The Return of the Two-Strokes!
Straight to the point – Yamaha is coming with SIX new two-stroke sleds for 2021! Before you get too excited, we need to clarify this for you.
For the past few years Yamaha has offered a couple of two-stroke sleds, the VK 540 and the Transporter 600 utility machines. The VK 540 was built by Yamaha in Japan, and the Transporter 600 was introduced two years ago- first in their European markets and then last year in North America.
While Arctic Cat has been building various four-stroke sleds for Yamaha (using Yamaha engines) the past several years now, the Transporter 600 was the first two-stroke sled built by Arctic Cat to Yamaha specifications – and it was powered by an Arctic Cat two-stroke engine. A good one, but it was an Arctic Cat engine. The fact this sled even existed – an Arctic Cat two-stroke being sold as a Yamaha, told us there was hope for Yamaha to return to offering two-stroke snowmobiles. It told us that it was possible for Yamaha to recognize the demand for two-stroke sleds, even from their faithful brand loyalists. And while their mighty Sidewinder turbocharged four-strokes have been solid performers, there were segments of the market that could be better addressed with the addition of some two-stroke models.
While the Arctic Cat built four stroke sleds Yamaha has been selling were fitted with Yamaha clutches and skis, these new two-strokes were using the same TEAM clutches as the Arctic Cat versions. Even the calibrations, clutching and suspension, were the same.
So here we are at the 2021 model year introduction, and Yamaha is showing us six brand new two-stroke models. All are built by Arctic Cat, all are powered by Arctic Cat engines, all are built to Yamaha specifications. And all are sold and supported by the Yamaha dealer network, and the Yamaha corporation.
First off we have the all-new 400cc SX Venom, a short-track 7/8 sized sled aimed at novice riders for a decent entry level price tag. Yes, this is the counterpart to the new Arctic Cat BLAST. The sled itself is very similar with the exception of the skis being unique to the SX Venom, providing improved ski bite and more accurate handling in our experience of riding them both. The 7/8 sized SX Venom is sure to be a hit with the Yamaha crowd, from novice riders to anyone looking for a fun sled that is easy to ride and less intimidating. The single keel skis give this version excellent handling, and while the suspensions performed quite well we image there will be many riders who will opt for the HPG shock options once they become available. There’s just something really fun about being able to ride a sled like this, small enough to throw around and hang out on. Be it memories of years gone by, or the ability to manhandle the thing, everyone gets off the SX Venom and grins from ear to ear, be it a first time rider or an old grizzly expert. Problem is, one isn’t enough – it’s far more fun when you have two (or more) of them!
Next is the Transporter Lite, a 146” track length version of the 400cc single two-stroke, aimed at the light utility market. Yes, this is the counterpart to the Arctic Cat BLAST LT. Again, very similar machines but with different skis for better ski bite and cornering capability. We spent some time riding this sled, quite aggressively in fact, and really liked the taller seat and long track length in comparison to the shorter tracked SX Venom. That is, for a full sized adult rider, the Transporter Lite was most pleasing and performed quite well as a trail sled, even though it is clearly aimed at the light utility market.
For entry-level mountain riders there is the new SX Venom Mountain, a 146” single-rail machine for deep snow operation, and yes, it is the counterpart to the Arctic Cat BLAST M Series, again similar but fitted with Yamaha mountain skis. Here again we have a slightly smaller sled that will be easier to ride for almost anyone and everyone, be it younger riders or those who ride less frequently than the rest of us. The 146” x 2.0” lug track can take you most anywhere you want to go, with HPG shocks front and rear to provide decent bump capability.
New sled number 4 is the Transporter 800, an upgrade from the 600 engine of the past two years and a counterpart to the Arctic Cat Norseman 8000. The skis and windshield are unique to this version. This is a very capable crossover utility sled, sure to be popular across a wide range of markets worldwide.
Perhaps the biggest news is found in two new Mountain Max machines, a 154” and a 163”, both powered by the Arctic Cat 800 two-stroke engine and fitted with the single rail rear suspension. The 154” Mountain Max is fitted with a 2.6” lug height Camso PowerClaw with the 165” coming with the 3.0” lug height Camso PowerClaw track. Power is transferred via a set of TEAM clutches. FOX QS3 shocks are found all around, with the QS3-L version in the rear for transfer lock-out purposes during steep climbing. A narrow 36” ski stance aids in agility and maneuverability, with a set of Yamaha mountain skis providing carving duty. A 20” tunnel bag and goggle bag are standard issue. Yes, this is a Yamaha variation of the Arctic Cat Alpha.
Yamaha faithful might look at this and wonder, “Why can’t they build and sell Yamaha-powered sleds in this segment?”
Because it would be cost prohibitive to do so. Yamaha doesn’t sell enough snowmobiles to develop and build a new engine family just for sleds. Any new engine would have to be shared across other machines, other markets, and the type of engine used in a two-stroke snowmobile is really not suitable for use anywhere else. With little to no commonality, the cost of doing so would be quite high.
Translation, if you want a two-stroke Yamaha snowmobile this is the only economically feasible way to do so. Shared expenses with another manufacturer.
What about the Yamaha four-strokes? They’re alive and well for 2021. There remains only one SR Viper in the line-up the SR Viper L-TX GT, but there are again eight Sidewinder models, just as there were for 2020. And just as with 2020, there are the same three models from Yamaha Japan, the RS Venture TF, the VK 540 and the VK Pro II. For the youth the popular SRX 120R and SnoScoot ES are both back for duty.
One of the changes for 2021 models is the new STRYKE trail ski found on many of the performance models. This is a single keel ski designed for increased cornering confidence. It uses adjustable shims under the spindle rubber to tune the ski for comfort, steering effort aggressiveness and performance in different snow conditions. The front shim controls the steering effort, aggressiveness and comfort where the rear shim tunes the ski for hard or soft snow conditions. A new carbide design aims to optimize the balance of steering effort and understeer characteristics. This ski is found on all trail performance models for 2021.
Back with the 2019 model year Yamaha made some serious reductions to the number of models they offered in what was described as an “inventory correction”. Then for 2020 they came back with more new models, and now again for 2021 they are introducing even more new models, this time around a bunch of new two-stroke sleds. For sure, Yamaha is on the rebound.
They did recognize how their four-stroke sleds were not what the mountain sled market was asking for, and responded. Now their dealers and brand faithful will have Yamaha branded sleds to ride and sell, with the support of the Yamaha dealer network and the Yamaha brand. While some might look at the product offerings and see little more than blue paint on sleds built by Arctic Cat, the company behind the blue sleds is very different, as is the marketing strategy and message. In fact, with the drastic reduction of the number of Arctic Cat dealers across the snow belt it would not surprise us to see some buyers who used to be team green switch over to team blue. Given the choice, many will come to the conclusion that team blue will do a better job at taking care of them as consumers, be it product support, parts availability, or likelihood of being here in ten years. They are all valid considerations. In a sense, as we are watching team green fade away we might be seeing team blue growing at their expense. Funny how things work out sometimes. Come back to Yamaha.
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