For some motorcycle riders, the idea of winter riding is a bit much. The cold can be a formidable deterrent, not to mention the issues of riding in conditions where snow, ice, and rain turn traction into a potentially dangerous variable.
But Harley-Davidson riders are a different breed, as we all know, and many of them want to ride through the winter if it’s at all possible. It is—if you have the right gear—and tires are probably the most important part of the equation.
So let’s take a closer look at what kind of tires you need to ride your Harley safely in the winter. There’s a lot you need to know, and you’ll have to make some important choices along the way.
Motorcycles and Snow Tires: Is Traction Possible?
While there is a certain outlaw glamor to riding in bad weather, most riders garage their bikes when cold, rain and slush turn into actual, real live snow.
While it is hard to question the wisdom of this tactic, there are options that go further than all-season tires that are made to handle potentially dangerous riding conditions in the cold.
Old-timers may remember that a few manufacturers used to make studded motorcycle tires for winter riding, but those days—and those companies—are gone.
Thankfully, a couple of companies are pioneering winter tires, with a Turkish company called Anlas positioned as the early leader. They’ve been making their Winter Grip Plus tires for about five years now. They’re supposedly great in the snow, but the rubber compounds they use to do this are something of a closely guarded secret.
This takes us on a journey into the world of science. Knobby bias ply tires have had some success in supplying traction in the snow, but those improvements aren’t enough to guarantee the necessary traction to feel safe during a winter snow ride.
Other tactics include sipes, tread blocks, and using other improvements of rubber technology, but it’s only recently that this technology has advanced enough for newer companies like Anlas and Heidenau to invest heavily in them.
What the Law Says
To end the confusion that came with evaluating these tires, tire manufacturers in the U.S. and Canada came up with a standard.
Specifically, the U.S. Tire Manufacturers Association and the Rubber Association of Canada agreed to use a three-peak mountain snowflake symbol called 3PMSF to indicate that tires are made to function well in the snow.
This symbol applies to both car tires and motorcycle standards, so it does have a certain level of universality, to the point where Canada actually has laws about these tires. In Quebec, only tires with this symbol can be used in the winter, which is specified as December 15th to March 15th in that province.
If you’re wintering abroad, be aware that certain countries also have restrictions regarding winter motorcycle tires, so make sure that’s the case before you make your riding arrangements.
A Switchover is Probably Necessary
As is the case with snow tires on cars, you’ll need to do a switchover if you decide to ride with 3PMSF tires.
They’re built to optimize the effects of the rubber within a certain temperature range, so in a typical four-season climate it will make sense to swap them out for either all-season or summer tires, depending on where you live.
Also, keep in mind that the lifespan of these winter tires will likely be shorter, depending on your riding habits. The extra rubber used to increase traction makes these tires more vulnerable to wear and tear, so if you decide they are safe enough for you to fall in love with winter riding, keep in mind that you’ll have to swap them out more often and absorb the extra cost.
Pricing and Availability
Another issue you’ll need to consider is pricing. The price range for motorcycle snow tires starts at just over $50 per tire, and it can be as high as $150.
Obviously, you’ll need the budget to handle the extra cost, and you may expect those prices to go up as tire technology improves over time.
Availability can also be an issue, as it will depend on your location to some extent. Be prepared to use a dealer locator to find the right option for shipping or an in-person evaluation.
You should either look for a local dealer or a dealership with a large inventory that also has the ability to tap into a national supply network that includes winter motorcycle tires.
One question that probably occurs to every Harley rider considering winter tires is performance. Will winter tires hinder it? Will it cause changes to the feel of the bike, whether you’re tooling around town or out on the open road?
As a general rule, winter motorcycle tires are geared toward smaller winter street bikes, especially in Anlas’s initial offerings. The best advice beyond that is to consult with a dealership and get the best tires for your individual Harley.
Practice and Preparation
If you are going to try out winter riding and get the best possible tires for it, it’s important not to go into it cold, so to speak.
Make sure you have the right winter gear to be comfortable—boots, gloves, jackets, windscreens, etc.—and take some time to practice before you take your first real ride.
Winter motorcycles will change the feel of your ride, so what you’re looking to evaluate will be how and how much. Make sure you can handle the cold first, and you should also make sure your first ride shouldn’t be in the middle of a snowstorm that will test you beyond your abilities and challenge the traction your bike can provide.
Get the Best Winter Motorcycle Tires for your Harley-Davidson
If you’re interested in winter tires and you need some guidance, the Kingswood dealership in Houston is a great resource. We have an extensive inventory, especially smaller tires that may be appropriate for winter riding in the Houston area.
If you stop by in person, our techs will talk to you about your specific model and make the appropriate recommendations, and they’ll make sure you get the winter tires that will give you the best performance with no compromises. To access Harley Davidson’s national inventory of winter tires, go to their inventory page on the official website.
Harley Davidson of Kingwood
Harley-Davidson of Kingwood is your #1 Texas Harley-Davidson motorcycle dealer. Our full-service facility offers new and pre-owned motorcycles, parts, maintenance, riding apparel, and everything else you need to get your Hog on the road. As a winner of the Harley-Davidson Gold Bar & Shield Circle of Excellence, we’re committed to providing top-notch customer service every day of the week. Stop by and visit the Harley-Davidson of Kingwood Showroom on Northpines Drive in Kingwood, TX!