By Mark Boncher
Ski-Doo Backcountry X-RS 146” 850, Arctic Cat Riot 8000 146”, Polaris SKS 146” 850
Do you want to ride the trails today? Yes! Do you want to carve the powder today? Yes! Do you want to do both, back and forth all day? Yes!
Would you like to be this ‘yes person’? Then look no further than these three sleds. These are crossover sleds that are focused on the 50/50 crowd, but could honestly be the right sled for serious trail riders OR serious boondocking off-trail riders. Each sled has aspects that bend slightly to a certain style of riding more specifically, but all three boast 150+ hp motors, new options, and are incredibly versatile performance sleds.
Don’t get caught watching!
If you’re friends are not careful, the new Riot from Arctic Cat will catch every one of them sleeping! It’s not an 850, but most riders won’t notice. We reported a little bit on this sled already in our 2020 sled previews at the end of last season, and like we said earlier, this sled is really a 60/40 on-trail versus off-trail sled.
We liked the 15x146x1.6 track option more than the smaller 1.35-inch lug optional track. The 1.6-inch lug does not give up too much performance in the trail, and adds significant versatility off-trail. Plus, you can still stud the 1.6-inch lug track if you want to, and not have as much worry about super-long studs pulling through the track, as you would on a longer 1.75-inch lug crossover track. For folks who want the ultimate trail, lake, off-trail, and all-snow condition track… this is pretty close!
The reason we would classify this as a more trail-oriented sled versus more off-trail, is that it still has the ARS II (Arctic Race Suspension) front suspension with the standard trail A-arms, spindles, and spindle angle. Yes, it is adjustable from a 42-43 inch ski stance and has a little different roll center and different geometry, but for all intents and purposes, this is still the same race-inspired snocross and cross-country racing suspension that the trail sleds are using.
It is not the AMS front suspension that comes on the Riot X and the mountain sleds, which is not a bad thing, but we are simply stating the fact that this is a trail front suspension for the most part. The ARS with Fox 1.5-inch diameter QS3 3-position, compression adjustable ski-shocks, in combination with the 1.6-inch lug track, plus the optional ski stances, makes this sled highly versatile.
Don’t forget, there’s an entirely new rear suspension in this attitude-filled machine. The Cross-Action rear suspension is marketed as a having great performance in deep snow and more transfer, as well as big bump capability. However, just like we have realized with new crossover suspensions like the cMotion from Ski-Doo, and the IGX suspension from Polaris when it came out, is that this skid is also incredible on-trail. Most of our test riders appreciated the AMS suspension more on-trail than the shorter, slide-action rear suspensions from Cat. It still has the full 13.5-inches of rear travel like the trail sleds, and our test vehicle had the Fox IFP 1.5 shock in the front of the skid, and 2.0 diameter Zero QS3 in the rear shock spot.
We will just mention this again, for probably the 20th time – we love the push-button electric start and reverse, plus the tether that comes on this sled. In addition, the reinforced running boards and rear rack system are a bonus. Clutch calibration is good for most any place east of the Rocky Mountain foothills at 0-5,000 feet. All that said, the cool-looking rack system is not as well thought out as others in the industry. It does not have as many quick-placing options for accessories.
Cornering was better or best in this group of three sleds, and corner to corner speed was on par or better than the others, but top end power and trenching off-trail were two areas of issue. That’s just what the consensus of our riders was. The 794cc motor is an over-achieving engine for an 800 twin EFI, but still does not 100% compete with the 850 motors from Polaris and Ski-Doo.
We keep going back and back to the backcountry
There’s a lot to be said for one of the most active and responsive snowmobile chassis platforms on the snow, the G4 chassis from Ski-Doo. However, there is not much new on the Backcountry 146 machine this year. We alluded to this in an earlier article on the 154-inch version… which is actually a new length for 2020.
Even though there is technically not much new for this 146-inch machine, other than a new optional gauge that is bigger and better, and a new runner on the ski, it is still very technologically advanced. The SHOT push-button starting system, powered by an ultra-capacitor is a major advantage over other boondocking sleds in particular, but also trail sleds in many situations. With just one or two easy pulls in the morning, you can have electric starting capabilities all day, with a major weight loss to the starting system.
The record continues to skip, but we believe this should be an option on EVERY Ski-Doo sled, like now. However, we aren’t the BRP bean counters, and I am sure they have calculated a business or technology life-cycle analysis as to why customers should wait for this option to be rolled out to other models.
Back to that new gauge; one thing I like in particular is the metric/imperial setting via the menu. Our family splits a lot of time between riding in Canada and riding in the U.S., with one of us being from north of the border, and one being from the States. I like having the option of both systems on the gauge. The display also auto-corrects to dim or brighten to the light around it, which sounds great in theory, in that you can go from day/night/foggy/super snowy/bright sun and other conditions, and see the gauges well. So far it has been great, but many more conditions and goggles/lenses will be tested in combo with this new tech.
Like the Riot, this sled has an adjustable ski stance. We think all sleds, but crossover sleds in particular, should have an adjustable ski stance. We also think that more Ski-Doo’s should have the quick-disconnect sway bar as well, especially the longer crossover sleds like the 146-inchers. Also, to make this a truly 50/50 on-trail versus off-trail sled, our test riders agreed that the 2.0-inch lugged Powdermax track was the correct choice. It is formidable on the trail, and is hard to beat in the corners, even with the bigger lug, but loses a bit of top-end. However, with the Powdermax it is a fantastically fun, off-trail sled.
There are so many good things we can say about the Backcountry X-RS, and I’ll be honest, it is one of my favorite sleds currently being made. But the cMotion rear skid is a big reason why this sled is a favorite of so many test riders. Easy transfer, playfulness on and off the trail, ability to take a big mogul hit, are all very big kudos given from real riders. When you add KYB Pro 40 Easy-adjust shocks with 22 clicks of compression to this skid, it easily takes on anything the trail can throw at it. I mean, this is basically Ski-Doo’s race sled in a crossover chassis with lots of specific additions. Isn’t that enough?!?!
SKS is a Super Kool Sled!
This one is really the best of these three sleds for the off-trail crowd. The SKS 146 with the 850cc Patriot, powerful 2-stroke motor is more of a 70/30 off-trail versus on-trail machine. Why? Plain and simple, this is an RMK. It sits in the AXYS chassis which is meant to side-hill, it is meant to clear obstacles under the snow, it is meant to be narrow and easy to maneuver in deep snow, and it comes with a 2.25-inch lug track, but that’s not the whole story.
The newest 850cc motor on the market is Polaris’ Patriot and it only competes with the Ski-Doo E-Tec 850 if you want instantaneous, rider-friendly, manageable power. Well, plus the 165+ horses. This motor in the shorter 146-inch SKS means incredible track speed and an ability to perform tight powder turns in very little space. Plus, the AXYS chassis has an amazing ability to stay on top of the snow, and can literally dig its way out of holes.
Since the day this sled came out, we have been stacking it up against another crossover sled from Polaris, one of our all-time favorites, the Switchback Assault 144. The difference? The SKS is a little easier to initiate side-hills with the narrow 39-41-inch adjustable front end, and the ability to ‘creep’ along in deeper snow and off-camber situations off-trail. On trail, the Assault still wins, but the non-adjustable ski-stance was an issue for the Assault for many off-trail riders for years.
If there was ever a 50/50 crossover battle regarding the best rear skid, then the IGX rear suspension from Polaris versus the cMotion from Ski-Doo is the best competition. There are definitely areas that both excel in, but neither is bad at anything. Personal opinion is that the IGX is better off trail, and the cMotion is better in all conditions… maybe it’s why Polaris put this sled in the ‘ultimate crossover’ category this year. However, the difference is minute, and the IGX on the SKS is stellar, and an overachiever in churning big snow when you pull a hard up-hill sidehill.
One thing folks don’t think about all that much until their boots, or ice, or the mysterious twig-monster slip them off the running boards in deep snow, is how important grip is on the running boards. Well, the PowderTrac boards are one of my all-time favorites and are great for snow evacuation, zero ice build-up, and very good grip.
Two more standard features of the SKS that they don’t boast about, but we are big fans of, are the LED standard headlights and the Gripper skis. Both are not expensive, but very helpful and utilitarian. We all need to see better at night than we have in the past, hence wider- spanning and better penetrating LED lights. We need to also have easier ways to get unstuck, and not be stuck in the first-place. Hence, ribbed skis on top like the Gripper, so we can stand on them and not slide off, plus, have the underneath steering side be great as well.
What should I buy?
First, do not ask your significant other, just buy what you want. But if you want the newest, coolest, most popular name in the industry for 2020, get the Arctic Cat Riot. It’s a great trail sled with some additional super-positive off-trail opportunities.
Second, if you speak French, which is pretty persuasive, then talk your significant other into buying at least one, preferably two, Backcountry X-RS 850’s. Neither of you will be disappointed. Even if you only speak redneck, this sled will be worth every nickel you spend on it because you can be as excited to ride on-trail, off-trail, or off the biggest highschooler made jump in your neighborhood.
Third, if I bought a Polaris SKS 146 with the 850 Patriot, I would take all the decals off it, put some old school stickers on it, and then make all the 162-inch ‘mountain riders’ look silly while riding a little 146-inch sled. Come on, that would be fun!
At the end, the most versatile 50/50 sled is the Backcountry X-RS 146-inch from Ski-Doo, but every weapon has its purpose!
Yamaha Sidewinder XTX LE 141
Blue team keeps it legit!
Realistically speaking, the Sidewinder is still the fastest and most powerful production snowmobile to date. It is also best in crossover versions, in my opinion. There are plenty to choose from, even after Yamaha cleaned up their lineup with fewer total machines. A personal favorite of many of our riders is the XTX LE with its 141-inch long track.
Why? Lots of reasons, but top of the list is still the 200+ hp turbo, 998cc fuel injected triple cylinder 4-stroke motor. There is no perceivable lag with this motor, and it’s not like turbos of old, and it is not even comparable in performance, lag, or excitement, even to other current turbo systems. This is more of a 60-40 on trail versus off-trail sled as far as where it shines best, but it is fully capable to hang with any sled through the twisties on a groomed, woodsy trail, or through 2-feet of powder off-trail. Oh, and you will ALWAYS be first in any impromptu drag race. No snowmobile-blooded person can tell me that it isn’t totally mind-blowing to grab this throttle.
Up front we like the single keel mountain skis that come standard on this 40-inch wide front end, and of course, the coil-over Fox Zero QS3 shocks to suck up any big hits and easily adjust to the conditions. The uncoupled SR 141 rear suspension adds playful abilities off-trail and more transfer, but still has plenty of bump-soaking ability with the QS3 shocks in it as well. The Backcountry track with 1.75-inch lugs is a perfect snow thrower and allows for on-trail performance, with enough paddle to move it through the powder as well.
Yamaha quality and standard features are tops here too with a heated-seat, automotive style DC output for your gadgets, LED headlight, electric start, reverse, and more. The Hayes Brake shortie brake lever is a big plus too, especially for folks with smaller digits, but it also allows better feel through your gloves which is of utmost importance on a machine that goes 0-awesome in 2 seconds flat.
As far as new features go, you’ll get new, lightweight suspension rails with an extra set of idler wheels. Plus, there is a new Stealth control system on the handle bars which allows easy toggling through the gauge and push-button starting… which is much better than the old key-start. Finally, you’ll see a new, medium tunnel bag on the top of the tunnel with more storage. All-in-all, this is a good-looking speed demon with lots of versatility.