"2003 RX-1 Mtn. showing the approach angle of the track.
"2007 Polaris RMK Series 5 track.
"2009 Arctic Cat Power Claw track.
"1998 Ski-Doo Summit deep lug track.
The mountain track revolution started more than two decades ago and has been a fairly linear progression until recent years as the pace of new product technology has been wicked up by the major snowmobile manufacturers.
Even though there were long tracks before 1987, they were only found on utility sleds, not sport or recreational sleds.
Polaris deserves kudos for initiating the "mountain sled" segment with the intro of its Snow King Special models with a 133-inch length track versus the old school 121-inch tracks. This one foot longer track did amazing things back in 1987 with the sleds that were available at that time, even without any added traction.
This scenario continued until 1992-93 when it became apparent that the higher horsepower sleds of this era would have an exponentially greater performance capability with more traction to enhance the flotation then available.
This more aggressive traction concept started out with 1-inch and 13/16-inch full block profiles that were substantially taller than the previous tracks with half-inch tall traction bars that had the leading edge facing toward braking traction, not acceleration traction. With the market seemingly satisfied with these taller-than-before tracks, the major track manufacturer (Camoplast) was not.
When 1994 rolled around, the world of snowmobile tracks changed forever with a brand-new design referred to as a staggered profile or paddle track with 1.5 inch tall scoops, or paddles. After an acceptance year, this track was offered as a standard OEM track for Polaris and by 1997, an OEM track was now a maximum of 136 inches long with 1.75-inch tall paddles.
This ever-increasing profile and length trend has continued ever since and for the 2009 model year, the most radical OEM track measures out with whopping 2.25-inch high paddles on a 163-inch long stretch of rubber. And there are a multitude of track profiles and lengths in between. Paddle track profiles have included everything from straight paddles to scooped paddles to angled paddles and finger or conical paddles. Mountain track lengths in inches throughout the years to current have included 133, 136, 141, 144, 146, 151, 154, 156, 162, 163, 166 and 174 inches.
So far we have focused on track heights and lengths, but we should also touch on track width. The industry norm has been 15 inches ever since, well, ever . with some exceptions on utility sleds. That was until the introduction of the all-new 2003.5 Ski-Doo Summit Rev that was sporting a 16-inch wide Powder Max track. Doo continues to maintain this innovative idea within its mountain segment even though the other manufacturers did not follow suit until Yamaha began to offer a 16-inch wide Maverick track on its brand-new big-boy Apex Mtn. for 2006.
And speaking of tracks with names, technology has lead us into our era when the manufacturers are having Camoplast Track Systems Group (the major track manufacturer for decades, owning a 98 percent market share which includes OEM and aftermarket applications) roll out tracks specific to their snowmobiles and performance needs, even though there is the ever great all-around performer, the Challenger, for general applications. There is the aforementioned Powder Max for the Ski-Doo Summits and Maverick for the Yamaha mountain machines, the brand-new Power Claw for the '09 Arctic Cat M-Series and the Series 5.0 and 5.1, along with the all-new Assault tracks for the Polaris lineup.
With the drive track having become such an intricate part of the modern snowmobile, a particular track that delivers awesome performance on one brand of sled may not give that same performance on a different brand. Factors in this scenario are that each manufacturer's chassis has a different geometry, lending to different characteristics and suspension performance. One size definitely does not fit all.
Track applications for today's snowmobiles are similar to buying a set of high performance tires for your car or truck that complements the vehicle's suspension and power, along with a product that best suits your driving and/or the conditions most likely to be encountered.
Most of the major changes in the design and construction of the snowmobile track have occurred in the last five years or so and you can expect to see this revolution continue to keep pace with the ever-advancing technology of the snowmobile manufacturers.
Recently, manufacturers have even experimented with punching holes in the track to reduce rotating mass as well as provide a means for the track to clear the snow out of the suspension. One manufacturer has punched a lot of holes, another has punched a few holes, and still a third has been reluctant to punch any holes.
Some of the previous advancements may be nearly maxed out, one being track dimensions. An industry insider tells us that the 15-16 inch width seems to be the optimum range for the mountain or off-trail riding. The stock 2.25-inch (2.5 aftermarket) paddle height and the stock 163-inch (174 aftermarket) track lengths are on the ragged edge of being "how much more is really practical and efficient?"
As can be expected, Camoplast is looking down other avenues in track design as it continues R&D on issues concerning enhanced track performance along with minimal horsepower losses. And the areas of a track being looked at might surprise the average snowmobiler. Those new concepts being looked at include rubber durometers, the inner fabric along with thickness and plys, pitch distances, paddle profiles, guide clip technology and driver sprocket technology to compensate for the ever-rising horsepower numbers pumped out from today's snowmobile engines.
Camoplast tells us that it will continue to work on the research and development of a lighter, stronger and faster product, along with improving aesthetic traits of less vibration and noise, such as what is found in the Silent Track Technology-currently a Ski-Doo exclusive. This technology has four strips of 60 durometer material molded into the track for the rear axle wheels to run on.
It will be interesting and exciting to see what comes out in the next five years, since much track technology has changed in the past five years.
If we can put a plug in for a new design, how about a track that digs itself out?