For a class that nearly went extinct two years ago, the hybrids are faring well. The side show segment that was ruled by the Polaris SKS through the 90s shot up on the importance scale last season when Ski-Doo hit the snow running on its new Renegade line.
What exactly is a hybrid? It has a longer track than a trail sled (usually 136-144 inches), but the lugs aren't as deep as a mountain sled's (1.25 inches is standard). The ski stance is wider than a mountain sled-42 inches and wider-which makes the machine at home on the trails.
For the 2003 hybrid lineup, Polaris has rethought the SKS completely. Ski-Doo's Renegade still holds strong with a few upgrades and new features. And Blade, always entering a market with both fists swinging, dropped a bombshell with its Striker X.
The Polaris SKS has had a face-lift, tummy tuck and a few implants. Last year's dated Gen II bulkhead and bodywork are gone, along with 14 pounds of bulk. Now the SKS cruises in Edge RMK styling, with everything the real RMKs have except two-inch tracks. Even the graphics are identical to the 2003 Vertical Edge RMKs.
But every detail we take for granted on the RMK is a welcome addition to the SKS. Things like the sidehill bar and handlebar hooks make a big difference compared to last season's SKS. The running board edge traction that was sorely (and by sorely we mean sore shins) missed on the '02 is in place for the lucky `03 SKS rider-just in case it's needed. These are a few features we've expected the SKS to have, just to make it a valuable machine.
Then there are the new things that caught us off guard. Things you wouldn't expect to see on a trail sled hybrid. Like the 144-inch track. Whose idea was this? Luckily, the SKS also comes with the Dual-Purpose Rails, or DPR. These rails are straight to where a 121-inch track would end, then bend upwards as they continue back. When the sled is sitting on concrete, the lugs on the tail end of the track are about an inch off the ground. The idea is to maintain maximum flotation without making the sled push like a school bus in the corners. It works.
The taller handlebars make us wonder who Polaris has in mind as its primary SKS consumer. For the past few years, most SKS sleds sold have gone to northern areas in the Midwest. Last time we were there, there wasn't a whole lot of standing up happening while cruising the trails and fields. Maybe Polaris intends on selling a few of these puppies in place of RMKs, where the traction and leanness of the RMK is overkill for a few various riders. Since the 2003 SKS is more mountain than trail (more so than the Ski-Doo Renegade), we suspect Polaris knows of a few western areas that will eat the new SKS up.
What else impressed us? Reverse. That little magic button on the left control that restarts the engine in counter spin. We're just as amazed with it now as we were last year when it came out on Ski-Doos. For those who aren't familiar with RER/PERC, here's the short version: press the button at idle and the engine acts as if it's going to die. But just before the crank comes to a stop (actually, just before top dead center on the final spin), the ignition fires and forces the piston back down; the engine now running in reverse. It doesn't weigh anything, so why not have it? You may think it's silly, until you get cornered in while trying to find your way through the crowded trees.or parking lot.
Hot off a season of outselling Polaris in this segment, the Ski-Doo Renegade is back for more action. The MX-Z-for-powder sled is packed with hybrid essentials, like standard sidehill strap, adjustable handlebars and dual-runner Precision skis.
The Renegade was the first hybrid to incorporate useful mountain hardware on long tracked trail cruisers. Who'd have thought these riders would want something like that? Ski-Doo, that's who. Not only did Ski-Doo stack on the sidehill strap, it offers a factory-installed, optional 1.75-inch lug track. More than any hybrid could want, and more than anyone in North Dakota should be turned loose with.
What do we like best about the Renegade? Engine options. The Renegade offers an 800 and a 600 (strangely, no 700 is available). The 800 is the run-of-the-mill twin Rotax that has seen its share of ups and downs, victories and defeats. Any savvy Ski-Doo customer would and should demand the 800 H.O. in 2004.
The 600 Renegade does have the new H.O. engine, and what an impressive engine it is. The small difference between the '02 600 and '03 600 H.O. is almost like jumping from a 600 to a 700. The extra 10 hp are very noticeable. Rotax utilized bigger cases (more volume), eight petal reed valves (more flow) and Nicasil cylinders (more durable) on the H.O.
The suspension is getting better. The SC-10 III is a night and day difference compared to the previous version. What makes the difference? A new rear scissor stop and HPG-VR shock smooth out the rough trails. And the lightweight skidframe and ADSA front suspension are a perfect package for off-trail excursions.
The Precision skis are enough to make anyone envious-mountain rider or trail rider. The dual runner/keel design eliminates darting on the trails, and provides excellent flotation in the fresh snow. They steer quite easily, too.
RER (Rotax Electronic Reverse) is available on either the 600 H.O. or 800 Renegades. And since the reverse (same operation as stated on the SKS) adds no weight, and is handier than a six-armed carpenter, why not have it? It's slick.
Blade Striker X
Where do you start and where does it end? The Blade Striker X has it all. And we mean that quite literally.
Why does the Striker X fit in the hybrid category? Its track dimensions (15x136x1.25 inches) and ski stance (43.5 inches) pin it with the SKS and Renegade.
The rear suspension is all about comfort and control. The M-10B skidframe is supported by Fox gas shocks. The ACE control, a handlebar-mounted switch that adjusts ride comfort, gives the Striker X a foot up on the competition.
Up front, the RAD (Rocker Arm Displacement) suspension is far from ordinary. Featuring a vertical shock angle that gives a very positive feel on the snow, this front suspension is aided by CompLink-an adjustable sway bar/stabilizer bar system.
The Striker X has an 800 under the hood (and `80s all over the hood), with Polaris Liberty-made 700 and 600 engines also available. All three engines feature Liberty's V.E.S. variable exhaust, which provides ample power for the lightweight scooter. What else lurks beneath the Striker's hood? A multi-cell aluminum frame, Mikuni TM carburetors, and, oh yeah, a Tru-Pitch gearcase (direct-drive unit).
With two new hybrid designs in the last two years and one completely new brand entry, the hybrids are alive and well. Not only has the sideshow market been put in the spotlight, it's becoming a main event.