Freeriders are a different breed from your typical
snowmobiler, more easily defined by what they're not than by what they are.
They've had few demands of the industry, rather keeping to
themselves, taking what's offered by the manufacturers and changing the product
to suit their needs.
Snowmobiles have come a long way in the last 10 years since
the freeride segment really caught footing with the Slednecks following. But nothing was designed for them or their
unique style of riding. It's been a decade of riders adapting to whatever
equipment happens to be available.
Most riders opted for race sleds modified for backcountry
use (mainly because a race sled's chassis is stronger and its suspension is
stiffer), or mountain sleds, depending on where the sled is being ridden.
Either way, these riders are starting with a platform that doesn't meet their
needs from the beginning. Before they can really hammer the big drops,
boulder-laden pillow lines or hundred-foot hits, they have to do quite a bit of
labor and investment to their machine.
The freeride segment has been wishing for better equipment
in the suspension and durability departments. They've been answered with a few
shock upgrades here and a couple reinforcements there, but nothing too
In the meantime, Polaris had been watching this segment grow
over the years. A couple of its key engineers' riding styles fit right into
that super-aggressive, ride-`til-you're-out-of-gas-or-pinned-to-a-tree
mentality, they had been playing with design elements and R&D parts on
development equipment. What you see in the 2009 Polaris Assault RMK is the
result of that rogue development idea.
While there are excellent choices from other brands (and
also within the rest of Polaris' lineup) for freeriders, the Assault represents
something different. The components on the Assault are designed, built and
tuned specifically for the aforementioned type of riding. These shocks are not
for touring Yellowstone
National Park. The track
isn't for deep powder meadows and the skid isn't really built for sit-down
What's the Assault for? Let's go over the details. First, it
is in the RMK lineup and it wears the RMK badge on its hood. But while it has
that and the Sidehiller 2 skis, the RMK heritage is pretty much limited to the
chassis. It's the Raw version of the IQ chassis and it shares the updates to
the 2009 RMK lineup. That includes the refined nose pan system and lightweight
aluminum bumper. The tunnel and seat are the same as the RMKs, too.
The Assault's front suspension features wider A-arms for a
41- to 43.5-inch adjustable stance, much wider than the RMK's. The track is
15x146 inches, shorter than all but the RMK Shift's 144 and nearly two feet
shorter than the 800 Dragon RMK's 163 track. The Assault track's lugs are extremely
stiff with aggressive tips and towers to provide maximum bite with little to no
track spin in hard pack conditions. It's not the best offering for deep
powder-but you can still ride it in deep powder with proper throttle control.
But when you're sidehilling across a crusted slope and need to line up with
your next line, getting instant movement out of a little throttle squeeze makes
all the difference.
The suspension has more in common with a Honda CRF450 than a
Polaris RMK. On a backcountry trail with a lot of deep moguls, a typical sled
will carry the nose over the first couple of holes and then drop it. The shocks
don't have the dampening to hold it. On that kind of terrain on a CRF, you'd
expect to carry the front wheel over the entire section, letting it hit the
tops of the bumps, not drop into the holes. The Assault has the capability to
act just like that. It can carry the skis over moguls and hold them there. The rear
suspension is more than able to handle the load of the entire sled and rider as
it blitzes through deep, choppy holes. And the front end can take a hit just as
hard without bottoming or losing control. That means you can attack rough lines
like a pro racer, letting the front end take the initial hit and transfer the
load back to the skid and hold it there. There's no pitching if you hit it
hard. But that's the key-this suspension works best under heavy abuse. It's
what you've been asking for, now ride it like you stole it.
What makes the suspension so great? The front end gets
brand-new Walker Evans adjustable remote reservoir air shocks valved to full
race specs. The skid also has new Walker shocks with aggressive valving and
reinforced extreme-duty rails and heavy-duty bump stops.
The Assault also features the new ProTaper handlebars with
integrated hooks, but it does not have the sidehill mountain strap. The new
sled also has the updated Cyclone master brake cylinder.
Putting all of the tech aside, we wanted to know how the
Assault rides, specifically under the parameters of the freeride segment. We
rode the Assault in Utah in January and again
in late February in Colorado,
both at Polaris media events. However, that wasn't enough for us. We asked Polaris
for an Assault of our own to take back to our own backyard and ride without any
oversight. We were shipped a brand new pre-production unit in early March.
Without so much as breaking the engine in, Randy Sherman came into town for
some film work and for a SledHeads
photo shoot. Sherman
couldn't bring a sled with him on Alaska Air, so he took our Assault.
As you can see in the photos of Sherman, the sled got used and used well.
When we got it back, we half expected to see warped running boards, sagging
shocks and tweaked arms. There was nothing to see on the red sled, no bent
parts, no sagging metal, no signs of struggle. It may have been its first ride,
but those were the hardest miles the sled has seen yet.
We've had it out on the snow several times since. We've
tried to ride it hard and put it to its max, but we don't even get close to
put it through. Since it's held together well with our combined efforts
(including Dave-O's tree encounter), we'll take it as being one tough jumping
sled (just keep it away from hard objects).
What do we really think? It's not a powder/boondocking sled.
It can be done on the Assault (if you can manage the throttle and maintain
momentum, it can go almost anywhere the other RMKs go, just sometimes drafting off
a track or two), but if that's your bag, you really should look at the regular
RMK. But if your idea of a ride is finding anything and everything to hit, jump
off of or fly over, the Assault may be your soul mate.