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Assaulting The RMK Lineup

Other RMKs hold their own in the mountains

Published online: Mar 01, 2008 Feature
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With all the attention the 800 Assault RMK is getting and is likely to continue getting, there are some who just might look past the rest of the stable of RMKs.

Resist the temptation.

The RMK lineup will once again be a force on the western slopes for 2009.

Polaris continues to build momentum in the mountain segment-a segment it used to own (try about 50 percent market share at one point) not so long ago. Some uncalculated blunders mixed in with a little arrogance knocked Polaris off its perch . and it's been a long climb back toward the top of the hill.

Ski-Doo now owns the No. 1 spot in the West but Polaris seems determined to keep chipping away at that dominance.

Evidence

Evidence of that is two-fold. First, the new and improved RMKs of the past two seasons and going into 2009-they're solid machines that have been relatively problem free. Second, Polaris has shown what we think is real restraint and patience in its mountain builds (although we've heard some grumbling about sled deliveries of the 800 RMKs this winter). By only building what was ordered (hey, there's a novel idea), the company has pretty much cleaned out its pipeline of existing inventory and created demand for its new sleds. Just this last fall we had one Polaris fan call us and ask if we knew of any 800 RMKs for sale anywhere. Seems he didn't pre order one and now was looking for one. We made a quick call to our contacts at Polaris and were told indeed all those preordered sleds were sold. There were none to be found. That rider was tough out of luck.

We think had Polaris built more than were ordered, more than likely they could have sold them and it would have paid off-this time. That hasn't always been the case and that's how Polaris (and other sled manufacturers) end up with too much inventory.

But Polaris seems to be following its new plan faithfully and that has helped the company get healthy and whole again.

"We're back on the gas in the snowmobile business," is how Scott Swenson, vice president, Snowmobile and Pure Polaris Divisions, put it.

Nine Models

Polaris should be solid again in the mountains for 2009 with its lineup of nine RMKs, including the 800 Assault. Most of those models have changes of varying degrees, most notably with regards to continued shedding of pounds.

Like most every other sled maker that wants to stay competitive in the mountains, taking weight off is the No. 1 priority, as long as they can do it without sacrificing reliability, ride or anything else that would compromise the sled's strengths. They all know that's what needs to be done to keep up with Ski-Doo.

Polaris trimmed another 15 lbs. off its largest cc sleds, which includes the 800 Dragon RMK.

And it was a pound here and two or three pounds there, not any one spot where all the weight was lost. Remember the saying you heard as a kid, "It's not the big things that make a difference, it's the little things."

Polaris is content for now (at least that's what they'll tell you publicly) to stick with the proven Raw RMK chassis. This platform has proven to be very versatile and does well on the way to the hill and once you get there. There are no real complaints about how well this chassis does.

"We're not ready for an architecture change just yet," Marty Samson, one of Polaris' mountain snowmobile specialist and tester. "Obviously they (Ski-Doo) made an architecture change" with the Rev XP. Although we couldn't pin anyone at Polaris down on such an "architecture change" in the future at Polaris, you have to wonder if that's not in the long range (maybe even short range) plans, simply to stay competitive in the West.

Samson continued, "You'll still see us going after weight. When you go after that kind of weight (like Ski-Doo did with the Rev XP) you have to make drastic changes. We're not there yet."

Our gut tells us it's not far off.

Shedding Pounds

Even without a major overhaul, Polaris managed to trim weight for 2009. Samson explained, "Everything we changed, it's either lighter and stronger than it was or it's the same (weight wise) but better," he said. "Our primary goal was to make the sled better." That means lighter and simpler to fix if you happen to hit something.

That kind of thinking is what led to one of the major and most noticeable changes to the Dragon 800 RMK, the new front lower plastic and aluminum bumper system. Not only is the lower plastic much more narrow than the '08 model, if you "ding" that part of the sled, you won't have to replace multiple parts but only a couple and it's a simpler swap than before. The redesign is also lighter by 3 lbs.

Polaris also chased weight in other parts of the machine. Here are some details, along with other changes to specific RMK models.

·        Lightweight Pro Taper handlebars (Dragon, Assault models). The bars are 1/2-inch taller than the '08 bars and feature very cool new hooks on the end of the bars. Weight savings: 1 pound. Standard 700 and 800 models come with a 5.25-inch riser while the 600 RMK gets a 3.75-inch riser.

·        Ice scratchers are now standard on 800 Dragons with 155 and 163-inch tracks. Last year, scratchers only came on the 800 Dragon with the 163. The weight savings results from having to use fewer wheels in the skid. Ice scratchers help provide the lubrication the hifax needs during low snow or hard pack conditions.

·        All IQ RMK models get new rails, which are lighter and stronger. Weight savings: 1 pound. The redesign is fairly easy to notice when comparing to the 2008 model. For one thing, the rear of the rails are taller from the rear bogey wheel to the back of the rails. Stronger, but lighter.

·        Up front, premium models feature new spindles and A-arms, which are lighter but stronger. The spindles have the same geometry as what's on the 2008 models. Weight savings: one-half pound.

·        New torsion bar on the Dragon RMK. Weight savings: 1 pound. The torsion bar is new because of the change to the spindles. All other RMKs still have the standard torsion bar.

·        Lightweight brake disc on premium Dragons, Assault. This hydraulic Phantom brake has a lightweight wave-type rotor that has been tested on the race track and now finds its way to consumer sleds. The brake system also has a Cyclone master cylinder. And the brakes sound very cool when you squeeze the lever. Weight savings: 1 pound.

·        The front bulkhead cooler has been removed on the 800 Dragon 155 and 163 and doesn't come in the new Assault. Weight savings: 6 lbs.

·        The Series 5.1 track is now a single layer design on all Dragon RMKs. Weight savings: 3 lbs.

·        Polaris has gone to a magnesium chaincase cover, which is more durable than the plastic one it replaces.

·        As of press time, final specs weren't quite done, but Polaris is aiming for 472 lbs. on the Dragon 800 with a 155 while the 163 is 478 lbs.

When you move to the powerplant on the RMKs, the Liberty 800 twin engine is back with no real changes to its 154 hp output. This is an impressive engine that is a bit of an overachiever in the 800 class. We were a little surprised but Polaris returns with the 700 RMK, which definitely cranks out all of its 140 hp. Note that you can only get the Liberty 700 in mountain skin.

600 Changes

It's when you move to the 600 class that there are engine changes. Polaris dropped the 600 carb model from the lineup and has gone from four injectors to two injectors in its 600 Cleanfire Injected motor. The changes were made in an effort to satisfy 2010 EPA emissions regs. The 600 still puts out 125 hp.

The basic, value-driven Shift has been expanded from one model offered in 2008 to three models for 2009: 600 RMK Shift 144 and 155 and 800 RMK Shift 144. Those will come with the now familiar all black hood and basic features such as Ryde FX and Ryde AFX shocks. In the 2008 model lineup there was a $750 price difference between the 600 RMK and 600 Shift RMK (the Shift being the more inexpensive of the two). Apparently that was enough for some mountain sledders due to the fact that the selection for '09 has gone from one to three.

We spent a couple of days on the new RMKs, including the Assault, and once again, they proved they are mountain capable and then some. RMKs inspire rider confidence and don't hold any surprises in any conditions. On the model with the new sway bar, the 800 Dragon, we found it so easy to hold a sidehill and work our way through the trees. We didn't think the old sway, which is still on the other RMKs was terrible by any stretch but the new sway bar allows the sled to react a little better to your body English, making it just that much easier to handle.

And that's why we think the '09 RMKs will continue to build on the momentum Polaris has achieved the past couple of years.