Yamaha’s 50/50 Crossover Powerhouse
For the 2019 season we got our hands on a Yamaha Sidewinder XTX LE 141” with the 1.75” lug Backcountry X track. I’ll have to admit, this was my first full winter on a 4-stroke. A few years back Yamaha came out with the “different strokes” video, if any of you remember it I had the same opinion of four strokes as Ernie in the video. Well, after 2,000 miles I enjoyed the XTX LE far more than I expected – this thing flat out rocks
I will be honest, when we first picked up the XTX LE I was thinking; hey, I just picked up a blue Arctic Cat with a Yamaha motor. I truly expected to be riding a turbocharged Arctic Cat, but Yamaha has proven me wrong. It is hard to put it into words, but this sled just felt like a Yamaha. Since we all know this machine uses a derivative of the Pro Cross chassis and was built by Arctic Cat, it isn’t what you’d expect. Somehow, some way, Yamaha has morphed this platform into feeling and acting in a way that screams “Yamaha”. Sure, the engine is Yamaha built, so whether it is the clutching, power delivery, suspension calibration or a combination of all, it runs and feels like a Yamaha. The team at Yamaha has truly created a different machine than my past experiences on the Pro Cross chassis.
The one word for this engine is “respect”! Many have written reviews about this engine, but one thing that stands out is how it demands your utmost respect. The power builds fast and smooth! So much so, that this engine is clearly not for the rookie or first time rider. When you are running corner to corner it will build speed faster than you realize. Even experienced riders need to be careful as it gets going fast very quickly. With that said, you need to learn how to use the throttle sparingly instead of just hammering it like you do on an old two-stroke.
The sound of this engine package is infectious and it begs you to lay into it just to listen to the turbo. As I get older I am not as concerned about big end speed (this sled has lots and lots of it), but I am more concerned with drivability. What I mean by that is can I drive this machine at 30 to 50 mph and not feel like I am on and off the power. This of course is due to the super-broad torque band. The Yamaha Sidewinder engine does a great job with this and is easy to drive at moderate trail speeds. It is incredibly smooth through the entire rpm range due to its super-broad torque band and when you want it, the big end power is right there at your command.
One problem I’ve had on other four strokes is the engine compression braking. I’ve ridden some in the past that barely needed brakes because when you let off the throttle it backshifted so abruptly that the sled damn near stopped without ever touching the brakes. The engineers at Yamaha did a fantastic job engineering this out of the Sidewinder. The engine braking is there but not anything like my past experiences. It is now a non-issue.
When the XTX LE showed up I was extremely happy to see the QS3 Fox shocks all the way around. Traditionally in the past the 141” skids have had an air shock to handle the rear spring duties. For 2019 they used a coil over set up on the rear arm of the uncoupled skid. The calibrations on Yamaha’s of late have been too firm for my liking, but with this one the calibration is almost perfect for a 200 pound rider. On the rear shocks we set the clickers on #2 and it is stroking out nicely, and I really have to work hard to bottom out the front arm! This is without a doubt the best performing 141” skid I have ever ridden. Now for 2020 this one goes away with the new 146” being released.
The front suspension is also equipped with the QS3 Fox shocks and is calibrated very well. Keeping the nose up on this sled is far easier with a good set of shocks that are calibrated correctly, and Yamaha technicians have been improving their Sidewinder suspension calibrations each and every year. You’d think it would feel and act more like a Cat, but it truly behaves like a Yamaha.
Another key component to the suspension performance and rider comfort is the taller mountain seat. The XTX LE’s mountain seat was very comfortable and made standing far easier than the lower trail seats on the other Sidewinder models. As a bonus we added the accessory heated option, too! I discovered how much I really liked the seat on the XTX LE after spending 500 miles on a competitor’s sled at the end of the season, which was like riding my KTM dirt bike. By the end of the weekend I had a sore butt, which again proved my point – seats matter.
Surprisingly, we liked the Backcountry X track more than we thought we would. We’ve always been partial to the 1.6” Cobra for 50/50 crossover riding, but that track is admittedly a softer lug that really folds over with the power of the Sidewinder. The Backcountry X track features a stiffer lug design so it wears better and is more dependable long term, but also seems to work quite well in both packed and off trail conditions. It did seem to cause more of an issue with the hyfax though – more on that later.
The XTX LE has a 40” stance front end and is equipped with the same mountain spindles offered on the Cat M line up other than the Alpha. I really liked how stable yet agile this set-up was for our varied crossover riding on both groomed trails and ungroomed forest roads. I experienced zero bump steer and precise handling, but was still able to get the sled to tip up as needed without undue effort.
Aesthetically when you look at a 40” stance on a sled that sports a 141” track with 1.75” lugs, good trail manners isn’t going to be your first impression. That said, this sled handles remarkably well. I guess my opinion might be skewed because I am usually a 141” to 146” trail sled rider. One day I ran a 23-mile stretch following a Pro X and I was surprised how well the XTX LE performed on tight Wisconsin trails. Is the XTX LE designed for this application? Not specifically, but it can easily hold its own and makes you a believer that Yamaha spent extra time to make sure of this capability. The XTX LE is also equipped with the new mountain ski by Yamaha with a single carbide solution that minimally pushed and provided consistent handling.
All sleds these days can be made even better and more personal with the addition of select accessories. Our XTX LE was fitted with the accessory heated seat, a taller windshield with increased rider protection, ice scratchers, a 4-wheel rear axle kit and a LinQ accessory rack from Up North Technologies
So, one thing I have not mentioned is the machine’s weight. Yes, it’s there and has to be addressed. I was worried that I was going have shoulder issues riding the XTX LE all season with already having a shoulder injury. To my surprise the steering effort was quite palatable, and even with the additional weight it was not what I expected. Power does wonders to mask weight, as does a well-calibrated and balanced suspension. You can feel the weight if you lug the sled around in the garage or on the trailer, but out riding it the weight is masked incredibly well. Again, hats off to the Yamaha calibration team for making this magical act happen.
A few things could be improved on the XTX LE (in my humble opinion); here is what I noticed or had issues with.
This winter we did not have really deep snow until mid season so it took me a few miles to discover this problem. Our other test riders had talked about this issue on previous Sidewinder models, but I hadn’t had it happen to me. When running in deep snow the front-mounted intercooler steams so much that you have a difficult time seeing clearly. When this happens you pretty much are forced to stand up or your goggles are screwed. One time when this happened it was about 5 degrees air temperature and when I slowed down and stopped they were all iced up from the steam. To make matters worse, when I took my spare pair out of the “heated” dash compartment they were soaked. Steam and cold temps make tough conditions for vision. The good news is that after running enough powder the intercooler got a layer of ice over the top of it, problem solved. I rode it for three days like this and the ice never thawed out. I was afraid to try to chip it off, so a heated shop was clearly in order.
Speaking of ice, I had a problem keeping the ice off of the XTX LE running boards. Most competitive sleds in this class have running boards with larger cut outs to help evacuate the snow that piles up when riding off trail. One weekend so much ice piled up I had to borrow a plastic tool off of a snow blower in Copper Harbor one day to chip them clean. From then on I started packing a plastic tent stake for this dubious task.
The clutches seemed noisy. I get the fact that 200 hp will be hard on belts and clutches but almost every hard stop the belt seems to bury itself down into the secondary and then squeak in the primary. One would think that your belt deflection is off, so I went to adjust the deflection and you have to shim the secondary to adjust it. Off to the dealer for $1.59 worth of parts, you think they could put some in the tool kit? Get some when you pick your new sled up.
The fuel pump relay froze up on us one cold morning. Like reading a script, we started our sleds and let them warm up some, turned them off to go in and get suited up, came back out and had no power to the fuel pump. After a quick phone call we identified the problem, pulled the culprit relay and warmed it to melt the frost inside and away we went. Seems some of that intercooler steam gets into the relay and that moisture will frost the contacts when it freezes. We also had the reverse relay freeze up once as well, preventing the sled from engaging the reverse solenoid and backing out of the trailer. We have more on this subject elsewhere in this issue of SnowTech.
Finally, the XTX LE was really hard on hyfax. I know the wear is condition related but my son followed me (mile for mile) on his Polaris Switchback Assault 144” and his are like new. I went through three sets and finally added scratchers that seemed to cure the problem. It seemed the 1.75” Backcountry X track was a factor, as previous XTX sleds with the 1.6” Cobra didn’t seem to be quite as bad.
As I stated earlier, I’ve always been a two stroke guy. So, did this sled convert me? Yes and no. There is definitely a crossover application for the XTX LE, and the Sidewinder models in general. Definitely yes, if you ride in an area with big trails with swooping corners this sled rocks. Anytime I took it on a trip with fast wide corners and railroad grades the XTX LE was right at home. Then there is the power of the mighty turbo. It is intoxicating. You need to be careful because it is so damn much fun. But, that same power can get you into trouble off trail – it keeps trenching so if and when you get it stuck, ouch. It helps to have friends along when that happens. I was getting better at handling it on unplowed forest roads, but you do know the extra weight is in there. It will lay over on its side easily but when the weight “sucks” you into a trench it takes more input and effort to change the direction. Bigger riders have less of an issue with this, shorter or lighter ones will find this to be more noticeable.
I guess what I am saying is it might not be the best machine for all applications, but if you are a rider with wider trails and unplowed forest roads this sled is incredibly awesome. The Sidewinder XTX LE gives you four stroke reliability, power that pulls like a freight train and a chassis that delivers consistent handling with all day comfort. That’s really the main attraction – power and reliability – in a well-balanced crossover capable
By Karl Lueck, SnowTech Central