Worth A Second Lock

Published in the November 2015 Issue
Viewed 506 time(s)

It’s fun to speculate, especially when it comes to snowmobiles. What is Brand X going to do next year? Will that show up on a mountain sled? How will that affect a snowmobile?

We do it every year before and after we see the new snowmobile models. There are times when a mountain sled has new technology that eventually winds up on a trail sled. And vice versa. Of course we prefer the former—when a mountain sled get the new technology first—but we don’t always get what we want.

The snowmobile manufacturers are coming to the 2014-15 winter season with some interesting technology we think deserves a second look. Some of that technology might be on a trail sled or even a side-by-side but we’re guessing (hoping?) the technology makes it to the mountain segment sooner than later.

Here is a look at a little something from each manufacturer that deserves a second look.

Yamaha

After that big buildup about technology and mountain sleds and a second look, we think when it comes to Yamaha we might be a little more philosophical. Like, what more can we expect from the business agreement Yamaha has with Arctic Cat and what does it mean for the future of Yamaha snowmobiles?

There’s no use speculating about whether Yamaha will continue with its 4-stroke-only lineup. We think that’s a given, a case we made in more detail in the September, 2014, issue of SnoWest. We would be shocked and amazed if Yamaha ever came out with a 2-stroke-powered snowmobile again. However, never say never, right?

But what will happen when and if Yamaha’s business agreement with Arctic Cat ends? Originally it was a five-year agreement between the two companies and we’re in year two of that agreement, about to head into year three. While it appears (mostly because you can see the obvious resemblance to an Arctic Cat M Series sled by just looking at it) the agreement favors Arctic Cat, Yamaha has brought plenty to the table, namely quality control and a potent, torquey engine. At the heart of Yamaha’s mountain lineup is the 3-cylinder 4-stroke Genesis with 135 hp and a slick engine braking reduction system. Cat now uses that same Genesis in its M 7000. Will that engine spread to other mountain platforms? Or are there other engines in the works?

Once again, we would be surprised to see any Cat engines in a Yamaha sled, but could Cat’s newest engine, the C-Tec2, be worthy enough to find a home in a Yamaha mountain machine? It’s interesting to think about.

Yamaha has also chosen to stay with its own YVXC clutches, which have been tuned and mated to the Genesis 3-cylinder engine for optimal performance. Will Yamaha continue to use those clutches or will the company discover/design/build something new? Even though Cat uses the Yamaha Genesis in the M 7000, it continues to use its own clutches. Probably nothing to read into that except that each company is obviously partial to its own clutch system.

We’ll have a clearer picture of where Yamaha is headed—with and without the agreement with Cat—in the next few weeks after we get a look at the 2016 models.

Then we’ll start speculating all over again.

Ski-Doo

It seems like the rear suspension gets all the attention. But what Ski-Doo has done to its front suspension with its new Response Angle Suspension (RAS) 2 has caught our attention.

In comparison to the Rev XP front suspension, the RAS 2 has a taller spindle, is lighter, has a machined surface and more refined look. The spindle is taller by 12 mm (.472 inches) between the ball joints. The bottom of the arm is the same height as the previous spindle. That extra bit of length helps reduce bump steer (induced by camber change) and improves straight line performance.

The taller spindle changes the A-arm position, which means the roll center of the sled is 38 mm (1.496 inches) closer to the sled’s center of gravity. That gives the sled flatter cornering while minimizing inside ski lift. Ski-Doo points out that a lower roll center (like on the Rev XP) offers a sled more leverage and more roll while a higher roll center (offered with the RAS 2) has less leverage and less roll. What that means for off-trail riders (read: steep and deep) is that the Summit will be a little more predictable because you have to work a little harder to pull it up on its side.

RAS 2 comes in a shade lighter than the Rev XP front suspension by about 1.76 lbs. More specifically, the lower A-arm is .8 lbs. lighter, the ski leg (spindle) .8 lbs. lighter and upper arm .2 lbs. lighter.

In addition to the weight savings—mountain riders are always looking to lose that extra ounce or pound or two—there is 20 mm (.787 inches) more clearance under the A-arm which can be fairly handy when riding over hidden obstacles (or even some not-so- hidden obstacles) off-trail.

Mountain riders also appreciate a sled that works well on the trail, as most of us have to ride some trails getting to and from the backcountry. The 

RAS 2 helps deliver in that area too, with the reduced bump steer and flatter cornering.

Polaris

What we see in some of Polaris’ trail sleds this model year has us very excited about next year’s RMK. Those two little letters “H.O.” could further entrench the 800 Pro RMK as the mountain sled in the West.

Let’s back up a little before we delve into the H.O. If there has been one knock over the past few years against the Polaris Pro RMK it has been that we felt it was underpowered compared to other mountain sleds in the 800 class. Yes, the Pro RMK is lightweight, but it is also a little lightweight in the horsepower department.

That’s where the H.O. comes in. Polaris has introduced a new Cleanfire 800 H.O. engine, which presently calls the AXYS chassis home. The AXYS chassis is the new platform for Polaris’ Rush trail sleds and, according to Polaris officials, the engine was in the design stages from day one of when the AXYS project started. That meant the engine could be perfectly mated to the AXYS chassis.

Here’s where we speculate, although we think we’re pretty spot on on this one. We think that same Cleanfire H.O. engine will be in RMK 800 sleds for model year 2016.

Some might ask how we can be so excited about the new engine when Polaris hasn’t released horsepower figures or even any numbers showing the horsepower percentage increase from the previous 800 to the new H.O. Let’s just say we have a gut feeling on this one.

Polaris has touted a short list of numbers that leads us to believe it’s a more powerful powerplant.

Here are some highlights of the new H.O.

 • New 3-stage electronic exhaust valves. The new valves help increase engine responsiveness and efficiency. A more efficient engine, at the very least, doesn’t hinder or rob itself of power. It allows the power to get to the drivetrain. With the 3-stage exhaust valves, the H.O. can offer improved low-speed drivability while increasing the horsepower and improving fuel economy. Polaris has also designed in a fault protection in case the engine overheats or detonates.

• New piston. The twin-cylinder 800 has two new pistons, each with a new profile and grooves that increased the piston’s durability. The grooves are on the exhaust side of the piston, helping to improve distribution of the lubricant. According to Polaris engineers, the grooves allow for oil retention and redistribution on the critical thrust face (exhaust side) of the piston. The grooves don’t completely circle the piston because the intake side experiences less loading and, thus, has a conventional design to optimize guidance of the piston.

• New lightweight crankshaft. The new crank is 2.5 lbs. lighter and has 25 percent less inertia, giving the sled better acceleration. It was also designed for increased durability and is a result of real-world testing on the race track, more specifically on the model year 2014 Polaris 600 IQR. As explained by Polaris engineers, inertia is the resistance of any physical object to any change in its state of motion, including any changes to its speed and direction. Reducing rotational inertia is what allowed Polaris to offer better acceleration.

• New electronic oil pump. Some might say, “Big deal.” Dig deeper and you’ll see it is a fairly significant improvement to the engine. Not only does the new pump offer more precise oil delivery, it also reduces throttle pull or effort. Polaris definitely has one of the hardest throttle pulls or rather, it takes more effort to push the throttle than it does on its competitor’s 800s. Compared to other 800s, your thumb was more tired at the end of the ride when on a Polaris 800.

Here’s the difference between the 

old mechanical oil pump and new electronic one. The mechanical pump had a spring and the resulting force was linked to the throttle body. Using an electronic pump allowed Polaris engineers to eliminate that mechanical linkage between the throttle body and mechanical oil pump, thus reducing the force required for throttle pull. Also, the elimination of the mechanical linkage allowed Polaris to reconfigure the design of the throttle body to go to a center pull (vs. pulling from one end), which also allowed the engineers to reduce even more the overall return spring force. The number Polaris uses is 30 percent less throttle effort. 

• New integrated engine mounts. This is another one of those seemingly insignificant changes. The new mounts help lower the center of gravity while reducing the powerplant’s weight. Again, look closer and this change becomes more impressive.

Overall, the weight of the engine was reduced by 3.5 lbs., 2.5 lbs. of which is lost because of the lighter crankshaft. The remaining 1 lb. was a combination of several smaller changes, Polaris engineers pointed out. One of these changes was to eliminate the engine cradle while integrating the engine mounts into the crankcase. That saved just less than a half-pound. The engine wasn’t lowered but rotated in the chassis, giving it a lower center of gravity.

Other notable additions to the 800 H.O. engine are new VForce Reeds (more power), a new engine coolant bypass (40 percent quicker engine warm-up) and a new high flow intake and exhaust (less restriction which equals more power).

It all adds up to more horsepower and that’s what we’re excited about.

Arctic Cat

At first glance, it might seem a bit odd to be talking about shock swaps from dirt off-road vehicles to snowmobiles but it’s not so strange at all. It happens more often than you might think.

So after riding the new 60-inch wide 2015 Arctic Cat Wildcat Sport near Bryce Canyon, UT, last fall, we couldn’t help wonder if the Wildcat’s new shocks would someday migrate over to the snowmobile lineup, specifically, the M Series sleds. Cat uses JRi ECX-1 piggyback gas shocks on the Wildcat Sport and XT models and Elka Stage 5 aluminum piggyback shocks on the Wildcat Limited version.

For whatever reason, Arctic Cat went away from the Fox Podium Shocks it has used the past two seasons on its dirt vehicles to the JRi (the company was founded in 2007) and Elka shocks for 2015 so it wouldn’t be a stretch to think the same could happen on the snow.

Let us be clear. No one at Arctic Cat even hinted or led us to believe this change would happen. We’re simply speculating, which is kind of fun.

Arctic Cat currently uses Fox Float 3 shocks on the front suspension on its M 8000 Sno Pro, an Arctic Cat branded IFP shock on the front of the rear suspension and a Fox Float 3 in the rear position. And no one is knocking those shocks. These Fox Float 3s are high-end, premium shocks.

So are the Fox Podiums that Cat had been using on the Wildcats. They are piggyback reservoir shocks with compression adjustment, are preload adjustable and have dual rate springs.

But then, the JRi and Elka shocks are premium shocks, too.

Here’s what we wrote in the December 2014 issue of Dirt Toys about our experience driving the JRi- and Elka-equipped 60-inch-wide Arctic Cat Wildcat Sport. “The JRi shocks offer 70 (yes, 70) clicks of compression adjustment (but not rebound adjustment), which is almost unfathomable. These piggyback gas shocks feature 2.5-inch reservoirs and are easy, easy, easy to adjust. On our first day of test driving the Sport XT, we decided we’d like a little stiffer ride so we increased the compression by 10 clicks. When you make adjustments on the JRi shocks, you’re likely do it in bunches, like our 10-click change, rather than one click at a time. That 10 clicks did the trick for us as we drove over decent-sized rocks, logs and gnarly roots and the JRi shocks delivered a smooth ride.

“I like what the shocks bring to the vehicle,” Cat’s Mark Esala said. “And the tuneability is phenomenal.”

On day two of our ride we drove the Sport Limited with its Elka 5 shocks. We found the ride to be pretty spot-on so we didn’t make any adjustments to the shocks. Had we wanted to, the Elka 5s offer dual-speed compression and rebound adjustability.

“The Elka Stage 5 technology is awesome,” Esala said. “We’re the only OEM close to that kind of technology on a stock machine.”

We think the JRi shocks and Elka 5s lived up to every bit of hype we heard leading up to our drive in the Sport XT and Limited. The full-size Wildcat also gets JRi and Elka 5 shocks in the same respective models.

Time will tell if a switch is made but we wouldn’t be surprised or disappointed if it was. 

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