Just a few years ago, Yamaha’s mountain sleds were just a blip on the radar screen. Now they’re among the most talked about sleds in the industry. And the buzz of 2007 is all about the new Phazer.
There’s good reason why the Phazer is generating so much interest—it’s not the first time the name has graced the pages of a new model brochure. From the mid-80s to the mid-90s, Yamaha’s Phazer line was one of the most popular and best-selling snowmobiles.
Now, 13 years after the first Phazer was released and five years after it was dropped from the lineup, it returns. But the ‘07 bears no resemblance to the two previous versions.
The big news is the new 498cc, twin-cylinder four-stroke engine. The thumper rumbles more like an ATV engine than the super-smooth triple and four-cylinder engines in Yamaha’s other four-stroke sleds (maybe because it’s based on the popular motocross YZ250F engine), but it churns out some usable power. About 80 hp is what Yamaha claims from the Phazer, which puts it in the popular 500 class. It’s just above the entry-level fans (like the Polaris 550 Super Sports), but a few ponies below the two-stroke 500 and 600s.
But horsepower numbers are deceiving when comparing two different types of engines. The Phazer’s fuel-injected twin produces the go in a broad powerband (but with a premium-unleaded-only requirement). Most two-strokes start weak down low, build power as the rpm increases, peak for a short range and then fall off the backside. Four-strokes are different. Their inherent torque gets things going early down low. Power gets into the upper realms early on and stays there—even at over rev. That’s why you can take an 80 hp four-stroke and run it head-to-head with a two-stroke of similar displacement. Oh, and the Phazer sports electric start and push-button reverse. Rub that one in your buddies’ faces.
Speaking of the electric start system, an automatic decompression system implemented on the exhaust camshaft makes the engine easier to turn over. That means a smaller battery and starter could be used to keep the weight down.
Throw all of those characteristics in a bowl with a long track and you’d have a heck of a boondocking/play sled for the lower hills of the West. That’s where Yamaha has its target set with the Phazer Mountain Lite.
But it takes more than an engine to make a good sled. Designed after the Apex’s front end, the FX double wishbone suspension has gas-shell shocks in steel bodies (for those of you keeping track, this is a good place to start a Phazer weight-loss program). The short-track Phazer FX gets GYTR piggyback shocks.
The rear suspension is a lightweight new type torsion skid with a few similarities with the regular ProAction, called the ProActive FX for its application on the FX chassis. It has a new scissor-style rear arm and tipped up rails. It also uses steel-bodied gas cell shocks with standard steel preload torsion springs.
It’s pretty obvious that Yamaha was going for the stripped-down look with the Phazer (it’s the in-look of the season, apparently). No front belly pan or arduous plastic bumper. Minimal body cladding. It’s part of the company’s efforts to keep weight to an absolute minimum. Well, to a Yamaha absolute minimum, anyway. Yamaha originally wanted to meet the weight of the early-90s generation Phazer (less than 500 lbs.), and wound up with production Phazer FX units coming in at just under 490 (514 on the Mountain Lite).
How did Yamaha get the four-stroke down so low? It used a twin-cylinder engine, for starters, rather than a three- or four-cylinder. The track was also trimmed up to fit into a narrower tunnel. Why go narrower? Ergonomics and weight. Yamaha wanted the sled to feel light, more like a dirt bike. Narrowing up the tunnel makes the sled feel slimmer and narrower. Plus, it means less material is used, so actual weight is reduced. However, the narrow track is not helping things in the flotation department. Even with its 144-inch length and 2-inch lugs, the 2.52-inch pitch “mini-Maverick” doesn’t have the footprint of a wider track. It’s the same story of compromise. Weight or footprint. Yamaha went with weight.
More weight savings comes from the lightweight ventilated hydraulic disc brake and integrated chaincase, where the chaincase is part of the chassis with a magnesium cover.
The exhaust system is a direct derivative of the original RX-1 system. The exhaust dumps out of the two cylinders, runs straight back through steel pipes to combine into a single pipe before exiting through a single stainless muffler mounted under the seat (there’s more weight savings for your list).
While the twin-cylinder engine does require a radiator (and fan on the Mountain Lite) to maintain correct engine temperature, Yamaha kept it small and mounted to enhance the sled’s center of gravity. Keep in mind there’s no rear heat exchanger on a Phazer (just a single front one), so the weight of a cooling system is kept in the center of the sled.
The FX chassis itself is designed to be light and rigid for little flex and high durability. It uses three different materials: steel for the frame tubes, die cast aluminum for the frame and engine box, and aluminum panels for support. A link-type sway bar (write that one down on the weight removal list, too) keeps things flat and smooth. Like the Apex, the Phazer sports a rider-forward design to keep the rider over the sled’s neutral center. It’s the future of sled design and one of the reasons the Phazer rides as well as it does. It’s interesting to note that the Phazer’s seat puts riders 36mm higher and 286mm farther forward than on Yamaha’s Nytro. The handlebars are similarly placed, 57mm taller and 128mm forward of the Nytro’s. In fact, Yamaha admits that the YZ dirt bike ergonomics played a heavy roll in the design of the Phazer’s FX chassis. It’s a good move—the Phazer has some of the best rider ergos on the snow.
This leads to on-the-snow reviews. Yamaha says the 2007 Phazer Mountain Lite is aimed at deep snow boondockers who want an easy sled to ride in technical riding. We’d say that target is close, but not quite on par.
If we had to compare the Phazer to another motorized vehicle, we’d say it feels just like a four-wheeler. Maybe it’s the naked front end. Maybe it’s the seat and handlebar combo. Maybe it’s just that fun. But the Phazer has that triangulated feel that was first prevalent on the Ski-Doo Summit Rev—wide, outstretched skis stance, long length of rotating track stretching far behind you—it’s the three-point stance of snowmobiles. It leaves you working the spans between two of the three points (rear-half of track and either ski) on climbs and sidehills. The feeling is very prevalent on Summit Revs and similarly apparent on the Phazer Mountain Lite. Compared to an Arctic Cat M-series (or even compared to Yamaha’s own Apex Mountain) where the geometry isn’t so aggressive, the chassis is easier to roll. Notice we didn’t say the chassis is easier to manipulate or ride or throw around. It’s just a geometry aspect that effects chassis roll. The closer the rider is to the front spindles, the more the effect becomes noticeable.
Now, we didn’t ramble on about all that for nothing. We’re getting to the point. That point is that a chassis that’s difficult to roll tends to be harder on riders who are just getting the hang of things (which is the rider this sled is aimed at). That’s why, for the first two years, the Rev was more popular among expert riders. Which creates a conundrum among Phazer riders. It’s an entry-mountain-rider sled that expert riders will be drawn to.
Maybe that’s a problem. Then again, maybe that was Yamaha’s plan all along.
One thing’s for sure, Yamaha is selling the Phazer to everyone from grandpas for their grandkids to 3,000-miles-a-year hardcore enthusiasts. We’ve even heard of guys who have traded in their big mountain sleds on Phazers. Of course, they’ll get superchargers and turbos and whatever else they can, but still, they’ll have traded in their 150-horsepower, 500-pound sleds to ride a 150-horsepower (turboed), 500-pound sled. You do the math.
We see the Phazer fitting perfectly as an option sled, if you have room for one. That means that after you get your Apex or your M8 or Summit or Dragon, it would be fun to have a Phazer in the garage to take out when you don’t need to get everywhere. Even better, if you could talk all the guys in your riding circle into getting a Phazer, you’d all have the time of your lives.
One of the rides we had with the Phazer Mountain Lite late last season was in typical winter conditions (deep, fresh powder, overcast with snow showers). We took the Phazer with a group of Apexes and Vectors and headed for the big hills like it was any other Tuesday morning (for us, anyway). In fact, just for fun, the Phazer was the lead sled. It went—breaking trail—everywhere we usually go on that route. It went up, over and around all the terrain we pointed it at … it just took much, much longer. Long climbs were attacked at gradual sidehills where momentum mattered more than horsepower (there were at least two times where the rider had to jump off and run along side the Phazer to keep things moving in some sticky spots). As long as you took the time for the momentum to build, you could divert whenever you needed. If you didn’t build the momentum and you turned into a tree gap or shot up a short burst, you’d get buried. But carry some speed into it and the Phazer led the way all the way into the steep backcountry (even leaving a few riders on the “big iron” buried in a few holes along the way).
The Phazer did the job of a big sled, but it just took a helluva lot more effort to do the job.
Bottom line: The 2007 Phazer Mountain Lite is a success story in the writing. It’s the second-best Phazer Yamaha’s ever built (the ’84 silver bullet holds the No. 1 spot). And at $7,199 (MSRP), it’s got plenty of bang for the buck.