The Awkward Evolution of The Snow Bike


Winter is just around the corner and that means motors on snow and ice. But we’re not just talking snowmachines. These are part snowmachine, part motocross, called the snow bike.

There’s a proud tradition among consummate gear-happy inventors to find a way to ride a motorcycle on snow, and the history of such efforts is amusing and strange, not to mention riddled with failures. 

The first group of people who set out to get a motorcycle to run on snow were the Nazis. That charming group rolled out the Schneekrad in 1936. It was essentially a track with a seat and handlebars, but it did come with a sidecar. 

Perhaps the largest drawback of this machine was that it was impossible to steer. Of course, it’s a little hard to win a war of world domination on a vehicle that can only move in one direction, so that one failed.

Undaunted, the luminaries of snowborne motorsports continued to search for a successful model for their obsession, which gave way to the idea of simply fitting a straight motorcycle with skis, which looked really cool in the pages of Popular Mechanics in 1950 but this iteration offered zero traction whatsoever. Clearly this new attempt was an idea whose time had not and would never come.

By 1973, a company in California offered a way to convert an existing motorcycle into a snow-ready monster. The SnowJob, built by Advanced Recreational Equipment Corporation, offered a double tracked platform with a front ski. 

“The secret is the lean,” read the advertising literature for this one, suggesting the turning problem had been solved. This one never quite caught on, and it took a Japanese chainsaw company to try it again, offering the Echo Snowbike, which was snatched up by Chrysler and marketed as the SnoRunner 

After such a long and strange arc of development, it seems the Snow Job is the one attempt that has been developed into a viable product, and today we can enjoy workable products from companies like Timbersled, which actually work and are in fact used in competitions

Perhaps the best way to perpetuate this time-honored obsession is make your own snow bike, and there are plenty of resources to help you do just that. 

It’s going to start snowing soon, and any motorsports enthusiast worth their butter will most likely want to find the craziest way to go fast on the powder. Why not jump into the fray with a homebuilt bike made for just that purpose? Who knows, with some digging, maybe there’s a SnowJob from 1973 just waiting for a retro fit.

Photo credit: Timbersled