Being able to ride next year’s sleds in prototype form we always have the chance to tip off our readers as to what the “good ones” are going to be for next year. Now mind you, when we get to ride next year’s sleds in March our observations are based on what works well at that time. Some of the brand new models simply are not in final calibration trim at that time so they don’t work all that well, and it is really a roll of the dice to know how they will perform in production form later in the year. That is the risk.
But back to the good ones. We get all kinds of inquiries, whether it be by e-mail or on the phone or those who run into us on the street or at some show, they want to know what the good sled is going to be for them that winter. In a way, if we don’t know you personally and your riding habits (like where and how you ride) then it is like choosing your mate for you. How do we know what is important to you and what faults you are willing to overlook? Like seriously, would you want us to do that?
But with this knowledge and some quick qualifying we can usually steer a rider into some smart choices for them to look into. We will ask them what they currently ride, what they like and dislike about that sled, what they want to improve upon. Then we will ask where they ride and why, how much on-trail and off-trail they do, how long they expect to keep the sled and how many miles they put on each year.
As you can see, it is a fairly lengthy process to qualify a rider as to what sleds might be best suited to their liking. But with all of this, we can not deny the fact that when we get to ride next year’s sleds there are some that just plain stand-out as being dialed. Ones that rock, not just for one of our riders but for all (or most) of them. We all get off that sled and shake our heads in amazement, man that things works good.
OK, enough teasing. What sleds really stood out this past March? The one that was most memorable was the new Indy 800 SP. The year before we were all high on the new Indy 600 SP, and this time around it was the new 800. Whomever at Polaris was responsible for the calibration of this beast gets a gold medal in our book. They knew what they were doing as it was the most dialed trail sled from Polaris in a very VERY long time. They nailed this one. As far as we are concerned you can not go wrong with an Indy 600 or 800 SP, they are both fun and agile trail sleds for the masses.
In reality, most every one of the Polaris sleds we tested was running exceptionally well. They were on their game. The latest RUSH models were at their best since introduction. The Switchback Assaults were dialed as well. The RMKs just plain work in the deep snow. They were ready for the test session.
Ski-Doo was really the same, every one of their sleds that we got time on was dialed. The one standout was the MX Z XRS, most impressive dominating machine through the rough, mostly due to the rMotion rear suspension. Any and all of their X-package models were near perfection. Then there were the new ACE 900 models, simply amazing in how well they ran, how smooth they were in both engine and suspension performance. These sleds, any of them, are going to impress you to no end. And there were the Freeride models, the stout versions of the Summit. We beat the crap out of the Freeride models and they loved it. We always talk about how good the rMotion rear is in the short tracks, but the Freerides have had a progressive rate rear suspension years before the rMotion came out. The way we can go hard through the rough just makes it all so much fun.
In the Arctic Cat camp they were still getting their new 600 DSI engine sorted out, so we can’t give you glowing reports as to how it blew us away with how good it worked. It just wasn’t ready for a final evaluation, and while it ran good it was not the final cut so we have to reserve final judgment. What really stood out was the difference from their new seats for 2014, and the ride quality improvement from their new Slide Action 137” rear suspension package. And in what is likely the most improved for 2014 would be the M-series mountain sleds. Since coming on the Proclimb chassis in 2012 there have been major improvements in the behavior and performance of the Cat deep snow sleds, and some people might not give these machines their due. For 2014 they are outstanding deep snow machines, so you had better take notice. They have been doing some hard work here, and it shows.
The dark horse in all of this could be Yamaha. They didn’t get their prototype SR Viper sleds from Arctic Cat until well into 2013 so they were working like dogs trying to get their new models ready for the photo shoot. They also didn’t have their equipment to a final calibration so we can’t comment on the final cut as they were still getting the new models working to their liking. What we can tell you is the SR Viper models are going to be as impressive as you hope for with the Nytro engine in there, now sounding even nastier and having the great throttle response it has become famous for. And now we have a killer front suspension and a great rear suspension to go with it, and the best part – the riding position. Our riders found the standard models, the ones with the coil-over front shocks, to be the better trail sleds. The ones with the FLOAT front shocks are better at resisting bottoming, but the coil-over sleds (standard SR Viper and SR Viper LTX) were actually the better riding machines going down the trail, more compliant and smoother riding through the bumps.
Then consider the long track SR Viper XTX comes in at just a whisker over 500 pounds, and this is a four-stroke. A wise man once told Yamaha that when they could get one of their big engine sleds down to 500 pounds that they’d have the Cat by the tail, and they are now so very close. When you ride one, you’ll know. We’ve been keeping tabs on the changes and improvements being made that make all of these models worthy of having the Yamaha badge on them and expect them to satisfy you. We have two of them headed our way and hope to beat on them just like you would to find out how good they really are.
So to sum it up, there are plenty of new rides that are worthy of your consideration. We still have the lightweight high-performance two-strokes, but now there are even more choices in the more durable four-strokes. It is not a matter of right or wrong, but one of what you like and what your expectations are. Do your research, pick your weapon and enjoy the ride. 2014 is going to be a great year for snowmobiling. We can hardly wait.