It was your typical winter day. The skies were overcast with
just a slight hint of snow—you know, the dirty kind that doesn’t contain any
moisture and tends to just swirl around and mess with your visibility.
There was about three inches of fresh snow resting on top of
a three-foot crusty base—the kind of snow that actually makes riding a little
less predictable. Not what you’d call a great snow day … but hey, we weren’t in
the office so no complaints.
We were test riding the new Yamaha Nytro in Island Park, ID.
But in the process, I was spending a fair amount of time riding the new Phazer
MTX. And as we traded from sled to sled, we were boondocking in some fairly
extreme terrain. During one stretch of the ride while I was on the Phazer, we
were climbing a steep ridge that wound through the trees up an east-facing
slope of Sawtell. It was a ridge tucked back in the trees and very seldom
accessed. But due to the snow conditions, snowmobilers were exploring more of
the out-of-the-way drainages looking for fresh untracked snow. We happened onto
this ridge quite by accident and were following old tracks to basically see
where they would end. (The logic being that either the tracks would loop out
somewhere … or we’d find frozen bodies on stuck machines.)
As I picked my way through the trees, I was somewhat
surprised by the handling and low-end grunt of the Phazer. Usually, you don’t
find that much performance from an 80 hp engine. But then, the Phazer’s
4-stroke powerplant is based on the highly successful YZ250F motorcycle engine
(actually two of them engineered together).
It was also surprisingly nimble for a 515-pound (dry weight)
sled. But again, you have to attribute some of that nimbleness to a responsive
powerplant. The 2008 Phazer MTX features a Genesis 80 FI powerplant with a
five-valve head that makes peak power at just over 11,000 rpm. Its
counterbalanced crank and fuel injection provides crisp throttle response, even
if you’re using a lower octane fuel. A lightweight rear-exiting exhaust keeps
exhaust heat out of the engine bay, eliminating heat buildup.
This sled is very comparable in ride to your basic 600cc
2-stroke mountain sled. It handles as though it’s just as light at a 600, even
though you have 30-50 pounds more weight. (When you get stuck, you definitely
feel the extra weight. But knowing this, you tend to be just a little more
careful about where you are willing to get stuck.)
For much of the ride, the Phazer carried its own. The ridge
didn’t require a lot of speed, momentum or horsepower to make the ascent. But
you did have to be careful not to get high-sided on the slope and kicked off
into the drainage below.
A rider-forward position, similar to what’s found in other
off-road motorsports, allows you to stay on top of things for aggressive
riding, great balance and improved ergonomics. This allows you more control for
superb handling. This really came in handy because of the trees along the ridge
that prevent you from just “point-and-shooting” your way to the top.
Hold Its Own
One might think that a twisty trail up a ridge would be a
challenge for a smaller 4-stroke sled. Although it won’t get accolades for
being a highmarking mountain sled, don’t be fooled by the four-stroke
misinformation. The Phazer will go through the snow, it can float through
powder and it does hold its own in elevation. It’s a practical design—no added
plastic for cosmetics—engineered for the sole purpose of making it perform in
the snow better. A 144-inch Camoplast Maverick track with two-inch lugs allows
the Phazer to power through deep powder. We found this to be ample size and
length for the Phazer. Not too much track for the power and not too much sled
for the track.
A tall, narrow seat that facilitates the rider-forward
position is designed for comfort and balance. Wide running boards are built
with traction holes that allow you to move about while keeping a secure
foothold on the sled. It’s important to have a stable platform when boondocking
in terrain and trees. One slip of the foot usually has an outcome of losing
control and putting yourself and your sled into a situation that is less than
desirable, resulting in “stuckage.” This leads to lifting, heavy breathing,
sweating, and eventually, sore muscles. However, the Phazer is easy to
negotiate and maintain a constant balance.
Yamaha engineers have worked hard to make the Phazer
competitive in the lightweight sled class. They have taken advantage of
“controlled flow” casting techniques that allow them to mold various structural
pieces on the chassis through a molten metal process under a vacuum. This
allows for stronger parts without stress bends, made from much thinner,
stronger material. They have designed the Phazer’s crankshaft to be
lightweight, responsive and durable for crisp throttle response and instant
acceleration without the inherent vibration that comes from a 2-stroke engine.
Yamaha has also adapted technology with design by
incorporating its lightweight rear-exiting exhaust into the seat and tunnel.
This has eliminated underhood heat caused by the exhaust while providing a
weight balance to the overall sled package.
For being an “entry level” economy sled, the Phazer still
comes loaded with most all of the bells and whistles found on the pricier
sleds— electric start and reverse. The Phazer features large LCD digital gauges
that allows you to see what’s happening at a quick glance. And warning lights
within the gauges will alert you to anything that may require your immediate
The Phazer has a suspension package that rides like a
million bucks. A Pro
Mountain rear built with
a cantilever system that allows the track tension to remain consistent through
compression travel is designed to improve efficiency while reducing friction.
The Phazer’s double wishbone front suspension features KYB gas cell shocks to
absorb the bumps and tame the trails.
Fuel injection, counterbalanced crankshaft, lightweight
rear-exiting exhaust, magnesium chaincase cover … this sounds like one of those
high-priced performance snowmobiles.
Well, you got half that right. The 2008 Yamaha Phazer MTX
certainly fits the bill as a performance sled … but it doesn’t come with an $11
grand sticker price. At a MSRP of $7,399, this state-of-the-art four-stroke
features an economy price tag that certainly deserves a second look.
Yamaha has long been known for an outstanding engineering
track record, so when the company was forced to recall the Phazer this fall, it
was quite a surprise. At issue was the possibility of snow and ice getting
stuck around the steering idler arm (we ran an update on this on www.snowest.com on Oct. 18) which could
result in the loss of steering ability. The recall affected all 2007 Phazer
models, including the mountain model. Yamaha has worked to fix the problem on
Yamaha has led the way with four-stroke technology. The
Phazer is just another sled in an impressive arsenal that has been designed to bring
added pleasure to winter.
Yamaha Phazer MTX
Age of this model Second year
Carburetion 43 mm Keihin
Primary clutch YPZ
Secondary clutch YPZ
Drive sprocket 8-tooth drive
Front suspension Independent,
Front shocks KYB gas
Front travel 8.7
Rear suspension Pro Mountain
Rear shocks KYB 36 mm
Rear travel 14.3
Center shock KYB gas
plastic, saddleless design
Dry weight 515
Ski stance 37.6-39.6
Fuel capacity 7 gallons