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Part dirt bike and part snowmobile, snow bikes take Winter X Games by storm

A snow bike brings dirt bike performance to the snow, with more agility and speed than a snowmobile.

This past weekend in Colorado, the top action-sports athletes in the world gathered to compete in a number of high flying events at the X Games Aspen 2017. But amidst the usual skiing and snowboarding competitions, a new race is generating buzz among athletes and spectators alike.

Dubbed Snow BikeCross, it is a fast and furious affair that sends riders out onto a twisty course on a machine equal parts dirt bike and snowmobile, with plenty of speed and power to burn.

This new class of vehicle is called a snow bike and it was first made popular by a company called Timbersled. The Idaho-based business sells conversion kits that turn a typical motocross or dirt bike into a machine built for use on snow. That kit replaces the front tire of the motorbike with a single ski and the back tire with a tread not unlike what you’d find on a snowmobile. The result is a faster, wilder ride on a machine that is surprisingly maneuverable, even in deep powder.

The result is a faster, wilder ride on a machine that is surprisingly maneuverable, even in deep powder.

While snow bikes have been around for a few years now, they made their X Games debut a few days back. The Snow BikeCross event featured 15 different riders, most of whom used Timbersleds to compete in the race, although there are a few other companies that have also begun dipping their toes into the snow-bike market. For instance, MotoTrax now offers several full conversion kits that are similar in price and performance to Timbersled’s models.

The race required competitors to navigate a narrow, winding course designed to test their skills. More than a few riders ended up dumping their bikes over in the shifting snows, while others struggled to maintain speed on the numerous tricky corners.

A few well-placed jumps did allow riders to catch serious air from time to time, much to the delight of the crowd, which let out a cheer with every liftoff. Most of the onlookers had never seen anything like a snow bike before, let alone ridden one.

Learning to ride a snow bike doesn’t take especially long, with most people getting the hang of it within a matter of minutes. They are essentially dirt bikes at heart, and the throttle, brakes, and gears function identically. Depending on the model, an electric start can even be added, making the transition even more painless.

And since these machines are so fast and powerful, they carve through snow with ease, and have a much shorter turning radius when compared to a traditional snowmobile. Snow bikes are also much lighter and easier to handle, although they do require the rider to maintain his or her balance when stopping on hills or plunging through deep snow, which is generally not a concern with a snowmobile.

They carve through snow with ease, and have a much shorter turning radius when compared to a traditional snowmobile.

Snow BikeCross competitor and LifeProof-sponsored athlete Darren Mees told Digital Trends that he had only been riding for two months, but he was already competing in the X Games. He said that he was first attracted to the sport because “snow bikes are faster and more maneuverable than snowmobiles, and they have the added benefit of being able to go more places, too.”

Unsurprisingly, the majority of the riders competing in the event — including Mees — come from the motocross world. A number of them had discovered snow bikes when they went looking for an alternative to a traditional snowmobile, which didn’t quite offer the experience they were looking for.

“A snow bike handles like a cross between a dirt bike and snowmobile,” Mees says. “And while they can’t quite jump like either of those machines just yet, they turn so well that it more than makes up for it.”

Canadian rider Brock Hoyer fended off all comers to take the first-ever Snow BikeCross gold, and based on the reaction of the crowd in attendance — as well as the riders themselves — it won’t be the last such medal awarded at the X Games. Interest was incredibly strong in this new event, not to mention the unique machines that were being ridden in it.

More than a few spectators were wondering where they could get a snow bike of their own, while others said they were already looking forward to seeing where the sport would grow. It was clear that there were plenty of new fans in attendance.

More: Two wheels and winter don’t mix, unless you’re on Priority Bicycles’ Continuum

Mees told us that he was already making plans to come back next year. His enthusiasm for the event was clear, as was his excitement at being on the ground floor of a burgeoning new sport. When asked how he felt about taking part in the first snow bike race at the X Games he told us “I think it was the coolest thing I’ve ever done.”

Something tells us that a lot of other riders are going to feel the same way when they finally get to ride one of these machines.