Premium Crossover Trail Sled
For the 2020 model year we went back to the 137” class for our Ski-Doo trail sled. We like to mix it up, because one never knows what kind of snow or trail conditions we’re going to have each year. We’ve gotten in the habit of having some shorter track trail sleds for when the snow gets hard packed and we’re doing 200-300 mile days and then having some longer crossover sleds with slightly deeper lug tracks for the time of the year that we have fresher and deeper snow conditions, or when the off trail riding gets really good.
With a 137” track length the priority is for trail riding but we can still get around OK in the off trail, unless the snow really piles up. For the 2019 model year we had a 129” MX Z X-RS 600R, being the first full year of the new 600R engine, and we also had one of the 2018.5 MX Z 600R limited build sleds that introduced the next generation 600-class E-TEC engine. This now gives us 5,700 miles on the 600R engine across the three sleds.
There are no real surprises to report here, the 600R is a solid performer and truly the king of the 600 class. It pulls slightly harder than the previous 600 E-TEC with just a tad bit more top end, the running quality is impeccable and it is a very quiet engine, both intake and exhaust noise. No other 2-stroke snowmobile engine runs this smoothly, with most of the credit going to the Ski-Doo exclusive E-TEC direct injection technology. Of course the fuel economy is excellent and it does use some oil, so again, it is the excellent 600 class engine we’ve all come to expect from Ski-Doo. The 600 Polaris and Arctic Cat engines clearly take a back seat to this one in every respect, nothing major but all very clearly superior.
Funny thing, a good number of riders who bought and rode a 600R for 2019, while they loved the 600R, wanted a bit more power. Many of these riders bought a 900 ACE Turbo for 2020 and some even stepped up to the 850 E-TEC. Point is, as good as the 600R engine is, there are an number of riders who want more than a 600 but just don’t quite need the 850.
Why did we go with an X-package sled instead of an X-RS? One reason was we wanted another 600R and you cannot get the Renegade X-RS with a 600R, only an 850 or 900 Turbo. We do like to try to stay on top of the different sleds being offered by the manufacturers and we had a Renegade X-RS 850 for 2018 and an MX Z X-RS 600R for 2019 so it was time to go back and try an X-package for 2020. You do lose some adjustability of the front shocks but we ordered our X-package with the QAS quick adjust system (knobs at the back of the tunnel) for the rMotion rear suspension. This gives us the ability to increase the preload with greater spring rate than what is possible with the cam-adjust system, and quicker adjustment for when we swap riders on our test sleds. If you have the cam-adjusters set all the way to #5, the QAS lets you crank the springs even higher as the power of hydraulics can do so easily where it would be difficult to crank the cams to a higher setting, if it even existed. This is much better suited for heavier riders, like me at 250 pounds.
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Another difference is the dual-arm rack-style steering system on the X-RS package. The X-package sleds used to come with the rack-steering (2017-2019 models), but the 2020 and 2021s do not. You might not have heard much about this, but the Ski-Doo team decided to drop the dual-arm rack-steering from the X-package sleds (starting with the 2020s) and only use it on the X-RS models to give them a more premium positioning with the elimination of bump steer and less feedback through the handlebars.
The lesser versions of the Renegade & MX Z (X, TNT, Adrenaline, Sport) models are instead fitted with a single pitman arm steering system, resulting in slightly more bump steer than would be with the dual-arm rack steering. This translates into vehicle tracking stability and predictability. You most feel the difference in heavy-stroke conditions as the sled will be more predictable and confident – with less of that twitchy feedback through the bars. Some riders claim they instantly feel the difference, others tell you it is very subtle unless you are really hammering the front end. We’d say the X now feels a bit more nervous than it used to where the X-RS is a more settled and confident response. Most casual trail riders will rarely feel the difference.
Back to the X-RS or X package question, one of the benefits is how you can dial down the shock adjusters on an X-RS and end up with the equivalent calibration of a lesser model, say an X package or even an Renegade Adrenaline. It still remains accurate to place the calibration of each package in their own range, with the X-RS being the most capable and more aggressive of the line-up, with some overlap into the Renegade X package, but the X package is shifted slightly to the more compliant end and slightly less capable of taking on the bigger terrain at higher speeds – in comparison. And while the X-RS and X packages both have broad calibration ranges due to their compression adjustability in the rear, only the X-RS now features this same adjustability in the front end shocks. Go to a Renegade Adrenaline and you lose all shock adjustability, even in the rear, thus this package has a narrower range of calibration. Yes, it performs exceptionally well, but you can not adjust it for variations in conditions or rider capability.
Perhaps you are a Ski-Doo enthusiast and pretty much know all of this already, maybe not, but this is what we see year after year or riding all of these sleds for thousands of miles, the big differences and the subtle differences. One amazing change for 2020 was the improved Pilot TS skis. We have never been impressed with the adjustable Pilot TS skis on anything other than hardpack trails and usually take them off a sled that has them for a couple hundred miles and instead install Pilot 5.7s or a set of Straight Line Tracking (SLT) skis from Starting Line Products (still our favorite trail ski). For the 2020 model year Ski-Doo made a change to the mold and thus the ski bottom on the Pilot TS skis so we figured we’d better give them a try for at least 500 miles before we ditched them. This tends to be our strategy with anything, try it stock for at least 500 miles before second guessing the engineers and trying something different. If you don’t truly know how it works in stock form how will you know if the change you made and the money you spent made a difference or actually made an improvement?
Much to our surprise the 2020 version of the Pilot TS skis was truly improved. Ski-Doo had stated the change was to reduce steering kick while cornering and to improve the performance in very specific conditions, but what we found was the simply held their line better before breaking traction and pushing, specifically in looser snow conditions where they had been so previously lacking. So, where we did not like the original Pilot TS skis we now liked the 2020 version for our trail riding. Funny thing, Ski-Doo went and changed their adjustable skis again for 2021 with the new Pilot TX.
How about the accessories? This is one area that Ski-Doo continues to dominate the competition. Not only with the LinQ system, their cargo bags and Fuel Caddy options, but most all of the other accessories. More options, more customization, more to choose from, at least on the add-on side. Polaris has them beat hands-down on the spring-order side with their level of customization and color options, but once you get the sled in your hands Ski-Doo gives you far more to work with.
Of course, we customized our Renegade X 600R. We loaded up the cargo in the rear with a LinQ cargo bag, a 3-gallon Fuel Caddy and the clever LinQ trail seat bag (#860201275) that fills the space at the tail of the fuel tank and just looks like it belongs there. Every Gen4 sled that this fits should have this installed.
Since we’re tall riders and we ride in all conditions we do like taller windshields. Short and sexy low windshields might look nice but they suck when it is below zero and the wind is blowing on a 300-mile ride. This Renegade X was fitted with one of the Ski-Doo adjustable windshields (medium to high) to give us the option of more or less protection, as needed. The entire assembly is somewhat heavy and expensive (have to purchase three pieces to built it) but the function is exceptional.
Many years we fit our Ski-Doo sleds with the accessory LED lights, but on this one we took a different route and tried a set of BeamTech LED headlights and replaced the stock quartz halogen lamps in the headlight assembly. The lamps only cost us $40 so they were far cheaper than the other LED add-ons. We do not ride at night much but in our side by side comparisons we were pleased with the difference in brightness afforded by the minimal expense involved.
Another cost-saving measure was to install the Ski-Doo Glove Box Extension (#860201249) and mount up a 6” Garmin GPS system from SledGPS. Many riders will build this kind of system by themselves, but when you order the package from SledGPS they have done all the homework for you. The GPS unit is pre-loaded with the maps you choose, the mounting bracket is a RAM mount that is proven to work well, the power connection is through a 12V to 5V add-on accessory in the Glove Box extension. We do some more waterproofing to the GPS itself, things like covering the power button and speaker and card slot with some 3M Super 33 black electrical tape. We’ve had the fancy Ski-Doo GPS systems that are easier to see in the daylight but they are more expensive, so this time we wanted to see how the less expensive aftermarket unit compared. Not as fancy but totally acceptable and perfectly functional, at a great price from SledGPS. They even include a small template so you can drill the mounting holes exactly where they need be, or they can do this for you if you order the Glove Box Extension from them as well.
Since we do a fair amount of ungroomed forest road riding we always like to install a skid plate. This is like putting a helmet on your sled to protect the a-arms and under belly of the snowmobile. It is quite stupid to ride a $12,000+ sled in deep snow without one, and we’ve wrecked enough sleds over the years to know better. The Ski-Doo skid plate fits perfectly and does what it is supposed to, protect your investment.
When we get to ice scratchers we’ve tried them all. Ski-mounted, rail mounted, steel cable, dual springs and the tunnel mounted. Having a set of ice scratchers installed often times is the difference between sitting and riding. There are those days after a warm up that the trail gets hard at night, or when spring hits the snow gets soft in the day them hard at night, we’d rather be out riding than sitting around waiting for the snow to soften up so we can get some cooling and lubrication for the sliders.
In our experience we found the dual-coil tunnel-mounted ones from Ski-Doo to do the least damage to the sled and be the most functional and most durable, so our Renegade X was fitted with the OEM Ski-Doo accessory Tunnel Ice Scratchers (#860201516) for the 137” sleds. These are so good this is the exact same part we use on the 144” Polaris Assault sleds – yes, the 137” version of scratchers, this exact part number.
One minor issue with this sled would be the bright color and how the oil residue slowly builds up on the belly pan, side panel and along the tunnel. We ONLY ran XPS full-synthetic in it but over time even the good stuff does leave residue that requires cleaning.
Past that, some of our riders find the seats on the 2-stroke Gen4 sleds to be not as comfortable as the previous REV-XS models, and they complain about the steep downward slant that slides the rider into the side panels over the course of a ride. The easy fix for this is to order the Ski-Doo accessory comfort seat (#860201551) that is wider and longer but does not allow the use of the LinQ cargo bag at the back of the seat.
Our Renegade X was our go-to sled more than any other this past winter, logging a total of 2,417 miles. It performed flawlessly, never missed a beat, never let us down, no surprises, no issues. It just plain worked. The ride quality was the very best of all our test sleds, with the possible exception of the 2021 MX Z X-RS that showed up at the end of the season with the new rMotion X rear suspension. The un-coupled cMotion in the Backcountry X was very close but the coupled rMotion in the Renegade again demonstrated why Ski-Doo is the envy of the industry when it comes to bump isolation and ride comfort while maintaining resistance to bottoming, front and rear arms. That is a key difference. You can calibrate any suspension to work well in a specific set of conditions, but how well does it work across a wide range of conditions? With the rMotion you can pretty much set it and forget it. We would make adjustments to the preload for riders of different weights and set the shock compression for the rider as well, but this amounted to less than 30 seconds of adjustment for each rider at the start of the day. You can put most anyone on this sled, from expert rider to average trail runner, and they will instantly become a better rider simply due to how well the sled performs across such a wide range of conditions.
By Kevin Beilke