It may be one of the most anticipated releases in the mountain market in recent years. And Arctic Cat didn't disappoint with its lineup for 2012.
And we haven't even ridden the new sleds yet.
The general buzz in the industry-from consumers to the aftermarket to the media-was that this was the year for Arctic Cat to unveil something new. Although things can change, we'd say it was a given that Cat would come through with a new platform for the upcoming season. But the company did catch a lot of folks by surprise by what they put in, on and around those new chassis.
Once you see what Cat has done for 2012, you'll see Arctic Cat pretty much re-everythinged its mountain lineup.
There are only five things that carry over from the 2011 sleds for 2012: handgrips, controls (hand warmers, etc.), gauge, Power Claw track and the 800 engine.
And you can throw a four-stroke mountain sled into the mix of all things that are new. That, along with a four-stroke turbo mountain sled. Yea, that's pretty significant. The Yamaha FX Nytro MTX finally has someone to play with.
In fact, there's so much new on the M sleds for 2012 (M800 Sno Pro, M800 base model and HCR 800), we don't have quite enough room in this issue to cover it all so we're only going to hit the highlights. We'll give a full report (we promise) in the fall issues of SnoWest Magazine.
Let's start with the ProClimb Chassis. It was a pretty tall order to improve on the M chassis, a proven platform that really helped revolutionize how aggressive western riders attacked the mountains and their rugged terrain. Cat snowmobile product manager Joey Hallstrom calls the ProClimb, "the lightest, strongest chassis we've ever built." The ProClimb, along with its trail version brother the ProCross, is based on Cat's race chassis. "We told you when we came out with the 2008 race sled, it would be a development tool," Hallstrom said.
That's all fine and good but the race chassis is a short track and the ProClimb is specifically built for the mountains. We asked Kevin Schindler, Arctic Cat's Mountain Team Product Manager, about any challenges to stretching out a chassis for mountain use. He said, "Packaging and sled balance are the main things. We needed to be sure that the rider-forward design wouldn't negatively affect hillclimbing and sidehilling. Trackshaft location was also an area of concern. Mountain guys like it low for a shallow angle of attack while race guys like it higher for better ground clearance and bumps. We ended up in between the race location and close to the M Series location."
The chassis' pyramidal design ties together the load-bearing chassis components, effectively eliminating chassis flex and fatigue.
A tapered two-piece tunnel helps add rigidity to the rear of the chassis, while the tapering improves the ergonomics and leg comfort. The top of the tunnel is 15 inches wide (compared to 16 inches on the Twin Spar and 17 inches on the ZR) widening out at the footrests.
ARS Front Suspension
Once you get done gawking at the new chassis, you won't be able to stop staring at the new front suspension-the Arctic Race Suspension, the latest generation front suspension from Cat.
The ARS combines tall spindles and widely-spaced A-arms for torsional rigidity and strength. The lower A-arms mount to the chassis in a 30-degree angle from the chassis centerline with optimal caster/camber angles to improve comfort and cornering traction while reducing bump steer.
The spindles are a one-piece design with ball joints, which eliminates extra weight and stiction of spindle in-housing designs. Making the spindles taller reduces forces and loads into the spindle, allowing a longer distance between the upper and lower A-arm for added chassis strength.
Schindler explained the thinking behind the new design and how making the spindles taller adds strength. He said, "The new lower A-frame is triangulated since the A-arms are mounted at that 30 degree angle. This was done to make the lower structure stronger and to take the loads better from the lower A-arm. Not only that, but by sweeping the A-arms at this angle, we were able to move them closer to the center of the sled (shorter distance), which also improves stiffness. Angling the upper shock node back also helps create a straighter load path from the shocks into the upper spars/frame members."
He continued, "Making the spindles taller helped us out with packaging around the 800 2-stroke throttle bodies and also the 4-stroke turbocharger. It also lowered the forces on the upper A-arm, which allowed us to go with lighter wall upper A-arm tubing and lower the forces on the front part of the chassis nose. Imagine a teeter-totter with the pivot point being the lower A-arm. When the pivot (lower A-arm) is moved closer to the one end of the teeter-totter, it takes a much smaller load (on the upper A-arm) to lift the heavier person (i.e., ski impact loads) than it would otherwise. The distance between A-arms on the M Series was about 4.5 inches vs. 11 inches on the new ProClimb chassis. This reduces the forces on the upper A-arms by around 60 percent."
The M800, M800 Sno Pro and HCR 800 (basically all the two-stroke mountain sleds) have a unique steering post system where the steering post that supports the handlebars is vertical, but then links to a steering arm that goes over the top of the engine. The vertical post design eliminates any sweep in handlebar turning-which was critical for the new rider-forward chassis.
Arctic Drive System
The manufacturer that first brought you the chainless ACT has now gone back to a chain system with a Torque Control Link (TCL), which is a plate connecting the PTO side of the engine to the bearing housing of the jackshaft. The purpose of the TCL is to maintain a consistent center to center distance and proper alignment, which improves performance, adds to drive belt life and offers quicker acceleration. We asked Schindler for his take on the ADS vs. ACT. "The biggest reason for ADS is consistent belt deflection and no misalignment between the clutches that we saw on the previous design (ACT)," he said. "The system is more efficient and will run with cooler belt temps, which is a big plus in the mountains."
The new Cat chassis was somewhat expected but the four-stroke mountain models were a surprise. Available for 2012 will be M1100 (Sno Pro 50th Anniversary, Sno Pro LTD, Sno Pro and base model) and M1100 Turbo (Sno Pro 50th Anniversary, Sno Pro LTD, Sno Pro, HCR and base model). Generally speaking, the same features that are on the other M Series sleds will also be on the four-stroke models, including the ProClimb chassis, ARS front suspension, tapered two-piece tunnel, Arctic Drive System with Torque Control Link, RMC hydraulic brake system, new ski and driven clutch and more. The four-strokes do not have the vertical-post steering system, though.
The M1100 checks in with 125 hp, which puts it in the horsepower range of 600 two strokes. The M1100 Turbo ratchets up the horsepower to 177 and you won't lose any of that power as you gain elevation. Add to that 121 ft. lbs of torque and you've got the biggest stocker in the mountains.
With those engines you get a weight penalty, as you do with any four stroke. These new Cat four-strokes will be about 80 lbs. heavier than an M800 153 Sno Pro.
The M1100 replaces the M6, as you'll notice there is no 600 in Cat's lineup for 2012. Nor is there a 1000 two-stroke. The M1000 just wasn't a big seller so Cat pulled the plug on that model. As for the 600, John Tranby, Arctic Cat's director of marketing, said, "Our purpose-built 1100cc four-stroke in the new ProClimb chassis is expected to deliver stellar mileage. It produces lower emissions than any direct injection, it's quieter and will run competitively with 600cc two strokes. It fits perfectly in the 600 or 125 hp class and will be competitively priced. Plus, when you turbo it, the 1100 doesn't lose horsepower at altitude."
New Driven Clutch
Although the new driven is larger-10.75 inches in diameter compared to the previous driven which is 10.4 inches-it is lighter (by 0.6 lbs.), and more durable, Cat claims. It allows a lower engagement ratio/speed for a smoother take-off.
While we're talking about the driven, we picked up on something during Cat's presentation that we think is worth mentioning.
Some sledders have figured out that when going downhill you can use reverse to slow your sled down or even stop it on the hillside. This can be helpful but you can do some damage should you use too much throttle on a steep hillside, which is why this practice isn't very widespread. We admit we do use reverse sometimes when going downhill but only in select situations and then we're very careful not to really hammer the throttle.
As Schindler explained, "This is a pretty neat trick, but it is hard on the drive belts." He continued, "With the mechanical reverse, the clutches act/shift the same, so it is possible to achieve higher speeds in reverse (which consequently helps dig the track in and move more snow). With the engine in reverse, the shifting of the driven clutch is altered (engine is now running backwards), which is why there is a `notch' in the non-power side of the driven clutch cam. This notch prevents the clutch sheaves from opening too far-but a side effect is that you are limited on how fast you can go backwards because the belt isn't shifting. This isn't a big deal because most people don't use reverse in this fashion; like I said, it is hard on belts."
So if you're thinking you might want to try this reverse trick, Schindler suggests this. "The best way to use reverse track braking is to first lock the track up, then shift into reverse, then ease into the throttle so the clutches start to grip the belt. Gradually increase throttle as you begin to let off of the brake. This will prevent the belt from slipping on the clutch and having to stop and reverse the direction of the driven clutch." Okay sledders, here's the disclaimer: do this at your own risk.
That's a lot to digest but it certainly doesn't include everything new. We didn't even touch on the new Radial Master Cylinder Braking System, modeled after superbike motorcycle technology, new mountain ski, new running board design (bigger holes so the snow will fall out), single bell crank steering and revised coil-over rear suspension.
By the time you read this we will have finally been able to ride the new sleds and will be able to give ride impressions and more details this fall. So stay tuned.