If you are a fun hog like I am you will find nothing more fun than crashing down a snow-covered trail on an electric fat bike. The battery and motor technology have hit a critical point where for <$3000 anyone can get a fat bike and outfit it with a decent motor and battery and pretty much ride all winter long, regardless of where they live. For the last 5 years, I have been destroying a lot of bikes, motors, and batteries to figure out what works and what doesn’t. This article will give you some critical tips to get you started.
1) Take the biggest battery you own
Deep powder has an insatiable appetite for watts. In the winter I never go out with a pack that is smaller than about 20Ah. This amount of power will generally give me 90 minutes to 2 hours of riding if there is <6 inches of snow. If there is more snow than that, then the riding times quickly decrease. The only drive units that I have found that can deal with >6 inches of snow is the Bafang Ultra Max and the BBSHD (preferably the 2500W Ludicrous versions). Stock both drive units can do 1000W continuous or 1500W peak. Make sure you have a tiny chainring on the front that is 30T or smaller. For the Ultra Max, you’ll need to buy a custom BCD 104 chainring adapter from Christini (review here). If you’re running the BBSHD I strongly recommend replacing the nylon gear with a $42 steel one (review here).
2) Point the ebike in the direction you want to go, but don’t get attached to going there
Riding eFatties in the snow is a lot more like sledding through the woods than biking. Pretend you’re on a luge track and just point the bike in the direction you want to go. Sometimes it will, often it won’t. It helps not to be too attached to getting where you want to go. If you’re having trouble making it between the trees, then the best thing to do is just to slow down. I go as fast as I can go without hitting trees and generally only pedal on the level and uphill. I rarely shift so when going downhill I tend to not pedal and just try to keep my balance. It’s much easier to keep your balance when you are not pedaling.
3) You can catch most slides by putting your foot down
When going down sketchy sections I leave my outside foot down and inside foot up on the pedal. That way when the ebike starts to slide out it is much easier to put my foot down to catch the bike. When the rear washes out you have to turn in the direction that the washout is occuring OR put your foot out to catch the bike from falling. Often putting your foot down is the better course of action.
4) Snow is really conductive when it melts
Make sure that your ebike connections are sealed and can’t get snow or water in them. I use heat shrink tubing and silicone to make the connectors more or less waterproof. Fill the heat shrink tubing with too much silicone then use the heat gun to let is squeeze out. Wipe away the excess. Riding an ebike on salty roads is going to destroy any ebike battery on the market. Don’t do it.
5) Keep your ebike inside when not in use
Get three cheap $5 boot trays and line them up inside to catch all the crap that will melt off your ebike after every ride. Everything with your ebike will last so much longer if you don’t let the water on your bike freeze. I’ve had brakes, axles, derailleurs and chains freeze solid. When water freezes it expands and has so much pressure it can crack an engine block.
6) Look at where you want to go
If you take nothing away from this list, take number 6 with you. Where you look, your body will follow. Don’t look at the trees, look at the trail and in between the trees. Your body will figure out how to get you there. Look directly at the trees and you’ll die. It really is that simple.
7) Learn to fall, you absolutely will fall
I wrote a great article on learning how to fall here. Make sure that you know how to dump your bike and if you have a backpack battery make sure you have a breakaway connector that will disconnect without ripping the battery connector out of your battery. I use tiny strips of Velcro One tape to keep the connectors together, but when I fall the pressure will quickly overwhelm the Velcro and the connector comes easily apart.
8) Tire pressure is everything
When I ride in the snow I will often go as low as 5psi on the front tire, and 8PSI on the rear tire. Any lower than that I start risking pinch flats. PSC tires seem to outperform normal silica rubber in snow, so I tend to lean on PSC tires for the rear tires at the very least. It’s nice to have studded front tires for when there is a lot of ice. When the rear wheel slides out, you can often catch it with your foot, but when the front tire washes out you end up on the ground before you can really react. Nothing I have found beats the Snowshoe 2XL PSC in deep powder.
9) There is no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothes
I generally go out with a used $40 purple Goretex skiing bib I got on ebay that comes up the front and back with suspenders. This allows the snow to not get down your shorts when you fall (don’t worry, you will fall). Gloves seem to be the most important clothing item, I recommend some decent ones with removable liners in case they are too hot. A decent skiing helmet without air vents will keep your head very warm and also be able to take repeated impacts (god forbid).
10) Try to ride every day, you’ll be amazed that most days you can actually ride, even when you think you won’t be able to
There are almost always 1 or 2 days a year when the conditions are so bad I can’t ride or I can ride but I don’t have any fun. No matter what is happening outside I try to ride every single day I can in the winter. Morning time often seems like the best, as snow is more fun when it’s not slushy, but if I can’t go till the afternoon then I will go then.
I’ve written a bunch of other articles about electric fatbiking in the snow that you should probably take the time to read. This article is the first one I wrote about how well the BBSHD performs in the snow. I have written articles about how to avoid the rangers and locals while riding as well as this article with 14 more riding tips. I also wrote an article with 15 more tips for electric fat biking and this one about general ebike safety. Riding electric fatbikes in the snow is one of the most rewarding and hardest sports I have ever done. Anyone who is reasonably fit can learn it with a little bit of trial and error and a fat ebike and a big battery. I’ve never heard from anyone who started riding in the deep snow that didn’t think it was an absolute hoot.
I’m so addicted that I just can’t stop, nor would I want to even if I could.