Charlie Tango Niner

The 2009 M8 Sno Pro LE increases in rank

September 2008 Feature

What, did you really expect Arctic Cat to leave the M8 alone for another year?

Honestly, you should be ashamed. While you were sitting on your couch eyeing a center spread of a Summit XP, thinking of selling your hot pink Team Arctic collector's hat on eBay and wondering if a yellow sled would clash with the fluorescent green tool box in the garage, the engineering squadron at Arctic Cat's mountain company, currently stationed in Island Park, ID, was secretly testing the highly classified changes to the 2009 M-Series fighter.

Yes, we'll spare you further military cliché's if you promise to finish reading this. Which is too bad, really. We had a good line about Lockheed Martin, but we'll move on.

The point is that Arctic Cat didn't sit on its hands this year. The 2009 M8 and other M-Series sleds have undergone enough major changes to make Joan Rivers jealous (an expression she'd have difficulty showing, though). But the M8's changes aren't just skin deep. Everything that the Cat boys did was purely for functional reasons.

First off, the mountain tunnel got busy with a Milwaukee Sawzall. The full-length running boards got chopped so that the edge rail meets the tunnel where the seat ends. The tail of the tunnel has a more aggressive taper to it now and the whole rear bumper and taillight assembly has been replaced.

The idea behind the tunnel upgrade is to remove any material that would prevent the track from digging down. The 2008 and prior M sleds had a problem with the running boards hanging up in the snow, taking weight off of the track and hampering deep snow climbing ability. The new running board cut also improves how well the sleds can sidehill.

The rear suspension has a bunch of changes made to it, too. It's still the Float skid with Fox Float air shocks, but the overall weight of the skid was cut by 3.5 lbs. How'd they cut nearly 4 lbs. out of a suspension that's already one of the lightest on the market? One ounce at a time. Cross shafts were eliminated where tabs could be used. The width of the material used for the limiter straps was decreased. Bolt diameter went from 3/8-inch to 5/16-inch. And the new slide rails were machined by someone who's a big Spider Man fan.

The adjustable telescoping steering post is a very trick component, especially for freeriders. Thanks to the steering post, the handlebar height can be adjusted by more than four inches. You can put them lower than a stock '08 M8, you can put them 3.75 inches higher or anywhere in between. What's interesting is that a lot of riders will opt for a taller setting, mostly to make stand-up riding more comfortable and to increase leverage in off-camber maneuvers. But we rode with Chris Burandt last spring, and to our surprise, he kept them at a low height, close to the stock 08 setting. Therein lies the genius behind the telescoping setup-it's everything to everyone.

The sweetest addition to the `09 M8 has to be the Power Claw track, designed to also be everything to everyone, anywhere, anytime. The Power Claw has wide negative-angle lugs that handle powder like the Attack 20 track, but also has firm tower lugs on the outer edges that take care of everything from hard pack to spring slush. The track doesn't have any of the negative characteristics of the Attack 20. Every test rider we talked to who rode the `09 M8 was impressed most by the Power Claw track. It's that good.

There are other changes to the M8 that are noteworthy.  It has electronic engine reverse (yes, just like a Polaris and Ski-Doo), so the drive system is about eight pounds lighter this year.

Overall, the 2009 M8 is 22 lbs. lighter than the `08 and the `08 was no Star Jones. The new geometry, improved rider ergos, refined engine mapping and significant weight reduction make the M8 a top choice for backcountry freeriding. Don't compare it to the `08, because the gap between the two is huge. We'd say, based on several rides and head-to-head testing, the `09 M8 goes through snow better than the `08 M1000 and with better handling than the `08 M6. Is it a five-star sled? Roger that.


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