It was tough finding snow early this year, but we found it. It was in the trees that littered a technical set of canyons in western Wyoming's Salt River range. Normally, this is turbo country. Unload near a small farming homestead outside of Thayne, ride the creek bottoms up until you're high enough to see into three different states and go crazy.
But we weren't touching the turbo areas. Instead, we picked a drainage, went down it until we got pinched off and had to turn back and find a different way out. No straight lines, no riding on another track, no pointing straight uphill-the objective, though never vocally stated, was to take lines that were next to impossible. And boy, did we find them.
Interestingly, toward the end of the ride we began to realize what we were doing.
It wasn't that we were trying to find terrain that would push the limits of the new 2011 Polaris Pro RMK 155 and 163. We were just riding. Having fun. Carving lines and trying to lose the guy behind you.
Which leads to the first question on everybody's mind: Is the Pro-RMK better than the IQ RMK?
Yes. But how it's better is what's really important.
2010 Polaris: Leaner and Meaner
Polaris scaled back its full lineup by 14 models and added back 10 new models for 2011. Nine of those new models are in the Pro-Ride chassis, which replaces the 6-year run of the IQ chassis.
For mountain riders, the Pro-Ride chassis will be found on 2011 800 RMK models, including:
The 600 RMK is still in the IQ chassis for 2011 and Polaris has again scrapped the 700 RMK. The company has also dumped the Trail RMK.
Polaris also added 800 Rush, 800 Rush Pro-R and 600 Rush Pro-R models to its performance segment.
The Assault has been expanded to the Switchback lineup, giving riders across the snowbelt an aggressive sled that has a track more suited to hardpack conditions. The 800 Switchback Assault 144 fills that need.
A 600 Rush LX touring model rounds out the expansion of the Pro-Ride chassis.
So what's new on the Pro-Ride RMKs?
The Pro-Ride chassis features an aluminum bulkhead with an aluminum tubing over structure. It features the same space-age bonding agent that was introduced on the 2010 Rush. The chassis is more rigid than the IQ, improving the sled's overall feel in rough terrain. Durability, Polaris says, is improved. It's worth noting that the 2011 Pro-Ride RMK's A-arms are the same arms as the IQ RMK's.
The 2011 Pro-Ride RMKs also feature an all-new rear suspension, complete with coil-over shocks (no more torsion springs), a new rail beam design and new torque and scissor arms. The 155 RMKs feature straight rail beams, while the Pro-RMK 163's rails are tipped up in the rear.
The running boards have improved as far as snow clean-out and traction is concerned. The tunnel, while similar in basic design to the IQ RMK's, is lighter and has narrower integrated coolers. That means less heat exchanger weight and less coolant weight. The sides of the tunnel have been stamped between rivets to further reduce weight. The rear bumper is aluminum with a carbon fiber wrap. A lightweight LED taillight and lightweight snow flap complements the updated tunnel.
While the seat retains it same basic shape and height as before, it now has aluminum seat supports. The fuel tank is new, but it has been designed to mimic the shape of previous RMKs.
While the A-arms are identical to the IQ RMK's parts, the spindle has been given a longer tail for the steering tie rod mount. New steering geometry allows the handlebars to turn farther without altering the skis' turning radius. The goal was to maintain the Pro-Ride's more positive steering but with a reduced steering effort and give the rider more leverage at the handlebars.
The Pro-Ride features completely new bodywork. This plays one of the biggest roles in how the 2011 Pro-RMKs handle technical terrain better than the 2010 IQ RMKs. The 2011's body is much narrower, especially the lower sides, from the suspension well back to the running board's toe holds. If you lay the Pro-Ride RMK over on its side, the handlebar will hit the ground before the sides of the body.
The Assault now has a 155-inch 2.125 Competition track wrapped around its new coil-over 155 rear suspension. The longer track will make the sled more versatile in deep snow and make the sled appeal to a wider audience-riders like those who ride areas like the Cascades, where snow is always firmer. The Assault features a 41-43.5-inch adjustable front end and coil-over piggyback Walker Evans needle shocks.
How light is the 2011 Pro-Ride lineup of RMKs?
Polaris shed significant weight by going to the new chassis. The Pro-RMK 800 155 is a claimed 41 lbs. lighter than the 2010 IQ Dragon RMK 155. It has a dry weight of 431 lbs. The Pro-RMK 800 163 weighs in at 438 lbs. or 39 pounds lighter than the previous model. The 2011 Assault 800 has a claimed dry weight of 446 lbs. or 41 lbs. lighter than the 2010 model-and that's with a longer track. The base model Pro-Ride RMK 155 weighs in at 440 lbs. dry or 47 lbs. lighter than the base model 2010 IQ RMK 800.
While the weight reductions are incredible, Polaris repeatedly stressed two points during our media intro and time on the snow. Those are: There have been no durability issues with the new chassis despite the weight reduction; and the rider position has not moved forward or backward compared to the 2010 IQ RMK.
Now, the other big question on everybody's mind is:
Did they put a new engine in it?
No, but the 800 Cleanfire is different for 2011 in that it is now a 2-injector engine. The previous RMK generation had the 4-injector Cleanfire 800 twin. The new mil does feel better then the previous power plant. It has better response and it feels like there is more power on tap.
Granted, the sled is 41 lbs. lighter than the 2010 Dragon RMK. So any motor will feel stronger when it's packing less fat around. Just ask Oprah.
Pro-Ride Ride Time
Now, back to our ride. This wasn't our first ride on the 2011 RMKs. We wound up in Wyoming in search of deep snow. Our first ride happened around Daniel's Summit, just southeast of Heber, UT, five days previous. However, the snow in Utah at the time could be measured in inches, with no base. We spent the full day on the snow, doing our usual boondocking routes. Dropping off ridges, hitting open creeks and picking new lines up through the thick woods. The challenge on this first ride was avoiding any bumps in the snow (usually rocks or stumps) and getting back out of the tight drainages despite all of the downfall timber, weeds and rock outcroppings we encountered. The 2011 RMKs handled great, carved amazing sidehills, negotiated tight trees and climbed like nobody's business. But it's tough to get a feel for a sled in such shallow snow conditions (however, we did take two 2010 IQ RMKs out with the 2011s that afternoon and the advantages of the new chassis became immediately apparent).
So before we could build a real first-ride impression, we needed to get the sled into deep snow conditions. We found ourselves in Wyoming five days later with a 2011 Pro-RMK 163, Pro-RMK 155, Pro-Ride RMK 155 and RMK Assault 155.
We encountered rough single-track trails, rolling meadows of powder, tight ravines, big bowls and technical tree-littered canyons.
Its here when we noticed the subtleties that don't pop out in a presentation. The Pro-RMK's toe holds, for example, are open on the outer sides. This design lets you get your forward foot into a better position when sidehilling or carving through trees in a wrong-foot-forward style. You can get better leverage on the sled to more easily manipulate it into doing what you want it to do. As for general riding and handling traits, the Pro-RMKs are more stable than the IQ RMK, but at the same time are more agile. You can feel the weight difference between the two model years.
The new chassis is more predictable, so that when you lay it over or twitch the skis out to initiate a quick body roll, the sled responds without overreacting-which was a trait possessed by the IQ RMK. And while the sled is on its side, the lack of protruding body work helps keep the track planted. The track doesn't wash out on steep sidehills. You can maintain a line and gain or lose elevation as you traverse across a hillside without getting that feeling that you could lose your footing any second. Granted, we have two days on the new chassis. But our first impression is that this is a solid platform that will catapult Polaris into the next decade.
If you've been expecting new things from Polaris, 2011 is your year. It looks like the perfect time to go Pro.