Riding Wild and Free

Published in the February 2011 Issue February 2011 Feature

Your average snowmobile is completely adept at providing an enjoyable ride through scenic areas and tourist hotspots.

How boring.

Freeride mountain snowmobiles aren't for the typical ride or the typical rider. And 2011's selection of sleds for the atypical rider includes the Ski-Doo Freeride, Polaris RMK Assault and Arctic Cat HCR.

These sleds have wider ski stances than their mountain counterparts. The Assault and HCR run stiffer durometer track lugs, with the Assault's track design being the biggest departure from the mountain track.

The suspension components on these three sleds are the ultra-premium packages from their respective OEM. And with running board, slide rail and chassis reinforcements, these tenacious three sleds are designed for the most aggressive among us.

While our annual Deep Powder Challenge (coming in the March 2011 issue of SnoWest) will cover a shootout between the three mountain 800s, we'll cover the three freeride models in this issue. And after racking up a few hundred miles on each production sled this season, here's what we know:

Which sled has the best power?

Power delivery on these three sleds is a little deceptive because of the stiffer tracks and suspension. When there's any type of traction to the snow, these three sleds will hook up and out-accelerate their mountain counterparts-with the exception of the Freeride, which runs the same track as the Summit 800. However, the Freeride has the lightest throttle pull of the three brands, making its power feel that much more amplified.


So which sled pulls the hardest?

The Ski-Doo Freeride with its all-new 800 E-Tec engine. Second is a dead tie between the Assault, with its new two-injector Cleanfire 800, and the HCR, with the proven 800 Suzuki twin.


Which sled has the best rough-terrain suspension?

This comes down to the Freeride and Assault, with the Assault taking the edge with a broader range of adjustment with stock equipment. Its rear track shock covers a huge spectrum of rider weight and desired ride quality with minimal adjustment. That said, with both sleds' suspension packages dialed in for their respective riders, it would be a neck-and-neck battle between these two machines on a destroyed backcountry mogulfest of a trail.

The HCR is much improved from its 2010 suspension specs, but still not on the same level as the other two when the bumps are deep and the speed is high.

Which sled has the best stutter-bump suspension?

In the chop, the playing field is more level. The HCR's new shock valving specs give it a controllable ride, meaning you can blitz the tops of the stutter bumps with a better ride than if you tried to work through them slowly.

The Assault eats these kinds of bumps up, but if you have the rear track shock dialed in for high-speed moguls, chances are its ride will be stiff for the smaller crap.

The Freeride can go from 2-foot moguls to 10-inch stutter bumps without much penalty to the rider. It gets the nod here.


Which sled handles the best on nasty climbing lines?

The Assault.

Keep in mind that by "nasty lines" we mean the polar opposite of the pristine, sparkling-powder line that you'd see on the homepage of some resort website. We're talking rough, tracked-up places covered with holes from stuck sleds, concrete-hard ruts from sleds trenching crossways, icy spots and the occasional spot of exposed earth. In that kind of nastiness, the Assault is at its best. It's the most controllable and least affected by ruts, holes and changes between soft and hard snow.

The Freeride has a tendency to get off track when it hits ruts or transitions between soft and hard snow, especially when it's running on one ski.

The HCR does well, but can be too reactive to rider input when correcting over this kind of terrain.

Which sled is the lightest?

The Polaris Assault, thanks to a 40-pound diet from its 2010 version. Here are the wet weights (full of fuel and oil, carrying a spare belt and OEM-supplied tool kit):

Polaris Assault 800: 548 lbs.

Arctic Cat HCR 800: 556 lbs.

Ski-Doo Freeride 800: 577 lbs.


Which sled has the biggest footprint?

The Ski-Doo Freeride. It has a 16x154-inch track, with 2.25-inch lugs.

The Polaris Assault runs a new, longer 15x155-inch track for 2011 with 2.125-inch lugs. It's still the stiff Competition track lug.

Arctic Cat's HCR has a 15x153-inch track with 2.25-inch lugs, and for 2011 it's been changed to an 85 durometer compound, down from 90 duro in 2010.

Which sled goes through powder the best?

Yes, we've just finished saying how these sleds are all about chopped up snow and everything but powder. But you'll wind up riding in powder, too.

The HCR is still the powder hound of the three freeride 800s. The Ski-Doo Freeride does very well, but the HCR's Power Claw track is the difference maker.

The Polaris Assault will go through powder just fine, but its competition track makes it the most likely sled to trench out in fluff and dig its own grave. 

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