Winter Tires

Story by Costa Mouzouris// Photos by Costa Mouzouris
December 12 2023

Regular motorcycle tires aren’t designed to be used in cold conditions.

Unless you’re out having fun on snowy trails or on a frozen lake using studded tires, riding your motorcycle in winter might not be a good idea. Aside from the possibility of frostbite, the grip you’re accustomed to during the summer will not be available. Cold temperatures, snow, ice, and things like the sand, gravel and salt used to combat the wet, slippery stuff make your tires struggle for traction. Also, if you really value your motorcycle, unless you wash it thoroughly after every ride, salt will cause corrosion.

I live in Quebec where, from December 1 to March 15, the government mandates approved winter tires on all passenger vehicles, including motorcycles. Winter tires are identified by a 3PMSF symbol: a snowflake within the outline of a three-peaked mountain. Even if the tire has the M+S designation in the sidewall, indicating it can be used in mud and snow, without the 3PMSF symbol it is not an approved winter tire.

The Quebec law is really meant to keep bikes off the road during winter. According to the law: “The Regulation respecting the use of tires specifically designed for winter driving also applies to motorcycles. Therefore, from December 1 to March 15, you must have your motorcycle equipped with winter tires that meet established standards and are in good condition in order to drive it on the road network.” Continue reading to see why this is a critical statement.

There are several special features built into winter tires. The treads are deeper and more aggressive, and the tread blocks have multiple small slits in them called sipes that give water or snow a place to go, thus allowing more rubber to contact solid ground. These sipes also allow the tread to flex more, which also increases grip. Another factor is the rubber itself, which is made from a special, softer compound that is designed to operate at lower temperatures, more specifically at temperatures below 7 degrees C. The rubber may also contain a higher concentration of silica, which greatly improves wet grip. Finally, the tire’s carcass is designed to be more flexible, to allow the tire to contour the road better. This is why, even in your car, you shouldn’t rely on all-season tires to get you safely through the winter.

All of the above factors apply to car tires, though motorcycle winter tires should be no different. The problem is that there are no approved winter motorcycle tires available in Canada. Well-played, Quebec. There are, however, winter motorcycle tires available in Europe, though there are only a few tire manufacturers making them. Germany’s Heidenau makes three winter tires, the K 37S, K 58S and K 62S, the S signifying it is a snow tire. According to the manufacturer, “Heidenau’s Snowtex compound is a brilliant mix of a high-quality silica rubber, and special textile fibres. This compound is designed to maximize the on-road traction in sub-zero conditions.”

Mitas, which is a subsidiary of Yokohama, has a single model, the MC-32 Winter that “features a special compound which maintains elasticity even at temperatures well below 0 C and the sipes improve traction on snow and/or slush.”

And finally, Anlas, a Turkish tire maker, produces two winter tires, the Winter Grip 2 and the Winter Grip Plus. According to their maker, “The [Winter Grip 2] tread pattern enhances rotational grooves and improves water and slush removal.” And the Winter Grip Plus is “designed to keep its users on the road, when others have to leave their bike at home due to cold, wet and/or snowy weather.” I’m sold!

Now, aside from the fact that none of these tires are available in Canada, there are a few big caveats. Tire sizes are extremely limited. The Heidenau K 37S is a square-edged 19-inch tire designed for sidecar rigs, and the two other Heidenaus are available only for scooters. The Mitas MC-32 can only be had in 100/80-17 and 130/70-17 sizes. The Anlas tires come in the widest range of sizes to fit scooters, and motorcycles with wheel sizes ranging from 16 to 21 inches. And, finally, the biggest caveat of all is that while all of these tires have many of the design features that make them suitable for winter use, there is only one tire maker that puts the all-important 3PMSF symbol on its winter tires: Anlas.

If you do plan on riding your bike this winter, make sure your tires are in excellent condition, that they have ample, deep treads (don’t ride on sport tires designed for the track), and adjust pressures to spec. Don’t go out if the forecast calls for any precipitation in near- or sub-freezing temperatures. You want to continue on to enjoy your bike in the warmer months, after all.


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