Coping with Ice

bmw-f800gs-2It’s the first big spring ride and you’ve been out on your middle-weight adventure bike for a few days. Now after a hard night in your 4-star tent you’ve awoken to snow and ice.  Catastrophe?  Well, no.  Let’s say we learned a bit about riding on unexpectedly icy during our F800GS test and video shoot, and we’re willing to share..

If you can’t wait it out, say you’re in the middle of nowhere or at a cataclysmically expensive ski resort, the only option is to ride on.  Here’s what we learned about riding on ice and snow with a mid-size to large adventure bikes from our time with the BMW F800GS.


  1. Air down the tires. The increased contact area provided by the tires deformation will help you find what precious traction is available.  Around 20psi worked for us, but you could go softer.
  2. Avoid anything with a watery sheen. Stick to stuff that has texture.  Pine needles, gravel, sand, dirt, even if you’re running between patches of traction your chances of staying upright have improved.
  3. If you’ve the choice between hard compacted snow or the sheet ice, take the snow.
  4. Keep relaxed, stand a bit on your pegs for improved balance & elbows out – keep wide like a tightrope walker with a pole.
  5. Stay smooth – you’ve heard it before, but it’s hugely important. Inertia is your friend, don’t upset it.
  6. Stay off the front brake and keep the ABS off. You’ll need to be able to slide/lock the rear to control stops.
  7. Find the right speed.  The rotational mass of the wheels provided gyroscopic force, there’s a balance between this force and the ability to steer without breaking traction.  On the BMW F800GS 30-40kph felt just right.
  8. Keep your steering inputs gentle.  No abrupt motions through the bars to destabilize what grip your front tire has.
  9. Stand up.  The improves your visibility, allows the bike to move around beneath you, helps you balance the bike and lets you steer by weight shifting.
  10. Lean the bike, but press the outside peg while turning.  This provides downwards force on the tire (good), rather than weighting the inside peg with levers the bike out from underneath you (bad).

In the end it’s all down to faith.  Expect your bike to slip and slide, but hope that mostly it’s the rear end doing so.  If you have the choice between having to ride on ice or not we’d recommend the “not” option, especially if you are anywhere that involves traffic.  Our fellow motorists in their four-wheeled cages tend not to understand the traction deficit a motorcycle has on ice or snow.

If you don’t have the choice of waiting till the next round of spring, then tread carefully my friends.

Have additional thoughts or tips?  Let’s hear them in the comments section below the picture.

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