The Future of Snowmobiles? (Jim Tucker)
Published on Sunday, February 27, 2011 in Guest Columns, News & Updates, Snowmobile Tech
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Years ago I wrote about a new rear suspension technology I believed was coming our way. The time was ripe, as we had been bumping around the trails on the same basic rear suspensions for years. Many sled companies and aftermarket businesses had tried various different designs in the hopes of absorbing bumps better, but none really quite hit the mother lode. The M10 suspension by FAST came real close but ended up having a high CG. It was also expensive to produce and complicated to set up.

The existing rear suspensions designed by the major sled makers did its job and still does it well, but there was a huge upgrade just around the proverbial corner for us ‘bilers to throw a leg over. And so it was in 2007 that Arctic Cat introduced the Slide Action Suspension. A suspension that had gone over very well with the rough and smooth trail crowd. Reliable and simple, this design threw down the gauntlet to the other sled makers to equal what Cat had already patented.

Lest anyone cry fowl, I had no positive proof that anything of that significance was coming down the pipe at that time, nor did I have any inside contacts with the folks in Thief River Falls. I just had a gut feeling and ran with it. And there you have it: A prediction of mine that really did come true!

So, what is this article about? Just praising Arctic Cat for creating an above average suspension that really works? Heck no! All the manufacturers can lay claim to something that they introduced to the snowmobile world that has changed our sport forever.

Let’s take a look at some of the biggies: Ski-Doo has its direct injection two-stroke engines in a world of new four-strokes. They may not have invented the technology but they were the first to bring it to the snowmobile world. Despite the ever-present doom say’ers, the folks in Valcourt have never looked back on that decision. Boy, am I glad they didn’t!

When the black and yellow crew stopped at the trail heads with this new technology, other non-yellow riders either just hid their heads or flocked to see what all the buzz was about. If you ride a different color sled you just have to ask yourself, why can’t my brand have that?

Yamaha entered the fray with power steering introduced on their new Apex, which I have ridden. Although I thought it needed tweaking to really make it right, I’m smart enough to know that all future luxury trail sleds will have it. All you have to do is look to the ATV world where Yamaha introduced that very upgrade. Nowadays all the major ATV manufacturers have power steering in at least one of their high-end models. Again, Yamaha did not invent the technology they just mated it to our world. Exup (Exhaust Ultimate Power Valve) is another technology utilized by Big Blue. It uses pressure waves, just like an expansion chamber on a two-stroke, to extract just that much more power out of an already powerful four-stroker. Here Yamaha did invent the technology and a good one it is.

And now this brings us to Polaris… what have they done for our beloved sport? Well, I am here to tell you that the new Pro-Ride suspension is the real deal. When it first came out I rode it and said it was nothing special, just another odd looking design that would fall by the wayside like so many others before it. That was until I really rode it. After it was set up to my weight I rode over huge craters like they weren’t even there. The trail I was on was bombed out Afghanistan style. There was no rest for the wicked here, it was either swallow the bumps or be swallowed!

The feeling of control while airborne and over the bombed-out trails really rocked my world and the smile on my face was so large even a full-face helmet could not hide it! I’m sure others felt that same joy I did and will purchase the sled on this fact alone. How easy it was to set up to my weight could not be denied either. Just a simple turn of the preload spring at knee-high is all it takes. All the other sled makers have great suspensions but this one is really over the top in big bump performance.

I look again into my crystal ball for the next set of predictions. Really though, it isn’t that hard to figure out what’s next. One only has to look at the automotive world to see where we are headed in some fashion. Future tech. You bet! We already have the sunroof and heated leather seat options covered. So what is next?

HID lights, stability control, ABS brakes, diesel technology, reverse sensors, maybe even airbags? Airbags, are you kidding me? Personally, I think ABS brakes are next on the list. Why would we need ABS brakes anyways? As most folks know, keeping a sled going in a straight line while braking would be a huge safety feature. A sled going sideways while braking could be a rollover in the making. Not a good scenario. Being upside down is bad. Being upside down and injured is even worse.

The technology already exists and could be mated to the hydraulic brake line without the addition of a cumbersome pump assembly. A type of hydraulic modulator could be installed. It could handle the duties very well and keep the sled under control. Just grab for all the brake you can and watch the technology work for you! Is it too far off?

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