If you’re anything like us, you ride your side-by-side through every season. After all, what’s the point in letting it sit for four months over winter? Hitting a trail covered in fresh powder while you’re bundled up against the biting cold is a unique and satisfying experience.
But, in places where winter really hits hard, you have to worry about you and your machine’s well being. If you’re underdressed, you could get frostbite. If you’re machine gets stuck in the snow, you might have to hike home and leave it to get beaten by the elements for hours or days.
When things get extremely cold and you want to ride, you need to take some precautions. So if you’re planning on heading out to the northern Canadian, Norwegian, or Siberian wilderness for the first time in the dead of winter, we’ve got some cold weather safety tips for you.
Our winters here in Madison, Indiana don’t usually reach extreme, soul-penetrating cold temperatures that seize up engines and cause frostbite in minutes. So we chatted with Shawn Larabee, creator of the excellent YouTube channel XMARGH, to give us the low-down on how to survive the brutal Canadian winter on a side-by-side or ATV.
Shawn lives and rides in northern Ontario, Canada where winter temps in January and February can hit -50°C with wind chill. He rides through it and he still has all his fingers and toes. So when it comes to keeping frostbite out, you should you should pay attention to his winter weather safety advice.
“For clothing and safety, we generally wear a full snowsuit along with well-insulated boots and gloves.”
And we’re not talking “good enough” insulation. You really need to go with the good stuff. All parts of your apparel need to be thick and waterproof. And don’t forget to have a nice thermal undershirt and underwear to keep heat close to the body.
If you ride on a four wheeler through winter, you need to take some extra steps to keep yourself safe.
Shawn recommends a full-face helmet with a heated electric face shield. It keeps the wind out of your face and keeps your visor defrosted so you don’t have to continually wipe it clean.
Another must-have for ATVers is handlebar warmers. These aftermarket attachments keep your grips warm and in turn, keep your fingers toasty. They serve a secondary purpose of keeping snow and ice off your handlebars, too. There’s nothing worse than losing your grip when you’re trying to get over an ice-covered log.
Now that you’re nice and bundled up, let’s not forget about the machine that’s actually doing the work. If you neglect your ATV or side-by-side, you might end up doing damage to your engine or getting stranded out in in severe weather. Or both.
First and foremost, if you plan on riding in more than a couple feet of snow, you need to invest in some tracks. As Shawn puts it, “We simply have too much annual snowfall to risk going out equipped with tires.
If you don’t want to winch out every five minutes, rolling on tracks will give you the deep-snow traction you need.
Speaking of winches, you cannot go out without one. A winch is your lifeline, so make sure you have a good one before your next winter ride. Our Black Ops Winches are robust and reliable even when it’s wet and freezing out. We have sizes that will suit your needs whether your riding a UTV or an ATV.
Getting the right oil can make the difference between your vehicle surviving winter or dying in the spring. Full synthetic oil rated to -40° is the way to go. Anything less and you’re going to struggle to start your machine in the cold, let alone keep it running ride after ride.
Keeping the wind off you while you’re sitting on an ATV will make your ride much more enjoyable. So make sure you get a fairing and a windshield installed. You can get them as an OEM or aftermarket accessory, and it’s definitely something you don’t want to ride without.
We’re guessing this is the first thing you thought of. Getting full doors, a roof, and front and rear windshields is key to keeping warm in your side-by-side. Not only does it keep the wind chill down, but it also lets you warm up your cab by holding heat in.
Choosing the right kind of cab enclosure comes down to personal preference and ride style. A soft cab enclosure will get the job done at a low price, but it won’t stand up to harsher backwoods rides where you get pelted with branches. Going with polycarbonate, plastic, and metal components will maintain the integrity of your cab for a bit more out of your wallet.
Our hard-coated polycarbonate windshields are incredibly durable, and you can get them in a bunch of different styles to suit your needs.
With your cab enclosed, you can take advantage of a cab heater. These things use your vehicle’s own engine heat to pump in warm air. These also double as defrosters, so you can keep ice off your windshield too.
A windshield wiper is a great way to keep snow and ice from blocking your view. While they work best with glass windshields, they can be used with scratch-resistant polycarbonate windshields, too. With polycarbonate, you have to be more careful and sparing with your wiper use as they can cause scratching. This is true even on hard-coated windshields.
If you’re going out for a ride when the weather is cold enough to kill you, a broken down side-by-side can be life-threatening. Make sure you have the right tools and parts to keep your UTV running.
You especially need to be able to repair a broken track. You might be able to crawl out with three axles, but three tracks? That’s not so easy.
And make sure you bring spares: spare ball joints, axles, heim joints, bolts, and whatever else you can cram on your machine.
Everybody knows the weatherman is wrong. It’s just the way the world works. If that guy started nailing his forecasts, it would almost make you suspicious.
That’s why you’ve got to be ready for anything. Because an unexpected afternoon snowmelt can be just as bad as an afternoon deep freeze.
Don’t yell, “going for a ride! See you later” as you’re driving off with your UTV in tow.
Instead, leave a detailed plan of where you’ll be and when. Have them monitor the weather and stay in touch if you can.
If you’re stranded or stuck, the folks at home will save you from spending the night out in the cold.
Whether you’re heading north for your first winter ride or regularly put in time in sub-zero temperatures, make sure you stay prepared and don’t let your guard down. Fortune favors those who plan ahead, so get lucky and make yourself warm.