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Assault Team

Polaris advances on freeride target

Published online: Oct 01, 2008 Feature Ryan Harris
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Freeriders are a different breed from your typical snowmobiler, more easily defined by what they're not than by what they are.

They've had few demands of the industry, rather keeping to themselves, taking what's offered by the manufacturers and changing the product to suit their needs.

Snowmobiles have come a long way in the last 10 years since the freeride segment really caught footing with the Slednecks following. But nothing was designed for them or their unique style of riding. It's been a decade of riders adapting to whatever equipment happens to be available.

Most riders opted for race sleds modified for backcountry use (mainly because a race sled's chassis is stronger and its suspension is stiffer), or mountain sleds, depending on where the sled is being ridden. Either way, these riders are starting with a platform that doesn't meet their needs from the beginning. Before they can really hammer the big drops, boulder-laden pillow lines or hundred-foot hits, they have to do quite a bit of labor and investment to their machine.

The freeride segment has been wishing for better equipment in the suspension and durability departments. They've been answered with a few shock upgrades here and a couple reinforcements there, but nothing too substantial.

In the meantime, Polaris had been watching this segment grow over the years. A couple of its key engineers' riding styles fit right into that super-aggressive, ride-`til-you're-out-of-gas-or-pinned-to-a-tree mentality, they had been playing with design elements and R&D parts on development equipment. What you see in the 2009 Polaris Assault RMK is the result of that rogue development idea.

While there are excellent choices from other brands (and also within the rest of Polaris' lineup) for freeriders, the Assault represents something different. The components on the Assault are designed, built and tuned specifically for the aforementioned type of riding. These shocks are not for touring Yellowstone National Park. The track isn't for deep powder meadows and the skid isn't really built for sit-down riding.

What's the Assault for? Let's go over the details. First, it is in the RMK lineup and it wears the RMK badge on its hood. But while it has that and the Sidehiller 2 skis, the RMK heritage is pretty much limited to the chassis. It's the Raw version of the IQ chassis and it shares the updates to the 2009 RMK lineup. That includes the refined nose pan system and lightweight aluminum bumper. The tunnel and seat are the same as the RMKs, too.

The Assault's front suspension features wider A-arms for a 41- to 43.5-inch adjustable stance, much wider than the RMK's. The track is 15x146 inches, shorter than all but the RMK Shift's 144 and nearly two feet shorter than the 800 Dragon RMK's 163 track. The Assault track's lugs are extremely stiff with aggressive tips and towers to provide maximum bite with little to no track spin in hard pack conditions. It's not the best offering for deep powder-but you can still ride it in deep powder with proper throttle control. But when you're sidehilling across a crusted slope and need to line up with your next line, getting instant movement out of a little throttle squeeze makes all the difference.

The suspension has more in common with a Honda CRF450 than a Polaris RMK. On a backcountry trail with a lot of deep moguls, a typical sled will carry the nose over the first couple of holes and then drop it. The shocks don't have the dampening to hold it. On that kind of terrain on a CRF, you'd expect to carry the front wheel over the entire section, letting it hit the tops of the bumps, not drop into the holes. The Assault has the capability to act just like that. It can carry the skis over moguls and hold them there. The rear suspension is more than able to handle the load of the entire sled and rider as it blitzes through deep, choppy holes. And the front end can take a hit just as hard without bottoming or losing control. That means you can attack rough lines like a pro racer, letting the front end take the initial hit and transfer the load back to the skid and hold it there. There's no pitching if you hit it hard. But that's the key-this suspension works best under heavy abuse. It's what you've been asking for, now ride it like you stole it.

What makes the suspension so great? The front end gets brand-new Walker Evans adjustable remote reservoir air shocks valved to full race specs. The skid also has new Walker shocks with aggressive valving and reinforced extreme-duty rails and heavy-duty bump stops.

The Assault also features the new ProTaper handlebars with integrated hooks, but it does not have the sidehill mountain strap. The new sled also has the updated Cyclone master brake cylinder.

Putting all of the tech aside, we wanted to know how the Assault rides, specifically under the parameters of the freeride segment. We rode the Assault in Utah in January and again in late February in Colorado, both at Polaris media events. However, that wasn't enough for us. We asked Polaris for an Assault of our own to take back to our own backyard and ride without any oversight. We were shipped a brand new pre-production unit in early March. Without so much as breaking the engine in, Randy Sherman came into town for some film work and for a SledHeads photo shoot. Sherman couldn't bring a sled with him on Alaska Air, so he took our Assault.

As you can see in the photos of Sherman, the sled got used and used well. When we got it back, we half expected to see warped running boards, sagging shocks and tweaked arms. There was nothing to see on the red sled, no bent parts, no sagging metal, no signs of struggle. It may have been its first ride, but those were the hardest miles the sled has seen yet.

We've had it out on the snow several times since. We've tried to ride it hard and put it to its max, but we don't even get close to what Sherman put it through. Since it's held together well with our combined efforts (including Dave-O's tree encounter), we'll take it as being one tough jumping sled (just keep it away from hard objects).

What do we really think? It's not a powder/boondocking sled. It can be done on the Assault (if you can manage the throttle and maintain momentum, it can go almost anywhere the other RMKs go, just sometimes drafting off a track or two), but if that's your bag, you really should look at the regular RMK. But if your idea of a ride is finding anything and everything to hit, jump off of or fly over, the Assault may be your soul mate.