ish degrees, it’s not necessarily safe for your bike to do so. Once the temperature starts dropping, there are new mechanical issues that can arise.
1. Decreased Battery Life
Many modern dirt bikes have batteries, even if they aren’t strictly electrical models. These batteries can be used to power the electric start, headlights, fuel injection, and anything else that runs on electricity. Of course, if you have an electric dirt bike, it won’t even turn on without a battery!
In cold temperatures, batteries will become less efficient and can even sustain permanent damage if they’re not properly insulated and/or stored. If you want to use your bike during cold seasons, consider replacing the battery with a new one so it doesn’t die on you when you need it most.
2. Brittle Frame and Other Metal Parts
Dirt bikes are made from sturdy materials, but they aren’t invincible. In colder temperatures, the metal on your bike will also be more brittle and prone to cracking, especially with repeated impacts or vibrations.
This can be very risky when it comes to moving elements like your tires and chain. If these break down, you can easily get hurt. This is why extra lubricant is necessary when preparing for cold-weather riding.
3. Less Traction on Roads and Trails
As we all know, riding when it’s freezing outside means that you might have to deal with snow and ice. These are dangerous factors that should make even the most seasoned rider take a bit of additional caution.
Anytime you ride (or even drive a car for that matter) when the temperature is below 32 degrees, you’ll need to be on the lookout for snow and ice. Even if the roads aren’t covered, you could always run into a slick patch that was hiding in the shadows.
Equip your bike with studded snow tires or convert it to a snow bike to help mitigate this problem. Give yourself plenty of time to accelerate and slow down, and don’t push your speed too far either, especially on turns.
4. Increased Warm-Up Time
This point really isn’t a hazard as much as it is an inconvenience. When it’s cold outside, dirt bikes tend to take longer to start up. A cold engine may need a few tries before it really gets going. Plus, once the engine starts, you’ll need to wait a bit longer to give it a chance to warm up and get ready for action.
If you want to ride in cold weather, your trips should be short anyway so you can stay as warm as possible. If you have to cut into your ride time even further by waiting for the engine to start, this can certainly be annoying.
Cold-Weather Hazards For Riders
The rider’s cold tolerance is much more limiting than the bike’s. You and I are certainly more likely to give up on our winter riding before our bikes do. Here are some hazards we need to watch out for.
1. Wind Chill
One of the biggest factors that riders need to keep in mind is the wind chill. Despite what the thermometer says, when you’re out riding around, it will feel much colder. You’ll be losing body heat as you ride and won’t really be able to build it up again until you stop (depending on your attire). Even on warm days, wind chill can make you shiver!
The National Weather Service has created a very helpful chart to help people calculate the windchill they can expect. It is based on outside temperature and the speed of the current wind. If you know the speed at which you’ll be riding, you can substitute this for the wind mph. Check out the wind chill chart here.
You’ll notice that with just a bit of wind, even temperatures in the double digits can feel like negative temperatures. Some dirt bikes can also reach top speeds of 100 mph, which will generate a lot of wind chill. So if you plan on going fast, make sure you’re plenty warm.
Hypothermia is another risk that dirt bikers will need to watch for. This is one of the biggest reasons why you should limit your winter rides to an hour or less. If you take long trips (especially in wooded/rural areas) you’re more likely to experience a life-threatening drop in body temperature. Once your body temperature drops below 95 degrees, you’re in serious trouble (source).
If you’re away from your home and other areas that have indoor heating, you won’t have an easy way to raise your body temperature. Once you notice the danger you have no choice but to turn around and head back. You’ll still be out in the cold while you travel back so it’s likely to get worse along the way.
You’ll be in even greater danger if it rains or snows during your ride. Nothing saps heat faster than being wet! It will be hard to focus and control your bike and you may find yourself shivering uncontrollably.
On a related note, frostbite is another cold-weather condition that can appear if you ride a dirt bike when it’s cold out. Although frostbite may not affect your vital organs in the same way that hypothermia will, your fingers, toes, nose, ears, and other extremities will be at risk.
If you don’t have gloves or any form of protection on your handlebars, your fingers are going to go numb fast! Because of the windchill and the placement of your hands on a typical dirt bike, your hands are going to be one of the most exposed parts of your body.
Pay attention to your body so you know if frostbite is setting in. If you feel numbness, have stiff joints, or are experiencing a prickling feeling in certain areas (especially exposed areas), these can all be warning signs (source). If you have frostbite, you will feel numb and will be more clumsy as well. This is dangerous when you’re operating a moving vehicle!
You’ll need to bundle up to avoid the effects of frostbite (or at least stave them off until your ride is over). Wearing heated clothing and gloves can be a good first step.
TIP: See our article on the best tips for riding in snow for some practical tips on how to ride a dirt bike in all types of snow!
Choosing Cold-Weather Gear
If you’re going to be riding in cold weather (60 degrees or lower) you’ll want to bundle up! Good layers can go a long way towards staving off hypothermia and creating a much more comfortable riding experience.
Layers are key for cold rides. A good basic outfit guideline to follow includes:
- Long thermal underwear (top and bottom). Moisture-wicking is essential.
- Thick waterproof socks. Fleece-lined or wool are good choices.
- Riding gloves with good grips. Built-in heating is a plus!
- Warm fleece layer. This could include a jacket and/or thermal leggings.
- Balaclava or ski mask.
- Windproof and waterproof outer layer. Enduro jackets and pants are ideal.
- Waterproof riding boots.
- Helmet with reflective or dual-paned goggle lenses.
Some of the gear you already have at home may work just fine. You can usually cobble together a good layered outfit from existing items, but sometimes it helps to have a special piece of clothing when you’re getting ready for cold-weather rides. A few particular products we recommend are:
- Moose 2020 XCR Jacket: This is an Enduro jacket that is ideal for cold rides. The Moose brand is a fan favorite in the dirt biking community and this new jacket lives up to the reputation. It’s designed to be waterproof, but still breathable. You can check out pricing info and more details about this jacket here on motosport.com
- Gerbing Heated Jacket Liner: If you’re looking for something a little toastier, this jacket from Gerbing has a microwire system that heats the fabric from within. The arms and torso are both heated so you get full chest protection when you wear this. A jacket like this helps anyone to raise/maintain their body temperature during cold rides. It’s a great product for anyone who’s planning a winter dirt bike excursion. See more details and pricing on amazon here.
- IRON GIA’s Motorcycle Gloves: Good gloves are essential and these provide comfort and flexibility. They come with sensitive fingertips that can be used to operate a touchscreen, but they also have hard shell technology that provides protection from the wind.
The lining is nice and warm as well, so you won’t have to deal with numb fingers too often. These gloves are available on Amazon here.
- BMW Thermo Socks: Good socks are essential because your toes are one of your body parts that’ll get cold the quickest. These thermal socks provide great temperature regulation and are breathable and flexible.
They also come with special padding around the ankles, heels, and shins because they’re specifically designed for dirt bike and motorcycle riders. These socks are long, warm, and perfect for winter rides. Check them out at revzilla.com.
Knowing Your Limitations
When it comes to hard limits, there just aren’t many in the dirt bike world. We ride in a wide range of temperatures and many of us have successfully ridden in temperatures of -5 degrees or lower (such as some of these dedicated riders). With wind chill factored in, that’s pretty cold!
Many riders prefer to stay in the range of 30 degrees or higher though. Some people won’t even ride at all unless it’s above 60 degrees. It all comes down to knowing your limits and staying within a comfortable range.
You can technically ride in extremely cold temperatures, but there isn’t much merit in doing so. Just do whatever you feel comfortable with and be sure to keep it safe, and fun too!
Riding in cold weather can be fun, but it should be done with caution. Cold weather brings a ton of hazards with it that can affect both you and your bike. Remember, dirt bikes can usually start-up and drive even if it’s -20 or below, but you’ll need to account for your own comfort and safety above anything else.
If it gets below 30, you’ll be at risk of getting dangerously cold. You’re also more likely to encounter snow and ice in this range, so it’s a good idea to stay inside whenever you can. If you really want to push the limits of your cold-weather endurance, make sure to bundle up with the proper gear, prepare your bike for the weather, and limit yourself to short rides.
- How to Winterize a Dirt Bike in 10 Minutes or Less – Here’s how you can very quickly prep your dirt bike for storage during the winter to avoid damage so it’s ready to ride any time you pull it out. Whether it’s the winter or next summer!