A couple of weeks ago I had the honor of spending a half day on the 2016 Polaris Pro RMK 800 along with a couple of the Polaris engineers, marketing team, and additional test riders. We were asked to truly test the sled and ride as we would our own. From that experience they wanted us to form and share honest thoughts of what we liked and disliked. The model that we rode has been officially released and specifications and technical information are available at the POLARIS SNOWMOBILES WEBSITE. I'm not going to go into those details, but rather share my experience. All photos included are courtesy of Polaris Snowmobiles. Our day started with an introductory video and presentation highlighting many of the changes and new features of the sled. 4 items stood out to me the most and sent chills up my spine and goose bumps all over my body- new 800 HO engine, taller and narrower bodywork, new lighter track with taller lugs, and 408 LBS! More power, less weight, better traction, and less area contacting the snow are all aspects that we work very hard to achieve with expensive modifications and aftermarket parts to our current sleds. My blood was really flowing by this point as questions and anticipation raced through my mind.
We arrived at the location that we would ride from and once geared up, had a few minutes to visually inspect the sleds and ask a few questions. The fit and finish of this sled is much improved and appreciated. Along with the new body work, the new forged aluminum a-arms caught my eye. They are a lighter and designed to bend rather than break under impact. A person can't help but notice the extremely cut out rear suspension rails. From there I took a good look at the new track. I am a big fan of the current stock track because it is lightweight and does well in the dry fluffy snow that we typically ride. This exclusive new series 6 track offers taller lugs and even less weight. While looking at the track, I noticed a new rear suspension drop bracket. It's taller, fully enclosed, smooth, and painted which will mean NO SNOW AND ICE BUILDUP! This will be a nice improvement over the current bracket that tends to accumulate a lot of snow and ice. As I stood on the running boards, it is quite noticeable that you are farther off of the ground than the current model. The narrower handlebars felt good as I currently cut mine down for personal preference. Next we removed the side panels and center hood section. This takes all of about 30 seconds. There are new larger easier to grab plastic pieces on the side panels that make removal and attaching very smooth and easy. No tools are required to remove the center hood piece which is very nice. Along with a new brake assembly, we noticed a much larger muffler. That will make for easy substantial weight savings so long as there is a way to keep noise down at the same time.
Finally time to ride! We got on the sleds and started our ride down the local trail up to where we would be turned loose and put them to the test. The very first thing that I noticed was how easy the throttle pull was. This is a really nice improvement that all riders will greatly appreciate thanks to the electric oil pump (as opposed to the current cable operated one in conjunction with the throttle cable) on the new HO engine. The second observation for me was that I was physically higher off of the ground. That can affect you mentally if you allow it to. After a few miles, I felt comfortable with the position and it was no longer a factor. Once we were on an open stretch of the trail, it was time to grab a handful of that smooth easy pulling throttle and see how the new HO engine felt. I would describe it as QUICK and PULLS HARD. Acceleration and response were really impressive and it felt like it continued building good power through the rpm's. I also noticed that the sled is really quiet. This is a great feature with all of our current battles to keep land and backcountry riding areas open. That, and I am becoming a bigger and bigger fan of quieter sleds. The quiet sound makes the power quite deceiving as well. The new brake performs extremely well with very little input. I felt confident with the front shocks through the bumps and their performance was decent for me (riding weight around 190 lbs). The rear suspension handled the bumps ok but had a tendency to bottom out upon contacting any kind of depression in the snow. I did not make any adjustments or actually even look to see how the springs were setup on the shocks. Maybe we could have made an improvement, but I was much more focused on getting to an area to see how the sled handled terrain more to my liking.
As we reached the area where we would begin riding the real mountain terrain, they made it very clear that we needed to switch back to one of the 2015 models that was brought along to feel the differences between sleds. Snow conditions were crusty on south facing slopes that had been baked by the sun and soft on shady north facing slopes. As usual, we started out sidehilling and it was very clear that this sled requires less effort to get into position as well as ride on edge. It was really easy to provide too much input and lean the sled too far into the hill. Very similar for me when I first started riding the current Pro RMK after years on the M series chassis. The taller position and quicker revving engine make initiating maneuvers very easy and instant. I started riding very steep and tight sidehill lines at slow controlled speeds. Two things had become very clear at this point- the taller/narrower bodywork makes a HUGE difference in these situations and the track grabs extremely well. There was very little spin from the track while traversing steep sidehills which allowed me to be very precise with my every move. I found that I was able to stop and take off without losing any elevation due to track spin and there was no washing out. This sled handles terrain like a razor blade. It is extremely precise and reacts immediately upon the slightest rider input. The improved body work is also very beneficial when crossing old tracks. There is less of an effect on the sled with less of it contacting the snow when you cross an old track while sidehlling so it is easier to remain in control. This will lead to less energy used in these situations. As I became more confident and familiar with the sled, I started making more difficult and challenging lines. The more I challenged myself and the sled, the more impressed I was with how it performed. Climbing steep hills with the new sled is awesome! This was where I got to truly see how the engine performed as well as the another test for the track. This motor makes really good power and the new track puts it to the ground in impressive fashion. The sled gets on the snow instantly. One thing that I wasn't expecting was how well the rear suspension transferred. Ski lift was minimal and the sled remained very controllable on steep climbs. Even more impressive was the control while crossing a track or hump in the snow where the sled naturally lift the skis. We were told there were some geometry changes in the rear suspension and the difference on the hill is noticeable. I also discovered that this sled is very forgiving when making a climb and in areas such as going up technical drainages. Typically when a mistake is made and you let off the throttle then get back into it, a sled will trench a bit and you start fighting from side to side. I felt like the sled recovered in a fashion that I never even made a mistake. I made the switch onto one of the 2015 sleds and attempted many of the same lines. I was able to make most of them, but it definitely required more effort. I was not able to make as sharp of downhill 180 degree turns or make it nearly as high on steep climbs. I could feel that I was spinning more on the '15 and at this point the engine difference is even more apparent.
The 2016 Pro RMK in the AXYS chassis is much better than I anticipated. I felt more confident on it within about an hour than on a sled that I have ridden for the last 4 years! The handling of the new sled in nasty technical terrain is what stood out the most for me. It is a really exciting for me that the sleds capability is greater than mine as a rider. I love to challenge myself and this sled is going to take that to new levels that I wouldn't have ever thought possible. While you might not see all of the changes at first glance, they all compliment each other and work very well together as a complete package. Technical mountain riding truly will be redefined over the next few years by this sled. Something else very exciting is that this was only the standard Pro RMK 155 model. I can't wait to see what other options and features Polaris has in store! Well, I guess I have to wait until March 2nd. In case you missed it, below is the release video.