The Polaris Trail Sled We’ve All Been Waiting For!
We will be the first to admit that we have been waiting, and hoping, Polaris would build a shorter track version of their crazy-popular Switchback Assault. Let us clarify this statement. Ever since they came out with the beaver-tail RUSH 120” and Switchback 137” models, we have wondered if they would ever go back to a traditional tunnel for their high-performance trail sleds. Sure, they brought us the Indy models on the Pro-Ride platform, but have not upgraded them to the AXYS platform – until now.
Since 2015, with the introduction of the AXYS-platform RUSH and Switchback sleds, Polaris has brought us the AXYS RMK and AXYS Switchback Assault models. We just couldn’t help ourselves in wishing for a short track version of these sleds. Not a value model, but a full-blown high performance model. Like a 129” version of the Switchback Assault. AXYS platform, good shocks, straight tunnel.
You might think the 2019 Indy XC sleds are going to be value models, since they bear the Indy name, but they are not value sleds. They are high performance sleds. They do not (yet) replace the beaver-tail RUSH, but they very well could in a year or two. The market will decide what kind of sleds will survive and which will be dropped from the line-up, so we will let that take its natural course.
In order to build a 129” AXYS model, Polaris engineers rolled up their sleeves and developed yet another excellent rear suspension called the PRO-CC. This rear suspension combines many of the lessons learned and knowledge gained over the past several platforms and delivers performance across a wider range of conditions, for a wider range of riders. The front arm is the exact same geometry as the front arm on the current RUSH & Switchback sleds, but with a softer calibration since the PRO-CC goes back to a two-way coupled design that combines the shock and spring action of both front and rear arms when coupled. The rear arm has torsion springs (like the 144” Assault) so the shock and springs again go back to their own motion ratios. On the RUSH & Switchback models, the coil spring is on the rear shock thus they have the exact same motion ratio. On those sleds the ratio is “progressive” in that it starts out soft and ramps up firmer through the travel. With the PRO-CC design we go back to a more linear “rising rate” motion ratio for the rear shock. More importantly, we have separation of the springs and shock on the rear arm, and it is coupled.
We also find the rear arm is mounted very far back on the rails. This allows for excellent load carrying capacity, able to accommodate a wide range of rider weights. It also provides excellent weight transfer control and it provides a more consistent track tension through the suspension travel.
First Ride Impressions
During the first week of February, a very small and select group of snowmobile media were invited to Roseau to go for a ride with the calibration engineers on 2019 pre-production sleds, all fitted with the new Polaris 850 Patriot engine. Going to Roseau to ride with the snow team is always a fun experience, as they take us for a high-speed blast across the frozen tundra and through the woods that gives us an excellent opportunity to discover exactly how the sleds work, both suspensions and engines.
This particular day showed -22 degrees on the drive to Roseau, which had moderated some by the time we suited up and got rolling. Since these were 2019 pre-production sleds they were fitted with black “stealth” covers over the hood to conceal their true identity. We started out by heading north towards the border trails along the Minnesota/Canadian border, and then we headed east over towards Lake of the Woods.
Riding out of the Polaris factory you realize why their sleds work the way they do, seeing the conditions they are doing their testing and calibration in. High speed ditch riding is common, so the handling response must be forgiving when riding at such high speeds and for such distances. The road side approaches must be handled without bottoming, as we can clear some of the approaches with plenty of air under the sled for great distances. Cross country conditions are the norm, at least until we hit the big lake (Lake of the Woods) at which time your sled and suspensions must be able to take on the wind drifts, creating high shock speeds with the quick-edged bumps.
After running a few miles along the edge of Lake of the Woods we duck past Warroad and go down into the wooded trails of the Beltrami Island State Forest and run a variety of forest roads and winding trails for mile after mile, giving us an excellent taste of how well the sleds perform in tight handling environments. Here top speed is not the goal, but corner-to-corner acceleration and holding a line with precision. Along with dodging deer, which repeatedly gives us a chance to test the Hayes braking system.
The new Indy XC, at least out of the box, is going to not be as planted as the current RUSH or Switchback models, but the factory engineers tell us a rider can make their Indy XC handle that way with a simple 3/8” adjustment of the ski shock springs, letting the front end settle in slightly. That said, we were perfectly content with how the new Indy XC handled the tight trails considering how much better we felt it worked out on the high speed running. As a cross country sled the Indy XC is a more capable package with very controlled and balanced manners, but not being too stiff as one would expect. In the small chatter bumps it also works extremely well, more like phenomenal, thanks to the separation of the shock and springs on the rear arm.
From a chassis stand point, we would have to say that less aggressive sit down trail riders might still prefer the current RUSH or Switchback models, but past that if you are one that attacks the bumps then this sled is going to be better. It is by no means a less capable sled, actually it is both more capable and more comfortable on both ends of the spectrum.
And then we have the 850 Patriot engine. We’re told this engine is the result of many years of prototyping and development, and has been in the works for a long time. Polaris wanted an even more durable two-stroke big bore, and to prove their confidence they are offering a four-year warranty on the 850 Patriot models. You can ONLY get an 850 if you SnowCheck it in the Spring, and it will be offered across the line-up from RUSH and Switchback to Indy XCX and Switchback Assault to PRO-RMK models.
We have good coverage on the technical details of this new engine elsewhere in this issue of SnowTech Magazine, so let’s get to how it works. Compared to the Liberty 800 that most of you are familiar with, that you know and love, you will instantly have even more affection for this new engine. It has the same 85mm bore as the 800 so the displacement increase comes from a slightly longer stroke. Development focused on rotational inertia, which almost matches that of the 800. This is an all new engine, and is NOT a remake of the big block 800s that trace their history all the way back to the original 700 big block engine from 1997 and the very first 700 RMK and SKS models. The 850 Patriot is so new that the only parts it shares with the current Liberty 800 are the water temp sensor, detonation sensor and spark plugs. Other than that, it is all new. There are also three new sensor inputs being fed into the new ECU; a silencer temperature input, fuel rail temperature and fuel rail pressure.
When you pull the trigger you are instantly rewarded with huge amounts of torque, hard pulling arm stretching yet linear and controllable. You are hard pressed to notice any transition of the electronic power valves, as the power delivery is smooth and seamless. Even though the crankshaft is about three pounds heavier with the larger bearings and such, the engine does spin up quickly. Up top you can tell it is a slightly longer stroke, but by that time it is pulling so hard that you have other things on your mind – like how much fun you’re having!
It didn’t take more than a few miles to realize this is a very powerful engine, much stronger through the bottom and midrange. To be honest, it does still project the familiar Polaris sound and mannerism, but your eyes will be wide open and you’ll be saying things like “Holy Crap – this thing really goes!” If you have an expectation in your mind of what an 850 should feel and perform like, I believe the 850 Patriot will exceed this expectation. It exceeded my expectations of what an 850 should feel like and how it should perform. Now these were pre-production engines, but to the best of our knowledge they were very close to actual production specification being this late in the development cycle.
We hammered on the 850s for right about 100 miles that day, doing some pretty long wide open pulls for mile after mile. We could also ride them at slower speeds with great control, as one would pick their way through the trees and wind around the swamps and drainage ditches. The 850 was less of an on/off power delivery than the 800 is, yet it could pull long and hard when asked to without barely breaking a sweat. Most impressive, especially considering how well the current 800 Liberty performs. Add to this the expected increases in durability and Polaris should has just added an excellent option to their arsenal of two-stroke engine options.
Polaris is smartly offering up their new Indy XC 129 models with three track options; the Camso Storm 1.5” for aggressive performance both on and off trail; the Camso Cobra 1.35” for superior traction and control on soft, loose and unpacked snow; and the Ripsaw II 1.25” for balanced performance and flatter cornering on both hard pack and loose snow. In our testing both the Storm and RipSaw II will let the tail of the sled slide a bit more than the Cobra, resulting in flatter cornering, with the Ripsaw II being the best in this regard. Personally I still prefer the Cobra track for the chewed up snow and fresh snow that I generally ride in more often, but there is no wrong answer here. With an 850 under the hood many riders will opt for the Storm 1.5”, while those using studs will generally opt for the Ripsaw II with the slightly lower lug height.
The shock package on the Indy XC is first class Walker Evans, with compression adjustable piggyback needle shocks front and rear, and a 2” compression adjustable piggyback (no needle) at center. For this reason, we do not expect the Indy XC to be priced any lower than a comparable RUSH or Switchback model. If anything, it might even come in slightly higher considering the premium performance package and positioning.
If you don’t feel you need or want the power of the mighty 850 Patriot engine and the four-year warranty, do not despair – the Indy XC will also be available with the Liberty 800 and 600 engines, so all riders can benefit from this excellent chassis and suspension package. Only the 129” Indy models have made the conversion to the AXYS platform, all other Indy models remain on the Pro-Ride platform for 2019.
From talking with the Polaris engineers, it seems as if the Indy XC will be no lighter than the RUSH or Switchback models, but we have to consider this is a 129” track length when making comparisons to a 120” or 137”, so adjust accordingly. Polaris spent a ton of money on lightweight trick parts in the hinged rear assembly on the beaver-tail models, so building the Indy XC should be easier and less complex. The obvious benefits of course are the improved deep snow performance, or ability to perform better in greater snow depths, and the ability to mount and carry cargo bags or fuel cans on the tunnel. Performance wise, from our own experience and what the Polaris test crew indicated, the Indy XC will satisfy a wider range of riders and riding conditions with its broader performance envelope. It is a more capable bump sled and a more capable snow sled. Rear suspension adjustments will be quicker and easier. We’ve been waiting a long time for this exact machine from Polaris, and from our initial ride experience we are major league stoked to put even more miles on this package!
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