heavy stearing

"Dear Ralph" December 15, 2007 0
Dear Ralph: The steering seems really heavy on my sled. I mean the handlebars are hard to turn, and I really haven’t done much...

Dear Ralph:
The steering seems really heavy on my sled. I mean the handlebars are hard to turn, and I really haven’t done much to it other than replace the wear bars. I’m afraid to change any of the settings because I don’t want to screw-up my new sled (it cost damn near $7000). The guys I ride with have all suggested things like cranking on the springs, but I was hoping you could give me some good old seat-of-the-pants recommendations. HELP!
Ron in Chicago

We edited out the make of Ron’s machine because this could be any brand of machine with this kind of problem. The first step would be to verify there is no binding or mechanical interference; lift and support the front of the sled off the ground and turn the handlebars through their entire range. They should pivot very freely. If not, locate and repair the mechanical interference.
Normally, on a stock machine that otherwise works very well, heavy steering (where excessive force is required to turn the handlebars) is normally caused by the skis. Wasn’t that profound? More accurately, it is caused by the skis either being too aggressive, they have too much carbide, or too much weight on them.
We’re assuming you haven’t installed new or different skis. If you have, there are so many possibilities. Usually, we’ll see a rider install a set of more aggressive skis and/or a more aggressive set of carbide runners when they want “better handling”, but they find it ends up being an animal to turn. When you replace the skis, or install a set of more aggressive runners, you have to be aware of all the other adjustments that could be needed to bring everything back into balance.
What adjustments? Things like the front ski springs, the limiter strap length, center shock spring and rear arm springs. Again, on an otherwise good working machine, you should try to stick to what it was that caused the heavy steering in the first place and work from that point forward. Let’s say you installed a new set of skis or runners and the steering is heavy. We could lighten the spring tension on the ski springs (less ski pressure), we could lengthen the limiter strap in the skid frame (less ski pressure), or we could soften the rear arm springs (again, less ski pressure). Which of these and in what quantity is the question. I prefer indexing my starting point (so I can always go back to it) and start with a little here and a little there. Most riders will use the ski spring pressure to compensate for worn runners (they’ll tighten them some to increase ski pressure), and the reverse works good for new runners that are a bit much for your liking.
For larger changes in ski pressure, you can change the length of the limiter strap(s) in the rear suspension. Making the strap(s) longer will reduce the amount of weight on the skis and reduce the steering effort. On coupled suspensions, I try to not vary the limiter more than one position so as to not change the moment of coupling. Increasing the center shock spring will have a similar, but lesser, affect in that it will reduce some of the ski pressure, and I’d personally see if this is enough before changing limiter strap length. These are the very adjustments the factory technicians spend so much time on getting right for each model and combination of tracks and skis, so when we start monkeying around with their track, ski, or runner selections then all of the adjustments might or might not be proper. Then again, much of it is more a matter of personal preference than being “right” or “wrong”.
The most overlooked adjustment that may surprise you is the rear suspension springs. Most riders will set these so they don’t bottom the rear, but if they’re a bit on the stiff side it will cause the steering to be heavy. A slight adjustment here may be all you need to bring it around.
Back to that new set of skis or runners; if this is what was installed to create the situation, you may want to consider a set of runners that isn’t as aggressive. Keeping in mind the need to balance the amount of traction with the amount of ski bite; if you’re running a large number of studs and need healthy runners to keep the front balanced with the rear, you may be hard pressed to find a runner length that will satisfy you.
When it comes to selecting carbide length, most riders seem to error on the long side and select runners with more carbide than they really need. Switching from a runner with 8” of carbide to one with 6” of carbide may be all it takes to get the results you want. I’ve seen it where we’ll bolt on a new set of runners and the first few days out our riders will complain about how heavy the steering has gotten. After hitting a few rocks and crossing a few asphalt roads, the edge of the runners is gone and the complaints usually go away.
You can always do some tweaking with your adjustments to get the type of handling you want. Remember that as conditions change, so will the amount of steering effort. You can change these adjustments from day to day if you’re really picky, but striking a balance that works well in most all conditions is the key for typical trail riders.
Other considerations would include the placement of the carbide in the wear bar and the amount of pressure being applied to the front and rear of the ski by the rubber damper that fits between the ski and the spindle. If there is too much carbide at the rear of the ski or if there is too much pressure towards the rear, it can also make the steering heavy, so you may want to verify the ski rubbers were installed properly. If you have a set of 8” runners and you’re looking to turn them into a set of 6” ones, take the extra carbide off the rear of the runner, not the front.

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