Have a hot time in the cold

By the staff of Dirt Wheels. Photos by and the DW staff.

Even though you will generate body heat exercising in cold-weather riding, you should still be prepared.


Many off-road riders are fair-weather fliers. They might just hang out in the house when it is too hot or cold. Or, perhaps they choose a more appropriate sport for the temperature; for example, wakeboarding in the heat and snowboarding when there is slippery white stuff hiding the ground. If you decide not to take the easy way out, you have to be prepared. It is possible to ride in reasonable comfort when it is cold and even cold and wet, but that won’t happen if you and your machine are not prepared in advance.

You can buy grips that have heater elements molded in or use your favorite grips with grip warmers like these underneath.


Heated controls: Just as the advertisements claim, you can live better with electricity. You can buy heated grips, but if you have a deep relationship with a certain grip, then opt for heater tapes or pads that mount under your existing grips. You will need a machine with an ignition that will power them.

The installation can be a little fussy making sure that all of the wirings is correct and out of the way. If you don’t ride with a twist throttle, you will want a heating pad designed for the thumb throttle. Good, heated grips can help your hands immensely, and they can even keep hands in wet gloves comfortable. For the UTV set, there are a few heated steering wheels available that are just waiting to be your hands’ best friend.

Handguards: Naturally, these don’t apply to UTVs. Handlebar-mounted guards can keep wind and precipitation away from your hands. At the very least, they allow you to use a more flexible, less substantial glove without risking your digits. These range from diminutive little flag-type guards intended for motocross roost to large, substantial items fastened to aluminum bars that mount solidly to the handlebar. There are also large, floppy, elephant-ear handguards intended to be attached over more permanently mounted guards.

Lubrication: Those oil-viscosity numbers you use while shopping for lubricants is a rating at a specific temperature. Check your machine’s owner’s manual. It will likely suggest that you go one to two steps lighter on oil viscosity depending on the temperature you anticipate riding in.

Coolant: Almost all coolant is either premixed with water or instructs you to mix it with water. Water is great for absorbing and shedding heat from an engine, but other ingredients in coolant help lubricate parts and seals. It also positively affects the temperature that the coolant boils at. Water isn’t nearly so good for resisting freezing. Make sure that you at least have fresh coolant. Ideally, look for a winter-specific one or one that resists freezing well.


Windshield/face shield: Keeping cold wind and water—frozen or unfrozen—off your face and out of your eyes is always a great plan. Helmets with flip-down shields are great for quads and UTVs. There are heated face shields and treatments to prevent the shield from fogging.

If you are riding a quad, that is your best bet. If you have a quad or UTV, consider a windshield. These can be partials designed to kick the wind blast up and over your helmet. You are not required to look through the shield. Then there are complete shields. These can be formed from glass or some sort of plastic. There are even kits to add wipers (manual or electric) to a windshield.

Full-cab enclosures like this Moose Utility Division unit offer ultimate weather protection. Some are textile-based like a convertible top on an automobile.

Full cab: When the weather is truly miserable, a full cab enclosure is worth its weight in hot chocolate and firewood. These range from truly basic models with soft doors and windows to those with power-side glass windows and air conditioning. Believe it or not, we have even seen a quad with a cab enclosure added, They are soft tops over a light frame that leave the rider’s legs exposed.

If you want the ultimate in cold-weather traction, a track system like this one offers amazing performance.

Tires/tracks: Choosing a tire with deep, sharp tread lugs can help a lot in the snow. If you expect ice, then tire chains, studded tires, or ones with ice screws are a huge traction multiplier. Then, of course, if you are going the whole hog, you can have a track conversion. Tracks redefine the meaning of all-terrain vehicles. The cost is usually daunting, the installation time can be a problem, and they add unsprung weight that the suspension must deal with, but they are all but unstoppable.

This Moose Utility Division cab heater is available for a variety of models.

Cab heater: The only thing better than a full cab in the winter is a full cab fitted with a cab heater. Some of the high-end winter-specific utility UTVs come with heaters to complement their air conditioning. There are cab -heater kits that work with just about any UTV.

You lose a lot of body heat in the cold, so choose to clothe wisely and consider electric-heated clothes or even a heated seat pad.

Heated seats/seat pad: Keeping your core temperature up to specs is vital, and heated seats or a heated seat pad for UTVs or quads can prevent heat from leaching out of your body.

Concerned parents have decked these youth racers in snowmobile clothing, giant handguards, and proper helmets.

Clothing: There is an amazing range of choices for clothing that will keep you warm in the cold. Staying warm isn’t always as hard as simply maintaining the correct temperature. You don’t want to get overheated working hard. It will eventually cool down, and wet clothes can be dangerous.

Make sure you start with base layers that will wick perspiration away and not leave you with wet clothes next to your skin. There is waterproof outwear, insulated garments, and even electronically heated vests, pants, jackets, and gloves. Get some experience with what is available and learn what combination of layers and garments work for the conditions in your area.


Don’t hide this winter. Get out and throw some snow, spray ice chips, or power through the mud. You will experience some of the most memorable rides ever. Don’t miss those experiences.

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