We’re not sure if you caught this, but it is definitely worth bringing to your attention. For 2019 the Yamaha Sidewinder SRX LE and Arctic Cat’s Thundercat were calibrated with a lower ride height than other similar models in their respective line-ups. In the case of these two speed demons, the lower ride height was more of an effort to reduce aerodynamic drag and increase top speed capability for lake racing, but the other and perhaps more profound effect on the industry as a whole was what happened with the handling of these two machines. If you’re motoring down a nice smooth groomed trail lower is better when it comes to slot-car handling.
SnowTech Canada’s Brad Harris nailed this in his test report of the 2019 SRX, where he stated, “I believe the lower ride height is exactly what the majority of trail riders need. The SRX has the same suspension travel as the L-TX LE, it just sits lower, exactly the same way many riders set up their sleds for trail riding. In my opinion, Yamaha is quite close to achieving the ultimate Sidewinder set-up.”
Brad went on to suggest that by instead using a 1” lug height track (for top speed capability) Yamaha install a more traditional 1.25” lug height track for the ultimate trail sled – shifting the emphasis more to handling capability instead of top speed.
Think back to the days of sleds like the old Yamaha 1997 SX 700. Lower to the ground than the XT and XTC models, the SX was the slot car of the bunch. Sat lower, railed around the corners. Over the past twenty years the emphasis has been more travel, taller sleds, stand up riding – snocross and off-trail enhanced and fueled, no doubt, but there remains a core a trail riders who don’t want or even need all of that ride height and the resulting sled behavior it induces. Granted, the SX actually had less travel than the XT or XTC, but the premise of a lower ride height was sound.
So this is the part many of us might have missed – Arctic Cat liked the handling of their Thundercat as much as we did. They also discovered how well it railed around the corners. It didn’t actually have any less travel, it just had more ride sag and sat down lower to the ground when the rider weight was added. Get the sled airborne and the suspensions would drop out and you still had all of the travel. By using dual rate springs they were able to achieve the lower ride height, along with softer torsion springs in the rear. This also allows for a flatter angle of the front torque arm, again resulting in a flatter cornering vehicle with less downward pressure at the front of the rails.
So when Arctic Cat introduced their line-up of pre-order only models for 2020, there it was – more sleds with a lower ride height. And, nobody noticed it. Or, at least very few did. Arctic Cat’s own Brian Dick told us how the 2020 ZR SnoPro models would be offered with the lower ride height of the Thundercat, but they again went with the 1” lug height track. Now, if you’re adding studs, then it makes sense. Otherwise it might have missed the mark. On a ZR SnoPro the lower ride height is an advantage for the flat cornering and slot car handling, and while it will add to the top speed capability that’s probably now what a rider is buying a 600 or 800 for these days. These sleds perhaps should have instead come with a 1.25” lug height track.
On the other hand, a lower lug track will allow for more tail slip and will thus result in flatter cornering. Example, we add studs or a more aggressive track to a sled and with the added traction we have now induced more inside ski lift – the sled does not corner as flat as it used to. If the track keeps pushing the sled forward instead of breaking loose slightly, the result is inside ski lift. This is why the RipSaw II track became so popular as it allowed some slight sliding of the tail which helped keep the skis on the ground.
It kind of comes down to what type of trails you ride most often, and what kind of sled behavior you prefer. Mountain riding and stand up crossover riding along with snocross style influences seem to indicate the popular trend is all stand up, taller machines that tip this way or that way. Like a motorcycle. But with this trend it also reveals the resistance – the good old core group of sit-down trail riders who care far more about going left and right and doing so in ultimate control with both skis on the ground. Perhaps this reveals a growing polarization of riding styles. Stand-ups are far more off trail riders, sit downs are far more on trail riders. For the sled manufacturer, they’re just trying to figure out what will sell. Instead of offering just the single genre, offering some variations might just reveal a demand that isn’t being satisfied and then they cash in with some new sales. That is, after all, why an OEM is in business – to make a buck – as they should be able to.