Talking about the AD Boivin Snow Hawk isn't as easy as it sounds. It's completely different and totally similar to snowmobiling at the same time.
It has a long track with deep lugs, a skidframe-type rear suspension, a ski with metal runners on it, a Rotax twin-cylinder engine in it and a pull rope for starting. Those are the similarities to a snowmobile. On the flip side, it only has one ski, a motocross-style front fork suspension, twist throttle and foot pegs.
So how do you ride a Snow Hawk? Like you ride a snowmobile? Or like you ride a dirt bike? Let's tackle the question from a dirt biker's point of view first.
The first thing a dirt biker is going to say is how heavy the Snow Hawk feels-both when just sitting on it and when riding-compared to a bike. That's obvious; the Snow Hawk carries a lot more bulk (395-405 lbs., depending on the model) than a typical 230-pound bike. But the weight affects how you would implement a dirt bike riding style. For instance, when cornering the Snow Hawk in loose snow, you do more of a counter-steer, drop the shoulder move (like what you'd do on a stand-up jet-ski) to get the machine to carve around.
Throttle input is much more of a requirement than on a bike. If you let off the gas mid-corner on a Snow Hawk, you'll dump it. And picking the Hawk up in two feet of powder by yourself is no easy task. In fact, the easiest way to remount the machine is to keep it running, straddle it while it's leaning over, put all your weight on the upside peg and gas it (another jet-ski trick). Also, you're better off if you keep moving. The faster you go, the more the Hawk acts like a bike (and the easier it is to maintain balance).
On hard pack and rough trail conditions, the Hawk responds more like a heavy enduro bike, like an XR650L or something of that nature. Once you get used to it, you can get the ski to lift when you want it to to time yourself through rhythm sections. The rear suspension soaks up hits very well, but don't let the ski drop into a hole. It doesn't take frontal abuse as well as a bike.
High-speed cornering takes a bike style much more than a snowmobile style. No tuck and lean happening here. Keep your body centered on the Hawk, weight on the outside, both feet on the pegs and plenty of throttle.
Don't worry, you'll get used to it.
Non-Dirt Biker View
If you're not a dirt biker, well, then you can still have lots of fun riding the Snow Hawk but it takes a little more practice. In a way, not carrying dirt bike riding traits with you when you ride the Hawk might be a little bit of an advantage-you don't have to rethink any riding styles or make changes to your riding habits.
But then, you can't really approach riding the Snow Hawk from a traditional snowmobiling-style of riding either. It's not necessarily harder or easier to ride-just different.
Keep a few, simple rules in mind (nearly all of which were mentioned in the dirt biker section) and you can really enjoy riding the Hawk. Things like keeping your body centered on the Snow Hawk and most definitely keeping both legs firmly planted on the pegs when turning or carving in the powder are two of the biggies. These basic instructions were told to us before our ride on the Snow Hawk and we dutifully stored them in the back of our minds (the very far reaches) and headed out. Handling the Snow Hawk on the trail is fairly simple-as long as you stay on the twist-style throttle and lean with the machine in the corners rather than lean just your body and hang off the side. The rear suspension does soak up the bumps well, which is no surprise. We've long been impressed with AD Boivin's Expert suspension.
Once we headed off trail and into 1-2 feet of powder, we should have more quickly recollected the instructions given to us earlier about staying centered on the machine and keeping both feet on the pegs. Remember that part already mentioned about lifting the Snow Hawk up after you've tipped it on its side. well, we all found out firsthand about that. Once we practiced what was preached to us, we were carving and romping and laying the Snow Hawk down in the powder like we'd been doing it for years. Again, another key to having the most fun on the Snow Hawk is staying on the throttle.
Keeping Your Balance
We will admit that we felt the Snow Hawk was more like a submarine going through the deep powder, rather than staying on top, but we think that's mostly a result of the 12-inch wide track. And, we were on the 121-inch, not the 136, which might help make a difference. It wasn't really an issue, just more of an observation.
And the ride back to the staging area was much faster as we were more used to the handling of the Snow Hawk.
That's really all it boils down to-getting used to (read: ride a lot) the balance and handling characteristics of the machine.
We first rode the Snow Hawk years ago in Quebec when it was still a fan-only model. It's much he same today as it was back then except for a couple of major exceptions. First, the engine is a 600 H.O., which puts out considerably more power than the fan model did. Power really is an asset on the Snow Hawk when it comes to handling, especially in the deep snow.
Also, AD Boivin has also made one really rather simple change to the front of the Snow Hawk that makes it much more manageable to ride-the twin axis ski. To be more specific, where the ski mounts to the front fork, allows the rider to bend the machine up to 25 degrees to either side, which definitely helps on the leaning part of riding. That means the ski stays flat while the machine can be leaning to one side or the other. This change seems insignificant until you ride the Snow Hawk. It's more noticeable at slower speeds and on the trail than in the powder, but it is noticeable.
For 2006 AD Boivin is offering the Snow Hawk in three basic models: the off-trail Outlaw (with either a 121- or 136-inch track), the Sport/Trail (again, same track options as the Outlaw) and the Hawk Jr., an 85-pound mini version of the Snow Hawk.
Snow Hawks are trail legal nearly everywhere so they're much more versatile than a backyard toy, which is how they were first being marketed years ago.
And although we haven't extensively tested the Outlaw in the steep and deep, it seems much more capable off-trail than the fan model was years ago. We've seen with our own eyes riders jumping with the Snow Hawk, hillclimbing and boondocking. It all comes back to the idea of getting more practice and seat time.
And we're all for that.