Beaver Tail or Not?
Ever since the introduction of the Polaris RUSH back in 2010, we have been very open and honest in our observations and analysis of the closed-off rear end of the RUSH, and subsequent Switchback models. While the progressive rate rear arm design to the rear suspension has proven to be a popular and effective suspension package for aggressive riders, the closed-off nature of the “beavertail” as we call it has been a constant subject of discussion.
So when we get to the 2017 Polaris model line-up, we have again been very open and honest in our observations and delight with the introduction of the new (600 & 800) Switchback Assault and 600 Switchback SP models. Here we find a magical combination of a progressive rear arm in the rear suspension, but with a traditional tunnel design for clean and effective snow evacuation and enhanced deep snow performance, along with gaining back the cargo and gear bag carrying capability, and one that we consider to be even more important – the ability to carry extra fuel.
Think back to when Polaris first introduced their Indy 600 models a couple years back, it was like having the front end and bulkhead of a RUSH but with the more traditional tunnel. Problem was, Polaris fitted these sleds (at first) with a lower lug track and maybe more significant, a less effective rear suspension than what the RUSH was fitted with. Curiously, all the way along we had been told by Polaris engineering that they could also do a progressive rate rear arm inside the tunnel, but it was a marketing decision in the beginning that wanted their performance sleds to “be different” so they would stand out from the competition.
Now that we have two full years of AXYS platform sleds under our belt, and another 1,000 miles on a pre-production 2017, we can truly tell you that everything Polaris had originally told us that the RUSH was, or would become, has now come to be. The original 2010 RUSH, and to a lesser degree the 2011 RUSH, never really lived up to our expectations, especially after what we were told as to what it was and how it would work. But with each following year, Polaris slowly got the engineering dialed in and got the sleds figured out, from the chassis to the suspensions and to the engines. Well, the 600 Liberty twin has always been an exceptional engine, but the 800 Liberty twin took a while to get working really well, and reliably.
Which forces another admission. Look at the 2017 Polaris line-up and the only 800 twin we now find is the new AXYS version. The older 800 twin is now completely gone. Fact of the matter is we had a 2016 Switchback Assault with the “old” 800 twin and we have to tell you, it ran so damn good that we felt like we had better take back all of the bad things we have told you over the years about this engine because Polaris had taken care of all of the issues. Yes, it was still down in power compared to the Arctic Cat and Ski-Doo 800s, but other than that their old 800 twin flat out worked in our 2016 Assault. Hate to say it, but it worked so well it is now almost a shame that it got such a bad rap for so long. It was really that good last year. Now this doesn’t make the earlier versions work as good, but really past 2012 it has been getting much better, problem was we had the bad taste in our mouth and didn’t even get one for testing for a number of years, other than our mountain riders telling us how much improved it was for model years 2014-2015. Even in 2013 it was starting to come around. Nothing like the problems of the 2008-2009-2010 era.
So back to the tunnel. Now that Polaris has come out with the progressive rate Switchback Assault and the Switchback SP, it will be very curious to see how popular these two models become. In our expert opinion these are the very best crossover sleds ever offered by Polaris, and the Assault could easily be the most versatile crossover sled ever offered by anyone. The combo of 144” track length with tipped up rails gives it incredible versatility, and the explosive power from the 800 AXYS powerpack makes it a crazy fun sled to ride.
We know there are a bunch of trail riders who believe the 144” length is just too long for the groomed and packed trails they ride on, and yes we agree the 120” RUSH is going to rail around the corners with far greater ease, the question is going to be how the 137” Switchback riders take to the 144” options. The 137” Switchback actually has a more progressive rear arm geometry than what the 144” does, but when it comes to cornering the tipped up rails of the 144 will make it corner and handle very much like a 137” Switchback. That said, we tend to believe once riders figure this out they will opt for the cargo capability and if they do ANY off trail riding it will be game over. To the point that we could see Polaris maybe integrate their 120” and 137” models into a single series? Maybe, if they made 129” models to go with the 144” models. Depends on the total sales numbers. If they can keep all of us happy they will keep all lengths, 120” to 137” to 144”. The shorter sleds are faster and they do corner better, so it comes down to if the 144” models take away too many buyers in the 137” class. Time will tell. All we know is the 2017 Polaris Switchback 144” models are going to be a home run.