As we were riding down the Bill Nichols Trail in the Keweenaw Peninsula the other day, I first noticed a small chunk of track laying in the middle of the trail. It was pretty easy to see the deep lug paddle on the chunk of track as we passed.
Not more than a couple of miles later there was an even bigger chunk of track laying on the trail. Sure enough, it appeared to be of the same design and lug height. Not good we thought, wondering if the rider had any clue of the imminent disaster about to occur.
Once again it wasn’t more than a couple of miles and there, up on the snow bank alongside the trail, was the entire deep lug track. It had completely failed and came off the sled. Of course, when this happens the machine has no brakes so we hope the rider was not injured by the event. There was no evidence of a crash or sled being pulled out of the woods, but you know it had to be pulled out somehow. Bet that was fun.
This whole scenario reminded us of the many times we have come across riders on the trail who had suffered some similar form of track damage or failure. Back years ago it was almost always the track coming apart due to having studs installed, most often the outer track belt, where the pressure applied by the traction stud started to rip and tear the outer track belt which eventually led to either the stud and backer being ripped out of the track or completely tearing the belt apart.
Recently this is less often the occurrence and now it is more often that of a deep lug being ripped off the track carcass. Sometimes it is simply caused by excessive spinning of the track and the deep (tall) lug catches on something and by virtue of the added leverage of the tall lug it tears the lug away from the track belting.
When we get into the situation where the track belting comes apart and we find actual chunks of track laying in the trail it then becomes more of a heat build-up issue than simple spinning and tearing lugs off.
Evidently there is a new breed of riders who do not understand how deep lug tracks are designed for exclusive operation in loose snow. Tracks with their metal track clips are spinning along the hyfax material and create heat. This heat MUST be removed from the cooling of loose snow. Failure to do so creates a heat-sink condition where the heat generated gets pulled into the surrounding belting of the track. The entire area of the track surrounding the metal clips slowly becomes heat soaked. Over time, this heat will eventually cause the track to soften, and yes, it will eventually delaminate and separate. Yes, it takes a bunch of heat for this to occur, but when a deep lug track is used at sustained high speeds on packed trails with little loose snow available for cooling, the track can get pretty hot in a short time.
This used to be common knowledge – do not run deep lug tracks for extended periods at high speeds – regardless of snow conditions. Deep lug tracks are NOT designed to be run for mile after mile after mile of high speed operation. Add to the equation a lack of cooling snow and we have a recipe for failure. True, over the past few years each new generation of track design has gotten better and is more durable and heat resistant, but the basic fact remains – deep lug tracks can not tolerate extended high speed operation, especially on hard packed groomed trails!
The frequency of this occurring is of course increasing as many more riders believe it is perfectly acceptable to be using deep lug mountain sleds on packed and groomed trails. Not only are there more riders doing this, but the track lug heights have been getting taller and taller. Conditions (snow or speed) where a 2” or 2.25” track could survive could very well not be good enough for a 2.6” or taller lug height. In the past, riders with these sleds knew of the limitations and used them with caution, meaning they would limit their speeds, limit the amount of time at high speed, would deploy ice scratchers when there was not loose snow, or would stop to kick some cooling snow into the suspension often. Now days it seems there are an increasing number of riders who are totally oblivious to these practices, as we run into them quite often and when we ask them some questions about their sled or habits they look at us like we’re talking a foreign language. Nobody wants to wreck a track that will cost them $600-700-800 to replace, let alone have the track fail when traveling at high speeds, which can be quite dangerous. In a way it is similar to running the tires on your car, truck or trailer at low pressure where the heat build-up can lead to product failure. But then again, there are those who are not aware of or do not understand this basic concept either.