The term “long track” has meant many different things over the years. The 90’s brought us 133”, then the 136” and even the 144” tracks and we thought wow, that is a really long track. Even the very first 1997 RMK 700 was, wait for it – 136”. At the time we asked, “Why would you ever want to ride anything longer?”
But, the quest for steeper hills and deeper snow demanded the 141”, 144”, 151” and the 156” tracks, and soon the 136” tracks were no longer a long track, but considered a crossover style. Now the past couple of years a 136” is being called a short track sled, case in point the Arctic Cat ZRs. Part of what allowed the track lengths to increase was the gradual increase in engine power. Where 670s and 700s were the norm 20 years ago, displacement and power increased, and so did the track lengths. This allowed for the introduction of the 162”/163” and 166” monster tracks and we thought there was no way anyone could ever handle a machine longer than that. Or want one, for that matter.
The long track segment has now been redefined yet again with two manufactures now producing a 174” mountain track, which means we can officially call the 174” length a new class. Ski-Doo might have pulled a fast one with their 2015 introduction of their 174” Summit T3, possibly surprising everyone. Polaris introduced their new AXYS RMK chassis in 2016, and now for 2017 they introduce it in a 174” version.
Some may wonder why Polaris didn’t just introduce the 174” last year because, after all, how hard can it be to extend a set of rails and slap on a new track? The answer may not be simple or straight forward but here are a couple things to consider. Each manufacturer goes thru a tremendous amount of validation, testing and proving which requires a horrendous amount of money, people, time and resources. From a consumer’s outside point of view it may not look it, but each model can take several years to properly develop. And while it may not take long to bolt on a longer track, the entire process has to be revaluated to guarantee that the machine still performs to the original intended standard. Fabricating a couple of custom sleds in a shop is one thing, building over a thousand of them and standing behind them is a different story.
For example, adding another 11” of track will affect the handling characteristics of the machine as well as stresses on individual parts. Snow clearance, tunnel clearance, approach angles, weight balance, ski pressure, tunnel strength, rail strength, these are all things that Polaris had to evaluate to make sure the end result was as desired.
If you look close you can see evidence of this near the rear of the tunnel when comparing the 174” RMK vs. the 163” RMK. The suspension mounting point has been moved back a little over 2” on the 174” and the mounts themselves have been shortened. This was needed in order to keep the machine balanced and to give the machine the desired ski pressure. It was also necessary to keep the rear of the tunnel from sticking up too high. The sled also sits higher simply due to the taller 3” lug height of the Series 7 track.
So how does the 174” work? This machine is a deep snow dream come true. As with the 174” Ski-Doo, the longer track allows the rider to slow down and put more time into line selection with less risk of becoming stuck. The added length is very forgiving, almost a time machine in that it gives you that extra time to decide what and where you want to go next. It shines in bottomless fluff, making momentum less of a requirement to prevent the unfortunate miscalculation of required throttle input. The machine stays flat on the steep and deep and has little risk of a wheel stand when climbing the big chutes. Very forgiving, and this is what makes it so attractive to both expert and less than expert riders, alike.
The longer track also makes this machine very easy to side hill and has very low risk of washing out the rear. Although the longer track takes a little more muscle to maneuver, it’s worth the trade off if predictability and stability are higher on the priority list. Steering effort is increased a bit because of the extra bite from the track, but in deep conditions the rider won’t hardly notice. We will add a bit more rear spring pressure in order to get the ski’s to bite better, but for some riders installing a set of more aggressive skis may be the better long term solution if more front end bite is desired. Still, the stocks skis work well, considering how much track there is compared to other models that use the same ski.
The Walker Evens Piggyback shocks, combined with the longer span across the bumps, resulted in a very smooth ride – in fact, it is the best we have ever encountered from an RMK. We went a couple clicks stiffer on the rear shocks to help keep the rear higher in the stroke and to prevent rebounds on larger bumps. We like the fact that Polaris supplies the LE with several storage bags…one on the tunnel, one behind the seat and one on the handlebars. Mountain riders carry gear, and not everything fits into a backpack some days.
Horsepower is the best we have ever had from a stock Polaris 800 motor and it handled the long track surprisingly well. At elevations higher than 8000 feet we would drop 2 grams of weight (flyweights) to help maintain good performance, but it wasn’t a requirement as the machine still maintained good tracks speed even up to 9000 foot in heavy snow.
Polaris has joined the party of ultra-long tracks and they delivered a great product. The 174” RMK is a very purpose oriented machine and if the ultra-deep and mainly steep is your forte then you owe it to yourself to look at 174”. The 2017 Polaris 800 PRO-RMK 174” LE retails for $15,199, available in limited quantities. It comes in three different colors; black, lime and orange.
By Dustin Pancheri – SnowTech Western Test Staff
From the January / February 2017 issue of SnowTech (December 2016)