1,183 Mile Test Report –
During the last days of January 2019 I picked up a brand new Sidewinder SRX LE with 0 km’s to embark on a saddlebag trip through Central and Northern Ontario. I added a tall windshield and saddlebags and hit the trail, logging 1,906 km (1,183 miles) over 5 days of riding. During those 5 days I experienced almost every type of trail condition imaginable on many different types of trails. From hour upon hour in tight twisty trails in Central Ontario to the wide sweeping trails in the North with some Muskoka lake riding mixed in. Trail conditions ranged from rock hard to fresh loose snow and from freshly groomed to totally whooped and beat up. Temperatures ranged from -25 C (-13 F) to +5 C (41 F) over the 5 days. On the final day I rode through freezing rain which transitioned to a full-on down pour for the last 10 km (6 miles). It was an awesome trip that provided the perfect range of trail types and conditions to see what the new SRX was capable of.
Current owners, potential buyers, and those even remotely interested in the SRX have to understand what the intended purpose of the SRX is; to be the first across the lake. Top speed is the priority as well as stability at high speeds both on the lake and on flat, groomed trails.
When Yamaha introduced the SRX LE package and explained the differences vs. the L-TX LE it made total sense to me, and to be honest, I was a little excited. For quite some time I’ve believed that some of the OEM’s were starting to go too far with long travel suspensions and deeper lugged tracks for trail sleds, specifically the increased ride height of some of the front suspensions currently offered. It seemed the focus was only on bump performance, straight line traction, and ability to lift the skis at will while the sled’s ability to adequately handle the turns and corners that connected each straight section of trail, was an afterthought. So when I saw the dual rate ski shock springs, revised centre shock springs, and new rear torsion springs all with the intent to let the sled sit lower to ground, along with the 1 in. lugs on the 137 in. RipSaw track, I thought this was a step in the right direction for trail riders in general even though wide open blasts across a lake was the intended use for this model.
With this in mind my focus was on the handling and ride of the new SRX more than the engine’s performance. It’s been well stated in this magazine how well this engine performs and how impressive it is. The minor changes for the SRX model have also been discussed previously. Plus, from what I’m seeing both on the snow and on the forums online, a lot of SRX owners (and Sidewinder owners in general) aren’t keeping the sleds stock for very long and at minimum are opting for flashes for relatively cheap and reliable power increases. So for this review, I’m going to focus on the SRX’s suspension and what the new set-up is capable of (completely opposite to what you’d expect for a muscle sled review, I know).
Handling & Suspension
From the moment I watched Yamaha pull the cover off the new SRX right up to the day I picked up the sled, the SRX was on my mind. I was really looking forward to getting time on the sled and seeing how it performed. As mentioned, the lower ride height for trail riding, especially those who want their sled to corner flat, predictable, and precise was very intriguing to me.
Prior to riding the SRX I replaced the stock carbides (skegs) with a more aggressive set-up (vs. stock) that I’ve used on all Tuner ski equipped Yamaha’s since about 2013. The inside keel received 8” carbide on rectangular host bar while the outside keels I used 4” of carbide on square host bar.
I also set the rear sag for my weight and ended up at setting 3 (max) with 3 in. of sag. With my saddlebags and full gear I was closer to 4 in. of sag which may seem like a lot of but keep in mind these torsion springs have less pre-load vs. other Sidewinder models, so it’s going to sag a little more than normal. Everything else remained stock to start out.
The first 200 km (124 miles) of my trip was mostly smooth rail lines (rail grades) however the minimal amount of bumps encountered provided enough opportunity to feel out the iQS suspension and become familiar with the differences between Soft, Medium, and Firm settings of the shocks, similar to the manually adjustable QS3 shocks. For the next 300 km (186 miles) the trails ranged from tight and twisty woods to more rail lines then some wide forest roads mixing in and out of hydro lines and finally back into tight and twisty trails, but all smooth. I now had a good idea about what the sled was doing well and what it wasn’t.
After logging 600 km (372 miles) on the sled with the stock suspension settings, other than the rear torsions, the sled just wasn’t handling the way I thought it should. Although I would say the sled was pretty stable and much flatter in the corners, vs. previous Sidewinder and SR Viper models I’ve spent time on, there was still unexpected ski lift or push in the corners. Not a lot, but enough that I was fighting the sled at times. So at one of our fuel stops I tightened up the limiter strap (factory setting was full out, hole 1) and backed off the centre shock pre-load to about 3 mm (1/8 in.) or approx. 2 turns of the collar from full loose (just enough that the spring couldn’t wiggle or move). What surprised me when I made this adjustment was that I took out what looked like close to 25 mm (1 in.) of pre-load from the centre shock. That’s huge!
For a sled that’s supposed to sit low and be flat on groomed trails the stock setting created an imbalance, or see-saw effect, over the centre shock when trail riding. The likely reason for this factory setting is that the engineers wanted to ensure the sled would transfer enough weight for traction under hard acceleration when lined up on the lake and also keep the steering effort down. For the intended purpose of lake racing, this works well, but for those that want the lower-sitting SRX to rail corners in the trails, you will want to adjust the centre shock preload and likely the limiter strap. My priority was flat and predictable cornering, yours may differ.
I ended up leaving the ski shock spring pre-load in the stock settings as I really didn’t see, or more importantly, feel the need to make any further changes. However, had I had more time with the sled I likely would have reduced the pre-load a little to get the front end slightly lower.
The limiter strap and centre shock pre-load adjustment transformed the sled into the flattest cornering Yamaha I have ridden, bar none. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say the 2019 Sidewinder SRX LE is the best handling 4-stroke model Yamaha has ever produced.
In the remaining 1300 km (808 miles) of my trip I don’t recall lifting an inside ski again, other than catching a rut mid-corner once or twice. The SRX was incredibly flat in the corners and actually took much less effort to ride after the adjustment, without a noticeable increase in steering effort.
Once I had the sled cornering flat I could really start to get a feel of how the sled worked as a complete package. The combination of lower ride height, Tuner III skis, and 137x15x1 in. RipSaw (not RipSaw II) track made for a completely different feel than previous Sidewinders.
With the front end staying flat my focus was shifted to the track. There were times I loved the 1 in. lugs on the RipSaw and times I wished it had a little more lug height. When the trails were loose, or if there was a fresh snowfall over smooth trails, the SRX would spin under any kind of power and sometimes even under steady power at a constant speed. In my experience this is a trait of the 1 in. RipSaw that appears on any sled so equipped, however with the 137 in. length it seemed to not have enough bite to keep the sled planted in the rear. The spinning was annoying at times and I joked with my group that I’d have the most miles racked up by the end of our trip. But, this was the compromise or trade-off for that additional top end speed on the lake. Again, keep in mind what the sled was configured for, top speed.
Having said that, when the trails were set up well and had just enough traffic to slightly loosen up the top layer of snow the 1 in. RipSaw was awesome. The RipSaw’s lugs or teeth would bite down into the hard pack to provide traction yet you could easily get the track to break loose and spin under power about mid-corner and get a nice little drift going until the exit. Reminiscent of the trailing-arm chassis of the past the 2019 SRX was a blast to ride in these conditions and the track was perfect. In these conditions I could use the track to help steer the sled in both tight trails and wider trails although the fun factor was much higher on the wider and faster trails. The 1 in. RipSaw definitely shines on hard pack trails.
While riding the wide range of trails it became very apparent that the SRX was ideally suited to smooth, hard, wide, and fast trails. That’s where this package really shines, even more so than other Sidewinder models. As the trails and corners got tighter my effort level to maneuver the sled increased accordingly. The wider the trails the easier it got and the more fun I had. This shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone, it wasn’t to me, nor is this a knock against the SRX. It’s not intended to be a sled to whip through the tight twisty trails with ease. It’s a muscle sled meant to be first across the lake, but the lower ride height definitely improves corning and reduces the rider’s effort vs. a Sidewinder L-TX LE, for example.
If I had to point to one area where the SRX could be improved it would be the skis. Even when running the ideal smooth, hard, wide, and fast trails the Tuner III skis seemed to be a limiting factor. They just didn’t bite as well in the looser snow on the outside of a left hand turn like other skis do, and that was with the aggressive carbide/wearbar set up I was running. This isn’t anything new to previous Sidewinder or Viper owners, some love the Tuners and some prefer to swap them out. For the SRX and it’s intended purpose as well as its ability to run wider trails at higher speeds, I believe a single keel ski like that of the Thundercat would be a better fit. That’s personal preference though.
I did pick up a little trick that helped the SRX in the tight twisty trails that I’ll share. If the trail is smooth, and not whooped up, and you’re trying to keep a good pace through the corners, switch the iQS to the Hard setting. This firms up the compression of the ski shocks (as well as rear shock) and helps reduce body roll in tight corners. I discovered this seemingly by accident while trying the different iQS settings on-the-fly through a tight section of trail that had been groomed the night before. Because it was so smooth I had the sled set to the Soft setting but noticed the front end really rolling in the corners. I bumped it up to Medium and noticed an improvement over the next few corners. I then tried it on Hard and man, what a difference. With reduced body roll I was able to corner easier and it seemed like I was able to maintain a steadier speed throughout the corner.
The iQS system is very convenient and much more useful than I thought it would be. I typically run QS3 shocks on setting 2, or Medium, however there were many times when riding wide and smooth trails that I opted for the Soft setting. The ability to switch settings on-the-fly is great and exactly the type of feature a flag-ship model should offer. One feature I felt the SRX’s shocks were missing however is rebound adjustment. This doesn’t need to be adjustable on-the-fly but it’s a very useful feature. The rebound adjustability on the 2018 Sidewinder L-TX LE I rode the previous season proved to be very practical and allowed me to tune the shocks to provide the ride quality I expected.
With the reduced ride height of both the front and rear suspensions one would tend to expect that you would experience bottoming out more often vs. an L-TX LE model. I didn’t find this to be the case at all. I didn’t notice the SRX’s suspensions bottoming out any more often than expected. Remember, the SRX has the same amount of suspension travel as the L-TX LE, it just sits lower or further into the travel when running on a smooth surface. Once you get into the bumps the front and rear suspensions are being compressed then extending fully, using the full travel, letting the shocks absorb the hits through their full stroke, just like the L-TX. Using the appropriate iQS setting obviously makes the biggest difference however the point to remember here is that a lower riding sled can still soak up the bumps.
Overall, I believe Yamaha nailed its intended customer with the SRX. Sure there will be compromises at times with the 1 in. lugs when trail riding but there are other benefits as well beyond the increase in top speed. While the lower ride height keeps the sled stable at WOT across the lake it rails high speed corners on fast, flat trials, just as a muscle sled should. It also makes the 2019 SRX the best handling 4-stroke model Yamaha has produced to date.
By Brad Harris – SnowTech Canada
Photos by Brad Harris, and John Sharrard
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